The French controversialists of the late seventeenth century studied the Reformation for two reasons: to explain its causes, and to pronounce judgment upon it according to the social, philosophical and theological principles of their party traditions. In satisfying their dual aims, they were bound by what their parties wished, or needed, to hear, as well as by their own personal need for assurance that history would confirm their philosophical predispositions. To reconcile their scholarly training with their determination to pronounce judgment, the writers became prudently incomplete and practiced economy with the truth. Facts which impinged upon their sensibilities, they glided over, or repeated well-worn interpretations; sometimes they ignored an embarrassing subject entirely, or claimed that it lay outside their range of competence; elsewhere, wit or rhetoric provided an escape from choosing between fact and conviction. To the most basic question of the cause of the Reformation, the controversialists were unwilling, or even unable, to give full treatment. But their partial answers — what they chose to ignore or discard, what they did not say along with what they did say — reveal their understanding of the social, political and religious issues of their age.


Sixteenth Century Historical Argument Catholic Faith Party Tradition Historical Controversy 
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Copyright information

© Martinus Nijhoff, The Hague, Netherlands 1973

Authors and Affiliations

  • Elisabeth Israels Perry

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