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The Reformation (continued); the Catholic Reaction. page 4

Pages: 1 2 3 <4>

It was the task of Henry IV. to restore prosperity to a country devastated and disordered by civil war, and to place on a firm basis the royal authority which had been greatly impaired. This work was effected, in the course of 12 years, in a manner which has made the memory of "Henri Quatre" still cherished by the French people. He quickly became the most popular of sovereigns, whose chief faults were a licentious life, and an extravagant expenditure on personal favourites and natural children, which set the worst example to society, and were productive of much evil in his own and succeeding reigns. In the great work of restoration Henry had the invaluable aid of his minister De Rosny, better known as the duke of Sully. This admirable man, harsh and ungracious, and proud enough of his own services, was a statesman of unbending principle and integrity, devoted to the welfare of his country and his king. Born in 1560, and placed in early youth under the care of Henry, he barely escaped the massacre of St. Bartholomew. At the Huguenot victory of Coutras, in 1587, he did excellent service in command of the artillery. At Ivry, receiving a severe wound, he had the glory of capturing the white standard of the duke of Mayenne. As the king's chief adviser, he approved Henry's "conversion" to the Catholic faith, in the interests of France. When he assumed power, the landed proprietors and provincial governors were severely controlled, and their tyrannical abuses of authority were stayed. Commerce was developed in the making of new roads and canals, and the financial administration was so vastly improved that, in the course of ten years, the national debt was reduced to less than one-sixth of its amount, and this in spite of the remission of arrears of taxation. The systematic plunder which had devoured half the slim raised by taxes on its road from the tax-payer to the treasury came to an end, and Sully, regardless of the clamour and hatred of thievish revenue-farmers and collectors, freely suspended or dismissed officials, and forced them to refund stolen sums. Between 1596 and 1609 the revenue was more than doubled in amount, and the treasury, in the latter years, contained a large surplus; the arsenals were prepared for war, and the fleet was well equipped. The reign ended on May 14th, 1610, the day after the coronation of Henry's second wife, Mary de' Medici. His life had been often attempted by assassins at the instance of the papal and imperial courts, where he was regarded as still the foe of Catholicism, and of the ruling houses of Austria and Spain. Henry was on the point of setting out for war in Germany when he was fatally stabbed, as he sat in his coach in a narrow street of Paris, by a fanatic named Ravaillac, who is alleged to have been a tool of the king's Jesuit enemies.

