Here's some information on the 'witch', Helen Duncan, who was imprisoned in 1944 under a little-known clause of the Witchcraft Act of 1735. At a seance she revealed information about the sinking of HMS Barham, an event that was at the time kept from the public. Contrary to what is often believed, she was not convicted for being a witch but for falsely claiming to be able to procure spirits.
She is considered a martyr in spiritualist circles.
Tuesday, 27 January 2009
[Above is Henry Fuseli's representation of Macbeth's witches.]
See here for a good introduction.
Between 1400 and 1800 between forty and fifty thousand people, mainly women, died in Europe and colonial north America on charges of witchcraft. Why? As Lyndal Roper states,
‘No-one … can offer a total explanation for phenomena lying in the realms of psycho-history.’Europeans had long believed in witches yet only in the period after 1500 did they turn this cultural assumption into a one of the major killers of western Europe.
The chronology and geography are varied. Central Europe and Scotland were most affected, Ireland and the Iberian peninsula least. There was a short-lived bout of intense witch-hunting in England in the 1640s and nineteen deaths in Massachusetts in 1692. In Poland witchcraft executions only ended with a royal decree in 1776, by which time about 1,000 people had died. Witch-hunts did not begin in Hungary until the 18th century.
What is witchcraft?
Belief in magic has always been common and exists in the world today, for example in Africa. But what is unique to western Christian civilization is the belief in a personal devil. There were two quite different but related activities denoted by the word witchcraft as it was used in early modern Europe: the practice of maleficium, and worshipping the devil. Maleficium meaning calling down a curse on another, was the effect of witchcraft. The cause was the pact with the devil. It was usually believed that those witches who made pacts with the devil also worshipped him collectively in nocturnal ceremonies, the ‘witches’ sabbath’ ,that could include naked dancing or the cannibalism of infants.
Witchcraft as inversion
It is important to recognize that almost everybody believed in witches and it was heresy to doubt their existence. In his book Thinking with Demons, Stuart Clark argues that views on witchcraft arose from notions of ‘misrule’ or inversion: wisdom/folly; male/female; Carnival/Lent. In a world of ‘looking-glass logic’ structured by opposition and inversion, demonic witchcraft made sense. Witchcraft had all the appearance of a proper religion, but in reality it was a religion perverted. And since genuine religion was, in theory, a total experience, so its demonic copy was all-embracing. There were nine orders of devils to match the nine orders of angels. The pact with the devil was a parody of baptism. The witches’ Sabbath was a parody of the mass (or of Protestant preaching). Demonic inversion was inseparable from notions of archetypical rebellion. That was why the Puritan William Perkins argued that if the death penalty was appropriate for traitors, it was even more necessary for those who joined the devil in his rebellion against God. A further inversion lay in the fact that witches could change themselves into animals. Although these transformations were accepted as illusory, the concept of metamorphosis suggested that instinct might replace reason and brutishness virtue.
The Malleus Maleficarum
One reason for the new attitude to witches was a newly confrontational attitude among the intellectual elite, arising paradoxically out of Renaissance humanism. In 1484 Pope Innocent VIII authorized two German Dominican Inquisitors, Heinrich Krämer and Jakob Sprenger, to hunt witches in nearby areas of southern Germany. Krämer oversaw the trial and execution of several groups – all of them women – but local authorities objected to his use of torture and banished him. While in exile, he wrote the classic text on witchcraft, the Malleus Maleficarum (Hammer of Witches) (full text here), published in 1486. These views and activities were endorsed in a papal bull of 1484. The book proved the catalyst to give shape to existing anxieties. In 1532 Charles V’s new codification of imperial law, the Lex Carolina, prescribed the death penalty for both heretics and witches. Far from abandoning belief in witchcraft as a relic of Catholic superstition, Protestants endorsed it and quoted Exodus 22:18: 'Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live'.
