At the beginning of the sixteenth century, Portugal was struggling in its transition from the Middle Ages into the modern era. In its breast two different societies coexisted, each with its own hierarchy, its own legislation, and its own courts. But lay society no longer believed in the church's transcendent superiority, nor would it allow itself to be absolutely dependent on the church. Indeed, the church had been divested of many of its historic prerogatives and had been obliged to reduce its claims.
The state recognized and abided by the laws of the church. It carried out its courts' sentences. It declared itself incompetent in clerical matters and debates. It would only punish a cleric if, after having been condemned by the church, he was turned over to the state by his ecclesiastic superiors. The state honored the right of criminals, even those wanted for capital crimes, to seek asylum in temples and monasteries. And it did not tax the clergy.
Owing to baptism, which was as important for day-to-day life as it was for the saving of one's soul; owing to marriage, which it could permit, sustain, or annul with ecclesiastic diriment; the church reigned supreme. Its powers also included the sacraments, which were administered throughout a person's life. Excommunication stopped people from receiving the sacraments. The interdict separated entire communities from communication with the saints. The church regulated death by permit-