How far was the church in need of reform during your chosen period of study?
How far was the church in need of reform during your chosen period of study?
During the 15-th and 16-th Century the Roman Catholic Church throughout Europe dominated most aspects of life and government. The clergy published the majority of books that were read therefore they had a strong influence over the religious beliefs and practices of those from higher social classes. Those who could not read where reached through the pulpit at Mass. The Roman Catholic Church also had considerable wealth due to taxes such as the tithe. Power over monarchs could also be asserted as on many occasions the Church had aided bankrupt monarchs.
However, due to the wealth and power it had obtained the Church had forgotten its fundamental role for providing spiritual leadership and the pursuit of eternal salvation. An example of this would be the Medici family who provided many Popes. Instead of bestowing proper leadership upon the clergy and their flocks, they promoted their own family interests. The Historian B. Reardon suggests that the Papacy was the central cause for the Reformation in the 16-th Century, they had failed to show proper spiritual and moral leadership. Allowing the spread of incompetence and corruption throughout the rest of the church. Bishops failed to attend their duties in their diocese and were reluctant to fulfil their duty of monitoring their clergy. The lower sections of the clergy such as Parish Priests were more often to be found illiterate and unable to provide sufficient spiritual leadership to their Parish. There was also evidence of clergymen holding several different posts for which they were collecting salaries for but ignoring the duties that went with the positions. Cardinal Thomas Wolsey was renowned for exercising a certain amount of Pluralism.
The Church soon became a symbol of corruption and inefficiency among such people as Desiderius Erasmus. He was a biblical scholar and an outstanding student of Greek and Latin. He placed a great emphasis on the administrative importance of the Church and made little attack on the theology. He felt that Church was in dire need for a spiritual leader yet he did not criticise the contemporary Papacy, which conveyed that he favoured reform rather than revolution. He disliked the Monastic system of the Church whereby men completely abandoned their lives in the ordinary world to devote themselves to a life of prayer and mediation in monasteries. He also showed a dislike for indulgences as a truly repentant Christian had already gained remission for his/hers sins so therefore should not have to pay money to the church. Erasmus and the other humanists can be seen as isolated causes to the Reformation, but perhaps if the Pope had responded to Erasmus and the writing of the Humanists then a large scale Protestant Reformation could have been avoided. Although many people were living the Catholic Church during the 16-th Century, Erasmus remained a Roman Catholic Church and his willingness to challenge ideas, institutions and the men who led the Church inspired such Protestants as Luther, Zwingli and Calvin and therefore had a profound influence on the Counter Reformation.
As a result a Catholic Reformation developed to counter the Protestant Reformation during the 16-th Century. Other reasons that contributed to the Catholic Reformation were the ideas coming from the Spanish Church and England’s break from Rome.
By 1603 in England a separate Church of England had been firmly established. In 1529, Henry VIII decided upon a break from Rome. To a great extent the evidence suggests that the schism was not motivated by religious reasons but for Political convenience. By the time of Henry’s death the Church of England (based on what Henry claimed to be “Protestant” beliefs) had been reorganised and it regarded a form of National Catholicism. During the reign of Edward VI the church moved closer to the Protestant churches of Switzerland and Germany, with more radical reform. Under Mary I the Church’s form of religious practice went back to Catholicism relatively quickly after 1553. After 1558, however the Church came to a turning point in the development of religious change when Elizabeth ascended to the throne. Elizabeth’s reign permanently established the Church of England without any major reform after 1559.
Spain at around the same time was experiencing the Catholic Reformation. Spain’s need for reform differed from England’s need. By Charles I’s reign in 1523 the Papacy had given to Spain the right to fundamentally run the Church in Spain. However Henry did not have this privilege. Throughout the reigns of Isabella and Ferdinand; Charles I and Philip II, the main weapon used to enforce the reforms made to the Church was the Inquisition which gave the Catholic Monarchs a great deal of influence in religious matters. The need for Reform in Spain was to prevent Protestant ideas from spreading, which the Monarchs had observed in England and Germany. Isabella implemented much of the reform during her reign as she was influenced by the ideas of the Renaissance and disliked the level of corruption and immorality in the Church elsewhere. Spain contributed to the Catholic Reformation or the Counter Reformation, starting in the 1530’s although Michael Mullet argues that by the end of the 15-th Century in Spain a new “energy of reform process was appearing.” For example Isabella and Ferdinand were appointing high quality Bishops which spread to the lower levels of the clergy, which allowed the church to, became more efficient. It has been argued that for these reasons the Protestant ideas were not affecting Spain.