Witchcraft and popular belief
Witchcraft was both intellectual and folk belief. People in the early modern village were subject to a huge range of hazards – plague, illnesses and sudden deaths. The distinctions between the natural and the supernatural were blurred and within the community individuals with special powers – cunning folk – were recognized. It was natural to ascribe relatively unusual or inexplicable events such as slow lingering illnesses, mental illness, hailstones to maleficium. Most of the quarrels between ‘witch’ and victim involved a denial of neighbourliness or some other perception of a wrong done. The majority of witchcraft accusations came from below and concentrated on the alleged harm done by maleficium. It was their social superiors who added the element of diabolism.
Overwhelmingly witches were women (though not in Poland or Russia). The Malleus was extremely misogynistic. Although men and boys were indicted, a disproportionate number of those brought before the courts were post-menopausal women, notably widows.
Stuart Clark notes that what the witchcraft writers said about women amounted to ‘three groups of propositions, drawn on with almost formulaic uniformity’.
(1) Women were by nature weaker than men and therefore had a greater capacity to fall; they could not grasp spiritual matters easily and were credulous and impressionable in their beliefs; at the same time they were resentful of authority and discipline and their carnal appetites were greater than men’s.But he goes on to argue that these statements are ‘entirely unoriginal’, mere 16th century clichés, and are found well outside the context of witchcraft. Therefore the experts on witchcraft ‘were not in any way eccentric in what they said about women as such [but] were entirely representative of their age and culture’. The writers who were sceptical about witchcraft, such as Reginald Scot, were no more enlightened about women; instead they used the femininity of the witch as a reason for doubting the truth of her statements.
(2) Women were the devil’s preferred target – see Eve, whom some writers called the first witch; inconsistency was a trait that women and devils had in common.
(3) Women were both curious and loquacious, more eager than men to know hidden things; their bodies were ugly and they were malicious, rancorous and vindictive.
Other historians have drawn attention to the changing social situation of women that marginalized them in society – for example an increase in the number of women living alone as spinsters or widows. Keith Thomas argued that economic and social changes, as well as different attitudes to charitable relief, led to a decline in neighbourliness and that women on their own were the chief victims. Olwen Hufton notes that the witch phase is coincident with attempts to change or reform traditional charitable practice. Women’s customary roles gave them more opportunities to practise harmful magic as they generally served as cooks, midwives and healers.
Diarmid MacCulloch notes that older women and widows were often vulnerable because they had been the subject of accusations over many decades and because they did not have a husband to support them. Those who confessed to collusion with the devil repeatedly used phrases like ‘he promised I should nae want’ or ‘Je ne manquerai de rien’.
Lyndal Roper explores the combined hatred and fear felt in German society for the crone, the woman past childbearing years whose body has become an object of disgust. Envious of young women, she gives vent to her spite through harmful magic.
The late Christina Larner pointed out that witches were accused not because they were women but because they were witches. A great many cases were brought by angry and frightened ‘victims’ who genuinely believed witches had caused their misfortunes.
The women who admitted to witchcraft did so often under torture but in some cases they seem to have believed their own stories.
Scotland: a case study
Witchcraft had been on the Scottish law books from 1563, but went virtually unprosecuted until 1590 when James VI became an enthusiastic prosecutor. In 1590 he was caught up in storms when on his way to meet his bride, Anne of Denmark, and on his return he led an investigation into the witchcraft that had ‘caused’ the storms. Between November 1590 and May 1591 more than a hundred suspects were examined and a large number were executed. He uncovered a story of a gathering at North Berwick parish kirk the previous Halloween over which the devil had presided with the intention of planning the king’s destruction through manipulation of the weather. The accused confessed under torture and were executed.
In 1591 he commissioned the publication of News from Scotland, which outlined the recent events, presumably for an English audience. But he also wanted to write something more scholarly and to challenge Reginald Scot’s 1584 treatise The Discoverie of Witchcraft. In 1597 he published his Demonologie.
However, by the time this was published, James belief in witchcraft seems to have been waning. When he became king of England he backed new legislation (1604) that took witchcraft prosecutions out of the church courts and into the secular courts and in practice witchcraft prosecutions declined during his reign. (But Macbeth was presumably meant as a tribute to his zeal in uncovering witches.) But though prosecutions declined in England, they intensified in Scotland and between 1590 and 1680 about a thousand people were executed. This can be seen as part of the Kirk’s power struggle against the secular authorities.
