Priestcraft. Anatomizing the anti-clericalism of early modern Europe

Intellectual History Review 28 (1):7-22 (2018)
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Abstract

This paper aims to take the measure of the strand of early modern anti-clericalism that was conveyed by the term “priestcraft”. Priestcraft amounted to the claim that priests had usurped civil power and accumulated material wealth by systematically deceiving the laity and its secular rulers. Religion as it was practised and avowed by believers in early modern Europe was left tainted by this charge since manifold aspects of religious practice and belief fell under the pall of the suspicion that they were merely part of the ruse perpetrated through the centuries by greedy and power-hungry priests. While the English language was particularly effective in condensing this claim into the term in question, mistrust of the clergy informed numerous discourses unfolding in diverse confessional and intellectual contexts. The present article seeks to draw attention to the thematic richness of priestcraft as an object of historical inquiry by identifying the multiple ways in which this trope made its presence felt in the early modern world.

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