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INTRODUCTION INDULGENCES

AFTER LUTHER: PARDONS IN COUNTERREFORMATION FRANCE

Vatican offers time off purgatory to followers of Pope Francis tweets. Papal court
handling pardons for sins says contrite Catholics may win indulgences by following
World Youth Day on Twitter.1

Indulgences still have the power to excite debate. In July 2013, The Guardian
newspaper reported that Pope Francis had granted an indulgence to the faithful
who followed his Twitter account during the World Youth Day event held in
Rio de Janeiro that month. Catholics and Protestants across the globe entered
into heated debates about the meaning and significance of indulgences, and the
appropriateness of their use in personal salvation. The disputes of five centuries
ago became, for a short time, the discourse of news channels today.
When Martin Luther issued his Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of
Indulgences, or Ninety-Five Theses in 1517, he was writing in a long tradition of
criticism of easy routes to salvation and the complacency of sinners.2 He did
not intend to cause a schism in the Catholic Church. But the catalyst given
to debates about the means by which humans receive divine grace rent western Christendom apart. Indulgences rapidly passed into memory as the cause
of Reformation. Forty-five years later in December 1563, at the final session of
the Council of Trent, a ruling on indulgences ended the meeting and thereby
opened the formal Counter Reformation, at least in traditional histories. Thus,
in both Protestant and Catholic Reformations, indulgences had a formative role.
Yet despite their notoriety as an abuse of the late medieval Catholic Church,
indulgences survived the Reformation and religious wars of the sixteenth century to again become an important form of intercession for living and dead souls.
By 1700 they were available all over Catholic Europe, at pilgrimage shrines and
parish altars, through confraternity membership and private prayer, by donation to pious causes and in the possession of special objects. Indulgences were
a ubiquitous devotional practice, available to rich and poor, men and women,
young and old. They also underpinned the theology of the cult of saints; as

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such, indulgences transcended popular and elite religion, a tradition in which


Catholics of all social backgrounds participated. But they have received limited
historiographical attention for the early modern era and we know little about
the reasons for their renewed popularity. In the recent Oxford Illustrated History of the Reformation, any mention of indulgences is largely absent from Simon
Ditchfields chapter Catholic Reformation and Renewal; they receive just two
references, in relation to Martin Luther and his dispute with Cajetan.3 Given the
prominence of indulgences in the origins of religious change, their history after
the Reformation deserves to be better known.
So, the present study is a result partly of curiosity about the fate of indulgences, but also an attempt to examine wider questions of religious practice over
time, through the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Three areas of investigation shape this work. First, the relationship between the ideas and agendas of
Tridentine reformers and clergy with regard to spirituality and devotional practice, and the reception of these reforms by ordinary Catholics, lay and clerical.
Second, how the needs of ordinary Catholics influenced the theology and practice of religion that is, the interrelationships between people in the parishes
and the hierarchical Church. Third, the relationship between personal, individual, lived experience and collective piety, and changes in these over time. The
nature, uses and evolution of indulgences provide a case study for this investigation, for they tell us about both the institutional and the experienced Church.
All of this is contextualized in a study of France, across the wars of religion and
the following century of saints. But in order to understand the creation and use
of indulgences or pardons and the terms will be used interchangeably here as
well as their wider significance to the Catholic and Counter Reformations, it is
necessary to summarize the theology on which they were based.

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The Theology of Indulgences

Indulgences emerged in the Catholic Church in the central Middle Ages with the
growth of a belief in Purgatory. The origins and rationale for both are rooted in
the doctrines of penance and satisfaction. Penitence has always been at the core of
Christianity, for the Old Testament prophets, John the Baptist and Jesus Christ
himself constantly urged the faithful to repent of their sins in order to be reconciled to God the Father. Justification the bestowing of grace by God came from
this personal effort to avoid, or at least to be sorry for, sin and to ask forgiveness for
such transgression. Across the Middle Ages, the Church evolved formal mechanisms for channelling repentance in the sacrament of penance and in 1215, the
Fourth Lateran Council made participation obligatory for all adults, at least annually, in Canon 21 Omnis utriusque sexus. An individual penitent would confess his
or her sins to a priest, who would grant absolution in return for genuine contrition
and the completion of an enjoined penance, to provide satisfaction to God.4

