December 16, 2019
Nelson Minnich meeting Pope Francis

Nelson H. Minnich, professor of Church history and History and editor of the Catholic Historical Review, travelled to Rome in November for the presentation of the volume he edited, “Finding Solutions: New Light on the Fifth Lateran Council.” 

The Italian, French, and English-language volume, which was presented by the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences at the Aula Marconi Vatican Radio, is the result of an international conference Minnich organized in 2016. The conference honored the 500th anniversary of the Fifth Council of the Lateran, which was held between 1512 and 1517. The volume includes conference papers from Catholic University scholars as well as those from Switzerland, France, Italy, and the Czech Republic. It was published by the Vatican Press.

The volume is notable, Minnich said, because it sheds new light on an ecumenical council of the Church that ended in March of 1517, months before the October publication of Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses, which led to the Protestant Reformation. One of the goals for the council was to reform the Church, so Minnich wanted to examine what actually took place there, and whether or not it should be considered a failure. 

“What I tried to do was look at the council from the perspective of the people who were there,” Minnich said. “I tried to put the council in its own historical context without the optic of Martin Luther to determine if it was a success.” 

Among other things, Minnich demonstrated that the council worked to heal a schism within the Church and to establish peace among Christian princes. It also tried to launch a crusade against the Turks, refine Church teachings on the immortality of the soul and whether pawn shops qualified as a form of usury, and it issued a series of reform decrees regarding the Roman Curia, cardinals, religious orders, preaching, censorship of the press, and numerous other areas. 

To replicate the original experience of the conference, Minnich worked to find images and architectural depictions of the Lateran Basilica to show what the experience would have been like for council participants. 

“I needed visuals to make it come alive,” he said. “I had to dig up old frescoes and engravings and plans from the sixteenth century. One chapter summarizes the tour I gave to the conference participants of the site of the council in the Lateran Basilica. The Vatican Press has turned the papers from the conference into a very handsome volume.” 

Minnich is a lifetime member of the American Catholic Historical Association and of the Gesellschaft zur Herausgabe des Corpus Catholicorum and is active in the Societas Internationalis Historiae Conciliorum Investigandae. Since 2007 he has been a member of the Pontifical Committee of Historical Sciences.