Government, religion, and ideas
(c) Absolute monarchies: limited in practice:
To counteract the consequences of a venal, office-holding caste, Richelieu, Mazarin and Louis XIV sent intendants (directly responsible to the crown) to supervise the local civil and military administration. Even so, the independence of local elites effectively curbed royal power in practice.
The largest Christian group was the Roman Catholics. After 1517, Protestant ideas had spread rapidly, particularly in Northwest Europe. But in the later 16th Century, the Counter-Reformation regained much lost ground. Its doctrines settled by the Council of Trent and its clergy stiffened by highly trained Jesuits, the Catholic Church went on the offensive against "heresy". Ferdinand II, Maximilian of Bavaria, Louis XIII, and Richelieu were a few of the secular statesmen who supported the Counter Reformation because they regarded Protestant minorities as a threat to political order and unity.
||At this period, both Catholics and Protestants wanted
religious uniformity, and thought that trouble would result from
permitting different religious beliefs in the same state.
Roman Catholics acknowledged the authority of the Pope in matters of doctrine and church government, but his rights over secular states and local churches were debated. The French "Gallicans", supported by Louis XIV, fiercely defended the particular rights of the French Church, and the Hapsburgs also came into conflict with the Papacy on occasion.
The early 17th Century was a time of progress for Catholicism, especially in Eastern and Central Europe where it won many converts. During the seventeenth century, Roman Catholics were also the most active group in proselytizing in Asia, Africa and the New World.
Lutherans were often as suspicious of Calvinists as they were of Catholics, and suffered from internal divisions in the later sixteenth century.
When combined with the establishment of Lutheranism, the growth of Calvinism and the resurgence of Catholicism produced a patchwork quilt of confessional allegiances in Germany during the early seventeenth century.
||Other Protestant splinter groups emerged in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. These included the Baptists and the Quakers, who tended to be drawn from the less wealthy (though not the poorest) sectors of society and were regarded with much suspicion as social revolutionaries. Socinians (who believed that religion should be subject to reason, and who rejected the Trinity) were also persecuted throughout Europe; only in Poland (temporarily) and later in the Dutch Republic did they find a refuge. Socinian ideas influenced the thought of many prominent intellectuals, including Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) and John Locke (1632-1704). In the later seventeenth Century, Pietism a religious movement stressing moral purity and exhaustive self-examination grew to great importance in Germany.|
Catholicism too, developed some fringe movements. Quietism, founded by Miguel de Molinos, flourished in France, especially amongst the wealthy. Mystical and ascetic, it stressed the importance of a personal relationship with the divine, and was suppressed by Louis XIV who saw it as a threat to religious and political uniformity. The Jansenists adopted an Augustinian form of Catholicism, which stressed predestination and moral probity. Its supporters included Blaise Pascal. Jansenists became identified with opposition to absolutism and were intermittently persecuted into the next century.(3) Ideas
|The scientific and intellectual revolution of the 17th Century was closely linked with an attack on Aristotle's philosophy. Aristotelian ideas were deeply embedded in scholasticism - the basic framework for knowledge in medieval Christian Europe.|
It is easy to see seventeenth century as science as battling the
superstitious ignorance of religious zealots, but the scientific
thinking of the day was itself deeply pervaded by Cabalistic
and Hermetic notions. (Cabalism revolved around esoteric and
mysterious methods of interpreting Scripture; Hermetic theory traced its mythical origins to ancient Egypt and posited a universal
harmony of existence based on the four elements of earth, air, fire
and water. Both are without foundation in scientific fact.)|
John Napier and Isaac Newton were two of the greatest scientists of their day, yet both devoted inordinate amounts of time and effort to their attempts to interpret the prophecies about the Second Coming and other matters, contained in the Books of Revelation and Daniel. Jean Bodin was an acute and informed political scientist, but believed in the climacteric, witches, and werewolves.
|The late 16th and early 17th centuries were a
great age of witchcraft persecution. Between 1400 and 1700,
somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000 witches were killed. Fewest
witches were executed in Spain and Portugal, where the Inquisition
protected those accused by insisting on due process and proper
proof. Most were killed in Germany, Switzerland and France, where
local, secular magistrates were easily persuaded by popular panics
to execute detested misfits.
Most of those executed were women (about 15% were men), but the witch craze was not "gynocide". The overwhelming majority of women were never suspected of witchcraft and were as active as men in trying to bring witches to justice.