There was a similarly intense prosecution in the Catholic archbishopric of Cologne from 1594 during the episcopate of Ferdinand of Bavaria. Here the Jesuits were especially zealous in launching prosecutions.
On the other hand, the power of the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal paradoxically acted as a check on prosecutions. In 1609-10 there was a bout of executions in Navarre. But after examining thousands of cases, the Navarrese inquisitor Alonso de Salazar wrote, ‘I have not found the slightest evidence from which to infer that a single act of witchcraft has really occurred’. But the Iberian population had their own ready-made scapegoats – Jews and Muslims – and did not need another. And the Inquisition was well trained in the hearing of evidence.
The decline of witchcraft
Witchcraft prosecutions declined in most parts of Europe from the end of the seventeenth century, when the scientific revolution and the coming of the Enlightenment provided a new view of the world with naturalistic explanations for death and disasters. The Salem trials in Massachusetts were an aberration.
The ordinary people continued to believe in witches until well into the nineteenth century, but they were unable to bring prosecutions because the legal machinery no longer supported them.
Wednesday, 21 January 2009
[Above: Bernini's 'Saint Teresa in Ecstasy' at the Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome.]
This post is heavily indebted to Diarmid MacCulloch's Reformations: Europe's House Divided 1490-1700 (Allen Lane, 2003).
Some historians now speak of a ‘Long Reformation’ that took place over a period of about two hundred years in both Catholic and Protestant Europe and profoundly changed the culture.
One symbol of a divided western Europe was that from 1582 Catholics and Protestants lived in different times. In that year Pope Gregory XIII revised the Julian calendar: ten days were suppressed, and the new year was to begin on 1 January rather than 25 March. France, Spain and Italy changed immediately. The Orthodox churches refused, as did Protestant Europe. (It was only in the eighteenth century that Western Europe had a single calendar; Russia did not come into line until 1918.)
‘The Reformation would not have happened if ordinary people had not convinced themselves that they were actors in a cosmic drama plotted by God. … Above all, large numbers of Europeans were convinced … that the momentous events through which they were living signified that the visible world was about to end.’ (MacCulloch, 550).The dual crisis of the Turkish advance and the division of western Christendom created a heightened sense of living in the end times, the phenomenon known as millenarianism. This belief was in evidence before the Reformation. The idea of a cataclysmic ending of time was found in various parts of the Bible, notably the Book of Revelation, and in the writings of the Italian Cistercian monk Joachim of Fiore in the 11th century. His works seem to divide history in three ages. The first age, of 42 generations, was of the Father, the age of the Old Covenant. The second age (42 generations again) was of the Son and therefore the world of Christianity. The third and final age would be that of the Holy Spirit. In this new age an ‘Eternal Gospel’ would be revealed ‘fulfilling’ and replacing the organized church and society would be realigned on an egalitarian and utopian monastic base. Joachim seemed to suggest the Christian era would end in 1260 with the coming of the Anti-Christ. After that his utopian age would arrive. His doctrines were condemned by the fourth Lateran Council in 1215 but they continued to have a powerful influence.
Millenarianism was demonstrated in Savonarola’s (1452-98) seizure of Florence. During the carnival season that year his authority received a symbolic tribute in the ‘bonfire of the vanities’, when personal ornaments, lewd pictures, cards, and gaming tables were burned.
In the 16th century many resorted again to Joachim’s writings, and turned his prediction of the third age of the Spirit into the thousand-year rule of the Saints on earth before the last judgement. In 1534 and 1535 thousands fled to Münster to set up a new Jerusalem. In Advent 1552 the Protestant Hugh Latimer told the Countess of Suffolk:
we know by scripture, and all learned men affirm the same, that the world was meant to endure six thousand years. Now of the six thousand be passed already five thousand five hundred and fifty-two, and yet this time which is left shall be shortened for the elect’s sake, as Christ himself witnesseth (quoted MacCulloch, 551).Borrowing from Joachim (but also from Virgil and Ovid) the Protestant martyrologist John Foxe wrote of a golden age of the Church’s first thousand years, followed by a five-hundred year ‘brazen age’ when ‘began corruption to enter and increase’.
