The Ranums' Panat Times
Religiously Indifferent Artisan?
Presented at the "Glorious Artisan" session at the 45th annual meeting
When reflecting upon the preparation of today's presentation, I thought it might be interesting to examine Orest's treatment of early modern French religion in order to explore Orest's personal religious beliefs and to see to what extent, if any, they might influence how he writes history. I thought too that Orest might enjoy this, for he himself revels in playfully conjecturing about the presentist concerns that inform historians' books. For instance, he speculated that Roland Mousnier's account of the assassination of Henry IV was influenced by the attempts on the life of Charles de Gaulle. With a bemused smile, Orest told a graduate class that his own book, Paris in the Age of Absolutism, was really about the squabbles among the boroughs in 1960s New York City that Orest witnessed first-hand while teaching at Columbia University.
Without completely neglecting his books and articles, I choose to focus on Orest's book reviews, in part because I wish to emphasize their importance. All of us present at this meeting of course owe a profound intellectual debt to Orest's books and articles, which set a high standard of quality for us to emulate. But Orest's book reviews also are wonderful pieces of scholarship: witty, chatty at times, often intensely personal, profound, and brilliant. I would contend that only after reading OR's more than one hundred book reviews as a continual experience can one appreciate his historical breadth and interests. I read with pleasure many reviews on early modern France, as one would expect, but also on early modern Germany, England, modern France, and such varied subjects as architecture, engineering, science, material culture, and so on. Orest remarked publicly at the Western Society for French History banquet in Boston last October that everything in early modern French history interested him, and that is certainly evident in his reviews. Orest's choice to post unpublished reviews on his web site as he eases himself into retirement indicates his own sense of the importance of book reviewing and of scholarly dialogue. I fully appreciate Orest's ability to explore in a profound way the texture of early modern France in his reviews, for there he freely ranges over centuries, topics, and cultures, whereas, he, along with all of us, has less opportunity to roam when we write articles or books whose parameters restrict us to certain subjects.
Orest grew up in a Lutheran household and knew his catechism perfectly. Does this Lutheranism infuse his own work? If one wants to study Lutheranism in early modern Europe, one should certainly not choose France as a focal point of study. Orest has never written a book on a topic in the history of religion, although he edited Bossuet's Discourse on Universal History. To be sure, the indexes to his books, excepting the first, reference at length the major religious movements and events Jansenism, the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, etc.
Orest's treatment of religion and theology in Paris and the Age of Absolutism and in several of his articles indicates his appreciation of religion, theology, issues, and personalities. Yet, he could have done more with religion had he been so inclined. He might have found for his book Richelieu and the Counselors of Louis XIII, the religious sensibilities of Richelieu's creatures to have been a worthwhile aspect of their behavior and he might have studied Père Joseph. He might have done more with his historiographers' conception of religion in Artisans of Glory. He might have discussed the role of Jansenists and of Huguenot loyalty in The Fronde: A French Revolution and have contrasted the Fronde with the English Revolution and its motor force, Puritanism. His deep analysis of the Ormée might have benefitted from such a comparison, especially in light of Bordeaux's economic ties to England and the dissemination in France of radical English tracts. Another example...The Century of Louis XIV, Orest's and Pat's coedited collection of documents, has seven parts, but none is devoted to religion. A few of the sources do concern religion, but they do not go beyond the conventional in depicting the Catholic-Huguenot conflict. I defend Orest easily here by remarking that his books, as well as his book reviews, do stand nicely without being propped up by matters of religion and theology.
It is not that Orest undervalues the centrality of religion to the early modern French. His reviews of various works on Richelieu and on the wars of religion underscore his recognition of the prominence and preeminence of religion. In a review praising Jacques Gres-Goyer's Le Jansénisme en Sorbonne, Orest remarks: "How often we read about Absolutism being on the rise in works that make no allusion to the Church!" Reviewing Roche, Le peuple de Paris, Orest writes: "Where books are recorded they were most frequently devotional. Indeed in this work just about the only glimpse we receive of popular religious life is in the inventory of works of devotion. Clearly there is more research to be done here. The Jansenist controversies left a trace, however, in these inventories, an indication of just how important they must have been even for the lower social orders." Orest faults Edward Shorter for not using religion as an analytical tool in his book, The Making of the Modern Family, reminding us of the meaningful role that early modern evangelical movements played in defining many of the characteristics of the world we have lost.
