Version classiqueVersion mobile

Croire à la lettre

 | 
Anne Dunan-Page
, 
Clotilde Prunier

Les conflits et leur résolution

Dealing with Difference: Correspondence and Religious Identity, c.1570-1650

Kenneth Austin

Texte intégral

1. Introduction

  • 1 Richard MacKenney, Sixteenth-Century Europe: Expansion and Conflict, Basingstoke, Macmillan Press, (...)
  • 2 This dimension is emphasised, for instance, in the titles of Hans J. Hillerbrand, Christendom Divid (...)
  • 3 Brad S. Gregory, Salvation at Stake. Christian Martyrdom in Early Modern Europe, Cambridge, MA and (...)
  • 4 Martin Luther’s ‘On the Jews and their Lies’ (1543) is the most infamous example of this attitude. (...)
  • 5 See Lyndal Roper, Witch Craze: Terror and Fantasy in Baroque Germany, New Haven, CT and London, Yal (...)
  • 6 John Hemming, The Conquest of the Incas, London, Macmillan, [1970] 2004; Andrew Wheatcroft, Infidel (...)

1Most narratives of the early modern period have tended to emphasise issues of religious conflict. Richard Mackenney, for example, designated the sixteenth century as an era of “expansion and conflict” in the subtitle of his survey, while Mark Konnert calls the period between 1559 and 1715 “the Age of Religious War”.1 It is certainly easy to see why this characterisation continues to hold sway. Most obviously, the Reformation shattered Christendom— which had survived intact for more than a thousand years—into a series of competing confessions which attacked each other, both in print and on the battlefield.2 At the same time, as Brad Gregory has so well illustrated, this was an era in which individuals of all faiths were ready to die for their beliefs, while accounts of their death were recorded for the benefit of those who came after.3 And conflicts were not restricted to the interaction of Christian groups. Among other things, the religious tensions of the era exacerbated the anti-Semitism which had already become more prominent during the later Middle Ages;4 this was also the period which witnessed the phenomenon now commonly described as the “witch craze”.5 Finally, the encounters with the peoples of the New World, and the advances made by the Ottoman Empire to the East brought with them further potential for conflict.6

  • 7 E.g. Ole Peter Grell and Bob Scriber (eds), Tolerance and Intolerance in the European Reformation, (...)
  • 8 E.g. Allison P. Coudert and Jeffrey S. Shoulson (eds), Hebraica Veritas? Christian Hebraists and th (...)
  • 9 Alexandra Walsham, Charitable Hatred: Tolerance and Intolerance in England, 1500-1700, Manchester a (...)

2Over the last couple of decades or so, however, historians have started to show a greater interest in the more positive dimensions of relationships between these various groups, and in certain figures whose outlook was more irenic, or conciliatory, than the traditional stereotype. This has been true for both relationships between Christian confessions7 and between Christians and non-Christians.8 In all of this, the intention has not been to play down the seriousness of the tensions which often arose, but rather to create a more nuanced understanding of the relationships between different religious groups. Indeed, some of the most effective recent studies in this field, such as Alexandra Walsham’s Charitable Hatred (2006) and Benjamin Kaplan’s Divided by Faith (2007), have emphasised the extent to which there was an ongoing tension between the ideological desire to enforce orthodoxy, and the rather more practical necessity of finding ways to deal with religious pluralism.9 Practices such as travelling elsewhere to worship, worshipping in private, sharing churches, and even sharing liturgies were all possible solutions to the religious diversity which the Reformation had brought about.

  • 10 E.g. W. E. H. Lecky, History of the Rise and Influence of the Spirit of Rationalism in Europe, 2 vo (...)
  • 11 For a recent exposition of this view see Perez Zagorin, How the Idea of Religious Toleration Came t (...)

3At the same time, these studies have challenged the traditional, rather Whiggish, view that saw the rise of toleration as both inevitable and linear.10 According to this interpretation, the age of religious wars gradually gave way, around the middle of the seventeenth century, to a more “enlightened” worldview in which reason came to dominate religious thought. In its earlier incarnations, this attitude attributed a particular importance to Protestantism in paving the way for those later developments; while this role has been challenged more recently, the framework continues to exert a considerable hold on historical writing in this area.11

  • 12 See, for example, Cary J. Nederman, Worlds of Difference: European Discourses of Toleration, c.1100 (...)

4Such approaches, moreover, tended to focus on the writings on renowned exponents of toleration, such as Sebastian Castellio’s Concerning Heretics and Whether They Should be Persecuted (1554), Pierre Bayle’s Philosophical Commentary on These Words of Jesus Christ (1686) and John Locke’s A Letter Concerning Toleration (1689). Scholars working in this vein have tended to be intellectual historians, at least in part involved in the process of tracing the pedigree and development of concepts of tolerance.12 By contrast, the most recent wave of historians working on the tensions between toleration and persecution in the early modern period has been concerned much more with social and cultural history: they have sought to use a range of other sources, including the records of civic and religious archives, and popular and rather more ephemeral texts, and, increasingly, have adopted methodologies drawn from other disciplines, most notably anthropology. The sources used, the questions asked, and the conclusions drawn, are increasingly divergent. It is one of the underlying aims of this article to seek to identify common ground between these two distinct approaches.

  • 13 E.g. Dena Goodman, The Republic of Letters: A Cultural History of the French Enlightenment, Ithaca, (...)
  • 14 The first known usage of the expression is found in a letter written by Francesco Barbaro to Poggio (...)