It is clear that, far from marking the birth of the modern age, the period of the Reformation saw an increase in ‘irrationalism’, marked in particular by the persecution of witches and the pursuit of necromancy and alchemy – themes which will be explored later.
In Protestant cultures in particular there was a renewed emphasis on the doctrine of God’s providence, especially as revealed in the miraculous. King Frederick II of Denmark was much perturbed by sinister hieroglyphs found on herrings. An earthquake in 1580 that shook England, northern France and the Netherlands, toppling one of the pinnacles of Westminster Abbey caused much consternation. It is possible that this earthquake turned many English people against the commercial theatre. It certainly provided an excuse for the city authorities of Coventry to suppress the traditional Corpus Christi play and to replace it with a Protestant production on the subject of the destruction of Jerusalem.
The word replaces the image
One of the major differences between Lutherans and other Protestants lay in the attitude to images. Whereas Lutherans believed some images could be helpful to devotion, to Reformed Protestants, they were idolatry and provoked God’s wrath. There were two ways in which images were destroyed. At times, in Scotland, France and the Netherlands, the destruction consisted of spontaneous mob violence. In other parts of Europe, as in Poland and Lithuania, it was a bureaucratic process. In England mob iconoclasm was a rather marginal phenomenon. Most images such as statues and rood screens were taken down and walls were whitewashed on the orders of bishops, churchwardens, and justices of the peace. In many cases, images were only partially destroyed so that a good deal of medieval art survived into the seventeenth century (where there was further iconoclasm) and beyond into the Victorian age.
In place of the image came the word. Statues were replaced by boards listing the Lord’s Prayer or the ten commandments. The funeral sermon became common and was often circulated in a printed version. However, images continued to have a place in the pages of books. The pulpit, a ‘dramatically canopied wooden preaching-turret’ furnished with hour-glasses assumed a central place. (MacCulloch, 585-6). In Shakespeare’s London sermons were popular entertainment; there were a hundred sermons each week but only thirteen play houses.
This was a deeply contested issue. Paul V to the Venetian ambassador, 1606:
‘Do you not know that so much reading of the Scripture ruins the Catholic religion?’ (quoted MacCulloch, 406).In 1564 anyone wishing to read the Bible in the vernacular had to seek permission from the local bishop. In the 1596 Roman Index the ban became total. In Italy Bibles were publicly and ceremonially burned and between 1567 and 1773 not a single Italian language bible was printed anywhere in Italy. This could never have been the case in Germany or England, where vernacular translations were permitted.
Protestants were naturally committed to bible translations. One scholar has estimated that between 1520 and 1649 1,342,500 whole bibles and New Testaments were printed for the English market, enough for every English household. But Protestants were increasingly aware of the problems involved. By the 1530s Luther’s optimistic belief that the Bible alone would spread the truth was seen to be full of dangers. Whose bible? Increasingly the magisterial reformation fell back on catechisms for children and the bible translations, such as the Elizabethan Geneva Bible (1575) (right), were accompanied by annotations explaining the text.
These were part of a massive Europe-wide educational project. Germany produced around thirty or forty different new editions of printed catechisms every decade after 1550, England more than a thousand between 1530 and 1740 (and these are the ones that have survived). By 1600 the elders and ministers of Glasgow and lesser burghs were conducting weekly catechisms on a rota basis which would cover the entire population over a few weeks. Roman Catholic countries had their own catechisms, all modelled on the Tridentine catechism of 1566.