19-th Century historians, such as J. A. Froude and J. H. Green believe that the “Roman Catholic Church in England was in a poor state by 1529”, which allowed the spread of Protestant ideas that were coming in from the continent. As a result making it easy for Henry VIII to enforce a schism between Rome and England. On the other hand David Knowles and Philip Hughes believe that the “Roman Catholic Church in England at the time was in a good condition and the religious reform that took place between 1529 and 1536 was due to a greedy King that didn’t get his own way.” However this theory has been highly criticised, as both historians were Catholic Priests suggesting a non-objective view. The traditional view of the Catholic Church in England on the Eve of the Reformation was that Monks, Priests and Nuns were seen to be corrupt and inefficient. Bishops were looked upon as serving as a civil service to their Monarch rather than serving the Pope. Monasteries were seen as taking advantage of the huge wealth they held instead of using it for charitable causes. In full it has been suggested that many at the time regarded the Church in England, as lacking religious guidance and being subordinate to the agenda of the government. The modern view states that England was content with the state of the Church in 1529. People attending Church were still leaving money for charitable purposes. The English were still attending mass and endorsed the burning of heretics. Bishop Longland encouraged the high standards of clergy in his diocese as opposed to ignoring his duties and the Monasteries acted as a welfare state for the elderly. Christopher Haugh agrees with this view, arguing that the Church was an “able organisation that was in the favour of the English and well able to withstand and onslaught on its roles and beliefs.”
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If this view is correct then why did religious reform occur in England between 1529 and 1536? One argument is that in 1529 Henry VIII needed a divorce from Catherine of Aragon who happened to be Charles V’s (The Holy Roman Emperor) aunt. At this time Charles was in control of large parts of Italy, which included where the Pope, Clement VII resided. As a result the Pope would not allow Henry to divorce his wife and marry Anne Bolyn to secure a male heir for the English throne. Therefore the only way for Henry to obtain a divorce was by ending Papal jurisdiction in England and in turn giving the King and his ministers the power. It has also been claimed that by trait Henry was extremely egotistical, when the Pope refused to give him an annulment he had inadvertently gotten in his way. This it has been suggested caused Henry to be bitterly resentful of the Pope. The Act in Restraint of Appeals (1534), drawn up by Thomas Cromwell stated that the highest court of Appeal in all religious matters lay in England. This Act effectively gave Henry his divorce and created a Church of England that was excommunicated by Pope Paul III. The Act of Supremacy recognised Henry VIII as head of the Church in England, although the Six Articles of 1539 were highly Catholic the previous Act mentioned had caused so much damage to the Roman Catholic Church that it was difficult to stop Protestant ideas from rising or a return to the Church in Rome. The fact that the Church of England remained theologically Catholic despite its split with Rome suggests that Henry had been motivated by dynastic reasons not religious reasons.
Another argument put forward was that Henry needed money to support his extravagant war campaigns. He would acquire the money by way of the Dissolution of the Monasteries between 1536 and 1540. During this period, the Monasteries and convents were brought under the control of the Government and then closed down. The significance of this was that Henry could now sell huge amounts of land (which had been unattainable in the past) to the nobility, thereby greatly increasing his royal income and power. As social status was measured in terms of land, the implication of the Dissolution of the Monasteries would be certain people ensuring there was no return to Rome. The Monasteries held libraries, which had provided the learning and scholarship of the Roman Catholic Church in England. As a consequence the removal of the centuries of belief would have to damage the old faith (Catholicism). It was claimed that the Monasteries were so corrupt that they had to be closed, however Cromwell made an investigation into this statement and only found a small amount of degradation. During Mary I’s reign she would attempt to restore the Monasteries. However this act was futile as a large amount of Monastic land and buildings had been lost. Therefore it has been argued that it was not the corruption of the Monasteries that led to their demise but instead Henry’s motive to further his foreign policy in the 1540’s.
