The turn of the soul : representations of religious conversion in early modern art and literature /
edited by Lieke Stelling, Harald Hendrix, Todd M. Richardson.
Boston : Brill, 2012.
xv, 396 p. : ill. ; 25 cm.
9789004218567 (hardback : acid-free paper)
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series title
Boston : Brill, 2012.
9789004218567 (hardback : acid-free paper)
catalogue key
Includes bibliographical references ( p. 392) and index.
A Look Inside
Introduction or Preface
INTRODUCTIONLieke Stelling and Todd M. RichardsonThe religious upheavals of the early modern period and the fierce debate they unleashed about true devotion gave conversion an unprecedented urgency. Whereas artists and authors had always been inspired by it, literary, artistic and technical developments in the Renaissance incited them to capture, represent and communicate the elusive concept of religious transformation in new ways. Never before did the practice of conversion appear in so many guises; indeed, never before were there so many doctrines and forms of piety to embrace or forswear. Prior to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, moreover, religious conversion had not been as intermingled with secular issues, such as politics, nationality and commerce, as it was in Renaissance Europe. There are three developments in particular that fostered the renewed interest in pious renewal or the exchange of religions: the Protestant and Catholic Reformations, the Western European colonial enterprises in the Americas, Africa and Asia, and the Ottoman colonial expansion.During the Reformation, new models of devotion to reach conversion were introduced that challenged traditional ideas of spiritual reform. Stressing humanity's complete dependence on God's grace, Luther and Calvin considered conversion first and foremost a divine intervention naturally flowing from God's righteousness and manifesting itself in repentance. Indeed, Calvin, in his Institutes, claimed that 'the whole of conversion to God is understood under the term 'repentance', and faith is not the least part of conversion'. At the same time, the Reformation also opened up a range of new possibilities for changing one's denominational identity. 'Conversion' now also implied the shift from one Christian fold to another form of Christianity. As such, conversion came to play a significant role within religious polemics, and was more than ever a political statement. The Christianization of Jews, too, was an issue within these debates. From around the end of the sixteenth century a belief developed that the conversion of the Jews would herald the Apocalypse. Many Reformers, including Luther, believed that the Jews' adoption of Christianity 'had awaited the preaching of the true Gospel'. Thus the conversion of the Jews, foreshadowed by Christianizations of individual Jews, served as a powerful argument in defence of Protestantism. Rome, in turn, responded to these ideas by forcing Jews to attend conversion sermons, hoping they would turn Catholic.The European colonial expansion into Africa, Asia and the New World created an industry for the training of missionaries, with a central focus on methods of conversion. For Peter Martyr, the chronicler of the Spanish explorations in central and Latin America, proselytizing was the first objective that sprang to mind when he realised that indigenous peoples were, as Stephen Greenblatt puts it, 'a tabula rasa ready to take the imprint of European civilization'. Martyr notes:for lyke as rased or vnpaynted tables, are apte to receaue what formes soo euer are fyrst drawen theron by the hande of the paynter, euen soo these naked and simple people, doo soone receaue the customes of owre Religion, and by conuersation with owre men, shake of theyr fierce and natiue barbarousnes.English colonists were no less zealous in their missionary ambitions. The Virginia settlers deployed various strategies to convince the Indians of the Protestant truth. The Virginia Company went as far as to instruct its Governor to take away or even execute the Indians' 'iniocasockes or Priestes'. Yet most conversion attempts were directed at children who had to be 'procured and instructed in the English language and manner'. The asymmetrical power relations between colonizer and colonized, however, often proved an obstacle to successful proselytizing. For instance, in 1622 disturbed trade relationships between the native inhabitants and the English residents in Jamestown resulted in the killing of a quarter of the English inhabitants, which temporarily ended conversion efforts.Scholars have pointed out that while many European seafaring nations were busy exploring and conquering indigenous territories in the New World, they simultaneously felt the threat of being colonized by the expanding Ottoman sultanate. This was the largest Islamic territory of early modern Europe, which, during its peak in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, stretched from the northern coast of northern Africa to Iraq and western Iran and from modern Turkey to south-east Europe. The Western European anxieties about Ottoman expansion