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Satisfaction itself is the compensation owed by an individual to God for sins


she or he has committed. Sin has two consequences: culpa, guilt or shame before
God, for which a sinner could be deprived of His love and even entry into heaven;
and poena, penalty, that is, punishment for the offence committed against the
Creator. God, in his infinite mercy, and because of the sacrifice of his son Jesus
Christ upon the cross, forgives all those who repent of their sins. He forgives
at the outset of the Christian life through the sacrament of baptism, without
demanding any satisfaction. But Christians who offend after baptism have to
make amends satisfaction through penance, that is, penitence and temporal chastisement.5 Across the central Middle Ages there emerged a belief that
if satisfaction was not completed during a persons lifetime, the debt remained
after death. This was accompanied by a belief in a third place in the afterlife in
addition to heaven and hell Purgatory where all who died in a state of venial
sin (a lesser sin that does not lead to separation from God and therefore damnation, as an unrepented mortal sin would) or who had not completed penances
imposed in confession, were purged of their faults to achieve satisfaction. Once
perfect satisfaction was achieved, the soul would be released to heaven.
The origins and nature of Purgatory have been subject to detailed historical investigation. Jacques Le Goff argues that Purgatory emerged in the twelfth
century, its take off dated between 1170 and 1180 with the production of St
Patricks Purgatory by the English Benedictine Henry of Saltrey. This was quickly
translated from Latin into French and other vernacular languages, and was influential throughout Western Europe.6 Paul Griffiths makes the argument that
Purgatory had its origins in three areas of Christian thought: the conviction that
living Christians had an ongoing relationship with the dead, that there is an intermediate place and state between death and Resurrection Day and that even good
Christians died owing penance for sin.7 Pierre Chaunu, however, relates the concept of Purgatory to shifts in ideas about the Last Judgement, towards the idea of
particular, instant judgement of the soul by God immediately after death, when
an individual was sentenced to hell or to heaven the latter usually after a specified time in Purgatory.8 Whatever its intellectual origins, the Church promoted
the theology of Purgatory when in 1254 Pope Innocent IV recognized its existence. In 1274 the Council of Lyon ruled that purgation was suffered after death
and in 14389 the existence of Purgatory was formally promulgated as an article
of faith at the Council of Florence.9 For France, the timing of the adoption of
Purgatory as a popular belief is debated and it must be concluded that the dogma
appeared at different times in different places. Jacques Chiffoleau reckons that
Purgatory emerged in the papal territories, located geographically within France,
of Comtat Venaissin and Avignon, and also in Provence and Languedoc, in the
thirteenth or early fourteenth centuries, having been brought in by mendicant
preachers and disseminated by secular priests.10 Michelle Fourni claims that in

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south-west France it was the second half of the fifteenth century when the belief
became widespread, as shown by the frequency of church wall paintings depicting Purgatory and an increase in the numbers of priests to serve post-mortem
obit masses for the souls of deceased founders.11 Similarly, Chaunu maintains that
Purgatory became a tenet of popular piety in the fifteenth century, in northern
France at least.12 What is clear, however, is that in most regions of France Purgatory was a fundamental religious belief amongst all social groups by 1500.
Indulgences evolved across the central Middle Ages as a means of commuting penalties due for satisfaction, and became an essential mechanism for avoiding
time in Purgatory. An indulgence is a relaxation of enjoined penance, that is, the
cancelling of the temporal penalty due for a sin which has already been absolved
through confession.13 In return for specified acts of piety or charity, a pope, and
subsequently a bishop, could rescind small amounts of imposed penance. The initial occasion for the issuing of indulgences was the first crusade. Urban II granted
plenary remission to those who died in the faith or took an active part in the process. Later, the pardon was extended to those who gave money for the cause. The
practice quickly spread to fund-raising for other good works. The theology which
underpinned indulgences rested on the doctrine of the treasury of merits. Christ,
by his sacrifice on the cross, created an inexhaustible store of merit, to which is
added that of the martyrs and saints. This great treasure was administered by the
Church for the benefit of sinners, by popes and bishops, through indulgences. So
long as an individual was absolved of the culpa of sin before death, he or she could
then use indulgences acquired while alive to offset the posthumous poena, thus
reducing their time in Purgatory. To benefit from an indulgence however (and
this fact often got lost in Reformation polemics), there was an essential level of
preparation; indulgences did not work without effort. It was necessary to be in a
state of grace, to have undergone confession and the sacrament of penance, because
pardons required the recipients to be consciously engaged in their own salvation.
For much of the Middle Ages, indulgences could only be acquired by the living
to take effect after their own death, although pardons were frequently transferred
between the living and the dead even at this date. In 1476, the use of indulgences
was officially extended to the souls in Purgatory and the living were permitted to
purchase or perform acts which would benefit the deceased.
Popes derived their authority to grant indulgences from the power over
binding and loosing, granted to St Peter and his successors by Christ himself,
which pontiffs could and did then delegate to bishops. The pope was the most
important grantor of indulgences in the late Middle Ages and early modern centuries. He alone could grant indulgences for crusades, jubilees and offer pardons
for the plenary remission of sins. The majority of papal pardons were granted
for third parties, not the papacy itself, although the indulgence the pope issued
to support the rebuilding of St Peters in Rome in the early sixteenth century is

