The Catholic Reformation

By Michael A. Mullett | Go to book overview
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New religious orders

This chapter deals with the establishment of some new regular orders of the Catholic Reformation. We should of course note that the older orders of the Church were reinvigorated in the sixteenth century and that the momentum of the late medieval Observance movements continued. One of the most powerful of the renewals of existing orders was Teresa of Ávila’s reform of Spanish Carmelites, from 1562 onwards. Carmelite nuns originated in the fifteenth century, initially inspired by the same spirit of austerity as the male order of friars. A softening of the rule took place over the course of time and, in her earlier years in the Carmelite house in Ávila, Teresa lived under the relaxed rule: ‘The convent’, writes Po-Chia, ‘was a special social space for upper-class women; servants and lay sisters attended to manual work; sisters enjoyed individual rooms furnished by their families; plays, music and dances were performed; and a constant stream of visitors led occasionally to scandal and rumor’. With astonishing energy, determination and indeed, defiance, covering Spain in her itinerant campaign, Teresa set herself the task of restoring the primary rigour of the Carmelite nuns’ observance. A vivid expression of the austerity she sought was the abandonment of the comfort of footwear, so that her sisters took the title of the Discalced—the shoeless—Carmelites. Her restoration of original discipline in turn ricocheted back on to the male orders of friars, supported by the Franciscan Peter of Alcantara (d. 1562) and the Carmelite mystic John of the Cross (1542-91). By the year of her death, 1582, Teresa had broadcast the Carmelite observant reform, setting up seventeen convents of Discalced Carmelite nuns and fifteen of men. Thus the well-springs of the medieval spirit of asceticism in the religious orders continued to inspire conventual renewal well into the sixteenth century and beyond. 1

In this chapter, having recognised something of the creative persistence of the continuing renewal of the orders of medieval foundation, we shall be particularly concerned with the reformist innovation of the orders of clerks regular, active units of religious commissioned to concentrate on practical work such as education, poor relief and preaching. Of these clerks regular, far and away the most important were the Jesuits and in this chapter we shall devote very extensive space to them and their founder.

On account of their alleged corruption, the regular orders in the first half of


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The Catholic Reformation


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