3 Monks and Nuns
In the age of the Reformation monasteries and nunneries collapsed with hardly a noise in most Protestant countries. That showed how vulnerable was their way of life, and was taken to mean that they needed reform and supervision. Communities of dedicated prayer or good works might easily be found. But the Counter-Reformation laid a heavy hand on monasteries and a heavier on nunneries. Catholics suppressed some houses because they regarded them as useless, turned others into seminaries or gave their buildings to the Jesuits for colleges, revived still others by the insistent call to purity and prayer, ascetic life and meagre food, strictness of enclosure and severity of punishment. This reform varied in pace or effectiveness according to country, district, or even bishop. Into some monasteries, into a few whole orders, the Counter-Reformation hardly penetrated. They were as vulnerable, and perhaps useless, in 1750 as 300 years before—if not more vulnerable because meanwhile the world changed. But in other monasteries or orders, and by creating new orders, the Counter-Reformation refashioned the morale of the monastic movement and led to a new flowering of the religious life.
Inside the monasteries could be felt the tension which afflicts every impetus towards perfection. The religious life called to a higher way. Nearly all the saints canonized by Popes during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were monks or nuns or members of orders. The vow of poverty could mean little but simplicity of manners, the vow of obedience might be happiness in community, the vow of chastity sacrificed the family and may have had within the psyche consequences inaccessible to the historian. But if the religious life did not mean a mode of existence containing some element of self-sacrifice it meant little.
Monasteries and nunneries housed too many men and women for this high notion of vocation to be tenable universally. The number of monks and nuns went on rising. It rose irregularly, houses declined, new houses were founded, old orders stood still or faded, new orders were approved, but until the second half of the eighteenth century the general number increased: more monks, more friars, more nuns, more endowments dedicated to the sacred end, more land lost to taxation by the State, more clergymen exempt from control by bishops.
The numbers would not so have risen unless the ideal commanded the assent of Catholics. But they rose for other reasons besides the quest for virtue. Solitude drew men who wanted nothing but to be left to be alone with their Maker. It drew souls troubled by sense of guilt who looked for grace. It drew mystics who sought the vision of God. But religious houses contained many men and women who had small desire to be alone, were unmystical, felt a negligible sense of guilt. They gave vocation to men and women who wanted to teach the young, or nurse the sick, or become missionaries, or keep hotels, or profess scholarship at a university, or develop a faculty for music. They housed an unknown but probably not small proportion of men whom a later age would class as unemployed, or unemployable, or tramps. Monasteries and nunneries made the medical services and school systems of Catholic countries. They were social insurance and a large part of social welfare. In a country like Spain, or a city like Cologne, their numbers rose to between 1 and 2 per cent of the population. They were bound to contain many persons who had no rare call to heroic virtue. Many French bishops thought that more than half the number of male monks had no vocation to that way of discipline, and lived there for a pension or to avoid starvation. Examples of rising and static numbers are given in Tables 4 and 5 .
Tables 4 and 5 do not conform to what historians have written of monasticism declining in the age of Enlightenment. General numbers continued to rise, though not fast, until the third quarter of the eighteenth century. Contemplative orders were static or (in numbers) declining. Active orders give a different picture. Orders which preached (Capuchins, Jesuits) or taught (Jesuits, Piarists, Somaschi, Barnabites) or nursed (Sisters of Charity, Augustinian nuns) needed and used more and more men and women.
These large numbers were evident in odd ways. A traveller from Dresden to Rome (1755) had a young Jesuit in the carriage as far as Augsburg. At Augsburg he could not get a seat because all south-bound carriages were booked by Jesuits going to elect a general. Between Ancona and Loreto he had as companion a Carmelite from Bohemia who entertained the company with his violin. 1
Numbers in the City of Rome 2 are given in Table 6
Nunneries were more static than monasteries. This may be a sign that parents felt a little less obligation to send to a nunnery a daughter who could not or did not marry. But the obligation remained strong all the century.
General figures for Spain show the difference between monks and nuns (Tables 7a and 7b).
But the population in Rome was slowly rising. In some ways it was a class society; noble ladies among noble ladies, bourgeois among bourgeois, peasants among peasants (rare), peasants (much less rare) as lay-brothers serving their betters who were the choir-monks.
Talk of class society among nuns and monks must be qualified by a sense of extreme discrepancies between houses and ways of life. The term religious life covered manifold groups of persons of the same sex living together, and was an umbrella over societies which had few other similarities. Exquisite nuns of St. Mary in Venice had hardly anything in common with rough Redemptorist mission-preachers almost starving at Ciorani. The immense incomes of certain old monasteries of France or the Rhineland could be paralleled in Italy and Spain. The Charterhouse at Parma was proverbial among Italians for wealth. The Jesuits at Policoro in Apulia ran a farm of many acres which (about 1760) had a stock of 5,000 sheep, 300 cows and oxen, 400 buffaloes, 400 goats, and 200 horses, all under the care of 300 servants. But Italian houses existed where macaroni was luxury and which gathered fuel by sharing in the right of the commune to carry dead wood from the forest. At Iliceto (central Italy) an impoverished monastery of Redemptorists lived on black bread made of rye mixed with flour and bran, soup of steeped bread or vermicelli or black beans; for fruit they ate chestnuts, peas, crab-apples; they had no money to repair their leaking roof, their windows had oiled paper instead of glass. Conversely an English traveller waxed ecstatic over the quality of mutton cooked in the Carmelite house on Monte Gargano, and in the Celestine house at Taranto (a town which lived off fishing) was surprised to find himself offered fifteen different kinds of shellfish. Even the very austere Redemptorist house at Pagani (August 1756) owed 200 ducats to the butchers and tradesmen and must therefore have eaten meat.
In this way the notion religious orders contained groups far sundered in purpose, social composition, wealth or poverty, education, and environment. Mendicants were usually of lower social origin.
In eastern France an interesting group of aristocratic dames, called the Royal Clares of Pope Urban IV, slowly abandoned the cloister and the nun's habit. They had separate lodgings and their own money and could receive or make bequests. They still took the three vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience. Franciscans tried to make them mend their ways but in vain. They were a comfortable circle of well-bred ladies living round a chapel. Their nunnery resembled a country club more than the world's fantasy of a nunnery.
And in Seville was a Poor Clare nunnery where the rule was kept rigorously, the nuns slept on wooden planks, were not allowed to wear linen next the skin, walked even during winter in coarse sandals with no stockings, and could only converse with their families from behind a thick curtain. 3
Any portrait of the religious life in that age must begin with a recognition of the extreme varieties of purpose, function, and atmosphere.
The social needs which they met were as diverse as possible.
(1) Pension To be an unmarried mature woman was disreputable, in parts of Europe disgraceful. Many nunneries were homes for middle-class and upper-class women who had no possibility of marriage. In that prolific age a nunnery might take on a whole family. In 1781 the Benedictine nuns at Matera in southern Italy included seven daughters and five sisters of the local baron. Local houses had traditional connections with neighbouring princely families. For generations the Sciara family placed its daughters in the nunnery of St. Mary the Virgin by Palermo. 4
Such women were born to rule. In Palermo during the last years of the eighteenth century the abbesses or prioresses of nunneries in the environs of Palermo included no fewer than thirteen daughters of Sicilian noblemen.
We must not exaggerate. Baretti calculated (1768) that Tuscany had 310,000 unmarried women and only 9,000 nuns. Most Italian parents, he wrote, were sorry when their daughters decided to become nuns. He underestimated the nuns and in any case had no means to gain reliable statistics. But Baretti also noticed that in Italy, unlike England, an 'old maid' was an object scarcely ever to be seen. 5
Religious houses gave out alms. All monasteries and many nunneries expected to give and were expected by the public to give relief to the poor, usually in food and clothing but sometimes in money.
The Benedictine house of St. Martin at Palermo was restricted to blue blood and had revenues sufficient to sustain elegant life for its members. Every day those same revenues fed in the courtyard of the monastery between 150 and 200 people on soup, macaroni, bread, and wine.
This was a duty whether or not the house was fat with money. The Redemptorist house at Ciorani in central Italy struggled with such desperate poverty that it could hardly feed its members. Yet they reckoned that only ten or twelve families in Ciorani received no dole from the monastery.
The middle class needed nunneries for their women. Labourers and unemployed needed religious houses because they collected money from the middle class and gave part of it to the poor.
A portion of the alms went to diminish the class structure of the nunneries. To become a nun, as to become a wife, an applicant needed a dowry (of which more later). Religious houses quite often assisted in this way girls from poor homes who felt a vocation to be a nun or whose parents thought that she should be a nun.
(3) Homes and Asylums
A related function was served in looking after persons who were not well fitted for the world—men who in a modern age would be tramps, or unemployable, or weak in the head. They tested them, and might reject them as unsuited to the way of life or likely to disturb the even tenor of the community. If they received them, they normally received them as monks if they were educated or educatable, as lay brothers if they were not. Throughout Europe (not of course in every community) monasteries and nunneries housed a proportion of persons who in a world better provided with asylums would have ended their days in a home.
Here is a curious case from Genoa. Maria Fossa Victoria married Francesco Venatio and then found that she was so promiscuous that her husband had to keep rescuing her from the poor house where the police put her when they picked her off the streets. Then, the court record went on soberly, under God she decided to become a nun, and her husband agreed and said that he would have become a monk had he not old parents to look after—and so it was agreed that she should become a nun provided this husband, aged thirty-four, had no objection and provided that he undertook to remain celibate. She was only twenty-five years old, and the record does not say what happened. 6
Monasteries and nunneries housed other persons besides privileged and rare souls consecrated to God—though some of those also.
Houses had a traditional duty to give shelter to wayfarers, in a guesthouse outside the enclosure. In parts of Europe they were the only, or only clean, hotels. In southern Italy where inns were few and nests of lice, monastic hospices served the traveller. The Englishman Henry Swinburne, who toured Italy and Sicily (1778-80) stayed at inns in big towns and monasteries everywhere else, and had more comfort at the monasteries. On cols of the Alps or Pyrenees or Apennines monastic buildings sheltered pilgrim or trader who crossed the passes. On top of the St. Bernard, in one of the highest monasteries of Christendom, a sadly divided group of regular canons still ministered to wayfarers after a continuous history of seven centuries and housed not only kings and merchants and pilgrims but early tourists.
In a jubilee year, when pilgrims sought the shrines of Rome, the Camaldolese hermits near Turin, who kept a visitor's book, counted 11,000 people whom they sheltered and fed. That was an average of nearly thirty beds and thirty meals every night of the year. In ordinary years travellers were far less numerous, but not a night passed without a few. 7
Such numbers were burdensome and might destroy quietness in the religious life. Monasteries did not profess doubt whether they had a religious duty to receive strangers, but they started to organize their hospitality. In towns where there were two houses of an order, superiors were known to set up a rota. A traveller who knocked at the door of the Dominican house at Messina might be sent off to the other Dominican
house in the town if it was not the turn of the house where he knocked. When Swinburne toured southern Italy, he needed to visit the president of the provincial government at Trani to secure an order to the monasteries of the region for his lodging. 8
(5) Economy and Society
In earlier centuries Cistercians and other more remote monks brought tracts of untilled land into cultivation. That could still happen in the wide spaces of eastern Europe, and even among the mountains of Italy, but rarely. When the Cistercians of Buonsallazzo in Tuscany looked useless the duke sent them packing and brought in the reformed Cistercians known as Trappists; who amid their revivals of ancient discipline gave stimulus to better farming of the land. A Jesuit house in Sicily was famous for advanced methods in agriculture. In the plain of Ripolo monks ran prosperous estates, on the Vallombrosa hills monks planted forests, Capuchins at Venice were well known as pharmacists, the Swiss abbey of Einsiedeln was celebrated for its breed of horses. At the lower hermitage of Camaldoli in the Casentino may still be seen the old test-tubes and instruments of their much valued factory of drugs and medicines.
None of this was normal. The purpose of a monastery was not to farm or improve property. A poor house scratched a dismal living from its smallholding. A rich house leased its land and property like other landlords and lived off the rents as unearned income. The Jesuit house in Palermo owned several shops, a little house-property, country estates including an inn and a water-supply, an olive-grove, and the right of pasturage on a mountain. 9
Nearly all the hospitals of Catholic countries were staffed by nuns. Chaplains in hospitals were usually friars, in Italy mostly Capuchin, for this was the greatest age of the Capuchin order. Sometimes the nurses were not the nuns but the nuns' servants; as at Oudenarde where a community of Bernardines was limited by statute and tradition to twelve sisters. 10 The Augustinian nuns at Bruges served a hospital and serve to this day though in a different building. The order founded by Camillus de Lellis, usually regarded as predecessors of the Red Cross and known as the 'Regular clerks who nurse the sick' (Chierici regolari ministri degli infirmi) were commonest in Italy and Spain and Portugal. Nineteen Camillans out of twenty-five died in the plague at Messina (1763). 11 They reached their maximum number in 1782 but time made them more ecclesiastical and moved them partly out of hospitals and into parishes. Pope Benedict XIV made Camillus de Lellis a saint (1746) and so by symbol and repute fostered this nursing order.
Catholic schools and colleges were conducted by religious orders. Though the university of Salzburg (founded 1617) was Benedictine, the Jesuits dominated most higher Catholic colleges and universities. In primary education nearly every order had a hand. The Piarists had schools as their vocation and in Italy were called Scolopists from Scuole Pie, 'godly schools'. But even houses with a contemplative ideal might find themselves engaged with orphans or small girls. Rosa Venerini (died at Rome 1728) founded a school for girls in her birthplace Viterbo and soon had a group of religious for running this and other girls' schools under the odd-sounding name Maestre Pie, 'godly schoolmistresses', and among them an extraordinary colleague Lucia Filippini who became the leader of another group of educators. Then a Carmelite friar, Isidore of the Nativity, saw the need and founded a third order of 'Theresian Carmelites' which had eighteen houses by the time of his death (1769). This was the age when the education of girls from poor homes first became matter of social conscience, and no one but a nun was regarded as perfectly satisfactory for the work. The Sisters of the Child Jesus were founded in 1708 and soon fixed their headquarters at Soissons and about seventy years later had twenty houses, all with the vocation to educate girls. Many little Augustinian communities were in charge of schools for poor boys.
In the then Catholic spirit, teaching anything was not to be separated from the monastic ideal. Any form of education was likely to cause a community. In Augsburg (1704) two ladies formed a nunnery, in type of the third order of St. Francis, which was really a school of cookery. The members bound themselves for a common life of one year, and from the community issued a Cookery-Book for the Holy Roman Empire. This community outlived the Napoleonic wars. 12
The needs of the age required new and more flexible types of religious community. By the end of the seventeenth century and during the first half of the eighteenth century began that process, which flowered only in the nineteenth century, whereby little groups kept forming for a particular
local purpose, usually under the bishop's control, making no effort to attach to an older and famous order, in aim pastoral or devotional.
Most monks did not enter the cloister for the sake of knowledge. They were too occupied with liturgy, too busy in teaching or caring for the sick, too concerned with administering the group or its property, too idle or too ignorant, to read more than missal and breviary. 'Franciscans nowadays', said Bishop Ricci of Pistoia with a mixture of sadness and contempt, 'are mostly uneducated, and at best have got snippets of grammar from some old curate and know no Latin'. 13 Simple and illiterate monks were as remote from the Enlightenment as the peasants from whom they were drawn.
Educated men, even educated monks, looked critically upon monasteries as seats of learning. They eyed monastic libraries with horror when they were treated as store-rooms. Bishops found houses where the books had been sold or transferred, houses where serious study was discouraged or forbidden. At one house in Tuscany the bishop on visitation asked to see the library and, after a long delay while his guide looked for a key, found a tiny room full of old papers, cobwebs dangling against his face. When the bishop asked after the library at another house in Tuscany, a monk said that their only books were a calendar in the sacristy and an almanac in the kitchen. A visitor to Rochefort in Belgium (1744) saw a decayed library which none of the eight resident Cistercians used. 14
Monks were ignorant because they came in ignorant and nothing in their monastic life diminished their ignorance while it partially kept them from what went on in the world. But some orders, or some houses, or some superiors, or some private monks, did not always think learning fit work for a monk even when that monk was capable of learning. A Camaldolese hermit of St. Saviour's near Turin 15 was a very learned man and had in his cell the manuscripts of numerous books until he was led by his superior to see that all this was vanity and went out and burnt the work of years. This was not unique. It was a historic feeling within the monastic movement. Not all Camaldolese felt it. One contemporary was professor of geometry at Pisa, another made learned contributions to the history of counterpoint in music.
Many of the most learned men were still in monasteries. This was recognized far and wide. Only monasteries gave the leisure and the libraries. The German scholar Winckelmann came to Rome and considered whether to be a monk. He had no vocation whatever to be a monk. He could not see how otherwise to win a living which would enable him to study books and works of art. 16
In France the Benedictines of the Congregation of Saint-Maur laid the critical base for the study of the early Christian centuries and the early Middle Ages and stand at the foundation of modern historical studies. An Italian Benedictine Cardinal Angelo Quirini (died 1755) became the Vatican librarian and one of the most encyclopedic men in Europe, though his mind was more disorderly than a well-organized encyclopedia. To become a scholar in Italy was to be a monk or a librarian or a nobleman with private money or one of the handful holding endowed chairs at universities.
Educated monks could be among the most educated men in Europe and were no more immune to French or British philosophical ideas than any other well-read person. Yet it was hard to persuade some contemporaries that this was true. A visitor on several occasions to the Carthusian house at Seville saw at first the men of prayer, standing still as statues at their devotions, prostrate in their white mantles, an hour at a time, on the marble pavement. But a young Carthusian took him into his cell and showed him Voltaire's Pièces fugitives from the shelf and spoke of it with rapture. The visitor was instantly persuaded that the young monk's heart rebelled against his order. The visitor may have leaped into error. It did not follow that a Carthusian was wretched because he had a volume of Voltaire on his shelves. 17
The German Benedictines followed France more slowly. In the second half of the eighteenth century they started to publish vast and learned folio volumes, sometimes on local history, sometimes on the history of their house or their order; in the Black Forest the house of St. Blasien sent its young scholars to be trained by the French Benedictines, and its Abbot Gerbert (abbot 1764-93) published nine volumes of Germania Sacra. But Germany was slow, slower than either Italy or France. Catholicism in Germany suffered much disadvantage from the refusal to use the German language in education. Latin was used by the monasteries, by the universities, and by learned men; the upper classes spoke, or wrote letters, in French. The Jesuits steadily insisted that the vernacular had little place in education—until after the middle of the century when young radical
Jesuits ran a campaign to use German in education. By then it was late. The Jesuit order was close to destruction.
In this age rich abbeys built or extended libraries. The library of St. Genevieve in Paris was said to be the best in France after the king's, the library of La Cava near Naples was said to be the best in the kingdom not excluding the king's. Cardinals who collected fine libraries often left them by will to monasteries. Cardinal Fabroni left his library to the Oratorians of Pistoia, the Dominican Cardinal Ferrari left his library to the Dominicans of Santa Sabina in Rome. When the Bishop of Chiemsee died leaving 9,000 books and they came up for sale, the Abbot of Ochsenhausen in south-west Germany seized the chance to buy the lot. In the same region the historic Benedictine house at Weingarten had so rare a library that after suppression it became the founding collection of one of the two royal libraries in the kingdom of Württemberg. Cistercians were not known for reading. But the Cistercian abbey of Dunes in Belgium, which started from zero because it was burnt down in the wars of religion, had 8,763 books in the catalogue of 1740 and about 12,000 books half a century later. That was an average rate of acquisition of sixty-five books in a year. 18
In more remote countries, certain orders had a special part in education and culture. Barnabites taught in the seminaries of many dioceses in eastern Europe. In the former Turkish empire Capuchins made new centres of culture which was odd because elsewhere they had a reputation for being too simple. In Byelorussia and Slovakia the Basilian order of Josaphat monks held Catholics of the eastern rites in their allegiance to Rome. They had printing presses at Vilna and three other cities, founded schools, extended Catholicism along the Carpathian mountains, and were felt by Turks and Russians to be a threat. Their prosperity ended when the partitions of Poland brought three-quarters of the Basilian order under Russian rule.
The Mechitarists served a similar purpose among the Armenians. Peter Manouk (died 1749), with the nickname of Mechitar (Comforter), founded a little Armenian congregation in Constantinople. He was forced to flee for his life, disguised as a merchant, to the Venetian possessions in southern Greece. At Modon in the Peloponnese he began a regular Armenian community which by request of Rome later adopted the Benedictine rule. When (1714) the Turks threatened Modon, he fled with eleven monks to Venice and hired a house near St. Mark's. The Venetian senate gave him the island of San Lazzaro, which since then has been called
San Lazzaro of the Armenians. The island became the centre of Armenian studies, the source of Armenian missions, the place where Armenian books were printed. Twenty-four years after the founder's death one part of the monks, then residing at Trent, began to call themselves Mechitarists.
But the stream of learning grew wider during this century. In the Counter-Reformation the religious orders possessed almost a monopoly of the big works of scholarship. The eighteenth-century monks produced such men; but more common were secular priests and even laymen; like the Ballerini twins of Verona who edited the works of Leo the Great and new documents vital for medieval history and who, though defenders of papal power, boldly criticized the pseudo-Isidorian decretals which many defenders of the Pope were still unhappy about abandoning; or the Assemani uncle and nephew at the Vatican, by origin Maronites from the Lebanon, who placed the study of Syriac in early Christianity on a new footing; or the French historian Tillemont, a secular priest; or Scipione Maffei, a count.
Internal Strain in Religious Orders
The archives of that age are as full as medieval archives of the quarrels of monks—litigation, argument over precedence or property, constitutional rights, resistance to bishops over exemptions or demand for help with parishes. He who reads the acts of the Irish Dominicans will fancy that they did little but battle over that which was less important. What the age did was to organize. A vast amount of constitution-making went on, revision of rules, limiting of a superior's tenure, interpretation of enclosure. That this was necessary is shown by the difficulty suffered by the Dominican nuns who had to work under old statutes now obsolete but could not agree on revision.
One aspect of the making of constitutions was the movement to federate religious houses. Independent houses, or independent groups of houses, were integrated with wider groups. Part of the object was to combine for strength, in resistance to the growing efforts of bishops to control the clergy in their diocese, or growing pressure to undertake pastoral work, or work in school. Part was the desire to protect the poorer by the richer, the weak house by the strong. But a lot of this endeavour resulted in changes on paper, and had small effect on the religious life of the age.
One strain came from the perpetual argument between conservatives and reformers. The world of the eighteenth century, outside the monasteries, enjoyed life where it was middle class. The ethos of a monastery or nunnery, still under rules several centuries old, could feel or look out of date. To maintain rules rigidly was to injure any natural common life, or to repel young novices who came from middle-class homes. Was it right to adapt old rules to new needs like schools or the care of the sick? Should monks become gentler in a gentler climate or were they called to be a protest against too gentle a climate? In that humane age traditional monasteries suffered repeated crises of conscience.
The ideal remained so timeless. In the many-volumed collection of lives of the saints, monks may still be read of who lived in the eighteenth century yet are enshrined in biographies which could have appeared in the same words 700 years before. In Calabria dwelt Angelo of Acri, of humble origin, a self-flagellant, lying long hours on the pavement each Friday, stretched out in the form of a cross; a famous preacher of missions, though with a bad leg injured when a storm threw him out of the pulpit; a man of ecstasies, with the gift of rising into the air, a healer of the sick in plagues—the reverent Latin of the biography (Acta Sanctorum October XIII, 661) has the eternal purity of its genre, its affection, and wonder, and at the same time its monotony, and its remoteness from what was beginning to matter. If we pass from Angelo of Acri to the nuns of Venice who were his contemporaries, we seem to traverse not merely the length of a peninsula but half a millennium.
The Italian master Gianantonio Guardi painted a famous picture, now in the Correr museum at Venice, called the Parlatorio; that is, the room in which enclosed nuns of the convent of St. Zaccaria met and conversed with relatives and friends through a metal grille. This 'grille' is no confined little space of ironwork but three large windows each about 6 feet square. Inside are clusters of decorative and chattering novices. Outside is an elegantly dressed gentleman with ladies, while two exquisitely dressed boys are kept happy by a Punch-and-Judy show. Baretti said that these vast grilles were exceptional to Venice, that grilles in Italy were generally narrow, and that the largeness of the Venetian grille 'has ruined the reputation of the Venetian nuns'. 19
These were well-born ladies. Harmless customs of the world could not but be reflected in the cloister. Such nunneries cheerfully allowed concerts within their gates and liberal communication with the city. Habits began to flow more amply, with billowing folds. Three or four feminine orders designed a costume which, if the nuns went to a ball (which they did not), would have drawn all eyes. Black veils and sleeves to the ground could be an ornament; the Dominican nuns of St. Bartholomew at Aix-en-Provence had a frilly cap and tucked sleeves and a pleated skirt; the Augustinian nuns of St. Mary at Venice were famous for their elegance, in waving cloak and draped cap. Occasionally even male canons carried sartorial distinction to unusual lengths. Such fashionable clothes were exceptional, and contrasted with the plain black of Oratorians or the simplicity of Sisters of Charity. The mode of the day was not for the impoverished near-working-class wing of the monastic movement. The vocations of nursing, or of teaching ragamuffins, encouraged no beauty of garb.
The historian of the Belgian Cistercians calls this century 'the frivolous century'. 20 The judgement is intelligible but so sweeping as to be absurd. The religious were humane enough not to be frightened of acts which horrified the Counter-Reformation, like the soloist nun at Milan (p. 88), or concerts of professional music given inside some abbeys. The archives of the Belgian house of Baudeloo contain the receipt for payment to a dancing master (1750) for dancing lessons in preparation for a comedy to be played on Shrove Tuesday.
The mood of the world saw little harm in being open. So we find monasteries where the refectory disappeared and the monks dined at separate tables, cells attractively furnished, good horses ready in the stable, each monk with pocket-money sent by his family, tobacco or coffee or shirts; sensible modifications of old austerities which sometimes went without notice and sometimes were accompanied by faint feelings of guilt that all was not quite right. They would enjoy retirement from the world if they could not hear whispers in plenty to tell them that no one should so enjoy this retirement.
The formality of contemporary life appeared in medallions or badges, even in titles. Since the military knights of the Middle Ages some habits carried badges as part of their uniform. These badges might be and usually were very simple—cross, Sacred Heart, pyx, skull and crossbones. During the eighteenth century they grew commoner. Just as in the age after the restoration of Charles II of England the Anglicans codified titles for clergymen, Reverend and Right Reverend, the hierarchies of religious orders felt titles appropriate. Among the Barnabites, who were drawn from the upper and upper-middle class, the title Reverend, formerly confined to superiors, was extended to all clerics, and superiors became Right Reverend while by the end of the century the superior-general became Most Reverend.
The result of all this was detailed regulation about dress, hair, games; not only against powdered hair or crimped curls, but down to the cut of beard or colour of shoes. To decide the length and shape of a Barnabite's beard the cause went up and up till it reached the desk of a pope. The beard was regarded as an ornament and unbecoming among monks. Camaldolese had beards, all missionaries overseas had beards, the full Capuchin beard was their badge and had the sanction of the Pope. The collection of briefs in the Vatican archives show how the trivial details of a monk's costume were carried right up to the Pope for decision. On 5 July 1727, for example, Rome needed to decide whether the sandals worn by discalced Austin friars of Spain and the Indies might be black in colour. 21
Fighting as ever against 'secularity', the Counter-Reformation drove nuns back into the cloister and sought to ring them in strict seclusion. These imprisoning rules became a burden and a handicap when nuns needed to go out more freely into hospitals or village schools. Battles were fought between bishops insisting on rules and nuns insisting that they must do what they must do. The foundress of the Sisters of the Child Jesus meant to go to Noyon and had to go to Soissons when the Bishop of Noyon refused to bend the discipline of the cloister. In order to escape the rules St. Vincent de Paul refused to allow his Sisters of Charity to be defined as nuns. Early in the eighteenth century Rome began to change the rules by allowing the taking of vows without entry into strict enclosure. This was necessary to the development of modern nunneries. But it hardly happened often, and the strain remained.
Another change, forced by pastoral need, made nunneries less dependent upon males. Hitherto a nunnery must be subject to an Ordinary, who was either the bishop or (much more often) the head of a male house. It was therefore a stage in pastoral freedom when Rome began to authorize active orders of nuns which stood in no dependence upon male orders.
This peeping out into the world was typical of the generation. The spirit of the Counter-Reformation was still powerful. Communities and orders were constantly being troubled or divided between souls who wanted to revive or stand by the puritan heritage, and souls willing to adapt the way of life to the gentler temper of the times. The most celebrated of these appeals to a primitive rule were made by the Trappists with their silence and bodily strictness. Monks like Trappists who demanded rigour had the excellent argument that thus novices began to come in plenty.
In Portugal the 'Jacobeia' was the name of the puritan movement which ran through the religious houses and caused turmoil, and needed a pope's intervention, and troubled even the Portuguese government. It was called Jacobeia because some Austin friars in the community at Coimbra formed a group for special devotion and used to meet at the top of a staircase which they called Jacob's ladder.
Where the vocation of the nunnery included enclosure authority did what it could to preserve the rules. In such houses, for example, the sacrament was received through a little window from the convent into the church; and through this window the bishop confirmed nuns, or gave a habit or veil to a novice, or consecrated nuns. The Counter-Reformation insisted that nuns might not freely partake of holy communion at their own wish, that they should receive the sacrament only as the confessor of the community approved, and therefore (by a decision of 1617) the window should have two locks, of which the confessor kept one key and the abbess another. Early in the eighteenth century this rule became trouble-some to nuns and even to some abbesses; partly because the authority of confessors was not always so supreme, and partly because nuns felt a growing desire not only for frequent communion but for freedom to receive communion as their souls wished. In a nunnery in Genoa, for example, the nuns got hold of the keys whenever they liked and received communion as often as they liked; until the case became controversial, and went at last to Rome, which after reflection ruled that nuns must not be allowed these keys, that only confessor and abbess might have keys, and therefore that nuns might only receive the sacrament as their confessor approved. 22
The nun was often placed in the nunnery as a child. She grew up with the idea that the world is a peril and marriage is slavery and a husband is a brute. Her instinct for career and vocation might be fulfilled by her duties in the nunnery, her instinct for a husband might be fulfilled by the spiritual marriage of the soul; but unless the house nursed or taught her, her instinct for motherhood was less naturally sublimated. Among so many nuns these sublimations were likely to be the crown of a minority; and life in nunneries was never so idyllic as not to be marked or marred by over-anxiety, or over-scrupulousness, or jealousy, or accidie, or any of the other children of an enclosed discontent.
It is enough to turn back the pages to the case of Renata Maria, the nun who was a witch (p. 9).
If a nun pined or faded in her enclosure, and the doctors thought her to need a holiday, or even if she thought herself to need a holiday and had a complaisant doctor, she could get leave without much difficulty. Doctors who cared for nuns' health, and bishops who cared for the rules of enclosure and disliked the sight of nuns in the streets, were known to disagree.
Yet for all these complaisances about the world, the enclosure could still be very sacred. General chapters of orders often used to reinforce the rule that it be strictly observed. Occasionally the observance turned dramatic. A male within (unless bishop, confessor, father superior, or doctor at a time of dire need) shocked. He trampled on the ideals which nurtured the community. When boots pushed at the doors, even nuns were known to run to violence. On 10 January 1782 the Palermo chief of police knew that his cousin was ill in the Scavuzzo nunnery, and asked leave to visit. The abbess refused. He threatened. The abbess was adamant. He brought policemen and smashed down the doors with axes. From behind a hasty barricade the nuns fought desperately with stones and pots of boiling water. The abbess was put into prison. She had a good conscience, for she felt that she was right to yield entry only to force. 23
The contemplative ideal on one side, human comfort on the other, always pulled at an endowed monastery to adjust its rule, even to desert the ends for which it was founded. A group of women set out to care for prostitutes. They organized house and rule to that end. But in time repulsive strands in the work brought tension into the community; and then those who believed that the nun's best work was prayer could conscientiously lead the nunnery to close its care of prostitutes and be conventional in enclosure. This happened at a house in Palermo. It was far from being a unique case of such a progression. No one should blame the nuns. In that society prostitutes could be properly redeemed only by a body of religious. Yet in certain circumstances, and among certain types of people, the work was not compatible with a corporate life of peace and edification. The founding nuns could do the work, their successors discovered that if they continued they tore themselves apart.
The Nun's Dowry
The class-world, obvious in the rich abbeys with luxuriant marvellous architecture—Ettal, Fécamp, Melk, Benediktbeuern, Einsiedeln, Engelburg, La Cava, Orval in Belgium, and many another—was even more far-reaching in the demand for a dowry at the admission of a nun.
