History of the Catholic Church - J. MacCaffrey

Revolts against Authority

The principle of individual judgment put forward by Luther and his associates had a great influence on their followers of a later age, and even on a certain section of those who remained loyal to the Catholic Church. It dealt a severe blow to all religious authority, and hence, even some Catholics began to chafe against the authority and teaching power of the Church, while a large portion of the Protestants, more extreme and more logical than Luther, began to doubt about the very foundations of Christianity, and ended by becoming religious skeptics. Besides, the principle introduced by Luther of placing all ecclesiastical power in the hands of the civil rulers, coupled with the tendency towards absolute rule which manifested itself throughout Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, led even Catholic rulers to be more exorbitant in their demands and to attempt to leave the Pope only a shadow of power in religious affairs. The results of these tendencies were to be seen in::—


The discussions with the Calvinists in the Netherlands had brought the question of Grace again into prominence. Michael Baius, a professor of Louvain, advanced certain propositions which were suspected of Calvinism, and these were condemned by Rome in 1560, whereupon he retracted. His teaching, however, was adopted by Jansenius, who died in communion with the Church as bishop of Ypres (1638), but who left behind him a work which was published later on under the title of Auguslinus. On the publication of this work a sharp controversy broke out.

St. Cyran, an old friend of Jansenius, helped to spread the doctrines of Augustinus  in France, and to bring about a great reform movement which professed to aim at a return to the severity and strictness of the early Church. The justice of God was emphasized, almost to the exclusion of his mercy, and the conditions laid down for the worthy reception of Holy Communion were so difficult to fulfil that communion must necessarily be rare. St. Cyran was helped by many, especially by Arnauld and his sister Angelique, superioress of Port Royal, which became the great centre for the dissemination of Jansenism in Paris and France. The doctrines of the Jansenists were attacked, especially by the Jesuits and by St. Vincent de Paul, but notwithstanding their preaching and the many condemnations issued by the Pope, the heresy found many supporters owing mainly to the strictness it inculcated, as well as to the influence of Port Royal and the assistance of powerful patrons. Pascal wrote his famous Provincial Letters  against the Jesuits, on account of the strong stand they took in resisting Jansenism. For years France was divided, and many people, disturbed by the alleged miracles brought forward by the Jansenists in favour of their view and not knowing well what to believe, abandoned religion entirely. The Popes had often condemned the doctrines of the Jansenists, but the latter always found some loophole of escape from these condemnations. Finally, the publication of the Bull, Unigenitus, in 1713 made it clear that anyone who favoured Jansenism was an enemy of the Church, and from that time the Jansenists began to lose their power, though the heresy continued to disturb the Church in France for years.


Louis XIV. (1643–1715), influenced to some extent by the constitution of the Protestant State churches, determined to make himself absolute ruler of the Church in France; and some of the bishops, forgetful of the fact that their submission to and their union with the Pope were the best guarantees for their own liberty, were not unwilling to assist him. Relying upon the ancient customs of the realm he began to put forward claims to authority in ecclesiastical matters which were strongly resisted by the Popes. He then determined to summon a General Assembly of the French clergy (1682), where the four articles, known as the Gallican Articles, were passed. These were: (a) that the Pope could not interfere directly or indirectly with the temporal concerns of princes; (b) that in spiritual matters a General Council was superior to a Pope; (c) that the rights and customs of the Gallican Church were inviolable; and (d) that the Pope was not infallible, even in matters of faith, except his decision was confirmed by the consent of the Church.

The great body of the French clergy and of the doctors of the Sorbonne had no sympathy with these Articles, and the Popes protested strongly against them, refusing to confirm the nomination to French bishoprics of any of those who had taken part in the Assembly. It seemed as if Louis X1V. was determined to plunge France into schism, but alarmed at the dangers which threatened him in Europe at the time, he sought to bring about a reconciliation with the Holy See in 1693. Those who had been nominated to bishoprics expressed their regret for the part they had taken in the Assembly, and their nomination was confirmed by the Pope, while the king informed the Pope that the teaching of the Gallican Articles would not be enforced in the seminaries of France. But more than once the Articles were revived by his successors and did much to weaken the authority of the Holy See.

On the other side of the Rhine a similar movement against the Holy See was noticeable. The Emperor Joseph II. (176590) made a determined attempt to restrict the power of the Pope in his dominions, and was warmly supported by the prince bishops of Mayence, Treves and Cologne, who met at Ems in 1786, and issued a number of decrees which, had they been acted upon, would have meant the foundation of an independent national church in Germany. Fortunately, the bishops and clergy refused to support the movement, and the prince bishops were forced to make their submission in 1789. The Synod of Pistoia (1786) was also an indication of the same feeling, but the Synod found little support even in Tuscany.


Luther and his followers, not content with attacking particular doctrines, paned at the overthrow of all ecclesiastical authority by making individual judgment the ultimate criterion of revelation. As a consequence, many of those who accepted his doctrines began to question the very foundations on which Christianity rested, and ended by rejecting it entirely. Hence, everywhere in Europe, Rationalism made great progress in the eighteenth century and became highly fashionable amongst the educated and higher classes. It had its beginning in England in the works of writers like Hobbes, Locke, Lord Herbert of Cherbury and others, and soon found its way into France, where the open and shameless immorality of the court and of a section of the nobles helped to prepare the ground for the growth of religious skepticism. One of the ablest and most influential leaders of the movement was Arouet, better known as Voltaire, who, by his popular philosophy, his ready sarcasm and keen appreciation of the weak points of his opponents, did more to spread irreligious views among the middle and lower classes than any other man of his time. A group of able rationalist writers in France determined to bring out an encyclopedia, the articles of which were to be written in such a style as would shake the belief of its readers; and the authors of the encyclopedia might well congratulate themselves on the success of their work. Another writer who exercised a very disturbing influence in France, and whose works prepared the French people for the Revolution, was Jean Jacques Rousseau who in his work, Le Contrat Social, strongly emphasized the fact that the right to govern came not from God but from the people, and that if it were abused, the people could take the matter into their own hands and unmake what they themselves had made. In Germany, especially during the reign of Frederick II, (1740–86), the rationalist, irreligious movement made great progress.


Nor were the religious views, even of many Catholics who still remained true to the Church, entirely uninfluenced by the rationalist movement. In Germany the party of "Enlightenment" aimed at bringing about a complete change in the doctrines and discipline of the Church, in the hope of making the Catholic religion more acceptable to their rationalist opponents. It was under the influence of views like these that Joseph II. undertook his scheme of religious reform which would have destroyed the Church had it been successful, and it was for the same reason that the prince bishops of Germany and some of the clergy showed themselves so decidedly hostile to the Pope. The same movement in Catholic circles can be detected in Spain during the reign of Charles III. (1759–88), who expelled the Jesuits because they were the most dangerous opponents of his reforms; in Portugal during the reign of Joseph Emmanuel I. (1757–77), who also drove the Jesuits from his dominions, and in England to some extent during the earlier conflicts between the Catholic Committee and the Vicars Apostolic.