Marriage and virginity
From the late 3rd century, with the appearance of hermits and monks, the status of virginity grew within Christianity and marriage was relegated to a secondary good (MacCulloch, 609). From the 12th century there was a long battle to impose celibacy on the clergy. In reaction to Protestantism, the last session of the Council of Trent (1563) affirmed the inviolability of vows for priests and nuns and pronounced anathema on anyone proclaiming that
‘the married state excels the state of virginity or celibacy, and that it is better and happier to be united in matrimony than to be remain in virginity or celibacy’.In his 1598 catechism, Cardinal Bellarmine asserted:
‘Marriage is a thing human, virginity a thing angelical. Marriage is according to nature, virginity is a thing above nature’.But a paradoxical parallel development within Catholicism was the exaltation of the family, particularly in Spain with its declining population and overseas empire. This is shown in the cult of St Joseph promulgated by Teresa of Avila, who was celebrated as the virtuous head of the Holy Family. The representation of the Virgin Mary also changed; she became less physical and emotional, more passive and spiritual, (though in the areas of Europe threatened by the Ottoman Empire she was portrayed as Our Lady of Victory).
Erasmus, who retained bitter memories of his time in a monastery, attacked monasticism and praised matrimony in his Encomium (1518): he wrote that the single state is
‘a barren way lf life hardly becoming to a man…let us leave celibacy for bishops…the holiest kind of life is wedlock, purely and chastely observed’.Luther, Zwingli and Calvin all married in order to demonstrate their view that marriage was superior to celibacy. The creation of a married clergy marked a social revolution and one of the great dividing marks between Catholic and Protestant Europe. In the Peace of Augsburg (1555) the Habsburgs unenthusiastically granted legal recognition the Lutheran clergy unions within the Empire.
Following Erasmus, Protestants developed a new theology of marriage. It was no longer a sacrament but it was, in Cranmer’s words, an ‘honourable estate’ and a ‘holy estate’.
Sexual feelings were no longer regarded as sinful. Few were called to celibacy and for those who were not, marriage was a positive good. Luther told a monk contemplating marriage:
‘This is the Word of God, though whose power procreative seed is planted in man’s body and a natural, ardent desire for woman is kindled and kept alive. This cannot be restrained by vows or by laws. For it is God’s doing’ (quoted Richard Mackenny, Sixteenth-Century Europe, Macmillan, 1993, 145).This celebration of sex in marriage may also be connected to the alarming spread of syphilis in this period; monogamy – ‘safe sex’ - seemed a better solution to the problem than an unrealistic prescription of celibacy.
The Strassburg reformer Martin Bucer, one of the first of the early Protestants to marry, asserted that the chief reason for marriage was companionship. In his Prayer Book, Thomas Cranmer, another married man, cited this as the third reason for matrimony (after procreation and the cure for lust) but it is remarkable that he should have given it at all. It was the first marriage liturgy in Christian history officially to say this. In Protestant sermons wives were celebrated as calm and experienced companions ready to give advice and comfort.
However this companionship was in a context of patriarchy. Protestants not only exalted marriage but male headship within it. The ideal Protestant father was the religious head of the family, leading prayers and reading the bible to his dependants. The family was to be the microcosm of the Church.
Some historians have argued that Protestantism involved a loss for women, as with the option of a religious life ruled out, marriage remained the only life choice. The diary of Lady Margaret Hoby reveals the opportunities, but also limitations, of the life of an Elizabethan woman. But it can also be argued that Catholic women lost out as there was a growing insistence on enclosure for nuns. Charismatic women were regularly disciplined by their (male) religious superiors. Angela Merici (1474-1540) had founded the Company of St Ursula, a group of lay single women and widows dedicated to the poor. This received papal authorization and later in the century became a religious order focusing increasingly on girls’ education. But once they became a religious order they came under increasing pressure to become cloistered nuns. They were allowed to continue teaching girls though mainly within the walls of the convent.
Teresa of Avila
See here and here.
The most celebrated religious woman of the period was Teresa of Ávila (1515-82). Her paternal grandfather was a conversos, a Jewish convert to Christianity. In 1535, at the age of nineteen she entered a convent of Carmelite nuns somewhat against her father’s wishes. Life in this convent was fairly relaxed and Teresa seems to have come and gone with considerable freedom. Following a period of depression and illness she achieved inner piece in 1554-5 and experienced mystical visions which she wrote down, using the imagery of a mystical marriage. She came into contact with the Jesuits, who had just established a college in Ávila, and they encouraged her in her wish to restore the primitive rule of the Carmelites. In 1562 she founded a convent for women in Ávila, St Joseph’s for her new order, the discalced (barefoot) Carmelites, in the face of considerable opposition from the town and from within the Carmelite order.
