The secular clergy in Spain and Portugal

By the end of the eighteenth century, the secular clergy of Spain totalled some 70,000 individuals out of a clerical population of 148,000 and a general population of 10.5 million. The majority of the seculars were concentrated in the cities, living largely from benefices or from bequests for Masses. To those clerics who had received sacerdotal ordination, must be added a 'clerical proletariat' who had only taken minor orders and who enjoyed privileges such as exemptions from taxes and from lay jurisdiction. Distributed irregularly through the vast peninsula, these clergymen originated predominantly from rural backgrounds and were of modest means. They were strongly integrated into Spanish society in terms of their standard of living, their family ties, and their highly localized sense of identity.

The ecclesiastical reforms initiated in the eighteenth century during the reign of Charles III did not substantially change the position of the secular clergy, especially those in the parishes - unlike the reforms in Habsburg Austria and Italy during roughly the same period. At the turn of the nineteenth century the defensive and theocratic vision which affected the episcopacy also had a strong impact on the lower clergy. This perspective would long influence the political, social, and religious characteristics of Spanish history.

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