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Introduction Indulgences after Luther

the best-known. Before the Reformation, however, most pardons were issued
at diocesan and provincial levels. A ruling of 1215 restricted the pardon bishops could grant, to no more than forty days, except during the dedication of
churches, when a years pardon could be granted to those present. Bishops also
licensed pardoners to collect for external institutions and causes within their
dioceses. Indulgences, therefore, had limits in time and space. That stated, Robert Swanson argues that by 1520 indulgences were one of the most frequent and
widespread of all spiritual privileges.14 Before Luther, they had their critics, as
we will see, but this was usually about exploitation and misunderstanding rather
than their fundamental basis in a theology of good works. After the Reformation, good works again came to include indulgences. The nature, causes and
timing of the process is central to this study.

Historiographical Traditions: Indulgences, Reformation and


Counter Reformation
We know a good deal about the theology, operation and use of pardons in
the medieval Church. The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries saw a
rich harvest of scholarship on the theology and history of penance and related
doctrines in the pre-Reformation Church, and this included some studies of
indulgences. One of the first modern works was by the Jesuit Franois Beringer,
whose often-overlooked study examines the medieval and post-Tridentine history of indulgences, closely linked to that of confraternities.15 This and much
other early work was massively detailed, confessionally constructed and its intellectual starting point was the Reformation.16 The most influential study was
Henry C. Leas History of Auricular Confession and Indulgences in the Middle Ages,
published in 1897. This surveyed contemporary theologians ideas in depth, from
Thomas Aquinas to Robert Bellarmine, but Leas central argument was that of the
sixteenth-century Protestant reformers that indulgences were ultimately corrupting of the papacy and compromising of Catholicism.17 Leas work elicited a
Catholic response, such as that of Auguste Boudihnons study of the early history
of penance.18 But the turn of the twentieth century witnessed new perspectives on
indulgences as well, such as the work of Nikolaus Paulus, for whom pardons were
a practice that needed to be understood in the context of medieval belief, and not
from the perspective of the Reformation.19 Also, that they were a popular as much
as a papal product, as in Cardinal Alexis Lpiciers study of indulgences.20
Recently, there has been a new flourishing of the study of medieval indulgences, building on this earlier foundation. Work on the central Middle Ages has
been published by Robert Shaffern, along with a hugely detailed study of English
indulgences by Robert Swanson and a collection of essays on different European regions under Swansons editorship.21 The emphasis has been on the social,

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economic, cultural as well as religious history of indulgences. A new view has


emerged, of the importance of pardons in day-to-day piety. As Shaffern argues,
indulgences served both as modest incentives to good work and as measures of understanding of the basic teachings of the traditional Christian faith, among which were the
power and benefits conferred by the sacraments and the concern for self and neighbor.22

