Page 8, 9th March 2007

9th March 2007
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Page 8, 9th March 2007 — REFORMATION

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Locations: Toledo, Rome, Salamanca, Bologna, Paris


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Attitudes to the Reformation in later centuries tended to be influenced by the propaganda put out in England at the time, for England became the leading Protestant state and the national enemy of Spain which was the most powerful of the European countries in the 16th century, seat of a great empire and of the "Most Catholic" sovereigns, the secular bulwark of the Catholic Church. Protestantism in England developed an interpretation of Spanish Catholicism that over time became the customary way in which the Englishspeaking world evaluated the Catholic Church. Popular anti-Catholic sentiment became an essential ingredient in English national identity and, at times, a useful political cohesive. It was a tradition of thinking which not surprisingly chose to ignore the existence within Spanish Catholicism of an influential reformist movement. The leading advocate was Cardinal Francisco Ximenez de Cisneros, Archbishop of Toledo, the primatial see of Spain. He was a friar, noted for simplicity of living and a desire to purify the Church of corruption. The University of Alcala, which he founded and endowed, attracted distinguished scholars from Paris, Bologna and Salamanca. As Regent of Spain during the minority, in 1516, of Charles I of Castile (later the Emperor Charles V), he was influential in the formation of the Spanish monarchy at a time of crucial consolidation and therefore a powerful voice in the emergence of Spanish sponsorship of Catholic reform in the 16th century. He died in 1517. English opinion about Spanish practice in the Counter Reformation, however. was fashioned in ignorance of its reform tradition. English popular anti-papal sentiment, which endured to the end of the 19th century, and beyond, was dependent on what it represented as the horrible crimes of the priests. There evolved a "No Popery" litany, with references supplied by the publication of John Foxe's Book of Martyrs in 1563, the excommunication of Queen Elizabeth 1 by St Pius V in the bull Regnans in Excelsis of 1570, and the Armada sent by Spain to recover England for Catholicism in 1588.

But the Catholic institution that above all others appeared to embody the reality of Catholic authoritarianism, the inherent incompatibility of papalism and liberty, was the Inquisition always referred to as the Spanish Inquisition, although it existed in many Catholic countries. To this day, liberal opinion imagines the Inquisition as conclusive proof of the unenlightened and cruel nature of Catholicism at the time of the Reformation. The fact is that it existed in another time, and its preoccupation with the extirpation of wrong beliefs is simply not conducive to modem understanding of religion. The concept of evil has become secularised; modern tribunals are concerned with genocide, not with the prospects of eternal life.

In 1233, Gregory IX appointed permanent papal Inquisitors, most of whom were Franciscan and Dominican friars, to prosecute heresy. The Inquisitors had no powers except spiritual ones; heretics who recanted were given ordinary penances usually those dispensed in the confessional. Heretics who were obdurate were handed over to the secular authorities and were punished according to the laws of each city or state. This was a code of procedure more or less uniform across Europe. The consequences were not, in reality, especially draconian, especially when set against the normal fearsome administration of punishment in the Middle Ages. Heretics were executed by burning; conventional criminals were usually hung. In the middle of the 13th century, at the height of the Albigensian campaign. some three people a year were being executed for heresy. What first brought the Inquisition tribunals into disrepute was their use by King Philip IV of France in his brutal suppression of the Templars in the 14th century: it was the secular, not the religious, authority that was largely responsible.

In the 15th century the Inquisition was reformed by Paul III, seeking to bring the proceedings under closer centralised control. This had the unforeseen effect, however, of associating the Inquisition more directly with papal authority itself. In Spain, at the same time, the monarchy employed the Inquisition tribunals to stamp out irregular beliefs and practice among converted Moors and Jews, using inquisitorial methods inherited from the preceding Islamic heresy courts. Hence the new Spanish Inquisition of 1480, of which, in 1483, Tomas de Torquemada became Inquisitor General . Though both he, and the tribunals, were unmistakably instruments of Crown policy, subsequent Protestant propaganda for centuries identified the entire Catholic Church in Spain, and elsewhere, with their occasional excesses.

By the 19th century political liberals and religious dissenters took the "crimes" of the Inquisition to be ultimate proofs of the vile character of "popery", and an enormous popular literature on the subject poured from the presses of Europe and North America. At its most active, in the 16th century. nevertheless, the Inquisition was regarded as far more enlightened than the secular courts: if you denied the Trinity and repented you were given a penance; if you stole a sheep and repented you were hung. It has been calculated that only one per cent of those who appeared before Inquisition tribunals eventually received death penalties. But the damage wrought by propaganda has been effective, and today the "Spanish" Inquisition, like the Crusades, persists in supplying supposedly discreditable episodes to damn the memory of the Catholic past.

