The World's Greatest Books, Vol XII.
Arthur Mee

Part 6 out of 6

hand with the papacy--Spain and the German Empire being now parted under
the two branches of the House of Hapsburg. In this policy he was most
ably assisted by the diplomatic tact of Cardinal Moroni, who succeeded
in bringing France, Spain, and the empire into a general acceptance of
the positions finally laid down by the Council of Trent, whereby the
pope's ecclesiastical authority was not impaired, but rather

On his death, he was succeeded by one of the more rigid school, Pius V.
(1563-1572). This pope continued to maintain the monastic austerity of
his own life; his personal virtue and piety were admirable; but, being
incapable of conceiving that anything could be right except on the exact
lines of his own practice, he was both extremely severe and extremely
intolerant; especially he was, in harmony with Philip of Spain, a
determined persecutor.

But to his idealism was largely due that league which, directed against
the Turk, issued in one of the most memorable checks to the Ottoman
arms, the battle of Lepanto.

Gregory XIII. succeeded him immediately before the massacre of St.
Bartholomew. It was rather the pressure of his surroundings than his
personal character that gave his pontificate a spiritual aspect. An
honourable care in the appointment of bishops and for ecclesiastical
education were its marks on this side. He introduced the Gregorian
Calendar. He was a zealous promoter of war, open and covert, with
Protestantism, especially with Elizabeth; his financial arrangements
were effective and ingenious. But he failed to obtain control over the
robber bands which infested the Papal States.

Their suppression was carried out with unexampled severity by Sixtus V.
Sixtus was learned and prudent, and of remarkable self-control; he is
also charged with being crafty and malignant. Not very accurately, he is
commonly regarded as the author of much which was actually due to his
predecessors; but his administration is very remarkable. Rigorous to the
verge of cruelty in the enforcement of his laws, they were themselves
commonly mild and conciliatory. He was energetic in encouraging
agriculture and manufactures. Nepotism, the old ingrained vice of the
popes, had been practised by none of his three immediate predecessors,
though he is often credited with its abolition. His financial methods
were successful immediately, but really accumulated burdens which became
portentously heavy.

The treatment of public buildings in Rome by Sixtus V., his destruction
of antiquities there, and his curious attempts to convert some of the
latter into Christian monuments, mark the change from the semi-paganism
of the times of Leo X. Similarly, the ecclesiastical spirit of the time
opposed free inquiry. Giordano Bruno was burnt. The same movement is
visible in the change from Ariosto to Tasso. Religion had resumed her
empire. The quite excellent side of these changes is displayed in such
beautiful characters as Cardinal Borromeo and Filippo Neri.

_III.--The Counter Reformation: First Stage_

Ever since the Council of Trent closed in 1563, the Church had been
determined on making a re-conquest of the Protestant portion of
Christendom. In the Spanish and Italian peninsulas, Protestantism never
obtained a footing; everywhere else it had established itself in one of
the two forms into which it was divided--the Lutheran and the
Calvinistic. In Germany it greatly predominated among the populations,
mainly in the Lutheran form. In France, where Catholicism predominated,
the Huguenots were Calvinist. Calvinism prevailed throughout
Scandinavia, in the Northern Netherlands, in Scotland, and--differently
arrayed--in England.

In Germany, the Augsburg declaration, which made the religion of each
prince the religion also of his dominions, the arrangement was
favourable to a Catholic recovery; since princes were more likely to be
drawn back to the fold than populations, as happened notably in the case
of Albert of Bavaria, who re-imposed Catholicism on a country whose
sympathies were Protestant. In Germany, also, much was done by the wide
establishment of Jesuit schools, whither the excellence of the education
attracted Protestants as well as Catholics. The great ecclesiastical
principalities were also practically secured for Catholicism.

The Netherlands were under the dominion of Philip of Spain, the most
rigorous supporter of orthodoxy, who gave the Inquisition free play. His
severities induced revolt, which Alva was sent to suppress, acting
avowedly by terrorist methods. In France the Huguenots had received
legal recognition, and were headed by a powerful section of the
nobility; the Catholic section, with which Paris in particular was
entirely in sympathy, were dominant, but not at all securely so--a state
of rivalry which culminated in the massacre of St. Bartholomew, while
Alva was in the Netherlands.

