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The Counter Reformation and the Jesuits

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 Contents - Sep 2006AD2000 September 2006 - Buy a copy now
Editorial: 2006 Fighting Fund launched - Peter Westmore
Conscience: AD2000 interviews Cardinal Pell - Cardinal George Pell
USA: Liberal Christianity goes into meltdown - Charlotte Allen
News: The Church Around the World
Chavagnes: Catholic education in a secular culture - Alexander Morrison
History: The Counter Reformation and the Jesuits - John Morrissey
Family in Society: Asian and Australian families face similar challenges - Leslie Sammut
Clergy: ACCC Annual Conference focuses on theology of Benedict XVI - AD2000 Report
Letters: Thomas Groome (letter) - C. Hungerford-Morgan
Letters: Baptism - Mark Moriarty
Letters: Correction to last month's reflection on Baptism - John Young
Letters: Communism - Frank Bellet
Letters: African pen-friend - Fr Vincent Kajoba
Letters: Safe Sex? - Arnold Jago
Letters: Judicial activism - Henk Verheven
Letters: Stolen faith - Marie Adamo
Letters: Helping the Carmelites - Beth Burns
Letters: Thank-you note - A. van Tilburg
Poetry: The Touch of the Master's Hand - Myra Welch
Books: William Bernard Ullathorne: A Different Kind of Monk, by Judith Champ - Michael Gilchrist (reviewer)
Books: Advancing the Culture of Death, by Peter Hung Manh Tran - Peter Westmore (reviewer)
Books: Why Must I Suffer? by Fr F.J. Remler CM - Jacinta Cummins (reviewer)
Books: Stimulating reading from Freedom Publishing
Reflection: Cardinal Arinze on the need for Eucharistic reverence - Cardinal Francis Arinze

This year marks the Jubilee of three famous Jesuits, St Ignatius Loyola (died 1556), St Francis Xavier (born 1506) and Blessed Peter Faber (born 1506, canonisation pending). The Jesuit order was a major player during the post-Reformation period that saw significant reforms introduced in the Catholic Church.

John Morrissey, who has taught history, English and religious education at Melbourne Catholic, Independent and State secondary schools, provides an outline of the volatile post-Reformation period in Europe and the important role played by the newly formed Jesuit order.

When the Peace of Augsburg was concluded in 1555 between the Holy Roman Emperor and the Protestant cities and principalities, it recognised the spread of the Protestant Reformation in Germany and adjoining lands.

Meanwhile, a Catholic Reformation which had begun in Spain and Italy had barely touched Germany. The Church there was demoralised and seemed helpless before the Protestant assault, while the clerical and monastic abuses which had fuelled the fires of reform persisted.

Protestant reformers flourished in Catholic principalities as well as imperial cities, and the principle of cuius regio, eius religio (whoever ruled the region would decide the religion) merely kept the peace. It did not guarantee the dominance of the Catholic religion in Austria and Southern Germany. Nevertheless, the Catholic religion was preserved there and in Poland by the use of the lay power, the doctrinal definitions of Trent, some reform of the clergy, and more effective preaching, teaching and apologetics.

At a more intangible level, the Church's recovery in Germany was aided by a reservoir of prayer and spirituality, and a number of popular factors which could be said to have favoured the "old religion", especially in rural areas.

From 1517 until the Council of Trent in 1546, the Catholic Church was on the defensive. Its controversialists, pamphlet-writers and disputants failed to match the reformers in debate, print or invective.

They were as scathing as Luther about Church abuses, but were slow to see that opposing each new doctrine counted for little alongside the novelty of the new teaching among the common people.

Preparing the way for the Jesuits and Trent were the Carthusians of Cologne. They emphasised prayer and piety, the way of the German mystics, their own Rule and reform of self rather than others. To them in 1537 came Peter Canis, (Canisius), destined to become the great Jesuit saint of the Counter Reformation. Jesuit Peter Faber also arrived at Cologne in 1543, forming a partnership instead of rivalry with the Carthusians.

A reservoir of prayer and piety in the Catholic world, represented by the Oratory of the Divine Love in Italy and St Teresa and Carmelite reform in Spain, was a force behind the Catholic or Counter Reformation. Self- martyrdom and service to the poor characterised a Catholic renewal which the Council of Trent merely formalised.

