Author: Lehner, Ulrich L
Date published: June 1, 2012
BY FORCE AND FEAR: TAKING AND BREAKING MONASTIC VOWS IN EARLY MODERN EUROPE. By Anne Jacobson Schutte. Ithaca, NY: Cornell, 2011. Pp. xii + 285. $45.
Anne Schütte's book is a major achievement in many regards. First of all, it introduces the reader, oft the basis of almost 1,000 case files between 1678 and 1793, to the sad history of Catholics who were forced into the religious Ufe and demonstrates, against widespread prejudice, that it was predominantly men who felt forced to take vows, not women. Second, it establishes that the main institution for handling cases of forced monachization was not - as historians have hitherto assumed - the Congregation of Bishops and Regulars, but the Congregation of the Council. Third, not only second-born children were forced into the cloister but often the oldest offspring of a family. Fourth, sexual urges did not play an important role of these religious to receive dispensations. Last, but not least, S. shows with indisputable accuracy that in Catholic Europe no "modern" antipatriarchal and emotionally affective family emerges in the 18th century, despite the fact that the Catholic Church, with its insistence on free consent for marriage and vows, was the only major force that questioned this dominant cultural practice (85).
The material that S. unearthed is remarkable and will be extremely helpful for further research, especially on gender studies in religion, because the material leads one to reflect once more about the question of why the discipline in female convents was so much better than in male monasteries, and why women did not feel forced into a monastic life to the same extent as men. That female socialization prepared women to serve (172) is certainly one aspect, but recent research has also shown that in Catholic countries monastic life was the only alternative to marriage that left women with considerable personal freedom. With an outstanding methodological awareness (13-22), S's important book challenges the established narrative of forced religious and of the evolution of the modern family and Catholicism's contribution to it. S. also effectively narrates the drama of violated personal freedom in early modern monasteries all over Europe.
ULRICH L. LEHNER
Marquette University, Milwaukee