Nevertheless, these events stirred the Protestants both in France and in
the Netherlands to a renewed and desperate resistance. On the other
hand, some of the German Catholic princes displayed a degree of
tolerance which permitted extensions of Protestantism within their
realms. In England, the government was uncompromisingly Protestant. Then
the pope and Philip tried intervention by fostering rebellion in
Catholic Ireland and by the Jesuit mission of Parsons and Campion in
England, but the only effect was to make the Protestantism of the
government the more implacable.

A change in Philip's methods in the Netherlands separated the northern
Protestant provinces from the Catholic Walloons. The assassination of
William of Orange decided the rulers of some of the northern German
states who had been in two minds. The accession of Rudolf II. of Austria
had a decisive effect in South Germany. When the failure of the house of
Valois made the Huguenot Henry of Navarre heir to the French throne, the
Catholic League, supported by the pope, determined to prevent his
succession, while the reigning king, Henry III., Catholic though he was,
was bitterly opposed to the Guises.

The immediate effect was the compulsory submission of the king to the
Guises and the League, followed by the assassination, first of Guise and
then of the king, at the moment when the Catholic aggression had taken
shape in the Spanish Armada, and received a check more overwhelming than
Philip was ready to recognise.

In certain fundamental points, the papacy was now re-asserting
Hildebrandine claims--the right of controlling succession to temporal
thrones. It is an error to regard it as essentially a supporter of
monarchy; it was the accident of the position which commonly brought it
into alliance with monarchies. In the Netherlands, it was by its support
of the constitutional demands of the Walloon nobles that the south was
saved for Catholicism. It asserted the duty of peoples to refuse
allegiance to princes who departed from Catholicism, and it was
Protestant monarchism which replied by asserting the divine right of
kings; the Jesuits actually derived the power of the princes from the
people. Thus a separate Catholic party arose, which, maintaining the
divine appointment of princes, restricted the intervention of the church
to spiritual affairs, and in France supported Navarre's claim to the
throne; while, on the other hand, Philip and the Spaniards, strongly
interested in preventing his succession, were ready to maintain, even
against a fluctuating pope, that heresy was a permanent bar to
succession, not to be removed even by recantation.

Sixtus V. found himself unable to decide. The rapid demise of three
popes in succession after him (1590-1591) led to the election of Clement
VIII. in January 1592, a man of ability and piety. He mistrusted the
genuineness of the offer which Henry had for some time been making of
returning to the bosom of the church, and was not inclined to alienate
Spain. There was danger that the French Catholics would maintain their
point, and even sever themselves from Rome. The acceptance of Henry
would once more establish France as a Catholic power, and relieve the
papacy of its dependence on Spain. At the end of 1595 Clement resolved
to receive Henry into the church, and he reaped the fruits in the
support which Henry promptly gave him in his claim to resume Ferrara
into the Papal States. In his latter years, he and his right-hand man
and kinsman, Cardinal Aldobrandini, found themselves relying on French
support to counteract the Spanish influences which were now opposed to
Clement's own sway.

On Clement's death another four weeks' papacy intervened before the
election of Paul V., a rigorous legalist who cared neither for Spain nor
France, but for whatever he regarded as the rights of the Church, as to
which he had most exaggerated ideas. These very soon brought him in
conflict with Venice, a republic which firmly maintained the supremacy
of the authority of the State, rejecting the secular authority of the
Church. To the pope's surprise, excommunication was of no effect; the
Jesuits found that if they held by the pope there was no room for them
in Venice, and they came out in a body. The governments of France and
Spain disregarded the popular voice which would have set them at
war--France for Venice, Spain for the pope--and virtually imposed peace;
on the whole, though not completely, in favour of Venice.

But the conflict had impeded and even threatened to subvert that unity,
secular and ecclesiastical, which was the logical aim of the whole of
the papal policy.