A new nun should not become a burden to an ill-endowed convent. A Roman decision during the Counter-Reformation allowed nunneries to ask for dowry, that is, capital endowment to bring annual revenue.
The dowry was regarded as necessary to guarantee the future security of the nun. Bishops liked it because it protected houses from idlers and vagabonds, governments liked it because it restricted the number of religious and simultaneously disliked it because it increased the amount of charitable property exempt from tax. Convents liked it because everyone likes to be given money. Not to give a dowry needed a special dispensation. The dowry must be deposited (at Rome in a Mons Pietatis or bank) when the girl became a novice. Experience showed that a promise to pay meant that girls, who knew that their parents had promised to pay but had no money to pay, spent their year as novices not in learning how to be a nun but in worry. If a novice withdrew or was rejected at the end of the year, the dowry was returned.
Dowries gave rise to complex legal problems when the nun's profession was found to be invalid. If she were expelled from the nunnery—a very improbable fate—she had no right to the return of the dowry. But if she could afterwards assert that she entered the nunnery under compulsion, novitiate and profession might be held invalid and then she could regain her dowry which she would need to marry. To assert that father was a tyrant who drove her into the convent against her will was a resource open to a nun who wished to retire and recover her dowry. And some predicaments were more perplexing.
Alexandra Becchelli entered (1709) a nunnery of Poor Clares in the diocese of Spoleto. A few days after her profession a year later she whispered to her brother that she thought herself to be a hermaphrodite and that the male sex was prevailing. The brother told the bishop, who quietly and without alarming the convent got her out to her brother's house and had her examined by doctors; and the examiners reported that in their opinion she was right. The authorities then held that her profession was invalid and that the dowry must in due course be refunded; and probably the other nuns never knew what happened. 24
Lawyers, and intelligent superiors, worried about dowry. It seemed to declare that a poor girl had no vocation to be a nun unless some charitable grant would pay. The scrupulous argued with themselves over simony, on the unreasonable ground that to require a dowry was to give a religious office in return for a fee. Convents were known which used dowry outrageously to exclude all but the daughters of the very rich—the Visitandine nuns at Paris exacted a dowry of 10,000 livres and more. St.
Benedict could not have approved. Still, most dowries were modest sums. Convents were social security and social insurance, and in this light exacted contributions like any modern scheme for pensions. To ask for money as fee for entering a nunnery was simony. To ask for money to help with future keep was lawful if not essential—unless the convent was rich when, if not precisely simony, it had 'the appearance of simony' or 'verged' into the sin of greed. 25
How necessary was the security was shown by the rare cases where an abbess could no longer clothe and feed her nuns and must send away a group. Rather than commit such personal tragedy abbesses allowed even their walls to be in danger of collapse. The most dilapidated of all religious houses still occupied were impoverished nunneries, cloisters shored up so as not to kill the walkers, infirmary walls crumbling on the patients, windows broken and patched with planks.
Most new orders were little reforming groups within old orders and made for a special need. Characteristic of the century was pastoral need but prayer was thought of as a kind of pastoral need and a community easily formed round an individual, male or female, with unusual vocation to the life of contemplation. A holy Capuchin of Palermo gathered (1717) a few girls into a little house for purposes of prayer and soon they were an order of contemplative nuns whom the people knew affectionately as the Cappuccinelle, the little Capuchin nuns. They gave their name to a street in Palermo and in 1970 still had twenty-seven nuns. 26
A new community might gather from above or from below, either from a leader or from a popular demand. With older orders static in numbers and remote houses under pressure to survive, convents stood empty in the countryside and by law could be used only for religious purposes. Bishops were known to ask existing orders to send a colony of monks or friars. Local landowners concerned for their people heard of a group looking for a home and invited. Villagers felt reverence for a passing penitent or hermit or missioner, and begged him to make his home there as a blessing to their community. Village elders or town council were known to take a conscious decision to offer the empty buildings.
Charisma was never far away. A community could spring up spontaneously, without anyone designing. Maria Francesca of the Five Wounds of Jesus Christ (1715-91) was a lady who lived in her house and dedicated her life to prayer. She predicted that after her death the house would be used by a convent of nuns. A godly woman came to care for so blest a house and dressed as a nun and the house became a resort for prayer—until Maria Francesca was made a saint and after several decades a chapel was consecrated in her honour and so nuns came to look after the sanctuary. 27
The monastic ideal of experience was always spilling over into popular religion. Holy women often lived at home, practising the nun's way of life. In southern towns pious middle-class women filled their homes with little altars and rococo statues of saints. Between the professed religious in her ordered community and the unofficial godly woman was no sharp line. The one shaded easily into the other, in ideal, experience, worship, and way of life. The age of Enlightenment made no difference.
Two priests conducting a mission at Sarzana noticed a girl with an unusually devout attitude in prayer. They asked her questions and found that she wanted to be a Capuchin nun. They offered to help. Her father said he could not afford the dowry, it was too expensive; and then she had a vision that God wanted her 'in the world'. When she went to religious services, especially to holy communion, extraordinary physical effects ensued. The bishop judged that she was possessed and had her exorcised. Exorcism changed nothing, manifestations continued, spectators gathered, the bishop was forced to allow her to receive holy communion in private. Round her a little community grew. She served in hospitals at Rome and Genoa and Pisa, with ever-increasing numbers of miraculous cures, and ended her life (1719) teaching young girls in Sarzana and revered by the town as 'our little saint'. 28
Into the mountain village of Scifelli in the Papal States came a wandering Frenchman, Louis Arnauld. He lived there as a charitable hermit, helping the peasants with alms, but without church or priest. Suddenly he vanished without a word to the village. Five years later he came back at the head of carts with materials to build a church and a priest's house, himself now an ordained priest. He asked the villagers that in return for this bounty they should change the name of their village to St. Cecilia in memory of his French home. The villagers agreed but found it hard not to call their village Scifelli.
In 1773 he gave a meal to some passing Redemptorists, and offered them the property and the chapel if they undertook to take care of the village. And so a new, though very poor, community was founded. 29
Alfonso Liguori (1696-1787) came of a noble family in Naples, son to a serving naval officer and a mother of Spanish descent. He was called to the bar and left because when one of his clients, no less than the Duke of Gravina, failed in a suit he rightly saw the judgment to be corrupt. He renounced the courts, was ordained, and quickly discovered a talent for parish missions. On 9 November 1732 at Scala near Amalfi he founded a community of priests to preach missions in villages—this was the origin of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, known later as the Redemptorists. Nearly all his first brothers left him and the first lasting community was founded at Ciorani three years later. Rome approved them (1749) without much difficulty.
His work was to found a theory of parish mission, especially for the neglected villages; how the preacher should go about his business, how to organize care, how and when to go back a few months later, how to avoid long words, what to emphasize in a gospel. Though he talked much of passion, and cross, and judgement, and self-discipline, the emphasis lay on what men can do to meet God's mercy. In 1750 he published the book The Glories of Mary, magnifying her place in the economy of salvation.
The fifties, when he was head of the institute and not yet a bishop, were the years when he became known as a writer and thinker. The practice of making language simple enough for the people spilled over into his style. This theologian was easier to read than any of his predecessors. But when he was attacked for his doctrines, antagonists found that the simplicity was deceptive and that underneath the apparently unintellectual missioner was a scholar equipped at all points.
He successfully refused the archbishopric of Palermo. But in 1762 Pope Clement XIII Rezzonico, who not only regarded Liguori as a saint but feared an alternative choice for the see, ordered him, though already sixty-six years old, to accept the unimportant little diocese of St. Agatha-of-the-Goths. A few years later he became paralysed, but two Popes in succession, still afraid of the King of Naples, refused him leave to resign; until Pope Pius VI (1775) took pity on the old immobile man and allowed him to return to his communities. The last years were sad with schism in the Redemptorist order between those in the kingdom of Naples who needed the approval of government and to that end were prepared to sacrifice permanent vows and a measure of exemption from bishops, and those in the Papal States who had no such need and were determined to keep the original rules. The schism meant that the Pope withdrew recognition of the founder as one of the Redemptorists. It was not healed till after Liguori's death. He was beatified (1816), canonized (1839), made doctor of the Church (1871) as the master of moral theology for the modern age.
In 1784, three years before Liguori's death, a wandering German hermit and student, Clement Maria Hofbauer, asked to be a Redemptorist in Rome. Soon sent to the Baltic lands and Poland, he began a series of flourishing Redemptorist houses centred upon Warsaw and thence into several countries north of the Alps.
Instant conversion was frequent. The French governor of the castle of Ischia suddenly retired to be a hermit in a cave. The Archbishop of Santa-Severina in Calabria left his little diocese to become the disciple of a visionary, who also drew a noble-born canon of Naples cathedral. A Camaldolese hermit near Ancona wore crosses in front and behind with points pressing into his body, a chain round his waist, never sitting at table. We keep meeting these tremendous changes in a way of life. At Mantua a Camaldolese had the gift of healing with lustral water and relics, even the diseases of cattle. 30 Statistics are unreliable and it may be that the cause is only better evidence. But we have more evidence of new hermits in the eighteenth than in the seventeenth century. A census of 1734 shows 1286 hermits in the single diocese of Pamplona. On the eve of the French Revolution the diocese of Toul had sixty-five hermits in twenty-five hermitages. The diocese of Regensburg had thirty-three hermits in 1769 and ninety-one hermits only twenty-seven years later—but perhaps some in the increase were godly refugees.
The typical hermit was a wanderer who settled by a remote picture or statue or cross or chapel in a wood, or on a mountain, usually near the top. They were almost all male, for a woman was not safe and if she desired solitude would retire to be a recluse in her nunnery; and even among male hermits the number murdered by robbers was not negligible (seventy-nine out of 1,000 in one enquiry). One Italian prefect sent a platoon of troops to protect a hermit and hermitage occupied by a robber band with an abbot among its leaders. 31
A hermit was wise to possess credentials. To distinguish him at first sight from a malefactor hiding in the maquis was not easy. If he had no papers he could be as suspect to passing officers as a pilgrim who had no ticket of confession and communion, especially if he were not in his native land. An aristocrat from Verona became a hermit in Poland. He lost the satchel in which he kept both his prayer-book, places marked with straws, and his certificate. Because he had no papers he was arrested on suspicion and put in prison until he could find someone to produce a testimonial.
In the sources the reader still breathes the air of the old Egyptian solitaries, of St. Peter Damian and the historic tradition of the single life. French troops came over the Alps and built a road near the hermitages of St. Saviour near Turin and cut down the forest. It was very inconvenient, traffic came by the hermitages which no longer had cover from trees, the solitary life was public. When the French retreated over the mountains, the hermits blocked the new road. Then they gravely debated whether to cultivate the ground from which the trees were cleared, or whether they should replant. They replanted. 32
The average age of hermits was higher than the average age of monks, for all theorists subscribed to the old doctrine of the earliest Egyptian athlets that only mature monks should become hermits, and to the proverb 'Young hermit old devil'. In the hermitages near Rome the average age of new hermits was between forty-three and fifty years. Most of them had lived in monasteries first. But bishops resigned their sees, statesmen office, soldiers a command. Few of them came from the parish ministry. Some were illiterate, but pictures of the eighteenth century often portrayed hermits with books. A smaller percentage than among monks were priests. They won admiration from the pre-romantics.
Organizers sought to bring them under control. In Carthusians and Camaldolese they already had two historic and orderly communities of hermits and sometimes had acquaintance with the Greek ideal of the lavra as a community of hermits loose enough for solitude and close enough for succour or discipline. In this age the ancient group of hermits on the island of Majorca were made at last into a community with orderly rules. On Monteluco overlooking Spoleto hermits lived since the earlier Middle Ages. Most were Italians, but quite a number were foreign, especially French. They had a library and a common meditation in church and admitted women to visit the mountain on three days in the year. As they accepted 100 novices between 1590 and 1700 they were never numerous. Strictly they were two groups, for so they were organized in the eighteenth century. They were famous and attracted famous men—the secretary of the Venetian senate, a singer from the Pope's chapel, the Latin Patriarch of Constantinople (who built them a new church), a papal chamberlain. Strict solitude was driven out by fame, they became a place of retreat for men of the world, even for tourists till the bishop made order that no outsider might stay for more than a fortnight (1756). A flamboyant Polish count got the Pope's leave to go there though his wife still lived—and so the institution declined into quaintness and after the revolution the last surviving hermit, now eighty-six, was solemnly reinstated on the mountain in the vain hope of reviving a vanished world. 33
On a rocky hill 6 miles out of Cordoba in southern Spain, shortly before 1800, lived twenty hermits, all laymen. Round a central chapel each had his hut with a door so low that it could only be entered stooping, a wooden bed, and a little table with a crucifix, a human skull, and one or two works of devotion. Over each door hung a bell which the hermit could ring in case of sickness or danger. They neither visited each other nor conversed. Every morning a priest climbed the rock to say mass in the chapel. Pulse and herbs for food were distributed to them daily. Apart from prayers and reading, they wove mats and made little crosses of Spanish broom 'which people carry about with them as a preservative against erysipelas', and instruments of penance like scourges or wire bracelets. Usually they were by origin peasants; but one of them was a former colonel of artillery, with the cross of a historic order of knighthood. 34
The hermit ideal had Catholic critics. An occasional bishop doubted whether such profound solitude was good for the soul, or good for the mental balance, and one French bishop thought that he saw signs of premature old age among hermits. Reforming Catholic governments refused to regard hermits as useful, and prosaic governments, like that of Tuscany under Duke Leopold, ordered them not to exist. But hermits were more useful than urban politicians thought. They were the men who cared for lonely shrines. Of the nineteen hermits in Styria (1782) only six had no little income of a regular kind. The rest rang bells, cleaned a chapel, served mass when the priest came into the forest or mountain, and nearly all drew a tiny stipend from the church. 35
From the archives we have a study of the group of hermits in part of Garfagnana, a remote mountainous region north of Lucca. In 1694, 6; 1710, 8; 1718, 7; 1728, 7; 1734-40, 8; 1755, 6; 1776, 8; 1791, 3; 1822, 3. In all the region (both dioceses) the average for the century, until a decline during the last two decades, was about ten.
Most were laymen, in effect sacristans caring for a distant oratory in woods or hills; men of the people, not remote from the people, in some cases chosen by a village to look after a near-by shrine; had no link with a religious order, and were tied to no special school of prayer, and were not likely to use the intellectual language of contemplation; but wore a habit, and so far as they received the impress of a single order, it was that of the Franciscan tertiary. Almost all were local by origin. A few of them on the passes served hospices for travellers. To their picture or statue villagers in need came to pray, and left their votive offerings, which made a pious little clutter in the sanctuary. Some hermits paid for the upkeep of the sanctuary by begging, very few had a tiny endowment. The begging was not resented by the villagers who were glad of their hermit. The votive-offerings making the shrine untidy were a religion of gratitude, the thankfulness of a common people for favours received. 36
Critics of the Monks
From Voltaire downwards articulate critics thought that monks and nuns were too many and ought to be fewer.
Peasants were seldom on their side. In a local strike over tithe, or a dispute over rent, peasants became enemies of their local abbey even to violence. Commonly they were of the opposite opinion. To them the coming of a monastery meant alms for sure, employment perhaps. They would parade at a foundation with cheers and salutes. Their pleasure was not merely material. Believing in the power of holy men they hoped that good monks coming among them would bring a blessing upon crops, health, children, prosperity, and future destiny. Contemplative nuns were as welcome as the most energetic of nursing sisters. They revered men who wore hair-shirts or tied chains round their necks or spoilt the taste of their food with bitter herbs or slept on straw instead of a bed. They wanted, first the virtus, and secondly the dole. In more than one instance, when a village knew that their monks had decided to leave because they could maintain a house no longer, peasants blocked the tracks with carts and weapons to stop them going. If they heard that the order came from a distant superior, they were known to beg the local curate to write a letter to that superior beseeching him not to take away his monks. In one such case the arguments which they used were unusual. They would lose, they said, sermons and sacraments and schooling, and the church and the image of the Virgin would not be cared for and would not draw the veneration of the faithful. 37
The nun's clothing as a novice, or her profession, was like a wedding, with bridal dress and family jewels. As she was escorted to church she moved through a crowd of encouraging onlookers, their hearts touched and excited and moved. Only Protestant tourists were moved in the opposite direction at the thought of this girl having her hair shorn, imprisoned in a cell, abandoning her hope of motherhood. The common people of Italy and Spain felt no such sensation.
Naples was a city with far too many monks for its good, 104 male houses and thirty-four to forty female in 1697. Several of these were swollen with money. Their architectural improvements are still a glory and raise a scruple in the eye of the beholder. The slum people of Naples were as miserable as any urban class in Europe. They loved monks and nuns. The professions, civil servants, doctors, lawyers, academics, economists, merchants, secular clergy—these were the critics of monks in Naples. And orders of monks blamed other orders.
(1) Parish Priests
Accepting the monastic ideal, parish priests were known to be cool to monks settling in their parish. A new chapel would be opened; perhaps with a new reputation for spiritual power; probably with a measure of popular appeal; certainly competing, even if silently, for the worshipping parishioner; certainly drawing away gifts and money which could help after they opened because the clergy of that place resisted intransigently. The clergy could win despite the people. The lord of Sordevoli in the diocese of Vercelli asked (1746) the Camaldolese to found a hermitage. He promised site, church, bell tower, cells, and an endowment. The monks sent a delegation to enquire. They then agreed to come if he would do all that he said and get permission from government and from Rome and from the Bishop of Vercelli. But then the richer people of the parish objected, the parish priest opposed, and so although the people wanted them because they needed the alms which they would bring, the elders thought it unwise and thanked Count Oliver but refused. 38
Bishops might be, but often were not, critics of monks. Monasteries were one of the sources which supplied bishops. Unlike their parish priests they had a constitutional relationship with monks and nuns in their diocese. Where the house was not exempt from a bishop's control, it was part of his pastoral system. Where it was exempt, as more commonly, he still needed or might need it for pastoral and social work. Bishops without enough religious in their diocese were vigorous (if they were otherwise vigorous bishops) in fostering certain types of monk or nun. They wanted them as confessors, educators, heads of seminaries, nurses, missioners, shepherds of unshepherded flocks.
But their critical faculty seldom slept. Exemption was always a rub. A bishop could control most of his monks and nuns only by working through Rome. But he needed control, if he was to arrange effective care of all his parishes, or intelligent training of future priests, or discipline of all his clergy. The constitution and the pastoral need so disagreed, the jurisdictions were so prone to overlap, that from time to time conflict between bishop and exempt monastery was inevitable. To settle these battles was one of the weightiest tasks of the Roman Curia.
A bishop cared as eagerly as any superior for the reputation of monks and nuns. It was he who suffered when a fugitive monk took to crime, or if a monastery among his mountains became a nest of bandits or a nunnery was notorious for furnishing mistresses.
Because monks were numerous; because some men entered monasteries to be kept, or because they were unemployable, or because they would not otherwise eat, or because they wanted leisure for study; because some nuns entered nunneries because their parents drove them, or because they had no other future but disgrace—no one could expect monks and nuns to be all as perfect as St. Benedict or St. Francis would wish. A few such men and women in a religious house need not destroy its morality, or its ideals, or its reputation, or its sense that it was a retreat of contemplative prayer and good works. At times even a prosperous and pious community suffered agony from a little disruptive group, which at least demanded rare skill in abbot or abbess and made discipline hard to administer. Larger houses dealt with these troubles more easily than smaller. Where the community was very small, a handful of rebels could come at last to dominate the house and its ethos and its way of life. Too small communities generated the scandalous cases of monastic crime.
Older houses inherited buildings which once sheltered flourishing communities and now stood almost empty. Land and property were inalienable. A community of three, or two, or even one looked after the site. In so tiny a society even one 'bad' monk could dominate, prevent order, enforce relaxation, bring in women. In these little groups occurred the worst incidents. One Cistercian abbot who tried to enforce obedience found himself threatened in bed with guns, and therefore recruited army deserters to be a bodyguard and make life uncomfortable for his eight monks. When this indecorous method failed, he let them do what they liked because he had nothing else to do. The policy failed to end his trials, because among other ways of increasing comfort they liked to raid neighbouring peasants for food and wine.
The Counter-Reformation with its succeeding age was like all reforming movements in reforming only part. The reformers achieved success by making new and imbuing old orders with a fresh spirit, often in parishes, schools, hospitals, missions, orphanages. Discreditable houses, which once made abbeys so easy for Protestants to abolish, still existed in the Catholic countries of the eighteenth century; not in majority, for most houses of the older orders were places of ordered comfort, not of crime or disgrace; but in a sufficient number to make Catholic bishops prefer fewer monks, and to strengthen Catholic politicians who envied idle endowments. The French had a proverb which ran: 'Whatever shall we do with that wastrel? Better send him to be a monk.' 39
More telling than any of the incidents of disgrace was the need to train confessors how to answer a harlot who came in penitence and asked whether she ought to give back to monks the money which they paid; and the moral advisers took the charitable view that to get harlots to confession was hard enough and to make them restore all that they had been given would drive them to despair; and consoled themselves with the hope that the money which the monks paid was not the abbey's money but pocket-money sent by their families. 40
Saints were secret, villains notorious. Bishops and Popes worried continuously and were among those who wanted to reduce quantity to gain quality. 'The worst pest among monks', wrote Pope Benedict XIV, 'is too many monks.' 41
(3) Educated Laymen
An enquirer 42 has examined the evidence for reputation among religious orders in Naples early in the eighteenth century. He felt able to make a catalogue of orders divided into respected and disgraceful: respected: Capuchins, and some other forms of Franciscan, e.g. Alcantarini
Scolopists (a teaching order)
Missioners of St. Vincent de Paul
Dominicans at one house
Benedictines at one house
Reputations seldom correspond wholly with reality, and are hard to judge from the scraps of information which are now the only evidence. But it can scarcely be accident that in this list the ill repute hangs round the historic medieval traditional orders, the valued men lived in active orders founded by the Counter-Reformation.
The same enquirer judged that nuns were not nearly so unpopular as monks. No one could miss the social need.
Thus educated laymen were troubled by the scandals which also afflicted superiors, bishops, and Popes.
If they were politicians or financiers or theorists of Church and State, they looked with anxious eyes at the acres of land in mortmain, owned by monasteries, growing every year with each new dowry and many new bequests, but inalienable because it was sacred from the moment that it was given to the Church.
Merchants resented competition from trading monasteries which by reason of charitable status were exempt from tax. Townsmen noticed how tax privileges worked, especially when trade fell into slump. Then they began to murmur against tax-free trading in textiles, or brewing, or wine. Wise superiors tried to avoid these frictions which were inherent in the nature of legal exemption.
The Monastery Prison
The religious house was a private world. During the second half of the century political theory penetrated the growing number of educated minds and led them to doubt whether practices within that private world were compatible with the rights of citizens in the State. This was part of the same mental change which begot criticism of the rights of sanctuary.
Monasteries administered discipline over their erring monks. The new monk joined a private society the rules of which he accepted by a vow of absolute obedience. Therefore the private society exacted penalties for disobedience or misbehaviour or crime. From the Middle Ages such penalties included beating, or low diet, or confinement, or if all failed, expulsion. Since it was out of tune with the medieval mind to think of handing over a criminal monk to the courts of the outside world, monasteries made their private system of justice which was not distinguished from ordinary discipline. A monastery had one or more cells as its prison, and appointed a monk as its gaoler.
The Counter-Reformation lifted standards by making discipline more severe. As reformers raised the moral demand upon monks, they did not shrink from heavy penalties upon those who failed. Like any private system of justice, this private system might be humane, but being subject to no outside control of public opinion easily grew rigorous, arbitrary, and at last tyrannical. St. John of the Cross spent many months in the prison of a Spanish monastery; and the accounts of his experience breed no trust in the penal system. A historian does not console himself by remembering that other penal systems of that age were arbitrary.
This rigour persisted into the eighteenth century, and rare traces may be discerned in the nineteenth. But the new ideas of the early Enlightenment began to affect opinion. Whether or not a monk accepted the rules of a private society, he never lost his rights as a human being. Secular judges had a duty to see justice done even within private societies. Therefore penalties grew less barbarous within monasteries as they grew more humane in the outside world. Among State lawyers opinion hardened that if a monk was alleged to have committed an offence worthy of prison, it was the State's prison with fixed rules in which he should be confined. They were putting their penal systems into better order, and their concern for private societies was part of the general revision of attitudes.
Certain religious orders founded in the Counter-Reformation, like the Somaschi and the Theatines, in any case allowed an appeal to 'the secular arm' in charges where the monastery had no penalty adequate to the offence committed.
From the human point of view this softening of attitudes, as part of the same humanizing which rid the courts at last of torture, had nothing but good. From the monastery's outlook it had loss as well as gain. It allowed a growing number of cases where a monk, condemned by his superior, appealed to an outside court. In France, where the system of Parlements made outside courts effective, these appeals were known to destroy the discipline of old communities and the authority of superiors. A gain lay in the removal of an element destructive of harmony in the society.
Monastic congregations, or even areas, used a special house set aside for delinquents. Much paper mounted in the files on the proper amount of money to be paid by the house which expelled a delinquent to the house where he was to be immured. Several Sicilian orders used the house Gibilmanna as their home for recidivist monks. The house at Polistena served the same purpose in Calabria. The Benedictine congregation of Saint-Maur preferred to get its prisoners away to the sea-girt monastery at Mont-Saint-Michel. That helped other houses but turned a prison-monastery into no monastery. About 1766 the monks of Mont-Saint-Michel consisted of sixteen prisoners, two lunatics, and six monk-gaolers to supervise. 43
To be secluded in a monastery for a crime could be very pleasant. The earlier objection to monastic prisons was that they protected culprits from the rigour of the law. Even late in the eighteenth century a prisoner in a monastery could in certain circumstances have a good time. Pablo de Olavide was shut up (1778) in a Spanish monastery. Though he disliked the prescribed reading of books of devotion, he loved the services, and the quiet, he had two gardens in which to walk, could receive visitors, and kept his own staff of servants. Even so, he took his chance to escape. 44
The difficulty was to know what else to do but keep a prison. If a male-factor was held long years in a monastic prison, it caused inconvenience and disturbance in the house and forced monks, whose work ought to be the praise of God, to become gaolers. But if a malefactor were at once expelled, he was discharged upon a world which would suffer by his criminal character; and suffer all the more because he might commit his crimes under the pretext and using the occasion of a monk's habit. Some superiors thought this the only way, and the community could wash its hands of an erring member. To expel a man (and worse, to expel a woman, for it was not an unprotected woman's world) was contrary to everything for which the movement stood, the profession of permanent dedication to a way of life, the obligation of permanent pastoral responsibility by a community. In the 1740s Pope Benedict XIV considered these unpalatable alternatives soberly and reached the conclusion that though superiors ought to shrink from expulsion, there came times when expulsion was necessary. 45
As a more enlightened world met old systems, the anachronisms were made plain by cases of special agony. The worst scandal hit Naples.
Pasquale Perez de Bivador, whose name in religion was Father Leopold, said that he was the son of a Piedmontese sailor. At the age of sixteen he became a discalced Augustinian in Naples, that is of an order where the reforming ideals of the Counter-Reformation carried a group of monasteries out of a historic order into what was in effect a new order.
In 1757 Father Leopold was discovered or believed by the other members of his house to be a criminal of the neighbourhood, stealing money from other monasteries, posing to collect money on false pretences, swindling, gambling, and going out after women. They examined witnesses and held him guilty.
The case became a scandal because Father Leopold showed genius as an escaper.
Locked in a room over the refectory, he climbed onto the dome of the choir and claimed sanctuary. Locked in the monastic prison and manacled, he twisted through the window of his cell and lowered himself to the street but broke a leg in the final fall. Locked in a dungeon under the outer wall of the monastery he so desolated the community with shouts of blasphemy across the courtyard, tearing up a breviary, threats of murder, that at last some monks in the house could bear it no longer and without leave engineered his escape. Many miles away he was picked up in lay clothes by the police.
He was destroying the morale of the community. The law of the Church prevented them from turning him loose upon the world. They could not reintegrate him because he was unwilling to be reformed. Some of them were hopeless, seeing no solution till he died—'He doesn't die because scoundrels are immortal but when God wishes it will be a singular grace.' The monks divided, one party holding that it was their duty to bear this cross, the other that no man should be kept under such conditions in a monastery.
On 23 April 1763, after Father Leopold occupied his dungeon for six years, the divided house held a meeting of the chapter which was unedifying and tumultuous. They disputed over the election of new officers. This touched the king. Therefore Marquess Cavalcanti appeared in the monastery to enquire into the dispute—and discovered Father Leopold.
So the affair became public. A professor of law took up Leopold's case, the name of the Augustinians stank in the city as torturers; sightseers wanted to look with horror at the dungeon under the wall where a man was 'buried alive', the king intervened, anticlericals in government used the case as a stick against all forms of ecclesiastical jurisdiction. Hardly anyone believed Father Leopold innocent. The anticlerical prime minister Tanucci used the case to advantage. But even he took the charges of cruelty with salt. For five years later he proposed that Leopold's principal judge among the monks should be the queen's confessor.
The papal nuncio fought a losing battle for the old world. Monks are members of a holy society and rightly exempted from secular courts. Therefore there must be prisons in monasteries. It will be exceedingly inconvenient if superiors cannot proceed against delinquent monks but must hand them over to magistrates. That a monk should appear in a court charged with crime will have a bad effect on the morality of the people. . . . 46
So the bygone age and the coming age fought over the body of Father Leopold who should never have become a monk while a boy. In a changing mood of public opinion his dungeon endangered the repute of many more monks than the discalced Augustinians of Naples.
A Naples law of 1769 abolished prisons in monasteries, removed penal rights from superiors, and gave the jurisdiction to the archbishop's court. Lombardy abolished monks' prisons the same year. Tuscany a year later, Austria still a year later. The Austrian law allowed a locked cell of punishment which must not differ from the other cells, and be always open to inspection by bishop or magistrate. Remote houses took small notice and hardly knew that it passed. They continued their historic way of life. Since many had on their hands senile or mad monks or nuns, they were accustomed to cells which must be locked.
In the Benedictine nunnery at Göss in Styria lived a Sister Columba, of noble birth, always weak in the head, maintained by a small pension paid regularly by the family. A Salzburg canonist attended (1779) the election of a new abbess and noticed that Sister Columba failed to come to record her vote. He asked after her, was told that she was mad, and visited her in a cell below ground and damp with mildew. Hearing evidence in her favour, and suspecting that she was really in prison because she criticized her superiors and because she claimed that she was forced into a nunnery and said that she had no desire to be a Benedictine, a way of life which she hated, he reported to the Bishop of Seckau who seems to have done nothing. Three years later a commission sent to dissolve the nunnery found her imbecile, fetched her out, and put her in charge of a private woman in the town of Graz. 47
This, and similar cases, caused government to order a thorough search of all monasteries, and the removal of several mad nuns and a mad Franciscan friar from their cells to public asylums.
Thus these prisons enraged the reformers of the Enlightenment. When the nuns of San Giorgio fled from falling shot as French troops attacked Mantua, soldiers ran into the convent to take cover and heard cries; and down in the cellar found a girl aged about twenty-two chained by her arms to a chair. 48 The prison made part of that hatred of religious houses which began to obsess radical minds.
When monks were too many, and confessed by everyone to be too many, and when monasteries had fat untaxed endowments and modern states needed more income than ramshackle states, and even a Pope suppressed the Jesuit order—every Catholic ruler moved against 'useless' monasteries, 'useless' monks.
The dead hand, law of mortmain, was in never-ending dispute. All critics agreed that churches and monasteries of Catholic states were too abundantly endowed for the welfare of the State. Popes and bishops, always without enough money to do what they wanted, often in debt and sometimes almost bankrupt, and seeing many clergy and monks near or below the level of subsistence, denied the claim with vehemence.
No church money or land could ever be diverted to other purposes—except under the (often large) taxes which Popes allowed governments to raise. No redundant church, or even redundant vicarage, could be sold for secular purposes. Church endowments must therefore grow. Pious persons liked to leave something in their wills. Comfortable persons liked to give an endowment that mass might be said for their soul in perpetuity. Every nun must bring into her convent the dowry—little in each case, but over all the thousands of vocations not to be neglected by a state which saw wealth slowly disappearing into untaxable charities. Nunneries or monasteries could invest their money in Mounts of Piety the charitable lending banks, to receive interest. But they were not always happy about the usury of lending money at interest, were conscious that money can fall in value, and therefore preferred to use dowries or bequests in the purchase of land or property.