5All of this, of course, has implications for our understanding of one of the major features of the intellectual landscape of early modern Europe: the Republic of Letters. In both the popular mind, and indeed much historical writing, this movement has been associated with the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.13 It has sometimes been seen almost as the embodiment of the latter stages of the processes described above: it reflects an outlook which appears in the wake of, and triumphs over, the confessionally antagonistic world of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. However, it is important to recall that the first known use of the expression dates from the early fifteenth century, and it crops up fairly regularly thereafter.14 In other words, it pre-dated and then co-existed with the Reformation era.

  • 15 Bots and Waquet.

6For such a familiar and wide-ranging concept, though, its meaning can often be quite vague: contemporaries and historians alike often use it as shorthand simply to refer to the scholars of a given era. In their recent study, however, Hans Bots and Françoise Waquet have sought to develop a more comprehensive definition. While they acknowledge that the Republic of Letters is a malleable expression, they identify a number of broad characteristics: it was seen as analogous to a real political entity, with its own government, laws and citizens; there was a sense of collective enterprise between the scholars who inhabited it—maintained through correspondence, scholarly journals, as well as their publications; equality and liberty were among its most prized qualities; and it was not bound by geographical constraints or religious divisions.15

7In these last points, in particular, one sees the roots of another dichotomy, which echoes the one between persecution and toleration: in this context, the religiously partisan approach of the protagonists of the Reformation is contrasted with the more irenic and ecumenical approach of those scholars who were able to overlook such boundaries. As with that first dichotomy, there is a tendency to valorise the latter over the former, again on the assumption that this development has contributed to the emergence of a modern more open-minded outlook. Again, though, this must be seen as a simplification. As we will see below, while it may appear straightforward to place figures in one or other camp, the difference between them is not always as wide as the terminology would suggest.

  • 16 While not dealing with the interaction of different religious groups per se, Constance M. Furey’s E (...)
  • 17 Among many others, critical editions of the correspondence of Desiderius Erasmus, Theodore Beza and (...)

8Hitherto, in discussions of toleration, persecution, and the interaction of those of different religious affiliations, relatively little use has been made of letters.16 Of course, the sheer volume of surviving corpora of correspondence is an issue here: for certain prominent figures we may have 5,000 and even 10,000 extant letters. This fact is then compounded by the random and sporadic survival of letters, not to mention their dispersed location. Indeed, numerous projects are currently being undertaken which seek to gather together the entire corpus of particular individuals’correspondence.17

  • 18 On the early modern letter, see for instance Cecil H. Clough, “The Cult of Antiquity: Letters and L (...)
  • 19 For an instructive examination of the role that correspondence networks could play in the early mod (...)

9The rather ambiguous status of the letter is also potentially problematic: letters could, on the one hand, be finely crafted pieces of literary writing; on the other, they could be among the most intimate pieces of self-revelation. Indeed, sometimes they could be both.18 Despite this, or perhaps even because of it, letters can offer a range of different insights into the question of religious interaction: they may allow us to perceive official, public perceptions, but also to appreciate more private attitudes. On top of this, the nature and extent of correspondence networks can be used to shed further light on issues relating to the encounters between different groups.19 And both these strands also illuminate the much broader and still more complex theme of religious identity itself.

  • 20 See Wolfgang Reinhard, “Reformation, Counter-Reformation and the Early Modern State: A Reassessment (...)

10In this article, I will focus on the period between about 1570 and 1650. According to the chronological framework set out above, this was an important period of transition. It was, in the first place, the era in which the Reformation—and the reality of religious pluralism—became embedded within European society. Reformation historians often describe this process as “confessionalisation”.20 By this they mean the parallel processes of “confession building” which occurred in Catholic, Lutheran and Reformed contexts; these included the development of distinct religious identities, the indoctrination of the populace, and the strengthening of ties between church and state, leading ultimately to the enhancement of the latter. This was also the period in which religious tensions were arguably at their most fraught: these decades encompassed the French Wars of Religion (1562-98), the Dutch Revolt (1566-1609), and the Thirty Years War (1618-48).

11This article is framed around a discussion of two individuals— Theodore Beza (1519-1605) and Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc (1580-1637)—who have been chosen both to reflect different religious viewpoints (the former was a Protestant, and the latter a Catholic), and also to represent different perspectives: according to the traditional dichotomies to which I have referred above, Beza would seem to embody the zealous and dogmatic attitude of a Reformation polemicist; Peiresc, by contrast, is lauded as a scholar, and a member of the Republic of Letters. While not wishing to undermine these characterisations entirely, this article intends to demonstrate that such figures—who might at first glance be considered to occupy very different positions along the toleration/persecution spectrum—in fact had rather more in common than one might imagine.

12Neither case-study is intended to be comprehensive; rather, they are intended to be indicative. By looking at some of the people to whom these figures wrote, and considering what they wrote about, I want to draw attention to some of the ways in which issues relating to religious differences were played out in the correspondence of these two individuals. At the same time, and particularly by pairing the two together, this article will also seek to offer some broader conclusions relating to the religious environment in this critical period, and to highlight the particular contributions which an examination of letters in this context can reveal.

2. Theodore Beza

  • 21 E.g. Alain Dufour, Théodore de Bèze. Poète et théologien, Geneva, Droz, 2006; Irena Backus (ed.), T (...)

13The first case study is Theodore Beza. Until relatively recently, Beza’s contribution to the Reformation had not been properly appreciated; he has generally been overshadowed by his predecessor John Calvin. Following the 400th anniversary of his death in 2005, however, a substantial number of publications have considerably augmented our understanding of his role.21 Beza was born in Vezelay, in Burgundy, in 1519. As a young man, he had studied the law at Orléans, and subsequently began to practice it in Paris. But, in 1548, apparently following an illness, he embraced Protestantism and headed into exile in Switzerland. He first spent a decade in Lausanne, serving as Professor of Greek, before moving to Geneva in 1558, where he became both rector and professor at the newly established academy. When John Calvin died, in 1564, Beza was his de facto successor. For the next four decades, Beza was effectively the head of the Genevan church: he took over many of Calvin’s preaching duties, headed the Genevan Academy, and was installed as the head of the Company of Pastors. In the event, Geneva was under his leadership for more than four decades: he died in 1605.