_IV.--The Counter Reformation: Second Stage_

Meanwhile, the Protestantism which had threatened to prevail in Poland
had been checked under King Stephen, and under Sigismund III.
Catholicism had been securely re-established, though Protestantism was
not crushed. But this prince, succeeding to the Swedish crown, was
completely defeated in his efforts to obtain a footing for Catholicism,
to which his success would have given an enormous impulse throughout the

In Germany, the ecclesiastical princes, with the skilled aid of the
Jesuits, thoroughly re-established Catholicism in their own realms, in
accordance with the legally recognised principle _cujus regio ejus
religio_. The young Austrian archduke, Ferdinand of Carinthia, a pupil
of the Jesuits, was equally determined in the suppression of
Protestantism within his territories. The "Estates" resisted, refusing
supplies; but the imminent danger from the Turks forced them to yield
the point; while Ferdinand rested on his belief that the Almighty would
not protect people from the heathen while they remained heretical; and
so he gave suppression of heresy precedence over war with the Turk.

The Emperor Rudolph, in his latter years, pursued a like policy in
Bohemia and Hungary. The aggressiveness of the Catholic movement drove
the Protestant princes to form a union for self-defence, and within the
hereditary Hapsburg dominions the Protestant landholders asserted their
constitutional rights in opposition. Throughout the empire a deadlock
was threatening. In Switzerland the balance of parties was recognised;
the principal question was, which party would become dominant in the

There was far more unity in Catholicism than in Protestantism, with its
cleavage of Lutherans and Calvinists, and numerous subdivisions of the
latter. The Church at this moment stood with monarchism, and the
Catholic princes were able men; half Protestantism was inclined to
republicanism, and the princes were not able men. The Catholic powers,
except France, which was half Protestant, were ranged against the
Protestants; the Protestant powers were not ranged against the
Catholics. The contest began when the Calvinist Elector Palatine
accepted the crown of Bohemia, against the title of Ferdinand of
Carinthia and Austria, who about the same time became emperor.

The early period of the Thirty Years' War thus opened was wholly
favourable to the Catholics. The defeat of the Elector Palatine led to
the Catholicising of Bohemia and Hungary; and also, partly through papal
influence, to the transfer of the Palatinate itself to Bavaria, carrying
the definite preponderance of the Catholics in the central imperial
council. At the same time Catholicism acquired a marked predominance in
France, partly through the defections of Huguenot nobles; was obviously
gaining ground in the Netherlands; and was being treated with much more
leniency by the government in England. And, besides all this, in every
part of the globe the propaganda instituted under Gregory XV. and the
Jesuit missions was spreading Catholic doctrine far and wide.

But the two great branches of the house of Hapsburg, the Spanish and the
German, were actively arrayed on the same side; and the menace of
Hapsburg supremacy was alarming. About the time when Urban VIII.
succeeded Gregory (1623), French policy, guided by Richelieu, was
becoming definitely anti-Spanish, and organised a huge assault on the
Hapsburgs, in conjunction with Protestants, though in France the
Huguenots were quite subordinated. This done, Richelieu found it politic
to retire from the new combination, whereby a powerful impulse was given
to Catholicism.

But Richelieu wished when free to combat the Hapsburgs, and Pope Urban
favoured France, magnified himself as a temporal prince, and was anxious
to check the Hapsburg or Austro-Spanish ascendancy. The opportunity for
alliance with France came, over the incidents connected with the
succession of the French Duc de Nevers to Mantua, just when Richelieu
had obtained complete predominance over the Huguenots. Papal antagonism
to the emperor was becoming obvious, while the emperor regarded himself
as the true champion of the Faith, without much respect to the pope.

In this crisis the Catholic anti-imperialists turned to the only
Protestant force which was not a beaten one--Gustavus Adolphus of
Sweden. Dissatisfaction primarily with the absolutism at which the
emperor and Wallenstein were aiming brought several of the hitherto
imperialist allies over, and Ferdinand at the Diet of Ratisbon was
forced to a change of attitude. The victories of Gustavus brought new
complications; Catholicism altogether was threatened. The long course of
the struggle which ensued need not be followed. The peace of Westphalia,
which ended it, proved that it was impossible for either combatant to
effect a complete conquest; it set a decisive limit to the Catholic
expansion, and to direct religious aggression. The great spiritual
contest had completed its operation.


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