The two major political figureheads helping Henry at the time with his reforms were leading Protestants, Thomas Cramner and Thomas Cromwell. After 1536, when Henry had obtained his divorce he made little change to the Church of England himself. He instead left Cromwell, his Chief Minister, in charge. It has been suggested that these two men influenced Henry when he was deciding to break from Rome as they were seeking to fulfil their own Pro-Protestant agendas. However, by 1547 England was still fundamentally a Catholic country and if the next Monarch were determined to reinstate the Catholic faith it wouldn’t have been beyond impossible. With the Ten Articles of 1536 the Church of England’s religious belief were laid down. Transubstantiation and prayers for the dead still remained which were both highly Catholic practices. Although within the Act there were some Lutheran beliefs, it was more or less Catholic. Therefore there was no Protestant agenda at work during Henry’s reign that provided him with a need to break from Rome. Maybe these men had been simply paving the way for a more radical Church that would be possible for Edward VI.
In 1547 Edward VI came to power, however he was still young and very ill so there was a form of regency. Firstly the Earl of Somerset took control of England in 1547, religious reform during this period was viewed by many historians as moderate and cautious. In 1550 the Earl of Northumberland took over from Somerset and this period has been associated with more radical Protestant reform.
In 1547 a Royal Commission was sent to every bishopric on which they had to compile a report on the state of the clergy and practices found in every diocese. This resulted in a moderate amount of reform to the church making it slightly more Protestant. Somerset was a Protestant, Edward VI had been educated by Protestants, furthering a need for reform. Somerset felt that caution should be taken as the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V could be offended by a lean towards a more Protestant England. However, Somerset passed the Act of Uniformity, which he hoped would end the uncertainty over religious reform. A number of Protestant ideas were introduced, for example no more masses for the Souls of the dead and new Protestant prayers were introduced. There was, however, no change made was to the Eucharist as it was still defined as transubstantiation. The Pro Protestant reform Party held a majority in the Privy Council and Protestant exiles who were returning were not pleased with the amount of reform that had been passed. There was still a need for more radical reform to the Church of England.
The Earl of Northumberland used conservatives (they didn’t want radical Protestant reform) in the Privy Council to strengthen his position and then switched his allegiance to the Protestant reformers. John Hooper was a Protestant enthusiast who also influenced the need reform. He was invited to become Bishop of Glouster but declined, as he believed the ordination was still to Catholic. There was nothing centrally wrong with what Henry VIII had left in 1547 but the men in government at the time pushed out Catholic opposition. For example Bishop Cramner and Bonner were imprisoned to secure a vote for Protestant reform. The Second Act of Uniformity in 1552 introduced a more Protestant doctrine to the Church of England, which many had wanted. The Eucharist was clearly defined in terms of consubstantiation and Cramner’s new Book of Common Prayer became the official basis for the Church of England. The book was based upon the scriptures but all traces of Catholicism were gone. Some see the reform as being necessary if the Church of England was to survive and more radical reform would have followed if Edward had not died in 1553 leaving his Catholic sister to take over.
Mary I was portrayed by John Foxe (Book of Martyrs) as an “evil woman who took delight in the burning of Protestant Martyrs.” She took the Church of England back to the traditional Catholic faith. She had been raised a Catholic and with the first Statute of Repeal in 1553 Mary began to wipe out all traces of Protestantism. Mary was a devout Catholic by nature, therefore she believed that the Protestant faith was heretical and would not ratify it in England. Another reason that provoked Mary to reinstate the Catholic faith was to retain good relations with the Spanish Habsburgs to counter balance the French threat. Mary’s reasons for reform were based far more on religion than political reasons.
The historian, Christopher Haigh stated, “There can be little doubt of Elizabeth’s personal Protestantism.” By the time Elizabeth had ascended to the throne in 1558 England had undergone over twenty-five years of turbulent religious change. Being Protestant, Elizabeth was a political realist. She knew that her difference of religion could present a Catholic coalition of force, for example Spain and France versus England. This was a major concern, also in 1558 large sections of society were still Catholic and a return to a Pro – Protestant Church could provoke wide spread rebellion. Therefore Elizabeth adopted a religious policy that wouldn’t isolate Catholics.
