How successful was Philip II in implementing his religious policies?

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How successful was Philip II in implementing his religious policies during his reign in Spain?

One of Philip’s main aims during his reign was to implement the religious policies he had set out for Spain; some, however, proved more successful than others.

In 1556, the beginning of Philips reign, the Spanish Church was in dire need of reform; many of the lower clergy were uneducated, impoverished and morally compromised, much of rural Spain had little Christian understanding, delving in sacramental magic and pagan rituals, their faith was still rooted in local superstition – this was far from orthodox worship. The state of the Spanish Church did not reflect Philips inherited title of ‘Most Catholic King’, Philip knew it was his duty to uphold his name and his reputation, as well as his religious beliefs. He was famously quoted telling the Pope ‘rather than suffer the least damage to religion and the service of God, I would lose all my states and 100 lives, if I had them; for I do not propose nor desire to be ruled by heretics’.

To live up to his words Philip used The Council of Trent as a tool to which he could implement his plans. The Tridentine Decrees (Religious Acts), were issued to attempt to reform the state of the clergy; priests were forced to attend weekly sermons, transubstantiation were confirmed as key to Catholic doctrine and seminaries were set up to train new priests and re-train old ones.  Philip attempted to improve the standards of discipline and education in the clergy, the teaching role of the Church expanded and as a result religious art flourished. He supported the decrees enthusiastically, a series of energetic and active bishops were appointed, but however the Church was surprisingly unsupportive; the Pope being against too much change to the Catholic religion, fearing he would lose power. Relations with the Papacy would prove to be difficult for Philip throughout his reign; political clashes over Italy caused problems between them, making it hard for Philip to influence changes within the Church. The Pope even tried to play Philip off against France. However both need each other; The Church relied on Philip for protection against the Turks and Protestants threats and Philip realised the need for good relations with Rome if he was to have any true say on the roles of the Spanish Church. He spent a considerable amount of money, of which there was little of, (highlighting the importance of the Church in Spain to him), on forming a pro-Spanish party in the Vatican. However there continued to be a power struggle between Philip and the papacy throughout his reign, and the jurisdiction over heretics was continually fought over. If Philip was to have formed better relations with the Papacy, he would perhaps have been more successful in raising clerical standards with the help of the Pope.

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Shortly after coming in to power Philip employed The Inquisition to win the struggle against heresy and monitor the Tridentine decrees reform programme. Philips reign began with the wave of ‘protestant panic’, so  The Inquisitions first task was to persecute ‘Lutheran heretics’, as to not allow the protestant reformation to affect Spain as it had the rest of Europe. In 1559 ‘autos de fe’ were held these were large ‘ritualised’ trials in which heretics were executed and demonstrations of penance were held, there was even burning alive of those who did not confess. Although this regime against the Protestants ...

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