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Why was the Catholic Church so weak by 1780?

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Introduction

Why was the Catholic Church so weak by 1780? The Catholic Church emerging triumphant from the religious wars dominated the earlier part of the eighteenth century however by the end of the 18th century many argued it had become enfeebled due to a combination of internal divisions, rulers' desires for absolutism, nationalism and the popularity of the enlightenment. The age of external conflicts and religious wars was giving way, in this period to an era of toleration. De facto toleration was the principle in many Western European countries (for example in Frederick the Greats Prussia) and the less austere religion was losing its hold over Catholic Europe. The end of the religious wars meant that there was no longer any need to passionately defend Catholicism and no longer a desire to eradicate other religions. There was a greater degree of religious pluralism both within Catholicism and externally (i.e. the development of other religions such as Methodism in Britain) which undermined the power of the Catholic churches. Many of these concentrated on evangelising areas such as rural towns that had been left out of the Catholic revolution. The religious pluralism of the end of the 18th century caused fractures in the Catholic Church and undermined its position as the religion of the nation. The Catholic Church in this period became less aware of outside religious contentions and was increasingly consumed and divided by a bitter internal 1'doctrinal dispute' that was a large factor in it's eventual decline. ...read more.

Middle

Ruler's desires for absolutism were impeded by the church's traditional strong hold over the nation. Rulers such as Joseph I and Louis XV'S governments sought to undermine the churches' authoritative position in order to bolster theirs. When Louis XV's government found itself lacking funds following the expense of the war of Austrian Succession the church was a primary target and Louis began to challenge the Church's tax privileges although he did not follow through with them. Maria Theresa an Austrian monarch did, and imposed restrictions and controls on the Catholic Church. Reducing the wealth of the Catholic Church and its extensive lands meant that the money could be redirected towards the state and used for state purposes such as the reform of education. This impetus continued and accelerated by her son Joseph I who continued stripping the Catholic church of its privileges. From the mid 18th century the papacy and established religious orders were gradually being ignored by rulers and the state this Disengagement between the church and the state has been used as evidence for a decline in the importance of the Catholic Church. The two institutions were at this time competing agents each struggling to assert and further their autonomous position. The Catholic Church was thus no longer propped up by the state. Previously the state upheld the church to promote social order it Christianised civil ceremonies such as marriage and burials. ...read more.

Conclusion

rather than this representing a weak church by 1780 it can perhaps be said that the supposed processes of de-Christianisation was simply the a privatisation and personalisation of Catholicism in the late 18th century as opposed to the superficial practises of the Jesuits. The historian Doyle also points to the buoyancy of religion in rural France and also some Catholic states of Germany in the late 18th century. Religious practice in France therefore provides us with evidence of a decline alongside evidence of strong religious sentiment limiting the validity of any conclusions of this question. The Catholic Church was certainly weakened in its dominance and influence over Europe by 1780. The internal dispute which it suffered was perhaps the largest single factor in its decline however the combination of the other factors also helped to undermine its hegemonic position and compounded its relative weakness by 1780. 1 D. Beales The eighteenth century short Oxford dictionary of Europe pg. 139 2 W. Doyle The old European Order p 168 3 G. Rowlands Seminar f- Roman Catholicism 4 W.Doyle The old European Order p 168 5 Ward W Christianity under the Ancien Regime 1648-1789 p 188 6 M.S. Anderson Eighteenth Century in Europe 1713-1783 1967 7 W.Doyle 8 M.S Anderson Eighteenth Century Europe 1713-1783 chapter 15 pg 268 9 M.S Anderson Eighteenth Century Europe 1713-1783 chapter 15 pg 268 Denise Kusi- Europe in the age of enlightenment 1 ...read more.

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