Date of Award

Spring 2022

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Renaissance Studies

First Advisor

Eire, Carlos


According to most accounts, following the reformations Protestant worship and tradition became asensual by emphasizing encounters with biblical texts through reading the Bible or hearing sermons. Conversely, Early Modern Catholicism became synonymous with the sensuous, meaning it exploited the senses of faithful Catholics through its incense, art, music, sacraments, and practices. This dissertation challenges these assumptions by demonstrating that there were two sides to Catholic piety that existed in a paradoxical relationship. Surely, Catholic worship appealed to the senses to teach the faith, to meditate and contemplate in prayer, and to move Catholics to greater piety by emulating the saints and their predecessors. I argue that these appeals should not be understood as an unreflective and total embrace of the senses and sensuous worship. Instead, there was another part of the Catholic tradition that demanded careful custody of the senses. Both aspects were present throughout Catholic thought and culture as I demonstrate by analyzing the sermons and spiritual writings of Robert Bellarmine the most important Catholic theologian of the time and one of the most significant implementers of the Council of Trent. What post-Tridentine texts and practices indicate is that both Catholic sensuousness and fear of the senses intensified in this period. I show that this intensification reflected the ways in which Catholicism was not only reacting to its impression of Protestant traditions, but also interacting with other dominant cultural forces including the Renaissance reevaluation of the body and the rise of scientific empiricism. The weight of tradition and the influence of these cultural and religious movements forced Catholicism into embracing this paradox that affirmed the spiritual utility of the bodily senses, but remained wary of them.