But Swanson warns us that while indulgences may have been important in religious practice, they were aides rather than means to salvation, for a firm faith
in Christ and deathbed absolution were both necessary to secure admission to
Purgatory in the first place, without them The accumulated indulgences could
not be cashed in.23 The indulgences sold by Johann Tetzel in 1517, which so
disturbed Luther, turn out to be the least typical of pardons.
Despite the interest in medieval pardons and the key role played by indulgences
in the origins of the Reformation, their post-Lutheran history has received relatively
little historiographical attention. Penance itself and the practice of confession have
seen some scholarly interest. In 1996, Philippe Rouillard produced a survey of the
history of penitence across the Christian centuries.24 For the Reformation period, in
2000 Katharine Jackson Lualdi and Anne T. Thayer published a collection of case
studies of penance in different regions of Europe Protestant and Catholic showing that modes of penitence were a key to confessional disputes and practices across
the period.25 This was followed in 2008 by a collection of essays edited by Abigail
Firey, examining penance across the Christian centuries and with contributions on
Counter-Reformation Italy and Spain.26 A much more detailed study was undertaken by Wietse de Boer on the diocese of Milan under the Archbishops Carlo and
Federico Borromeo. He concluded that penance was vital to the Catholic reform
programme of these prelates, as a salvatory practice for the individual soul, and as a
tool of public policy and social control.27 The corollary of the sacrament of penance
and confession, indulgences, has received less attention, however.
One reason for this is that many historians assumed indulgences died after the
Reformation, as their importance to Protestant/Catholic debate diminished with
time. A second reason perhaps results from embarrassment, as Shaffern writes,

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ever since Martin Luthers public break with Catholic Christianity in 1517, indulgences have often symbolized the decadence of later medieval Catholicism. Not only
evangelical, but also Catholic, Christians whether of Luthers or later generations
agreed that indulgences had been responsible for much mischief in the Church.28

Indulgences have been seen through the lens of the reformers, who considered
them to be abuses. A third reason is that the primary evidence base is widely
scattered, making them difficult to study. Records of papal briefs survive in
the Vatican archives but sources are much less common in local and regional
depositories. Indulgences are glimpsed in printed tracts and pamphlets, records
of confraternities and mendicant convents, posters, medals and ephemera. Para-

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doxically, their commonplace nature has reduced the durability of the evidence
and its survival is subject to chance.
The studies of indulgences we do have come in three main forms. First,
there are a small number of surveys of European regions across long periods. For
Spain, Patrick OBanion has studied the practice and politics of the Cruzada
indulgence in the early modern period, with emphasis on its role in confessional
identity.29 For Italy, there have been studies of specific indulgences and changes
in popularity and practice over time the Portiuncula pardon of the Franciscans and the Roman Jubilees, for example.30 For France itself, Jean Delumeau
has published short surveys of the post-Reformation history of pardons linked
to wider themes of saints cults and penitence, in Rassurer et protger (1989) and
Laveu et le pardon (1990).31 Secondly, a number of regional studies of Catholic
and Counter-Reformation piety include short discussions of pardons, based on
local archival material. These are particularly rich for Brittany in western France
for example, George Provosts work on lower Brittany, Bernard Restif s study
of the dioceses of Rennes, Saint-Malo and Dol, and my work on Purgatory, all
contain discussions of the role of indulgences in reformed Catholicism from the
sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries.32 Thirdly, in the last ten years or so there
has been a series of projects on confraternities and indulgences in eastern France.
Marie-Hlne Froelsch-Chopards important work on early modern French
confraternities and their devotions includes studies of indulgences commissioned
by these associations.33 Bernard Dompnier, Paola Vismara, Dominique Julia and
others have also used indulgences as a means to examine confraternal activities,
their dedications, devotional practices, membership, their relations with Rome
and changes over time.34 Similarly, for the Low Countries, Philippe Desmette has
made a detailed study of the indulgences obtained by confraternities in the dioceses of Cambrai and Tournai.35 These works mostly commence in the second
half of the seventeenth century, when registers solely devoted to recording briefs
for indulgences begin in the papal archives, following the creation of the Sacred
Congregation of Relics and Indulgences in 1669. Studies of other forms of indulgence, of earlier periods and for other regions of France are fewer.36
The present study therefore builds on this recent work by exploring the theory,
uses and evolution of indulgences after Luther, from around 1520 to around 1720,
in France. The time frame chosen takes the study from the Protestant criticisms of
indulgences to the beginnings of the Enlightenment, when religious culture began
to change in many ways. France provides an interesting case study because it had
a distinctive Catholic culture that was both centralized and diverse. The French
monarchical State had a broadly uniform institutional framework for the Church
and for secular government, and there was a national clerical and spiritual elite,
whose writings and activities were widely influential. However, regional religious
culture also persisted, allowing for comparison and contrast of the differential

