Following the Council of Trent (1545–1563), Catholic religious orders underwent substantial reform. Nevertheless, on occasion monks and nuns had to be disciplined and—if they had committed a crime—punished. Consequently, many religious orders relied on sophisticated criminal law traditions that included torture, physical punishment, and prison sentences. Ulrich L. Lehner provides, for the first time, an overview of how monasteries in central Europe prosecuted crime and punished their members, and thus introduces a host of new questions for anyone interested in state-church relations, gender questions, the history of violence, or the development of modern monasticism.
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Lehner’s brave, ambitious, and learned study uncovers the little-known history of secret monastic prisons for wayward monks and nuns, and the clandestine use of torture in monastic legal proceedings. . . . This is church history at its best. It deserves to be widely known and imitated.
—H.C. Erik Midelfort, Julian Bishko Professor of History, emeritus, University of Virginia
In this path-breaking, lucid book, Ulrich Lehner challenges conventional wisdom on the nature and purpose of prisons and punishment in early modern central Europe. Exploiting neglected evidence on monastic prisons and trial procedures, he demonstrates that the Mendicant orders continued medieval standards as the post-Tridentine religious adopted milder discipline. . . . A book of major significance, it will spur further research into our understanding of confinement and punishment.
—Gregg Roeber, professor of early modern history and religious studies, Pennsylvania State University
Ulrich Lehner, who has become a master of all things Catholic in eighteenth-century Europe, here examines the sorry record of crime and punishment within selected European monasteries. His conclusion is persuasive—that moral failings of these institutions should not overwhelm other evidence of improved moral standards in the Tridentine Church. All who look for a fuller account of official Catholicism in the era whipsawed by both the Enlightenment and rising governmental absolutism will thank him for the careful research underlying this book.
—Mark A. Noll, Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History, University of Notre Dame