Religious orders

Alongside this spirit were the reforms to religious orders, conducted from the 1530s by Gianpietro Carafa and Cardinal Contarini, the formation of the Capuchins and under Paul III the Consilium on the state of the Church and means of regeneration. It is significant that the agenda of reform was not set and dictated by the Reformation. In fact, it was focused on Italy.

Even Rome, which had been a source of scandal rather than inspiration, was becoming transformed. By 1572, the Englishman Gregory Martin, the originator of the Douay Bible, could only marvel at the piety, devotion and charity there. He described the Pope among his cardinals as Michael among the angels. A similar impression had been made on the more worldly Venetian ambassador in 1565.

After Trent's first session in 1546, Emperor Charles V and Cardinal Contarini, who had hoped for a compromise with the Lutherans, were disappointed. Yet this would be a source of strength for the Catholic Church, as the reformers became more divided and confused in their teachings after the death of Luther in 1546.

A formula for Justification or salvation, which asserted the primacy of faith and God's grace, but included the role of good works, was decreed in 1547, followed by an uncompromising assertion on the Eucharist in 1551, of transubstantiation and the sufficiency of one species. The third session, 1561-63, reaffirmed Church teaching on Purgatory, indulgences and other disputed matters, and laid down guidelines for reform of the clergy. In 1564 the Bull, Injunctum nobis, confirmed these decrees and asserted the teaching primacy of the Pope.

Meanwhile, in Germany, it appeared that, in spite of the Peace of Augsburg, even Austria and Bavaria might fall to the reformers. Corrupt monasteries, a shortage of priests, pastors and people already with Protestant sympathies (viz modified liturgies, compromises in clerical marriage and use of the vernacular) underlined the crisis for the Church.

Graz in Austria was almost entirely Protestant by 1570 and prince- bishoprics such as Magdeburg - and even Cologne - were vulnerable should the incumbent turn Protestant. In the free cities, toleration reigned in theory, but councillors, such as those at Augsburg, had been forced by Imperial troops to reinstate the "old religion" in 1548.

Just as Protestant princes enforced Protestantism in the north, Catholic princes did the same in the south. In 1578 officials in Innsbruck investigated groups "suspect in their religion," and in Rottenberg were instructed to uphold the Catholic faith "diligently and not sleepily" and to ensure that "sectarian religion should not move in there." Imprisonment was also implied.

More important were the ongoing inducements of patronage and employment in elite careers in the Habsburg administration, now denied to Protestants. Thus, in Graz the Archduke from 1581 preferred Catholics for employment, expelled evangelical pastors, forbade attendance at the Protestant school and finally allowed citizenship only to Catholics.

A resurgence of Protestantism after his death had his successor repeating these measures, reportedly saying, "I would rather rule a country ruined than a country damned."

While the regime undertook to re-Catholicise large bi-confessional cities like Constance, smaller cities like Rottweil and Uberlingen remained staunchly Catholic. Although threatened by a Protestant movement and a decline of clergy in the 1520s and 1530s, at first responding to Habsburg power and later out of personal zeal, their councils suppressed heresy and encouraged religious life and Catholic devotions.

The most dramatic use of lay power was in Poland, where Lutheranism had grown in the towns and Calvinism among the nobles under royal toleration (1574-87), until Sigismond III received the Tridentine decrees and Gregorian Calendar.

Protestants were refused preferment and were sometimes evicted by Catholic lords, and law courts resumed parish churches from Protestant congregations. Although Sigismond lacked the centralised administration of the Habsburgs, his crusade was aided by the Roman connections of his wife, Bona Sforza, and the elite, Jesuit- educated young men - some wooed from Protestant families - who filled civil and ecclesiastical appointments. That Poland reverted almost completely to the Catholic Church owed much to the Society of Jesus.

Jesuit emphasis on education of a lay elite and training of clergy took precedence over controversial action, yet preaching and missionary work took them into Protestant territory. The catechisms of Peter Canisius from 1556 answered the call for dogmas supported by evidence from Scripture and elsewhere, and answered the challenge set by Luther's catechism since 1529.