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impact of ideas and practices on this varied polity over time. There were also dissonances which affected regions differently within France. Further, Catholicism
was contested and confirmed in various ways across the sixteenth and seventeenth
centuries, while relationships of the monarchy and Church with Rome were never
straightforward, for there endured a strong sense of Gallican exceptionalism. The
constants and variables of the French kingdom allow, therefore, for a nuanced
examination of a single doctrine over time, while also providing a broader comparison with Mediterranean regions and the territories of central Europe.
The chief significance of indulgences lies in what they reveal to us about
wider trends in the history of Catholic belief and practice, within and also
beyond France. The methodology of this study is therefore shaped by three central historiographical questions. The first is the relationship between centre and
periphery, between Rome and French dioceses and parishes, in the early modern
period. The second is that between clergy and laity, elites and popular groups, in
patterns of belief and devotion. The third is the lived experience of religion, the
intellectual and geographical place of devotion in peoples lives: individual or
group. Cutting across these themes is the seismic experience of religious conflict
and war and the emergence of a new confessional landscape in France.37
The history of the clergy has been a primary focus of much Counter-Reformation historiography secular and regular papacy, bishops and parish priests. The
development of these institutions over time, and their agency in religious change,
was amongst the earliest of questions asked by historians about the Counter Reformation. It remains significant. One key theme has been the augmentation of
the authority of the papacy. Through the decrees of the Council of Trent, reform
of the Curia and a building programme in Rome, the papacy restored its prestige
at the heart of Catholic Christendom.38 An important part of the heightened
standing of the papacy within Catholic Europe came through regularization and
Romanization of liturgy and legislation. The issuing of indulgences was another
form of exerting papal influence at parish and community level, a means by which
ordinary Catholics entered into dialogue with the Curia, as we shall see.
The enhanced authority of bishops was a cornerstone of Catholic reform. The
Council of Trent and the papacy looked primarily to the episcopate to implement
the Tridentine decrees in their dioceses, even where they were not made law, as in
France. Joseph Bergins work has shown that after 1600 French bishops served for
longer in their dioceses, and there was less movement between sees. More local men
were appointed, who were expected to reside as part of the royal administration of
the province.39 Bishops were to be leaders in the education of the clergy and the
instruction of the laity. Bishops also began to reform their sees, with Archbishop
Franois de Sourdis of Bordeaux and Bishop Alain de Solminihac of Cahors providing well-known examples.40 The practical means of reform were traditional ones
applied with more exactitude, using the model of Charles Borromeo, Archbishop of
Milan: diocesan synods, publication of rulings and visitation of parishes.41 Bishops

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also sought to reform the religious life of the laity through modification of behaviour,
at home and in church.42 Again, the nature, timing and significance of the impact of
the episcopate on French devotional life have been the subject of debate. The issuing
of indulgences by bishops and their licensing of papal pardons, which continued
across the early modern period, allows an investigation of their devotional patronage
within their sees to be drawn in greater detail. Bishops had a source of direct and
indirect influence over confraternities, parishes, chapels, shrines and popular participation in a range of pious activities, through their control of pardons.
The timing and impact of the renovation of the parish clergy after Trent
has also favoured study. The cure of souls was the fundamental objective of the
Catholic Church and it took place largely at parish level. Therefore, as R. P. Hsia
states, at the heart of the Counter and Catholic Reformations was the shaping of a professional clergy, better qualified to teach right doctrine, capable of
guarding the holy from the profane and dispensing salvation to the laity.43 In
the face of Protestant criticism, Trent defended holy orders and confirmed the
separateness of the priest, whose most important work was the sacraments of
the mass and absolution. In the ideal of the bon cur, the moral and spiritual life
of the parish were in his hands; he was to be a director of conscience and to guide
each parishioner along the path to salvation to correct, discipline and in serious cases, report, those who transgressed. He was to administer the sacraments,
to preach and teach particularly the catechism. He was also expected to be a
living example of orthodox piety. For France, studies by Louis Prouas, Robert
Sauzet, Philip Hoffmann, Serge Brunet and others, and for Germany, Marc R.
Forster, have shown that for rural parishioners, the chief difference made to their
religious life by the Tridentine reforms was a different sort of parish priest.44 The
clergy were actively involved in the acquisition of pardons and in indulgenced
activities within their parishes; the nature and timing of indulgence-use casts
light on the curs agency of Catholic reform.
Bishops and parish clergy sought to reassert their authority and bring religious life more closely under their supervision through its institutionalization,
closer regulation and enhanced clerical involvement. According to the traditional
historiography, after 1600 missionary religious orders worked in towns and countryside, and conscientious bishops and better-educated parish priests sought to
implement the rulings of the Council of Trent and the values of Catholic reform.
This has been nuanced by more recent historical works where the agency of
parishioners themselves, in relationship with their clergy, has been emphasized.
But there is agreement that the central means of augmenting clerical authority
was to further strengthen the parish as the focus of lay devotion a process begun
in the later Middle Ages. If the history of Catholic reform is to be understood, it
needs to be examined at the level of the parish church and confraternity chapel,
the level at which indulgences operated, so their study offers a different perspective on the relative role of the clergy and the laity in religious life.