The Spanish monarchy may have been the material guardian of the Counter Reformation but it was the Jesuits who were its spiritual activists, inheriting, in effect, the role formerly filled by the Orders of Military Knights. In 1534. St Ignatius Loyola and six friends studying, as he was, in Paris, took a vow of poverty and service to others; in 1540, they were formally constituted as the Society of Jesus in the bull Regimini Militantis Ecclesiae. Ignatius became its first General. In 1541, he published the Spiritual Exercises, a manual for retreat directors: the new mission laid out its priorities of personal spiritual formation and evangelistic advance. Ignatius had originally intended charitable and evangelistic work among the Islamic people of the Holy Land, where he had earlier been on pilgrimage, and there was something of the afterglow of the Crusading ideal in the Jesuit missionary vision. By the time of his death in 1556 there were already a thousand members of the Society.

The Jesuits contained a robust intellectual element, which became notable for defence of papal claims and for assisting the reforms of the Council of Trent. The papalist sympathies of the Society, in fact, quite early attracted opposition within the Church, and this was to remain as a permanent feature of their history. Their anti-monarchical contentions, eloquently and systematically articulated, were particularly unwelcome to some in France; Spain was by then the protector of the papacy. French troops, indeed, had sacked Rome in 1527. It was the influence of the crowns which helped to procure the suppression of the Jesuits (or temporary removal, as it turned out) towards the end of the 18th century. The Jesuits realised that the old tensions of pope and emperor no longer represented the realities of 16thcentury Europe.

Organic concepts of empire and universal claims of allegiance had passed: Europe was a continent of independent nation states. The Reformation occurred after this enormous shift in the balance of things had taken place it was itself a symptom of the new world order. The Jesuits, in effect, assisted the Counter Reformation Catholic Church to readjust its strategic overview, to accommodate the new conditions, and to draw lines in the sand.

The leading Jesuit exponent of the resulting neo-papalism was St Robert Bellarmine, a Tuscan who joined the Society in 1560, and spent his life from 1576 in the Collegium Romanum. His emphatic papalism earned him the execration of Protestants: his features were caricatured, in applique rosettes, on the salt glaze jugs made in the Low Countries in the 17th century and popularly known, reasonably enough, as "Bellannine jugs". Yet he was actually a convinced reformer, openly sympathetic to Galileo, and to the ideal of an accessible Bible. In 1592, he took a leading part in the revision of the Vulgate. His theory of papalism, most extensively expounded in the Disputationes, published in three volumes between 1986 and 1593, accepted that the papacy made no claims to secular authority. As spiritual head of the Church, however, with powers that came directly from God, the pope had a superior authority to that of the monarchs, whose powers derived from God only indirectly. Subjects had no absolute duty of obedience to secular rulers; the pope was possessed, in fact, of the right to release them from their obligation of obedience if spiritualities were infringed. Popes may depose heretical rulers.

If this doctrine is added to Francisco Suarez's view, expounded in the later years of the 16th century, that the state is of purely natural origin, and that whereas states are national the Church is universal, the indirect right of the pope to control the spiritual destinies of human society has an inclusive consistency. Suarez was a Spanish Jesuit; he had moved some way, in these ideas, from the actual conduct of the Spanish Crown in controlling the affairs of the Church in the dominions at home and in the colonial empire. Such expressions of the right of subjects to rebel against heretical rulers lodged in the collective memory of Protestantism. It explains the special honour of "Jesuitry" to be found in subsequent popular Protestantism.

