The Council of Trent and the Papal Monarchy: Expanding Catholicism’s Power and Authority from the Late Sixteenth to Early Seventeenth-Centuries
This article discusses the Catholic Church’s efforts to expand its influence and authority during the late sixteenth to early seventeenth centuries. It describes the role of the Council of Trent, the Borromean reform in Italy, the papacy’s consolidation of power in the Papal States, and the debates surrounding supernatural power and witch-hunts. Additionally, it explores how the Protestant Reformation impacted the understanding of and access to supernatural power, as well as the West’s response to the Ottoman threat.
Table of Contents
- The Council of Trent and the Borromean Reform
- The Papal Monarchy: Consolidating Power
- Supernatural Power and Witch-hunts
- The Ottoman Threat and the Fragmentation of Christendom
Q: What was the significance of the Council of Trent in expanding Catholicism’s power and authority?
A: The Council of Trent, a Catholic Church council held in the mid-sixteenth century, offered conservative renewal and guidance for the implementation of Catholic doctrine. The council’s decrees relied heavily on the actions of local bishops, leading to the emergence of the Borromean reform in Milan, Italy. Carlo Borromeo, the archbishop of Milan, was a model episcopal reformer who conducted numerous diocesan synods and councils, improving the education of the parish clergy and increasing clerical oversight of the laity.
Q: Did the reform of the clergy face any challenges?
A: Yes, the reform of the clergy faced resistance, particularly from the benefice system and secular courts. The benefice system allowed secular authorities to sell church offices to the highest bidder, leading to corruption and nepotism. The papacy also faced challenges from secular authorities, who were reluctant to cede power to the Church.
Q: How did the papacy consolidate its hold on power during this period?
A: Popes Pius V, Gregory XIII, and Sixtus V consolidated their hold on power in the Papal States and established a papal monarchy. The role of the College of Cardinals diminished as the number of cardinals grew, and they became mainly chosen from powerful Italian families. The papal nephews played an important role in nurturing the friendships of cardinals and maintaining the interests of their uncles.
Q: How did the papacy promote its claims and reforms during this period?
A: The papacy used the printing press to sustain its enlarged claims and reform the calendar in 1582, inviting the world to adopt it, except for Protestant Europe. The ceremonial procession from Saint Peter’s to St John Lateran became essential to the consecration of a new pope, highlighting the pope’s sovereignty in his own state and in the world.
Q: How did the understanding and access to supernatural power become central and controversial in the sixteenth century?
A: Debates about supernatural power preoccupied intellectuals before the Protestant Reformation, but they became central and controversial in the sixteenth century. Communications dynamics and the Protestant Reformation impacted the understanding of and access to supernatural power. Catholics and Protestants had different views on the theology, reality, efficacy, and appropriateness of supernatural power.
Q: What were the consequences of arguments about supernatural power?
A: Arguments about supernatural power led to campaigns or prosecutions against those falsely claiming access to it and doing harm using it. Witch-hunts were set in motion by people in authority projecting their anxieties into this particular direction, resulting in possibly more witchcraft victims than victims of religious persecution.
Q: How did local patterns of witch-hunts vary?
A: Local patterns of witch-hunts depended on how those tensions were focused by political and social divisions. The rise of the state judicial presence enabled prosecutions of witchcraft in Scotland and elsewhere, while the Italian and Spanish Inquisitions were sceptical and made few accusations. Catholic prince-bishops in Germany during the Thirty Years War followed Cardinal Borromeo’s energetic witch-hunting precedent. However, debates about supernatural power in western Europe led magistrates to be more cautious in pursuing such prosecutions as the criticism they might incur grew.
Q: How did the West respond to the Ottoman threat?
A: With the end of the Byzantine empire in 1453, the West became the sole protector of Christendom against Islam, but divisions deepened in the wake of the Protestant Reformation, causing its response to the Ottoman threat to be more incoherent. The Ottomans proved adept at exploiting Christian divisions, and as the distance between Crusading fantasies and pragmatic political, strategic, and commercial realities grew wider, the notion of Crusade itself fragmented and waned, and with it the idea of Christendom which had given it coherence in the first place.
In conclusion, the Catholic Church’s efforts to expand its power and authority during the late sixteenth to early seventeenth centuries were complex and multifaceted. The role of the Council of Trent, the Borromean reform in Italy, and the papacy’s consolidation of power in the Papal States all played a part in shaping the Church’s direction. Nevertheless, this period was also marked by debates surrounding supernatural power and witch-hunts, as well as the West’s response to the Ottoman threat. Ultimately, these developments had far-reaching consequences that shaped the course of European history for centuries to come.