often reluctant to accept the Reformation, or hesitated to embrace it in all its intellectual and moral consequences. The complaints or 'abuses' registered in the consistorial minutes or visitation reports demonstrate that the transformation of religious culture took a long time. In fact, the transition to the new confessional faith was normally the result of tough, ongoing negotiations between the ecclesiastical authorities and the local community - a local community which had long enjoyed its own conception of religious life and the role of the clergy, and which was often unprepared to sacrifice that conception at the bidding of the authorities in church and state. This new model of the 'negotiation' of religious culture, centred on an interactive process involving a number of actors, accounts much better for the apparent anomalies of the Reformation process, and for the uneven development of its different parameters. Religious institutions, persons or objects, practices or beliefs acquired symbolic meanings that made them unassailable, precisely because they came to be embraced as elements of the local community's identity.

The reform of popular religion

During the seventeenth century, and even more during the eighteenth century, popular religion became the main target of the reform efforts directed by all the religious authorities of western Christianity, Protestant and Catholic. In order to understand the issues at stake, we must return to the period immediately following the Protestant Reformation. The Council of Trent (1545-63) had been the starting point of a huge enterprise of reform of the Roman Catholic Church. While this 'Catholic Reformation' was provoked in part by the evident success of Lutheran Protestantism throughout the Holy Roman Empire and beyond, it was equally rooted in the late medieval sentiment ofthe inadequacy of the established Christian order - of its devotional life, of its ceremonial cults and ethical codes - to respond to the new requirements of the Christian community and of the individual life of the faithful. With respect to popular religion, the two key concepts of the Council of Trent were reform of the clergy and education of the masses. The canons and decrees of Trent express the conviction that the Christian community should be raised to a higher level of intellectual performance and moral commitment, and that such a reform would automatically engender a better religious life for the whole community. To pursue this reform, Trent advocated an elite corps of highly disciplined and well-trained priests working for the moral, spiritual, and temporal welfare of the masses. These priests would reside in their parish, live in chastity, and

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