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An Aspiring Saint and His Work: Cesare Baronio and the Success and Failure of the Annales ecclesiastici (1588–1607)

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image of Erudition and the Republic of Letters

The Annales ecclesiastici (12 vols, 1588–1607), composed by the Italian cardinal Cesare Baronio, rank amongst the most important publications of the Counter-Reformation era. Their fame earned Baronio his cardinal’s hat, while their impact on the Catholic world far exceeded that of the rival Magdeburg Centuries among Protestants. Recent scholarship has thrown new light on the aims and reception of the Annales. In particular, scholars have shown that Baronio was preoccupied more with the conversion of heretics than with their confutation, and they have demonstrated that the reception of the Annales, especially in the Iberian Peninsula, was less unanimously positive than hitherto supposed. Building on these insights, this article turns to Baronio’s much neglected authorial persona, not only as an ecclesiastical historian but also as an aspiring saint. It studies the ways in which Baronio’s own personal virtues and those of his mentor, Philip Neri, were used to present the Annales as a work of, quite literally, divine inspiration, before turning to the reception of the Annales in Catholicism’s northern borderlands. The article suggests that even there the Annales were more controversial than realized, but that ambivalence was masked by the dictates of time and place.

Affiliations: 1: School of History, Archaeology and Religion, Cardiff University, Cardiff CF 10 3 EU, UK,


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