Educated laymen saw buildings or land lying idle. A monastery, once great, inherited a palace and many fields. It declined; a handful of men, perhaps even two or three, were all that survived of a numerous community. Yet neither building nor land could be diverted from the sacred purpose. This was what was attacked as idle endowment. Southern educated Catholics were far from admiring Protestants. But their knowledge of the Protestant north led them to suspect that the prosperity of northern Europe might be due in part to the ruthlessness with which Protestant states treated the land and money of their old monasteries.
A monastery, let us suppose, inherited by bequest a farm. As a charity it had a duty to maintain the endowment and if possible to extend its value. It was not entitled to sell the farm and use the proceeds as income or give them away in charity. It must keep the farm and use its rent either as charity or as income to maintain itself. Therefore, if it had capital, it improved the farm by buying near-by fields, and by using near-by common land to pasture flocks and herds; and because it was exempt from regular taxation was stronger than the small proprietors of that place. The cry against mortmain came not only from prime ministers and finance ministers who counted the total acreage exemption from tax. It came from smallholders and farmers under sudden pressure from a bigger landlord, in this case an ecclesiastical corporation. In some villages of Spain every peasant became in this way a hired labourer on church land.
Monasteries had stout defenders. If you take away the money of the monasteries where does it go? To armaments, or palaces, or the pockets of civil servants? Monasteries are the only means of keeping unemployed from starvation. Let comfortable critics who prate of utility go down among the queues at monastery gates and find out how the suppliants would live if they could not stand in that queue. A monastery often employs some fifty or sixty people, singers, woodworkers, decorators, farmlabourers, builders, foresters. Who will find work for these men, and food for their families, if their monastery is suppressed or impoverished? This attack upon monasteries is harsh. For it is also an attack upon the destitute and upon all those least able to defend themselves.
Only comfortable men of middle and upper classes denounce poor relief because it encourages beggars. And when lawyers or politicians assailed monasteries for failing to do what they could in famine or slump, defenders of monastic endowment produced numerous examples of countrymen being saved from starvation. When attackers said that wealth corrupted the Church, which should return to the simplicity of primitive ages, defenders asked why laymen should demand this of others when they had no intention themselves of returning to live like Germans or Lombards during the barbarian invasions.
Catholic opinion hardened against monks and nuns during the four last decades of the century. Censorship kept the attack restrained, but wherever censorship was weak, attacks on monks proliferated. Though the dead hand was the ultimate reason, the attacks had other causes. Reforming bishops always assailed the exemptions of religious houses and wanted them to be more useful in parishes. Parish priests suspected convents which rivalled them for esteem and gifts and pastoral care. But after 1760 a new and ominous note crept into the pamphlets.
With the attack on the Jesuits, economists collected statistics, usually erroneous; but however vague, they drew everyone to the extraordinary fraction of land and property which monks possessed. Table 8 , for example, gives one such statistic, collected by an enemy of monks in northern Italy. 49 Therefore it came to be accepted statecraft in all Catholic states, that government must pass laws of mortmain to limit further property—at least land or houses—passing into the dead hand. If they were more radical, they might also attempt to limit the number of novices to diminish the need for dowries; and if still more radical, they might wish to suppress monasteries, especially if housing tiny numbers or 'useless', and take their endowments into the national purse.
Monks in Venice 51
Spain was a country relatively untouched by such ideas. Yet even in Spain, where monks had still increased in number, came the sudden turn downward;
Spanish monks and nuns:- 52 1787: 78,113; 1797: 77,569.
In Naples Father Genovesi taught as early as 1737 that the prosperity of the State was impossible unless it took church property. The minister Tanucci, who liked individual Jesuits and hated the Society of Jesus, did what he could to diminish other monasteries, but that was little. During the ten years after 1779 the minister Caracciolo closed all the Capuchin novitiates in Sicily, in the effort to lessen the number of friars. A decree from Naples prohibited the clothing of new friars without the king's leave.
France passed a law on mortmain (1749), Tuscany two years later. The flood of laws limiting bequests to church charities and monasteries came in 1761-7; Spain, Portugal, Austria, Bavaria, the Palatinate, Lombardy, Genoa, Modena, Lucca, Parma, Mantua, and finally Venice.
Governments wanted first to close useless or little used houses and take their money, goods, lands and houses; prevent boys and girls from taking vows so early and therefore raise the age at which the young could enter a monastery or a nunnery, though no government presumed it sensible or practicable to follow Bishop Ricci of Pistoia and abolish vows for men and allow vows only to women aged forty; get rid of foreign superiors where an order was organized internationally, and insist at least on a local vicar-general who was the superior's deputy with full powers. They intended to maintain discipline, but on occasion had the opposite effect. Like Tanucci in Naples, they sometimes intended to distribute the lands among peasants, but almost everywhere in Europe the lands of suppressed houses went either to government or to upper-class landowners. Tanucci's strenuous efforts with ex-Jesuit lands in Sicily secured nearly 60 per cent of the endowments for small men. The endeavour made not much eventual difference.
In southern Italy, for example, a terrible earthquake of 1783 killed about 30,000 people and so devastated Calabria that the plight of starving and homeless survivors could be met only with dictatorial action by the State. With the consent of Pope Pius VI government created a central treasury, the 'Sacred Chest' into which all endowments of nunneries and monassteries and chapels were paid; and suppressed all houses with fewer than twelve members. The intention was pure, and the act long acclaimed by historians. Modern enquiry cast grave doubts upon the issue. The upper and middle classes got the benefit, the Church lost much of its land which helped to protect the peasant from immediate domination by feudal lords, and seeds of a pro-Church anti-feudal revolution were sown. 53
In 1766, in the wake of Jesuit suppression in Portugal and France, both the governments of France and Venice appointed commissions to reform the monasteries. The French commission finally recommended the dissolution of 386 houses with a total of 10,438 inhabitants, and received evidence from bishops which left them and posterity with no high opinion of the state of French monasteries. The Venice commission reported that the republic had thirty-five orders, 441 houses, and 7,703 monks and nuns; that the revenues came to nearly 1,000,000 ducats a year and these numbers made a heavy burden on the State; that many of the impoverished little houses could maintain no proper common life; that the larger houses should be given a maximum number and be not permitted to accept novices where the number now exceeded this maximum. 54
Among certain Catholic reformers, found occasionally in France and Venice and Naples, more commonly in south Germany, appeared the idea of utility. Monasteries fulfilled very varied social functions. The contemplation of God in solitude was not an activity easily understood in the age of Enlightenment, and several rulers forcibly swept away all the hermits in their territory. Prayer for other people was still seen in most countries as a social function for which monks and nuns were necessary. But when politicians looked critically at monasteries, they began to apply the idea of utility like any Protestant, and demand usefulness in society which was more definable. Nunneries served a social purpose merely by housing unmarried women. Monasteries should be suppressed unless they fulfilled one of three functions: teaching, or ministering to the sick, or care of parishes. And an occasional Catholic voice could be heard with still more extreme language. The life of a monk is unnatural; it is not appropriate in the modern world; vows of poverty are bad for society; charitable endowments persuade beggars to stay unemployed. 'Of course good monks exist. but the best monk would be a better man if he were not a monk.' 55 This kind of tone is not to be found commonly.
Austria carried out far the most systematic attempt to reform monasteries. But Austrian reform was part of a new pattern throughout Catholic Europe in the relationship between Church and State.
To abolish a living community was like throwing a lot of men or women out of work suddenly. When it happens, the signs of human tragedy never fail. When an official visitor told the Cistercian nuns at Gutenzell in south Germany that their nunnery was to close, and asked each of them whether she wished to leave, he recorded their replies. They are such as these: 'My only prayer is to end my life in a nunnery'; 'I never have the least desire to leave'; 'Rather a poor nun than to go into the world with a pension of 1,000 florins'; 'The end of the nunnery would be the worst disaster for me. I should be very unhappy'. 56 Men were much readier to find new work and home. They were more easily employable, and less insecure in that world. The existence of numbers of men in monasteries who felt no special vocation to the monks' way of life meant that 'useless' male houses were almost as easy to dissolve by Catholic governments of the eighteenth century as by Protestant governments of the sixteenth century. Provided the pensioner's pension was secure, he was glad of liberty. He lost nothing but rules and a wall by the abolition of his house.
To abolish a monastery might mean resistance from peasants. If the monastery had a function—as in a school, a parish, a hospital—the function was performed inefficiently if the monastery was a case for abolition; but sometimes an inefficient school was better than the alternative which was no school. Where the Pope suppressed an order, a few old people usually managed to continue their lifelong way of prayer and rule, sometimes in the same building. In 1626 Rome suppressed an order which was one offshoot of the Franciscans, the order of Reformed Conventuals, and ordered its members to join one of the three main orders of Franciscans. The order was obeyed, but not without bitterness, and a few houses persisted for half a century till the old people died. The greatest of the papal suppressions before the eighteenth century happened when Innocent X (1652) suppressed several hundred houses with tiny numbers, for example 217 Carmelite houses, 242 Franciscan Conventual houses, mainly in Italy. Even then he allowed a number of the 'suppressed' houses (ultimately) to survive. 57 Therefore no one could be surprised that when Pope Clement XIV abolished 22,000 Jesuits, a good many communities survived in at least a concealed form. The Pope could abolish a uniform, not so easily could he end a way of life.
To Joseph II of Austria is ascribed a stern letter to his agent in Rome, Cardinal Herzan.
As I myself hate superstition, I will drive it from the minds of my people; and therefore I will expel monks and abolish monasteries and put them under the bishops of their dioceses. . . . To those things we owe the degradations of the human mind. . . . The principles of monasticism have been directly opposed to the light of reason. . . . These untrue ideas about religion have spread among ordinary people, and they know God no more, and trust in their saints. 58
The text of this letter is so extraordinary as to give rise to doubt about its authenticity. Most authors accepted it as genuine. But it is not. It is part of a collection of forged letters. To judge Joseph's reform of the monasteries by such a letter is wrong.
Austria suppressed so many monasteries not because Austrians rejected the monastic ideal but because they needed money to reform the Church. Whenever the central Church fund for parishes and education ran short of money to pay for pastors or found schools, its managers looked for another abbey to suppress.
Austrian enquiries uncovered fewer scandals than French enquiries. But wealth and utility were not always companions. Rich houses were specially vulnerable. Houses and orders which attracted dedicated novices were seldom houses and orders possessing thousands of acres. The Praemonstratensian abbey of Tepl in Bohemia looked to visitors like a country club of well-to-do and hospitable gentlemen with liveried servants to attend their needs. The Cistercian house of the Golden Crown in south Bohemia had an income of 464,141 gulden which supported nineteen monks. 59
In November 1781 the Emperor Joseph issued a degree appointing commissioners to make lists of the monasteries and their property, and to abolish those which were contemplative and were not in the work of teaching or of nursing the sick. The endowments gave pensions to the expelled, and the remainder to the central Church fund to help parishes. The commissioners were ordered to be gentle; not to deprive monks of the 'personal possessions' to which they were used in their cells, and to allow the aged and infirm to remain in their houses.
In the Austrian part of the Empire, more than 400 houses were abolished. The number of monks and nuns fell from 65,000 to 27,000. In 1782 the property which passed to government totalled 10,000,000 gulden. Despite waste and cheap bargains, inevitable in so big an operation, the central fund got about 60,000,000 gulden by Joseph's death.
Friars were forbidden novices and were not allowed to beg. Hermits were abolished. Joseph did not trust superiors to manage their estates, and though he allowed priors in remaining houses to be supreme in discipline and religious life, secular clergymen or laymen were put in as 'abbots in commendam' to manage the property.
In Vienna Joseph founded four hospitals and a school of surgery and so started the growth of Vienna into a centre of medical research. The buildings of former monasteries were used as schools or factories or shops. One monastery church became a theatre, another a Protestant chapel. Manuscripts and rare books were collected and most ended in the libraries of universities. Some 'obsolete' books of theology were pulped, some works of art were sold abroad.
No resistance to these arrangements came from monks, nuns, or the common people. Most monks if not old passed into curacies or vicarages or schools. Most nuns of dissolved houses preferred to go back to their families with their pension, and not to change house or order. Where nuns agreed to continue in a house with nuns from other nunneries, the union seldom worked. Former ways of life were too diverse, even among nuns from different houses of the same order. Peace was disturbed by difference over rules, ways of worship, choice of confessor.
An incumbent who disliked friars protested when given a friar as his curate. 60 He complained that friars are chief sellers of indulgences and miraculous pictures, promote brotherhoods and vain devotions, are not very loyal to the State and make a poor foundation for religion. Such a protest against ex-monks or ex-friars was very unusual.
To make about a third of the religious return home, or become parish priests or schoolmasters, left Austria a country where monastic orders were still important in the social order. After the Emperor's death superiors were again trusted to manage their money and the 'abbots in commendam' went.
But the main changes lasted, partly because despite the Emperor's fussiness they were moderate. Monks and nuns were not ill treated except that it is ill treatment to be forced out of home. Whatever losses occurred at auctions by sales too cheap, most of the money went to help the Church, the poor, and the schools. Joseph made a reasonable system of pastoral care before any other Catholic ruler.
More Austrian money went into art and architecture before 1782 than after. This was always the result when many monasteries were ended. But it meant negligible losses in libraries and no loss in learning; perhaps advance in learning, as endowments were taken from the divine praises and given to schools and universities.
4 The Office of the Pope
The Pope was the successor of St. Peter, and the centre of unity in the Roman Catholic Church. Therefore he had an authority beyond that of all other ministers. Men have only so much authority as other men will allow; and the question of the extent of this spiritual authority, or its limitations, was a delicate discussion carried on by the Latin tongue in Spanish and French and German and Italian lecture-rooms. But everyone agreed that this was the vicar of Christ, and that his authority extended, or could in certain circumstances extend, as far as the authority of the whole Catholic Church.
So much was received by many Catholics before the Reformation. The events of Reformation and Counter-Reformation strengthened this pillar of the constitution. Radicals who denied the Pope's spiritual authority no longer claimed to be within the Roman Catholic Church and therefore need no longer be considered. The defence of Catholicism against Protestants had something of the same effect as, two or three centuries before, the defence of Christendom from Arab or Turk. It made the centre of Catholicism more supreme as the centre. It identified Catholicism more manifestly with Rome; so that when a Protestant used the word Catholic, he might henceforth be presumed to mean Roman Catholic.
This authority was defined to rest upon Bible and Church. In fact it rested upon the profession of Catholic faith by most ordinary men and women in the Catholic states. The Spanish confessed that the Pope was the head of their Church. Through their long struggle against Muslim invasion they identified their Church with their nationality, so that a Spaniard not a Catholic was no longer a Spaniard. Therefore the Pope had real power inside Spain, not just theoretical power or spiritual power derived from a theological principle or the explanation of a text of the Bible about the keys of St. Peter. In certain matters the Spanish government could hardly act without first making sure that the authorities of the Church agreed with its action. And so, though less obviously, in Portugal, France, Italy, Austria, and the south-German states.
High theorists on behalf of the Pope believed that Popes had not only this spiritual power which extended as far as Catholicism and therefore as far as the human race, but a secular power, given by God for the benefit of the nations; an international authority which, though without an army, had the right and duty of maintaining peace and justice among the striving nations. More moderate but still high theorists of the Pope like Cardinal Bellarmine argued for an 'indirect' power—that the Pope could not simply depose a king as he removed a bishop from office, by the fact of his direct power as God's minister, but that he could nevertheless declare a king to be deposed if it were plainly necessary for the good of men's souls. These high claims were necessary, less by reason of the theory on which they rested, as by reason of the past acts of Popes, whether in the Middle Ages or in the Counter-Reformation. It was hard in any other light to justify the act of the Pope in freeing the English people from their allegiance to Queen Elizabeth I on the ground of her manifest heresy; or of sending a legate to strengthen the French Catholics of Paris in resisting their lawful king because he was a Protestant.
But the doctrine of a power, even an indirect power, in secular governments, was never accepted by many Catholics. They saw the Pope as a supreme leader; as Christ's vicar; as the chief shepherd set over all the shepherds who should lead Christ's flock towards the fold. After the treaty of Westphalia in 1648, we hear less discussion of those old claims to an international authority among the nations. Catholic Germany found it necessary to accept Protestant rulers as rightful and legitimate, Catholic Switzerland to accept Protestant cantons, Catholic Netherlands to live side by side with Protestant Holland, the European states-system to accept Protestant England and Scotland. The Pope ceased to be an international authority of the type which a long tradition down to Bellarmine and after expected. By the nature of his supreme spiritual power he still wielded a kind of international authority; first because some governments could hardly act in certain spheres without securing his complaisance or stopping his intervention; and secondly because he had a right, which was more than a vestigial survival from different days, to mediate in conflicts or wars between Catholic states. At least he claimed this right, and quite often tried to exercise it; not wholly in vain. For the most part warring nations went on with their fight and took no notice of peaceable exhortation. But sometimes, as between Catholic peoples or governments, a Pope could still be seen to be a force pushing them towards negotiation instead of guns, and seeking to still the passions of Catholic Christendom. This status was accorded to him especially by the governments of countries under fire from non-Catholics—Poles under threat from Russians or Swedes, Austrians or Hungarians under threat from Turks.
Nevertheless, for various reasons the Pope was now restricted, far more restricted than formerly in the exercise of an international authority.
First, he was not neutral among the nations. Europe was divided between Protestant countries and Catholic countries, and everyone knew on which side the Pope stood. If war raged between England and Spain, or England and France, or France and Prussia, or Poland and Sweden, the Pope was useless as a mediator. The Protestants could not believe in his impartiality, and he could not believe in it himself. Between 1648 and 1915 the ancient role of peace-maker among the powers could not be fulfilled. If fulfilled at all, it must be adapted, to mean peace-maker among Catholic powers. The Pope could not be an 'international court of justice' or of arbitration in the old sense, for in any conflict which could be described as Catholic versus Protestant, he could see Catholic victory as fruitful in Catholic advance.
He was under no temptation to turn the wars of Louis XIV into crusades. But hardly anyone now appealed to him as arbitrator, or proposed Rome as a suitable place for making treaties. For three-quarters of a century, from 1562 to 1648, Europe suffered from the wars of religion; and even though the wars were often over religion only in name, Europe wanted to move away from the terrible memories of conflict between Catholic and Protestant. With these memories the Pope's name and title were entangled. Henceforth when men wanted a 'neutral' city, they did not think of Rome. The Spanish once proposed Rome as the seat for negotiation. The French would have none of it. International treaties were made in Münster, Nymwegen, Utrecht, Ryswick. If men wanted 'neutrality' in Italy, they were more likely to think of Venice than Rome. One proposal for an international parliament suggested that it sit at Regensburg. Another, from a Catholic abbé, suggested that an international court sit at Utrecht. 1 A third, an eminent Catholic, was among the first to cast his eyes upon Switzerland as a neutral territory. He wanted his proposed international court—this time a court for the Catholic powers—to meet in Lucerne. But even he wanted the papal nuncio, who then lived in Lucerne, to be transferred to Freiburg so that he should not exercise undue influence upon the court.
Prelates in the age between the Reformation and the Revolution have no high reputation. Anglican prelates are a case in point. Though they never emulated Cardinal Wolsey, we are not somehow surprised that many hotels on the continent of Europe are called after the name of an English eighteenth-century bishop, or that the Bishop of Llandaff in Wales lived away from Wales on the banks of Lake Windermere. It was a mellow world. Anthony Trollope described Barchester cathedral and close as though it were all of 1850; but really Barset was of 1750—a sunlit countryside world without the rumblings of revolution; assured, stable-seeming, comfortable, archaic, well paid, esteemed, kindly, courteous, and doing good by benevolence. That was what most Popes of the eighteenth century were like: humane, comfortable, paternal, considerate. One Pope of that century said to the artist who was painting his portrait, 'I'm the pastor of the people, so make me look gentle.' 2 At times the Counter-Reformation almost seemed to be forgotten—until suddenly men thought of the cuirassed kingdoms of a Borgia or a Farnese, the skilled financial jugglery of a Medici, which vanished never to return. These were good men; not heroic men usually, but open-hearted, friendly, trying to do what little they could to smile upon the world of men to make the human race happy and well-doing and better prepared for eternity. The Popes of the eighteenth century had a pleasant front to the world; like their city, dignified, aesthetic, ceremonious, baroque—with the new façade to Santa Maria Maggiore which the Pope erected in the middle of the century, fine, grand-looking, not paying enough attention to the quieter but nobler heritage of the old church of Santa Maria Maggiore, and disturbing the Pope when he saw that after all his architect was a Philistine; or with the most marvellous staircase in Rome, the Spanish Steps, erected in 1725 to commemorate the Year of Jubilee; or with the gayest of all the fountains of Rome, the Trevi, ordered by the Corsini Pope Clement XII and finished in 1762; or with the familiar Vatican Museum itself, which in its main features was the work of the last Pope of the century, the Pope least able to afford the expense, but making the Vatican that which it is now, and towards which it moved rapidly during the eighteenth century—one of the artistic centres of the world.
In a good-humoured age, then, mostly good-humoured men led the Roman Catholic Church; and made a contrast, an astounding contrast, between the missioner-evangelist lashing himself in the pulpit at some fiery service of conversion, and the cultivated heads to whom he owed his allegiance.
In early Christian days the Bishop of Rome was elected, like other bishops, by clergy and people of the city and with the consent of neighbouring bishops. But popular elections became impossible unless they were tumults; and so the State intervened, first to ensure a peaceable election, and then to secure a candidate acceptable to the State. As the Roman Empire turned into early medieval Europe, the office grew in prestige and therefore in power. The more powerful the office, the more unacceptable an election by a few clergy or barons in Rome; the more international the office the less appropriate a civic election; the more civil power became attached to the spiritual power, the less possible and the less desirable a local election carried out without reference to governments. Roman Emperor and then Byzantine Emperor and then Holy Roman Emperor started to intervene, and more than one Pope invited such intervention. When Emperors were strong, they appointed Popes. When Emperors were weak, barons in Rome ensured that the new Pope was their man. The election by clergy and people survived in ritual forms.
For 800 years only a Roman was elected. The first bishop from another see was elected in 882. In 1059, as new and stronger Popes began to establish their independence against German Emperors, Pope Nicholas II published the decree In nomine which limited the electors to the cardinal bishops of Rome—and other cardinals with clergy and people had the right to accept or reject. This plan did not meet the needs of controversies which followed, and at the Third Lateran Council of 1179 Pope Alexander III created the system which survived the centuries: only cardinals may vote, and a two-thirds majority is needed for election. Nearly a century later, after a failure to reach a two-thirds majority for almost three years (the longest election on record), the Council of Lyons in 1274 introduced the Conclave, following the example of some other elections in Italian cities and the way by which Dominican friars organized their elections. By the Conclave the cardinals must be shut up together and go on meeting till they elect. In 1406, after more difficulty, the ballot was used, probably for the first time. From 1389 only cardinals have been elected, and some have thought that only a cardinal is now eligible, but this is not certain or even probable. As lately as 1691 some votes were cast for men who were not cardinals, but almost certainly the voters had no hope or expectation of success when they so voted.
The number of cardinals was fixed by Sixtus V at seventy after the elders of Moses. This number was not exceeded until 1958-63.
In its near-final form the mode of election was laid down by Pope Gregory XV in a bull of 15 November 1621 (Aeterni patris filius). The object of this bull was to prevent Catholic governments interfering in the election; that is, to keep the cardinals free to choose whomsoever they thought fit. The arrival of Spanish power in Italy made Popes, who since the Counter-Reformation had higher standards, more uncomfortable about the ease with which cardinals could be bullied or cajoled. The Conclave was made stricter and more secure, and the cardinals must not elect until they were formally immured. The election by the two-thirds majority should normally be by secret ballot, but 'arrangement' or 'acclamation' were also allowed. The bull finally forbade any cardinal to vote for himself. A bull of the following year, 12 March 1622 (Decet Romanum Pontificem), laid down the ceremonies in minute detail.
This arrangement was first altered by Pope Pius X in 1904.
Every Pope elected between 1522 and 1978 was an Italian. Sometimes the majority of Italian cardinals was very large. At the time of the Conclave of 1676 there were sixty-seven cardinals of whom fifty-eight were Italians, the others being three French, three German, two Spanish, and one English; and on this occasion one of the Germans raised bitter complaint at Italian dominance. But a complaint in this form was unique, and most non-Italians accepted that an Italian majority was necessary. The cardinals were the Pope's lieutenants in administering the Church. They needed to be in Rome. Therefore they were likely to be Italian, because they could not control or organize or even understand the civil service in Rome if they were foreign. This Italian majority of cardinals remained until 1946.
In later years Popes allowed the title of cardinal to men who were not part of the Roman Curia, or rather who were only formally part of the Roman Curia by possessing that title: eminent archbishops or bishops who continued in their own country, and came to Rome only to take part in electing a Pope. But they were expected to be few. An Italian majority among cardinals was accepted as a necessary consequence of the heritage that the head of the Catholic Church was also a bishop and ought to reside in Rome. The Council of Trent obliged Popes to make cardinals of all nations whenever possible, 'so far as he has a chance sufficiently to know them and be sure that he can trust them'. The limitation was important. Unless earlier in life he was a nuncio at one of the courts, he could hardly know anyone but Italians.
This Italian dominance of the Curia was the less painful to non-Italians because modern 'nationalism' was still in embryo. Italy was not a unity even in idea. Rome was still the heir of an international idea as wide as Christendom. So far as Italian cardinals were Roman, they were as much international as national. But though a majority of future Popes served for a time in the Curia at Rome, a majority were not Roman by origin. Of the eight Popes of the eighteenth century, four came from the Papal States, but two of these four from the Romagna in the north; two came from the kingdom of Naples, one was a Florentine and one a Venetian. Not one of them was born in Rome. The divisions of Italy still ran deep. When the Venetian Rezzonico was elected Pope (Clement XIII) in 1758, the Venetian embassy in Rome spent extravagantly on fireworks and handed out free wine for the three following nights. The election changed the relation between the Pope and the government of Venice. That he was Venetian was more important than that he was Italian.
The foreign cardinals, though few, were weighty. They were select; powerful men in their own countries; representing the wider world of Catholicism outside Italy. They did not all come to Rome, some not once during their lives; and some made no effort to travel to Rome even to elect a new Pope. Cardinal Mazarin could exert more influence on the election of a Pope from his office in Paris than if he appeared in Rome in person. The cardinal's hat was a matter of prestige to a Catholic government. Once the Pope started to bestow the hat on distinguished men who need not work in Rome, the governments of France and Spain and Austria began to be indignant if at least one of their prelates was not a cardinal.
These foreign cardinals complicated the smooth functioning of the Conclave. They needed to come from far, and that took time. Meanwhile expediency pressed the cardinals already in Rome to make an election as soon as they could. The Pope was not only a Christian leader, he ruled a secular state under a constitution best described as benevolent despotism tempered by hidebound tradition. Still, however tempered, it was government by a single man. Therefore the death of the ruler created, if not a vacuum, at least a weakness of public power. Everyone knew that the new Pope to be elected would not follow the same policy as the old, that high servants of the State would be changed. The Governor of Rome continued in office and had the duty of suppressing disorder. But everyone knew that he was not likely to remain in office much longer, and it was a question whether the police would obey his orders so instantly. Therefore every death of a Pope carried with it a fear of trouble in the streets—window-breaking at the least, riots and looting at the worst. When a Pope lay dying, rich men who lived in Rome barred their doors or carried away their precious possessions to a safe place. The moment the Pope's death was announced by the tolling of the big bell on the Capitol, the Governor of Rome put armed men on the streets. If an interregnum occurred without the smallest disturbance of public order, it was a matter of news in the services of information. No popular émeute in the eighteenth century compared with one or two of the dramas from the rougher times of the Middle Ages. But the institution had a long memory; and some cardinals will have known how on 7 April 1378 forty armed ruffians headed a rabble that broke into the Conclave and threatened to hew the cardinals to pieces, while the mob broke into the dead Pope's cellar and fed their violence with his wine, and in the Castel Sant' Angelo six cardinals at first dared not cross Rome to crown the new Pope. These were more decorous, and better ordered, times. Nothing in the eighteenth century resembled such horror. But events like the 1378 election were not easy to forget. Even in the eighteenth century, if the Conclave was long and tension began to rise outside, cardinals became anxious and thought that they dared delay no longer. As late as the 1730 election an angry mob besieged the staff of the last Pope in their house, and his chief administrator Cardinal Coscia had to slip out of Rome disguised on a stretcher.
Therefore the cardinals, immured in their Conclave, had strong motives, apart from the discomfort of the rooms and lack of liberty, for reducing the length of the interregnum to the shortest space consistent with a good and valid election. The necessity for a two-thirds majority was thought by some to make a protracted election inevitable; until the speed of nineteenth-and twentieth-century elections showed that it could be done within a day or two. The average length of Conclave during the eighteenth century was only just under three months; the shortest (1721, Innocent XIII) ran to just over five weeks, the longest (1740, Benedict XIV) to just on six months, which was a longer Conclave than any since the days of the Great Schism during the later Middle Ages. The cardinals were divided; they were often intransigent; they seemed sometimes to delight in negotiation—but it is safe to say that left to themselves the Italian cardinals would have drastically reduced that average length of Conclave. The foreign cardinals needed to arrive; and into the Conclave they brought considerations which were foreign in another sense than that of nationality.
In various Conclaves the Italian cardinals discussed whether to elect before the arrival of the foreigners who were so long in coming. But generally they felt this to be and to look like a risky manoeuvre. The resolution to wait for the foreigners could be irritating in its consequences.
In 1769, for example, when the Italians agreed to wait for the foreigners, none of the three Germans came and only two out of the six French; and the French Cardinal de Bernis took five weeks to arrive, while the two of the three Spanish cardinals who could make the journey were blown back by storms and came by land; so that the later of these two Spaniards did not enter the Conclave until two and a half months after the other cardinals were immured. This was particularly vexatious because during the weary weeks of waiting they could do almost nothing. 'I greatly pity the poor old cardinals', wrote the English agent as he watched this appalling Conclave, 'who will be confined so long, and who must twice a day play at choosing a pope, though their only care must be not to choose one by inadvertence.' 3 They could not so get on with their work that they would confront the two Spaniards with a virtual fait accompli then they arrived. The cardinals of 1769 were infinitely bored. Their tedium was broken only when the Emperor Joseph II of Austria visited the Conclave on 16 March and addressed the assembled cardinals in courteous terms; the first of Holy Roman Emperors in Rome since the Emperor Charles V came in the age of the Reformation.
The fears of the Italian cardinals, which made them accept these otherwise intolerable postponements, also rose out of the long memories of history. Terrible schisms happened over the elections of a Pope, schisms from which Catholicism suffered damage never afterwards mended; a long while before, but under this system of election by cardinals. The election must be valid, and must be seen to be valid, beyond all possibility of cavil. No modern Henry VII in Spain or France must be given the chance, if he did not afterwards like what a new Pope did, to declare that the electing body was unrepresentative. Everyone who was a cardinal must be allowed to attend. Cardinal Ottoboni appeared at the Conclave of 1721 though he had not yet been ordained. His vote was accepted as valid. Cardinal Coscia fled from the city at the death of the Pope in 1730, for the best of reasons that he behaved criminally and the people were out for his blood. His vote was accepted as valid. Cardinal Alberoni, once Prime Minister of Spain, played the politics of Spanish power in Italy and fell into depths of disgrace with the just dead Pope, so that he was regarded as a kind of outlaw. Because his vote must be valid, the cardinals gave him a safe-conduct to attend the Conclave of 1721, a pass which should expire ten days after the election. Cardinal Alberoni came, admired by vast crowds in the streets of Rome, but the cardinals in the Conclave would not speak to him except on barest business, and he spent his time thinking how to safeguard his own future instead of sharing in the election of a Pope. The cardinals were determined to be seen to obey the laws. Whatever Pope came from their Conclave must be an undoubted Pope. Therefore Italian cardinals bored themselves, waiting miserably for foreigners to come.
In the crisis at the end of the century, when General Bonaparte's officers kidnapped the Pope, Pius VI specially decreed that the cardinals need not wait for the statutory ten days (minimum for distant cardinals to arrive) before electing his successor. Though he restored the obligation before he died, the vacillation made no difference at the coming election, which lasted more than three months and saw strenuous activity by non-Italian cardinals.
All Conclaves since the Council of Constance in 1417 were held in Rome, except the Conclave of 1800 after the kidnapping of Pius VI by the French, which was held in Venice to be secure from the French.
