The papacy

Roman Catholicism was, at one level, embodied in an international church with a set of canon laws and observances having ubiquitous application; at another, the irrational structures and working practices of all early modern institutions applied at national, provincial, and local levels. Historical precedents were never lightly set aside and the scope for national churches to nourish and protect their independence from Rome was well rehearsed by the end of the seventeenth century. There had seldom been a point in the history of the papacy when secular rulers had not been assertive in the defence of their own leadership rights in their own states against papal pretensions. If encroachment was possible, then monarchs would attempt it, much as they always had: the process merely accelerated during the eighteenth century.

The Treaty ofWestphalia is commonly supposed to have ushered in a period of progressive papal decay culminating in Clement XIV's humiliating consent to dissolve the Society of Jesus in 1773 and Pius VI's ignominious exile from the Holy City twenty-five years later. For Hanns Gross, the Roman see was suffering from 'post-Tridentine syndrome', one denoted by the largely successful completion of the programme laid down nearly two centuries earlier without articulating anything to replace it. This view is not uncontroversial.3 It tends to underestimate the extent to which Tridentine policy initiatives in doctrinal and pastoral matters persisted throughout the eighteenth century. The evolution of the pontifical office during that period drew on a proven capacity for adaptation, suggesting that it was less diminished than different.

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