  • 22 Andreas Dudith to Theodore Beza, 1 August 1570 [no. 796], Correspondance de Théodore de Bèze, ed. H (...)

14As Calvin’s successor, and head of the Genevan church, Beza played an important role in establishing on a firmer footing the Reformed church. In the first place, he was the author of a wide range of texts. These included translations of the New Testament and the Psalms; a history of the Reformed churches; and numerous spiritual and doctrinal works. In addition, he was regularly called upon to defend Calvinist doctrine, and wrote numerous works of polemic. Among those he attacked in print were Bernardino Ochino, the pastor of the Italian congregation at Zurich; Thomas Erastus, the Swiss theologian, and a whole series of German gnesio-Lutherans, including Joachim Westphal, Nicholas Selnecker, Jakob Andreae and others. Indeed, in 1570, Andreas Dudith, the Hungarian humanist, wrote to Beza, reproaching him for his over-fondness for polemic.22 It is also worth recalling, in this regard, that when Sebastian Castellio penned his famous plea for toleration following the notorious execution in Geneva of the Spaniard Michael Servetus for denying the Trinity, it was Beza who provided the official response: in it, he argued that heretics should be punished. There are, then, considerable grounds for regarding Beza as a typical example of the intolerance for which the Reformation has traditionally been renowned. As we will see below, however, the picture was rather more complicated than this.

  • 23 In addition to the published volumes, the publishers’ website contains a searchable database for ba (...)
  • 24 Irena Backus, “The Edition of the Correspondence of Theodore Beza (1519- 1605)” in Erika Rummel and (...)
  • 25 For an examination of the earliest years of Beza’s correspondence, see Bernard Vogler, “Europe as S (...)

15Beza, like John Calvin before him, was a prolific letter writer. A modern edition of his entire correspondence, edited by a team of Genevans under the late Henri Meylan and Alain Dufour, was begun in 1960, and is now nearing completion; so far, thirty-three volumes have been published, covering the period up to 1592.23 In total, Beza’s extant correspondence amounts to about 3,200 letters. However, taking into account allusions to letters which no longer exist, and clear breaks in particular exchanges and so on, it is clear that this figure represents only a fraction of the number of letters that Beza actually wrote and received.24 For that reason, any attempts at detailed statistical analysis would be unwise to say the least; at most, an awareness of the numbers can simply help us to identify some of the more prominent elements within Beza’s correspondence.25

  • 26 Bruce Gordon and Emidio Campi (eds), Architect of the Reformation: An Introduction to Heinrich Bull (...)
  • 27 See Emidio Campi, “Beza und Bullinger im Lichte ihrer Korrespondenz” in Backus (ed.), Théodore de B (...)
  • 28 By way of comparison, Beza exchanged less than a hundred letters with John Calvin, twenty-four with (...)
  • 29 On this theme, see Graeme Murdock, Beyond Calvin: The Intellectual, Political and Cultural World of (...)

16Interestingly, by far Beza’s most frequent correspondent was Heinrich Bullinger, who, between 1531 and 1575, was the head of the Reformation movement in Zurich, and another figure whose importance has recently come to be re-evaluated.26 Almost 250 letters written by Beza to Bullinger are extant, while more than 160 replies have also survived.27 This equates to more than a third of Beza’s surviving correspondence in the period up to 1575.28 Indeed, between 1560 and Bullinger’s death in 1575, the pair exchanged an average of one letter a fortnight. These figures are quite remarkable in themselves, but we should reflect further on their significance. In recent years, Reformation historians have started to use the expression “Reformed religion” in preference to the more traditional “Calvinism”.29 Above all, this reflects the growing appreciation of the contributions made by other figures such as Beza, Martin Bucer, and Heinrich Bullinger. Importantly, these individuals were not simply followers of Calvin; rather they developed their own distinct theological positions.

  • 30 Theodore Beza to Heinrich Bullinger, 19 September 1571 [CdeB no 862], 21 September 1571 [CdeB no 86 (...)

17In this context, the correspondence between Beza and Bullinger takes on a different light. They were not merely exchanging news and information—though that was also an important part of their correspondence; they were also looking to put forward a united theological front. We find clear evidence of this, for example, in the wake of the Synod of La Rochelle of April 1571, at which Beza had presided. Peter Ramus had sought to exploit the fact that this synod had reaffirmed the Calvinist doctrine of the Lord’s Supper (with the expression “substance of the body of Christ”) to open up the differences which existed between Geneva and Zurich: Ramus insisted that those who rejected this phrasing were condemned by the Synod. He also falsely alleged that Beza had read out a letter, which he claimed was written by Bullinger in which he assented to this terminology. In a series of letters, Beza sought to reassure Bullinger of his continued support, to condemn those who sought to separate them over this issue, to explain his actions, and to deny that he had attacked the Zurichers;30 Bullinger, for his part, accepted Beza’s claims, but also offered a new wording on the most contentious point, so that the potential schism could be healed.

  • 31 Given that more than 120 of these were written by Beza, it is clear that far less effort was made t (...)
  • 32 This point has been made very effectively in relation to Bullinger’s correspondence in Rainer Henri (...)
  • 33 On this issue, see Robert Kolb, “Dynamics of Party Conflict in the Saxon Late Reformation: Gnesio-L (...)