No one could wish to prolong a Conclave for any private reason. The little cells were uncomfortable. Within the Vatican between forty-five and sixty-five cardinals were imprisoned, together with two or three servants or chaplains each, certain officers of the Conclave, doctors, chemists, carpenters, altogether between 200 and 300 people. If the foreign cardinals failed to arrive quickly it could be worse than boring, for old men cooped up without exercise, into the heat of the Roman summer.
The foreign cardinals delayed the Conclave not only because they must travel to Rome. They represented the Catholic powers of Europe, whose interests differed from the interests of Italian cardinals. Austria, Spain, France, Bavaria, Portugal, and Poland were agreed on one thing only: they did not want a rigid Pope, a Pope who would press the old claims of a Hildebrand against modern governments, a Pope who would protest against them if they did what they wanted with the Churches in their country. They wished for a friendly Pope. If they could not have a friendly Pope, they preferred a complaisant Pope, even a weak Pope. They were afraid of a strong Pope; of an effective Pope; a young Pope. In 1667 Cardinal Farnese was much respected by many of the cardinals; and had the merit (if it was a merit) of belonging to one of the most powerful families in Europe. But it was agreed that he would be difficult to elect because he was able, and it was believed that Catholic governments would not like to have a Pope so effective in business. But Italian cardinals themselves often shared this opinion, that to have too active a Pope had perils. They were in the position of fellows at an Oxford or Cambridge college who elected their own president, and preferred not to entrust that authority to someone who would deal too drastically with their conservatisms; with the addition that in the cardinals' case they chose a head who, once elected, could exert undefined but vast authority.
For this reason came the proverb, 'He who enters the Conclave a Pope comes out a cardinal.' Before the Conclave men looked about for 'obvious' men, papabile. But men were 'obvious' because they did much, and won adherents, and gained the respect of their colleagues. If they did much, they were also men of controversy, men who made enemies. For such men the two-thirds majority was difficult to find. In the late seventeenth and in the eighteenth century the opinion is often found that if you wish to elect a man Pope, you must prevent him from being too prominent beforehand. When Queen Christina, the ex-Queen of Sweden, wanted her candidate elected Pope, she practised an elaborate deception publicly to show the world that she believed him to have no chance of election. Some believed that Cardinal Ganganelli would never have been elected Pope in 1769 if he had not remained quietly in his cell, and taken almost no part in the discussions.
Catholic governments exerted pressure on Conclaves. The extent and nature of this pressure varied from election to election, according to the changing political situation between the powers, according to the possible candidates, and to the number of adherents which they could muster within the college of cardinals. Occasionally they exerted a pressure which felt almost overwhelming. The weight of this pressure, the length to which their agents would go, is a chief sign of the importance within the Catholic world of the Pope's office, even during that eighteenth century when historians have written of the Pope's weakness.
First, the pressure was less than sometimes it seemed to be. The rule of two-thirds majority made it difficult to elect anyone. It thereby safe-guarded the liberty of election thus far at least, that no government, nor combination of governments, even when using every device to influence or threaten or cajole, could force the cardinals to elect the candidate whom governments wanted. The pressure was enough to prevent, never enough to elect. Catholic governments were continually forced to be content with an election which, from their point of view, was third best or fourth best or 'worse'. Usually governments disagreed among themselves, and then the cardinals were confronted with pressures that cancelled. But on the rare occasions when governments agreed, and when therefore the pressure felt most heavy, efforts to secure a candidate created a special nature of resistance. This was a free election. At every Conclave were some cardinals resolute to vote against a candidate whom a government wanted, because they were determined to vindicate their freedom. These cardinals made a coherent group, known at first by their critics as the flying squad or volanti di coscienza 'the flying men with consciences'. In 1689 the Austrian ambassador called them scornfully 'God's party'. 4 The nickname which at last stuck was zelanti, the zealots. Only once during the eighteenth century were the zelanti able to elect (not the man whom they wanted first but) the man whom they wanted second, Clement XI Albani, in 1700; and then only because relations between the Catholic powers were so tense, the King of Spain died during the Conclave and armies mobilized for the war of the Spanish Succession. But though the zelanti could not achieve, they also could prevent. They stood for incorruptible elections. They were numerous enough to ensure that every Pope elected was personally worthy of the office. The man elected was never the best possible from the zelanti point of view, that was not to be expected, and if ever achieved might have damaged the Catholic Church in Europe. But at no Conclave did the cardinals give a two-thirds majority to a candidate solely because a grand alliance of Catholic powers drove them so to cast their votes.
They had however apocalyptic feelings of the risks they ran, the calamities which could ensue if they were forced into a foolish choice to get the elusive majority of two-thirds. 'If we make a mistake this time,' wrote a cardinal in his diary within the Conclave of 1769, 'the Church is in ruins.' 5
The Counter-Reformation failed in some of its endeavours and certainly could not make all cardinals good men, still less make them holy men. But it stamped the cardinals' college with a certain stamp; and because the college of cardinals was a self-perpetuating body, this inheritance remained. Therefore, though it was not at all impossible for a bad man to become a cardinal, it became impossible for a bad man to become Pope; not enough cardinals would vote for the candidate.
The pressure of governments is easy to exaggerate by reason of the nature of the information about Conclaves. Much of the evidence comes from letters home to their prime ministers by ambassadors in Rome, or by their equivalents, foreign cardinals or agents within the Conclave. These ambassadors or agents had incentives to overestimate the usefulness of their endeavours and to report accordingly. A true judgement must rest upon what was actually achieved and not what an ambassador reported as achieved. In 1667 the French king claimed to have appointed Clement IX as Pope. The evidence shows that the claim was unjustified, the Pope was elected after far more complexity and difficulty than the French ambassador liked to describe. Papal historians who studied Conclaves were hostile to any outside intervention and partially blinded by their archives into exaggerating the success of the pressure from governments.
Catholic sovereigns were usually successful in keeping out. With the final result they were content perforce. The imperial agent said sadly after the Conclave of 1769, 'We wanted a good Pope and could not get one. We were against a bad Pope. We have made a Pope betwixt and between, because no one better could be got.' 6 In these sentences the words good and bad had no ethical content. The agent meant only, they had now a Pope who was not quite satisfactory, but who would not be too harmful, from the point of view of Austrian policy.
Governments exercised pressure by means of agents in Rome. From the third quarter of the seventeenth century their ambassadors became more and more important, as the bearers not only of news but of instructions, menaces, or blandishments. Spanish and French ambassadors had the worst records for high-handedness. The Conclave was immured, and secret. But active ambassadors were known to pass messages in and out, usually by the hands of 'conclavists', personal assistants to cardinals within the Conclave; they could fairly easily smuggle papers into the enclosure by means of a valet or an abbé; we hear of a basket constructed with secret drawers for this purpose, and at the same Conclave two cardinals conversed with the Austrian ambassador through a window. In 1724 no less a man than Kaunitz, special envoy from the Emperor to Rome, climbed up some wooden steps, knelt on a window sill, forced his head and arm through a high narrow window, stuck the Emperor's letter on the point of his sword and stretched out so that the imperial cardinal at the barber's shop within could reach. 7
Illicit breaches in rules of the Conclave were specially necessary in the numerous cases of deadlock. Catholic governments were determined to prevent 'unacceptable' candidates. Their cardinals would arrive with lists of acceptable and unacceptable. But in the course of a long Conclave new names appeared unforeseen, and then there was hurried desire to consult Paris, or Madrid, or Vienna for an opinion on whether it was safe to agree to the proposed election. In these circumstances it might be necessary to prolong negotiations in the Conclave until the courier returned with a reply. Sometimes such negotiations could not be prolonged. A message from Mazarin in Paris arrived too late to ban Pamfili (Innocent X) in 1644, a message from Madrid too late to ban Conti (Innocent XIII) in 1721.
Among the cardinals certain men came to be known as 'crown cardinals', cardinali delle corone. The three great powers Austria, Spain, and France expected to have a cardinal charged with their special interests at Rome. We hear occasional talk of a Polish crown cardinal, a Sardinian crown cardinal, a Portuguese, a Venetian. In the eighteenth century the crown cardinal was often known as the 'cardinal-protector' of France etc. These cardinals had the special function of representing the interests of their government. For this service they drew a stipend or honorarium. Catholic governments might also pay pensions to other cardinals whom they regarded as their agents in Rome, and once France paid a pension to the chief of the Pope's civil service, the secretary of state. Such bonds would tie a few Italian cardinals to the interests of the power paying the stipend.
The Catholic powers had crude bludgeons; talk of refusal to recognize, loose talk of schism, threat of reprisals in their own land, threat of military action (if Austrian or Spanish in Italy, if French in Avignon). These instruments were at times used, for all their roughness and high-handedness. But the regular instrument, which required no illegality or force and was accepted constitutionally, was the veto.
Holy Roman Emperors sometimes acted as though they could exclude candidates whom they disliked. It was a sign of political dependence, and the need for help from Catholic powers, that the claim first became legal right, and was admitted by Popes to be legal right, in the age of the Counter-Reformation. The more necessary Spanish power became to the safety of Popes, the more silently or readily the right of veto was admitted. The Emperor Charles V claimed it, and his son Philip II. The French claimed because the Emperor claimed. The Austrian Emperor claimed because after Charles V he was successor to the Holy Roman Empire. Other powers tried to claim it—Naples for a period, at one time even Portugal. The cardinals did not allow these claims of lesser powers. As the right became finally established towards the end of the seventeenth century, it was restricted to Spain, France, Austria.
The case for admitting it was strong. Catholic governments had sanctions which they could inflict if they failed to get their way. And the Roman Curia thought it obvious that they should not elect a man who offended one of the leading Catholic states. Some papal theorists wrote papers to show that no right of veto existed. Pope Clement XII or his advisers issued a bull (Apostolatus officium) limiting its force or doubting its exercise. German canonists were divided into three different opinions, first that only the Holy Roman Empire possessed a veto, second that it was mere corruption, and third that the Church silently accepted it as right. This silent acceptance continued all the eighteenth century. A motive for accepting it lay in the desire to regulate, and remove the worst threats of abuse. Cardinals needed to be sure that no one admitted a claim by French or Spanish king to exclude any candidate whom they disliked. Accordingly they admitted the right of veto, and then tried to limit its force.
For the use of the veto a Catholic power need give no explanation. In 1644 Cardinal Albornoz on behalf of Spain vetoed the excellent Cardinal Sacchetti. He was asked for his reasons. He had the sufficient reason that Sacchetti was on close terms with Cardinal Mazarin and was a favoured candidate of the French. But he simply replied that he was not bound to give any reasons. This was one of the most sensational of vetoes; usually they were more routine. Another dramatic intervention came in 1758 when the French vetoed the excellent Cardinal Cavalchini because he wanted Cardinal Bellarmine to be made a saint and because he stood against the policy of the French government over the Jansenist controversy. This intervention was specially dramatic because the supporters of Cavalchini, though he did not want to be elected, had just collected promises of the necessary two-thirds majority. The French had not wished to pronounce a formal veto. They found themselves forced into it reluctantly as Cavalchini collected more and more votes.
For with experience statesmen saw that the veto was powerful if it were not used, and a failure in policy if it must be used. Though it was accepted in the constitution, and therefore different from a crude threat, its use came to seem clumsy and offensive, and its consequence to be not what the government intended. 'I don't understand the French language; but I tell you, you resist the Holy Spirit', said an indignant Italian when in 1758 they vetoed Cavalchini. 8 The French cardinals and their supporters at once lost influence in the Conclave. The cardinals admitted that the veto was lawful, but hated it when it happened, and gathered support to frustrate the aim of the government that used the weapon.
In the middle of the eighteenth century this came to be well understood. The Austrians instructed their cardinal in 1758 that the veto was a pistol which if it were fired could only shoot a single man, but if it were kept loaded and not fired, could prevent several men. In 1724 the imperialist
Cardinal Cienfuegos advised his government that the use of the veto always fostered the growth of a hostile party. Austria sent its representative to the Conclave of 1721 with the instruction that he must use the veto only in extreme necessity. 9 Nevertheless at that Conclave the Austrian cardinal Count Althan vetoed the secretary of state and caused consternation. A memorandum for the court of Vienna in 1730 recommended a very careful use of the veto—'it is a sword which if it is unsheathed will not serve more than two or three times at most, but if you keep it in its sheath can kill as many men as you like.' 10
Experienced men became skilled at handling the threat. An expert in the Conclave might propose the name of someone whom he did not want, but whom he knew that France or Spain would veto, and thereby weaken the future possibilities of resistance by France or Spain to his second proposal when it came later. Not only Italian cardinals could play this manoeuvre. In a time of European war the French might put forward a name which they knew the Austrians would veto, in order to weaken future Austrian resistance to their real candidate.
If the veto were not used, it was the principal instrument of the powers. An able historian has written that at the crisis-Conclave of 1769 the powers who happened for once to be in agreement, vetoed twenty-three candidates. 11 If understood formally, such a feat was impossible. But the veto when unused kept out many; partly by showing the cardinals that it was no use proceeding with that name and they need waste time no longer; partly because the veto was so offensive that cardinals went far to avoid provoking it; and partly because the placing of the veto against a man's name was like a blackball which his friends preferred to avoid. They were content to know that if necessary the veto would be forthcoming, saw that he had no chance of election, could gain no merit from persisting in his candidature by way of a protest, and turned to other names. In this way the veto excluded many more than those few who were vetoed formally.
Civil servants with realism protested occasionally at the doctrine that the veto should never be used, for then it would fall into disuse and if the need for it ever came its validity might be challenged. But others saw the danger that if it were used too frequently, it would force the cardinals to protest liberty and drive through an election against the wishes of the Catholic sovereigns.
To prevent a Pope expected to be hostile was not difficult. The difficulty lay in judging the unknowns. A man who looked innocuous to France might be transformed by elevation to responsibility and power. These things were difficult to predict. All governments received regular reports on the persons and views and behaviour of the cardinals. And still when matters of moment and controversy lay immediately in front, governments wished to minimize the risk attending the election of an unknown.
From time to time, therefore, the question of capitulation came on the agenda—that is, was it possible, before agreeing to the election of a cardinal, to ask him whether if elected he would promise to do this or refrain from doing that? Was it possible to make conditions before sanctioning an election, even to exact undertakings? In long past history such undertakings were not unknown, the college of cardinals themselves had on occasion demanded a promise before election.
The system of election helped to safeguard the cardinals from this particular form of pressure.
First, some of the cardinals whom men might want as Pope had no wish to be Pope, and were immune from requests for undertakings. Others were equally immune because they were men of honour and would not compromise themselves for an instant by making a promise to anyone to secure their own election. In 1700 the French demanded a declaration from Cardinal Marescotti as the price of support. Marescotti retorted simply that he came to this Conclave to elect a Pope, not to become a Pope. 12 Exactly a century later the Austrian Cardinal Herzan, who at that moment commanded votes enough to prevent anyone being elected if he disapproved, tried to persuade Cardinal Chiaramonti to promise, if elected, to appoint as secretary of state a certain cardinal friendly to Austria. Chiaramonti replied humorously: 'Anyone who makes undertakings at a Conclave is automatically excommunicated. Surely you don't want an excommunicated man as Pope?' 13
Where it was possible to work upon a cardinal by persuasion—where for example the declaration which would be asked of him was believed to fit his attitude and would merely prove what was already believed about him—those who wished to secure such a declaration must go delicately about their task. It must not be public. For if it were public, other cardinals would accuse the proposed pope of simony and react against his election. Opinion in the college of cardinals was strongly against such declarations. In 1724 the French wanted Cardinal Olivieri. Someone, probably an opponent of Olivieri, distributed a memorandum inside the Conclave with a list of numerous concessions to the French government which Olivieri had already undertaken to make if he were elected. Such uproar ensued in the Conclave that the candidature of Olivieri collapsed. A foolish monsignor in Naples once proposed to his prime minister that fierce men should go to the Conclave and make all the cardinals sign undertakings. 14 Far milder versions of such a proposal always had the opposite effect from that intended.
If no direct or formal undertaking was possible, those who wished to satisfy their minds on future policy must be content with more informal means. They could send to the candidate an envoy who would hold him in conversation upon the disputed subject or programme, and then return to report what he said. The border-line between neutral discussion and informal undertaking was impossible to draw.
Thus in 1689 a French government wanted promises from Cardinal Ottoboni before they would allow his election. Ottoboni refused to make any such promise. But the cardinals who were promoting his election felt able on his behalf to give the necessary assurance.
In 1721 the French government demanded a cardinal's hat for Pierre Dubois. Since Dubois was chief minister of the French king, they felt their prestige to be at stake. The previous Pope had been reluctant to satisfy this wish, for Dubois was no model of a Christian clergyman. Cardinal Conti himself gave an assurance (probably but not quite certainly a written assurance, vague in formulation) that he would make Dubois a cardinal. One of his servants in the Conclave reported his intention, and later another gave vague assurances to the imperial cardinals. The election of Conti as Innocent XIII was the first election of the eighteenth century when a clear understanding was given. Dubois was made cardinal six weeks after the election.
The next and weightier case is the undertaking (if any) which Pope Clement XIV gave before his election in 1769. Four of the Catholic powers—France, Spain, Portugal, Naples—were determined to force the new Pope to destroy the Jesuits. Their envoys appeared at the Conclave with an air of ruthlessness. Spain and Portugal kept demanding that no one should be made Pope who had not given a written understanding, or at least made a verbal declaration before witnesses. Though the French wanted the same, they would not countenance the plan. The French ambassador believed that not a single Italian cardinal would have a troubled conscience about giving a promise. His cardinals knew more about Italians than he; and were at last supported by the French minister in Paris, Choiseul, who told his ambassador that his methods were the way to make the worthiest cardinals refuse to be Pope. 15 The Spaniards said that they would vote for a likely candidate, Cardinal Stoppani, if he would promise to suppress the Jesuits. Stoppani was sounded, but would make no promises; and when the news passed round the Conclave that the powers wanted Stoppani, all the zelanti deserted his cause.
But on 12 May 1769 Cardinal Ganganelli had a long conversation with one of the assistants in the Conclave and spoke freely against Jesuits. The next morning the Spaniards began a campaign to promote him as a candidate, on 17 May an assistant to the French Cardinal de Bernis visited Ganganelli. He again spoke freely about Jesuits and about French policy. On 18 May the French joined the Spaniards, and the result was now only a matter of time. Ganganelli gave no outright undertaking to suppress the Jesuits. But he was willing to say that he thought the new Pope could suppress them and that it was to be hoped that he would satisfy the governments. Ganganelli was elected unanimously on 19 May. It had taken only a week, after nearly three months of Conclave.
An observer among the cardinals in that terrible Conclave made this comment in his diary: 'He [Ganganelli] will certainly get from the powers more than anyone else could have done. . . . No one is more capable of doing more good in the circumstances of today. No one is more capable of ruining the see of Rome.' 16
This observer had neither wanted nor expected Ganganelli. We who have earlier met Cardinal Ganganelli, as the author of one of the most humane documents ever to be written about the Jews, are not surprised to find that at length he was a considerable candidate. But this was not how he looked at the Conclave. The observer laughed at the name when it was first mentioned. But in the end he thought him best, whatever the risks, not best in an ideal situation, but best inside the straitjacket by which Catholic governments tied the arms of any Pope.
Partisans who hated Ganganelli talked of simony, of buying the see by a pact. The prime minister in Naples, Tanucci, believed that Ganganelli promised to suppress the Jesuits. But both Spanish and French cardinals afterwards denied that he promised. To deny it was in their interest; but probably it is true. One of the assistants certainly suggested to Ganganelli that he write down his opinion; and certainly he refused to do so, but declared that, provided the suppression of the Jesuits was not contrary to canon law, he considered it possible and profitable. The Spaniards persuaded him to sign a document, but the wording was so general that it could not bind: to the same effect, in his view as a theologian the order might lawfully be dissolved provided that the dissolution were not contrary to canon law and the rules of prudence and justice.
Pope Clement XIV Ganganelli was afterwards clear in his mind that he gave no undertaking; and that however he acted as Pope, he must not be seen to act as though he acted in fulfilment of any such undertaking. 17
Ganganelli was afterwards charged by hostile historians with double-dealing to become Pope. What the affair shows is the nature of rumour, reported or half-reported conversations, second-hand accounts of what was said, as the struggle went on to predict what an unknown cardinal would do if suddenly he were elected Pope. No man might give an undertaking. But a man immured at too close quarters for three months with forty or fifty other leaders of the Catholic Church, could hardly be debarred for all those days from discussing what ought to be done in the crisis that confronted the Church.
Cardinal Ganganelli was imprudent to let the conclavist fill in his questionnaire.
The third case is of the same type.
When Ganganelli died in 1774, after he abolished Jesuits, everyone knew that the Conclave would be controversial. He was Pope only five years; intended to make a lot of cardinals but never announced their names; and therefore left a college of cardinals in which the cardinals of his pro-Jesuit predecessor had force. The Catholic powers, and some of the cardinals, were determined that whatever else was done no Pope should be elected who would reverse the decision and restore Jesuits. So far as the powers were concerned, Ganganelli was thought to be the wisest pope of the century. When the King of Spain was found earnestly praying that Clement XIV Ganganelli might not die because they would never get another one like him, the atmosphere of the Conclave was likely to be tense. Therefore the crown's party wanted a prior undertaking from any candidate that he would not restore the Jesuits.
The Conclave was difficult and long; until at last it became clear that a sufficient majority would vote for Braschi, who was to become Pope Pius VI. Then at the last moment Braschi had to be 'cleared' with the governments so that no one lay a veto. Braschi gave no undertaking and was asked for none. Cardinal Giraud reported to the Spanish cardinal what Braschi said; the Spaniard went to talk to Braschi, and then reported to the Spanish ambassador both Giraud's conversation and his own conversation; the imperial ambassador saw that he could only stop the election by using the veto and believed a veto undesirable; and thus Pius VI was elected. The Spanish cardinal gave the Spanish prime minister the impression that those conversations amounted to a statement of intention not to go back on his predecessor.
Clement XI Albani (Pope 1700-21)
None of the Popes of the eighteenth century was a bad man. That does not mean that they were all good Popes. The saintliest of the men was the worst Pope of the century.
They were almost all old. The average age at accession of all the Popes elected during the eighteenth century was almost sixty-four. The average age at accession of the five Popes elected between 1721 and 1758 was just under seventy. The average age in the last year of their pontificate of the same five Popes was just under eighty. This constitution, theoretically absolute, was limited not only by custom but by the age of those who held supreme power.
The old age of the Popes, it has been argued, came from the desire of the Catholic powers who wanted Popes to do little or nothing. Experience does not confirm the theory that old men do little or nothing. 'I've got to get a move on,' said humorous Pope Alexander VIII when he was elected at the age of seventy-nine, 'because the eleventh hour has already struck.'
The cause of seniority lay in the nature of the election. The cardinals were electing a powerful person who was unpredictable, and if they elected a young man and made a mistaken choice, they must live with their mistake for long years. Moreover the criss-cross of interests inside the Conclave—reformers, conservatives, French, Spanish, Austrian, friends of the late Pope, opponents of the late Pope—made the two-thirds majority hard to find; and after weeks of negotiation the party which found itself in a minority was more likely to accept an old man, because they saw a new election within foreseeable time, when conditions might be different.
Because old men vary in their habits and capacity, the system sometimes produced a Pope incapable of business. Clement X Altieri (1670-6), aged seventy-nine at election, could not act, and had no desire to be bothered. He would not attend to business, and his kinsman (the father-in-law of his niece but he took the name Cardinal Altieri) was supreme. The Pope gave audience only to sign papers on request, and the cardinal kept away difficult problems. It became a saying in Rome 'the Pope's job is to bless and consecrate, Cardinal Altieri's job is to rule.' Yet the election was a success, for the government of the Church was managed with skill and love of peace during this pontificate.
In 1700 the cardinals astonished themselves by electing the most powerful cardinal under the previous Pope, and made him one of the youngest Popes, Clement XI Albani. This unusual election was due to the news during the Conclave of the Spanish king's death and therefore a shock of urgency before the looming war of the Spanish Succession.
Cardinal Albani tried to refuse office, and the attempt set off a long debate whether an elected candidate could decline. Cardinal Albani had only fifty-one years, so his desire not to accept the office did not spring from age or infirmity. His protest was more than token. When they could not overcome, they submitted the question to four theologians, whether a man who felt himself to have no capacity for the work could refuse unanimous election. The theologians were not quite agreed but gave the advice that he could not refuse unanimous election for he would resist the will of God.
But once the two-thirds majority was clear, many elections were made unanimous, with the exception that the cardinal elected was forbidden to vote for himself.
Clement XI was wholly suitable; highly educated, vigorous, eloquent, pious, able to keep secrets, experienced in the administration of the Curia, with a fine presence, tall of stature with high forehead and grave face, long endurance in hard work, a sweet clear voice, and a friendly and forth-coming air. Originally a protégé of the Barberini family, he had coped successfully with the last affairs of the abdicated Queen Christina of Sweden, and with the plight of the Jacobites in England. Such a man was more like an experienced civil servant, a lawyer, or a governor of towns, than a divine. He was only ordained priest shortly before the Conclave which elected him Pope, when he was already ten years a cardinal.
He had all the qualities for which men looked. And since under the shock of threatened war he was solitary as a Pope whom the zelanti wanted among their first choices, the outcome of his reign was of special interest. More calamities happened to the papacy during this pontificate than under any Pope since the Reformation. In large part they were the calamities of circumstance, and under some Popes they might have been more and worse. But for all his ability and perception, Clement XI contributed by mistakes.
In two spheres the results changed the course of papal history and the working of the Pope's office: in politics, and in the authority of the Pope in doctrine.
In his office as head of an Italian state the Pope was always the leading power in Italy. His state was not richest nor most highly populated, but he compensated with an international authority which no other Italian prince could rival.
By geography and history Italy was the battle-ground between powers of the north and west, Austria, France, Spain. In the age of the Counter-Reformation the Spanish dominated Italy, and when Clement XI became Pope the Spanish still ruled in Sicily and Naples and Milan and on the coast of Tuscany.
But in 1700 the France of Louis XIV was the great power of Europe. Any Pope was bound to admire the French king; who extended Catholic power against Protestants in the Rhineland and fostered the Catholic cause in Britain and sheltered the exiled Stuart king and showed his piety by expelling most of the Huguenots from France. French stature helped Popes politically. When Spaniards ruled Milan and Naples, Popes were in danger from Spain. The great power of France protected the Pope from an excess of Spanish interference.
A relationship with any powerful Catholic sovereign brought discomforts. The French liked to limit Roman power in the French Church, and preached that General Councils were supreme over Popes. But the link between Rome and Paris was strong. Clement XI was in this sense a 'French' Pope. His past career led him to expect that the best future for the papacy lay in alliance with Louis XIV; not too close nor too evident an alliance, for Popes must be seen to be neutral, but resting on a belief that France could help where Spain with its Italian possessions could endanger.
When the line of Spanish Habsburgs failed, rivals claimed the throne of Spain; a Bourbon Philip of Anjou protected by Louis XIV, and a Habsburg Charles of Austria, younger son of the Holy Roman Emperor. Clement XI at once recognized Philip V as king—and had the excuse that in that moment Philip looked to be in peaceable possession of Spain.
To have a French king in Madrid overset the European balance of power. Though in the European war which followed, Protestant powers stood on the side of Austria, the war was at base a war between Catholic powers and therefore terrible for the Pope, since whichever side he failed to support would hit and hurt the Catholic Church.
The war was even more terrible to the Pope because it was a war for the Spanish possessions in Italy. To the Pope as Italian prince it mattered most who ruled in Naples. Rome got meat from the Abruzzi, oil from Apulia, many revenues for its clergy from south-Italian benefices. A hostile king in Naples could impoverish the Papal States.
Therefore the war meant marching and counter-marching in Italy, with the Pope professedly neutral but too evidently preferring French and Bourbon looters to Austrian and Habsburg looters. Clement XI became a ruler who, outwardly neutral, backed the losing side in a war. The Austrians conquered Naples (1707); and the next year saw actual war between the Pope and the Austrian Emperor over the occupation of northern papal lands in the Romagna. In November 1708 20,000 of the Pope's troops had to surrender at Ferrara. At that moment the Pope feared another sack of Rome, undisciplined Protestant mercenaries of a Catholic Emperor advancing south to take revenge upon a Pope who was an enemy in war. He wondered whether to flee, perhaps to Avignon, perhaps to Malta. On 15 January 1709 he made a humiliating surrender, which included total disarmament, recognition that the Austrian troops had free passage to Naples, and an implicit (later explicit) recognition of the Habsburg claim to the throne of Spain. This put Bourbon Spain into six years of schism from Rome (1709-15). When the Spanish returned to conquer Sardinia and Sicily, Clement XI stood decidedly on the Austrian side.
To observers of the later eighteen century looking back, all this appeared an anachronism; the Pope behaving like a European politician, or a Renaissance prince, raising his army, at war. Popes ceased to try to behave in this way. No Pope again went to war on his own account except against Bonaparte and in the middle of the nineteenth century when the Pope raised an army to fight the Piedmontese. Men realized that the Pope had no army except to keep order, and that his power lay in less tangible force. Looking back, observers thought the change an improvement. President de Brosses came from France to Rome, only thirty years after the surrender at Ferrara, and eyed the fortified passage which the Borgia Pope built in the high Renaissance, to enable him to flee from the Vatican to the Castel Sant' Angelo, as a safeguard against revolution or invasion. De Brosses wondered how best the Pope might now use this corridor—perhaps if it were made wider and straighter it might be occupied to exhibit pictures. For no Pope will need to flee—they are 'respected by their subjects, and honoured by the princes of Europe, since they have wisely confined themselves to exercising legitimate power abroad and govern moderately at home.' De Brosses could not know that only three decades before, during the threat of a sack of Rome, Pope Clement XI ordered that corridor to be got ready and did not see it only as a historical monument. 18
To the Pope's eyes the war of the Spanish Succession was like a Catholic civil war. He was a more influential person when Catholics allied to fight Protestants than when Austria and France and Spain fought each other. Like a Pope of the Counter-Reformation, Clement XI paid secret money to the Pretender James III to help him wrest back the throne of England; organized a crusading league when the Turks declared war on the Venetian empire, sent a blest sword and hat studded with pearls to Prince Eugene, talked of saving the holy sepulchre from the hands of the infidel, ascribed Eugene's victory over the Turks at Peterwardein to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin, and in commemoration extended the Feast of the Rosary to the world.
Clement XI was able, courageous, devout, with the single fault that under pressure—and he came under as savage pressure as any Pope—he could not make up his mind. He worried to and fro indecisively. Not a worldly man in the wrong meaning of the epithet, he was nevertheless the last of the great Popes in a worldly sense; the last to play a part upon the European stage as much because he was an Italian king as because he was the spiritual leader of an international Church; the last Pope, as one born out of due time, of the political Counter-Reformation. His pontificate proved that the world had changed, and that the historic role was obsolete.
As the Pope's political power diminished, one or two intelligent prophets saw that he might again be useful as a mediator, at least between Catholic nations. De Brosses still had the sense that the Pope was a source of unity in Christendom. Because he lost his power among governments, he could again be weighty by neutrality, by encouragement of peace, by the respect which all nations feel toward his office. De Brosses thought that even Protestants were losing their old hatred and might not refuse his arbitration. Though an intelligent lawyer, de Brosses suffered illusion about the willingness of Protestant Europe to forget, and about the Pope's ability (as yet) to rise above the political entanglements of his station.
These events raised a small but not minor point about the Pope's office. In one of his moments of travail and melancholy and self-distrust, Clement XI talked of resigning his office. He said that it was nothing but a crown of thorns. 19 Though a cardinal was held not to be able to refuse the papacy if elected unanimously, few doubted that he could resign. In the late thirteenth century Pope Celestine V solemnly declared that a Pope could resign, and resigned; and the right to resign was solemnly confirmed by his successor whose validity would otherwise be in doubt. The precedent was not encouraging. The option was more theoretical than real. But it was held to exist.
The Teaching Office
The arguments and disputes which rose from the churches, and came at last to Rome for settlement, were sometimes, though not often, entangled with argument about the truth of Christian doctrine. A disagreement over the way in which priests heard confessions was found to rest on a difference of theological principle. An argument over the best method of missionary work in China was found to derive from contrasting axioms in divinity. The question whether or not a published meditation upon the New Testament was fit to be commended as reading for devout souls could not be settled without a decision which touched truth equally with expediency. In these ways the functions of supreme court and supreme teacher were inseparable. Such were the most anxious questions. To order a monastery to submit to an archbishop touched only the virtue of obedience. To order men to believe this, or not to believe that, touched consciences. Therefore these questions always arose on disputes with practical consequences. The Church received a body of truth from the Apostles. No one intended to add a jot to that truth. No one was interested in making a definition to satisfy professors of theology in a lecture-room, who would not be satisfied by any definition. The questions at bottom were practical—the nature of pastoral advice to parishioners, the rightness or wrongness of a book which some thought a marvellous help to the people and others thought to corrupt the people, the legitimacy or illegitimacy of innovations in modes of preaching the truth, or of bringing the people to pray.
