Skip to Main Content

New Scholarship on Religion and Literature, 2000-2012 (November 2013): Breaking Down “Protestant” and “Catholic”

By Miriam Elizabeth Burstein

Breaking Down “Protestant” and “Catholic”

A number of critics challenge the strict Protestant-Catholic discursive divide.  Ramie Targoff’s influential Common Prayer: The Language of Public Devotion in Early Modern England uses the Book of Common Prayer to show that Catholic devotions in church were far more individualized and privatized  than their Protestant equivalents; the Book of Common Prayer offered a communal congregational voice that, even though ritualized, acted powerfully on the individual worshipper’s subjectivity.  Stephen Hamrick’s The Catholic Imaginary and the Cults of Elizabeth, 1558-1582 approaches the subject through what he calls the “Catholic Imaginary,” or the Protestant appropriation of Catholic imagery, symbolism, and rhetoric in ways that might affirm as well as subvert their origins.  His case studies of Barnabe Googe, George Gascoigne, and Thomas Watson demonstrate how they deployed Petrarchanism both to celebrate and to critique Elizabeth, whether casting her as a Marian figure, a godly woman subservient to Christ, or a courtly lover akin to Petrarch’s own Laura.  The intersection of Catholic and Protestant discourses recurs in Tiffany Jo Werth’s brief The Fabulous Dark Cloister: Romance in England after the Reformation, which situates post-Reformation romance (both poetry and prose) in the context of polemical debates between Catholic and Protestants.  Werth argues that the Protestant romance seeks to differentiate itself from the world of Catholic miracles, even as it acknowledges the artistic and moral power of the romance form.