The people of Catholic Europe were in majority poor and illiterate. Though in France and Catholic Germany elementary education made progress, in southern Italy and rural Spain and Portugal, even in the eighteenth century, many of those who could read and write were clergymen, even if only in minor orders. In such conditions priests were intellectual as well as moral leaders, seminaries were chief places of education. In remote parts priests still stumbled over the Latin of the mass, ignorant of its meaning, or fumbled over ceremonies because the rubrics could not be followed. But the Counter-Reformation educated the clergy. An illiterate priest was a scandal, even to his people. The priest might be mocked for worldliness, or resented for vice. But he was outwardly regarded. Even if Italians mocked behind his back, or boys shouted as he passed in the street, the people liked to greet him by stooping to kiss his hand.
The difficulty of the whole Church lay in the widening gap between the mental habits of educated and illiterate. In southern Italy fauns hid in the woods, and an occasional clergyman of the deep country reminded his bishop more of a satyr than of a priest. Bishops were educated men and sharply distinguished between rites of the Church and superstitious affections of their people. They would not concede that in illiterate, passionate, and earthy society credulity was a gate towards creed.
The rites of the Church were at times entangled with folk-lore about fertility. The strangest arts of magic might be observed in remote southern-Italian villages in moments of childbirth. And remedies which less eminent priests used to cure superstition were almost as strange.
A southern-German priest, Hermenegild Adam, wrote a book of devotion entitled: An Easy and Sure Way to Heaven, which by 1771 had ten editions. If magic is suspected, Adam recommends that a priest bless the place, and then it be sprinkled with 'Ignatius-water' or 'Three Kings' water' (that is, water blessed at St. Ignatius' Day or Epiphany) or St. John's wine—or 'what is still more powerful, a mixture of all three'. Then should