In directing such questions the Pope had important tools at his disposal. A wise Pope guided a dispute in such a way that he would not be forced at last to determine some question of theory. He could demand that disputants hold their tongues and throw away their pens. Several decrees of the eighteenth century ordered silence. But if the argument touched men's consciences they burned to speak or write; and then an order to silence won only respite. Once when Pascal heard of the recommendation to keep silence he said 'Saints never keep silence.' 20 These successes could hardly be more than temporary.
Then, the Pope could use personal favour to encourage one set of minds by preferment and to discourage another set of minds by censure. But neither preferment nor censure bound his successor. One day another Pope might be elected who would encourage where he censured and reprove where he favoured, and so begin the argument afresh. Just occasionally it seemed to some Popes that a matter must be settled finally for the good of the Catholic Church, and that the only way to settle finally was by formal definition of a doctrine, which sought to commit the Church in perpetuity.
This last frame of mind led in 1713 to the bull Unigenitus.
The French Oratorian Pasquier Quesnel (1634-1719) composed a meditation, later extended and published as Moral Reflexions on the New Testament. The treatment was excellent, quiet, pious, and in such simple language as to be useful to the growing body of educated laymen and lay-women whose devotional practice included the devout study of the Bible. Through the meditations, which were uncontroversial, shone the sense of divine grace in the work of redeeming souls. But it happened that Quesnel attached himself to a master famous as the controversial leader of French Jansenists, Antoine Arnauld, then being assailed in France as teaching Protestant or quasi-Protestant doctrines in faith and morals. When Arnauld was forced to seek refuge in exile at Brussels, Quesnel joined him, remained there till Arnauld's death (1694), and was afterwards imprisoned for a time on the order of the King of Spain. He escaped to Holland and began to publish a row of controversial books to defend Arnauld, himself, and the Moral Reflexions. He and his book were identified as leader and symbol of the Jansenist movement since Arnauld's death; and since France was convulsed over the battle between Jesuits and Jansenists, Quesnel's book ceased to be only a gentle and peaceable devotion and became the flag of a cause. This made it more famous, and demanded numerous editions. In 1695 the work was approved by de Noailles, Archbishop of Paris. The doctrinal question asked whether Quesnel's teaching on grace was the classical doctrine of St. Augustine, or whether he had adopted opinions like those of Calvin.
On 13 July 1708 Pope Clement XI sent a brief condemning the Moral Reflexions. Such an act was a normal act of papal authority. The French Church was in turmoil, men appealed to Rome, something must be settled. Rome was persuaded that Quesnel was quasi-Protestant, the Reflexions should be kept from the devout reader, the brief determined no doctrine but disapproved a devotional practice, that of reading a particular book which interpreted the New Testament. But here Rome tampered with the constitution of France. The Parlement of Paris (not a representative body like the British Parliament but a corporation of lawyers with the power of registering acts so that they had the force of law) refused legality to the brief.
The fault, in part, belonged to King Louis XIV. He believed in strengthening his kingdom by achieving religious unity if not uniformity. He had persecuted and expelled the Protestants, now he would use the Pope to crush Jansenist religious opposition within the Catholic Church. Finding that Quesnel's work on the New Testament was the symbol of Jansenism, he began to demand from the Pope a formal condemnation of all its errors. His applications to Rome were repeated and insistent.
The Pope was being asked, if not required, to make a declaration of doctrine which would (it was alleged) unify a disputing Church and thereby unify a state. The king undertook to use his power to make French bishops conform to the Pope's decision. Pope Clement XI would have preferred to condemn a book, and be silent on particular doctrines of the book. But he was pushed; and something in the intellectual atmosphere of Rome in those years ensured that he was not too reluctant to be pushed.
God gives his grace freely to men; all salvation is of God; it is not of ourselves but of him; these were beliefs not only of Luther and Calvin, but of St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine, indeed of the Epistle to the Romans. But in the Counter-Reformation a powerful school of divinity wished to go as far as was possible in asserting the need for men to do the best morally that they can. The one school took the text 'The just shall live by faith', the other the text 'Faith without works is dead.' In French divinity of the seventeenth century the schools were identified as 'Jansenist' and 'Jesuit', though the labels were always vague. Quesnel claimed to be neither a Protestant nor a Jansenist but only a disciple of St. Augustine.
The Roman schools of that moment happened to be dominated by the 'Jesuit' school. The Pope nominated a commission of five cardinals and nine theologians (only one real Jesuit among them) who were required to examine 155 propositions extracted from Quesnel's book and translated into Latin. The commission found it slow work detecting heresy in the book. Father Ledrou, a Belgian member of the Austin friars then teaching in Rome, contended that many of Quesnel's words had a perfectly orthodox sense, and after the twelfth sitting was excluded from the enquiry. When the theologians reported, the texts were referred to the Roman Inquisition, which had twenty-three sittings with the Pope presiding. The archives show the Pope working constantly with his hand at the draft. The fatal bull was due not only to an erring judgement on the part of King Louis XIV and the theological fashion of contemporary Rome. It issued because Pope Clement XI shared that fashion, and intended to guide the Catholic Church towards a particular school of Christian divinity, as far away as possible from the doctrine of the Protestants, and pledged to the encouragement of earnest moral endeavour.
If the bull Unigenitus is to be understood rightly it must be placed in the European context of thought. This was the age when Protestants themselves began to leave aside in silence their foundation of justification by faith, and preach the need to do good. The supreme Protestant philosopher of morality, the Anglican Joseph Butler, published his sermons only thirteen years after the bull of Pope Clement XI; the archetypal Protestant preacher of morality, Archbishop Tillotson of Canterbury, died nineteen years before.
Because a doctrinal definition was set in history, it became impossible to disentangle its motives either from the political (as distinct from the intellectual or religious) circumstances which appeared to make it desirable, or from the prevailing principles which happened to rule the theology of the age but which were not necessarily acceptable for all time as the only principles possible for a Catholic.
The bull was signed on 8 September 1713 and published on 10 September 1713. It condemned 101 propositions translated into Latin from Quesnel's Moral Reflexions. It arrived at Fontainebleau on 25 September and delighted King Louis XIV. In a letter to the nuncio the Pope expressed the hope that this would establish peace, truth, and unity.
No expectation was ever more falsified by the event.
All the Augustinian doctrines of grace were condemned. No longer would there be place in the Catholic Church for men who thought with
Augustine or Aquinas, let alone with Jansen or Luther, if the bull were received at its face value.
The grace of Jesus Christ is necessary to every good work. . . . Thou commandest in vain, Lord, unless thou grantest to us that which thou commandest. . . . The grace of Christ is the supreme grace without which we can never confess Christ, and with which we never deny him. . . . Grace is the working of the all-powerful hand of God, which nothing can resist or delay. . . . No graces are given except through faith. . . . The reading of Holy Scripture is for everyone. . . . Sunday ought to be kept holy by devotional reading, especially of the Scriptures. . . . A fear of unjust excommunication ought not to deter us from doing our duty— —sentence after sentence where many devout Catholics held with Quesnel was condemned. They were not all asserted to be heretical. Some of them were only declared to be 'offensive to pious ears' or 'harmful to the Church.' But the bull did not distinguish propositions which were false from those which were only harmful.
A majority of the bishops, clergy, and laity of France accepted the bull. Elsewhere, except in Italy and the Netherlands, it was received (at first) almost without comment. The Catholic world was like the contemporary Protestant world in being deeply concerned over ethics and the theology of moral endeavour, and was hardly disturbed by the condemnation of a tradition of divinity which included Luther and Calvin.
But St. Paul wrote of justification by faith. St. Augustine taught of predestination and irresistible grace. The Dominicans guarded the inheritance of St. Thomas Aquinas whose thought descended from St. Augustine. Quesnel was a devout man who refused to accept the name Jansenist. To a numerous body of men, especially in France, the bull was impossible, or only possible to receive by a feat of intellectual gymnastics in the way of interpretation. And round their scruples gathered the French lawyers determined that the liberties of French subjects should not be crushed by a Pope from outside France. The bull released the worst controversy of the eighteenth century; dividing France, troubling Catholic authority, distressing consciences, causing schism within universities, discrediting the authority of the French kings, and fostering the power of French unbelief.
Little difference was made by the death of Quesnel in 1719 or the death of Pope Clement XI in 1721. Succeeding Popes could seek to repair the damage but could not withdraw the bull. One of the new Pope's advisers recommended explanation of the text. Pope Benedict XIII was rumoured to have appealed to Pope Clement XI not to publish the bull. Himself a Dominican he helped the scruples of the Dominican order by declaring in a brief of 6 November 1724 to the Dominicans that the bull did not touch the doctrines of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas about predestination and efficacious grace. A bull Pretiosus of 25 May 1727 further praised the teaching of Aquinas. Thereby the sting of the bull was drawn, for now the error in the propositions must not lie in their obvious meaning but in their context, or in the use to which they were put, or might be put. But the emendation could not settle the dispute. Rome and the French kings ceased to mind what was meant by the words of the bull but must insist that it be accepted. Some minds, headed for a time by Cardinal de Noailles of Paris, and more grimly or prayerfully by Bishops Colbert of Montpellier and Soanen of Senez (Soanen being the solitary French bishop to be suspended from episcopal functions for resistance) would not accept the bull whatever liberties of interpretation they were allowed. In their eyes it was a bad untrue bull which every loyal Catholic should resist. They could rely on many lay supporters, especially among the lawyers, who cared little for points of theology and much for liberties of Frenchmen.
A bull intended to make peace caused war. It could not help the Catholic Church that four bishops should appeal from the Pope to a General Council, and that a devoted and pious pilgrim, after kissing the foot of Clement XI, should hand him the appeal; or that the chapter of Utrecht in Holland elected a bishop in separation from the Pope (27 April 1723) and found a French missionary bishop willing to consecrate, thus beginning the schism later known as Old Catholic; or that when copies of the bull were at last affixed in Paris they needed guards to prevent them being ripped; or that the Benedictine congregation of St. Maur, where historical scholarship flowered as never before, resisted the bull so steadily that the congregation came within a hair's breadth of being dissolved, and never quite recovered its stability; or that Charles Coffin, famous among hymn-writers (On Jordan's bank the Baptist's cry; Holy Spirit, Lord of grace; etc.), and once rector of the university of Paris, should die (1749) without sacraments because the archbishop vainly demanded that the dying man should first accept Unigenitus; or that Coffin's funeral should become a demonstration by the university against the archbishop.
Shortly after the Austrian Emperor forbade the bull Unigenitus in his territories Pope Pius VI, then about to leave Vienna, was asked by Hungarian bishops for advice on what they should do. According to the minutes of the meeting, Pius VI replied in these words: 'We must talk of it as a matter of history, not as a matter of dogma (historice, non dogmatice).
What sort of a theologian would he be who did not know the bull Unigenitus? However, it is not at all necessary to argue about it in public. So you can publish the emperor's decree with the declaration that the emperor aims to prevent disputes on the subject.' 21
The centenary of the bull in 1813 was celebrated but modestly; by sixteen Jansenists who attended low mass in the cathedral of Notre-Dame, and then went to the house of the lawyer Louis Silvy, afterwards famous as the acquirer and preserver of the ruins of Port-Royal. There someone made a speech in commemoration but what he said is lost.
The historian Ludwig von Pastor argued 22 that the bull was needed and that Clement XI should not be blamed. Controversy existed, and would have continued without Unigenitus. The bull brought to light the extent of the evil which it was better to uncover than to hide. 'The real cause of the mischief' was Jansenism and Gallicanism deep within the Church of France.
But this bull took an old controversy of theology and turned it into a new controversy of jurisdiction. The question ceased to be of the theology of grace or of good works. It became a question whether or not a solemn bull must be accepted, whatever it meant. Therefore Unigenitus had as one consequence a new debate on the limits or nature of the teaching authority of the Pope within the Catholic Church. At one end professors even in Sicilian seminaries taught that General Councils were supreme over Popes, and used Unigenitus to show how Popes could err. At the other end began, in the second quarter of the century, and as a direct consequence of the attacks upon Unigenitus, a serious modern discussion of the idea of the Pope's infallibility.
Unigenitus turned the Jansenism of Port-Royal from a French debate about religion into a question of European importance.
The Debate on Infallibility
Catholic theorists of Church authority, when confuting Wycliffites or Hussites in the later centuries of the Middle Ages, tried to define the nature of the Pope's authority, and rested upon the text of the New Testament that the faith of St. Peter cannot fail. Some who wanted to confute Protestants made use of the conviction that the see of Rome cannot err. Towards the end of the sixteenth century Spanish schoolmen began to use the hitherto unaccustomed word infallibility to describe the much older idea. In the later Counter-Reformation Cardinal Bellamine was the standard authority in treating the teaching office of the Roman see, and did not yet use the word infallibility as a key-word. But by the end of the seventeenth century it began to be the word used to describe a teaching authority which could not err. With the French claim that General Councils were above Popes, theologians needed to consider the nature of infallibility, its part in the teaching of the whole Church against which the gates of hell could not prevail, its limits or extent. They sought to determine what conditions must be fulfilled before the Church knew that the Pope spoke infallibly, and whether this promise of truth extended only to statements of Christian doctrine accepted by Catholic tradition, or reached also to matters which affected such statements. If the Pope condemned doctrines of Quesnel, was he infallible simply in the truth of the doctrines, or was he infallible also when he said that these were the doctrines of Quesnel, i.e. was he unerring about the fact as well as about the truth? When he made a man a saint, was it part of Christian faith that the new saint was a saint?
Everywhere the battle over Unigenitus caused a decline in the reputation of the see of Rome as a teacher of doctrinal truth. These debates over infallibility were not widespread in their influence. Either they were weapons in a public quarrel, or they were matters for lectures by Italian and Spanish professors of divinity. Though they had their importance to the later course of the debate during the nineteenth century, they were not yet of high religious importance among many Catholic laymen.
The disagreement was partly national. Few French or German writers defended papal infallibility during the eighteenth century. In the Italian and Spanish schools it was commonly defended. Unigenitus brought into the open a hitherto latent argument about the nature of authority and truth. This was to be important a century later. The work of the most widely read Italian defender of the Pope's infallibility, St. Alfonso Liguori, was republished in time to affect the Vatican Council of 1869-70, when papal infallibility was defined as a dogma of Christian faith.
Why Liguori's treatise was important is characteristic of the entire force of papal action in the Church. He put it inside his textbook to guide confessors. Not a theory of the lecture-room, nor a debate between academics, but a necessary way of being sure of those truths which were the foundation of moral decision—this was why Liguori was read where professors were not, and made the link between the idea of infallibility and a people's religion. Germans and French thought it untrue, or unimportant in devotion. Liguori and his successors thought it so central to right devotion that it could not but be true.
Yet, even in the far south of Italy, Unigenitus cast its long shadow over the Pope's authority. A cleric of Catania in Sicily said to a German traveller, 'We feel free from the chains which bound us so long. We no longer judge a man by his creed, but by his ability and his heart. We laugh at the infallibility of the Church, and of those who want to order us what to believe.' 23
The Chinese Rites
In these same years when a Roman decision failed to make peace in France, a less troublesome but very awkward matter came out of China for a decision.
From the second quarter of the seventeenth century Catholic missionaries in China were divided about the attitude to adopt towards Chinese customs connected with the cult of ancestors, and about the words which might be used to translate into Chinese such words as God. The Jesuits always sought to go as far as they could in using the religious instincts or aspirations of the non-Christians whom they wished to persuade of the Christian truth. They used Chinese classical literature, and sought whatever was best in the ethics of Confucius. They supposed that the partial truths were memories of God's primitive revelation of himself to mankind. The friars, on the other hand, preached an uncompromising faith which rebutted the 'worship' of ancestors, regarded non-Christian rites as superstitions, and saw in Confucius nothing but a teacher of error. The Jesuits wanted Chinese Christianity not to look like a European import but to be truly Chinese. The Dominicans and Franciscans wanted Christianity to be pure, and untouched by Chinese superstition. Both sides behaved heroically and had their martyrs. Both sides conducted the argument with a growing bitterness. The missionary methods of the Jesuits were far the more successful, for educated Chinese could be brought to see Christianity as the fulfilment of their higher non-Christian aspirations. But the friars suspected that the faith to which Jesuits led their Chinese converts was hardly Christian.
This internal Catholic controversy became notorious in all Europe when in his fifth Provincial Letter Pascal assailed the Jesuits for allowing Chinese Christians to practise idolatry.
The Jesuits accepted that their converts might perform the customary rites connected with the worship of ancestors. They denied that these were idolatrous. In their view the rites were social and not religious; or, so far as they were religious, were no more than that reverence for parents and grandparents which every Christian should properly fulfil. They had this in their favour, that by reason of their attitude they made strenuous efforts to penetrate Chinese literature and the Chinese mind, which they understood far better than their opponents.
Distance hampered Rome. A Dominican deputy appeared out of the East accusing Jesuits of letting converts hide a crucifix among the flowers when they venerated their ancestors according to Chinese practice. The charge would be laid before the Jesuits who after investigation would report it unfounded—but three years of delay, in travelling and enquiry, might elapse. Rome often had to decide on insufficient evidence, and vary its mind when further evidence arrived.
Settlement became urgent when a French vicar-apostolic of Foukien, Maigrot, who reached China in 1683, pronounced vigorously against the rites with the intention of making Rome reconsider its permissive attitude, and with the result that the university of Paris (1700) condemned the rites publicly. In Rome the commissions of enquiry worked deliberately, struggling to understand a strange and distant culture and the reports of contradictory witnesses. In the same year 1700 the Jesuits persuaded a friendly Chinese emperor in Peking, Kanghi, to state officially that the honours paid to Confucius and to ancestors were purely social and had no religious content.
But by now the affair of the rites was caught into a wider argument. What should have been decided as an internal question of missionary method, became part of the mighty battle in France between Jesuit and Jansenist. A Dominican, de Navarrete, had published at Madrid an extreme indictment of Jesuit methods in China. The book was useful to Frenchmen who needed to indict Jesuit methods in everything. Therefore other pressures began to fall upon Rome. The settlement must be conditioned not only by the facts of China, but by political strife in France, or by the desire of Catholic apologists to free themselves from a handicap in the debate with Protestants. Cardinal de Naoilles of Paris wrote to the Pope that he must act if they were to stop Protestant accusations that Rome tolerated idolatry in China.
In 1704 Clement XI condemned much Jesuit practice in the Chinese rites. In particular he condemned all ritual homage to Confucius, and the forms of veneration before the tablets of ancestors. The cardinals of the Inquisition were determined to avoid not only superstition but anything that looked like superstition. Clement XI worked hard at the evidence, and showed that same willingness to take a very difficult decision which he showed in Unigenitus. His attitude was articulate. The missions must not be suspected of superstition. To the argument that thus he risked destroying the missions, he replied that the missionaries could not be hampered by losing a probable source of corruption in their endeavours and a sure occasion of strife among themselves. 24
Implemented, the decree made revolution in the missions. Clement appointed his legate in China, the Frenchman Charles Tournon, to carry it into practice. In December 1705 the Emperor Kanghi courteously received Tournon in Peking. By March 1706 the Chinese Christians of Peking suspected the legate of wanting to abolish their customs. In December 1706 the emperor turned against all missionaries who would not accept the Chinese rites, and two months afterwards expelled the papal legate to Macao where in 1710 he died, newly made cardinal. Clement confirmed the prohibitions by two more strenuous decrees (1710, 1715). An attempt to carry out in China the decree of 1715 produced numerous apostasies and had small success among Chinese Christians, who continued, unless of low social class, to use the rites. When the decree of 1715 was known the Chinese government ordered (1717) missionaries to be expelled, churches destroyed, and converts forced to abjure. Some missionaries stopped celebrating sacraments because they felt bound by Rome not to administer sacraments to persons whom they knew to be practising the rites. More of them celebrated the sacraments out of pity for their people, and hesitatingly disregarded the authority of Rome. The state of mind among the missionaries was of pathos or despair, as they watched the Church built with infinite labour over a century crumbling before their eyes.
Under threats from the emperor, another papal legate Mezzabarba (1721) allowed concessions to the missionaries, for example that purely civil rites for the dead are permitted, including the laying out of food, lighting of candles, and burning of incense before tablets or before the grave, and the cult of Confucius so far as it is a civil ceremony. The permissions stated that Clement XI's decree was still valid, but effectively cancelled its force. But they were too late to recover the trust of the Chinese authorities, and were instantly controversial in Rome. For the rest of the eighteenth century the missions worked at best on sufferance from the Chinese government, for Christianity was banned officially, and at worst in conditions of martyrdom.
On 11 July 1742 Pope Benedict XIV issued the bull Ex quo, confirmed the decree of Clement XI, ordered that for the sake of a pure Christianity free from superstition no one should seek to evade its force, and condemned the permissions accorded by the legate Mezzabarba. This final bull left no loophole. A Jesuit in Peking, then the chief Chinese astronomer, thought that it made no difference. 'By now', he wrote home, 'Christianity in China consists only in a few poor people who are hardly able to pay for food and lodging, and are very far from capable of paying for sacrifices to their ancestors, or of building temples in their honour.' 25
The effectiveness of a Pope's action during the eighteenth century is illustrated dramatically by the contrast between Unigenitus and the settlement of the Chinese rites. In both cases Pope Clement XI issued a bull unacceptable to a strong minority. In the case of Unigenitus he attempted to narrow the limits of doctrine possible for loyal Catholics. The attempt failed because the traditions of thought on which Catholicism rested were too strong and too broad, its substance needed to be withdrawn, and thereby left a bull which must be 'accepted' but which restricted no one's freedom of thought. In China the prohibitions were so effective that they destroyed a young Church almost totally.
In both cases 'politics' entered the decision. The Pope condemned the ideas of Quesnel's book because King Louis XIV was determined to kill Jansenism. In the affair of the rites the interests of the Chinese Church must be sacrificed to the interests of the European Church. Politically and ecclesiastically the Church must at all costs be cleared of a Protestant and Jansenist imputation that it sanctioned superstition. Even the Jesuit general came at last to the belief that the Society's name must be freed from this incubus on their European work. But in another aspect the settlement of the Chinese rites showed the Roman congregations of enquiry in a light which elicits admiration. They wished to cleanse the Church, not just because Protestants accused them of uncleanness. It was the heritage of the Counter-Reformation. They invited grave loss in worldly terms for the sake of an ideal of purity in faith and religious practice.
Both bulls show the confidence of Rome in its own authority. To settle a theological argument which lasted for centuries, or a missionary argument which lasted a century, demanded in the court of appeal a conviction that it had the right to decide and would be obeyed by loyal Catholics. Clement XI worked for hour after hour at his desk studying the questions and drafting the decisions. In both cases he received warning from members of the Curia that what he sought to do could lead to calamity. But a majority of the Curia cardinals had no more doubt than Clement XI that they had the duty and vocation to determine these controversies. When historians write of the weakness of the papacy during the eighteenth century, they overlook the ingrained habit of authority inherited from the Middle Ages.
Both these decisions had the same important side-effect: to lower the European reputation of Jesuits. Unigenitus was taken to be approval, the settlement of the rites to be disapproval, of doctrine and methods associated with the Society of Jesus. But the manner both of approval and of disapproval reflected upon Catholic Europe's opinion about Jesuits.
Innocent XIII Conti (Pope 1721-4) and Benedict XIII Orsini (Pope 1724-30)
In 1700 the cardinals elected a young and effective Pope. The next three Conclaves elected men aged sixty-five (within five days of sixty-six), seventy-five, and seventy-eight. The sixty-six-year-old Conti had been obliged to resign the see of Viterbo two years before on grounds of health. He was fat, suffered from gravel, and was not expected to live long. These contrasts with the youth of Clement XI were not mere accident.
Any new Pope gave a chance for a change in policy. Clement XI was never able to recognize the Austrian conquest of the kingdom of Naples, though probably he would have welcomed the chance. His predicament with France and Spain made it unwise. The new Pope had never been committed to France, was not liked by Spain, and was on good terms with the Austrians. Almost at once he recognized Austrian rule in south Italy in return for Austrian recognition of his own right as feudal suzerain. It was his only important political act.
Benedict XIII was a holy and lively old Dominican. What struck observers was not his age but his profession, for he was a friar. Cardinals felt doubt about electing friars. They were thought to be too severe, or to have no knowledge of the world, or to be unwilling for the humane compromises of government. Cardinals in Conclave often respected a monk or friar but had small desire to give him their votes. Yet Benedict XIII was not the only Friar-Pope of the eighteenth century and two of the four Popes after the Napoleonic Revolution were members of religious orders. As late as the Conclave of 1846 cries of 'No friars no foreigners' were heard on the streets of Rome during a Conclave.
Benedict XIII (1649-1730) was the heir of the Duke of Gravina and grandson on his mother's side of a Frangipani who was Duke of Grumo. Despite opposition in the family and visits to the then Pope by his mother and uncle, he renounced his dukedom and became a Dominican at the age of eighteen. In the marriage contract of his younger brother, his mother arranged with the Pope that he be made a cardinal, and he became a cardinal at the uncanonical age of twenty-two. This made no difference to his fervour or to his keeping of the friar's rule. At the age of twenty-five he was reforming the diocese of Siponto, frequent in visitations, synods, missions, and creating a model Mons Pietatis as a savings bank which was imitated by other bishops in the kingdom of Naples. On sanctuary and exemption he was rigid; and because this rigidity bred local quarrels, Rome moved him (aged thirty) to the see of Cesena in the north, and then back (aged thirty-seven) to the archbishopric of Benevento, where the archbishop was also the governor. Here he found fights between barons and churchmen, a clergy doing as they liked, about a hundred clergy with concubines, a cathedral chapter of little use, and a limping civil service. In his reign at Benevento he followed the model of the Counter-Reformation and revered St. Charles Borromeo as his guide to the rule of a diocese. Within ten years the clergy had no concubines, peace reigned between barons and churchmen, the property of the mensa was inventoried and organized. He brought in several more monasteries and nunneries, invited the Jesuits to hold annual missions, consecrated numerous churches and altars, held two provincial synods and frequent diocesan synods, printed a beautiful folio volume of synodical decrees, founded a Mons Pietatis as a lending bank to repair ruined churches and monasteries—and all with an extraordinary fervour like one coming out of a past world which was everyone's ideal and hardly anyone's practice. He experienced mystic ecstasies, was obsessed about relics, protested to Pope and king of Naples against the teaching of atomic physics at the university of Naples. An earthquake brought down the bishop's palace at Benevento and almost killed him, killing the man with whom he was talking; and the escape was widely regarded as miraculous.
In Conclaves he was always a leader of the zelanti party, determined to have no truck with the powers. Perhaps he was a saint, perhaps he was too complicated to be a saint, certainly he was the best type of Counter-Reformation bishop. His sternness and ascetic life made him the butt of malice and gossip.
A bishop who was a saint of the Counter-Reformation could still be a superb diocesan bishop, at least on papal territory. But now they elected him Pope. Habsburg fought Bourbon in the Conclave and blocked. The cardinals must seek a neutral. Their candidate must have had no previous political responsibility or he could not be seen as neutral. He must also be old or very old to give a hope of a new election. Cardinal Orsini fitted the criterion. Here was a deeply respected man, successful administrator of a diocese, otherworldly, a man of prayer and not at all of politics, and already seventy-five years old.
The Pope was a bishop. But the office of the Pope was not at all like the office of a bishop. The question was whether the ideal of a godly pastor, as framed in the mid-sixteenth century, and still applicable in a diocese of central Italy, was not an anachronism in a Pope; or, if not an anachronism, whether these were the only qualities which an international institution needed, and whether the qualities now necessary to a Pope between Habsburg and Bourbon were compatible with the qualities which the Cardinal Archbishop of Benevento had eminently.
Benedict XIII was a true friar. His face was stern and ascetic. He refused to be carried into St. Peter's but went on foot. He continued to treat the Dominican general as his superior and kissed his hand. He refused to use the papal apartments in the Vatican and for a time occupied simpler and smaller rooms until he built himself a hermitage with whitewashed walls and without a view. At meals several times a week he waited on thirteen poor men. He personally visited hospitals, accepted invitations to consecrate bishops or churches, heard confessions, sometimes taught the catechism to a class of little children. He was a truly good pastor.
This he saw as the Pope's function—to be pastor to the people of Rome; as Christ's chief minister, to be an example to all the ministers of Christ. He knew that he had no experience of business, and disliked its secularity. For his first six weeks he refused to do business. The secretary of state found access to him difficult, for he was too intent on his prayers or his ministrations. If people urged him for the sake of his health not to attend so many and such long services, he would say that a Pope should die with his cope on his back.
Therefore the papacy was ruled by someone else. The Pope resembled the general of an army who cannot direct the battle because he likes to be down among the troops and to show privates how to fill sandbags. The cardinal who gathered power was neither of the two usual delegates of a Pope, cardinal-nephew, or secretary of state. It was Niccolò Coscia who while a teenager had been picked out at a visitation in the diocese of Benevento, was drawn to take orders, and thenceforward always in the private service of the archbishop. Coscia became a cardinal in June 1725, and in September was given the right of succession to the see of Benevento. Their relations were such that men suspected a bewitching when the two first met.
Pope Benedict XIII trusted Coscia absolutely. He left all business in his hands, and would not listen to those who criticized. Coscia ran the States of the Church with a team, almost a gang, of Beneventan cronies, all of whom made money. The administration of the Church under the saintly Pope was the most corrupt in modern history. It had all the traditional evils of nepotism without any nephews. The story was believed that Prince Borghese gave Coscia 10,000 scudi to have his son (aged thirty-three and not eminent) made a cardinal. No taint rubbed off upon the Friar-Pope. He moved simply and quietly through Rome refusing to listen to evil about any man, unaware of the wickedness of the world. The ambassadors' reports show that they felt nothing but contempt, and their attitude to the incapacity of the man at times spilled over into scorn of his office. Cardinal Boncompagni said of him: 'He was like the holy sepulchre in the hands of the Turks.' His successor but one, Pope Benedict XIV, said of him: 'He had not the first idea how to rule.' The failure did not make the cardinals infer that Popes ought not to be saints. It strengthened their feelings that Popes should not be friars. Yet four Conclaves later, driven by their needs and the Catholic powers and the entanglements of that day they found a way out by electing another friar.
And yet, if the corruption and maladministration of the Papal States are passed over, the old man's pontificate was surprisingly successful in spiritual matters. The Roman synod of 1725 (see p. 115) was important in diocesan life for all its ineffective provisions. Because he was a Dominican he stood by the Augustinian tradition in the doctrine of grace. His brief to the Dominicans that the bull Unigenitus did not condemn the Augustinian tradition or St. Thomas Aquinas helped to lessen the terrible conflicts with the French Jansenists, though less happily than the Jansenists hoped, because a bull also declared that the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas must not be confused with that of Jansen or Quesnel who were in error, and because the minutes of the Roman provincial Council recognized Unigenitus as a rule of faith. In his agreements with the States Benedict XIII put the needs of the spiritual above historic temporal rights, and was inclined to concede largely, a policy which disturbed many cardinals but which eased the old tensions of Clement XI's day between papacy and Catholic powers.
These concessions were smoothed because agents of the powers poured gifts into the pockets of underlings of the Pope whom he did not know to be corrupt. But they fitted the Pope's attitudes. He was too otherworldly to care much about temporal or historic rights. He was the first modern Pope to give the spiritual a total preference over the temporal.
The one humiliating failure with governments touched a spiritual matter, and thereby showed how in the Pope's office the occupant must find it less easy than might be expected to compromise in the indifferent things of this world while he refused to compromise in things of the spirit.
The Pope in the Middle Ages most celebrated for exercising authority over kings was Hildebrand who became Gregory VII. For he forced the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV to wait in the snow at the castle of Canossa in order to receive absolution and so avoid deposition. In the beginning of the seventeenth century (1606) Pope Paul V made Gregory VII a saint. Pope Benedict XIII (1728) made the feast of Gregory VII a feast of the whole Catholic Church.
It could hardly be claimed that the canonization of a saint was not purely spiritual; or that the extension of a feast day trespassed upon secular prerogatives; or that the forms of service sanctioned for the day were not solely within the Pope's jurisdiction. One of the lessons at the service of nocturns ran thus: 'Against the ungodly efforts of the Emperor Henry he remained strong and stable, like a wall protecting the house of Israel; and when Henry acted wickedly, he excommunicated him, deprived him of his kingdom and released his subjects from their allegiance.'
