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Open Access Politics and Devotion

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Politics and Devotion

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The Case of Robert Persons vs. Edmund Bunny, Author of A Book of Christian Exercise

image of Journal of Jesuit Studies

Devotional writers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries liked to promote their works as an antidote to the toxic polemical literature of the period. Even Robert Persons, the fiercely tenacious and effective polemicist for the Catholic cause, and a favorite Jesuit “bogeyman” in anti-Catholic propaganda, professed to desire a future when Christians would focus their energies on cultivation of the inner spiritual life. However, the irenic dispositions of these writers were counterbalanced by both polemical pressures of the day and deep-seated convictions regarding the true church. The ideological stake in devotion is foregrounded in Edmund Bunny’s Protestant appropriation of Persons’s devotional best-seller, the Christian Directory. This article places Persons/Bunny in the context of the struggles between English Catholics and the English government (and, for that matter, between Catholics) regarding political and religious loyalties. It is argued that the writing—and especially the reading—of such works of devotion in the highly charged polemical environment of this period constitutes a still under-appreciated contribution to the formation of early modern subjectivity. The Persons/Bunny episode is an important chapter in a larger literary struggle for control of conscience.

Affiliations: 1: Purdue University Calumet, Ronald.Corthell@purduecal.edu

Devotional writers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries liked to promote their works as an antidote to the toxic polemical literature of the period. Even Robert Persons, the fiercely tenacious and effective polemicist for the Catholic cause, and a favorite Jesuit “bogeyman” in anti-Catholic propaganda, professed to desire a future when Christians would focus their energies on cultivation of the inner spiritual life. However, the irenic dispositions of these writers were counterbalanced by both polemical pressures of the day and deep-seated convictions regarding the true church. The ideological stake in devotion is foregrounded in Edmund Bunny’s Protestant appropriation of Persons’s devotional best-seller, the Christian Directory. This article places Persons/Bunny in the context of the struggles between English Catholics and the English government (and, for that matter, between Catholics) regarding political and religious loyalties. It is argued that the writing—and especially the reading—of such works of devotion in the highly charged polemical environment of this period constitutes a still under-appreciated contribution to the formation of early modern subjectivity. The Persons/Bunny episode is an important chapter in a larger literary struggle for control of conscience.

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2014-07-09
2017-06-24

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