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Aspiring Saints

Pretense of Holiness, Inquisition, and Gender in the Republic of Venice, 1618-1750

Winner of an Honorable Mention in the Professional/Scholarly Publishing Awards given by the Association of American Publishers

Between 1618 and 1750, sixteen people—nine women and seven men—were brought to the attention of the ecclesiastical authorities in Venice because they were reporting visions, revelations, and special privileges from heaven. All were investigated, and most were put on trial by the Holy Office of the Inquisition on a charge of heresy under various rubrics that might be translated as "pretense of holiness."

Anne Jacobson Schutte looks closely at the institutional, cultural, and religious contexts that gave rise to the phenomenon of visionaries in Venice. To explain the worldview of the prosecutors as well as the prosecuted, Schutte examines inquisitorial trial dossiers, theological manuals, spiritual treatises, and medical works that shaped early modern Italians' understanding of the differences between orthodox Catholic belief and heresy. In particular, she demonstrates that socially constructed assumptions about males and females affected how the Inquisition treated the accused parties. The women charged with heresy were non-elites who generally claimed to experience ecstatic visions and receive messages; the men were usually clergy who responded to these women without claiming any supernatural experience themselves. Because they "should have known better," the men were judged more harshly by authorities.

Placing the events in a context larger than just the inquisitorial process, Aspiring Saints sheds new light on the history of religion, the dynamics of gender relations, and the ambiguous boundary between sincerity and pretense in early modern Italy.

About the Author

Anne Jacobson Schutte is a professor of history at the University of Virginia. Her previous books include Pier Paolo Vergerio: The Making of an Italian Reformer and Autobiography of an Aspiring Saint (edited and translated).


"[An] engagingly written and meticulously researched book... Schutte surveys an impressive array of material dealing with how pretense of holiness was conceptualized."

- Andrew Keitt - Sixteenth Century Journal

"A compendious, broad-ranging account of the theological and canonical culture of the Counter-Reformation... Schutte deploys her twelve cases to illustrate the class and gender characteristics of the Inquisition's examination of would-be saints and their disciples."

- Stanley Chojnacki - Journal of Social History

"The greatest merit of this masterfully-structured and elegantly-written book consists in its efforts to explore the discourse concerning the pretense of holiness and the judges' mental and cultural categories."

- Adelisa Malena - Renaissance Quarterly

"A masterful synthesis of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Inquisitional history, demonstrating how—at least from the Church's perspective—its post-Tridentine efforts to discipline, confessionalize, and centralize had paid off."

"Learned and insightful... Schutte embarks upon a wide-ranging examination of the intellectual underpinnings of accusations of false sanctity and provides a wealth of information about court procedure, canon law, and theology. She is as interested in the development of ideas about 'genuine' and 'false' holiness as she is in their practitioners."

- Jodi Bilinkoff - Journal of Modern History

"Schutte provides lucid introductions to topics as varied as inquisitorial procedure, medical theories of ecstasy, theologians' efforts to distinguish good spirits from evil ones, and learned and commonplace assumptions about gendered bodies."

- Daniel Bornstein - Historian


"The product of many years of careful and systematic scholarship in numerous archives, Aspiring Saints reads beautifully and displays a remarkable intellectual range. Schutte goes beyond defining the subject exclusively in terms established by the ecclesiastical authorities, clearly showing how ideas of saintliness and diabolic influence were not so much separate categories but points on a spectrum of behaviors. Although these twelve cases were classified by the inquisitors, the book really becomes one about the defendants and their world."

- Edward MuirNorthwestern University, author of Mad Blood Stirring
Johns Hopkins University Press
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9780801865480 : aspiring-saints-schutte
360 Pages
$57.00 USD
9780801876868 : aspiring-saints-schutte
Electronic book text
360 Pages
$57.00 USD

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