Roman Catholic Church: The Seventeenth through Nineteenth Centuries

The Seventeenth through Nineteenth Centuries

The 17th cent. saw an increase of state control over the church (see Gallicanism) in all the Catholic countries, and in the 18th cent. the Bourbons began a course openly aimed at eliminating the papacy. The suppression of the Jesuits was part of the campaign, which reached a climax in the legislation of Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II. The revolutionary movement eventually destroyed the Catholic princes, and the church had to live with secular states, some anti-Catholic, some tolerant. The facts of the change were not clear at once, and for much of the 19th cent. the popes (and other Catholics) would look back to an idealized 18th-century golden age before “liberalistic” atheism and materialism. The last of these popes was Pius IX, who was forced to give up the Papal States. In enouncing the dogma of papal infallibility Pius did much to cement church unity.

In Pius's successor, Leo XIII, the church found new leadership; he and his successors worked and preached to urge Catholics to take part in modern life as Catholics, abandoning reactionary dreams and seeking some social reform. In some countries Catholic political parties were formed. Meanwhile oppressive conditions and the development of a mass socialist movement combined to detach much of the working class from the church. Otto von Bismarck (in Germany; see Kulturkampf) and “liberal” governments (in Italy, France, and Portugal) passed hostile measures, especially against religious orders.

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