Confessional and polemic dimensions of the Pez correspondence

The correspondence of the brothers Pez was by no means limited to networks within the Benedictine order or the Catholic church, but also extended to Catholic laymen and Protestant German scholars. The presence of several prominent converts to Catholicism among the correspondents (notably Bartenstein and Eckhart) does not, as one might assume, entail a significant role of religious discussion in the letters; in fact, its occurrences are marginal.

Pamphlet against Bernhard Pez
Pamphlet against B. Pez by J. Gentilotti

Confessional questions do come into view when the circles around the brothers are considered. Abbot Dietmayr of Melk and Abbot Bessel of Göttweig were both, at least in certain phases, among the close political advisors to Emperor Charles VI.; Bessel was also intimately involved in the events surrounding the conversion of Charles's consort, Empress Elisabeth Christina. While Pez does not seem to have detectably influenced Bartenstein's conversion, the French Benedictine Bernard de Montfaucon did so; in the conversion of Eckhart, pivotal roles were played by the papal nuncio Domenico Passionei and the historian Schannat, both also correspondents of Pez. The brothers Pez themselves probably had little opportunity for action, not least because of the limitations imposed by their position in their monastery.

The most definite religious positions articulated by the brothers Pez concern not anti-Protestant controversy but rather their rejection of scholastic theology. Intra-catholic differences were at the root of their disagreements with the Jesuits and with the Prefect of the Aulic Library, Gentilotti. In his literary confrontations with the Society of Jesus, Bernhard Pez strove to defend his order and its way of life and argued for positive theology against scholasticism; against Gentilotti, he attempted to justify the uncensored publication of medieval theological sources, even where their contents were not in accord with Roman positions. This attitude was based both in a positive-theological regard for the "purity" of old theological writings and in the conviction that a historian's duty is to be truthful.

Mention must also be made of the good relations enjoyed by the brothers Pez with the editors of the "Acta eruditorum" and other learned journals published in Protestant Leipzig, which not only reviewed the brothers' works, but also printed several of their own calls for collaboration and reports of the results of their investigations. Bernhard Pez was also instrumental in the publication of an apologetic piece on behalf of the Maurists in the "Acta eruditorum".

In his controversy with Gentilotti, Pez rejected the suggestion that Mencke, the Protestant editor of the "Acta", could adjudicate the dispute in its religious aspects; the scholarly authority of the periodical, however, was never called into question. From the Protestant scholars' point of view, the primary interest in Pez's research was in its contribution to German historia patria, while his more theological motivations were (deliberately) ignored. This was facilitated by the conventions of the international Republic of Letters, which allowed for maintaining silence on the topic of confessional differences. 

FWF Institut für Geschichte
Uni Wien