were not unsubstantiated, if only because Islamic military forces managed to capture Christians in their European homelands. Yet European Christians were vexed more by the perceived vast number of voluntary conversions to Islam than by their enslaved compatriots who defected from their faith. Having turned pirate, many impoverished Christians came in contact with the Ottomans when they called in at Turkish ports or other cosmopolitan cities like Venice. In these places they managed to improve their worldly luck significantly by striking deals with the Ottomans and 'turning Turk'. This is not surprising if we realise that the make-up of the Ottoman society allowed for social, political and economic mobility to a much greater extent than European societies at the time. Moreover, '[t]he Ottoman Empire was a lavish provider of booty for daring and resourceful employees. This attractive power was recognized and understood by European contemporaries'. Renegades were able to join the army and even occupy important positions in administration. In 1606, a Turkish army officer proudly noted that he had command of 30,000 Christians who 'are the founders of our artillerie, and other Instruments of warre' and who are all 'Renegados' battling 'in defence of our lawe, and with vs to conquer your country'.It is not without irony that what the Western Christian tradition has deemed the prime examples of religious conversion, those of Paul of Tarsus and Augustine of Hippo, are also the most elusive and complex. This is partly due to the fact that not only is Augustine's regeneration inconceivable without Paul's, but the Christian conception of Paul's conversion is also determined by Augustine's reading of it. At the same time, both changes of heart as well as their reciprocity allow us to gain insight into the wide array of meanings and forms of divine experience that are indicated by the term 'conversion'.Paul only very briefly touches on his spiritual transformation in his Epistles. He describes it as a divine call inciting him to turn from his zealous persecution of the followers of Christ and to spread Jesus' gospel. Paul did not use a phrase that directly translates as 'religious conversion' when he referred to his experience, which can partly be explained by the fact that 'conversion' is hardly a biblical term. As Frederick Gaiser reminds us, 'readers of the English version of the Bible will run across terms like conversion or convert(s) or to convert only rarely […]. Yet definitions abound, and the phenomenon the unconditional turning of the human toward God is seen as fundamental to biblical religion'. Many of these definitions relate to the concept of repentance, a word that does occur regularly in Scripture. Three terms in the Old and New Testament that are often understood as conversion are the Hebrew word shubh and the Greek epistrefein and metanoein. Shubh literally means 'return', but is often explained as 'repent', for example in Jeremiah 3:14Turn [shubh], O backsliding children, sait
First Chapter
LA CONFESSION CATHOLIQUE DU SIEUR DE SANCY: THE SWAN SONG OF THE ZEALOUS PROTESTANTS Mathilde Bernard When Henri III died under the knife of Jacques Clément in 1589, Henri de Bourbon, the king of Navarre and the chief of the Protestants, suddenly became king of France. But he was not accepted as such by all his subjects, for many considered that the king had to be Catholic. He had to fight to gain the confidence of the French and make the rebel towns surrender. Years later, Paris still had not given in. So, eventually, Henri IV finally had to convert to Catholicism in 1593, so as to become the legitimate king of all his subjects. He was crowned in 1594. Many people, both Protestants and Catholics, decided to support him, believing that peace was what mattered most, and that it could not be reached without conceding this token of conversion to the people. Therefore, for the sake of security, not to mention self-interest, many Protestants converted to Catholicism at the end of the sixteenth century. But a few zealous Protestants still refused to convert, or even to accept the very idea of converting. For them, it only meant the death of the Party, and much worse, it was a supreme betrayal of God. They knew the walk of history was against them, and that the chances for the Protestant Party to be reinforced diminished by the day, but they still wanted to voice their virulent disagreement and show their absolute fidelity to God. The Protestant representations of converting often showed blind hatred against the unfaithful, against those who deny their faith for the sake of self-interest. In that context of political turmoil, Agrippa d’Aubigné wrote the Confession catholique du sieur de Sancy to denounce the conversion of the sieur Nicolas Harlay de Sancy, the superintendent of finances under Henri IV. On the 10th of May 1597, four years after having prompted his master Henry IV to take the ‘perilous leap’, Sancy converted to Catholicism. He thus became, in the eyes of zealous Protestants, the incarnation of baseness and vileness. Yet, he was not the only one. Though no one was threatened (by