After five years, however, she obtained permission to found more convents. She extended her mission to men after meeting Juan de Yepes (John of the Cross) in 1567 when she came to Medina del Campo to found one of her convents. In 1568 he accepted her invitation to found the first male house to follow her principles. In 1571 she was appointed prioress of the convent in Avila and in the following year she appointed Juan as priest confessor to the community.
This combination of two powerful personalities a aroused the suspicion of many in the hierarchy. In 1577-8 Juan was imprisoned and tortured. He escaped but the experience intensified his mysticism and his book The Dark Night became a Christian classic. Teresa was only freed from persecution through the support of Philip II. In 1579 the process of the Inquisition was stopped and the order was officially recognized in 1580. Teresa herself attended to some eighteen foundations. Her final foundation was at Burgos in 1582.
After Teresa’s death a new (male) Provincial curtailed much of the order’s freedom of action and Juan was removed from his position within the General Chapter of the order.
However, Teresa was canonized in 1612. In 1618 Philip III persuaded the pope to designate her co-patron of Spain (along with Santiago) and she was proclaimed Spain’s national state in 1814. General Franco kept one of her hands permanently by his bedside.
Monday, 12 January 2009
‘Though in the 1530s and 1540s it appeared as if Europe might become Protestant, a century later the picture was reversed – Catholicism had ended its decline and was showing a vigour and dynamic that compared favourably with a now rigid Protestantism.’ H. G. Koenigsberger, George L. Mosse,. and G. Q. Bowler, Europe in the Sixteenth Century (Longman, 1989), 207.There is a useful summary of the Catholic Reformation here. This post is also indebted to Diarmaid MacCulloch's quite excellent Reformation: Europe's House Divided 1490-1700 (Allen Lane, 2003).
List of Counter-Reformation popes
Paul III (1534-49) Alessandro Farnese
Julius III (1550-55) Giammaria Ciocchi del Monte
Paul IV (1555-59) Gian Pietro Carafa
Pius IV (1559-65) Giovanni Angelo Medici
Pius V (1566-72) Michele Ghisleri
Gregory XIII (1572-85) Ugo Buoncompagni
Even before the Protestant Reformation, there were movements for renewal within the Catholic Church. In the 15th century the 'devotio moderna' in the Netherlands had practised a Christianity that stressed the inner and the spiritual as opposed to ritual and dogma. In southern Europe the oratory movement began with founding of the Oratory of San Girolamo [Jerome] in Vicenza in 1494. In 1517 the Oratory of Divine Love was founded in Rome and included in its membership many important dignitaries of the Church. It practised prayer, frequent confession, communion, and charity in the visitation of hospitals. These oratories were allied with old, strict religious orders such as the Carthusians (founded 1084) and the Observant Franciscans. In 1485 Henry VII confirmed his predecessor’s grant of a convent for the Observant Franciscans in Greenwich.
In 1524 Gian Pietro Carafa, the future Pope Paul IV, a member of the Rome Oratory was instrumental in founding the Theatine order whose task was to remedy the deficiencies of the regular clergy by concentrating on preaching and pastoral work. In 1525 the Capuchins, a reforming branch of the Franciscans, who revived the old stress on preaching an poverty, were founded in the Italian Marches. The famous female teaching order, the Ursulines, were founded in 1535 by Angela of Merici.
Although reform was underway before the advent of Protestantism, the most famous of the new orders was set up specifically to counter ‘heresy’. The movement originated in Spain and the context is important. The country was eager to stress its Catholic orthodoxy and the Spanish Inquisition had been set up in 1478 to crush religious dissent. The religious orders had remained powerful, and the medieval chivalric tradition was especially strong (see Don Quixote). These factors combined to produce a religious order that was like no other in the Catholic Church.
