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A History of the Reformation (Vol. 2 of 2)

And to restore discipline among the clergy


need scarcely be wondered at that it was in Spain that we find the earliest systematic attempts made to save the Church from the blindness and perversity of its rulers by the interposition of the secular authority to combat the deteriorating influence of the Roman Curia upon the local Church, and to restore discipline among the clergy. The Cortes of the various small kingdoms of the Spanish Peninsula repeatedly interfered to limit the overgrowth of clerical privileges, to insist on the submission of the clergy to the common law of the land, and to prevent the too great preponderance of clerical influence in secular administration. The ordinances of their Kings were used, time after time, to counteract the influence of harmful papal Bulls, and to prevent the interference of Italian ecclesiastics in the affairs of the Spanish Church. In the end of the fifteenth century the Spanish Bishops had been reduced to a state of dependence on the Crown; all exercise of ecclesiastical authority was carefully watched; the extent of ecclesiastical jurisdiction was specifically limited, and clerical courts were made to feel their dependence on the secular tribunals. The Crown wrung from the Papacy the right to see that piety and a zeal for religion were to be indispensable qualifications for clerical promotion. All this regulative zeal was preserved from being simply the attempts of politicians to control a rival power by certain fundamental elements in the national religious character, which
expressed themselves in rulers as well as in the mass of their subjects. In Spain, more than in any other land, asceticism and mystical raptures were recognised to be the truest expression of genuine religious sentiment. Kings and commonalty alike shared in the firm belief that a real imitation of Christ meant to follow in the footsteps of the Man of Sorrows, who wandered about not knowing where to lay His head, and who was enabled to endure what was given Him to do and to suffer by continuous and rapt communion with the Unseen.

The ecclesiastical Reformer of Spain had all these elements to work upon, and they made his task comparatively easy.

Sec. 2. _Reformation under Ximenes._

The consolidation of the Peninsula under Ferdinand and Isabella suggested a thorough reorganisation of the Spanish Church. The Crown extorted from the Papacy extraordinary powers to deal with the secular clergy and with the monasteries. The great Queen was determined to purge the Church of her realm of all that she deemed to be evil. She called to her councils three famous Churchmen in whom she had thorough confidence--the great Spanish Cardinal, Mendoza, her confessor, Hernando de Talavera, and Francesco Ximenes. It was Ximenes who sketched the plan and who carried through the reformation.

Francesco Ximenes de Cisneros, as he is called, had been a Franciscan monk devoted to the ideals of his order. He belonged to a poor family, and had somehow or other attracted the attention of Cardinal Mendoza, at whose instigation the Queen had made him her father-confessor (1492). She insisted on his accepting the dignity of Archbishop of Toledo (1495), and had selected him to carry out her plans for the organisation and purification of the Spanish Church. After his elevation to the arch-episcopal chair he gave the example of what he believed to be the true clerical life by following in the most literal way the maxims of St. Francis about self-denial, devotion, and ascetic life. He made these the ideal for the Spanish clergy; they followed where he led.

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