Conscience Control In Early Modern Europe Theology Religion Essay Example
Conscience Control In Early Modern Europe Theology Religion Essay Example

Conscience Control In Early Modern Europe Theology Religion Essay Example

Available Only on StudyHippo
  • Pages: 16 (4181 words)
  • Published: October 10, 2017
  • Type: Essay
View Entire Sample
Text preview

The sacrament of repentance, one of the seven sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church, aimed to absolve the guilt of an individual who had sinned. The important decree called Omnis utriusque sexus (1215) included two specific requirements: believers were to confess all sins to their priests at least once a year and they were to receive Communion at a specific time - Easter, the central season in Christian liturgical and ritual life. To be forgiven, the penitent had to shift from evasion, which was the desire to avoid eternal punishment, to attrition, which was the sorrow for offending God combined with the intention not to persist in sin. The goal of repentance was to spiritually cleanse the faithful for worthy participation in Communion. Repentance, both in this form and later reaffirmed in the Council of Trent (1545-1563), has been analyzed by historians and sociologists a


like in order to understand its nature through various historiographical models.

Jean Delumeau describes the Counter-Reformation as the most powerful mass infliction of guilt in history, while Thomas Tentler sees it as a total system of control combining jurisprudence, guilt, and absolution. The concept of social control has been widely accepted, but John Bossy offers a different perspective by examining the changes in the understanding of repentance from medieval to early modern times. In his book "Christianity in the West," Bossy argues that the introduction of the confessional booth facilitated the transition from repentance to discipline. However, it is important to be cautious when making general statements about periods of change, as they often overlook the actual process that took place. Additionally, the methods used to analyze the paradigms of internalization o

View entire sample
Join StudyHippo to see entire essay

imposed subjugation primarily rely on top-down evidence, such as edicts, trials, catechisms, and architecture.

Historians have recently attempted to redirect their attention from these factors and instead concentrate on recording the different alterations on the land in Western Europe. Regrettably, due to the secretive nature of the topic, comprehending it entirely has proven challenging. Nevertheless, by analyzing evidence quantitatively, one can observe a substantial reorganization of the Church at an unmatched magnitude. Furthermore, historians have lately conducted case studies of particular regions or cities to expand their own observations into a broader geographic scope.

These general observations suggest a particular mentality and policy within the Catholic Church due to the presence of new and competing forms of established Christianity. This had implications for increased spirituality and pastoral efficiency. However, these broad observations overlook the variety and diversity of experiences based on regional and demographic factors, which make it difficult to create a single paradigm or model. This essay takes a cautious approach in examining the impact of the ideals and changes brought about by the Council of Trent and Post-Tridentine reforms on the concept of repentance, and how these outcomes could be unintentional or insignificant. Regional diversity is evident: Cardinal Charles Borromeo, Archbishop of Milan, systematized the penitentiary system in Milan after the Council of Trent, while Spain experienced a golden age for confession, as indicated by Patrick O'Banion's study of the Archbishopric of Toledo. However, according to Joseph Bergin and Robin Briggs, the need for reform was felt less strongly in France, and it was not until the late 1640s that the full impact of Tridentine reform was felt at a synodal level, let alone on

land. However, Germany had a completely different experience, as W.D.

Myers and Marc Forster investigate the presence of Protestantism within Catholic bishoprics. The preferred paradigm associated with historians like W. D. Myers, Wietse de Boer, and Patrick O'Banion reflects a bottom-up approach, considering the exchange between the penitent and confessor on the land. This perspective proves more valuable for historians in understanding the influence of the Counter-Reformation.

This text discusses the ability of the penitent to negotiate and navigate through the penitentiary procedure. It suggests that while priests were unable to enforce a specific way of confessing, the penitent had the freedom to navigate through different areas and engage in a dialogue with the priest. This essay examines the effects of the Counter Reformation on Italy, Spain, Germany, and France, and how top-down decisions impacted society.

The Council of Trent was convened by Pope Paul III in 1545 and sat in 25 sessions for three periods between 1545 and 1563. It is considered the pinnacle of the Counter-Reformation in the 16th century. There have been extensive analyses of the Council's constituents, purposes, and consequences. Differences have emerged between Trent and Tridentinismo ("Tridentism"), which refers to the interpretations of the Council's decrees. The Council aimed to reform both the Church and the Christian people. The latter reform was to be implemented through bishops and parish priests, following a top-down approach. Thus, the Council did not directly address temporal matters but considered them as a result of efforts to improve pastoral effectiveness, address practical abuses, and foster H.'s words.