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A further reinforcement of clerical authority came with the resurgence of


religious orders in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.45 Some traditional
monasteries were restored to the strict rule of their founders. For example the Benedictines of Brittany, who reformed themselves into the Congregation of St Maur,
while more widely the Observant Franciscans returned to the original severity of
their rule through foundations of Capuchins and Recollects.46 The great novelty
however was the rate of new foundations, of new orders, but also of the resurgent
mendicant friars. For example, in the western province of Brittany between the
late sixteenth century and 1675, 123 convents were founded, forty-seven male
and seventy-six female houses.47 In the example of the single city of Limoges in
central France, twenty male and nineteen female religious houses were founded
or reformed between 1583 and 1660.48 The urban landscape was transformed,
although often in the face of municipal opposition to increased numbers of fiscally
and legally privileged communities. The impact on religious culture is debated. On
the one hand, the activism and mystical spirituality of the new orders and mendicant communities seems to have touched many people, from their elite recruits, to
labourers who were members of their fraternities, to the poor; through personal
guidance, confraternity foundation, missionary activity and charity. On the other
hand, Georges Minois argues that the new orders were never well received beyond
the nobility and urban elites, for their houses were seen as a drain on the local
community.49 Indulgences cast new light on this debate. As large-scale consumers
of pardons, for their guilds and altars, mendicant involvement with community
and individual spirituality was a significant factor in early modern religiosity, and
a means by which all social groups could access new devotions.
A second fertile area of historical study has been the relationship between
the piety and practice of elite and popular groups. To historians of a generation
ago such as Jean Delumeau, Alain Croix, Robert Muchembled and Peter Burke,
the Counter Reformation was a massive attempt at Christianization through the
catechizing of common people superstitions were attacked and there was a
drive to reform manners through increasing self-discipline and moral control.50
This was part of a wider debate amongst social and cultural historians, who
argued that the early modern period saw a separation of elite and popular culture, where the wealthy distanced themselves from the populace and withdrew
into private spaces physically and intellectually which in turn was a cause and
consequence of Reformation. But there has been a revision of these arguments.
As Marc Forster states, a weakness of the acculturation thesis of Delumeau and
others is that it does not account for the local development of religious reform or
the resistance of people to alterations of practice.51 William Christian argues that
differences between rich and poor were solely of style. Noblemen kept private
chapels, venerated saints of distant places and the wealthy had more time to spend
on their devotions, but the rituals they used and their beliefs were shared with the
poor.52 Revisionists therefore reject the view that in most communities the gentry

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and urban elites chose to withdraw from communal worship, but argue that they
chose to dominate it instead.53 Indulgences as a practice which transcended elites
and popular groups allows for a consideration of the nuances of this debate.54
A third important debate has centred round the lived experience of religion,
in particular the growth of individual piety in the Catholic Reformation. Recent
historiography has focused less on institutions of the Church and more on the
relationship between religion and social change and on everyday belief and
practice.55 An important cultural shift which occurred between 1450 and 1700
in Europe was the rise of the individual, which is seen as both cause and consequence of the Reformations. John Bossys interpretation of a transformation
from a communitarian and social environment, to an individual and personal
one has been greatly influential in studies of early modern Catholicism. In his
words, the effect of the Counter-Reformation was to shift the emphasis
away from the field of objective social relations and into a field of interiorized
discipline for the individual, the purpose of devotion becoming reconciliation
to God rather than obligation to the community.56 Part of this process, was
a transfer of potency within the societas Christiana away from the lateral group, from
forms which included the religious community and associations of artificial and
natural kinship. [to] the vertical group of which the visible embodiment was the
nuclear family and the domestic unit.57

