“A Victim of An Age…Over Which He Had No Control”

A brief follow-up to my post Fear, Honor, and Interest and the Records of the Council of Trent:Chadwick summarizes the intense struggle of the period 1868-1874 of the Vatican archivist Augustin Theiner to get the archives of the Council of Trent published. Though the plan had been earlier approved by the pope, powerful forces in the Curia, feeling besieged by the radical Unbelief of the 19th century intellectual world, managed to get the publication halted–and Theiner’s own access to the Vatican Archives (over which he presided) severely restricted.

Outside Rome, critics complained that Theiner’s work in other areas had been sloppy and not comprehensive enough to warrant removal of the deep suspicion that Rome was trying to hide “Truth.” Protestant critics, in particularly, disliked the little that Theiner had managed to publish of the Tridentine records prior to the Curia’s interference precisely because what he published tended to hurt the authority of Sarpi, the major 17th century Protestant historian of Trent upon whose account rested much of the Protestant historical case (such as it was) against the Council.

Surrounded on every side by harsh critics, both papalist and non, Theiner, says Chadwick,

was the victim of an age, and of circumstances, over which he had no control. He was a sacrifice offered up in the battle between historians who exaggerated what history could do, and divines who wanted to believe that history was almost nothing to do with their task.[1]

“Historians who exaggerated what history could do, and divines who believed history had almost nothing to do with their task.” That’s an interesting phrase. Seems to describe the situation today, as well, at least in terms of certain influential parties on both sides of the Catholic-Protestant divide.


  1. Catholicism and History: The Opening of the Vatican Archives [Cambridge University Press, 1978], pg. 70.
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