Evennett emphasized the need to restore the true pastoral apostolic spirit to the entire church, claiming that the Council's nature was not

only characterized by practical abuses like absenteeism, barratry, and pluralism, but also by variations in practice that were seen as a significant threat due to the spiritual disarray of the time. Therefore, in the introduction to the 14th session devoted to repentance, the Council fathers acknowledged, "In these days, there are so many errors related to this sacrament that it will be extremely helpful to provide a more precise and comprehensive definition..." However, the decree dealing with repentance is essentially a compilation of teachings on the sacrament from the 12th century, with a strong emphasis on its justification by Christ himself. Although some historians like W.D.

Myers and John O'Malley have observed that the edicts overrule the characteristics of obligations and specific conditions necessary for a valid confession. Chapter III of significance highlights the effects and pastoral purposes of the sacrament, which include reconciliation with God and a sense of peace and comfort for those who receive the sacrament with devotion. The Council emphasized the importance of frequent participation in the sacrament, which already had momentum. Increasing frequency in receiving the Eucharist elevated the significance of the sacrament of repentance and the role of confessors. However, specifying duties such as confessing all known sins led to higher expectations from the clergy towards penitents. The Council's decision prompted commitment, initiatives, as well as resistance.

Many bishops returned to their bishoprics with a determination to faithfully implement the decisions they had helped explain. Others, even if they did not attend, intended to implement the edicts of the Council of Trent. According to Giuseppe Alberigo, there was a hopeful and eager attitude despite some opposition that remained inactive. These expectations

serve as a benchmark for comparing outcomes and assessing the effectiveness of top-down ideals.

The Reformer Bishop

It comes as no surprise that Cardinal Charles Borromeo (1538-1584), also known as 'San Carlo Borromeo', takes center stage. After the Council of Trent, he played a crucial role in passing numerous legislations not only in his archbishopric of Milan but also through collaborations with popes and other bishops. At that time, Milan held the distinction of being Italy's largest archdiocese encompassing over two thousand churches, three thousand clergy members, one hundred and ten monasteries, ninety convents, and more than eight hundred thousand souls. Diligently enforcing the principles established by the Council, Borromeo brought substance and significance to his role as a bishop through his own synods.

While residing in Milan, Carlo Borromeo called for a total of eleven diocesan synods and six provincial councils, which he believed would help restore order in the church. His ideas were widely circulated in Europe through the publication of Acta Ecclesiae Mediolanensis, which included many of his instructions for bishops. Even after his death, his teachings were published in various places, such as Antwerp and Cologne. His brother, Federico Borromeo, later published an expanded edition of the Acta. This success has been hailed as remarkable, as local reforms rarely gained such significant recognition in the larger Church. Perhaps Borromeo's greatest impact was seen in his interpretation and implementation of the Tridentine penitentiary ideal. At the beginning of his episcopate, he expressed his concern with the practice of confession and compiled regulations for confessors. These regulations were eventually published as Avvertenze di monsignore illustrissimo central Borromeo, arcivescovo di Milano, Army Intelligence confessor nella citta et

diocese sua. This publication clearly emphasized that confessors were to carry out Episcopal policies.Borromeo left the confessional box as a permanent bequest.

The confessional, comprising a wooden chair for the confessor and a kneeling bench for the penitent, featured a small window between the two components. This window was closed off by a metal sheet with small holes and covered with fabric. Initially utilized during a general jubilee in Milan in early 1576 at the Duomo, where individuals sought indulgences and confessed using this novel piece of furniture, it gained popularity throughout Europe after being described in the Instructions for Church Fabrics and Furnishings the following year.
However, these reforms had not only religious but also administrative motivations. Borromeo believed that frequent confession was commendable not just for spiritual reasons as mentioned in Trent but also because it could serve as a means of clerical supervision. At the parish level, rather than being solely focused on spirituality, this sacrament became more bureaucratized.

The minister of religion announced on Easter Sunday that parishioners had one more week to fulfill their Easter duties. He created a list of individuals who had not confessed or communicated and declared them interdicted. The list was published and sent to the Curia along with confession certificates and parish registries. Borromeo's Milan can be seen as a model for the spread and continuation of Tridentine reforms, although the focus on top-down bureaucracy does not support bottom-up initiatives.

