"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Friday, September 18, 2020

The Invention of Papal History

I'm teaching an historiography course this semester and it is one of the most rewarding things I have done in a very long time. I have often mentioned on here and elsewhere my fascination with how histories are crafted and recrafted, not least by Eastern Christians in and after periods of conflict--whether during the Crusades or otherwise with the Catholic Church, or Islam, inter alia. The works of Vamik Volkan and others discussed on here have been very useful in that regard. So too are other psychoanalysts such Charles Strozier, Donald Spence, and Jeffrey Prager. 

One thing I learned decades ago thanks to historians such as the late Robert Taft, the Anglo-Canadian Margaret MacMillan, and David Reynolds of Cambridge is that one must always pay attention to how history is crafted, by whom, in which context, and with what goals in mind. I have written a little bit about this elsewhere

With regard to Catholic, and especially papal, history, the scrutiny must be even greater in my view. I had four uninterrupted and delightful hours with the doyen of Church historians in this country, John O'Malley, when we brought him to town for a lecture nearly a decade ago. We had great fun discussing the ways in which papal history is often tendentiously rendered--e.g., the crafting of approved popes and anti-popes in the Annuario Pontificio, a list which is quietly "updated" from time to time. 

All that is just a long-winded preface to a new book I'm looking forward to reading: The Invention of Papal History: Onofrio Panvinio between Renaissance and Catholic Reform by Stefan Bauer (Cambridge UP, 2020), 288pp. 

About this book the publisher tells us this:

How was the history of post-classical Rome and of the Church written in the Catholic Reformation? Historical texts composed in Rome at this time have been considered secondary to the city's significance for the history of art. The Invention of Papal History corrects this distorting emphasis and shows how historical writing became part of a comprehensive formation of the image and self-perception of the papacy. By presenting and fully contextualising the path-breaking works of the Augustinian historian Onofrio Panvinio (1530-1568), Stefan Bauer shows what type of historical research was possible in the late Renaissance and the Catholic Reformation. Crucial questions were, for example: How were the pontiffs elected? How many popes had been puppets of emperors? Could any of the past machinations, schisms, and disorder in the history of the Church be admitted to the reading public? Historiography in this period by no means consisted entirely of commissioned works written for patrons; rather, a creative interplay existed between, on the one hand, the endeavours of authors to explore the past and, on the other hand, the constraints of ideology and censorship placed on them. The Invention of Papal History sheds new light on the changing priorities, mentalities, and cultural standards that flourished in the transition from the Renaissance to the Catholic Reformation.

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