fire, daggers or arquebuses) into conversion anymore, people were strongly driven to it: conversion was seen as a way to potentially rise in society and to show fidelity to the king – such motives were likely to hook the reckless and unwise fish. Such was, at least, Agrippa d’Aubigné’s view on the matter, when depicting in his Confession catholique du sieur de Sancy the disastrous era when ‘on peschait à l’endormie’. In this virulent book, published several years after its author’s death by the notorious Pierre Marteau, an imaginary publisher, Aubigné creates a fiction around the confession of Sancy, where the latter provides justification for his conversion, which he could have actually done in reality. Important public characters were often asked by Catholics to clearly state the authenticity of their new faith and to show proselytism. The Confession catholique du sieur de Sancy is above all a lampoon, that is, according to Yvonne Bellenger, ‘a violent and passionate paper which tries to disqualify an opponent or an idea’. It takes the shape of a pastiche of the genre of the confession, but the first intention of the author is to destroy a man and not to parody a style. His weapon is irony. What makes this text genuinely original is the way Aubigné makes Sancy’s conversion meaningless by turning the genre of the ‘confession’ into a parody. Although false conversions had already been denounced on both sides, and although a priest from the League, Jean Boucher, had already published the Sermons de la simulée conversion dealing with Henry IV’s conversion, the debate had benn confined to the serious genre. As for Aubigné, he attacked Sancy in a new manner, by turning the movements of his will and soul into ridicule. In doing so, he also debunked the genre of the ‘confession’, by highlighting how it realized the domination of political matters over spirituality, which he found loathsome. Through an analysis of Aubigné’s text, I would like to point out the rhetorical means used by the Protestants against conversion at the turn of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. As Michel Perronnet wrote, The Confession de Sancy of Agrippa d’Aubigné can be read as a historic document, that is as a testimony full of information, replaced in a specific time and space. In that case, the document shows the religious oppositions in France at the end of the 16th century. But it may also be read for itself. It is not just the trace of historical facts, it is also a trace of the Protestants’ strategy: perverting true facts in order to voice their own truth. Gilbert Schrenck, who dedicated his thesis and several books to this lampoon, shows how the Sancy ‘exactly reflects this anguish of the generalized conspiracy, by which the disloyal brothers precipitate the loss of those who remained faithful’. Anguish is being twisted into irony in order to ward off evil fate. So, I would like to examine how irony functions in the text, and to what extent it participates in constructing representations of the apostate at the turn of the century. The use of irony in the text is so constant that it almost functions to destroy itself. The author refuses to envisage the definitely modern meaning of these conversions, to consider for one second the notion that the converted could not after all have wanted to actually serve the king and the national good, and were not just moved by self-interest. As a result, Aubigné wrote a fake confession for what he considered to be a fake conversion, therefore rejecting the very principle of Sancy’s gesture. The writer wages an endless war against the Catholic doctrine, which he views as void anyway. Yet, one is likely to wonder whether the unfettered and cathartic – though entertaining – use of irony might not finally discredit his line of argument in favour of Protestantism. A Dismantled Confession for a Misguided Conversion The Protestants who converted to Catholicism after the king were suspected of being driven by pure self-interest. Therefore, they needed to articulate strong arguments against this criticism. In La Confession catholique du sieur de Sancy, Agrippa d’Aubigné wrote what could have been Sancy’s justification in his place. But when he attempts to create at text that might pass as versatile, his line of argument only turns out to make the apostate look like more of a sophist. Yet, Sancy never gave such a confession. He waited longer than Jean de Sponde or Pierre Victor Palma Cayet to convert. Those individuals were not spared by Aubigné either, but it seems that Sancy is the privileged target of all his hatred. Why is that so? There was a time when the diplomat embodied everything Aubigné wanted to be, and above all, to remain: a close relative of Henry IV and a man endowed with high responsibilities who the king trusts. The sieur de Sancy also fell into disgrace, but Agrippa d’Aubigné is thought never to have forgiven him for being able to last longer than him, and, what’s more, by means he viewed as lowering, dishonest and corrupt. Choosing Sancy as the hero and narrator of the Confession had also to do with a partisan logic as much as with the satisfaction of