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War and the Supernatural in Early Modern Europe

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - War and Supernature (War and the Supernatural in Early Modern Europe)

Reporting period: 2017-09-01 to 2019-02-28

Religious warfare deeply marked Europe’s experience of early modernity. The German Peasants’ War (1524-5), Schmalkaldic Wars (1546-7, 1552-5), French Wars of Religion (1562-1598), and Thirty Years War (1618-1648) are only the best known of the many sixteenth and seventeenth-century wars in which religious rights and duties were central points of conflict.

The debates of intellectuals both Catholic and Protestant have much to tell us about the nature of this early modern religious warfare. Conducted inside Europe’s universities in the Latin language, these debates have previously been dismissed as irrelevant to the real world, but those universities were wealthy and prestigious institutions, very often intimately connected to government, and Latin served as Europe’s international learned language, so that scholars in Edinburgh, Heidelburg, and Salamanca could participate in the same conversation across national and confessional boundaries. Historians can gain profound insight into the dynamics of religious conflict from the study of the weighty Latin volumes that preserve these international debates and conversations.

It is especially important that the small numbers of radical Catholics and Protestants who favoured imposing their own version of Christianity on others by force were accused by moderates (no less religiously sincere) within their own communities of promoting wars incompatible with Christian orthodoxy. Religious faith, the moderates on all sides insisted, was a supernatural thing, a gift of God, rather than a natural thing, a creation of rational humans, and thus could not be imposed by force. Arguments for religious war in the sense of evangelisation by force were thus resisted by most of the educated European elite. The popular stereotype of a European continent dominated by hordes of religious fanatics flinging themselves mindlessly at each other is thus entirely misconceived. And even political historians examining the phenomenon of early modern religious war sometimes impose the modern categories of sacred (which they associate with the irrational) and secular (which they posit must be drained of the divine) on the past, mistakenly assuming that those who opposed evangelisation by force were somehow more secular than their opponents and composing a false history of secularisation on Europe’s early modernity.

Over four years, the project team will analyse, translate, edit, and publish these scholastic debates between religious militants and religious moderates on the role of force in religious life in order to inform and re-shape arguments among political historians on the nature of European religious warfare. It will attend both to those Franciscans who built on the theology of John Duns Scotus, and also to the Calvinist intellectual tradition; both groups were accused by their contemporaries of bring the supernatural too far into human life and endangering the natural sphere. Our aim is to compose a new trans-confessional history of Christian militancy in early modern Europe.

War and the Supernatural in Early Modern Europe (acronym, War and Supernature) is a European Research Council Starting Grant 2015 – 677490. It began in 2016 and it will conclude in 2020.
During the first period of our project, we have assembled an accomplished project team, begun our weekly translation seminar, set up our website, held our first international advisory board meeting, made great progress with our editions of early modern texts, and made progress also with our personal research projects.

The Principal Investigator has assembled a team comprising the postdoctoral fellows Dr Floris Verhaart and Dr Todd Rester, and the PhD student Ms Karie Schulz. During this period the PI also drew up a project website for communication with the profession and the general public:

The team began its weekly term-time seminar meetings in October 2016, at which Dr Verhaart and Dr Rester present their translations of works by sixteenth and seventeenth century Catholic and Protestant scholastics. So far, Dr Verhaart and Dr Rester, with the occasional input of the project seminar, have translated substantial extracts, generally about 10,000 words in length, from important but neglected sixteenth and seventeenth century scholastics like David Pareus, Peter Martyr Vermigli, Guillaume du Buc, Lambert Daneau, Johann Heinrich Alsted, Dudley Fenner, Christopher Besold, Johannes Hoornbeeck, Gisbert Voetius, John Punch, Alfonso de Castro, Bartolomeo Mastri, Juan Focher, John Mair, Anthony Hickey, and indeed John Duns Scotus himself. The other members of the project team, members of staff and graduate students from the School of History, and scholars from across the university then criticise these translations, and the final versions that result from this process are much stronger than could be produced by scholars working alone. This weekly seminar is vital for the general esprit de corps of the project team as well as for practical local information exchange. This local information exchange was reinforced on 19 June 2017 when we held our first International Advisory Board Meeting, and we able to receive valuable feedback on our work from a prestigious body of international scholars, including Dr Sarah Mortimer, Dr Jacob Schultz, Dr Richard Serjeantson, and Professor Brad Gregory. Our second International Advisory Board meeting took place on 5 April 2018, when the project hosted Sylvain Piron, Directeur d'études at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris, to discuss the significance of John Duns Scotus's support of forced baptism to medieval political thought. Dr Sarah Mortimer, Dr Jacob Schmutz, and Professor John McCafferty responded.

In May 2017, we agreed with Routledge that our two volumes of edited primary sources, provisionally entitled Reformed Politics beyond Calvin: Reformed Intellectuals on War and Politics and Beyond Aquinas: Franciscans and Scotists on War and Politics in the Counter Reformation, will be published in their series Routledge Studies in Renaissance and Early Modern Worlds of Knowledge, edited by Dr Harald E. Braun, and that these volumes will be completed during 2020.

Each member of the team also has personal research to pursue. The PI is writing a history of early modern Scotist political thought, and during this period he has identified primary sources, reviewed secondary literature, and begun to compose an analysis of the relationship between Scotist doctrines of forced baptism and Scotist doctrines of holy war. He is building a reception history for this Scotist political thought in libraries and archives in Rome. Drs Verhaart and Rester have identified personal research topics to do with the relationship between faith and violence in early modern Europe. Ms Schulz is writing her Phd thesis, currently titled ‘The Rutherford Problem: Reformed uses of Catholic political thought in civil-war Scotland’. All members of the team have participated in a range of international conferences to publicise their research and test their conclusions.

Our first international conference took place in Belfast 28-30 June 2018, entitled ‘War and the University in the Sixteenth Century’, and we are currently arranging the publication of our proceedings.
Initially, we hypothesised that the distinction between nature and supernature would serve as an interpretative principle for intellectual culture across early modern Europe. The distinction was certainly vital to Jesuit political thought, and Reformed theologians often borrowed from the Jesuits when constructing their own accounts of human society. And the Jesuit allegation that the Franciscans placed this distinction under pressure also seems accurate. The Jesuits are important to this story because Anglophone historians of political thought often argue that their natural category was secularised by Protestant thinkers and eventually transformed into our modern secular category.

But the work of the late Paolo Prodi raises important questions for our project. Prodi admitted that certain areas of European life were beginning to be secularised, emptied of God, over the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. But he thought it more important that both monarchies and states were being sacralised: sacred power was drifting from churches into states, which resulted in the Romantic Nationalist emphasis on the national spirit as a holy thing. The process can be observed among Protestants, in their celebration of the Godly Prince; but the Franciscans too wished to increase the powers of secular monarchs to intervene in sacred matters without the mediation of the Church. Prodi thus advanced a powerful version of the confessionalisation thesis - the argument that the early modern territorial churches (whether Anglican, Gallican, Josephist, or Lutheran) were not obstacles to modernity, but rather crucial to the development of strong modern states.

As we proceed, we must attend to moments at which the Reformed reject the distinction between nature and supernature, as they perhaps did when approaching eschatology, and moments at which the Franciscans rejected that distinction, which they did when debating the monarch’s role in enforcing the sacraments. It could be that the moments when this distinction between sacred and secular broke down were in fact the most modern.