While sometimes discussing the importance of religion as he reviews books, Orest still strikes me as gaining interest in the subject when it affects directly the history of the state, as in the case of the Edict of Nantes, the Catholic revival, the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, or the Edict of Toleration. Thus he chides Roland Mousnier: "What he says about the Jews [in Paris capitale au temps de Richelieu et de Mazarin] is so slight that, at first thought, it would have been better for him to have left it out. But its presence is testimony to the need for more research." The wording is especially interesting because earlier in the review Orest praises Mousnier in this fashion: "Mousnier's observation that the hierarchy of the Church was more deeply preoccupied with social climbing than in fulfilling their vows strikes the reader with special authority because it comes from the pen of someone who is devout." I would have been more impressed with the devout Mousier coming to terms with the life of Jews than with the commonplace, noted so fervently by Erasmus, that so many early modern ecclesiastics were preoccupied with their own social status.
Not surprising, very few of Orest's approximately 150 book reviews concern religion. This parallels Orest's own corpus, as I have indicated. To understand Orest's work, we must recognize that his fundamental interest is in power. The subjects of power and the state, not religion, drive Orest's books and articles. In a review of Thomas Brennan's book, Burgundy to Champagne: The Wine Trade in Early Modern France, Orest remarks: "Braudel's lack of discussion about the state sometimes left me bored; adventure and risk for me have never been as interesting as power."
What conclusions can I draw after searching religiously for Orest's discussions of religion in his approximately one hundred fifty book reviews? First, as I have indicated, he recognizes the importance of religion in French history, and keeps abreast of the pertinent scholarly works as they appear. Second, Orest grapples with the subject of religion primary in the context of the history of power, that area of history that seems to unite Orest's many different and prolific publications. Thus Orest sees archbishop Fénelon as an insider motivated more by personal career opportunities than by a devout mysticism (hence his sympathy to Mousnier's view of clerical social climbing). Orest seems to be more concerned with the religious politics of the 16th-century civil wars, including shifting royal policies or aristocratic intrigues and ambitions, for example, than about either religious culture or belief. I think Orest's approach is not owing to a lack of appreciation or respect for theology and religious sentiment I am convinced he appreciates their importance but simply to his own interests. If the current political scene fascinates Orest more than a personal theology, then, well, he has focused professionally on the history of politics and on religious politics. Consequently, I was set to resolve that Orest succeeds in making a complete divorce between his Lutheran upbringing, on the one hand, and the assessments he has made of various developments in French religion in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries, on the other. One of Orest's whimsical comments (in his review of Guiliano Ferretti's edition of the letters of Fortin de la Hoguette) helped push me in that direction: "Fortin also carved out some sort of special parish with a chapel built at his expense to sustain not only his candidacy for Heaven, but for appointment to a royal household. It failed to help on the latter; evidence on the former is hard to come by." I also recall fondly Orest's sardonic remark about certain early modern Catholics being in Heaven now, "because they did all the right things." Such "things" did not include humane behavior, for example, but the formulaic observances that an early modern Catholic might practice. But, I wonder, was Orest's remark a perhaps unconscious Lutheran sole fides take on Catholic devotional practice? Nevertheless, I am not sure what my conclusion is now. Orest uses the Christian value-laden and biased term, "Christ," to refer to Jesus. I can write that off as simply something he has not thought through. More to the point, in a review dating to 1983, Orest notes: "...this reviewer, a Protestant himself,..." I can only determine that, while Orest does an admirable job in studying the past as much as humanly possible on its own terms and without grinding any religious axes, he has not disassociated himself totally from his religious training.
One final conclusion I wish to draw to your attention Among all his book reviews, I found only five that were severely critical and not one of them was of a young historian's first book. This record says much about Orest's humanity, his sense of a community of scholars, and his mentoring role.
Richard M. Golden