18One of the allegations made against Beza in relation to the dispute after La Rochelle was that he had “Lutheranised”. While he was quick to reject such claims, it is apparent that he had important epistolary links with individuals in Germany too. Among these, Laurent Dürnhoffer, a leading churchman based in Nuremberg, was probably the most prominent. More than 130 letters exchanged by the pair between 1570 and 1590 have survived.31 As with Beza’s connection with Bullinger, an important element of this relationship was the exchange of news: the circulation of information within groups and across confessional boundaries was a significant feature of letter-writing throughout this period.32 But there was again also a theological dimension to this activity. Following Luther’s death, Lutheranism had split into two wings: the so-called gnesio-Lutherans (literally, the true-Lutherans), and the Philippists, who followed Philip Melanchthon.33 Dürnhoffer was among the latter.

  • 34 Beza to Laurent Dürnhoffer, 21 June 1570 [CdeB no 785].
  • 35 Beza to Laurent Dürnhoffer, 12 February 1574 [CdeB no 1050].
  • 36 On the issue of crypto-Calvinism more generally, see Eric Lund (éd.), Documents from the History of (...)

19From Beza’s correspondence with Dürnhoffer it emerges that the pair regularly sent each other religious works, written by themselves and their co-religionists; there are also frequent references for the need for a unified front, both against radical groups, like the antitrinitarians, but also against the orthodox Lutherans. For instance, Dürnhoffer kept Beza informed about the activities of men like Nicholas Selnecker and Jacob Andreae, both gnesio-Lutherans, with whom Beza entered a series of polemical exchanges (see above). They also sought to encourage and inspire each other. For example, in a letter of June 1570, Beza insisted that the recent attack made on Dürnhoffer by Flaccus Illyricus was clear evidence of the former’s piety.34 In addition, letters provided the opportunity for expressing gratitude for material aid exchanged between the two cities, such as the money sent to Geneva in 1574.35 The extent of crypto-Calvinism in Germany especially in the 1570s has increasingly come to be acknowledged, but the particular light shed on it by the correspondence of figures like Beza and others remains fully to be explored.36

20Beza’s epistolary contacts with Catholics were fairly slight, and when he mentioned them in his correspondence with other Protestants it was usually in a negative sense; nonetheless, particularly as the century neared its end, criticism more often gave way to expressions of his desire for an end to religious war. But his exchange of letters with Protestants provides a number of useful insights into issues of religious identity. Like his predecessor Calvin, Beza used his correspondence to co-ordinate a movement which stretched across much of the continent. Most commonly, this meant dealing with people who might be termed “Calvinists” in the narrow sense. But as we have seen, a sizeable proportion of his letter-writing activity was devoted to strengthening links with other, sympathetic, Protestant groups. Of course, pragmatism may have been part of the reason for this: the more allies it could rely upon, the more secure would be the Calvinist church. Even so, it still highlights the fact that while Beza was ready to attack his opponents, this was not the only tactic he used towards those who held different views. Furthermore, this situation reveals the various levels of religious identity: Beza was a Calvinist, a member of the Reformed faith, a Protestant, and a Christian. In the constantly shifting circumstances of late sixteenth-century Europe, letters were both a setting in which the competing claims of these facets of identity could be expressed, but also a means of reconciling them with each other.

3. Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc

  • 37 Peter N. Miller, Peiresc’s Europe: Learning and Virtue in the Seventeenth Century, New Haven and Lo (...)

21Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc provides the second case-study. Renowned in his own day, he, even more than Beza, had fallen into relative obscurity. However, a process of rehabilitation has taken place in recent years, culminating in Peter Miller’s excellent study, in which Peiresc is presented almost as the embodiment of seventeenth-century Europe’s learned culture.37

22Peiresc was born near Aix-en-Provence in 1580. He was educated by the Jesuits both there and at Avignon; thereafter, he studied civil law at the University of Montpellier, gaining his doctorate in 1604. Between 1599 and 1606, he spent time in Italy, England and the Low Countries, but 1607 brought the death of his uncle. Peiresc took his place in the parlement of Provence, a position which he held until his death in 1637.

  • 38 Pierre Gassendi, The Mirrour of True Nobility and Gentility, being the life of the renowned Nicolau (...)
  • 39 Lisa T. Sarasohn, “Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc and the Patronage of the New Science in the Seve (...)
  • 40 R. A. Hatch, “Peiresc as Correspondent: The Republic of Letters and the ‘Geography of Ideas’” in B. (...)
  • 41 Pierre Bayle, cited in Miller, p. 3.
  • 42 Marc Fumaroli, “Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc. Prince de la République des Lettres”, available on (...)

23However, it was in the world of scholarship, rather than provincial law, that he made his principal impact. Indeed, in the biography written by his friend Pierre Gassendi, Peiresc was held up as a model scholar.38 In part, this was because of the wide range of his scholarly interests which included astronomy, medicine, anatomy, optics, theology, history, oriental languages, and archaeology.39 But Peiresc was also praised because of his place within the learned community. He wrote more than 10,000 letters, to, among others, Galileo, Peter Paul Rubens and François Malherbe, as well as numerous prominent churchmen and scholars.40 For these reasons, Pierre Bayle in his Dictionaire historique et critique, first published in the last years of the seventeenth century, said of Peiresc that “never did anyone render more services to the Republic of Letters than he”;41 much more recently, Marc Fumaroli has described him as “the prince of the Republic of Letters”.42 All of this would seem, then, to put Peiresc at the opposite end of the toleration/persecution spectrum from Theodore Beza.

  • 43 D. Jaffé, “The Barberini Circle. Some Exchanges between Peiresc, Rubens and their Contemporaries”, (...)

