The regular clergy in Italy

In the face of the relative weakness of the secular ecclesiastical structure in Italy, it was the religious orders that ensured the success of the Counter-Reformation in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The development of the regulars was overseen by the Roman Curia through a congregation of the regular clergy in 1596, a congregation of bishops and regular clergy in 1601, and a congregation on regular discipline in 1598. It was also expedited by a series of privileges granted by two popes who had come from the ranks of the regular clergy: the Dominican Pius V (1566-72) and the Franciscan Sixtus V (1585-90). From the early 1600s onwards, the enormous expansion of the regular clergy in Italy brought negative consequences for their discipline. As a result, Rome began an investigation of the numbers and wealth of the religious orders in 1649 and initiated a series of reforms which would also benefit the secular ecclesiastical structure.

The data gathered at this time by the investigating commission reveal the extraordinary extent of the network of regulars in Italy. Not including monasteries and friars in Sardinia and Corsica and the congregations of the Ora-torians and Lazarists, there were almost 70,000 religious distributed in 6,238 convents and colleges. Sixty-three per cent of the religious and 65 per cent of the institutions were situated in the Papal States, the vice-royalty of Naples,

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