The overseas Jesuit missions were a spearhead in the extension of Catholicism in the 16th and 17th centuries; this, and the extraordinary vision of St Francis Xavier, I assess elsewhere. But in Europe itself the Society founded large numbers of schools and colleges, and established a kind of Jesuit brand of intellectual excellence. They also encouraged the preaching of missions inside European countries, intended to re-energise and re-dedicate the Catholic populations. The 16th century saw a further round in the establishment of religious orders, many of which had domestic mission as their leading purpose, combined with works of social welfare. These foundations were not really reactions to the Protestant secessions; some had begun before Luther's public questioning of authority, and others were, in effect, indistinguishable from the types of monastic reform that had given vitality to the late medieval Church. Like them, they tended to be designed to operate in the world and not in the cloister, and the vows taken were accordingly linked to service and activism, and to education, rather than to the purely contemplative life. The spiritual energy of 16thcentury Catholicism was unquestionably challenged by the Protestant Reformation, and the fracturing of the religious unity of western Europe. But its inherent vitality can be recognised in what was the most far reaching of its achievements the Council of Trent. The Canons and Decrees of the Council were a blueprint for the reform of the Church, for centralised direction operating through a revitalised diocesan structure. Catholic teaching in faith and morals was expressed according to Tridentine formulae for the next three centuries, and beyond. In the 19th century popular Protestant writers and orators were still assailing the Council of Trent as the great example of Rome at its most authoritarian.

When Paul IQ called the 19th General Council of the Church in 1542 it was clear that general reform was the end in view: Cardinal Contarini headed a group of reformers whose . ideas furnished the agenda. There were, however, hazards. The Emperor Charles V favoured a council, and . despite the ancient tradition of imperial participation in councils of the Church, and Charles's presumed benign intentions, it could not be assumed that the gathering would avoid being utilised for the promotion of Spanish policy. Attempts by the popes to summon councils in 1537 and 1538 had not succeeded but then Charles V had not favoured them. By 1545, when the first session opened at Trent, the threat from advanced reformers who were seemingly prepared to break the unity of the Church was clear. Another risk for the papacy came from the conciliar themes that had been advanced at the Council of Constance in 1415. Luther, in 1518, sought to appeal to the authority of a General Council over the authority of the pope.

In the event, the Council of Trent avoided the dangers, and the three sessions, of 1545-7,1551-2 and 15623 , laid the foundations of the modem papacy, and clarified the essentials of Catholic teaching in a manner that drew clear lines between Catholic orthodoxy and the beliefs and practices of the Protestant secessionists. Its definitions and formulae touch an enormous range of Catholic teaching and discipline. At the second session, those Protestants who still attended argued for the supremacy of General Councils over the authority of the papacy, but for the last time. The first session had laid out and sanctioned the Catholic belief that the authority of the Church derived from both Scripture and Tradition: a denial of the exclusive Biblicism that defined Protestantism. Yet a reform of the text of the Vulgate was also ordered (and completed in 1592). The seven sacraments were specified as necessary doctrinal rites. The doctrine of Transubstantiation the corporeal presence of Christ in the Mass was confirmed at the second session, and at the third, convoked by Pius IV in 1562, the sacrificial nature of the Mass was defined more precisely.

This last session also made numerous detailed provisions to regulate and centralise the Church, providing institutions for its ordinary operations and for its expansion_ By that time the Protestant secessions had accomplished what was beginning to look like a permanent schism. In the Catholic Church there remained some differences of emphasis between the Italian bishops, who tended to insist on the exclusive spiritual authority of the pope, and the Spanish bishops, many of whom harboured residual inclinations to regard the authority of bishops as equally derived directly from God. But the actual business of the third session of the Council was contoured by the Jesuit theologians. The bureaucracy of the Church was radically refomied — and some very long-standing abuses, such as the length of proceedings in matrimonial courts, were abolished in a revised code of procedures. Some practices which had initiated past scandals were subject to new regulations: indulgences, the invocation of saints and the veneration of relics. Provision was made for more preaching by parish clergy. The standards tithe priesthood were to be elevated by the establishment of diocesan seminaries; bishops were to be appointed according to procedures approved by Rome; there were to be regular provincial and diocesan synods. T'he Decrees of the Council of Trent were confirmed by Pius IV in 1564. It had been an extraordinary triumph, achieved in the most difficult of circumstances.

The Counter Reformation was in reality a "normal" development: its reforms grew out of late medieval ideas and were given shape and system in a Europe created by the rise of the nation states. Something like the Council of Trent would have occurred regardless of Henry VIII's marital di fEculties or Luther's theses. The bureaucratisation of the Roman curia in effect imparted some of the characteristics of the new monarchies to the Catholic Church itself. The pope was becoming a ruler among other rulers in Europe, the head of a sovereign state in Italy with the same problems of government experienced everywhere. The States of the Church were conducted according to principles and practices that differed little from those of tEa e new national governments, Catholic usr Protestant. The evolving world order had a certain uniformity, as mediev-al institutions and social organisati ors slipped away into obsolesce nee .

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