24Peiresc retained a lifelong association with Catholicism. He had been educated by the Jesuits as mentioned above, and in his adult life he became the abbot of Notre Dame de Guitres, near Bordeaux. Unsurprisingly, therefore, his principal correspondents were Catholics. These included the Dupuys in Paris, to whom he sent approximately 500 letters; cardinals Francesco and Maffeo Barberini (the latter of whom would become Pope Urban VIII); Gabriel de l’Aubespine, the bishop of Orléans; and Father Marin Mersenne; he also tapped into the existing international connections provided by the correspondence networks of Catholic religious orders, particularly in the pursuit of his scientific activities.43

  • 44 For one example of the tensions which could occur, see Michael K. Becker, “Episcopal Unrest: Gallic (...)

25In part, of course, this was to be expected: especially in these confessionally fractious times, he would write to those with whom he shared a common religious bond. But this was perhaps more remarkable than it at first seems. The Council of Trent had exacerbated existing tensions between Gallican and Roman Catholicism; at the same time, the religious orders were often considered a threat by the local parish church.44 In this context, one could therefore contend that Peiresc’s correspondence contributed to a strengthening of connections between distinct elements within the Catholic world, and further to the shaping of a Catholic religious identity which crossed national boundaries.

  • 45 A. Bresson, “Les Correspondants de Peiresc”, available online at www. peiresc.org/Corresp.html [las (...)
  • 46 Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc, Lettres à Claude Saumaise et à son entourage (1620-1637), éd. Agnè (...)
  • 47 Linda van Norden, “Peiresc and the English Scholars”, The Huntingdon Library Quarterly 12.4, 1949, (...)

26Peiresc has often been commended by historians for his irenic attitude towards Protestants, and his ability to see beyond the confessional frontiers of his age.45 For instance, Peiresc counted numerous Protestant scholars among his circle of friends. Among those with whom he is known to have corresponded are Giulio Pacius, who had been his professor at Montpellier, Hugo Grotius, Samuel Petit and Claude Saumaise. Between 1620 and 1637, Peiresc wrote more than sixty letters to Claude Saumaise (who Peiresc described as “not Catholic but very erudite”), and his entourage.46 These letters are dominated by discussions of the printed books and manuscripts which have come into his possession, and the insights which Peiresc drew from them. In addition, he is known to have read and circulated the works of various Protestant scholars, including the letters of Joseph Justus Scaliger and Isaac Casaubon, and works by Hugo Grotius, Thomas Erpenius and Henry Spelmann, to name but a handful. Furthermore, he was ready to disseminate these works more widely, despite their Protestant authorship.47

  • 48 Gassendi, p. 279.

27Nonetheless, this is not to suggest that Peiresc was blind to the confessional divisions of his age. In one letter, for instance, he referred to Protestantism as “our common enemy”. Moreover, he attempted to bring about conversions from Protestantism to Catholicism, including those of Pacius and Grotius, and praised warmly the efforts of his friend, Lucas Holstenius, who brought about the conversion of Frederick, the landgrave of Hesse, from Lutheranism to Catholicism. Likewise, his friend and biographer Gassendi noted of Peiresc that “he so defended the faith of his Ancestors, that is to say, the Roman Catholic Profession, that he also took pains to draw as many of the Heterodoxe thereunto, especially such as were learned, as he was able”.48 In other words, while Peiresc was certainly happy to interact with Protestants in order to advance his scholarly interests, this did not undermine his adherence to Catholicism; more than that, he also helped contribute to the Catholic revival which occurred in France in the early seventeenth century.

  • 49 It was through these connections, moreover, that he was able to obtain the services of a Turk and a (...)
  • 50 Miller, p. 8.

28But Peiresc’s sphere of interest extended beyond Christian Europe. From his base in Aix, he was able to develop multiple channels of information in Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Turkey.49 Indeed, it has been suggested that his may well be the most substantial private archive of correspondence to and from the Ottoman Empire, surviving from the early decades of the seventeenth century.50 That said, it should be emphasised that the vast majority of his correspondents were European Christians, who travelled abroad.

29Peiresc showed a pronounced ethnographic interest in the cultures of the world. For instance, he refers frequently in his letters to a work, dating from the 1520s, written by Leo Africanus, which contained the first detailed descriptions of the Barbary Coast. On top of this, his letters are littered with questions whereby he seeks to understand how the peoples of Africa live and behave: typical is one letter in which Peiresc asks his correspondent about the origins, history and use of turbans. At various points, moreover, this interest in the world outside Europe extends into more explicitly religious matters. In numerous letters he refers to his efforts to obtain a range of texts in Arabic, Coptic, Egyptian, Hebrew, Samaritan and Syriac: these included grammatical works, and editions of parts of the Bible in these languages. In so doing he made a substantial contribution to the growth in the study of Oriental languages at this time.

  • 51 Peiresc to Aycard, J. P. Tamizey de Larroque (éd.), Lettres de Peiresc aux frères Dupuy, 7 vol., Pa (...)
  • 52 Peiresc to Aycard, Tamizey de Larroque, vol. 7, Letter 112.

30But perhaps the most striking example of his attitudes towards non-Christian religions was his reaction to the news that one of his correspondents, Thomas d’Arcos, had converted to Islam—or “taken the Turkish turban”, as he put it in a letter to another correspondent.51 He goes on to note that “I was so scandalised that I could not express how displeased I am”. Indeed, he has heard that d’Arcos “is taken for a Turk among the Turks, for a Jew among the Jews, and for a Christian among Christians; he does not know what he is or what he should be: for this I feel very sorry for him”. In a subsequent letter, Peiresc notes that d’Arcos has asked him for a copy of the Koran.52 While Peiresc did oblige his friend, he made sure to send it accompanied by various books against Islam for good measure.