This lesson had nothing in it that was not true, if the judgement on morality was made from Rome. The Viceroy of Naples regarded it as dangerous, and so reported to his master the Austrian Emperor. The Catholic government of Sicily and the Protestant government of Holland each forbade the publication under heavy fines. Venice protested to Rome. Six French bishops forbade their dioceses to use the service which the Pope had ordered. Belgium prohibited the use of the lessons. In Paris the police stopped the breviary from being printed. Pope Benedict XIII 26 declared invalid all these decrees of governments against his liturgy.
Some years later (1753) a very different kind of Pope, Benedict XIV, one of the skilful statesmen to occupy the throne of St. Peter, concerned himself with the beatification of Cardinal Bellarmine, who stood in the minds of Europe for the theory of the indirect power of the Pope, for the sake of souls, even in matters that were not directly spiritual. When the French government said that if Bellarmine were made a saint they would never recognize him, Benedict XIV gave way with a good grace, saying that he would not go that way 'so long as the bull is on the rampage'. 27
Clement XII Corsini (Pope 1730-40)
Corsini came of a rich and famous family of Florentine bankers, with vast possessions in the kingdom of Naples and much influence both in Tuscany and the south. For a moment he looked like a Renaissance prince, a Medici or Farnese or Borgia from the old world, leading Italy in politics and culture by uniting the Pope's office to the ramified power of a princely family.
The ducal families of old Rome exercised very little pressure upon Popes. The ancient names still appeared in the college of cardinals—Colonna, Medici, Orsini, Corsini, Chigi, Doria; and when a Colonna was put aside at a Conclave his brother-cardinals behaved to him with a particular courtesy not to offend his family. Here were two Popes in succession, one an Orsini and the next a Corsini.
Everywhere in Europe dukes were still important. But now their importance was more social and historic than political. These two Popes were the last two Popes of the kind. All the Popes of the eighteenth century were noble Italians, but Italy extended far the word nobleman. Pope Clement XIV Ganganelli was son of a general practitioner near Rimini but his mother came of minor nobility.
Clement XII Corsini was seventy-eight at his election, already sick and going blind. Two years later he was blind and suffered grievously from gout, later still from hernia. His weakness and blindness forced him to leave business to his nephew Cardinal Neri Corsini and his hand was perforce guided to sign papers. In his last years he was always prone. The Curia expected the Pope to die before long, and therefore did as little as possible; Cardinal Corsini was constitutionally timid; and since the Pope foiled expectation by living ten years, and ten years was too long to mark time, the consequence was lack of direction at a time of European war when Italy was again a battlefield. At one point of 1736 the Papal States were hardly under the Pope's rule. Corsini money and influence prevented the war, fought across the wounded recumbent body of the Pope's secular monarchy, from being quite so appalling a disaster.
Benedict XIV Lambertini (Pope 1740-58)
This was the Pope under whom the changing nature of the Pope's office first became clear. He was elected after the longest Conclave of the century, more than six months, not because anyone specially wanted him but because the cardinals were exhausted.
Benedict XIV was at the opposite pole of Popes from Benedict XIII. The two Benedicts shared a common background in a diocesan bishopric, Lambertini being an excellent Bishop of Ancona and then Archbishop of Bologna. His excellence was founded on principles different from the Borromean ideals of Benedict XIII. He had long experience in the Roman administration, and was the expert in a rugged territory, that of applying the decrees of the Council of Trent to modern circumstances. He was truly learned, an able lawyer, a man of imperturbable common sense. As secretary of the Congregation of the Council which was now the most powerful of the curial offices, he learnt the business of adapting old and seemingly rigid rules to situations which they no longer fitted. Hence, unlike Benedict XIII who could not understand compromise, he was by instinct and training an adjuster, a man who understood precisely how lawyers get round nonsensical rulings and make them useful. He was a good man, and devout, and respected mystics. But he did not eschew crude words in his conversation, could shock by his humour about serious subjects, and amid the corruptions of Cardinal Coscia had profited without himself becoming corrupt. He was so unceremonious that behind his back a critic said that he was a clown. 28 He took vain resolutions to cure his own slang or outspokenness. If Benedict XIII was the Pope who ruled by mystical piety, Benedict XIV ruled by earthly common sense and willingness to adapt to hard facts.
As a lawyer who understood Roman administration, and who was engaged in a successful remaking of parish structures, he used the Roman curial offices as his instrument of change. For the first time in papal history the secretary of state became a minister like the secretary of state with whom the modern world is familiar. Benedict XIII had no notion how to choose men, Benedict XIV surrounded himself with wise advisers. In international affairs he approached the sovereigns with gentleness. He was willing in the various Concordats 29 to hand over much of what they demanded, without resistance, shocking old-fashioned cardinals by his yielding, putting religious interests above political. In Church affairs he made possible the lessening of the number of feast days, worked on the reform of the Breviary to be rid of legends, stood up for the rights of Indians, slightly weakened the rigidity of the ban on usury (1745), brought up to date the Index of prohibited books and made the work of that office less inefficient and less capricious, ended the ban on writings to defend the Copernican system of astronomy. Though he was not successful as a politician, no Pope did more to adapt the structures of the Counter-Reformation to an age of looming revolution.
He was fortunate. The peace of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748 at last ended the near half-century of war which fought over the soil of Italy. The Seven Years War (1756-63) concerned the Pope indirectly; but did not disturb Italy, which during the thirty-eight years after 1748 enjoyed the longest time of peace which the country has yet known.
Benedict XIV was a man of the Curia who developed the Curia. During his rule the authority of the college of cardinals took a further plunge. The more effective the administration, the less needed the ancient cabinet. He consulted the cardinals in the customary way, especially when great public decisions had to be taken. But he was hardly ever impressed with the report of a committee of cardinals, and preferred a more expert mode of government.
With some of his entourage he won the reputation, especially as he grew older, of doing nothing. This mainly meant that for a Pope he gave an unusual amount of time to study, still preparing books or illustrating his own briefs with rare information.
A Concordat was a treaty between a Pope and a state about the government of the Church in that state. It usually meant that the Pope agreed to give the sovereign certain rights which 'normally' belonged to the Church—like the right to nominate bishops or abbots for election—in return for guarantees from the State to recognize traditional claims by the Church, like the exemption of clergy from taxation or secular lawcourts.
Arrangements of this kind went far back into the Middle Ages. The most celebrated of all Concordats was the agreement between Pope Leo X and the French king (1516) which gave the king such extensive rights in selecting the high officers of the Church that it conditioned the separate Catholic development of the Church in France.
The eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries were the supreme age of Concordats, and Benedict XIV the chief Pope among makers of Concordats. Like the governments of France or Prussia or England, Catholic states tried to set up more modern systems of law and administration. They wanted an efficient civil service, an equitable system of taxation, an abolition of local rights which obstructed the justice or the prosperity of the whole state. To achieve these ends they must take more power over the Catholic Church in their territory. If this was to be done without schism or turmoil or popular emotion, it must be done by Concordat, that is,
Popes must be persuaded to agree. How they were to be persuaded depended upon the political influence, military force, unscrupulousness, and stability of the persuader. If the Pope could not be persuaded, he must be cajoled; if not cajoled, his servants must be bribed; if bribery failed he must be bullied, by throwing out his nuncio, seizing ecclesiastical lands, or in last resort by moving an army into the Pope's helpless outlying domains like Avignon, or Benevento, or Comacchio, or Ferrara. If all these failed, then the threat alone remained, to make a schism like Henry VIII of England. This last threat was on occasion feared in Rome. But every informed person knew it to be violent bluff. A Catholic king who turned Protestant might not be long on his throne.
However the Concordat was to be got, it must be got; for without it government could not be improved. And most Concordats were agreed with relative harmony especially, to the alarm of some of his cardinals, under Benedict XIV. They were in the interests of both sides, however long the negotiations over detail.
The advantage lay with the State. For the movement of the century was always in the direction of ending more and more exemptions which the Church claimed—exemptions of clergy from secular courts, rights of sanctuary, tax-free status, monks' prisons, bishops' prisons. The strength of the State was often shown by its ability to wait. If it failed to persuade one pope to agree, it would succeed with the next—or at least with the next after the next. Thus Concordats were a series of concessions step by step, which the Pope allowed because he saw that only in this way could he preserve other freedoms of the Church in that territory. Every agreement fenced the Pope's sphere of action a little more narrowly. Every agreement fixed the surviving rights of Rome a little more firmly in the laws of that land for a time, but only for a time.
The Secretary of State
The office of a Pope's private secretary became a public rather than private office early in the sixteenth century. He was called secretarius intimus, personal secretary; but under Pius IV (1559-65) Cardinal Charles Borromeo, who was the cardinal-nephew, strengthened the position as subordinate to the cardinal-nephew. He began sometimes to be called secretarius maior, chief secretary; and about 1580 we find the description secretary of state, a title established by 1605. He became necessary because of the nuncios. From the capitals the nuncios were expected to send reports once a week. Documents poured into Rome and someone had to read, analyse, and report. This was a case where the Foreign Office did not create the embassies, the embassies created the Foreign Office.
Thus the office grew in weight because this was the man who possessed the information, and without whose aid no advice to the Pope could be well grounded. Because he was in origin the personal and private secretary, he always had direct access to the Pope. The staff started small. About 1570 his office had a staff of five, one of whom was an archivist. But from 1644 the office was marked as established because its holder henceforth was always a cardinal.
In the forty years before 1692 the weight of the office depended on the Pope's wishes and the existence or non-existence of a cardinal-nephew. As business grew, the civil service became less of a group of personal assistants. This was symbolized by the transfer of archives. Since the secretary of state was often the lieutenant of the cardinal-nephew, the papers ended up in the cardinal's family; so that to this day reliable files of historical documents are in the collections known as Barberini or Farnese, Chigi or Borghese, after the names of Roman aristocrats.
To select a cardinal-nephew was to select from a much smaller circle of candidates than the group of men available when the Pope selected a secretary of state. Cardinal-nephews were not usually chosen for efficiency. Though some were efficient, some were idle or incapable. Therefore the secretary of state took more and more business which the nephew could not or would not manage.
Because he lived in the Vatican palace, and inherited functions of the cardinal-nephews, the secretary of state governed the papal palace and all its offices. This shows how in this post were mixed the personal and public characters of government. The old world could not easily distinguish between the private household of a king and his public rule. As they were now framed, the functions of the secretary of state showed traces of that ancient unity.
By 1721 when the Austrian cardinal vetoed the secretary of state because Austria wanted a change of policy, the office grew near its full stature. A sign of this increased weight was the interest of the powers. They now planned to get not only the Pope they wanted but a secretary of state who would help their policy. When—as happened invariably—they could not get the Pope best for their interests, they tried to compensate by getting a secretary of state whom they liked.
The secretary of state was never all-powerful, even under a Pope who had no desire for the business. But now he had both chains of command in his hands. He was ex officio Prime Minister of the Papal States and thereby held the secular strings of that power which was supposed to be despotic and was in fact weak. And controlling the system of nuncios, he had the influence which comes to a man who has expert information on delicate and insoluble problems which came to the Pope as an international person.
Under Clement XII Corsini the secretary of state was less important in government than two or three other cardinals.
Benedict XIV recognized what had happened and governed the Church through the curial offices with the secretary of state at their head. He chose excellent men, Valenti Gonzaga 1740-56, though ill from 1751, Alberico Archinto 1756-8. Valenti Gonzaga was the first secretary of state whose office and function manifestly resembles the office and function of the holders in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. He opened the Sapienza college to new sciences like physics and chemistry; mapped the Papal State and tried to foster its trade and its ports; was a patron of learned men.
Nevertheless the bureau was still primitive. Most of the staff were paid in kind, some worked long years without pay in hope of a post, they accepted 'gifts' for services and were comfortable. Valenti Gonzaga had a dwarf who followed him devotedly. Within the bureau was still the 'honourable forger' (falsario), an office found elsewhere in the ancien régime, as at the court of King Louis XIV of France, with the special work of imitating the handwriting of the Pope when he needed to write a personal letter. 30
This development of the Curia was necessary to effective papal action in the Church and the world. Cardinals so resented what was done that the next Pope, Clement XIII Rezzonico, made them a reconciling speech, which sounded like the words of a constitutional monarch:
I have had enough experience of the task [he had been Pope for fifteen months] to know that its problems are beyond the capacity of mere mortals to solve, let alone myself. I know that I shall have God's help. But I also need your cooperation and counsel. Your wisdom and experience will help me to settle business. You will be useful to the State, help me to good advice, strengthen me if I am weak, and comfort me when I get anxious. 31
The speech was well intended but could not stop the way in which business ran into the permanent offices. Pope Rezzonico's secretary of state Torrigiani was as powerful as either of the secretaries of Benedict XIV.
Even after the end of Benedict XIV's reign cardinals occasionally complained that Popes were wrong to have instituted the curial offices called
Congregations because they made for government by secret decision of one or two men instead of government by consensus of cardinals. In 1769 a cardinal complained, not merely that the Congregation of the Council absorbed the power which rightly belonged to the whole consistory of cardinals, but that if the president and secretary of that Congregation agreed, they acted without even holding a meeting of the Congregation which at least contained a few cardinals. 32
For all its primitive staffing, exiguous membership, and lack of adequate pay or curious modes of payment, the Curia was more centralized in 1769 than thirty years before, and this was in good part due to the most curial of the popes of the eighteenth century.
A further sign is a change in the place of the cardinal-nephew.
In the age when loyalty was the loyalty of the family or clan, and not of the nation or the State, nearly every ruler used his kin to help him govern; for his sons, and nephews, and even his consort, were those whose loyalty was least in doubt, tied to him by the bonds of interest as well as nature. The 'absolute ruler' of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was partly protected from the corruption of these family needs because he was a hereditary ruler and his son or daughter must constitutionally succeed. Secular rulers achieved the supreme act of 'nepotism' as a necessary part of the constitution; confessed by all to be so, desired by all to avert praetorian struggles for power or civil war at the death of a monarch. Even the Holy Roman Empire, in which the Emperor was elected, achieved this happy state from about 1500, since the Habsburg ruler could almost always get his heir elected to succeed him, and thereby turned the Empire into a domain hereditary by custom though not by right. Family pride and loyalty was in it; but stability of the State was in it too, and for the peoples that stability was a boon which they sometimes felt they could hardly over-value; as when England 'restored' King Charles II.
Like the Holy Roman Empire, the papacy was an elective monarchy. Unlike the Emperor, the Pope had the chance of appointing at least some of the men who would elect his successor. But he rarely had the chance to choose a majority of those who would elect his successor. When Pius IX died in 1878, he had chosen all but four of the sixty-four cardinals qualified to elect his successor. But the length of his reign was unique. Fifteen years was a long reign for a normal Pope. He could at best leave only a strong minority of cardinals to influence an election which would not repudiate his policy.
Not that any Pope had the least notion of turning his monarchy into a 'hereditary' state, hereditary from uncle to nephew because he must be celibate. Hereditary descent from uncle to nephew was not unknown to Christianity, as with the patriarchate of the Assyrian Christians. At no point, even in the darkest century of the earlier Middle Ages, did the papal office come anywhere near this kind of institution. The danger lay rather in Roman nobles who wanted to turn the lands of the Church into secular principalities, not in the turning of the office.
To prevent bishops from converting their domains into hereditary estates was one of the motives of reformers of the Middle Ages who insisted on the celibacy of bishops and priests. That danger was averted. And yet it continued to appear in subtler forms. In the absence of loyalty to State or nation, and in the absence of a trained civil service, a Pope needed his family to administer his State. Like every other human institution, this system could go awry.
Moreover high considerations, whether of expediency or moral right, demanded that he look after his family. He was a monarch. The public did not care to see members of the 'royal' family living in squalor, and blamed a Pope who allowed it to occur. If a Pope took his nephew and gave him an important post in the administration, general opinion thought it natural and right, and only blamed the Pope if the young man proved to be corrupt or incompetent. Men did not reproach the Pope if he promoted his nephew from Siena; they blamed the Pope if he left his nephew in poverty at Siena. One of his moral duties was the fulfilment of the command to honour his family; and this moral duty usually coincided with his public duty. Until the middle of the seventeenth century the chief administrator of the Papal State under the Pope was generally, though not quite always, known as the cardinal-nephew. Until 1692 most people accepted that the hierarchy in the Pope's government was not (as later) Pope/secretary of state, but Pope/cardinal-nephew/secretary of state.
The system worked as well as, certainly no worse than, any other mode of administration in a theoretically absolute monarchy. It worked best with a Pope of not too aristocratic and not too plebeian origins. It risked trouble if the cardinals chose as Pope a member of a family powerful in Italy—Borgia, Medici, Farnese, or Barberini. For then the power structure of Italy was such that the member of the family who was Pope became the weightiest link in a chain of political influence across the Italian states. Under such Popes as these the place of the Pope as Italian monarch seemed to outsiders to take precedence of his place as spiritual leader among the nations. The States of the Church never recovered control over the duchy of Parma and Piacenza which in 1545 the Farnese Pope Paul III conferred upon his son Pierluigi; and when the male Farnese line died out in 1731 it passed to a branch of the Bourbon family. The Barberini Pope Urban VIII made one of his nephews prince of Palestrina (1630), who after the Pope's death needed to be chased out by an army. Palaces in Rome, like the Palazzo Farnese and the Palazzo Barberini, to this day bear witness to the wealth and power of papal families.
It could work equally ill—sometimes it could be worse—if the cardinals elected a Pope who sprang from lowly and simple stock. The office of the Pope was in one aspect the most democratic place in Europe. It was the only state where a man, born in a gutter, could rise by ability or by spirituality till he became a sovereign among the sovereigns of Europe. This was one important fact in distinguishing the office as essentially spiritual or ecclesiastical. When it happened it could produce a Pope of striking ability. But it could also produce a Pope who felt himself a stranger in his new environment, a child in the hands of mature politicians and men of the world. A good man whose life was largely passed in a monastery or in the study of canon law, might find himself thrust into a place of apparently despotic authority. Unlike Barberini or Farnese, his family needed help, they had to be fetched from the back streets. Surrounded by men inherited from his predecessor, men perhaps who disliked his election and were determined to resist his policy, caught up in a political web for which he had nothing but distrust or even fear, pressed by the stern messages of foreign princes demanding, he turned with relief to members of his family as the men whom he could trust; and since they came from as simple a background as himself, their ability or experience was rarely adequate to handle the affairs entrusted to them, and their consciousness of sudden access to riches presented temptation.
In the troubled seventeenth century the word nepotism became a bad word—the Barberini clan began to make it sound ill. But the Barberini were men of exceptional ability. And suddenly under Pope Innocent X (1644-55) it was a scandal. He tried nephews but found them incompetent, until the real power fell into the hands of an ugly domineering sister-in-law, Olimpia Maidalchini, without whose advice the Pope would do nothing and who was open to grateful presents from the powers. The idea of cardinal-nephew never recovered from this shock to the constitution. It was necessary for the next Pope, Alexander VII Chigi (1655-67) to declare on his election that he would have nothing to do with 'nepotism'.
'As Fabio Chigi,' he said, 'I had a family. As Alexander VII I have none. You won't find my new name anywhere in the baptismal registers of Siena.' 33 Though the idea is older, the word nepotism only became meaningful at that time. The Oxford English Dictionary marks in 1670 the first appearance of nepotism in the English language.
The problem was not easy. Pope Alexander VII's family lived modestly in Siena, and he forbade them to come to Rome. But soon it was represented to the Pope that it was improper and unseemly that he should be Pope while his relatives lived in poverty, indeed that his family had a right to be looked after and that he had a moral duty to help them—a majority of cardinals took this view. So the family came to Rome and soon were well endowed. But there was a difference. They were allowed little part in business. The office of secretary of state grew in authority. A majority of the world did not blame Alexander VII for looking to his family. They recognized his moral duty; and so far as administration went, people preferred dealing with a nephew to dealing with bureaucrats. They suspected a smell of the modern 'Curia' when it was only in embryo.
His successor but one again had to have a cardinal-nephew as chief lieutenant; not without comment. Public opinion in Rome was divided. Pope Innocent XI (1676-89) three times at least, planned a bull to denounce nepotism in Popes; but he could not persuade a majority of the cardinals to support the plan, which he therefore withdrew. But when the new Pope, Alexander VIII (1689-91) went back to direct rule by cardinal-nephew, the austere Innocent XII who followed him issued the bull of 1692 (Romanum decet pontificem) which is usually taken to mark the end of the system of government by cardinal-nephew and a momentous step in the rise of the secretary of state. The bull abolished various sinecures commonly held for nephews, and limited narrowly the amount of stipend or endowment which the nephew of a Pope might draw while his uncle was in office.
The bull of 1692 did not end the argument. In a theoretically absolute government the alternative to a nephew might be a favourite, and if confronted by this choice the cardinals knew which they preferred. Only three out of the eight Popes of the eighteenth century did not make their nephew or brother a cardinal, and two of those were the two friars. Clement XIV Ganganelli was asked, after his election in 1769, whether messengers should be sent to tell the family about his election, and replied: 'The moment a man becomes a friar he ceases to recognize that he has a family.' Benedict XIII said the same in similar words. 34 But these two Friar-Popes were exceptions which proved a kind of rule. They were the two Popes of the century who took least notice of the college of cardinals. Both ruled, not by nephews but by favourites. When the Dominican Pope Benedict XIII was blind to the briberies of his Cardinal Coscia, some of the cardinals besought him to appoint a cardinal-nephew. They preferred a nephew to a favourite.
The bull 'Romanum Decet Pontificem' of 1692 therefore struck at the system. But it was ended more by the development of the secretary of state's office and the civil service, than by any bull. They could not dispense with a cardinal-nephew until they accepted someone in his place.
The eighteenth-century cardinal-nephews varied much in their weight and power. None of them was any longer the exclusive head of the administration as under some popes before 1692. The cardinal-nephew of Pius VI Braschi hardly took much part but to enjoy his honour. The cardinal-nephew of Clement XII, Neri Corsini, was the head of the administration because his uncle was old and blind, and was quite like a cardinal-nephew of the previous century, controlling appointments and policy. But even he had to reckon with the secretary of state—who, however, was not influential under this Pope. Neri Corsini was the last of the old-fashioned cardinal-nephews. But the Corsini family was so rich, it did not need the traditional sin of nepotists, feathering the private nest.
How eminent the office, or place, of cardinal-nephew remained even in the high eighteenth century is shown by the saying of Cardinal Albani, who was prone to melancholy: 'A Pope's nephew dies twice—the second time like all men, the first time when his uncle dies.' 35
The survival of the cardinal-nephew had an effect upon papal elections. The old cardinal-nephews were always the natural focus or centre of 'the old Pope's party' at a Conclave. This was the function which survived into the eighteenth century. At the Conclave of 1721 Cardinal Albani, nephew to the dead Pope, assured the imperialist leader that no one could be elected Pope without his consent. In this way the nephew stood for a measure of continuity in policy as the elective system sought to compensate by seeking a Pope who would have different qualities from those of his predecessor. Under Clement XII the cardinal-nephew consciously promoted cardinals to enable him to exercise a veto at the next election. At the Conclave of 1769 the nephew of the late Pope led the party of cardinals which was strong to maintain the tough policy of the late Pope.
But he was an excellent man, and would have been a leader even if he had not been a nephew.
A nephew who was not a cardinal nor even a clergyman could still thrive, and public opinion thought that as the Pope's nephew he ought to thrive. The worst nepotist of the age was the last Pope of the century, Pius VI Braschi, whose nephew Duke Braschi made a fortune at negligible cost and built the Palazzo Braschi where now is housed the Museo di Roma. The money of Duke Braschi became notorious when his uncle the Pope appeared in person at a lawsuit over his right to a private inheritance. But in that age Italian opinion hardly thought it odd. It was a visiting English-woman Hester Piozzi who expressed her astonishment. And the English agent in Florence reported to Horace Walpole in England, how the Pope was held in utter contempt in Rome for his avarice.
The College of Cardinals
The cardinals were not more than seventy, after the seventy elders whom Moses chose, and therefore a few less owing to vacancies caused by death. Occasionally the number sank below fifty. In 1686 they were only forty-three, but this was so unusual that the Pope was suspected of keeping numbers down in the hope of shortening the next Conclave.
Between three-quarters and five-sixths of the college was always Italian. Of the 342 cardinals appointed during the eighteenth century seventy-three were not Italian—higher than one-fifth.
Certain offices were always held by cardinals; for example the heads under the Pope of the Inquisition, the Congregation of the Council, the Congregation of Bishops and Regulars, but not invariably the heads of all the departments in the Curia, not even that mighty department which ruled the missions, the Congregation of Propaganda. Nuncios at certain capitals were invariably made cardinal at the expiry of their service abroad—Madrid, Paris, Vienna, Lisbon. Bishops or archbishops in the chief Italian sees might expect to become cardinals, but this was not an absolute rule; the Pope was free; but if he refused the hat to a great Italian archbishop everyone commented on the ill favour into which that prelate had fallen.
The college of cardinals was far from being dependent upon the Pope. Under the prevailing view of the constitution they had no power but that of offering advice. This doctrine did not correspond with truth. A majority of the Pope's advisers had not been chosen by the Pope but by three or four of his predecessors, and those predecessors with different policies and viewpoints. If a Pope reigned many years it was different, Clement XI made seventy cardinals in his twenty-one years, Pius VI made seventy-three cardinals in his twenty-four years. But even a long-reigning Pope could not build a cohort of cardinals to control the election after his death. Under the aged Clement XII death was expected for eight years; and therefore the cardinal-nephew Neri Corsini and his friends built a group of cardinals of the same mind to be influential at the next Conclave; but even when they were reckoned to have achieved seventeen cardinals, they could do no more than stop candidates, and had no chance of controlling the election of the new Pope.
No instance is known of a man successfully refusing to be a cardinal when the Pope wished him to serve. In the late nineteenth century John Henry Newman almost succeeded in declining the hat inadvertently. Plenty of instances are known of desire to refuse, sometimes reiterated. The magnanimous Spaniard Belluga was invited (1720). He wrote to Pope Clement XI a godly letter, saying that he abhorred the very idea; he wanted a retired life; and he had taken a vow not to accept new dignities. Clement XI was perplexed whether the existence of this vow disqualified Belluga from accepting. He consulted the cardinals, and after hearing their opinion wrote to Belluga a charming letter, releasing him from the vow and ordering him to accept in holy obedience. Belluga became a cardinal. 36
A cardinal could resign his office. Two famous aristocrats, Este and Medici, resigned because family circumstances needed an heir lest the line die. Cardinal Este unexpectedly became Duke of Modena and could not do other than resign (1695). A simple godly bishop resigned because he could not afford the expenses. A Spanish prince resigned because his father forced him on the Pope when he was a boy and when he was an adult he knew it mistaken. When revolution came two cardinals resigned, to the disgust of the Pope who thought them cowards. One of them, Antici, afterwards tried to take part in the Conclave of 1799, saying that only threats and health forced him to resign. The cardinals rejected this plea, addressing him in the letter as Signor. 37 Antici pleaded that Cardinal de Rohan, when arrested and on trial for the affair of the Diamond Necklace alleged to be sold to the Queen of France, was suspended and allowed to remain a cardinal.
But although a cardinal could resign, he could hardly be removed from office, and thereby had security under a new Pope. Once in the Reformation a Pope deprived a cardinal of his hat because he thought him a Protestant. In 1716 the Pope threatened the French Jansenist Cardinal de Noailles that he would have his cardinal's hat taken away if he did not submit within two months. Noailles failed to submit, and the question dragged on until he offered unsatisfactory submission, and died a cardinal. Cardinal Alberoni, when he fell from high office in Spain, was accused of manifold crimes and put on trial by the Pope. But a judicial commission, after sitting for nearly four years (1720-3) reported that evidence did not justify removal from the office of cardinal. Even Coscia, who was condemned to ten years in prison in Castel Sant' Angelo and a major excommunication, did not cease to be a cardinal, though being locked up he ceased to attend consistories; yet he attended the next Conclave as cardinal. In the French Revolution Loménie de Brienne accepted the civil constitution of the clergy which Pope Pius VI hated, and received a fierce rebuke, whereupon he resigned office as cardinal. 38 Despite all these alarums, no cardinal was deprived. Cardinal Maury, despite his compromises with Napoleon, ended his days in disgrace but still a cardinal.
Paradoxically the college of cardinals declined at the time when the states achieved success in controlling its composition. From the end of the twelfth century the consistory, that is the meeting of all cardinals present in Rome, won an established place in the government of the Church, recognized by lawyers as possessing a decisive share by the side of the Pope; almost to the extent that the Pope could take no important decision without first consulting a consistory of cardinals. This habit of mind among cardinals persisted into the nineteenth century, so that even in 1878 the first letter which Pope Leo XIII wrote to the German Emperor was attacked as unconstitutional because it was not considered in consistory.
The new bureaucracies of the Counter-Reformation quickly took over business from the ramshackle arrangements inherited from the Middle Ages. They were more specialized, more effective, better informed, and usually in closer touch with the Pope. Therefore the college of cardinals slowly lost authority before the selected cardinals who directed the Congregations. That meant, the Pope's direct power increased, and Benedict XIV carried the process a stage further.
When it is said that a Pope at the head of Congregations had more direct power than a Pope as chairman of a meeting of cardinals, he was not like a dictator whose bureaucrats are imagined to jump at his nod. The Congregations took a life of their own, inherited attitudes and developed customs, and knew that they continued while their elderly master was temporary.
Even an eighteenth-century Pope helped himself by appealing to the just rights of the college of cardinals. In 1730-1 Pope Clement XII wanted to vary the terms of the very unfavourable Concordat conceded by his too otherworldly predecessor or his predecessor's too worldly administrator Cardinal Coscia, to the kingdom of Sardinia. The Concordat gave the king rights over the Church which many cardinals criticized with reason. It suited the new Pope to say that the Concordat was never agreed by Rome because the college of cardinals was not consulted and had a right to be heard. But usually Popes went ahead after consulting whomsoever they wished, and they usually wished to ask the advice of those cardinals who had their confidence. Very occasionally the cardinals spoke out as a college. When Clement XI threatened the Holy Roman Emperor with excommunication (not quite the only time in the century when a Pope dared anything so old-fashioned), and the Emperor flung back a ferocious retort, it was put about (and it was true) that the college of cardinals was divided in its opinion of the Pope's wisdom. Accordingly the cardinals sent the Emperor a stalwart letter of protest in support of their Pope. But this act was so unusual that the document which they sent has been suspected of being a forgery. 39
On those rare occasions when the administration of the Pope collapsed, or was weak, the cardinals revived the old claims, that the college of cardinals had rights in government, even to co-ordinate jurisdiction with the Pope. In 1689 when Alexander VIII was too old or too disinclined for business, they began to revive as a college. In 1725, when the crookedness of Cardinal Coscia was notorious, and the Pope would listen to no protest, some anonymous hand wrote a biting pamphlet with all the legal evidence from the Middle Ages that the Pope was not absolute but a constitutional president among his cardinals. 40 If the Pope was absent from Rome the powers of the cardinals revived.
Regular consistories were held. A consistory contained men with valuable experience in the Roman civil service or overseas; wise Popes treated their cardinals in consistory with all dignity. The cardinals hardly forgave the two friar-Popes, Benedict XIII Orsini and Clement XIV Ganganelli, because they took little notice of consistories. Clement XIV was even said to have insulted a consistory by pulling out a snuff-box when he ought to have pulled out the manuscript of a speech.
This high-handedness with a consistory was not typical. Yet meetings of cardinals grew more formal, more ceremonial, and less effective as transactions of business. The real decisions passed into the curial offices, the Congregations.
The consistory was of three kinds: a solemn ritual, for the giving of the hat to new cardinals, or for canonizing a saint, or for worthily receiving a visiting king; secondly, a 'half-public' consistory, in which the Pope was openly seen to ask and take the advice of the cardinals, but in fact the exercise was purely ritual and a relic of the past; and thirdly, the private consistory, where the Pope announced new cardinals, or new bishops or archbishops, or new dioceses; and this last was the consistory which dealt with the very small area of important business which still came to consistories, far the most important being the conflicts of Church and State where a Pope had no idea what to do and wished to spread the responsibility or really to ask advice. This might be especially important if a Pope wished to act in such a way that he seemed to transgress a stern rule solemnly laid down by one of his predecessors.