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By the seventeenth century the Church had succeeded in implanting a more


personal faith, in which payments for priests and prayers were substituted for
community actions. But again, revisionist historians have argued that it is difficult to unpick individual and community motives. For example, Nicole Lemaitre
concludes for sixteenth-century Rouergue that wills show that the rise of individualism was evident, among clergy and laity, but there still continued to be a
deeply-rooted ideal of communal solidarity the idea that individual salvation
was not achieved alone, that it was necessary to count on the works of others.58
Even in the later seventeenth century, an effort was made to cultivate reciprocal
aid among Christians. John McManners argues that the idea of corporate salvation lived on, the normative participation of everyone in church rituals, which
spoke of the unity of Christians in a common faith and a common hope.59
A study of indulgences again allows a contribution to be made to the study of
elite and popular, personal and group piety. Pardons could be obtained by individuals, or as a member of a wider group such as a confraternity or at a pilgrimage
site, using a blessed bead or participating in a papal jubilee. They were a practical
response to a core Tridentine aspiration, the desire to emulate the life of Christ,
through activism in the community by means of good works for all the faithful.
Cutting through all this debate has been the impact of religious change in
France and Europe more widely, through Reformation, religious conflict and the
rebuilding of confessional communities in the sixteenth and seventeenth cen-

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Indulgences after Luther: Pardons in Counter-Reformation France, 15201720

turies. According to traditional historiography, late medieval Catholicism was


in decline by the early sixteenth century; Christians affected by anticlericalism
were drawn to a more personal relationship with God and latterly influenced
by the emergence of Protestantism. In France, Alan Galpern argued that belief
and participation in traditional rituals declined in many regions after 1530. In
a study of Champagne, he argued for a decrease in religiosity in the 1540s and
1550s, shown by changing styles of religious art, which became less emotionally
intense, transformations in poor relief and declining confraternity membership.
Men and women became less interested in public, collective religion and less
devoted to the Virgin and saints. A minority of people even rejected established
religion and became Protestants.60 These conclusions have been challenged. Bernard Chevalier has argued against declining religiosity in French cities in the
early sixteenth century; religious culture was communal because it was shared
by bourgeois and the menu peuple, and traditional piety maintained its strength
into the 1550s because it was not seriously challenged before this decade.61 In
France as in England, historians have increasingly argued for the resilience and
popularity of late medieval Catholic devotions.62 Andrew Pettegree and others
have argued that Frances Catholic culture had earlier defenders against Protestant critics than elsewhere in Europe, clerics who rapidly developed vernacular
preaching and printing to defend doctrine and condemn heresy.63
What is clear is that the religious conflicts of the mid-sixteenth century raised
the temperature, and Catholics emerged in France as fierce defenders of their faith
in the face of Protestant aggression. Studies of Paris, Rouen, Troyes, Limoges and
Nantes have shown that the religious cultures of these cities underwent profound
radicalization after 1560 and there were important changes in devotional practice during the civil wars, independent of as much as influenced by Trent.64 Early
Catholic reform in France was a result of lay initiatives inspired by confessional
and Tridentine influences, in what Barbara Diefendorf calls the emotionally
charged atmosphere of the later sixteenth century, deeply rooted in the traumas
of the religious wars and in the apocalyptic and penitential spirituality to which
[they] gave birth.65 After 1600, from out of confessional conflict and Tridentine
renewal, Catholicism emerged revitalized, its clergy enhanced in prestige, and
again powerful.66 But as Louis Chtellier states, the Counter Reformation was no
new construction emerging from the insight of a few exceptional men. It meant
above all the organising and harmonising of a number of initiatives which had
appeared, in some cases several centuries earlier 67 Bishops supervised their
dioceses more closely, with Bordeaux and Lyons in the vanguard, followed by
Tours, Paris, Toulouse and Rouen, if episcopal rulings are used as evidence.68 The
training and vocation of parish priests improved. New convents were founded by
religious orders with social and spiritual works; missions were organized in rural
areas; catechisms were written and taught; new cults and saints were adopted.

