Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 26, 2007
Prairie historians uncover Catholic Reformation origins
Book revealing changes in French Church wins Catholic history prize
By RAMON GONZALEZ
"It (the book) presents a new chronology and geography of religious reform in France."
- Michael Hayden
The book stresses the importance of the French bishops in starting the last reform, their failure to adapt to intellectual, social and economic change, and their role in preparing the Church to weather the late 18th century French Revolution.
"By 1690 the bishops thought that their efforts to reform people and the priests had been successful and they relaxed," explained Hayden. "In the 18th century they kept the machinery going, they kept doing pastoral visits, but they didn't catch on to the fact that the world was changing."
The result was that more and more people in France in the 18th century began to lose interest in the Church, especially the peasants who were told their practices were superstitious. "While people were walking away from the Church, the bishops thought that everything was fine."
Fortunately for the bishops, everything changed with the French Revolution, when there was a swing back to religion.
"We say that while the French bishops failed to adapt to the challenges of the Enlightenment, they helped prepare the Church to weather the storm of the French Revolution by developing a professional clerical corps," explained Hayden. "What they continued to do was to educate the clergy and to create a feeling among the clergy they were a united group. They not only developed seminaries to train the priests, they also developed a system of continual meetings of the clergy in a diocese.
"So the clergy, for the first time, really began to feel like a cohesive group. So after the Revolution was over, the Catholic Church was able to put itself back together."
It took nearly 15 years for Hayden and Greenshields to research and write the 604-page book, which filled a series of tables and graphs and data. "I think scholars will use it for a long time," Hayden predicts.
"Our real interest was the traditional Catholic Reformation and as we were looking for its origins, that pulled us back to the 12th century. And we had to end somewhere and the French Revolution was a good place to stop (because it changed everything)."
Hayden, a native of Ohio and a Catholic, has been teaching at the University of Saskatchewan since 1966. The father of three retired in 2001 and is now a professor emeritus. Greenshields, an Anglican who teaches history at the University of Lethbridge, could not be reached for comment.
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