For example, Pope Sixtus V accumulated a vast gold reserve, put a million gold scudi into the Castel Sant' Angelo, and on 21 April 1586 presented a bull to the cardinals in consistory on the conditions under which gold might be extracted from this reserve. It might only be taken for a crusade; or in case of famine or pestilence; or if the Papal States were invaded—and then only one half might be used. In the following year he put a second million scudi into the castle and a third million the year after.
This wonderful piece of housekeeping founded the credit of the papal monarchy as a financial institution. But in various of the terrible crises which afflicted the papacy during the eighteenth century Popes wondered if they could not solve their immediate plight by pillaging part of Pope Sixtus's treasure. Later in the eighteenth century famine forced two Popes to dip their hands into the old chests in the castle. But Clement XI suffered many scruples. In 1708 Rome was threatened with sack. The case appeared plainly to be covered by the bull of Sixtus V. But Clement found that two of his cardinals objected, and his delicate conscience hesitated. However he found that thirty-two cardinals consented, so it was agreed, and he took the money and tried to provide that the treasury be compensated from future revenues. 41
Here was a case where a conscientious Pope needed the old consistory of cardinals to reassure him in his plan to do what was sensible to do.
It is a general rule that the consistory was largely a relic of the past except in times of extreme crisis, when Popes turned this way and that to every possible instrument.
When the Pope proposed new cardinals, he must do it in consistory, so that the other cardinals had a right to protest if they wished. But though more than one disagreement occurred in consistory, and in the case of Coscia a strong minority protested against his elevation, there was no known instance of a majority of cardinals declaring themselves against a new cardinal proposed by the Pope. The Portuguese government kept pressing a recalcitrant and dubious clergyman Vincenzo Bichi, the nuncio in Lisbon, upon Rome. Three Popes in succession stood up to blackmail by the Portuguese, though the third, Benedict XIII, started to weaken, much to the disapproval of many cardinals. When Bichi still got no hat, the Portuguese cardinal Pereyra used the consistory to protest by melodramatic exit. Meanwhile other cardinals signed a memorial against Bichi, and a year later still another memorial; and then this Pope was sustained to follow his two predecessors in doing nothing for Bichi. However, the fourth Pope, Clement XII, accepted apologetic excuses from Bichi and for the sake of the Church in Portugal made him a cardinal 42 after which Bichi vanished from history. Cardinals were not pleased at the concession.
Thus, by memoranda, by speeches, even by theatrical behaviour, cardinals could resist a proposed new cardinal. But the decision was the Pope's.
The number of cardinals present in consistory varied but might be small when the function was ceremonial. At a promotion it could be numerous—the Museo di Roma has a picture of a promotion in the early eighteenth century with thirty-nine cardinals present; and another picture, dated soon after 1700, of the Pope and twenty-six cardinals railed in a little enclosure, with much walking across to consult and converse, and with the public outside the rails. When advice was badly needed and crisis loomed, the meeting could be numerous. At the consistory of 27 June 1716, during the height of tension over the bull Unigenitus, thirty-eight cardinals were present—but such numbers were not usual. In 1760 forty-one cardinals attended to approve the investiture of the new King of the Two Sicilies with his feudal rights.
If the college of cardinals had been able to act as the pamphlet of 1725 claimed, to be a co-ordinate part of the Church government, it would have been able to maintain an underlying continuity of policy. In matters of moment continuity was dictated by the needs of the hour, harsh facts which no change of ruler could alter. Nevertheless, in matters of moment a change of policy from one Pope to the next could be startling, as with the conceding of the Sardinian Concordat and then its attempted revision as soon as the next Pope was elected. The cardinals always elected a Pope who should not be too like his predecessor. In trivial matters, as whether or not clergymen might lawfully wear wigs if they wished, the change of policy from one pope to the next could occasionally be absurd. Pope Innocent XI (died 1689) was an austere puritan and banned opera from Rome. His successor Pope Alexander VIII (died 1691), outgoing and cheerful for all his seventy-nine years, loved music and encouraged theatre, and allowed the new theatre of Tor di Nona to be erected expensively. His successor Pope Innocent XII (died 1700) was austere and made himself unpopular by ordering the demolition of the new theatre. Benedict XIII the friar (died 1730) abolished all lotteries. His successor Clement XII (died 1740) reintroduced them to cope with the irremediable deficit.
The title Eminentissimus, 'Your Eminence', was one of the titles of the Byzantine emperor and thence passed to the Holy Roman Emperor, from which it afterwards passed to leaders in his court. Apparently at Richelieu's suggestion, Pope Urban VIII in 1630 restricted it to cardinals, who until then were usually entitled 'most illustrious' and 'most reverend', to the three ecclesiastical Electors of the Holy Roman Empire, and to the Grand Master of the Knights of Malta, who bears the title to this day, the only layman so honoured. (L.T.K.).
The tourists who began to come to Rome during the eighteenth century looked upon the cardinals in their red and their carriages as interesting giants of the city. The Corsini palace was and is famous for its treasures, which were more easily accessible to visitors in the middle eighteenth century than in the later twentieth century. Cardinal Alessandro Albani assembled the richest collection of classical works of art outside the Vatican. But not all cardinals made a good living, some could not afford the office. The simple and good Bishop Filippucci of Macerata was made a cardinal in 1706 and before the end of the year applied to resign the office. The Pope tried to provide an income. But sometimes he could not, or sometimes only a small income. If he wanted a cardinal but could not find the money, he might reserve the name in petto ('in his bosom'). He nominated a cardinal but made nothing public—until he could find the means; if he died before the announcement the decision did not bind his successor. If a man became a cardinal he needed private money to maintain his station. As soon as he was nominated in petto, a stipend could begin to be built up in readiness, so that he could receive a capital sum when he was nominated openly. Clement XII, who as a Corsini inherited much money, is said to have lamented thus: 'The higher I rise the lower I get. As a priest I was rich. I became a bishop and was comfortably off. I became a cardinal and was poor. Now I am Pope I am ruined.' 43
Nomination in petto was not used only on occasions of difficulty over pay. It was also used diplomatically; that is, the Pope wished to promote a national from one of the powers but might offend other powers if he too quickly announced the name.
Not surprisingly, a few lucky or temptable cardinals accepted pensions from governments to represent their interests in Rome. After a controversial Conclave the rewards of success could be substantial. For services at a difficult election Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni (famed for his debts as well as his extravagance) received a present of 30,000 livres from the French government, and Cardinal Annibale Albani a ring and the promise of a pension from the Austrian government. (Neither of these cardinals came from poor families.) Such rewards were normal with French or Spanish national cardinals. But to few Italian cardinals was this a possible mode of supplementing income. Cardinal Giudice died in 1743 leaving a vast fortune. He had been the leader of the Austrian party, and received an Austrian stipend for his services. He happened to die almost at the same time as a learned and simple monk, Cardinal Pieri. It was found that Pieri had not left enough money to pay the cost of his own funeral. Rome was more edified by the funeral of Cardinal Pieri than by that of Cardinal Giudice. 44
In nominating two-thirds or more of the cardinals a Pope was fairly free to choose men who would serve the Curia effectively. But with the more international variety of cardinal—the famous archbishop, the prime minister of a Catholic state—he was more limited. Crown cardinals, special representatives of Catholic powers, were forced appointments; and apart from the crown cardinals, the Pope must be careful to achieve public balance. If he nominated a Frenchman he must simultaneously nominate a Spaniard or an Austrian (or both) lest he be accused of partiality.
The first governments to have crown cardinals were those of Madrid and Paris and Vienna. Naturally Portugal and Sardinia and Naples and Poland soon tried the same claim. The Pope never admitted the claim by the smaller powers, and yet in 1747, using the device of simultaneous appointment, Benedict XIV nominated ten cardinals, nine of them on the recommendation of the governments of Austria, France, Spain, Portugal, Venice, Sardinia, Poland, and the King of England—this last the Pretender James III. The Popes steadily paid the Stuart family the compliment of treating them as though they were equal to other Catholic sovereigns (until the death of James III, when Clement XIII faced reality and would not do the same for the former Bonnie Prince Charlie, who certainly shed no credit on the Roman Catholic Church). At this same consistory Benedict XIV made a cardinal of the grandson of James III, who after the Battle of Culloden abandoned the hopes of a crown and took orders, and so the Stuart line of Britain ended when the 'Cardinal of York' died in 1807.
In 1756 Benedict XIV repeated this for all the same governments—with the single exception of Venice, which was behaving badly.
On occasions these crown cardinals produced scandals. But normally the system worked satisfactorily, or at least tolerably. The presence of cardinals representing the Catholic powers was desirable as well as necessary. Government nominated a good man and the Pope cheerfully accepted the proposal. If the French government nominated Fleury and the Spanish nominated Fernandez de Cordova, both honourable statesmen and excellent divines, the Pope was pleased to have such men as members of the college. Of the sixty-seven foreign cardinals during the eighteenth century some caused anguish to the Pope because they had more devotion to their sovereign at home than to their sovereign in Rome. It was hard to welcome the French nomination of Pierre Dubois because he became French minister, or the Portuguese Carvalho because he was brother to the anticlerical minister of Portugal Pombal, or the Italian Alberoni because he was the minister of Spain. Pope Clement XI would have given much to reject Alberoni but could not dare. From the Pope's point of view this loftiness of the cardinal's hat in the secular Catholic world of the eighteenth century gave him the advantage of a 'mere title' which he could bargain for real advantages. But if he used the cardinalate in this way he needed to be sure that its reputation was not lowered and that the hat remained a distinction which prime ministers of great powers coveted.
In one such case the Pope, or rather his acting advisers, conceded to a crown an abuse not seen since the days of the Counter-Reformation. King Philip V of Spain demanded (1735)—and behind stood his queen, Elizabeth Farnese, a tough woman never easy to satisfy—that his son, who was nine years old, be made cardinal. The king's motive was money. He wanted the rich revenues of the see of Toledo. Pope Clement XII (or his nephew managing during his blindness) did what he could to accommodate the Spaniards. He suggested that Luis become the administrator of the see of Toledo and archbishop when he reached the proper age. When this would not do he accepted Luis as a cardinal in December 1735. The philosophy of the Curia saw that a title might easily be exchanged for the welfare of the church in Spain, or even in Italy where Spanish troops were rampant in the war. Perhaps, as with the Cardinal of York, they were not blind to the advantage of a royal presence in the college. Public opinion was not so easily satisfied.
The Infante was not an active cardinal. Aged fourteen, he did not appear at the Conclave of 1740. But in the following year, Benedict XIV, pursuing conciliation of Spain to the limit or beyond, allowed the boy to become also the lay administrator of the Archbishopric of Seville. At the age of fifteen this cardinal nominally held the two mighty archbishoprics of Spain. In 1754, at the age of twenty-eight, Luis realized the mistake of it and resigned both sees and the cardinalate.
Such difficulties were relatively few. No Catholic monarch of the eighteenth century dreamed of Napoleon Bonaparte's demand to nominate one-third of all the cardinals. The powers were content if they had one or two cardinals, pleased if they had three. In the nomination of Italian cardinals these difficulties did not press. Naples, or Sardinia, or Venice, might demand; but the Pope was always strong enough to resist bad nominations by Italian states. In this way the Pope controlled the vast majority of nominations.
Thus the standing Italian majority in the college of cardinals was an indispensable condition of the Pope's freedom of action. The Italian nominations interested the world, for they were reliable signs of a Pope's policy (more reliable than his foreign nominations, which were forced) and affected the future of the papacy. The European information services took careful note of the men, and the kind of men, whom a Pope made cardinal.
Even when the crown cardinals are subtracted, the Pope was more limited in his choice of men than appeared at first sight. Because certain posts were expected to carry, or often did carry, the customary right to be a cardinal or probability of becoming a cardinal, what mattered was the selection at a less senior level; and this had been done partly by a previous Pope or secretary of state and partly by the bureaucratic machine. The apparently unrestricted Pope had little elbow-room, in the sense that he chose from a small number of pre-selected prelates. His principal liberty was in the elevation of men from the religious orders, who traditionally supplied most of such learning as adorned the Sacred College; and these choices would not always turn out comfortably for that Pope or the next, as the independence or truculence of the Benedictine Cardinal Angelo Quirini showed. Even in the choice of monks the Pope must exercise a certain balance as between representatives of the historic religious orders.
Twenty-seven cardinals nominated in the eighteenth century were monks or friars or Jesuits. The two Friar-Popes were therefore untypical of the system. Of the twenty-seven the Dominican Pope Benedict XIII appointed nearly a third, among them four Dominicans, a Franciscan, and two Benedictines, one of whom was Angelo Quirini. In the century which saw the abolition of the Jesuits three Jesuits were made cardinal; but they were made by the first Pope of the century before the question pressed; the third of these was Cienfuegos, accepted as cardinal reluctantly (1720) at the Emperor's request, a man afterwards of much service to his masters by his diplomatic skill and to historians by his reports. A fourth was almost made by Pope Clement XIII when the question of Jesuit abolition pressed hard and he needed a Jesuit as an act of defiance.
Educated Italian churchmen were often learned, some the most learned men in Europe. This respect for knowledge was hardly reflected in the election of a learned Pope in Benedict XIV, for his election was an after-thought not intended to promote learning. But occasionally Popes made cardinals just because they wanted expert information. Knowledge of canon law was the first need of the Curia's advisers. Lambertini, who afterwards became Benedict XIV, was made a cardinal because he was an expert canonist, the leading canonist of the day. But learning of other sorts came into the college, as with Tolomei (1712), eminent as an orientalist. When Lambertini became Benedict XIV he sought to include scholars among his cardinals. But the two extraordinary cardinals, who became a famous part of the cultural renaissance of that age, Quirini and Passionei, became cardinals not because of scholarship; Quirini (1726), because he was an eminent Benedictine and the Friar-Pope looked for a Benedictine, Passionei (1738) because he had been nuncio in Vienna and was therefore 'entitled' to the hat. Both were eccentric, difficult and fascinating. It was observed that no other European court could have numbered such colourful oddities in its cabinet.
Occasionally someone was made a cardinal just to reward an other-worldly pastor, or a mission-preacher. Such men disliked the administrative duties which the wearer of the hat was expected to carry.
Like the Popes, many of the Italian cardinals were of high social standing. Among the ranks of cardinals are found the names of Italian history, a very few of the names again and again. Seven men with Colonna in their surname became cardinal during the eighteenth century, and four more with the related name Doria. Middle-class men came into the college by the old route of the Church hierarchy, but they were rather less common than in the Counter-Reformation.
The cardinal's hat was also useful to Popes for internal purposes of government. It was very eminent, but carried little power unless associated with another office like the presidency of a Congregation. Therefore Popes sometimes used the hat as a way of ridding themselves of unsuccessful civil servants, governors, or treasurers. Some Italians were promoted, publicly because they had succeeded, privately because they had failed. A clear illustration of this mode of kicking upstairs is first found in 1729 when the major-domo Cibo was made a cardinal to get him out of the office of major-domo. This new use of the office of cardinal was another sign of the changing balance between cardinals and the curial offices. Cibo was not at all unique. A secretary of state once (1817) gave a visitor a ticket for a consistory at which cardinals were proclaimed. He was frank. 'Look at the louts. We had to let them in, so as to appoint to the posts which they occupied.' The visitor expressed his surprise that they should let into the Sacred College men known to be opposed to the secretary of state. 'It's right, isn't it,' said the cardinal 'that the common weal should prevail? They were made cardinals to get them out of their jobs.' 45
A consistory for a promotion was an exciting public event in the city of Rome, with crowds waiting in the courtyard to hear, couriers ready to dash with the news. For such a consistory would make new officials, start a new round of changes in office, and be a reliable pointer to present policy.
A different part of the civil service was made up of cardinals who had been nuncios in the Catholic capitals. These were important to the advice which the Pope received in consistory, for they were the men with European experience, and had personal knowledge of the Catholic world outside Rome. Nearly one-fifth (sixty) of all the cardinals nominated during the eighteenth century had distinguished service as nuncios at one, two, or three of the capitals. Only one of the eight Popes of the eighteenth century served as a nuncio (Innocent XIII), but that was a lower average than the previous century. By convention the nuncio was not a cardinal, for the cardinal was expected to serve in Rome. The hat was the natural reward of his foreign service.
The nuncio was at first a legate or envoy sent from Rome for a particular errand and for a limited time. As modern diplomatic intercourse grew the Pope needed ambassadors like other monarchs, because his interest reached into all Christian states. Therefore Popes began to keep permanent ambassadors, with the name nuncios, at the chief European courts. The earliest example was created in 1500 at Venice. At first these envoys were often lay diplomats. During the second half of the sixteenth century the standing nunciature became the norm, with the object of supervising Church reforms decreed by the Council of Trent. That the nuncios should be in holy orders became a rule.
In Catholic countries the nuncio was more than a mere ambassador. Like an ambassador he represented Rome to the government, and sent back confidential reports on acts or opinions in the state to which he was accredited. But he was also an agent of the Catholic Church to see that the decrees of Trent were enforced. Therefore he grew larger than any envoy or newsvendor.
Because reform was uncomfortable, and demanded legal changes hard to get, nearly all countries were reluctant or tardy to receive the new decrees of Trent. Nuncios were created in Lucerne and Cologne, not only like ambassadors to persuade government to do what Trent ordered, but to see that the orders were executed. Thus they became a new power in the churches and therefore within the Catholic states. France and Venice were successful in keeping down the nuncio's authority. Sicily held him off by its old privilege known as the Monarchia Sicula. Piedmont kept down his jurisdiction except in Sardinia which was Piedmontese from 1720. In Cologne, Vienna, Madrid, Lucerne, Naples, Lisbon the nuncio became as mighty as the mightiest archbishop, a channel of the Pope's authority over clergy and people, with his own tribunal to which men could appeal from the courts of bishops, sometimes with his own prison and band of constables, with a power claimed to be equal or superior to that of bishops in issuing licences or dispensations.
Whenever a Catholic government had a fight with the Pope, it expelled the nuncio. This was like a government expelling the ambassador of an unfriendly power. But it was more. It suspended the court and the authority which were the Pope's legal instruments of power in that country.
According to the lawyers the nuncio could not hear appeals of the first instance. His court was a court of appeal from the bishop's court—not the only court of appeal, for an appellant could appeal to the archbishop, or directly to Rome. The nuncio could dispense from vows and censures and marriage-bars, and allow indulgences. The doubt of the lawyers concerned a bishop's duties: to ordain, visit, consecrate churches, approve confessors.
Normal doctrine held that since a bishop succeeded the Apostles with a God-given duty to these ends, a nuncio could not interfere except in a crisis—when the bishop was ill, or incapable, or a heretic.
Here were sources of strife. In a world where marriage and wills were spiritual matters and within the sphere of church courts, but which touched important issues of public policy, a local court of appeal, under a head not of local origin but sent from Rome, easily raised charges that it interfered where it had no right. The German imperial court often quashed cases in the nuncio's court. Secondly, a bishop and a nuncio might be expected to disagree whether a bishop was incapable or a diocese in crisis.
In the Holy Roman Empire these acts of nuncios became matter for complaint at Diets, and for undertakings by emperors before they were crowned.
The Archbishop of Cologne was also the Bishop of Liège and ruled the diocese of Liège by a vicar-general. Pope Clement XI (5 May 1708) told the Cologne nuncio Bussy to visit the Liège diocese. He said that because of war and other reasons the bishop could not look after his people and the nuncio should visit. The nuncio visited a nunnery, licensed a confessor who had failed the bishop's examination, allowed a nun to leave her convent, appointed a schoolmaster—all against a stream of protests from the bishop, carried at last to the meeting of German princes at Regensburg. The nuncio finally overstepped the bounds when he interfered in a disputed election to the headship of the faculty of law in the exempt university of Cologne, and had to be recalled and replaced with a more yielding successor.
The gentler Popes of mid-century, Benedict XIV and Clement XIV, tried to avoid such irritations. But bishops in Spain or Portugal or Germany or Austria or even parts of Italy looked to the crown to protect them from excess of activity by a nuncio. The rising power of Catholic governments over their Churches was not resented by many of their bishops. This was a weighty part of the Pope's difficulties during the second half of the eighteenth century.
'Thank God,' wrote a Catholic gentleman of 1790 who approved of nuncios in their proper place but who looked back over their history in Germany, 'we live in happier times, when Popes are much more modest; and when princes are more careful about their rights, and prevent the excesses of nuncios by princely decrees (placets), and when Popes can do more to restrain their nuncios.' 46
In 1785 a quarrel flared all over Germany because the Elector of Bavaria Karl Theodor asked Pope Pius VI to institute a new nuncio at Munich. The elector had large dominions and not a single bishop. Munich lay in the historic diocese of Freising, an independent prince-bishopric. All his subjects went to bishops outside his domains, or to the nuncios in Vienna or Cologne or Lucerne. To get a nuncio in Munich was a way of getting his private archbishop.
Therefore the new nuncio touched the rights of many existing bishops. The Archbishops of Mainz, Trier, Cologne, and Salzburg joined in a protest to the Emperor, and moved not just against the new nuncio at Munich but against all nuncios in Germany. The new nuncio Zoglio issued an indulgence to a church in the diocese of Freising, a marriage-dispensation to a couple in the diocese of Mainz, and even appointed an internuncio as his agent in Düsseldorf. At the Congress of Ems (1786) the archbishops agreed by their representatives that henceforth papal nuncios should exercise no authority within the Holy Roman Empire. 47 They took the quarrel to the Diet of Regensburg two years later. In vain: the Elector of Bavaria wanted a nuncio; no Diet could stop a prince. The interesting argument was whether Protestant princes had a right to vote. Were they excluded from the argument because they were Protestants, or had they rights in everything which touched the welfare of the German Reich?
The Protestants were not naturally against nuncios. They preferred distant Rome to near-by Catholic bishops. The King of Prussia recognized the jurisdiction of the Munich nuncio over his Catholic subjects in Cleve.
The argument—power of bishops, intervention of Rome's agent, conflict of jurisdiction—never stopped till swept away for a time by revolutionary armies.
Once it became common for the nuncio to be created a cardinal afterwards, the powerful governments in Madrid and Vienna and Paris started to demand it as of right. It now concerned their prestige that the retiring nuncio should become a cardinal—another sign of the European eminence of the office.
To avoid awkwardness, therefore, tactful Popes turned ex-nuncios into cardinals in batches, so that no government would be offended. In 1706 Clement XI simultaneously made cardinals out of the ex-nuncios in Poland, Naples (two), Spain, Tuscany, Cologne, and Paris. This joint creation was soon the norm. But smaller powers aped France and Spain and the Empire. Portugal behaved truculently until peaceable Pope Benedict XIV said that the nuncio in Portugal would have the right afterwards to become a cardinal. Then he found that he had no peace, for the governments of Sardinia and Venice and Naples and Poland started to demand the right which Portugal won. But the elevation of 1753 made cardinals only out of former nuncios at Vienna, Paris, Lisbon, and Madrid.
As the custom of envoys became established at the European courts, Popes and nuncios began to expect or be accorded precedence in the diplomatic corps by reason of the master whom they served. This precedence was finally accepted by the Vienna Congress of 1815, and was later accepted in the Lateran treaty of 1929 and the German Concordat.
Lesser capitals were treated more freely. The second rank became in the nineteenth century internuncios (Brazil 1829, Holland 1832). Apostolic delegates had ecclesiastical duties only, and were not in Catholic capitals—the first in Aleppo 1762.
The Congregations These curial offices were and are commonly known as the dicasteries.
Bulls and briefs issued by the Pope were a very small part of the exercise of Church authority by Rome. Many important decisions never reached the Pope but were settled by the Congregations of the Curia. Two or three of these Congregations were weighty in the making of policy. Therefore the Pope controlled, or sometimes hardly controlled, policy by choosing the men who sat on the Congregations, especially their presidents and secretaries.
In origin the word Curia meant the place where a senate or other official body met. In the Christian Roman Empire it came to have a sense of law-court to determine cases, and thence to describe the bishop and his advisers sitting as judges. Gradually it lost the meaning of court and meant all the bishop's staff. Thus it came during the high Middle Ages to mean all the men who worked in the Pope's service at the Vatican or elsewhere, even at Avignon or wherever the Pope lived. From the Counter-Reformation it was mainly used to describe the Congregations or dicasteries through which the Pope exercised spiritual authority or jurisdiction over the Church.
The meeting of cardinals in consistory was a meeting of amateurs. Business was too complex for more than a handful to understand the details. Popes kept needing small committees to examine a problem and report, so that the consistory of cardinals should not work blind. And in areas of rare anxiety the committee became standing. The first was the Inquisition (1542). The next was the special committee (1564) to oversee the reforms demanded by the Council of Trent. This was the Congregation of the Council, which by the eighteenth century grew into the most formidable of the Roman dicasteries.
The need or utility was proven. The Congregation of the Index (1571), to ban or license books, was next; then the Congregation of Bishops (1572). But besides these four main Congregations functioned a chaos of committees for every sort of particular question—war with the Turks, the heresy(?) of Archbishop Carranza of Toledo, Germany, 'reform', reform of canon law, reform of ritual, Church and State, the jubilee, a new text of the Bible, money, roads, police, water, France, jurisdiction, Maltese disorder, church music, Portugal, Poland, flooding of the Tiber. When in 1588 Pope Sixtus V made all this into a system, he not so clearly invented a new administration as brought order into an existing anarchy.
Of the fifteen Congregations seven were instruments for governing the Papal States (corn, fleet, taxes, university of Rome, roads and bridges and water, publishing-house, and Consulta, which was the supreme court). Four were the existing four (Inquisition, Council, Index, Bishops). One was the medieval high court (Segnatura di grazia) in a new edition. One was the Congregation of Rites to determine ceremonies. Of the two others, one prepared business for the consistories of cardinals and was also the Congregation for building churches; the other was the Congregation of Regulars, to settle disputes between monks and nuns as the Congregation of Bishops settled disputes among bishops.
This new structure proved more effective, drew business because it transacted business more effectively, and became an agent in that centralization which marked the modern from the medieval papacy.
Popes continued to make Congregations, whether for temporary crisis or permanent use. The four chief were the Congregation of Buon Governo (1592) a court of appeal for disputes between towns and citizens, and soon weighty in governing the Papal States; the Congregation de Propaganda Fide (1622) to rule the missions overseas; the Congregation on Immunity (1626); and the Congregation on Indulgences and Relics, which was designed to restrict abuses and decide whether relics were authentic.
The system suffered from the illusion of administrators that to solve a problem it is enough to form a committee, or the expedient of administrators that to relieve pressure a question must be thrown into a committee to gain time. Popes founded Congregations which lasted a few years, or left almost no records, or lived in limbo because no one gave them money or secretaries, or had a sphere which turned out to be no sphere because their ground was already occupied by an existing Congregation.
When the seventeenth century turned into the eighteenth the effective Congregations (apart from those governing the Papal States, which lost effectiveness by being too many) were the Inquisition, beginning its decline; the Index, under criticism; the Congregation of the Council, gaining more and more power over the pastoral system of the Church; the Congregation of Bishops and Regulars, which came out of a rapid union of two Congregations (that of bishops and that of monks) who found that they covered much the same sphere of decision, disputes between bishops and monks. This Congregation was very busy as bishops struggled to extend their rights over exempt monasteries. A fifth, the Congregation of Immunity, still had weight in 1725 when Pope Benedict XIII tried to give it more power, but despite the endeavours of succeeding Popes it almost died of strangulation when the Concordats and the fall of the right of sanctuary made immunity more of ritual than of reality.
The Inquisition and Index
The Inquisition was its proper name, though it was usually called the Holy Office. It had precedence of other Congregations. This was symbolized by Popes keeping the chair for themselves, though they usually allowed a cardinal-secretary to preside. By original constitution it had power to act throughout the Church and summon the secular arm to its aid. From the earliest days its business included not only heresy but immorality, meaning not only sexual offences but blasphemy, simony, and magic.
The Spanish Inquisition was a separate institution under the control of the king. The Sicilian Inquisition was founded by Spain and modelled on Spanish methods even after the Spanish were expelled. In the New World Spanish institutions lasted in the Spanish empire, and in Mexico City the Inquisition built a marvellous new palace during the 1730s. Most other states followed the example of France in using their own systems of censoring books or policing thought and either needed no Inquisition or, like Venice, used it, though more mildly than the Spanish, as a state instrument.
Therefore, though the Inquisition in Rome was the senior Congregation, and valued by most Catholics as the watchdog of truth, it had little (physical) power outside the Papal States.
At the beginning of the eighteenth century Italy and Spain conducted an old-fashioned hunt for heretic groups, the Quietist mystics. The Spanish Inquisition even charged Bishop Fernández de Toro of Oviedo with Quietism and sent him to Rome. He was prisoner in the Castel Sant' Angelo for nearly three years until the Roman consultors found him guilty (27 April 1719). The Pope ordered Bishop Toro never to exercise his priesthood, not to hear confessions, to be deprived of his see, and to be shut up in a Roman monastery to do penance. Bishop Toro came from the castle to the Vatican and recanted publicly, kneeling before the Pope and the cardinals. Nine years later he appealed to Pope Benedict XIII and was released. 48
This dramatic case was by that date unusual. Trials of heretics were rarer even in Spain, and much rarer in Rome. The absence of documents makes it impossible to follow the working of the Roman tribunal. But it is safe to say that during the eighteenth century it heard many more cases touching immorality than cases touching heresy. It was even given lowly tasks like the issuing of dispensations from fasts.
Until the second half of the century the immorality cases still had repulsive aspects like torture of the accused, not with rack nor thumbscrew but still torture. And these were the cases which gave special revulsion to Protestants. A cleric who found that he had not the gift of continence might flee to a Protestant country and there relate his experiences to an avid public. Archibald Bower was a Scottish priest who was consultor of the Inquisition at Macerata. Suspected of improper conduct with a nun he fled, past placards out for his arrest, over the Swiss border. The books which he published when he reached England were full of lies and eagerly used by pamphleteers against the Church of Rome.
Nevertheless the Roman Inquisition, not burning heretics, still had an important doctrinal work. This lay in control of books.
All governments including the Protestants regarded censorship of books as necessary. Part of the work of the Roman Congregations was simply a routine state censorship in the Papal States; books of magic, astrology, superstition, obscenity, treason, revolutionary theory. But it also touched books of theology and regarded this as its important work in defence of truth.
A book might be condemned in three ways. The Pope could condemn it in a brief or even bull—this was the most solemn condemnation. The Congregation of the Inquisition might condemn a book, and if so there was a presumption that further proceedings might lie and that the author might be summoned. But even this rule was not kept. Thirdly the book might be condemned by the Congregation of the Index, which had the duty of publishing the Index of prohibited books. Thus these two Congregations overlapped in duty. The Inquisition met once or twice a week, the Index only a few times in the year. The two Congregations had several of the same cardinals.
Books were referred to eight consultors, of whom four were always Dominicans. As Dominican headquarters lay at the Minerva in Rome, the Minerva became the meeting-place of the Inquisition. The discussions of the Congregations are unknown. We can judge what happened only from their decisions.
The lists show no pattern or reason about the selection of books banned. A moderately anti-papal Catholic stood on the list while a violently anti-papal Catholic was absent. A moderately anti-Catholic book by a Protestant author stood on the list while a violently anti-Catholic book by the same author was absent. Therefore the Congregations were not initiating bodies. No tribe of sharp-nosed secretaries sat down to comb the literature of Europe in fear or hope of finding matter to deplore. The haphazard catalogue can only be explained if the bans came because individuals sent complaints. A bishop grew anxious for the souls of his people whom he found under the influence of an Italian translation of a Protestant book. He told his diocese not to read it and applied to Rome. The Congregation examined the book and if they thought fit lent their supreme authority to the ban. Their work was like that of a high court, not like that of a posse of policemen.
This also explained why books were not condemned until many years after they were written. If a book published in the earlier seventeenth century were not condemned until the eighteenth century, that at first sight suggests that the Congregation of the eighteenth century was narrower or more rigid than its predecessors in the seventeenth century. To find the age of early Enlightenment more obscurantist than the age of high Counter-Reformation would be surprising. The inference would be wrong. Sometimes the consultors of the Inquisition, not all of whom were as literate as they should have been, were not well informed about such an author. But most often the tardiness arose only because no one had yet complained.
Very early in the eighteenth century their attention was drawn to Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes, first published in English more than fifty years before. Leviathan is a shocking book even to the later twentieth century. Imagination finds it easy to picture puzzled consultors when first they faced its theories. Their predecessors condemned Hobbes's works in his lifetime but before they could have known Leviathan. They now, however belatedly, met the Latin translation. They condemned (1701); two years later they condemned again.