revenge. Cayet and Sponde held a more important share of the theological polemic marketplace. Sancy’s conversion was mainly exploited by the Catholics as an exemplum to promote conversion, and the man had been relatively spared by the Protestants so far. Aubigné decided to let the Protestants’ voice be heard on the matter. The sieur de Sancy’s intellectual guide, to whom the fictitious confession is dedicated, was none other than Jacques Davy Du Perron, the ‘Great Converter’, who, although he was no prince to defend his people, was such a superficial believer, according to Aubigné, that he could support just as skilfully any idea and any belief. Aubigné’s text focuses on the moment of the fall, and even more on the stupidly servile relationship between the one who prompted the fall and the one who actually fell. The narrator shows Du Perron as a character who succeeded remarkably in getting what he wanted, a talent he owed less to his qualities as a theologian or even as an orator than to his skills as a socialite. Therefore, Sancy being one of Du Perron’s followers, his converting is disparaged; and, the Confession being dedicated to Du Perron, it is turned into a mere social gesture. The king asks the bishop to ‘bring evidence of Divinity’, which is a historical fact. Du Perron was notorious for his talents as a polemist, and he ‘delights the ladies’. All his deeds had to do with appearance, a divinity to which the hypocrites vowed their fake faith in exchange for a place on the social scene. The very principle of a confession complies with no other norms. To the zealous Protestants at the end of the sixteenth century, every conversion to Catholicism was driven by ruthless ambition. In the Confession, Sancy repeatedly declares in his naivety that his personal interest was his only motive to convert to Catholicism, therefore annihilating the very point of his so-called confession. Du Perron prompted him to choose this utilitarian vision of religion. Apparently, according to Aubigné, it did not take long for Sancy to gather that it was for his own good, as the character wrote at the end of his dedication: I understand what you say about the Scriptures, that your advice is sufficient to turn me into a wise man, not entirely for my salvation, but enough to allow me to reach what I want. The addition of ‘not entirely for my salvation’ shows with which casualty the narrator deals with religion. There again, his attitude betrays that his conversion was not about religion. However, this interpolated clause symbolises the point where all those mundane conversions will fail. Fear of God had not entirely disappeared, and salvation came to torment the apostate, an anguish which will grow stronger by the end of the Confession. The very attempt at justifying oneself becomes a sign of weakness. And Sancy’s lack of conviction is made even more obvious when he starts going through every single matter on which Catholicism and Protestantism differ, as though, from one day to the next everything on which Sancy’s faith rested had been destroyed and turned upside down. As a zealous Protestant showing his righteous fear of God, Aubigné intends to demonstrate that converting for social reasons is not only despicable, but that it is above all dangerous for the soul. The confession fails because of that feeling of anguish the apostate is doomed to experiment. The structure of Aubigné’s lampoon follows roughly the canvass of the new Catholics’ writings of justification as well as proselyte writings. If we compare it to the Remonstrance et supplication tres-humble à Madame..., written by Pierre-Victor Palma Cayet in 1601 to convert Catherine du Bar, Henry IV’s Protestant sister, we notice that every single point is reviewed by Agrippa d’Aubigné. Considerations on the ‘esprit ministral’, the ministerial spirit, are scattered in II, 7 (‘De l’impudence des Huguenots’), the argumentation on saints in I, 3 (‘De l’intercession des saincts et des sainctes’), on Purgatory in I, 4, the Holy Sacrament in I, 10 (‘De la transubstantiation’), the church works in I, 5. Each time, the author ridicules the defence of Catholic religion through the words of a narrator who constantly offers better proof of the stupid pointlessness of his choice. Aubigné overdoes it by adding extra parts, or by dividing chapters. Therefore, the reflection on the ‘Decrets & Canons des Saincts Peres & Docteurs de nostre mere Saincte Eglise de toute antiquité’ is placed in I, 2 (‘Des Traditions’) and in II, 6 (‘Examen de quelques livres de ce temps’). The biting irony lies partly in the way Catholic truth is seen as a relative notion, and in the way it is therefore being nullified. Controversy necessarily had to do with politics at the time when Aubigné wrote. Though Cayet starts his Remonstrance with personal attacks against Jacques Couet and ends it trying to convince Catherine du Bar that the Protestants always meant to sacrifice her brother to their cause, it consists essentially of discussions on theology. As for Aubigné, he mixes the genres to better prove the profanity of converting. If the titles of the first book seem to abide by a structure