Before the middle of the 16th century the supporters of the old religious system which had been so rudely shaken by Luther, Calvin, and their aiders and abettors, had become convinced that it was time to set their house in order. Self-reform and revival were the urgent needs of the Catholic Church, and the work was carried out with admirable vigour and ability. The Protestant revolt was met by a great outbreak of Catholic zeal. A reformation of discipline and morals took place in the south of Europe. All the institutions which had been devised for the propagation and defence of the faith were made to work with new efficiency. The old religious communities were remodelled, and new religious communities were founded. As early as 1524, Gian Pietro Caraffa, bishop of Chieti (anciently Theate), afterwards Paul IV., a man of the most ascetic rigour of life, helped to establish the new order of priests called Theatines, the chief object of which was to supply the deficiencies of the parochial clergy. The members of the new brotherhood were active and zealous in preaching to multitudes gathered in the streets and in the fields, and in visiting the sick. A new class of Popes succeeded to Leo, the lover of luxurious ease, literature, and art, and to his worldly predecessors who had cared far more for the aggrandisement of their own families than for the spiritual work of the Church. Paul III. (Alessandro Farnese) (1534-1549) was zealously active against the Reformation. It was he who opened the famous Council of Trent in 1545, a body which not only sharply defined the doctrines of the Church, and finally divided Christendom into the spiritual subjects and enemies of the Papacy, but effected a great reform of discipline, issuing a "decree of reformation of morals and government," dealing with the residence of bishops and parish-priests, the qualifications for the priesthood, and the erection of seminaries for clerical training. Other regulations were made for the lives of monks and nuns. Paul IV. (1555-1559) brought to the Papal chair the fervent spirit of Dunstan and Becket, vigorously directing the Inquisition against the spread of heresy; setting up the Index Expurgatorius, or catalogue of books the reading of which is prohibited to members of the Church on doctrinal, moral, or religious grounds; and hunting up and burning heretical works. Pius IV. (1559-1566) confirmed the decrees of the Council of Trent by a bull in 1563. Pius V. (1566-1572), beginning as a strict-living Dominican monk, and then becoming a rigorous Inquisitor-General, was an earnest reformer of morals and discipline, a terrible opponent of heretics in seizures of property, imprisonment, and burning, and a banisher of Jews. It was he who, in 1570, excommunicated Queen Elizabeth, absolving her subjects from allegiance, and cursing all who should acknowledge or obey her. Under his gorgeous vestments, this stern upholder of the authority of the Papal See, a man whose arrogant pretensions, like those of a new Hildebrand, offended some Catholic sovereigns, wore day and night the hair-shirt of a simple friar, walked barefoot in the streets at the head of processions, found time for private prayer amongst his most pressing avocations, and showed abundant personal humility, charity, and forgiveness of injuries. Gregory XIII. (1572-1585), whom we have seen as the enthusiastic approver of the deed of St. Bartholomew's Day, encouraged plots against Elizabeth, the champion of Protestantism, and urged Philip of Spain to attack her. This head of the Church is more favourably known as the author of the reform of the Calendar in 1582. Sixtus V. (1585-1590) was a great ruler and statesman who, a swineherd in his early youth, became a Franciscan friar in 1534, and afterwards Inquisitor-General. at Venice. In 1570 he was made a cardinal, and owed his election to the Papal chair, 15 years later, to the dissimulation with which he concealed his ambitious hopes and real vigour, and to the artful assumption of a pious, meek, and feeble old age. As Pope, he showed his ability and energy in the vigorous reform of civil and ecclesiastical abuses. The hordes of brigands were suppressed; agriculture, trade, and industry flourished anew; colleges were founded, and Rome was adorned with new buildings, including the present Vatican Library. In his foreign policy, he combated Protestantism by aiding Henry III. of France against the Huguenots, and Philip of Spain against England.