The case of Toledo: Spain's Milan

The archbishopric of Toledo was Spain's equivalent of Milan and held a prestigious position, setting the tone for the rest of Spain. Like Milan, the archbishops of Spain convened synods and provincial councils to

implement the Tridentine ideal. In 1566, Gomez Tello Giron, the diocesan administrator, organized the first post-Tridentine synod in Toledo. Tello aimed to establish ecclesiastical authority by clarifying parish boundaries. Each household was assigned a parish church where they were required to complete their Easter duty.

The cura of one parish would refuse to hear the confessions of parishioners from another. If a penitent had been given special permission to confess to another priest, they had to show their confessional reception document to their cura before receiving communion. Additionally, the synod began officially denying absolution to confessants who could not recite the required prayers. This shift reflected the increasing expectations placed on penitents, from simply making the sign of the cross to demonstrating knowledge of additional prayers. In Toledo, the 1566 synod mandated that confessants recite the Pater Noster, the Ave Maria, the Apostles' Creed, and the Salve Regina. The spread of Tridentine practice can also be observed through the use of confession boxes in Spain, similar to Milan but with an emphasis on knowledge of the sacrament and possibly unintentional control over the process from the perspective of the penitent. The significant increase in confessional advice manuals written by Spanish theologians between 1550 and 1700 led bishops by the 17th century to require that every parish priest possess a few sumas de casos de conciencia and to punish those who could not present the books during Episcopal trials.The Manual de confessors y penitents, authored by Martin de Azpilcueta, was extremely successful. From 1552 to 1650, it was printed at least 81 times and underwent revisions, abridgements, and translations into Latin, Portuguese, Gallic, and Italian on 92

occasions. This led to the reform of confession procedures within the Spanish church, accomplished through provincial statute law and confessional manuals.

Their reforms in Toledo instilled a turning outlook of cognition in the temporalty from the top downwards, promoting a bottom-up position of approaching the sacrament. This differed starkly from the confessional state of affairs in Germany, where expanding Protestantism posed challenges. In the bishopric of Constance, Catholicism remained dominant but important provinces and cities, including Wurttemberg, Ulm, and Zurich, embraced Protestantism. In Catholic regions, secular princes and church establishments limited Episcopal authority while recognizing the need for Tridentine reforms to be enforced from the top-down.

Cardinal Mark Sittich von Hohenems, the Bishop of Constance from 1561-1589, demonstrated his commitment to church reform by organizing a diocesan synod in 1567. The cardinal believed that this synod was essential for carrying out the reform of the clergy mandated by the holy council. He aimed to address issues such as bad behavior, drunkenness, gambling, improper personal relationships, and other disorderly conduct among the clergy. His plan was to convene a synod or meeting involving all archpriests and clergy in the Bishopric of Constance. The purpose of this gathering was to publish and publicize the decrees of the council and enforce the penalties and regulations specified therein. Consequently, post-Tridentine reforms in Germany included a systematic categorization of Easter responsibilities, similar to that promoted by Saint Charles Borromeo. In 1590, Bishop Urban von Trench initiated significant reform measures in Passau by issuing a set of pastoral instructions known as the Articuli Reformationis (Articles of Reformation), which applied to all parishes and priests in the bishopric.

The Articuli required all curates

to know their parishioners by name and to record the names of those who fulfilled their Easter obligations. Additionally, the synods encouraged their followers to confess more frequently, for example, at the main banquets of the Church. Numerous catechisms supported the idea that regular Communion and confession were the ideal forms of penitentiary practice. The Catechismus, Das ist Christlicher Bericht von wahrer Religion und Gottes dienst, a publication from Cologne in 1587, criticized annual Communion as insufficient. It stated that it was better for all Christians to partake in this sacrament, not just once or a few times a year as negligent people did. Instead, one should approach it every Sunday or once a month with great joy and desire, like the ancient Christians did. However, not all post-Tridentine reforms spread into Germany, most notably the confessional box. In fact, no provision in sixteenth or early seventeenth-century German synods aimed to implement confessionals. Instead, the tradition of the Beichstuhl, a one-piece appliance consisting of a divider-less chair, persisted until the late seventeenth century. The main focus of Episcopal reform in Germany was achieving uniformity of ritual, particularly in the form of the rite of absolution and not just in philosophy and duty.

