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The catholic revival of the sixteenth century Essay

Assess the contribution the role of the Jesuits to the catholic revival of the sixteenth century

Jesuits scarcely contributed to the revival of the Catholic Church, this is because the people they were converting were from indigenous groups whose first experience of organized religion would have been from the Jesuits, who as a result of this, dramatically expanded the Catholic Church, but this didn’t revive the faith that had been lost. It would therefore seem that the Papacy’s contribution was more effective in ‘winning back the lost souls’ than the Jesuits. This can be accredited to the work of the Council of Trent and the Inquisition.

The papacy seem to have been more effective than the Jesuits in reviving the Catholic Church as they brought protestants back to the old faith, whereas the Jesuits started from scratch as their converts were not individuals lost to the Lutheranism, but newly religious.

Pope Paul III had backed the Jesuits in 1537, sending them into the heart of Protestantism to ‘win back lost souls’; England was gradually converting to Protestantism under Elizabeth I and so was naturally one of the first destinations, however all but one Jesuit was beheaded at the tower of London in 1580 after an unsuccessful mission. This shows the Jesuits failure to revive the faith of the people and win back these lost souls. They then turned to places like Africa, India, Japan and America.

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Francis Xavier 1506 – 1552, for example, travelled extensively and is estimated to have converted more than 700,000 people to the Catholic faith, but his methods of ‘mass baptism’ have been criticised for their superficial nature. The papacy on the other hand, working through the council of Trent, specified Catholic doctrine on salvation, sacraments, and the Biblical canon, were answering Protestant disputes. Pope Paul IV 1555-59, for example made efforts to rid the church of the extravagant leaders and simony. However, Paul IV had been the first pope to address the issue of reform, whereas earlier popes such as Pope Leo X 1513 – 21 is quoted to have said: ‘Now that God has given us papacy, let us enjoy it.’

The Jesuits appear to have been more effective in the revival the Catholic Church than the secular leaders, this is because kings had other agendas; for example wanting to preserve their positions, lands and titles. As a result of this, the secular leaders made little to no contribution to the catholic revival, whereas it was the Jesuits soul ambition to bring people to the faith, which they did very effectively.

For example, Philip’s reaction to the protestant reformation resulted in the trials, prosecution and the killing of between three and five thousand people from 1560 to 1700 of the Spanish inquisition. One could argue that while this is dealing with the problem of opposition to the Catholic Church, it is not reviving it. On the other hand the Jesuit, Matteo Ricci moved to China for 25 years, and it is estimated that when he died in1610 there were more than twenty-five hundred Christians in the country, it is this sort of work that created a worldwide support system for the Christian faith. However, the Jesuits were only active from 1540, where as the inquisition started in 1478.

While in some cases other religious orders were very effective at re-educating the people, none were on such a scale as the Jesuits; they had set up 74 colleges by Ignatius’s death in 1556 and gained worldwide recognition through their charitable works. Whereas organizations like the Barnabites and the Theatines could be seen as selective or even elitist in their membership, as many of their members were noblemen and artisans. In contrast to this, the Jesuits had the support of everyone from parish priests to wealthy Catholic families who sent their sons to the schools.

This gave the Jesuits the added influence and support at senior government level. On the other hand, while some of these new orders were very small and were never more of a symbol of what could have been, others were working effectively in large numbers and from much earlier on than the Jesuits, such as The Capuchins, who had 700 members by 1530 and 7000 by 1596. However, they were only working in Italy up until 1560, and didn’t expand much beyond that afterwards.

Overall, it would seem that the Jesuits were crucial to the advancement of Catholicism as a worldwide religion, but it could not be said that they had brought about a revival as such. Although they spread Catholicism across many different countries, the belief they left behind was one-dimensional. In contrast to this, the Papacy reformed itself from within, which is apparent from the change in the behavior of the Popes over the century, and their consistent backing of the council of Trent, the Spanish Inquisition and the different religious orders, the Jesuits included.

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