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A History of Spain by Charles E. Chapman

More particularly the secular clergy


there were some 200,000 members

of the regular clergy and over 9000 convents for men, and in both cases the numbers increased thereafter, while the population of the peninsula declined,--a factor which caused political and economic writers, many of whom were churchmen, not a little concern.[56] Despite this fact the clergy enjoyed the highest social consideration, and intervened in all phases of Spanish life. This was due not only to the religious sentiment of the people but also in great measure to the superior intellectual attainments of some of the clergy. Thus they distinguished themselves on the one hand as theologians, students of the canon law, jurisconsults, men of letters, historians, and university professors, and on the other as members of state councils, or in high political positions in the Americas. The increase in the landed wealth of the church, while it was the subject of numerous unsuccessful petitions of the _Cortes_ to forbid the giving of lands in mortmain, was largely responsible for the imposition of taxes on the clergy, thus diminishing the immunities they had formerly enjoyed. The church could well afford to pay, for if not the richest proprietor in Spain it was certainly among the first; toward the middle of the sixteenth century the combined rents of the clergy amounted to some 5,000,000 ducats ($75,000,000) a year, or half the total for the kingdom, four-fifths of which amount was paid to the establishments of the regular clergy. Part of the funds was expended in charities for the
benefit of the poor, such as the maintenance of asylums, hospitals, and soup-kitchens, measures which (disinterested though they might be) served also to augment their popularity with the masses.

[Sidenote: Prevalence of loose practices among the clergy.]

Despite the flourishing condition of the Spanish clergy and their high standing in the peninsula the state of morality among them left much to be desired. Abundant evidences on this score are at hand, not only in the form of unsympathetic attacks and satires, but also in the works of zealous and devout reformers. The fact that such writings were not condemned by the Inquisition argues the need for reproof. The practice of _barragan?a_ was not unknown, even among bishops, some of whom entailed estates to their sons. Among the lesser churchmen, more particularly the secular clergy, the custom was more general. Solicitation by confessors and the avarice of clerical collectors of revenues were also frequently censured in the writings of the time. Nevertheless, it is but fair to consider these evils from the standpoint of that era. As compared with previous periods this age was one of marked advance in the average of clerical rectitude, and there were even writers who could claim that the Spanish clergy surpassed the churchmen of other countries in moderation and chasteness of life. Meanwhile, reforms like those instituted in the time of the Catholic Kings by Xim?nez were being pushed on vigorously and effectively, and were reinforced by the decisions of the great church council of Trent (1545-1563).

[Sidenote: Prominence of Spanish kings and prelates in church reform.]

The Protestant Reformation and the Catholic Reaction, or Counter-Reformation, belong rather to European and church history than peculiarly to that of Spain, although Spain played a leading part in the events connected with them. Much in regard to them may therefore be omitted, except in so far as they affected problems in the peninsula itself and, by extension, the Spanish colonies. Charles I was an ardent partisan of church reform, but was desirous that it should be effected without change in dogma, and in this attitude he was joined by many of the greatest Catholic churchmen of the day, including some of the popes, who recognized the prevalence of abuses of which the Protestant leaders were able to make capital in the furtherance of their reforms. One of the principal policies of Charles I was the calling of a general church council for the discussion of this matter, and despite the resistance of several of the popes he labored to attain this end until he was at length successful. In 1545 there began the series of congresses which are called collectively the Council of Trent. Spanish prelates were one of the most important elements at these meetings, and in accordance with the ideas of Charles I and Philip II resisted the attempts made at a suspension of the sessions and the efforts of certain popes and other churchmen to bring about their failure. They were not only among the most frank in their references to the need for reform, but were also most rigid in their insistence upon disciplinary methods, even suggesting the application of the Spanish institution of the _residencia_ to officers of the church. The eventual success of the council was due in no small degree to Spaniards, who also were among the most active in executing the corrective measures which were decided upon.


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