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Right from its foundation in 1540, the Society of Jesus recognised the value and role of visual description (ekphrasis) in the persuasive rhetoric of Jesuit missionary accounts. Over a century later, when Jesuit missions were to be found on all the inhabited continents of the world then known to Europeans, descriptions of the new-found lands were being read for the entertainment as well as the edification of their Old World audiences. The first official history of the Society's missions in the vernacular, the volumes authored by Daniello Bartoli (1608–1685), played an important role in communicating a sense of the distinctiveness of the order's global mission. Referred to by Giacomo Leopardi (1798–1837) as the ‘Dante of baroque prose’, Bartoli developed a particularly variegated and intensely visual idiom to meet the challenge of describing parts of the world which the majority of his readers, including himself, would never visit.
This article argues that the age of the Protestant and Catholic Reformations and the global spread of the latter brought with it the challenge that not only was it necessary to learn new languages in order to communicate the Christian message to non-European peoples encountered during the so-called ‘Age of Discovery’, but some kind of control had to be exercised over the new, global circulation of sacred images and relics. The latter facilitated the visual (and virtual) translation of such holy sites as Jerusalem and Rome and its specific holy treasures in the mental prayers of the faithful. It concludes that it was less Lamin Sanneh's ‘triumph of [linguistic] translatability’ and more the physical translatability of the sacred that made possible the emergence of Roman Catholicism as this planet's first world religion.
This archetypal depiction of the divine, Pentecostal solution to the challenge posed by linguistic diversity to the spread of Christianity lies at the heart of this volume. How was the curse placed on the citizens of monolingual Babel, who had the temerity to attempt to build a tower that reached heaven (Gen. 11: 1–9), so that God made their speech mutually incomprehensible and scattered them to the winds, to be exorcised, or at least best coped with?
At the southern foot of the Palatine Hill in Rome, a little more than one hundred metres due west of the triumphal arch erected by the emperor who is associated more than any other with the Christian conversion of the Old World — Constantine the Great – there stands another arch. Relocated from its original position at the eastern foot of the Palatine, more or less directly across from the biggest remaining ruin in the forum — that of the Basilica of Maxentius — it formed the monumental entrance to one of the most important botanic gardens in sixteenth-century Europe — the Orti farnesiani, which were given their definitive shape between 1565 and 1590. I propose that this second arch has reason to be considered as occupying a similar symbolic significance for the conversion of the New World.
Central to the Tridentine reaffirmation of the divinely-ordained nature of the Holy Roman Church was the assertion of papal magisterium. While conflicts with the secular authorities over rights of ecclesiastical patronage in general, and episcopal appointment in particular, have long received the attention of scholars, considerably less notice has been taken of an area in which the papacy took a highly visible lead in the immediate aftermath of Trent. This concerned the reform of liturgy, which the Council of Trent in its final (25th) session had left entirely to papal discretion. In the space of less than fifty years, from the publication of the revised Roman Breviary (1568) to the issue of the revised Roman Ritual (1614), the Roman Church undertook the unprecedented step of providing texts which were to possess universal validity and authority. In what follows, discussion will be focused on the reform of the breviary, not only because the issues raised most directly concern the cult of saints, but also because the processes involved tell us much about the reception and interpretation of Tridentine reforms in general.
Members of the reforming commission sought not to innovate but ‘to strip the office back to its antique [simplicity]’ (ridur l’officio all’antico). In Pius V’s words, the aim was to reclaim ‘the original standard of the Fathers’ (pristina patrum norma) so as to permit the more frequent saying of the daily ferial (i.e. non-feast day) office. The latter was centred on readings from the psalms (all 150 of which were meant to be covered each week), together with other key passages from scripture (many of which were accompanied by short homilies, not infrequently of patristic authorship).