Church Reform in Spain

A.) The Spanish Church in the 1480es

Spain was created by the marriage of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabel of Castile in 1479; however, regional institutions (for instance their parliaments, called Cortez) were to continue. The people of Aragon and Castile, even of certain regions within these kingdoms, had strong regional identities, while a Spanish identity still was to be formed.
The Iberian peninsula, for several centuries, had been fronitier country, with the consequence that the ecclesiastic administration of the peninsula had been split between ordinary dioceses (mostly distant from the 'frontier' with Islam) and the districts administrated by militant orders. However, the monastic orders long had ceased to be effective factors in combatting Islam; the Kingdom of Granada had ceased to be a threat to the christian kingdoms on the peninsula in the 13th century.
In the second half of the 15th century, as much as elsewhere, church regulations were ill-enforced. Cardinal Mendoza, archbishop of Toledo was said to have fathered several illegitimate children.

B.) Church Reform in Spain

Ferdinand and Isabella had declared a crusade against the Kingdom of Granada in 1480; in 1492 the city of Granada fell; the last ruler went into exile to North Africa. The long RECONQUISTA was completed (although Spain and Portugal attempted to continue it on the North African shores).
Queen Isabella of Castile realized the necessity of a thorough reform of the Spanish church and charged Fran\ciscan friar FRANCISCO XIMENEZ DE CISNEROS with its implementation. He was appointed Archbishop of Toledo. The reform included the reorganization of the church administration of the Iberian peninsula; the militant orders' districts were abolished, replaced by regular dioceses. Church discipline was enforced among priests and monks, up to the level of bishops. TOMAS DE TORQUEMADA had been appointed Grand Inquisitor in 1483; by issuing a number of regulations, he turned the organization he presided into what became the notorious SPANISH INQUISITION. In 1492 he persuaded King Ferdinand to expel the country's Jewisch population (most settled in the Ottoman Empire). The Inquisition was given the power to arrest persons, question them regarding points of their faith, apply torture in the process. People suspected of being heretics, crypto-Jews (after the expulsion of the Jews a number of Jews who openly had converted to Catholicism continued to practise Jewish rites secretly) or witches could than be handed over to secular authorities for execution.
The Spanish Church Reform should, however, not be regarded as a merely administrative reform effectively enforcing discipline on the clergy and conformity on the population. Spain produced a number of Saints, ST. IGNATIUS OF LOYOLA, the founder of the JESUIT ORDER, ST. FRANCIS XAVIER, missionary in India and Japan, ST. THERESA OF AVILA and ST. JOHN OF THE CROSS, the latter mystics.
Ximenez de Cisneros founded the UNIVERSITY AT ALCALA DE HENARES (1509), which in contrast to most universities on the peninsula stressed Humanist studies. Here the POLYGLOT BIBLE (a trilingual edition, in Hebrew, Greek and Latin) was edited. Dissatisfaction with the Vulgata, the poor-quality Latin translation commonly used within the pre-reformatoric Catholic world, was not limited to Erasmus and the protestant reformers. The Spanish church reform, however, was implemented in accordance with Rome; the reformed Spanish church regarded herself explicitly Catholic.

C.) Impact of the Lutheran and Calvinist Reformation

The Inquisition in Spain held a powerful position. Emperor Charles V. negotiated with the Maranos, offering them religious liberty on payment of 800,000 Gulden (gold), the grand inquisitor proceeded mercilessly against both Maranos and Jews; and 2,500 persons were publicly tried in a ceremony called AUTO DA FE (act of faith); most of them were sentenced to be burnt at the stake.
Due to the lack of scandals within the Spanish church at the time of Luther's publication of his 95 theses, due to the vigilance of the Spanish Inquisition, due to a political structure which provided less independence for city councils to act, and due to the fact that there was no Spanish translation of the bible, the protestant reformation found few followers on the peninsula. There were exceptions, however, such as MIGUEL SERVETUS (Michael Servet), who made his way to Geneva, where he was executed as a heretic in 1553. In 1558-1559 the Spanish Inquisition uncovered protestant cells in the cities of Sevilla and Valladolid.
In 1558 King Philip II.s candidate, Bartolome de Carranza, was consecrated Archbishop of Toledo. Others had hoped for that position, including Inquisitor General Fernando de Valdes. With King Philip being out of the country, Carranza was arrested at Valdez' orders, suspected of having written heretical texts. Then the protestant cells were uncovered in Seville and Valladolid, and the situation made it impossible for King Philip to on his return hold Valdes responsible.

Article Ximenes de Cisneros, from Jewish Encyclopedia, from EB 1911; from BBKL, in German
Inquisitor Torquemada, from, in French; covers history of Spanish Inquisition, with statistical table of victims; L'Inquisition en Espagne, from 1803-1815, in French
REFERENCE Peter Pierson, The History of Spain, Greenwood, 1999, 248 pp.; KMLA Lib.Sign. 946 P624t
Patrick Williams, Philip II., Palgrave 2001, 302 pp.; KMLA Lib.Sign. 946.043 W721p
Mark Greengrass, The Longman Companion to the European Reformation c.1500-1618, Harlow (Essex): Longman 1998, pp.151-156, KMLA Lib.Sign. 274.06 GB 121

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on January 8th 2003, last revised on November 15th 2004

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