In 1583, it was made clear at Culm that the proper expression of the Roman Catholic sacrament should be learned, remembered, and always stated clearly. The eventual version of the sacrament in Bavarian districts brought order to the procedure and created a uniformity of expression recognizable by the Catholic community. The Church hierarchy recognized the importance of uniformity in expression, which suggests an increased understanding by penitents of the sacrament's significance and their ability

to distinguish between expression and philosophy. This contrasts with Tentler's theory of societal control as penitents have some knowledge of the sacrament and accept it despite it being imposed.

Gallican troubles

Post-Tridentine reforms in France aimed not only to streamline the sacrament itself but also to highlight its integral role within the spiritual lives of the Catholic community.

The procedure began by eliminating the general confession of wickedness during Sunday mass, along with the absolution given by the priest, which was common in many countries, especially northern France, until the 16th century or possibly later. However, it took some time for the Borromean ideal to spread to France. The Archbishop of Toulouse, Charles de Montchal, only obtained a French translation of Borromeo's Instructions pour les confesseurs in 1648. This translation was then distributed to the Assembly of the Clergy later that year, and they decided to have the Instructions printed and distributed to all parish priests. However, Borromeo's text was far from being a comprehensive treatise. In Robin Briggs' version of the text, there are about 180 words per page. The main section of advice for Milanese confessors takes up about 70 pages, with an additional 15 pages for advice to cures and 27 pages for specific instructions related to the jubilee. The work was so unfamiliar in Paris that the copy obtained by de Montchal was from Toulouse, which is over 400 miles away. This lack of familiarity is easier to understand when one recognizes that Borromeo was focused on a specific local situation. As a guide for confessors, his book does not attempt to compete with those previously discussed.The primary purpose of the text is to

establish rules and regulations, with minimal focus on examples or potential difficulties. Moreover, if the installation of the confessional box is an indication of the extent to which post-Tridentine reforms have influenced a region, the Gallican church remains steadfast in the Germanic tradition of refraining from this new technology. When examining Normandy and Brittany in the 1620s, current images present a basic structure with a chair or stool on each side of a small gate through which the confessor and penitent could converse but not have physical contact. However, historians have dedicated less time to analyzing the initial implementation of Tridentine reforms due to the predominance of historiography on the clash between Jansenist and Jesuit schools of thought in early modern France.

The conflicting sides that existed hindered the advancement of the Counter-Reformation. However, confraternities like the Society of Jesus played a significant role in facilitating the increased focus on confession in France, where bishops and parish priests were unsuccessful. The impact on the temporalty, or secular society, was varied despite the efforts of reforming bishops through synods, councils, and publications. To gain a complete understanding, it is important to consider not only the top-down response to reform but also the bottom-up initiatives that influenced practices just as much as official decrees. This necessity is evident in the historiography, as scholars like O'Banion, de Boer, Forster, Briggs, and Myers observe that reforming programs devised at higher levels were always subject to negotiation when implemented in local communities. Therefore, it is crucial to explore the effect on secular society as well as the endeavors made by secular society towards the clergy concurrently.Despite reforms promoting regular confession, it

is evident that for most people, Easter confession remained the primary annual penitential event, and the emphasis on reconciliation continued to be important. However, the nature of Easter confession itself may not have changed, although in Spain and Italy specifically, penitents would have noticed the increased bureaucracy surrounding this duty. The bureaucratization of the Lenten period, likely influenced by the Tridentine focus on obligations, resulted in most individuals confessing to their priests, leading to a decrease in the number of unconfessed sins across Europe. Testimonies from parish priests in Milan during a rare pastoral examination in 1550 indicate a general consensus in rural dioceses: among parishes varying in size from 40 to 400 adults, the number of unconfessed sins, although variable, could be counted on one hand.

During the year 1568, the individuals in the bishopric had largely fulfilled their Easter duty, and the numbers seemed to have remained relatively stable or slightly declined over time. Additionally, the availability of indulgences allowed many Spaniards, even those who were not particularly devout, to make an extra confession or two per year when given the right incentive. Martin de Gamboa, a weaver, confessed twice during the Lenten season of 1561, once for Easter and once for an indulgence. In Spain, the major pilgrimage sites like Santiago de Compostela, Monserrate in Barcelona, and the Virgin's shrine at Guadalupe, were accompanied by numerous other sacred sites that held regional or local reputations but required pilgrims to confess before they could receive the associated benefits. One example in Spain was the Portiuncula Indulgence, named after Saint Francis's small church outside Assisi.