typical of a Confession or a Remonstrance (and, yet – and this is not devoid of irony – Aubigné already shows how justification and proselytising are mixed from the very beginning) the chapter on ‘Reliques et devotion du feu Roy’ in I, 7 denounces how politics and religion are inseparable, a point which Aubigné stresses with vehement energy in II, 2 (‘De la reunion des religions’). Book II smacks of Menippean satire. It opens on a burlesque dialogue between Mathurine and the young Du Perron, a sum of insanities filled with destructive humour, moves on to political considerations (‘De la reunion des religions’) and to Sancy’s personal and non-theoretical justification (‘Des causes qui me pousserent à ma seconde reformation […]’, ‘Apologétique pour ma longue demeure entre les hérétiques’), and ends on the expression of an outlook which, in a very albinean fashion, and more broadly in a Protestant fashion, highlights the troubles of Sancy’s conscience to show the unhappiness of apostates. The structure of Sancy’s justification falls apart, which is a clever way to prove his lack of self-confidence as to his conversion. In itself, by its very form and its existence (as a fiction, of course), the Confession catholique du sieur de Sancy is an expression of the falseness of Catholic faith and of any kind of justification for it. However, this structure can only be better understood in the context of the use of irony throughout the text. Every single argument defended by the delightfully stupid character of the text is being destroyed by Agrippa d’Aubigné with systematic relentlessness. Shapeless and Unfounded The Catholic religion, a fortiori, when it is chosen is, at best, to follow the king as a means to alleviate political tensions in the kingdom; at worst, it is merely for the sake of self-interest, described as calculated and based on the observation of terrestrial and human facts, and impossible to detach from social considerations. Agrippa d’Aubigné’s seething irony follows an old clerical tradition, but with violence that puts the finishing touch on debunking the process. The Catholic faith is presented as so absurd that it could not really exist in anyone. One could only be Catholic because they have an interest in it. That is what the author suggests through Sancy’s slips of the tongue and bursts of naivety. The narrator keeps bringing earthly reasons to account for spiritual matters, which not only discredits the Catholic doctrine entirely, but, conversely, is also a disgrace for the king, who thought himself entitled to decide on the relationships between men and God by subsuming religion under politics. For instance, Sancy’s character intends to prove the intercession of saints as follows: Lacking arguments, our doctors prove most of the points which are in controversy by strapping resemblances and comparisons, and this is how we prove the intercession of the saints: everybody does not indifferently present their requests to the king, but people have mediators, such as princes, members of the Council of State, inspectors of the king: Ergo saints have to do their business in the sky just as we do ours in Court. Catholic controversists are lowered to the level of sophists, making up for the weakness of their demonstration with figures of speech. Appearances, in one's speech as well as in one's behaviour, become the only criteria of judgement. The intercession of saints is establis
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Bowker Data Service Summary
Focusing on conversion as one of early modern Europe's most pressing issues, this book offers a comprehensive reading of artistic and literary ways in which spiritual transformations and exchanges of religious identities were given meaning.
Description for Reader
All those interested in early modern Europe, intellectual and political history, Renaissance art history, drama, and literature, theology and religious studies
Main Description
Conversion, Religion, Reformation, Art, Literature, Drama, Renaissance, Islam, Judaism, Christianity
Main Description
The religious upheavals of the early modern period and the fierce debate they unleashed about true devotion gave conversion an unprecedented urgency. With their rich variety of emotive, aesthetic and rhetoric means of expression, literature and the visual arts proved particularly well-adapted means to address, explore and represent the complex nature of conversion. At the same time, many artists and authors experimented with the notion that the expressive character of their work could cultivate a sensory experience for the viewer that enacted conversion. Indeed, focusing on conversion as one of early modern Europe s most pressing religious issues, this volume demonstrates that conversion cannot be separated from the creative and spiritual ways in which it was given meaning.Contributors include Mathilde Bernard, John R. Decker, Xander van Eck, Shulamit Furstenberg-Levi, Lise Gosseye, Chloë Houston, Philip Major, Walter Melion, Bart Ramakers, E. Natalie Rothman, Alison Searle, Lieke Stelling, Jayme Yeo and Federico Zuliani.

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