It was the foundation of the Order of Jesuits which rendered the greatest service to the Catholic cause in the great reaction or anti-Reformation. The Society of Jesus is one of the most famous and powerful organisations in history. Inigo Lopez de Recalde, known as Ignatius de Loyola, was born in 1491 at his ancestral castle of Loyola, in the Basque province of Guipuscoa. His career as a brave and chivalrous young officer ended in his being crippled for life by a cannon-ball in defending Pampeluna against the French. As he lay upon his bed of sickness, the perusal of the Lives of the Saints gave a new turn to his thoughts and aspirations. He soon burned with a spiritual enthusiasm like that of St. Francis and St. Dominic. He became a pilgrim, barefooted and begging his way, in the service of the poor, and an earnest student, at the age of 33, of the learning neglected by him in his youthful days. After dwelling for a time in the Theatine convent at Venice, Loyola went to Paris, and, amid penances and vigils, and visions of holy things and personages, he formed the plan whose execution made him, in the great Catholic reaction, the Luther of the Catholic Church. In 1534, in conjunction with five friends, Le Fevre of Savoy; Lainez, Francis Xavier, and Bobadilla, of Spain; and Rodriguez, a Portuguese, he drew up the rules of an order whose motto was "Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam," "To the greater glory of God." To the usual triple vow of all Catholic religious orders - chastity, poverty, and obedience - was added that by which members were bound to go as missionaries to any country in the world to which their steps might be directed by the Pope. A " bull" of Paul III. approved the scheme, and the Society of Jesus began to exist, and was soon well established in Italy, Germany, Portugal, and Spain. In France the Jesuit organisation had not so much success. In the Netherlands, after the death of Loyola in 1556, Lainez, the second "general" of the Order, opened a college at Louvain which afterwards became one of the greatest Jesuit seminaries. In Protestant countries the Jesuits could, of course, only be missionaries, and they carried on their work under perilous circumstances. In England penal laws rendered them liable to death, but some members of the Order were always to be found lurking, in Elizabeth's reign, in various disguises and under false names, hidden away, in case of need, in the retreats called "priest-holes," still shown in ancient mansions in this country. Their zeal and devotion as preachers in foreign lands have never been surpassed. They were found in all the territories laid open to the European world by the discoveries of Columbus, on every shore to which enterprise and contempt of danger could lead mankind. In North America, a Jesuit first revealed the true course of the Mississippi; from South America, Jesuits first brought to Europe the invaluable Peruvian bark which supplied quinine. The world was, in truth, their province-China and Japan, India and Tibet Abyssinia, Kaffirland, the Guinea coast, Brazil, California, and Paraguay. Their fields of battle, in which, with consummate skill, they carried on the conflict against heresy, were the press, the pulpit, the confessional, and the school. Armed with all the skill and knowledge that could further their work, the Jesuits were great in science, learning, and literature, all employed in the service of the Church on whose behalf they defied all human laws and all penalties - racks and dungeons, gibbets and beheading-blocks. They aimed at the conquest of men's and women's feelings and opinions, and for this the Jesuit was admirably fitted by a training which showed a profound knowledge of the human heart, and a thorough understanding of the religious instincts and impulses of mankind. The preliminary exercises of the novitiate were designed by Loyola to make the young Jesuit personally holy, and at the school and college he was moulded for social requirements as a teacher and a spiritual director of mankind. The full-blown Jesuit thus "became all things to all men" - and women. In matters of conscience, he could be strict or indulgent at need, delighting the truly devout with the most saintly morality, and soothing the gay cavalier or the frail beauty with excuses for the "irregularities of people of fashion," in the style of an easy well-bred man of the world. He was at work in many great political affairs, plotting against the thrones and lives of apostate sovereigns, spreading evil rumours, raising tumults, exciting civil wars, and, in some cases, arming the hand of the assassin. Vehement, politic, strict in discipline, fearlessly courageous, self-denying, indifferent to private feeling, unscrupulous, versatile, intensely and stubbornly devoted to a single end, inflexible in nothing but in fidelity to the Church, the Jesuits dealt, according to the hearer, in the most opposite political doctrines. The subject of an absolute Catholic king would be taught that the ruler had a right to do as he pleased. The subject of a Protestant sovereign would be assured that any man had a right to rebel against or to slay a bad ruler.

It may well be imagined what enormous power was wielded by such a body of men. The history of the Order of Jesus is, in fact, the history of the great Catholic reaction. While the Protestant reformation was proceeding at one end of Europe, the Catholic revival was going on with equal rapidity at the other. The Catholics, moreover, had a great advantage in zeal, in unity, in consistency of tactics. Talents, virtues, follies, crimes, were displayed on both sides, but steady, persevering work for the one great aim was far more prevalent among the Catholics. Success had made the Protestants lax, lukewarm, and worldly. Elizabeth, James I. of England, and Henry IV. of France had no such hearty feeling, in the Protestant cause, as that which animated Philip and other Catholic sovereigns. The Protestants quarrelled with each other. Calvinists persecuted Lutherans, and Lutherans harassed Calvinists. In England the prisons were filled with Puritans, all intense Protestants, because they would not conform to the Anglican Church. Meanwhile, the Catholics, with their operations taking in the whole world, with excellent organisation of forces, and complete unity among themselves, directed their whole zeal against Protestants of every Church and every sect. The result was that, whereas in the later years of the 16th century there was a great doubtful region where victory was in the balance between the two faiths, as in France, southern Germany, Belgium, Hungary, and Poland, all those countries - France, Belgium, Bavaria, Bohemia, Austria, Poland, and Hungary - half a century later, had been secured for Catholicism, and the Protestants have never regained what was then lost.

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