Between 1559 and 1563, Parliament laid down the foundations of the Church of England, which still remain to this day without much further reform made to them. The motives for the Elizabethan Church Settlement vary but there are three major arguments.
Firstly John Foxe believes that “Elizabeth pushed through a religious settlement against the opposition of the Catholics.” Evidence for this argument is that in 1558 Elizabeth made a public display of walking out of Bishop Oglethorpe’s mass as he raised the host. On the 1st February 1559 the Privy Council ordered the English Ambassador to Pope Paul IV to return to England. Lastly William Bill, the Queen’s Alomer (with strong Protestant beliefs) was allowed to make the first official sermon at St Paul’s Cross. John Foxe argues, “If you combine the above acts with the background and education of the Queen it conveys she wished to have a Protestant Settlement.”
However Sir John Neale, in the 1950’s argued “Elizabeth and her Parliament’s settlement was a result of Elizabeth (being Conservative) being forced into a more radical Religious Settlement by radical Protestants believed to be the ‘Puritan Choir’.” The evidence to support this view was the International situation in 1558 and 1559. When Elizabeth came to power, England was still at war with France and the government didn’t have sufficient funds to continue. The Act of Exchange allowed the Queen use of a diocese’s revenues if it was vacant, thus giving her great wealth. Neale also believes that there was a significant body (supposedly) in the House of Commons that were in favour of radical religious change. Led by Sir Francis Knollys and Sir Anthony Cooke, one quarter of the four hundred and four members of the House of Commons acted against the Queen forcing her reluctantly into a Protestant settlement.
Norman Johnes (Faith by Statute: Parliament and the Settlement of Religion 1559) seriously criticises Neale’s view stating, “Elizabeth and her advisers established a religious settlement that reflected their own religious views. Opposition didn’t come from radical Protestants but from the Catholics in the House of Commons.” On the 21st February strong Catholic opposition knocked down a Religious Bill that would have made Elizabeth Supreme Head of the Church with a Protestant form of belief. Only after strong opposition had been imprisoned (e.g. Gardiner) was a new Act of Uniformity passed by the House of Lords with all Catholic Bishops opposed.
Elizabeth most likely did it for her own personal reasons as Johnes stated. She was not subordinate to her subjects and had her own mind, which she was not afraid to express in Parliament. Elizabeth was able to milk the Church of revenue and keep on good terms with Philip II of Spain (a much needed ally) and the Pope who hoped England would return to Catholicism. However the Settlement did not satisfy the radical Protestants, as they did not want a church that was merely a “via media” (or compromise).
In 1474 the Roman Catholic Church in Spain was both wealthy and powerful. For example the Archbishop of Toledo was chief prelate of Spain and the richest man in the country after the King. He was also richest ecclesiastic in the entire Church after the Pope. Spain was not in the same position as England in relation to the Roman Catholic Church in the respect of how much control they had over the Church in their Country. Spain played a major role in the Catholic Reformation as the Roman Catholic Church began to mobilise itself to deal with the splintering of its authority and held the Council of Trent which opened in 1545. Both Charles I and Philip II became very involved in Trent, which meant the Church had very strong backing. By Philip II’s reign, he had control of the Catholic Church in Spain. This allowed him a great deal of political and financial power, which Henry VIII lacked in England. Therefore Philip had little reason to act on any other agenda than religious one, most of the time.
In the 15-th Century, with the weakening of royal power, the Spanish Church had acquired a somewhat considerable degree of independence. Ferdinand and Isabella gained an important advantage when they secured from Innocent VIII the right of presentation to all major benefices in the kingdom of Granada (1486). In 1523 their grandson Charles I received, from the Pope Adrian VI, the right to present all bishops in Spain. By Philip II’s reign the Crown made all major ecclesiastical appointments. Papal Bulls needed Spanish royal approval before they could be published and appeals over crown decisions could be made to Rome, but this very rarely occurred as it could be seen as a challenge to Philip’s authority. In relation to England during Henry’s reign, the Spanish Monarchy had considerably more influence and power in Rome that only Henry could only dream of. Thus the Monarchs had managed to gain control over the Church, which became one of their main sources of income. It could be suggested that this was one of the political motives of Charles and Philip as the money the acquired through the Church allowed them to support their foreign policy, which was constantly expanding.
