Irene Fosiís work merits the attention of historians and moral theologians who are particularly interested in and prepared to read high level material on the Inquisition. The work demonstrates the authorís superior knowledge of the subject and offers footnotes and an extensive bibliography for further research. Readers would do well to have at least a modicum of knowledge about the Council of Trent and the origins and purposes of the Inquisition before tackling this work.
Fosi presents an honest appraisal of both the abuses and the triumphs of the Papal State during the years she examines. She includes fragments of letters from the city and the country, from petitioners and respondents, from the satisfied and the dissatisfied. One gains a deeper appreciation of the struggles and confusion of the time as she describes the prevalent issues and circumstances that gave rise to both wise and questionable behavior and outcomes. For example, she exhibits a particular sensitivity toward women in Chapter 8 ďInside the Family.Ē Fosi aptly describes their plight in the patriarchal society insisted upon by Trent. She examines the results of voicelessness and powerlessness within the context of paterfamilias.
While she acknowledges the use of torture by some ecclesiastics in power, Fosi notes again and again the Vaticanís insistence upon restraint and caution. Their goal of restoring and maintaining discipline both in the hinterlands and in the urban areas called for cooperation with their neighbors in the Kingdom of Naples and the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. Although she does not directly confront the Churchís anti-Semitism, she does acknowledge it and offers examples of the abuse of Jews at the hands of ecclesiastical officials. In the same vein, while Fosi does not hide the sexual abuse by some members of the clergy, she does not critique it. Indeed, she describes the deference given to clergy even as they are punished for their sins and crimes. She reports the different penalties meted out for rich (e.g., fines) and poor (e.g., stocks and humiliation). Ever the historian, Fosi offers no social critique. Her even treatment of the best and the worst of times leaves readers free to draw their own conclusions.
Boundaries and banditry are significant themes in Fosiís work. She shows how the confusion experienced by officials whose right to power was often in dispute was exploited by bandits who slipped through permeable boundaries. Secular rulers regularly contested the popeís claim to supreme authority. As a result, an enormous gulf persisted between theory and reality. There was nearly universal mistrust of everyone associated with the institutions of justice. The difficulties associated with poor communication and transportation resulted in a multiplicity of letters and long delays between justice requested and justice delivered. Conditions were ripe for imposters, fraud, and corruption. Details of these make for interesting reading.
The authorís wry observations abound and give the impression of a very human investigator in search of the real story behind the legends of a tumultuous period in church history. The reader gains an appreciation of the very real tension between Vatican and secular claims to authority. Fosiís insightful presentation of the complexities encountered by each segment of the population (e.g., lay and clergy, secular and ecclesiastical, rich and poor, women and men) on a variety of timeless issues allows the reader a chance to extrapolate to todayís issues. The book offers many opportunities to reflect upon the ideal of buon governo and the extraordinary efforts that all too often fell short of that ideal. A careful reading of this text provides substantial dividends for those willing to attempt it. Graduate students, seminarians, and other serious readers would do well to learn this material from Irene Fosi.