The goal of this article is to show, through a case study of a convert from Islam to Catholicism in the seventeenth century, how multi-faceted and complex the phenomenon of conversion is, where political, social, and religious factors are intertwined. The article recounts the conversion story of Mohammed el-Attaz, later known as Baldassarre Loyola (1631-1667). Son of the king of Fez (Morocco) of the Sa'adian dynasty, Mohammed was captured on his way to Mecca by the Knights of Malta; he converted to Christianity, went to Italy, became a Jesuit, and spent some years of his life converting Muslims in Italian port cities. The story of Baldassarre Loyola is unique for many reasons. First, this is the only known case of a Muslim prince joining the Society of Jesus. Second, we have an extraordinary range of sources: more than 200 letters written by Baldassarre, Christian and Muslim firsthand sources, an unpublished Autobiography, and a 600-page unpublished Life written by Baidassarre's spiritual director, the Jesuit Domenico Brunacci. Additionally, a sacred drama on Baidassarre's story [El gran principe de Fe¿) was composed by Calderón de la Barca and performed in Jesuit colleges in Europe as well as overseas. This case study of a man between two worlds-struggling for a new identity but always linked to his ancient rootsilluminates, through the phenomenon of conversion, the tormented, rich, and fascinating relationship between Islam and Christianity on the eve of modernity.
Carlo Borromeo (b. 1538–d. 1584), who was a cardinal archbishop of Milan (1564–1584), represented a model bishop in the post-Tridentine Catholic Church and was a leading figure of early modern Catholicism. Born in Arona (Novara), he was the nephew of Giovanni Angelo de’ Medici, later Pope Pius IV (1559–1565), who made the young Borromeo a cardinal and nominated him Secretary of State (1560). Until 1565 he was in Rome; he served in the Curia during the last period of the Council of Trent (1562–1563) and conducted the papal correspondence with the legates in Trent. In 1563 he was ordained priest and received episcopal consecration. From the beginning of 1566, after the death of Pius IV and until the end of his life, he resided almost continuously in the archdiocese of Milan, where he started an ambitious program of reform. Following the decrees of the Council of Trent, Borromeo introduced systematic pastoral visitations and provincial and diocesan synods. He improved the education of the secular clergy and the control of the religious orders. He supported confraternities for lay people and reinforced the value of penance and confession. His patronage of arts and music and his care for sacred architecture also had a great influence beyond the archdiocese. This plan of reform created frequent conflicts both with the Spanish governor of Milan, since Borromeo refused to allow political authorities to intervene in religious matters, and with the papacy, because of Borromeo’s insistence on episcopal rights. He became the model of the post-Tridentine bishop in Italy and beyond. On 22 October 1569, while he was praying in the chapel of the episcopal palace, Borromeo escaped an assassination attempt. A member of the Brothers of Humility (Humiliati) who was opposed to Borromeo’s reforms fired a shot that grazed Borromeo’s side. His survival was considered a miracle and bolstered his saintly reputation. He died in 1584 and was canonized in 1610. His feast day is 4 November.
John W. O’Malley, a member of the Society of Jesus, is currently a university professor in the Theology Department of Georgetown University, Washington, DC. He holds a PhD in history from Harvard University. His specialty is the religious culture of early modern Europe. O’Malley has written and edited a number of books, eight of which have won best-book awards. The First Jesuits (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993), perhaps his best-known work, received both the Jacques Barzun Prize for Cultural History from the American Philosophical Society and the Philip Schaff Prize from the American Society for Church History. It has been translated into twelve languages and its publication opened a new era in the study of the Society. Since then, the Jesuits have attracted greater attention from scholars of all disciplines on an international basis. O’Malley has continued to write about early Jesuits and the subsequent history of the Jesuits: his main essays on Jesuit history are now collected in the first volume of Brill’s Jesuit Studies series, Saints or Devils Incarnate?: Studies in Jesuit History (Leiden, 2013).
In the last few years, O’Malley published with Harvard University Press a trilogy on the three last councils in the history of the Catholic Church: What Happened at Vatican ii
(2008), Trent: What Happened at the Council (2012), and Vatican I: The Council and the Making of the Ultramontane Church (2018). A comparative view of the three councils is offered now in his most recent book, When Bishops Meet: An Essay Comparing Trent, Vatican I, and Vatican ii
(2019). O’Malley has lectured widely around the world to both professional and general audiences. He is past president of the Renaissance Society of America and the American Catholic Historical Association. He holds the Johannes Quasten Medal from The Catholic University of America for distinguished service in religious studies. In 1995, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; in 1997, to the American Philosophical Society; and in 2001, to the Accademia Ambrosiana, Milan. He holds lifetime achievement awards from the Society for Italian Historical Studies, the Renaissance Society of America, and the American Catholic Historical Association.
At the origin of the following interview there are three conversations Emanuele Colombo had with O’Malley in Chicago, in 2017 and 2018, as a follow-up of a lecture he gave on his life, “My Life of Learning,” now published in The Catholic Historical Review.
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