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F. Meyer, La Maison de l´évêque (Joseph Bergin)

Francia-Recensio 2009/4 Frühe Neuzeit – Revolution – Empire (1500–1815)

Frédéric Meyer, La Maison de l’évêque. Familles et curies épiscopales entre Alpes et Rhône (Savoie-Burgey-Lyonnais-Dauphiné-Comtat Venaissin) de la fin du XVI e siècle à la fin du XVIII e siècle, Paris (Honoré Champion) 2008, 621 p., ISBN 978-2-7453-1740-7, EUR 105,00.

rezensiert von/compte rendu rédigé par

Joseph Bergin, Manchester

In choosing to research and write on the subject of ancien régime bishops and their households and administrative agents, Frédéric Meyer takes the historiography of the church’s governing elites into partially new territory. After other historians, who include this reviewer, examined the making and re-making of the episcopate itself on a nation-wide scale over three centuries, the next logical step was to examine how they operated within their dioceses – something which it is simply impossible to do satisfactorily on a national scale. Fr. Meyer’s choice of sixteen dioceses from the south-eastern parts of France, some of which were subject not to the secular authority of the French monarchy, but to the papacy and Savoy, also offers the advantage of enabling us to judge the impact of different political cultures on episcopal activity. His objective is different again from those of the many historians who, before and after Louis Pérouas’s classic study of La Rochelle diocese, have examined episcopal activities within a broad study of the agenda and progress of the Catholic Reformation. The latter does indeed figure significantly in his account, but it is not his principal focus. Instead, what he seeks to do is to uncover the unstable, shifting entourages of bishops within their dioceses and across two centuries, with a view, among many other things, to determining the relative weight – or decisiveness – of bishops on the one hand, and their households and officials on the other, in shaping the government of the dioceses of which they were in charge.

This may seem a rather modest objective, but it has numerous ramifications and it raises all kinds of important questions which have a direct relevance for religious, political, social and cultural history. Its timescale – from roughly 1600 to the outbreak of the Revolution – does not make his task an easy one, given the significant changes of emphasis and scale, not to mention the responses of the local populations to the changes that did occur during the period under consideration. Fr. Meyer considers sixteen dioceses, 239 bishops, and thousands of individuals in episcopal/diocesan service whose presence within the historical record varies hugely, ranging from a single mention to virtual ubiquity in the annals of individual dioceses where they operated during careers that sometimes lasted over fifty years. Because of these enormous disparities, Fr. Meyer’s account can only be impressionistic on some of the questions he deals with, and he has quite sensibly opted for an approach which represents a compromise between an (impossibly) complete prosopography, on the one hand, and case-studies of questionable representativity, on the other. Given the variations in archival survivals from diocese to diocese in the South-East, there is probably no other viable approach, but it is doubtful if one could find a similar cluster of dioceses in any another region of France of which the same could not be said.

It is only possible here to report on a few of the many questions that this rich and wide-ranging book discusses. Throughout the period under consideration here, bishops were confronted with a clear social obligation, that of maintaining a household that corresponded to their status in local, especially urban society, while at the same time conforming to the requirements of the Council of Trent about a modest train de vie , with a household that accepted quite austere spiritual norms. Despite the reputation of French bishops for ostentation – a reputation which Fr. Meyer traces essentially to the second half of the eighteenth century – he finds that very few of his bishops – those of Lyon and Vienne who had the financial resources – maintained lavish households, which rarely exceeded fifteen individuals, or built lavish palaces. Indeed they conformed remarkably fully to tridentine demands, and their households became spiritual rather than merely administrative communities, ones in which clerics handled fewer and fewer financial and estate-related duties. At the same time, there was an increased professionalization of episcopal administration, some of whose most important members, such as the vicars-general, were not household members in the strict sense. These men, as well as the officiaux , promoteurs and so on, became more and more professional with time, and many had taken the same Sorbonne theology degrees as the bishops they served. But Fr. Meyer shows clearly that only a handful of vicars-general ever had a serious chance of entering the episcopate, which was definitely not reserved for meritocratic vicars-general. They were, usually, the pick of the local clerical elite who combined service to bishop and diocese, which was not without its tensions, given that many of them also belonged to the independently-minded local cathedral chapters. Fr. Meyer argues, effectively I believe, that this administrative étoffement gradually enabled French bishops to gain the upper hand in relations with chapters, the regulars and much of the secular clergy. At the same time, while remaining hommes de l’évêque , the vicars-general and other officials drew upon their connections within local society (the robe , the legal profession mostly), and were frequently crucial in ensuring that particular initiatives – seminaries, general hospitals, schools, confraternities etc. – would succeed. Bishops may have needed assistance rather than direction from their subordinates, but the latter did retain a degree of autonomy that cannot be accurately reflected by institutional structures. And, as well-educated clerics holding key positions, not a few of them were also important cultural figures in the small towns of provincial France, as is reflected in the books they wrote or, more mundanely, in the academies which they joined.

Despite its length, several of the themes discussed in this book remain rather elusive, and the author’s conclusions a little unsure at times. But Fr. Meyer has anticipated this, announcing at the outset that his work is »un essai plus qu’une synthèse définitive « , while repeating the point – »le bilan […] ne peut être que provisoire« – in his conclusion. Nevertheless, his book abounds with valuable ideas and suggestions that will certainly make it the point de départ for all future research on topics which remain poorly understood, and which would enrich our grasp of how the French church really operated during the Ancien Regime.

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PSJ Metadata
Joseph Bergin
F. Meyer, La Maison de l´évêque (Joseph Bergin)
Frühe Neuzeit (1500-1789), Neuzeit / Neuere Geschichte (1789-1918)
Frankreich und Monaco
Kirchen- und Religionsgeschichte, Kultur- und Mentalitätsgeschichte
17. Jh., 18. Jh.
4133098-5 4424386-8
Frankreich Südost (4133098-5), Bischofspfalz (4424386-8)
PDF document meyer_bergin.doc.pdf — PDF document, 110 KB
F. Meyer, La Maison de l´évêque (Joseph Bergin)
In: Francia-Recensio 2009/4 | Frühe Neuzeit – Revolution – Empire (1500–1815)
URL: https://prae.perspectivia.net/publikationen/francia/francia-recensio/2009-4/FN/meyer_bergin
Veröffentlicht am: 26.01.2010 17:40
Zugriff vom: 23.02.2020 06:12
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