However, the Church in Spain was in urgent need of reform at the start of the 16-th Century. The Monarchs, especially the Queen, Isabella, were growingly aware of the issue. As a result an improvement was made to the quality of the clergy and Monasteries were reformed. Bishops were chosen on the bases of their learning and piety rather than family connections (Nepotism). Schools were also founded to better educate the clergy. The Franciscan Friar, Ximenez de Cisneros, made a great contribution to the reform. He founded the University of Alcala to promote the study of theology in 1504. Here it can be considered that Isabella felt that there was genuine religious need for reform and was not acting of any political agenda.
The Protestant Reformation that was spreading throughout the rest of Europe, in general did not affect Spain, although there were a number of non-Catholic religious groups residing in Spain. One reason as to why the Protestant Reformation did not affect Spain was due to the use of the Inquisition. It was established to deal with the problem of the Conversos who were secretly adhering to Judaism. In 1478 Pope Sixtus IV gave Ferdinand and Isabella permission to set-up an Inquisition in Castile. The significance of this was that the Monarchy now controlled the appointment of personnel and the finance it generated. It could be considered that there was a political motive in the use of the Inquisition as it allowed the Monarch to confiscate the property of Conversos, therefore providing them with revenue to support their expansion in the New World. From 1483 to 1498 it has been estimated that two thousand Conversos were put to death. The Inquisition was in many ways a deterrent to ensure that Spain remained Catholic.
Charles I used “Auto de Fe” which was a Catholic religious ceremony where people accused of being Jewish or Protestant were brought before the Inquisition, in public to renounce any wrong doing against the Church. If they refused to renounce their mistakes they were burnt at the stake. Although this rarely happened the “Auto de Fe” or Act of faith, was used to express support for the Church more than anything else. During Philip II’s reign the “Auto de Fe” virtually destroyed all Lutheran ideas. During the period of 1559 to 1562 six “auto do fe” were used and at Valladolid in 1559 seventy-seven people were executed before Philip II.
The Inquisition also used the method of censorship to keep Protestant ideas that were coming into seaports like Seville, from spreading. As early as 1521, during the reign of Charles I, Inquisitor General Adrian of Utrecht banned all Lutheran books. On the 7th September 1558, Philip II introduced a new censorship law. This stated that anyone who imported a book without a Royal licence could be punished by death. An Index of banned books was also drawn up so that the Spanish were not in any way influenced by Protestant ideas. Philip made it law that no Spaniard could study abroad and in 1559, when he returned form the Netherlands, he stated that pupils were not allowed to study in Spanish domions like the University of Louvian in the Netherlands. This need to reform was to ensure that the Church in Spain remained completely Catholic. To further this the Jews were expelled in 1492 with the main motive being religious, as the Jews were not conforming to the Catholic religion. The Mudejars, at the end of the 15-th Century were told they had to either emigrate or convert to Catholicism. On the 28-th October 1570, the Spanish Government decided to deport between eighty thousand to one hundred thousand Moriscos from Granada to Castile. Philip was not only motivated by religious reasons, in the 1560’s the Turks posed a threat to Spain. Philip saw the Moriscos as a natural ally to the Turks as they were from Muslim background. By 1609 during Philip III’s reign, all Moriscos had been expelled from Spain. The removal of these religious minorities through the Inquisition was in fact the outcome and weapon of radical prejudice, and its most profound motivation was the national passion for purity of blood. It could be considered then that the Spanish Church did not need reform in this respect. Instead it was influenced by the growing amount of anti-Semitism and a hatred for anyone who did not conform.