31Thus, while it is true that Peiresc formed and maintained links with those on other sides of religious boundaries, we need to appreciate that his readiness to develop these connections was a product of his scholarly interests: through his interactions with the Protestant scholars of Europe, and with those who travelled further afield, he was able to acquire books and artefacts that he required for his own studies. Furthermore, despite these interactions, his adherence to the Catholic church does not in any way seem to have been undermined: indeed, he was keen to promote the conversion of individuals from Protestantism or Islam to Catholicism, if at all possible. In other words, it is difficult to find in Peiresc a genuine blindness to religious affiliation; rather he was, for more pragmatic reasons, able to subordinate these to other matters which concerned him more.

4. Conclusion

32Historians have tended to emphasise the extent of religious discord in the early modern period. While it is often acknowledged that there were also “moderates”, these tend to be characterised as both marginal and exceptional figures. But the odds were rather stacked against them. Polemicists, by their very nature, make a lot of noise. And this situation is only exacerbated by the historian’s reliance on printed works. Texts intended to set out a confessional position, by necessity had to reject opposing interpretations. As a consequence, any historians who draw on these works, must themselves come to terms with the most contentious issues; this, of course, is despite the fact that there was agreement, and therefore virtual silence, on many more issues. To this it might be added that extremists, because they are so easily pigeonholed, are simply more straightforward to deal with.

33But by using letters we get a more complex picture. Because they were written in the moment, and because they were more private than a formal debate or a published text, their authors could be more candid in expressing their views. There was, in addition, scope for expressing different views to different people, and at different times, whether in relation to changing external circumstances, or because they were written with a different purpose in mind. Letters could, as we have seen, be used to reinforce existing confessional identities. But at the same time, they served as a means of building bridges across religious boundaries. Indeed, the letter form was particularly well suited to this process: manuals on letter-writing through the sixteenth and seventeenth century repeatedly began with the ancient definition of the letter as “a mutual conversation between absent friends”; moreover, as Cicero had pointed out, even when correspondents disagreed, they ought always to address each other with civility. But not only did they require a degree of self-control in terms of their choice of language; the very fact of exchanging a series of letters brought the participants into discussion with each other, and obliged a level of engagement with the ideas of the other.

34In fact, what is perhaps most remarkable from the pair of case-studies presented here is that despite their various differences—of period, location, confessional outlook, and professional perspective—letters appear to have occupied quite similar roles in relation to their religious interactions and identity. For both Beza and Peiresc, letters served as a means of negotiating religious differences. For both, one might identify ulterior motives: Peiresc obtained more of the materials he required to conduct his scholarly activities, while Beza helped to bolster the religious cause with which he was associated; but these practical gains should not detract from the fact that both regularly reached across religious boundaries. Again, the adherence of both men to their respective confessions does not seem to have been undermined by this activity, and indeed correspondence may in fact have served to strengthen their attachment to their faith in certain respects. Of course, it would be an exaggeration to conclude from all of this that the differences between them, whether in relation to their attitudes towards religious boundaries, or their own religious identity, were negligible; but it does suggest that the similarities between them were greater in these areas than has generally been appreciated.

Notes

1 Richard MacKenney, Sixteenth-Century Europe: Expansion and Conflict, Basingstoke, Macmillan Press, 1993; Mark Konnert, Early Modern Europe: The Age of Religious War, 1559-1715, Plymouth, Broadview Press, 2006, especially part 2. In addition see, for example, J. H. Elliott, Europe Divided, 1559-1598, London and Glasgow, Fontana, 1968.

2 This dimension is emphasised, for instance, in the titles of Hans J. Hillerbrand, Christendom Divided. The Protestant Reformation, London, Hutchinson, 1971, and Diarmaid MacCulloch, Reformation: Europe’s House Divided, 1490-1700, London, Penguin, 2003.

3 Brad S. Gregory, Salvation at Stake. Christian Martyrdom in Early Modern Europe, Cambridge, MA and London, Harvard University Press, 1999. Gregory begins his account (p. 1) with the bold contention that “Modern Western Christianity was forged in a crucible of conflicting convictions and dramatic deaths”.

4 Martin Luther’s ‘On the Jews and their Lies’ (1543) is the most infamous example of this attitude. On this theme more generally see Dean Phillip Bell and Stephen G. Burnett (eds), Jews, Judaism and the Reformation in Sixteenth-Century Germany, Leiden, Brill, 2006, and Heiko A. Oberman, “Discovery of Hebrew and Discrimination Against the Jews: the Veritas Hebraica as Double-Edged Sword in Renaissance and Reformation” in Andrew C. Fix and Susan Karant-Nunn (eds), Germania Illustrata: Essays on Early Modern Germany Presented to Gerald Strauss, Kirksville, MO, Truman State University Press, 1992, p. 19–34.

5 See Lyndal Roper, Witch Craze: Terror and Fantasy in Baroque Germany, New Haven, CT and London, Yale University Press, 2004; Brian P. Levack, The Witch-Hunt in Early Modern Europe, London and New York, Longman, 1987, chapter 4.

6 John Hemming, The Conquest of the Incas, London, Macmillan, [1970] 2004; Andrew Wheatcroft, Infidels: The Conflict between Christendom and Islam, 638-2002, London, Penguin, 2004, chap. 4-6.

7 E.g. Ole Peter Grell and Bob Scriber (eds), Tolerance and Intolerance in the European Reformation, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1996; John Christian Laurensen and Cary J. Nederman (eds), Beyond the Persecuting Society: Religious Toleration before the Enlightenment, Philadelphia, PA, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998; Luc Racaut and Alec Ryrie (eds), Moderate Voices in the European Reformation, Aldershot, Ashgate, 2005.

