Pontianus Polman Re‐imagined: How (Not) To Write a History of Religious Polemics

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This historiographical essay discusses several examples of how religious polemics have been studied with regard to their use of history. Only one book has ever treated the subject in a systematic way: Pontianus Polman’s "L’élément historique dans la controverse religieuse du XVIe siècle" (Gembloux, 1932). Applying a rigid scheme, Polman dealt first with Protestants and then with Catholics. For each side, he presented two sections: the first entitled ‘The accumulation of material’ (subdivided into ‘history of dogma’ and ‘church history’) and the second ‘The synthesis of material’. Polman’s general conclusion was that religious polemics stimulated historical research but that theological ideas were often considered to be of greater importance than evidence derived from historical documents and sources. After a consideration of contemporary reviewers such as Hubert Jedin and Lucien Febvre, I discuss Irena Backus’ book "Historical Method and Confessional Identity" (2003) and argue that a new history of religious controversies should build on an ‘anatomy of polemics’, that is, on the study of scholarly conventions, their modification and rupture in Reformation polemics, giving particular attention to the criteria of religious knowledge as exemplified by debates about forgeries.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)24-42
Number of pages19
JournalRenaissance Studies
Issue number1
Early online date19 Nov 2019
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2021

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