He was born in Upper Silesia as one of ten children and studied theology in Breslau , Munich and Freiburg. In he went to Rome where he completed a biography of Girolamo Seripando. They stripped him of all academic titles and prohibited him from working in public institutions in Germany. He returned to Rome after narrowly escaping deportation to the Concentration Camp at Buchenwald.
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Jump to navigation. Editor's note: "Take and Read" is a weekly blog that features a different contributor's reflections on a specific book that changed their lives. Good books, as blog co-editors Congregation of St. Agnes Sr. Dianne Bergant and Michael Daley say, "can inspire, affirm, challenge, change, even disturb. When I was working with a colleague on a small book on the sources for the research on the Second Vatican Council Il concilio inedito: fonti del Vaticano II , edited by myself and Giovanni Turbanti, , Giuseppe Alberigo, the general editor of the History of Vatican II , the five-volume standard work for the most important Catholic theological event after Trent, managed to convince a young doctoral student that a small book on the sources was the way Hubert Jedin started his own volumes on the history of the Council of Trent.
The last of the four-volume History of the Council of Trent by Jedin was published 40 years ago and it is still one of the most important works of church history published in the 20th century. True, Jedin's work was difficult to translate into other languages all four volumes were translated into Italian, but not one was ever translated into French , also this was also because of the sheer number of pages more than 2, It is nevertheless one of the paradigm-changing works in Catholic historiography.
All historians of modern Catholicism are indebted to Jedin. The first of the four volumes, published in the early days of postwar Germany, in , opens with a most audacious incipit for a series of volumes focused already on a big event: an entire volume on the pre-history of Trent, introducing what Jedin called "the victory of the papacy over the councils" of the 15th century. The Catholic historian Jedin was breaking a taboo very much present in Catholic culture in the midth century -- one that was still trying to figure out the implications of the definitions on the papacy approved by the First Vatican Council in -- about the relations between the papacy, conciliarism and the conciliar tradition itself.
Jedin explained the difficult and uneasy relationship between the pope and the bishops gathered in a council not in terms of theological necessity, but in historical terms and with a sense of historical development.
The Council of Trent , the most defining moment of early modern Catholicism, for Jedin did not stand alone in church history, but was part of a long and tense history of the Catholic church, and especially of Catholic ecclesiology -- in a sense, the result of the end of 15th-century conciliarism. The second part of the first volume addresses the history of the attempts to call the council after Martin Luther's call for a church reform that eventually became the Protestant Reformation. Volume 1 ends with a chapter devoted to the opening of the council at Trent, Italy, with just a handful of council fathers -- 25 bishops and five superiors of religious orders, a tiny minority within the Catholic episcopate, not at all representative of what back then was the Catholic world.
Volume 2 published eight years after the first one, in focuses on the first session and the transfer of the council south of Trent, that is to Bologna. Volume 3 published in analyzes the sessions in Bologna and the second period in Trent , which solidified the fracture between Rome and the Protestant reformers. Volume 4, Parts I and II published in is about the last period at Trent with the debates on ordination, the Eucharist, indulgences, the saints, and the role of images in devotional practices.
In the conclusion of the work, Jedin analyzes the last three sessions including the deliberations on the decree on marriage and draws a final assessment of the contributions made by the most important event in the history of Catholic theology and culture between the 16th and the 19th centuries.
Jedin's "opus magnum" on the history of Trent is indeed one of the monuments of Catholic historiography, and in a sense the highest moment in 20th-century historiography of the councils of the church. Jedin was the most important historian in a church that after World War II -- but still before Vatican II -- was finally accepting the historical-critical method as the approach necessary to understand the church as a historical subject.
The church was slowly coming to terms with the limits of conceiving church history still in theological terms, as a "sacred history. Jedin's History of the Council of Trent was indeed the culmination of his historiographical contribution, which changed the way Catholic historians would look at their profession: abandonment of a strictly confessional and apologetic historiography, the awareness of the limits of the historiographical positivism strictly limited to the publication of sources, and the claim of new spaces opened up by the end of the persecution of "modernists" in the early 20th century.
This shift was made possible in Jedin by his important teachers and intellectual references in Germany Joseph Wittig, Leopold von Ranke, Sebastian Merkle and Albert Ehrhard , his contemporary colleagues in Italy the philosopher Benedetto Croce and the historian of heretics Delio Cantimori , and his encounters with the characters and historical events that emerged from the pages of history, starting with Girolamo Seripando, superior general of the Augustinians and a member of the Council of Trent.
Jedin's outstanding contribution was the result of the application of historical-critical method, in a period that followed the liberalization of historical studies with the opening of the Vatican Archives by Pope Leo XIII in , but still characterized by apologetics and theological controversialism. Until Vatican II, Jedin's work was considered not Catholic enough by some guardians of Catholic intellectual orthodoxy. Jedin's mother was Jewish, and that meant for him the withdrawal of the German venia legendi permission to teach in universities and the banning from state universities in Nazi Germany.
That had brought the young lecturer only the poor position of archivist of the diocese of Wroclaw back then still in Germany, now in Poland after the postwar boundaries. After the Kristallnacht of Nov. So he decided to return to Rome, where he had lived already, to be the editor of one of the volumes of the prestigious series Concilium Tridentinum , the edition of the historical documents of the Council of Trent.
On Sept. Jedin kept working -- even in those difficult conditions during the war -- in the Vatican Archives. The first volume of his history of the Council of Trent was published in Jedin's work gave us — four centuries after the end of the Council of Trent in !
This four-volume history put an end to the controversies between the two polar opposites dominating Catholic scholarship on Trent until Jedin: the anti-papal and polemical history of the council by the Venetian Paolo Sarpi published in and immediately put on the Index of Prohibited Books and the official, apologetic history by the Jesuit Pietro Sforza Pallavicino published in That was possible because as a first step in the work to the history of the council, Jedin wanted to take a look at the archival sources and their use.
Interestingly, Jedin called this little introductory work "my best book. The ramifications of Jedin's work go well beyond the field of specialists of Trent and the Tridentine era. If we have the standard History of Vatican II directed by Alberigo published , in five volumes, published in seven languages, English edition by Joseph Komonchak , it is because there was Jedin's History of the Council of Trent before.
Not just because Jedin's work was brought to Italy largely by his student Alberigo , but because the approach to Vatican II by the international team of scholars gathered by the so-called often insultingly "Bologna school.
Send your thoughts and reactions to Letters to the Editor. Learn more here. Join now. Blog NCR Today. Hubert Jedin changed the paradigm for church historians Sep 26, This article appears in the Take and Read feature series. View the full series. Discovering the true self in God with Merton's guidance Jan 23, Arguing with Dorothy Day challenges my quest for a Christian life Jan 16, Hoffman's 'Beyond the Text' directs us to the borderlands Jan 9, In 'Gitanjali,' I found wisdom, lost it, and found it again Jan 2, Join the Conversation Send your thoughts and reactions to Letters to the Editor.
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A history of the Council of Trent
But many in the English-speaking world were quite unaware of who this man was and what his contribution to the Church consisted of. What follows is a brief sketch of his life. Perhaps the most outstanding church historian of the Catholic world died July 16, , in Bonn, then—West Germany. He was ordained a diocesan priest on March 2, , and did work in a parish for the next two years.
Who Was Hubert Jedin?
Volume I. By Hubert Jedin. Translated from the German by Dom Ernest Graf. Edinburgh: Thomas Nelson and Sons; distrib.
Hubert Jedin changed the paradigm for church historians