The Council of Trent played a vital role in reviving the Roman Catholic Church in Europe. Henry Kaman believes that “Trent revolutionised Spanish Catholicism.” Charles I had originally pushed the Council of Trent to assemble to establish a definite Catholic doctrine to show clearly the differences between Catholics and Protestants as to prevent any doubts in the future. During the first session held between 1545 and 1547, it only served to highlight the differences between the two faiths. By 1556 there was still a need for reform in the Church as remote parts of Castile were practising folk religion. Priests were either illiterate or poorly educated and many of them lived in poverty. To resolve these problems, Philip created a new diocese in Aragon and Bishops insured that the decrees of Trent were implemented. For example Gaspre de Quroga, the Archbishop of Toledo, worked closely with the Franciscan Monks to help introduce reform to the education of priests. He published the Manual of Sacraments in 1581 to regulate the use of sacraments in Spain and recorded all baptisms, marriages and deaths. By 1598 twenty new seminaries had been created to train and educate priests. Dominguez Ortiz stated in 1971 that the Catholic Church in Spain during Philip II’s reign was “characterised by a yearning for an intense religious life, purified and disciplined by the hierarchy.” Philip at times did display a genuine need for a strong Catholic Church in Spain but he would only implement reforms stated at Trent if they did not harm his authority. The bulk of the decisions made at Trent were all but irrelevant to a country that was soundly Catholic, as Philip and Charles had ensured that Spain remained highly Catholic with a purity of blood.
Philip II upheld the Counter Reformation though its required impact in Spain was less than elsewhere in Europe. Though he detested Protestants and Turks he only involved himself in campaigns against them when Spain itself was threatened. For example he refused to help Pius V’s crusade against the Turks during the time of the Holy league. He also showed a conciliatory attitude towards the North German Protestant states and England when he declared that the revolt of the Dutch was a rebellion against Royal authority and was not a fight against heresy. He was a devout Catholic and although he looked on the Popes as Spiritual Leaders he did not commit himself to the decisions of Rome when they conflicted with his own beliefs.
John Lynch stated in 1961 that the “Monarchy’s control over the Church was probably more complete in Spain in the 16-th Century than in any other part of Europe.” This had been secured during the reigns of Ferdinand, Isabella, Charles and Philip. It has been argued that if Henry had had the same authority over the Catholic Church in England in 1529, the schism between Rome and England would never have occurred. Henry always saw himself as a true Catholic as this was shown by how little the Beliefs of the Church of England differed from those of Rome. The absence of any major change reinforces the view that the initial stages of the Reformation in England were primarily political, dynastic and financial in motivation. Where as the need for Reform in Spain was primarily the National and Royal desire for purity of blood and a firm Catholic Church with doctrines that were without ambiguity.
It seems also that forces behind the English monarch, Henry VIII, were influencing the break from Rome. A. G. Dickens argues that “Cramner and Cromwell were the principle agents in the process who manipulated events as far as they dared in the direction of Protestantism.” During Elizabeth’s reign the Church of England was firmly established with the Church Settlement of 1559. Although there is much debate as to what motives were behind it, it seems more than likely that Elizabeth’s moderate Protestant reforms were implemented by her own wishes as to not provoke a rebellion.
The Inquisition and the Council of Trent were the result of a realisation that if the Spanish monarchy wanted to keep Spain Catholic they would have to improve the quality of their priests and Monasteries. As Protectors of the Catholic Faith, the Spanish Monarchs were far more influenced by their religious beliefs and the threat of Protestantism, than the economic and political influences that motivated England.
The Counter or Catholic Reformation of the 16-th Century expressed that the Catholic Church was aware of its mistakes and was able to correct them, this encouraged many Catholics to return. However Protestantism had already gotten a foothold in many parts of Europe such as Sweden, Germany, Netherlands and England. During the 16-th Century the Catholic Reformation had not been able to fight the growing number of Humanists and it was now clear that the Church would have to be more open-minded in the future if it were to remain popular.
Throughout the 15-th and 16-th century religion did involve many aspects of government and dynastic issues. Elizabeth had chosen a moderate Protestant Church for diplomatic reasons that involved home and abroad, Henry needed to secure an heir to the Tudor throne and support his campaigns in France. The Catholic Church in Spain was so powerful that it was mainly influenced by honour and prestige rather than any other reason.
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