During the feast of Saint Peter ad vincula in early August,

those who confessed and received communion were granted a plenary indulgence, absolving them from all temporal penalties for past wrongdoing. However, the account of how laypeople responded to this sacrament diverges, not only due to differences in form and speed of reform, but also because of a new and increasingly common phenomenon: the spiritual relationship between a confessor and a penitent. This relationship, when present, influenced the penitent to confess in a way that threats and interdicts could not achieve. Furthermore, examining this relationship helps to shift the focus of the bottom-up model from a purely quantitative assessment of how many people confessed, to a qualitative evaluation of how a penitent confessed and what they knew about the sacrament.

Prosecuting with the temporalty: secular and regular clergy

Leading the promotion of this spiritual relationship between penitents and confessors were the Society of Jesus and other confraternities.

The Society of Jesus, established in Rome in 1540, was a modern representation of spiritual association that suited the needs of the modern Catholic Church. Despite confession being viewed as a court, Jesuit Jeronimo Nadal (1507-1580) described the role of the confessor as encompassing various attitudes, such as providing comforting words like a father, admonishing like a judge, and offering remedies like a physician. Thus, it combined the comforting elements of sacrament within a judicial framework. The significance of the regular clergy, in contrast to secular priests, lay in their extensive experience, which distinguished the urban and rural penitentiary encounters. As previously mentioned, the Jesuits recognized the importance of their role as confessors and spiritual administrators in a way that parish priests did not. This understanding of their experience can be observed

in 1619 when Bishop D'Estaing of Clermont justified the establishment of a Recollet house in a small town in Auvergne by stating that people have a greater need for instruction and consolation through confession rather than preaching or other forms of education, which appear ineffective without the practice of such confessions... I desire that they [Recollets] be given preference over others, particularly because they hear confessions and because confession is more beneficial in serving God.

Peoples found it easier to confess to an alien than to a parish priest whom they saw on a daily basis and never fully trusted to keep their secrets. In places where regular clergy were present, especially in Germany, the laypeople were arguably empowered to adopt a new spirituality in the midst of competing religions. Members of the Marian Congregation, a religious group established in Rome in 1563 and expanded to Cologne by the Society of Jesus in 1575, were instructed to receive Communion monthly and during special religious occasions, like the feasts of Christ and the Virgin Mary. Additionally, they were required to confess their sins on a weekly basis.The confraternity's purpose relied heavily on frequent and regular confessions. The bull Omnipotentis Dei, issued by Gregory XIII in 1584, and the 'common regulations' set by the General for All Congregations in 1587 facilitated their spread. The Counter-Reformation had a significant impact on the temporalty, particularly in Spain, where there is anecdotal evidence of authorization to travel through the confessional procedure. However, its relevance to Europe as a whole is difficult to determine. In late-sixteenth century Cordoba, a Jesuit observed that people of all ages sought confession sincerely, despite rumors trying

to deter them. These rumors not only failed to discourage them but instead fueled their desire even more. The proliferation of manuals and catalogs of sins was beneficial not only because they provided clear guidance to the confessor but also because they placed the responsibility of investigating and acknowledging sins in the hands of the penitent.O'Banion recognizes that while medieval summae may have been incomprehensible to the general reader, by the late-sixteenth-century, popular works in the genre were not only becoming more widespread but also directed towards a specific readership of ballad enthusiasts, as seen in examples like Azpilcueta's "Manual de confessors y penitents" and Fernandez de Cordoba's "Instrucion de confessoresa?¦y de los penitentes". Myers suggests that for devout individuals, according to the Kurzer Unterricht Recht und wohl Zu beichten, frequent confession eliminates the need for a "mirror of confession" or a book listing sins in the order of the Ten Commandments or otherwise. Without these aids, individuals can easily recall their sins.

However, in communities where there were fewer educated churchgoers, one solution to addressing illiteracy was the creation of a textual community. This involved an interaction between individuals who could speak and those who could read, centered around the understanding and interpretation of a text. With an increasing awareness of the importance of sacraments, parishioners engaged in a two-way dialogue with their confessors, exemplifying a bottom-up confessional experience. The goal of the priest was to elicit a meaningful and productive confession from their penitents. However, this was not a simple task, and priests without pastoral sensitivity or who treated confession as a mechanical process often struggled to achieve this outcome. While confession had the

potential to be a tool for priests to instill fear in their penitents, confessors could also be influenced by the demands and expectations of their penitents.

Get an explanation on any task
Get unstuck with the help of our AI assistant in seconds