Jesuit colleges multipled from 1550 and provided recruits for the Society, the parishes and the new Catholic elite. There were 144 colleges by 1579 and five in Poland alone, where the Society had 60 members.

By the early 17th century the Society alone had recruited over 15,000 members from its schools. The excellent curriculum and entrée to patronage attracted even Protestant scholars, and alumni included Emperor Ferdinand II and Duke Maximilian II of Bavaria.

Further prestige was gained through Jesuit confessors being sought by the Emperor and others.

Reform of ecclesiastical discipline and morals was the duty of the bishops, but until the establishment of Clerical Councils from 1594 they accomplished little. A grave omission was their failure to raise finance for the required seminaries and it was fortunate for Catholic Germany that the Jesuits established their schools.

Multiple benefices were a church abuse condemned at Trent, whereby one could hold several bishoprics or other church positions at once. Ironically, multiple benefices empowered some reforming bishops in both suppressing heresy and reforming the clergy - none more than Andreas von Osterreich, a cardinal at 22, then an abbot, governor of upper and outer Austria in 1579, and finally Bishop of Constance in 1589. He achieved both religious uniformity and monastic reform.

The Tridentine bishops were often remiss in visitation of the local clergy, and lay authorities and monasteries sometimes carried out this function. However, reforming the clergy came to mean merely ending concubinage among village priests, and the Austrian officials' reports show their diligence in this campaign. Reports which in 1568 had sought that clergy be "not stained with any sect" seem from 1580 to be focused only on concubinage, which was eliminated by the early 17th century.

In Bohemia, after the Battle of White Mountain in 1635, the golden chalices adorning the Tyn church in Prague, which had symbolised the Hussite liturgy, were removed and it became the Church of St Virgin Mary. At the common level, much of the progress of the Reformation, on both sides, depended on symbolism rather than theology. Cup, book, language, images, processions, bells - all proved to be enduring and powerful.

The Fathers at Trent, in upholding all of Catholic practice, showed a real understanding of symbolism. Those at the Colloquy of Regensburg in 1541 would have conceded the cup and more to Luther's successor, Melancthon. But by 1577 Rome could afford to reject John III of Sweden's offer to return his country to Catholicism, if the cup for the laity, the vernacular and married clergy were conceded.

In terms of gender, folk culture and the second generation of Protestant Pastors, it seems that there was some nostalgia for the "old religion" in the later 16th century, but the solid evangelical status of northern Germany in the 17th century discounts any confident claims here. Neverthless, the Protestant ideal for women as subject wives in godly households denied them some previous modes of religious experience: saintly widows, Catholic saints, nuns and the association with Marian cults.

On the other hand, in spite of the efforts of the Augsburg council to suppress the city's convents between 1530 and 1548, most of them endured until Catholicism was reinstated, while all of the monasteries closed and the monks became evangelical pastors or craftsmen.

Popular piety

At the popular level, Protestant rectitude certainly irked some. Rural parishioners in Saxony, whose communal life had revolved around feast days, baptisms and spinning bees, all with plentiful drinking and dancing, were castigated by the new pastors. Punishment for drunkenness, blasphemy or not attending catechism class could be meted out in the stocks.

After 1570, there was massive anticlericalism against these city- bred pastors. The reformers' horror of idolatry also extended to popular magic, which had co-existed with many of the superstitions and sacramentals of the Catholic Church. Parishioners were even known to have gone to Catholic priests for sacramentals, and some places of devotion were maintained in Protestant territories.

In the reformed towns, the poor also experienced a change under Protestant rectitude, as charity became a communal responsibility, overseen by professionals, but it seems to have become more censorious. Councils prohibited begging, while poor relief, which had been the subject of many wills and the object of lay religious confraternities, was neglected. The removal of good works from the salvation equation seems significant.

It is clear that after 1555 there was no great recovery from the reformers of territory conceded by the Peace of Augsburg, for the reformers were consolidating their hold in the north. However, a rebuilding of the Catholic Church took place in the lands it retained under the Peace of Augsburg as well as in the cities not under Protestant princes. The contribution of the Jesuits was as vital as that of the civil power - whose strategic interests a restored Church also served - making this period essentially a Catholic Reformation.

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Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 19 No 8 (September 2006), p. 10

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