October 21, 2016

Historian Eamon Duffy was honored as the recipient of this year’s Johannes Quasten Award on Oct. 20, during an award ceremony held in Caldwell Auditorium. The only award given annually by the School of Theology and Religious Studies (STRS), the Quasten Award recognizes excellence in scholarship and leadership in religious studies.

A professor emeritus of the history of Christianity at the University of Cambridge and a former president of Magdalene College, Duffy is best known for his books concerning the English Reformation, which have helped clarify the place of religion within the Tudor age.

His book on the history of the papacy, Saints and Sinners: A History of the Popes, was first published in 1997 and has since been translated into most of the world’s major languages. Duffy’s latest book, Reformation Divided: Catholics, Protestants, and the Conversion of England, will be published by Bloomsbury in the spring of 2017.

During the award ceremony, Andrew Abela, University provost, said he was pleased to recognize Duffy, whose work has “completely changed the way people think about an entire period.”  

“This is powerful scholarship we should all be grateful for,” Abela added.

“Dr. Duffy’s brilliant insight, coupled with an engaging literary style, bring years of intense historical scholarship and research into conversation with a much broader world,” said Very Rev. Mark Morozowich, dean of STRS. “His numerous books and articles speaks to a productivity that sets a benchmark to which we all aspire.”

After receiving the medal, Duffy delivered a lecture about the evolution of Catholic prayer books during the Elizabethan age, a time when Catholics were forbidden to practice their own faith publicly. For nearly a generation during this time, there were no Catholic devotionals published in England, leaving Catholics no options for prayer books in their own language and faith.

“In devotional terms, Protestantism had the immense advantage of a vernacular culture,” Duffy said. “This was a huge problem, if the English Catholic community was to be kept faithful to its faith, Catholics needed to be able to pray in their own language; Latin was not enough. There would have to be a Catholic version to rival or at least be an alternative to the Protestant church.”

It was not until the 1570s when the first missionary priests came to England from France that devotionals were be published again for English Catholics. The types of devotionals and prayer books that were published in the years to follow reflect the changing attitudes and political situations of Catholics during that time period.

Though the evolution of prayer books might strike some as “an arcane subject,” Duffy said, it is one that reveals much about Elizabethan-era Catholics.

“It’s an issue which goes to the heart of what Catholicism in England was in the age of Queen Elizabeth,” he said. “It raises all kinds of questions about Catholic identity, and about how the Catholic minority defines itself within a wider culture.”