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This article appears in the Take and Read feature series. View the full series. Good books, as blog co-editors Congregation of St. Agnes Sr. Dianne Bergant and Michael Daley say, "can inspire, affirm, challenge, change, even disturb. The last of the four-volume History of the Council of Trent by Jedin was published 40 years ago and it is still one of the most important works of church history published in the 20th century.

It is nevertheless one of the paradigm-changing works in Catholic historiography. All historians of modern Catholicism are indebted to Jedin. The first of the four volumes, published in the early days of postwar Germany, in , opens with a most audacious incipit for a series of volumes focused already on a big event: an entire volume on the pre-history of Trent, introducing what Jedin called "the victory of the papacy over the councils" of the 15th century.

The Catholic historian Jedin was breaking a taboo very much present in Catholic culture in the midth century -- one that was still trying to figure out the implications of the definitions on the papacy approved by the First Vatican Council in -- about the relations between the papacy, conciliarism and the conciliar tradition itself. Jedin explained the difficult and uneasy relationship between the pope and the bishops gathered in a council not in terms of theological necessity, but in historical terms and with a sense of historical development.

The Council of Trent , the most defining moment of early modern Catholicism, for Jedin did not stand alone in church history, but was part of a long and tense history of the Catholic church, and especially of Catholic ecclesiology -- in a sense, the result of the end of 15th-century conciliarism. Volume 1 ends with a chapter devoted to the opening of the council at Trent, Italy, with just a handful of council fathers -- 25 bishops and five superiors of religious orders, a tiny minority within the Catholic episcopate, not at all representative of what back then was the Catholic world.

Volume 2 published eight years after the first one, in focuses on the first session and the transfer of the council south of Trent, that is to Bologna. Advertisement Volume 3 published in analyzes the sessions in Bologna and the second period in Trent , which solidified the fracture between Rome and the Protestant reformers. Volume 4, Parts I and II published in is about the last period at Trent with the debates on ordination, the Eucharist, indulgences, the saints, and the role of images in devotional practices.

In the conclusion of the work, Jedin analyzes the last three sessions including the deliberations on the decree on marriage and draws a final assessment of the contributions made by the most important event in the history of Catholic theology and culture between the 16th and the 19th centuries.

Jedin was the most important historian in a church that after World War II -- but still before Vatican II -- was finally accepting the historical-critical method as the approach necessary to understand the church as a historical subject. The church was slowly coming to terms with the limits of conceiving church history still in theological terms, as a "sacred history. This shift was made possible in Jedin by his important teachers and intellectual references in Germany Joseph Wittig, Leopold von Ranke, Sebastian Merkle and Albert Ehrhard , his contemporary colleagues in Italy the philosopher Benedetto Croce and the historian of heretics Delio Cantimori , and his encounters with the characters and historical events that emerged from the pages of history, starting with Girolamo Seripando, superior general of the Augustinians and a member of the Council of Trent.

That had brought the young lecturer only the poor position of archivist of the diocese of Wroclaw back then still in Germany, now in Poland after the postwar boundaries. After the Kristallnacht of Nov. So he decided to return to Rome, where he had lived already, to be the editor of one of the volumes of the prestigious series Concilium Tridentinum, the edition of the historical documents of the Council of Trent.

On Sept. Jedin kept working -- even in those difficult conditions during the war -- in the Vatican Archives. The first volume of his history of the Council of Trent was published in This four-volume history put an end to the controversies between the two polar opposites dominating Catholic scholarship on Trent until Jedin: the anti-papal and polemical history of the council by the Venetian Paolo Sarpi published in and immediately put on the Index of Prohibited Books and the official, apologetic history by the Jesuit Pietro Sforza Pallavicino published in That was possible because as a first step in the work to the history of the council, Jedin wanted to take a look at the archival sources and their use.

Interestingly, Jedin called this little introductory work "my best book.


Hubert Jedin (1900-1980)



Eugen Ewig



Hubert Jedin



Hubert Jedin


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