Again, Hugo Grotius of the Netherlands wrote a famous book On the Truth of Christianity; and though he professed a Protestant faith many Catholics valued the book; Cardinal Barberini (1628) loved it and always kept it at hand. It was first banned in 1715, many years after its author's death and at a time when by lapse of time his influence began to decline. Forty-two years later the Congregation went on to condemn all the theological works of Grotius.
The habit of condemning the complete works of an author was practised from the earliest days of the Index. It could not be helped. A handful of persons of mediocre learning could not pore over every line of a prolific scribbler and decide where he was innocent. Pope Benedict XIV disliked this habit of too-embracing condemnations and for seventy years after his revision no such umbrella bans were issued. Then they began again.
Part of the work was defence of the history of the Popes. A historical work which assailed the Annals of Baronius or rejected a few of its documents as spurious was likely to appear on the Index. Even the Catholic Baluze's Lives of the Popes at Avignon (1693), an epoch-making book among historians, was put upon the Index, perhaps because Baluze compared the time at Avignon with the Babylonish Captivity. Yet the Congregations failed to veto some outrageous Protestant propagandist history of which men complained that it damaged Catholics. Archibald Bower, ex-inquisitor at Macerata, went to England and became a member of the Church of England. From 1748 he published a History of the Popes in seven volumes, which had many English editions and French and German translations. These volumes never came into the Index. If they had received a Latin or Italian translation they could not have avoided a ban.
The language was no trivial matter. Consultors were not equipped. They had small need to read Spanish or Portuguese since these countries kept their own lists and Inquisition. Under Benedict XIV only one person in the Vatican understood German. The Index usually condemned works written in Latin or Italian, until the French Jansenists and later Voltaire drove them into condemning more and more books written in French. If a book was translated into Latin or Italian, they were more likely to list the translation than the original. The first volume of Edward Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire was put upon the Index, but in its Italian raiment.
Here was an organ of the Counter-Reformation which the age of Enlightenment inherited. Roman leaders never questioned whether it should exist. It was generally popular among Catholics even, or especially, in Spain. But it was designed for a different world. It looked like a stage-coach in an age of lorries; cumbersome, ornamental, slow-moving, dignified, liked by the spectators, but no longer the best way to carry goods.
By the middle of the eighteenth century the Index of prohibited books must have looked absurd to informed readers if any informed readers bothered to peruse it with diligence. Books from a forgotten world continued to find a place on the list because no one re-read them or wondered why they were there or knew what they were about. Titles of books and names of authors were often printed inaccurately. Authors appeared in alphabetical order of first name (e.g. Luther among the Ms, Calvin among the Js) and so could not be found. A book by a famous missioner Paolo Segneri, which was put upon the Index in a fit of excess and then in wiser opinion removed, continued to appear on the lists because editors or printers failed to catch up with the second decision. Though it might be well that the Congregations condemned the works of Thomas Hobbes, the reader might be pardoned for not knowing that he was forbidden to read Leviathan, for the author's name was placed (among the Ts because of his first name) as Gobes—though it was true that under Hobes (sic) was a note directing the reader to Gobes.
The Congregations sent decisions to bishops and nuncios and placarded them in the city of Rome. No other serious attempt was made to bring the ban to the notice of the Catholic world except in the not very rare cases, like the French Encyclopedia (condemned 1759) where the book was regarded as so offensive that its ban was enshrined in a bull or brief from the Pope. Outside Italy copies of the Index were hard to find in any library but the largest. Not many copies were printed. The printed list was not designed for the world, but to inform authority.
Most Catholics who went into a bookshop had no idea what books were prohibited. Printers published and bishops cheerfully allowed the reprinting of a book long ago banned and never removed from the list. An Irish archbishop (1825) told a committee of the British Parliament that he wondered whether in all Ireland there were ten people who had ever seen the Index. 49
If the shepherd-Church was supposed to warn its far-flung flock of the wolves that menaced, the list was a very inefficient means to that end. An ordinary clergyman would have difficulty in discovering whether a suspect author was banned.
In this way the Congregations of the Inquisition and the Index dealt with local complaints, and decisions often remained local in result. They affected Italian booksellers, especially in the Papal States and in Naples, and librarians who chose books to buy for the shelves of seminaries. Book-sellers kept behind the counter banned books which scholars needed. Auctioneers when they catalogued books for sale were supposed to put asterisks against books which were banned. The decisions hardly affected customs-officers who examined the luggage of travellers crossing a frontier, for no copy of the Index lay for reference in the office. The customs on occasion acted because a decree of government ordered that (for example) the works of Voltaire be not imported. A bookseller in Catania hid Grotius under manuals of devotion when he knew that the censors were about to pay him a visit. 50 Evidently he did not normally bother to conceal.
If a work helped the progress of a subject Catholic authors used and quoted it without warning that it was banned. Pope Benedict XIV, writing the best of all books about the canonization of saints, cited with approval an earlier treatment of the subject without any sign that the book which he commended fell under the ban.
Old rules of the Counter-Reformation needed adapting and were silently adapted. During the Thirty Years War an oration (1633) in praise of the Swedish King Gustavus Adolphus was circulated in the streets of Rome. At that moment of history and in that place it was treason. The discovery perturbed the Curia into passing the sort of general decree to which in the age of religious war Congregations were too prone, that no one should praise heretics. At first the rule was not hard to keep. But as the seventeenth century turned into the eighteenth, it looked ungracious. Catholic authors saw that Protestant authors made fundamental contributions to the study of the Bible, the interpretation of the Greek and Hebrew languages, the sifting and dating of early Christian texts. Protestants helped the Catholic Church to understand itself. Scholars who used these books wanted to express gratitude. When Pope Benedict XIV wrote a book on the number of the feasts, he included a preface to apologize for citing so many heretical books without a note of blame, for (he wrote) he was sure that abuse is useless, but he kept the rule of not praising heretics. The sterner Spanish Inquisition, in its later and mellower age, banned epithets given to heretics like 'very good', 'pious', 'very learned', 'very wise', 'prince of scholars', 'glory of our age', etc.; but allowed 'elegant poet', 'distinguished mathematician', 'great Greek scholar'; for these are gifts which God bestows upon men outside the Church. No scholar outside the Church might be given the title of Master or Doctor because heretical universities could not confer valid degrees—so ruled this Spanish Index. 51
Protestant authors cared not at all if they were put upon the Index. They sold no fewer copies and saw their titles in a curious but official list for booksellers. Catholic authors were infuriated, and likely to accuse the censors of obscurantism, stupidity, or prejudice.
Galileo and Copernicus were condemned. Their works stood large on the Index. Many educated Catholics believed that the earth went round the sun; at the seminary in Padua was one of the leading Copernican institutes in all Europe. The inquisitor at Florence wrote (1734) to the Roman Inquisition that people in Florence planned to erect a monument to Galileo in the church of Santa Croce and asked whether they disapproved. The Roman Inquisition replied that they had no objection but asked to see the wording of the inscription. In 1758 the works of Copernicus disappeared from the Roman Index. The Dialogues of Galileo were still prohibited officially until twenty years after the fall of Napoleon.
But living authors were infuriated while dead did not mind. When Muratori was vexed almost at the end of his life, the methods of the dicasteries in lowering the repute of so famous and so godly a Catholic author came under adverse scrutiny. Authors complained that they were condemned without knowing why, even without hearing which passages were alleged to be offensive, and with no opportunity to explain what they meant; that sentences were torn out of their paragraphs and understood in an ill sense though in context they bore a different and Catholic meaning; that consultors fell into heresy-hunting habits of mind, and fancied themselves virtuous if they found words to disapprove; that books were condemned on insufficient evidence, as for example in the verbal report of only one referee; that famous Catholic scholars, whose other books were valued in the churches, ought not to lose face because an unknown and unscholarly referee in the Congregation so decided; that Dominican domination of the censorship made a particular school of divinity the measure of orthodoxy, and regarded opinions, which Catholics were free to deny, as though they were infallible dogmas; and that schools of divinity which differed from the Dominican suffered most from the acts of the Index.
Censors were unimpressed by these grievances. To accuse them of condemning men unheard was absurd, they argued, when texts stank so high of heresy that any Catholic mind saw how the Church would suffer if they were not immediately rejected. To charge them with turning opinion into doctrine was unjust, because many Catholic doctrines had never been defined by the Church and yet might not be opposed by any true Catholic. The prestige or comfort of a single author weighed like a feather compared with what lay in the balance, the eternal salvation of a mass of simple folk. Above all they were a Congregation of the see of Rome, with the sacred duty of safeguarding truth in the Church, and decided in the name of the Pope, to whom every Catholic owed obedience.
Pope Benedict XIV was the Pope who knew what he was about because he had served on both Congregations. His experience taught him that the Congregations debated carefully and sensibly, but that censors to whom they referred books were sometimes incompetent or prejudiced. 52 In Sollicita ac provida (1753) he laid down new rules for censors; no one to be condemned unless two referees agreed, the second not to know the name of the first; the consultors, the Congregation, and in weighty cases the Pope must agree. Reports of referees must be in writing and list precisely the passages reproved and why. Authors of repute must be given a chance to explain and defend what is attacked. Examiners are not to engage a book in a conscious quest for error but to seek a right judgement with care and with a profound study of the question, not judging the author without the context, and not treating opinions as though they were infallible dogmas.
His revisers then created (1758) the most accurate Index which had ever appeared, more accurate than most of its successors. The names appeared for the first time in order of surname. This new Index remained at the base of every edition until the Index was abolished in 1966.
An occasional diocesan synod promulgated the sinfulness of reading banned books. That a synod should so utter was a sign that men read illegal books with a measure of impunity. Moralists taught confessors that they should teach the sin as grave. But amid the various handbooks to help confessors it is hard to find the question 'What should be done if the penitent confesses to enjoying a forbidden book?' If the book was merely heretical it hardly interested parishioners. If it was obscene, priests condemned it more because it was obscene than because it was illegal. Yet uncomfortable evidence survives; as of a Spanish youth who was lent a prohibited book written by the famous and approved Muratori, and knew that moral duty should make him confess that he read the book, and fell into an agony of mind. 53
In this way the two Congregations hampered the progress of thought less than they enraged individual scholars. Any reputable student or teacher easily gained leave to read prohibited books. A specially lamentable class of books (like the French Encyclopedia) were placed in the category of books which even those with licence were not allowed to read. Few people noticed this refinement.
Nevertheless the two Congregations, inefficient as a censorship, were effective in a much more important task. In doctrine, or in morals, a series of condemnations was more powerful than a ban on a single book. The Inquisition spoke with all the Pope's authority. They made it plain what attitudes should be adopted by loyal Catholics. They embodied papal policy on doctrinal truth. If for example they condemned a book by the Jansenist Bishop Colbert of Montpellier, most Catholics had no idea what the book contained, and probably never heard that it was condemned. But if Inquisition and Index condemned a long series of Jansenist books, men understood that Popes stood against Jansenists, the feeling grew that loyal Catholics could hardly be Jansenist. In this way the two Congregations, regarding themselves as watchdogs of Christian truth, could be far more effective on broad issues than in efforts to stop particular books being read. They prevented few men directly from believing or teaching the opinions taught by Jansenists. But they made the name Jansenist disreputable—and thereby dissuaded a lot of people from practising the variety of devotion, severe in the confessional, infrequent at communion, associated with the name Jansenist.
Thus they were the true executants of the Pope's policy, or of the reigning Pope's beliefs, about the nature and definition of Catholic tradition. If the Pope condemned Jesuit compromise in China, they had a lot of work among books which defended Jesuits. When the Pope condemned Molinos as a Quietist mystic, they had a lot of work among devotional books which taught a passive type of mystical resignation. These were moments when zeal generated excess. Consultors, knowing that the Pope disapproved Jansenist moral theory, found it hard not to detect error in otherwise harmless theology written by known Jansenists.
As the century passed, State censorship diminished further the influence of Inquisition or Index. The French allowed the Index no force in France, 54 while the Paris Parlement burnt numerous books. Spain had its own Index, more severe than that of Rome, but not including many books which the Roman Index banned. More than one Spaniard discovered to his dismay that a licence from the Pope to read prohibited books was not accepted as valid in Spain. The Austrian government in the Netherlands (Belgium) would not allow auctioneers at book-sales to mark books as banned. They banned Benedict XIV's new Index because it prohibited books which government allowed.
Catholic governments had no wish to deny the principle underlying the work of Inquisition and Index. They wished to do it better. In Austria the Empress Maria Theresa (1753), governments in Portugal (1768), in Bavaria (1769), in Austrian Lombardy (1768), instituted royal commissions to censor. Venice, which long kept the Inquisition on a leash, ruled (1767) that the Inquisition could do nothing without the assent of three senators. In 1739 the Inquisition at Florence arrested a ducal officer for abuse of the clergy and four years later government suspended the Inquisition's authority. When it reopened in 1754, three laymen representing government sat with the inquisitors. In 1782 it was abolished. Austrian Lombardy abolished it in 1775, Sicily in 1782.
Slowly the problems of the Roman Congregations were swallowed up in the far wider difficulty of press censorship in the European states.
Abolition only canonized the disappearance. When Sicily abolished and threw open the prisons, they found three women accused of witchcraft. The last burning of a heretic in Sicily happened fifty years before.
The Spanish Inquisition
The Spanish Inquisition was slower to mellow. In its history the middle of the eighteenth century marks a still unexplained turning-point.
Llorente, who was a former inquisitor, saw many archives of the Spanish Inquisition during the age of revolution, including documents which he or others afterwards destroyed. He calculated the number of executions under each grand inquisitor from beginning to end of the Inquisition. These calculations he founded only in part on counting, and otherwise estimated. Without being reliable as detail they are to be trusted as general pattern.
In the heyday of King Philip II in the later sixteenth century executions ran at about 120 a year. For the first half of the seventeenth century they ran steadily between sixty-four and eighty a year. From 1665 deaths fell dramatically, but in the first third of the eighteenth century they still ran between thirty and fifty a year. Until the death of King Philip V (1746) the court continued in its old ways, torture, autos-da-fé, death by burning; among the convicted many relapsed 'Jews', blasphemers, bigamists, sorcerers, promoters of superstition. Even when the critic subtracts persons guilty of gross immorality or crime who were nevertheless condemned for a heresy alleged to cause the immorality or crime, until almost the middle of the eighteenth century the acts of the court stank of unreliable confessions extracted by torture. The most pathetic case was that of the
Carmelite nun Agueda da Luna, regarded by her district and beyond as a true saint, to whom were ascribed miracles and ecstasies. The parents of the future historian Llorente took a sick child to be touched by her, but in vain. For alleged Quietist heresy she was denounced to the local office of the Inquisition at Logroño and there made all manner of confession under tortures from which she died before she ever came to court.
With the accession of Ferdinand VI in 1746 executions suddenly became fewer, and with the accession of Charles III (1759) fewer still. Charles III learnt while in Naples to dislike the court. But the change in legal habits was due less to his personal influence than to the general belief that all was not well with an archaic system and that both Spanish government and Spanish Church ought to consider reform. The character of successive inquisitors-general was known to be humane and compassionate. The courts, confronted by evidence more compelling than evidence which only twenty years before led to execution, adjourned cases and took no further action. Denunciations hardly decreased, courts sat, evidence was taken; but the number of cases which went further was far fewer. Sometimes the courts suspended public proceedings and laid a private penance upon the culprit.
The last execution by a court of the Spanish Inquisition was at Seville on 7 November 1781, of a woman accused of witchcraft, who could have saved herself by an act of penitence. The right to condemn to death was not abolished. But the supreme court of the Inquisition took pains to see that it was not inflicted. And in Spain, as everywhere else in Europe, lawyers had ceased to believe in the utility of torture. Beccaria's book On Crime and Punishment received (1774) an early Spanish translation.
The decline in executions and ending of public autos-da-fé did not mean that Spain looked upon the Inquisition with the eyes of a London Protestant, as barbaric, obsolete, or crooked. Most men respected it as a necessary and historic system of courts for keeping Spain sane and moral and religious and Spanish.
Censorship of books remained important. All the same, the censors began to waver, as the cases of Copernicus and Galileo showed.
To maintain the movement of the earth as a theoretical hypothesis was permissible provided the author did not declare it to be true. Neither authors nor censors found the line which divides fact from hypothesis easy to draw; and hence irritations, redraftings, prudence, permissions with ambiguous clauses. Some educated Spaniards believed the movement of the earth, and many of the clergy were the most educated. But they could not quite say what they thought. And in these conditions the appeals to the evidence of the senses, and to the authority of Scripture, were still common. 'Reason proves', said Father Murillo, 'neither that the earth moves nor that it does not move. Therefore it is better to keep to what the Bible teaches.'
The Benedictine Feijóo was more outspoken. We cannot attack the doctrine that the sun goes round the earth so long as an Inquisitor rules in Spain, heavy with obsolete lumber, thunderbolt in hand, threatening any book that says one of the innumerable things that Spain does not know already. But by 1774 a learned priest, Father Mutis, taught Copernican doctrine openly at the college of Santa Fe de Bogotá. The Dominicans at the university there denounced him to the inquisitors, who refused to act. By that date the Spanish knew that Copernican doctrine was being taught in Italy, and by eminent churchmen. A Spanish ex-Jesuit, expelled from Spain to Italy, dedicated his time there to the study and exposition of Copernicus and Galileo. 55
Until the French Revolution started, the inquisitors were fairly lax about the importing of books by the French philosophers.
Two examples from among the late cases illustrate the continuing power and the changing practice of the Spanish Inquisition.
Pablo de Olavide had a controversial career in the colonial administration of Peru. He loved modern books, had a rare library, admired and visited Voltaire. He was a generous and charming man with a universal curiosity and a knowledge of theology. In Spain he was used in reforming education and agriculture, and then given charge of someone else's plan to colonize the Sierra Morena in southern Spain with German immigrants. This became a herculean labour because immigrants arrived long before camps or supplies were ready. Though their hardships would have worsened but for Olavide, he was saddled with a scheme which bred misery.
Slowly inquisitors started to eye Olavide with suspicion.
At his table he would say what he liked to the company—that rocks showed Genesis to be wrong about the age of the earth, that the Bible is not clear on original sin and the Old Testament does not teach the immortality of the soul, that despite the authority of St. Paul he thought marriage a higher life than celibacy; and sometimes, to entertain his visitors, he would go out to his library and fetch a volume of Montesquieu, or Helvetius, or Voltaire, and offer a commentary upon the text for his guests. He encouraged French fashions among the settlers, arranged dances on feast-days, and told women that they could come to church with head uncovered. He wanted the churches in the settlements not to have a clutter of altars, nor statues of saints, nor too many masses for the dead; he tried to help Germans feel at home by writing hymns and having them sung during mass; he disliked processions in the streets, and stopped bells being rung in time of storms. Someone heard him talk rashly about 'imbecile' friar preachers. Yet he was a very devout Catholic, never going to bed without prayers and several signs of the cross both on his bed and on the four corners of the room.
Olavide was at risk because he was in charge of a half-failure; because he was backed by unpopular members of an unpopular government; because he talked too freely for his generation. But his worst trials came over the Capuchin superior.
The founders wanted all the new settlements to be in parishes under parish priests and therefore tried to exclude monks and nuns. But since they could not find parish priests who spoke German, they were forced to apply to an international religious order. They asked the Capuchins.
The Capuchins sent Father Romuald Baumann who after 1768 had instituted at Amoltern in south Germany a variety of Christian commune, which was successful enough to make him a good choice to care for new colonies in the Sierra Morena. He began friendly to Olavide. Four years later he regarded Olavide as a calamitous head; and the personal conflict rose to such tension that in March 1776 government ordered the expulsion of Father Romuald from Spain. He left, bequeathing to the Inquisition a long series of denunciations against Olavide, and material for thinking him the most unpleasant Capuchin of the century.
He accused Olavide of denying miracles; of accepting Rousseau's theory of religious education; of saying that religion is better observed in England than in Spain; of believing that the ultimate authority in the Church is neither with Pope nor bishops but with all the faithful; of abusing monks as ignoramuses and misers; of mocking celibacy—and a lot else.
The Inquisition was widely believed to be toothless, a dying piece of machinery surviving out of a brutal world. The case of Olavide caught the imagination of Europe; the case of an intelligent and devout public servant, arrested 14 November 1776 and two years later condemned to eight years seclusion in a monastery.
The court refrained from any public auto-da-fé, except for the presence of nearly seventy lords and prelates present by invitation. Olavide abjured humiliatingly, and after two years' comfortable imprisonment got himself transferred to a sanatorium near the French frontier and escaped into France. Here he settled as a legend and heroic exile. When France broke into revolution, he wrote a pious book, The Triumph of the Gospel, to show how a false philosopher was converted back to faith by the argument of a good Catholic, and so won readmission to Spain. The book became one of the most widely read books in Spain. 56
Olavide's case was the most famous case before the Inquisition in all the eighteenth century. It shows the institution changing. The trial needed leave from the king. The case mingled pornography or misgovernment with old-fashioned heresies like writing letters to notorious anti-Catholics. The verdict was held in a private court, but not so secret that the conduct of the court was not visible to impartial minds. No public auto-da-fé was exacted. By the standards of only a few decades before, the punishment was light. Nevertheless educated Europe felt it to be an anachronism.
Miguel Solano, priest of Esco in Aragon, was proved to have convinced himself, by reading the Bible and nothing but the Bible, that Church, Pope, bishops, their teachings were in error. He condemned purgatory, tithes, the Pope's dispensing power. The local inquisitors at Saragossa brought theologians to persuade him that he was wrong; in vain. They then condemned him to an auto-da-fé. The supreme court in Madrid under the grand inquisitor refused to accept their decision and after trying other expedients to avoid an auto-da-fé ordered enquiry into the pastor's sanity. The Esco physician gave sufficient evidence of illness to warrant charitable presumption of enfeebled reason. And while arguments and interviews continued, Solano (1805) died. The local inquisitors refused to let him be buried in consecrated ground but interred the body within the walls of the Saragossa Inquisition. They considered whether they should burn an effigy of the dead man, but were stopped by the supreme court in Madrid. 57
This mellowing was very plain to tourists. An English clergyman travelled in a coach (1786-7) and found himself sitting between two inquisitors. His host pulled his leg. 'The inquisitors of the present day are become more gentle than their fathers and seldom regale themselves with human flesh; but look sharp, for they have not yet forgot the taste of blood.' 58 'I am inclined', the Englishman soliloquized in retrospect, 'to think, that in proportion as light has been diffused in Europe, even inquisitors have learnt humanity.' Still, he thought that the jurisdiction by its very nature must be liable to abuse.
The Roman Curia had no sway in the Spanish Inquisition. But its senior Congregation was its own Inquisition. Neither the Protestant north, nor all the French, distinguished between these two organizations with a common name, common aim, and sharply different practices. No Pope was responsible for Olavide. Yet a case like Olavide, making the name of 'the Inquisition' stink outside Spain, could not do other than subtly affect the international reputation of the Roman Curia.
The Congregation of the Council
This was instituted at the end of the Council of Trent to supervise the execution of its reforming decrees. Its business slowly extended. For many years after its foundation it had small sphere of influence; in the second half of the seventeenth century its power rose, until by 1720 it ruled large areas of the pastoral life of the Church; directly in the Papal States, very clearly in most of the rest of Italy, less in Spain, still less in Catholic Germany, and not in France. From 1591 it was allowed to publish its decrees in the name of the Pope. To the parishes at large a decision of this Congregation came with the force of a papal decision, and claimed an obedience due to the Pope. Its special function was the discipline of the clergy; watch over synods; a supervision of the visits to Rome which Trent ordered, and of the reports which bishops were supposed to send regularly from their dioceses.
It extended its sphere successfully, not only because of its duties, but by the long service of two exceptionally able secretaries. In the later seventeenth century it had Fagnani, a canonist of brilliance and long experience. Then Prospero Lambertini (afterwards Pope Benedict XIV) was secretary for seven years (1720-7) and by learning and temperament was suited to make the organ a wise instrument of government. From 1732 they began to publish the proceedings; in separate folios at first, seven years later in systematic volumes; which not only illuminate the social and religious life of the eighteenth century, but breed in the reader a respect for this dicastery and its proceedings.
When Benedict XIV became Pope in 1740 he consciously extended the sphere of the Congregation into areas hitherto allotted to other Congregations; first with the questions of marriage and nullity, and then with the question of religious vows. This made an enormous increase of work for the Congregation of the Council, and was part of the slow process of centralizing the Curia. Its decrees became so weighty in the Church at large that they began to receive commentaries from theologians.
Its difficulties were numerous. Distance meant time, and if a case came from Belgium or Portugal, or even Lecce in southern Italy, appeal to Rome meant long delay before settlement. The Congregation supervised synods, and yet knew that many bishops, perhaps most bishops, feared or disliked synods. They were supposed to supervise the bishops' regular visits to Rome and knew that these visits were exceedingly irregular, except formally by proxy. They were supposed to read pastoral reports from all over the Church; paper poured in, bishops introduced their reports (sometimes) with a whole history of the diocese since apostolic times, few eyes to read, heaps of unread reports mounted, cupboards full, bishops clamoured for decisions that tarried. To remedy this Benedict XIV instituted a new Congregation with the duty of reading bishops' reports; in effect a subcommittee of the Congregation of the Council, and known by an appropriate nickname, 'the little Council', Concilietto. This did not help much. The Congregation of the Council tried to exercise an ever-widening jurisdiction with an exiguous and ill-paid staff.
So far as Popes exercised real government over the parochial work of the Church, they acted through this dicastery. The Congregation was wise, and grew indispensable. When near the end of the century revolutionary armies entered Rome and brought the work of the Curia to a standstill, the Vatican tried to keep this Congregation above all in a continued existence of emergency, lest the parish machinery of the Church grind into chaos.
The Action of the Pope
The Pope acted frequently and effectively provided that the action was kept within defined or well-understood limits. Rome was the final court in disputes within the Church. In so far flung an organization with rules or conventions centuries old, the law of the Church was often matter for argument in new circumstances. This was the regular routine of the administration of the Church, to make bishops or monks or parish clergy behave sensibly, which probably meant compelling them to give up a cherished or pretended right.
In the Philippine islands, the history of the conversion to Catholicism ensured that religious orders—friars and Jesuits—took charge of most of the parishes. Exempt by old custom and privilege from the jurisdiction of bishops, their parishes refused to accept visitation from the archbishop. If the archbishop conceded their claims, he stood in the absurd predicament that almost all his diocese was removed from his direction. The orders said that if the archbishop insisted on visiting them, they would resign the parishes.
Here was a characteristic case; both sides were right in law, but circumstances produced a ridiculous anomaly. Both sides appealed to Rome. The Pope (1705) told the orders both to stay in their parishes and to submit to the archbishop's visitation.
Such a case was typical of Roman action. A very similar difficulty existed in England. The only legal chapels of the small Catholic minority were either the chapels of the embassies of foreign powers (Sardinia, Bavaria, Spain) where the ambassador chose his chaplain or private chapels on the estates of Catholic noblemen where the squire chose his chaplain. Other parishes were shepherded by members of religious orders, Benedictine or Jesuit, who were exempt from bishops and took orders from their superiors. Therefore the bishops (called in England vicars-apostolic since the reign of the Catholic king James II) had almost no power over their clergy, and hence rose an endless correspondence with the Congregation of Propaganda at Rome, or even with the Pope, while Rome sought, decade after decade, to persuade men locked in constitutional conflict to be reasonable. Rome's rulings might be disobeyed for a time, on grounds of inadequate information, or disputed interpretation. But sooner or later they were obeyed, and less friction brought to the pastoral care of the Church in England.
A decision might or might not be resisted by minorities. But usually contenders accepted the judgement of the supreme court, and even when they continued to fight, carried on the battle in conditions transformed by Rome's bull. Sometimes a ruling snatched peace out of schism or near-schism. The Maronites of the Lebanon were rare among easterners in their loyalty to the Roman see, but like most Christian subjects of the Turkish empire, like most oppressed bodies in any empire, suffered disruption over jurisdiction. When their patriarch died in 1742, two different groups of bishops elected rival patriarchs. Amid devastating scenes in the congregations, the rivals appealed to Rome. Pope Benedict XIV pronounced both elections invalid, and by exercise of the supreme spiritual powers declared that a candidate who was the senior bishop and had first refused the office should be enthroned. Members of the Curia were alarmed at so high-handed an exercise of papal power—to appoint a patriarch, whom none had elected, in an Eastern Church with a Syrian liturgy—and feared that the Pope would be disobeyed. But he had been well advised by his informants on the spot and within two years achieved ecclesiastical peace in the Lebanon.
In this function of supreme court, a high proportion of the time of the Curia was spent in settling matters connected with the religious orders.
Monasteries and nunneries, being (often) exempt from the control of the bishop of their diocese, looked to the Pope as their ultimate superior or adviser. More than half the briefs issued from Rome during some years of the eighteenth century concerned the right, privileges, or behaviour of religious houses.
Let us select at random one volume of the Bullarium. This contains the important encyclicals and briefs for the first two years of the pontificate of Clement XIII Rezzonico (1758-60). The volume ranges in subject from Valencia to Posnan, from Paris to Naples. It contains the usual spate of monastic questions—how abbots-general are to be elected, a dispute between the abbot of Monte Cassino and the Bishop of Capua, the conferment of canonries in the cathedral at Gnesen in Poland—and other small ecclesiastical questions like the repair of vicarages at Compostella, or putting a good Italian priest into a new diocese, or an argument among the Lateran canons about conducting services. Universities, like religious orders in being exempt, are also represented—in bulls confirming the statutes of the university of Carpentras, approving the foundation of a Polish university, allowing individual university libraries to retain books listed in the Index of prohibited books, and exempting librarians from the duty to attend choir offices except on high days. A very few concern politics—the bull investing the new King of the Two Sicilies with his kingdom, recognized since the Middle Ages as a fief of the Pope; preserving for the Pretender to the throne of Britain the right to nominate to Catholic sees; stirring the governments of Austria and Poland to intercede with the government of Turkey to help the Franciscans, guardians of the holy places in Jerusalem and under attack from the Greeks; extending areas, like the city of Rome, where no one might carry arms; warning the republic of Genoa against interfering in a bishop's visitation of the parishes in Corsica; asking the help of the Empress of Austria against Lutheran princes threatening the Duke of Hesse-Kassel. Two concern clerical behaviour and the Christian life, the first against priests or religious who engage in trade for the sake of gain, the second supporting a strenuous interpretation of the decree on fasting. Three concern books condemned. Two of them congratulate the theological faculty of the university of Paris, and the grand inquisitor of Spain, for censuring Helvetius's book De l'Esprit. The third was famous among all these encyclicals or briefs, the condemnation (3 September 1759) of the French Encyclopedia for all its pernicious errors.
Such two years of papal acts were not untypical in their range, variety, and limitation.
The bulls or briefs in the Bullarium for the first four years of Pope Clement XII contain the following: over ninety on monks and nuns; ceremonial privileges of bishops, eight; colleges (statutes, libraries, archives), eight; government of Papal States and Rome (including a remarkable decree on the privileges of bombardiers at the castle), six; indulgences, six; brotherhoods, three; rules of Conclave, two; banning of book, one; seminaries, one; theology, one (ordering silence on the dispute over grace); In Coena Domini, one; politics, two (duchy of Parma, Saxony); jubilee in the present necessities of the Church, one.
A jubilee was a holy year when special indulgences were granted to pilgrims who visited the holy places of Rome. The first which history records clearly was that proclaimed in the year 1300, with intention that these special ceremonies and prayers should be held every hundred years. But fifty years later the Pope allowed a jubilee, and forty years after that, and then it was ordered every thirty-three years to fit the years of the life of Christ, and then (1423 and 1450) the interval was twenty-seven years, and so from 1475 it became each quarter of a century and was celebrated regularly until 1775 inclusive. The Brotherhood of the Holy Trinity was chiefly responsible for hospitality, and kept a list of numbers of pilgrims whom it sheltered. They showed no steady increase: 1675, 280,496; 1700, 299,697; 1750, 194,832. Originally these jubilees had a part-motive of bringing revenue to Rome. Although the calculation is hazardous, by the eighteenth century the expenses may well have exceeded the revenue. It was an act of religion, and a demonstration that the holy shrines of Rome were still the focus of Catholic devotion. Painters or journalists of the eighteenth century were glad to portray the magnificence and movement of the rite when the holy door was thrown open to symbolize the opening of the gates of mercy. Churches were cleansed and beautified, vigils of prayer kept them open at night, famous missioners like Leonard of Port-Maurice preached in the squares. 59
Since the later Counter-Reformation Popes were also in the habit of publishing a special jubilee for prayers on their accession; and just occasionally in times of terrible crisis, as by Clement XI in his political agony of 1709.
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