8 E.g. Allison P. Coudert and Jeffrey S. Shoulson (eds), Hebraica Veritas? Christian Hebraists and the Study of Judaism in Early Modern Europe, Philadelphia, PA, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004, pt 1; Mark D. Meyerson and Edward D. English (eds), Christians, Muslims and Jews in Medieval and Early Modern Spain: Interaction and Cultural Change, Notre Dame, IN, University of Notre Dame Press, 2000.

9 Alexandra Walsham, Charitable Hatred: Tolerance and Intolerance in England, 1500-1700, Manchester and New York, Manchester University Press, 2006; Benjamin J. Kaplan, Divided by Faith: Religious Conflict and the Practice of Toleration in Early Modern Europe, Cambridge, MA and London, Harvard University Press, 2007. See also C. Scott Dixon, Dagmar Friest and Mark Greengrass (eds), Living with Religious Diversity in Early Modern Europe, Aldershot, Ashgate, 2009.

10 E.g. W. E. H. Lecky, History of the Rise and Influence of the Spirit of Rationalism in Europe, 2 vol., London, Longmans, 1865; W. K. Jordan, The Development of Religious Toleration in England, 4 vol., London, Allen and Unwin, 1932-40.

11 For a recent exposition of this view see Perez Zagorin, How the Idea of Religious Toleration Came to the West, Princeton, NJ and Oxford, Princeton University Press, 2003.

12 See, for example, Cary J. Nederman, Worlds of Difference: European Discourses of Toleration, c.1100-c.1550, Pennsylvania, PA, Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000; Gary Remer, Humanism and the Rhetoric of Toleration, Pennsylvania, PA, Pennsylvania State University Press, 1996.

13 E.g. Dena Goodman, The Republic of Letters: A Cultural History of the French Enlightenment, Ithaca, NY, Cornell University Press, 1994; Anne Goldgar, Impolite Learning: Conduct and Community in the Republic of Letters, 1680-1750, New Haven, CT and London, Yale University Press, 1995.

14 The first known usage of the expression is found in a letter written by Francesco Barbaro to Poggio Bracciolini, on 6 July 1417; cited in Hans Bots and Françoise Waquet, La République des Lettres, Paris, Belin-De Boeck, 1997, p. 11.

15 Bots and Waquet.

16 While not dealing with the interaction of different religious groups per se, Constance M. Furey’s Erasmus, Contarini and the Religious Republic of Letters, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2006, has illuminated in various respects the extent to which letter writing and correspondence networks could intersect with spiritual and religious concerns.

17 Among many others, critical editions of the correspondence of Desiderius Erasmus, Theodore Beza and Heinrich Bullinger are currently being produced.

18 On the early modern letter, see for instance Cecil H. Clough, “The Cult of Antiquity: Letters and Letter Collections” in Cecil H. Clough (ed.), Cultural Aspects of the Italian Renaissance: Essays in Honour of Paul Oskar Kristeller, Manchester, Manchester University Press, 1976, p. 33–67; Claudio Guillén, “Notes toward the Study of the Renaissance Letter” in Barbara Kiefer Lewalski (ed.), Renaissance Genres: Essays on Theory, History and Interpretation, Cambridge, MA and London, Harvard University Press, 1986, p. 70–101. For one investigation of the ways in which letters could be used to promote a particular public persona, see Diana Robin, “Casandra Fedele’s Epistolae (1488-1521): Biography as Effacement” in Thomas F. Mayer and D. R. Woolf (eds), The Rhetorics of Life-Writing in Early Modern Europe: Forms of Biography from Cassandra Fedele to Louis XIV, Ann Arbor, MI, University of Michigan Press, 1995, p. 187–203.

19 For an instructive examination of the role that correspondence networks could play in the early modern period, see Paul D. McLean, The Art of the Network. Strategic Interaction and Patronage in Renaissance Florence, Durham, NC and London, Duke University Press, 2007.

20 See Wolfgang Reinhard, “Reformation, Counter-Reformation and the Early Modern State: A Reassessment”, Catholic Historical Review 75.3, 1989, p. 383–404; Heinz Schilling, Religion, Political Culture and the Emergence of Early Modern Society: Essays in German and Dutch History, Leiden, Brill, 1992.

21 E.g. Alain Dufour, Théodore de Bèze. Poète et théologien, Geneva, Droz, 2006; Irena Backus (ed.), Théodore de Bèze (1519-1605). Actes du Colloque de Genève (septembre 2005) publiés par l’Institut d’histoire de la Réformation, Geneva, Droz, 2007.

22 Andreas Dudith to Theodore Beza, 1 August 1570 [no. 796], Correspondance de Théodore de Bèze, ed. Hippolyte Aubert, Geneva, Droz, 1960-, [Hereafter CdeB], vol. 11, 1983, p. 226.

23 In addition to the published volumes, the publishers’ website contains a searchable database for basic details relating to the entire correspondence, including those letters which have not yet been published: http://doc.droz.org/ corrBeze/index.html [last accessed 2 January 2011].

24 Irena Backus, “The Edition of the Correspondence of Theodore Beza (1519- 1605)” in Erika Rummel and Milton Kooistra (eds), Reformation Sources: The Letters of Wolfgang Capito and His Fellow Reformers in Alsace and Switzerland, Toronto, Ontario, CRRS Publications, 2007, p. 147–161 suggests that the actual number could have been as large as 30,000 letters.

25 For an examination of the earliest years of Beza’s correspondence, see Bernard Vogler, “Europe as Seen Through the Correspondence of Theodore Beza” in E. I. Kouri and Tom Scott (eds), Politics and Society in Reformation Europe: Essays for Sir Geoffrey Elton on His Sixty-Fifth Birthday, London, Macmillan, 1987, p. 252–265.

