Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Sacraments for the Faithful of the New World, Jews, and Eastern-Rite Christians: Roman Legislation from Paul III to Benedict XIV (1537-1758)

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Sacraments for the Faithful of the New World, Jews, and Eastern-Rite Christians: Roman Legislation from Paul III to Benedict XIV (1537-1758)

Article excerpt

The origin of the relationship between sacramental matters and the papal magisterial function predates the modern age and is rooted in the long tradition of the Church. in the sixteenth century, just when European Catholicism was experiencing global expansion, Protestant criticism put the validity of the sacraments on trial. Faced with this challenge, the Council of Trent's decrees placed the sacraments at the junction between discipline and doctrine. This also would affect sacramental practice in the New World: the inquisition's rigor, a desire to standardize differences, as well as to create a framework open to limited self-regulation-all revolved around sacramental issues. The Catholic desire for standardization approached this new religious 11 other in the Americas as well as in Asia, and this desire also touched the rites for Eastern Christians united to the Roman apostolic see.

Comparisons between missionary practice and the rigor of the inquisition were posed on sacramental issues, between the desire to standardize the observed differences, and that to create a framework open to limited attempts of self-regulation. The Catholic protagonists' standardization attempts approached this new religious difference with the same criteria it had designed before to handle interactions with and the conversion of Muslims, Jews, and Christians of the Eastern rites. However, from 1570 onward, documentation regarding sacramental doubt, directed to the Holy Office or sent to other curial congregations, began to accumulate. The curial congregations were now called upon to resolve cases presented by missionaries, religious superiors, or bishops regarding sacraments for the Indians. They pronounced judgments and enacted general decrees, subsequently confirmed by pontifical authority.

The interpretation of Tridentine discipline regarding the sacraments was conducted by three curial congregations: the Holy Office; the Congregation of Council; and, after 1622, the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith. They had overlapping responsibilities. Although the Council of Trent did not impose standards on the Church's missionary activity, decrees concerning the sacraments played a key role in regulating the missionary apostolate.1 Beyond the council's rulings, concrete situations were handled with malleable arrangements, sometimes opening a gap between discipline and practice. The dialectic between the curial congregations also suffered in the transition from an extraordinary ecclesiastical structure (entrusted to religious congregations and missionary orders) to a framework that was based on the authority of bishops and territorial churches. Missionary practice, therefore, was subject to the scrutiny of the Roman congregations, allowing the apostolic see to use the sacraments as policy instruments whose legitimacy could not be questioned by local political powers. Rome used the sacramental dossiers as occasions to intervene and exert authority over Catholic churches in the New World, defining the powers of local clergy and shifting power between regular and secular clergy.2

Through the Augustinian "compelle eos intrare" ("compel them to enter," interpreting the Gospel of Luke 14:23), Christians became aware of, and experienced firsthand, the beneficial effects of fear and discipline on those undergoing coercion. It provided an opportunity for transforming external necessity into inner will. The "conception of love" that the sacraments expressed thenceforth consisted of a formula in which violence and persuasion often were indistinguishable.3 Moreover, missionary activity in a hostile or noncollateral political environment involved the engagement of adults. The "faith" was explained to the potential faithful in understandable and rational terms. Those adults were then asked subsequently to adopt behavior often at odds with the socially accepted behavior of the dominant culture, and to baptize their children immediately after birth. …

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