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Introduction Indulgences after Luther

13

Eucharistic piety, Marian devotions and good works reasserted their centrality at
the heart of spiritual life. Catholic reform by 1700 above all meant a more faithful and respectful adherence to Catholic rituals and practices and the acceptance
of an ethical code infused with Catholic truths by clergy and laity.69
The eighteenth century is traditionally seen as a period of de-Christianization
in France, with a slow erosion of religious beliefs, although more recently change
rather than decay has been emphasized.70 The impact of Enlightenment ideas is
beyond the scope of this study, but one notable change was the slowly increasing, although patchy, influence of Jansenism, initially amongst spiritual elites via
Port Royal, then through parish clergy. The numbers of the male religious orders,
including the mendicants, declined, as did their popularity and role in the church.71
Similarly, vocations to the priesthood declined. In the Nantes diocese for example,
there was a fall of 60 per cent between the sixteenth and late eighteenth centuries.72
But the eighteenth century was a period of transformation rather than of decay.
Despite falling numbers of recruits, the parish priest became more prominent in
religious life as a director of conscience, education and morals. The fabric of religious life changed and concepts of the miraculous shifted. For example recorded
miracles at the shrine of Saint-Anne dAuray fell away by the mid-century and bishops reduced the number of saints days to be kept as solemn feasts.73 Yet votive
objects continued to be deposited in churches in large numbers, church interiors
continued to be embellished and social activism remained an important part of
religious and cultural life. By the end of the ancien rgime, bequests in wills and
confraternity membership had declined, but a rise in popularity of Sacred Heart
devotions, for instance, indicates a more affective, individual and life-time oriented
faith and not a rejection of religion. Indulgences, as a grass-roots devotional practice, allow for an examination of the timing and causes of religious change.

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Structure of the Book

The present study will examine the history of indulgences from Luther to Voltaire, on their own terms, as an example of a Catholic Reformation devotion
but also as a lens through which to observe wider developments in early modern
Catholicism. There were similarities and variations in the experience of Catholic
reform across the French kingdom. The national picture is here reconstructed
through a study of pamphlets, booklets, posters and other printed sources relating to indulgences from across the realm, as well as registers in the Vatican
Archives. Detailed case studies of nineteen French dioceses provide a regional
perspective, nine from northern France (Quimper, Saint-Pol-de-Lon, Vannes,
Nantes, Le Mans, Rouen, Paris, Troyes, Poitiers) and ten from the south (Lyons,
Vienne, Montpellier, Agde, Carcassonne, Saint-Papoul, Toulouse, Saint-Bertrand de Comminges, Rieux and Bordeaux). Change over time is also described.

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Figure I.1: The dioceses of France before 1789

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An examination of the theory and practice of indulgences in the writings of


sixteenth- and seventeenth-century reformers and clerics, with regard to spirituality and devotional practice, forms the first chapter of the book, using polemical
tracts, printed sermons and spiritual works. After the initial debates sparked by
Luther, Catholic writers in France downplayed indulgences, until the papal jubilee of 1575 restored interest in the practice. Thereafter, a variety of arguments
about the role, efficacy and form of indulgences continued across the seventeenth century, part of wider discussion about salvation, grace and good works,
and closely related to developments in the sacrament of penance, clerical authority and Christology. The influence of these works will be tested in the practical
responses to indulgences, charted in subsequent chapters.
As indulgences became increasingly popular from the early seventeenth
century, local communities engaged more closely with Rome, their bishops
and religious orders the main sources of pardons. The nature, places, means
and timing of these interactions are a useful way of studying the enhanced
prestige of Roman practices, the popularity of the mendicant orders and the
authority of bishops in local communities. Chapter two therefore examines
the institutional history of indulgences, their acquisition and cost over the
later sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
The sites of indulgence acquisition parishes, confraternities, shrines, public occasions such as jubilees are the subject of chapter three. To investigate
the relationship between elite and popular forms of piety, and between group
and individual spirituality, the ways in which indulgences were acquired tells
us much about this practice. Chapter four takes this further, with an examination of individual spirituality and piety using diaries and pilgrim accounts.
Chapter five provides an examination of the materiality of indulgences. Cutting across these chapters is an examination of changing devotional trends,
reflected in indulgenced cults and practices. As Forster argues for Speyer, so in
France beliefs, practices and behaviours evolved through a dynamic relationship
between Catholic reform and popular reaction.74 Indulgence-use therefore illuminates the varied understanding and expression of Christian belief in the early
modern centuries across France.

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