26 Bruce Gordon and Emidio Campi (eds), Architect of the Reformation: An Introduction to Heinrich Bullinger, 1504-1575, Grand Rapids, MI, Baker Academic, 2004.

27 See Emidio Campi, “Beza und Bullinger im Lichte ihrer Korrespondenz” in Backus (ed.), Théodore de Bèze, p. 131–144.

28 By way of comparison, Beza exchanged less than a hundred letters with John Calvin, twenty-four with Guillaume Farel and fifteen with Girolamo Zanchi.

29 On this theme, see Graeme Murdock, Beyond Calvin: The Intellectual, Political and Cultural World of Europe’s Reformed Churches, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, 2004, esp. p. 4–5; cf. MacCulloch, p. 253–269. In practice, of course, the term “Calvinism” continues to be used above all because of the greater level of recognition which it engenders: see for example Mack P. Holt (ed.), Adaptations of Calvinism in Reformation Europe: Essays in Honour of Brian G. Armstrong, Aldershot, Ashgate, 2007, particularly the editor’s introduction.

30 Theodore Beza to Heinrich Bullinger, 19 September 1571 [CdeB no 862], 21 September 1571 [CdeB no 863], 16 October 1571 [CdeB no 866], 13 November 1571 [CdeB no 871], 14 January 1572 [CdeB no 889].

31 Given that more than 120 of these were written by Beza, it is clear that far less effort was made to retain those written by Dürnhoffer, and one might imagine that more than 200 letters were actually exchanged.

32 This point has been made very effectively in relation to Bullinger’s correspondence in Rainer Henrich, “Bullinger’s Correspondence—An International News Network” in Gordon and Campi (eds).

33 On this issue, see Robert Kolb, “Dynamics of Party Conflict in the Saxon Late Reformation: Gnesio-Lutherans vs Philippists”, Journal of Modern History 49.3, 1977, p. D1289–D1305.

34 Beza to Laurent Dürnhoffer, 21 June 1570 [CdeB no 785].

35 Beza to Laurent Dürnhoffer, 12 February 1574 [CdeB no 1050].

36 On the issue of crypto-Calvinism more generally, see Eric Lund (éd.), Documents from the History of Lutheranism, Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2002, p. 209–215.

37 Peter N. Miller, Peiresc’s Europe: Learning and Virtue in the Seventeenth Century, New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 2000. In addition, see the much older C. T. Hagberg-Wright, Nicolas Fabri de Peiresc, London, The Roxburghe Club, 1926 and Pierre Humbert, Un Amateur: Peiresc, 1580-1637, Paris, Desclée de Brouwer et Cie, 1933.

38 Pierre Gassendi, The Mirrour of True Nobility and Gentility, being the life of the renowned Nicolaus Claudius Fabricius, Lord of Peiresk, Senator of the Parliament of Aix, trans. W. Rand, London, Infinity, [1657] 2003.

39 Lisa T. Sarasohn, “Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc and the Patronage of the New Science in the Seventeenth Century”, Isis 84, 1993, p. 70–90.

40 R. A. Hatch, “Peiresc as Correspondent: The Republic of Letters and the ‘Geography of Ideas’” in B. P. Dolan (éd.), Science Unbound: Geography, Space and Discipline, Umeå, Umeå Universitet, 1998, p. 19–63.

41 Pierre Bayle, cited in Miller, p. 3.

42 Marc Fumaroli, “Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc. Prince de la République des Lettres”, available online at www.peiresc.org/fumaroli.htm [last accessed 2 January 2011].

43 D. Jaffé, “The Barberini Circle. Some Exchanges between Peiresc, Rubens and their Contemporaries”, Journal of the History of Collections 1.2, 1989, p. 119–147.

44 For one example of the tensions which could occur, see Michael K. Becker, “Episcopal Unrest: Gallicanism in the 1625 Assembly of the Clergy”, Church History 43, 1974, p. 65–77. On the place of the Jesuits in particular, see Eric Nelson, The Jesuits and the Monarchy: Catholic Reform and Political Authority in France (1590-1615), Aldershot, Ashgate, 2005.

45 A. Bresson, “Les Correspondants de Peiresc”, available online at www. peiresc.org/Corresp.html [last accessed 2 January 2011]

46 Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc, Lettres à Claude Saumaise et à son entourage (1620-1637), éd. Agnès Bresson, Florence, Olschki, 1992.

47 Linda van Norden, “Peiresc and the English Scholars”, The Huntingdon Library Quarterly 12.4, 1949, p. 369–389.

48 Gassendi, p. 279.

49 It was through these connections, moreover, that he was able to obtain the services of a Turk and a Maronite to act as translators for him.

50 Miller, p. 8.

51 Peiresc to Aycard, J. P. Tamizey de Larroque (éd.), Lettres de Peiresc aux frères Dupuy, 7 vol., Paris, Imprimerie Nationale, 1888-98, vol. 7, Letter 111.

52 Peiresc to Aycard, Tamizey de Larroque, vol. 7, Letter 112.

Auteur

Est maître de conférences dans le département d’histoire de l’université de Bristol. Auteur de From Judaism to Calvinism : The Life and Writings of Immanuel Tremellius (1510-1580) (Ashgate, 2007), il s’intéresse à l’histoire culturelle et religieuse de la Renaissance et du xviie siècle, notamment à l’interaction entre Renaissance et Réforme. Ses travaux récents portent sur la carrière et sur l’œuvre du savant juif converti au christianisme, Immanuel Tremellius (1510-1580) et, plus largement, sur les réseaux intellectuels de la période, sur l’impact de la Réforme en Europe, sur la tolérance et l’irénisme. Il prépare actuellement une monographie sur les réseaux européens de la Réforme.

© Presses universitaires de la Méditerranée, 2012

Licence OpenEdition Books

Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search