Iñigo López de Loyola - Ignatius Loyola (1491?-1556) (left) was born into the Basque nobility. In 1521 he was badly wounded by a cannon ball while helping to defend the citadel at Pamplona from capture by the French. During his long and painful convalescence he read chivalric romances as well as the lives of the saints. When he recovered he dedicated himself to the Black Madonna at Monserrat in 1522 and in subsequent years wrote down what were to become his Spiritual Exercises, ‘one of the most influential books in the history of the Western Church’ (MacCulloch, 221). In 1523 he travelled to the Holy Land, but he was turned back by the Franciscans, who were at that time discouraging pilgrims because they were continually having to find ransoms for Christian prisoners. In 1528 he went to study at the Sorbonne (he was there with Calvin and Rabelais) where he formed a circle of like-minded friends, including the Navarrese nobleman’s son, Francisco de Javier (Francis Xavier) and conceived the idea of fighting heresy in Europe as well as Islam in the east. On 15 August 1534 he and a small group of friends, met at Montmartre and swore vows of poverty and chastity and a third vow to go to the Holy Land when their studies were finished. In January 1537 they reached Venice but found their progress barred by the war with the Turks, which meant that all commercial sailings were cancelled. They then decided that they would offer their services to the pope and call themselves the Company (soon to be known as Society) of Jesus.
In Rome, however, Ignatius found that he had powerful enemies, notably the fiercely anti-Spanish Neapolitan Carafa. One problem was the anomalous status of the Society as they were not monks or friars but secular priests. Were they to have a rule? In 1539 Ignatius submitted his rule to Paul III and in September 1540 the bull ‘Regimini militantis Ecclesiae’ gave them official recognition.
The Society was based on military principles. It was to be governed by a ‘Superior-General’ elected for life, with Ignatius elected the first general in April 1541. Under him were ‘provincials’ who governed a region, and the ‘rectors’ who ruled individual houses.
The new order had a distinctive spirituality, expressed through the ‘spiritual exercises’, a training of the mind through a series of visual exercises. Loyola’s stress on the senses profoundly affected Jesuit art and architecture, which was rich and elaborate, seen, for example in the Gesù Church in Rome (1568-75). This could not have been more different from Calvinism. Another huge difference lay in theology: the Calvinists believed in predestination while the Jesuits stressed the freedom of the will. But in other respects the two movements were similar, showing a common zeal and self-discipline and at time espousing similar radical politics.
The Jesuits became the shock-troops of the Counter-Reformation, showing remarkable energy and success. They concentrated on three areas of activity: the cultivation of rulers, education, and missionary work. They became famous as confessors, very lenient ones in the eyes of their Catholic critics. In using ‘casuistry’ to help people grapple with complex moral problems they came under attack for dishonesty and ‘jesuitical’ practices. They founded schools and universities in order to train elite young men to spread the faith. Peter Canisius founded universities in the southern part of the Holy Roman Empire. Their schools were free (financed by energetic fund-raising) and taught dancing, drama and PE as well as the usual curriculum. They were secondary schools and catered for merchants, gentry and nobility.
One of the most remarkable of the Jesuits was Francis Xavier who in 1542 began his ‘prodigious decade’ of Asian mission (MacCulloch, 433).
The most innovative of all the Jesuit missions was that pioneered by the Italian Robert de Nobili in India, who adopted the dress of a high-caste Hindu. In China, Matteo Ricci began on his arrival by wearing the dress of a Buddhist monk and then (when he knew the culture better!) Confucian scholars.
The papacy and reform
Given the power structure of the Catholic Church, reform had to come from above, and this meant the papacy. In the early 16th century the popes were preoccupied with their role as political rulers. The sack of Rome in 1527 was seen by many devout people as God’s judgement on a corrupt papacy. In 1534 Alessandro Farnese became pope as Paul III. In 1537 he created a reform commission, which was dominated by members of the Oratory of Divine Love. Three of its members were especially significant: the Venetian diplomat and Christian humanist, Cardinal Gasparo Contarini (1483-1542), the English exile Reginald Pole and the pious ascetic Gian Pietro Carafa.
