Conclusion

It has been said with truth that the sixteenth century saw a sea change in Christian spirituality. On all sides, the movement is towards the responsibility of the individual to shape his or her journey to God according to charts and programmes of spiritual advance far more detailed than ever before, and far more attuned to the analysis of subjective states—though, as we have seen, the greatest writers in this area point us to the subjective only to place it too under the shadow of suspicion. It is not hard to see why issues about prayer came to be of political importance, given the claims made for the freedom and authenticity of the inner life: for both Catholicism and Protestantism, the issue of religious control was to become more and more complex as the old corporate forms of devotion broke down or changed drastically. Very broadly speaking, the Catholic resolution was to place the new concern with interiority at the service of a rigorous training of the will: for the Carmelite saints and their followers, the disciplining of the will to be faithful in experiences of darkness and inward suffering, for the Jesuits, the formation of a habit of disinterested obedience to the imperatives of the Church's mission. Protestantism had more, and more various, difficulties: while some Protestants drifted further towards a new style of biblical literalism as a way of resolving problems over authority, others moved in the direction of rationalist universalism—the reliance on truths available to the introspection of every reasonable human subject, without the intervention of any external authority.

The problematic results of that are familiar enough to anyone with an eye to our current cultural situation. But it can certainly be said that, in one way or another, the spirituality of the Reformation era helped to fix, for good and ill, the shape of the modern psychological subject, which, in its suspicion and restlessness and awareness of unsatisfiable desire, has, in the words of a recent French study of this period, 'kept the form and not the content' of the spiritual journey mapped out in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries (de Certeau, 1993:293).

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