The Colloquy of Regensburg
Among both Catholics and Protestants, there were those who wished to heal the breach. These included Contarini and Pole who sympathized with the doctrine of salvation by faith and Luther’s disciple Philipp Melanchthon, a humanist scholar, who wanted to find common ground with Catholics.
In 1541 Melanchthon and Contarini met at Regensburg (Ratisbon) under the auspices of Charles V while the Imperial Diet was operating. The two quickly reached agreement on a formula concerning justification but could not agree on transubstantiation, the papacy and the veneration of the saints; and in the end both Luther and the pope rejected the formula on justification.
The failure of Regensburg ended hopes of compromise. Contarini died under house arrest in August 1542, a broken man, and Italian evangelicals fled north in despair. The hour of the hard-liners, led by Carafa had come. Paul III resolved to enforce orthodoxy ruthlessly. He had already recognized the Jesuit order. In July 1542 the Inquisition was re-organized in Rome along Spanish lines to counter the growing infiltration of Protestantism into Italy. Carafa:
‘Even if my own father were a heretic, I would gather the wood to burn him.’The Council of Trent
There was now considerable pressure on the pope, especially from Charles V, to call a general council, a move that he at first resisted, remembering how councils had in the past asserted their superiority over the papacy. On 22 May 1542 a council was called to the city of Trent (Trento; now in Italy, then in the Tyrol and part of the Holy Roman Empire). The Council of Trent laid down guidelines for dogma and pointed towards a greater centralization within the Church and a greater enforcement of religious uniformity.
The first session (1545-9) proved to be one of the most fruitful for theological definitions as it tackled the key Lutheran doctrines of Scripture and justification and thus marked the moment when many evangelicals realized that their break with Rome was decisive. The Council decreed that:
• sola scriptura was false and truth was conveyed through tradition as well as Scripture;To the dismay of Charles V, it proved harder to achieve administrative reform. The first session forbade pluralism in the holding of bishoprics but it was unable to deal with the problem of non-resident bishops. In 1548 the Council moved to Bologna (outside the emperor’s dominions) because of the plague, and this sabotaged Charles’s attempts to involve the Protestants in the proceedings.
• the Vulgate was the authentic text of the Bible sin
• was remitted in baptism
• humanity retains free will after the fall, and therefore human beings can obey God’s commands
• the seven sacraments of the medieval church were ‘instituted by Christ’, and essential to salvation.
Paul’s successor Julius III recalled the Council to Trent.
The second session (1551-2) reaffirmed transubstantiation and stressed the importance of oral confession. But the session was suspended in a stalemate when the Protestants appeared and demanded that the bishops should be freed from their allegiance to the pope. Paul IV (Carafa) was suspicious of the Council and was embroiled in a war with Philip II (which also involved war with England). His successor Pius IV recalled the Council.
The third session sat from 1562-3. Under pressure from Carlo Borromeo, the archbishop of Milan, the impetus for reform was growing. But the pope was not in control of European developments. Pius had recalled the Council partly because he was alarmed at the French monarchy’s initiatives at religious conciliation. The Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand I also wished to conciliate the Lutherans, following the fragile Peace of Augsburg in 1555. The German delegation was small, but for the first time a French delegation attended led by the Cardinal of Lorraine. With the support of Philip II, the Spaniards were also well represented but the young Queen Elizabeth forbade the papal delegate to enter England.
Since most doctrinal matters had been settled in previous sessions, most of the work of this session concerned the life and structuring of the Church. The Council condemned pluralism and decreed that every diocese was to have a seminary to train the clergy. Some abuses – the proliferation of masses said for special occasions, some aspects of popular piety, and the sale of indulgences - were condemned. But the Council was nearly wrecked over the question of the relative powers of the pope and the bishops. Did the bishops derive their authority from the pope or directly from Christ? Eventually a compromise formula was found and in practice the government of the Church became increasingly centralized over the subsequent centuries. Early in 1564 the pope ratified the actions of the Council. A special commission was formed to implement the decrees while another revised and reissued the Index of Prohibited Books.
In 1566 a new Catechism was issued followed by a Breivary (1568) and Missal (1570) were issued by the pope.