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CATHOLICISM. In 1520, Martin Luther (14831546) explainedin his famous open letter to Pope Leo X (reigned 15131521)that he considered the Roman Curia "more corrupt than any Babylon or Sodom ever was," and that it was "characterized by a completely depraved, hopeless and notorious godlessness." For hundreds of years thereafter, Luther's remarks were construed as an indictment not just of the Curia, but of the entire Catholic Church. With this picture of corruption and depravity, he established one side of a polemical divide over ways to describe Catholicism in early modern Europe that has endured to this very day. The argument over whether or not Luther's picture of the church was realistic has been engaged by historians for generations, from Cesare Baronio (15181607) and Paolo Sarpi (15621623) in the late sixteenth century to Massimo Firpo and John W. O'Malley in the late twentieth century. The debate has been clouded by ahistorical commitmentsat first simply religious, then political and cultural as wellthat serve as an obstacle to a true comprehension of the past. Since roughly 1945, the argument has turned on whether the terms "Counter-Reformation" or "Catholic Reform," or any of a host of other related terms, can describe the period, or if something more innocuous, like "early modern Catholicism," might be better. No matter where one stands on this battle over historical terminology, all agree that Catholicism in this era was variegated, fascinating in its complexity, and riddled with internal and external conflicts that make simple categorization of this institution quite impossible.

Catholicism between 1500 and 1789 has commonly been defined through the conflict between Protestant reformers and Christians who remained loyal to Rome. Luther, like John Calvin (15091564) and many Anglican and Anabaptist thinkers who followed, was not so different from medieval reformers who called for change in Christian practices. He may have insisted initially on reconsideration of the best way to explain the necessity of penitence, not just penance, in the process of salvation. The challenge to common church teaching expressed in his Ninety-Five Theses (1517), however, increasingly came to be understood as a threat to papal authority. This perception, which was reinforced by Luther's own words in the three great Reformation treatises of 15201521 and by the rallying of other critical voices at his side, encouraged members of the Catholic hierarchy to see him as the latest in a long line of medieval reformers. They could then treat him, as they did his predecessors, as one who would eventually go away without leaving any substantial impact upon the structure of ecclesiastical authority.


The common definition of Catholicism in early modern Europe as hinging on the challenge of Luther and other Protestant reformers, and on Roman reaction to that challenge, has obscured the complexity and multiform nature of the institution. First, consider the complexity of the papacy itself. Popes from Alexander VI (14921503) through Pius VI (17751799) exhibited many characteristics, but consistency and uniformity were not among them. At the beginning of this era, the papacy was an institution competing for the loyalty of the European people against secular powers attempting to extend the reach of their authority. Fifteenth-century papal claims to absolute power, both spiritual and temporal, were defined in practice during the pontificates of Julius II (15031513) and Leo X as an effort to secure the integrity and independence of the Papal State. They used both diplomatic and military resources to do so. By the end of the early modern era, however, the papacy had become quite ineffective in political terms, having been pushed to the periphery of contemporary political society. For example, Clement XIII (17581769) and Clement XIV (17691774) were unable to save one of the largest religious orders in the church, the Society of Jesus, from its European enemies. Early modern popes attempted to consolidate their religious and governmental authority in a rapidly changing world, but they did so with inconsistent policies and performance. The popular imagination of today often views early modern popes as warriors against heresy. This may have been true of popes like Paul IV (15551559) and Pius V (15661572), who personally presided over inquisitorial meetings. But later popes, like Innocent XI (16761689), saw devotional and theological developments like Jansenism and Quietism as dangerous and still disapproved of the use of force to deal with them. An even later pope, Benedict XIV (17401758), had no trouble reconciling the apparent contradiction between support for clerical education and scientific investigation on the one hand, while at the same time continuing prohibitions on reading with a new Index of Prohibited Books. Similar levels of inconsistency exist when examining the actions of popes in artistic patronage, in promotion of church reform, in support for scholarship, and in creation of public services for the Papal State.

PopePaul III(15341549), anindividualwhose actions were filled with inconsistencies, might be seen as one who epitomized the early modern papacy. He is considered by many to be the first pope of the Catholic Reformation (or the Counter-Reformation). He not only appointed cardinals who presented him with a stinging indictment of the evils in the contemporary church, known as the Consilium de Emendanda Ecclesia (1537), but he also convened the Council of Trent in 1545. In addition, he procured the legitimization of three of the four children he fathered before becoming a priest and bestowed enormous ecclesiastical incomes and properties upon one son and upon the two grandsons he appointed as cardinals. This unreformed approach to the enrichment of his family was contradicted by his generous artistic patronage and by his promotion of reform-minded clerics. Among the latter was a Spaniard, Ignatius of Loyola (14911556), whose new religious order, the Society of Jesus, Paul formally approved in 1540. Paul revived the Roman Inquisition in 1542, but designed it to operate with a lenience and moderation that some of his successors rejected. He was a pope like many others in this period: a "reformer" who could never fully break away from the traditions of corruption. They were richly human, defying simple categorization.

The Council of Trent (15451563), whose decreesnot to mention the drumbeat of anathema within themepitomized Catholic reaction against Protestant thought, was a richly complicated event riddled with conflict. According to the standard interpretation, popes controlled the assembly through the papal legates who set the agenda for each session, and through Jesuit theologians who, over those eighteen years, ensured that doctrinal and disciplinary decrees were secured that were acceptable to the popes. From the very beginning, however, legates like Marcello Cervini (15011555), Giovan Maria de' Ciocchi del Monte (14871555), and Carlo Borromeo (15381584) struggled to persuade prelates to attend, to remain once they had arrived, and to get along, sometimes in ways that were much more practical than dogmatic. When they were not breaking up shoving matches among the bishops, legates mediated, rather than dictated, among members of the papal, imperial, and French factions that emerged at Trent, while attempting to promote papal plans. Popes themselves varied widely in their commitment to the gathering as a means to solve the problem facing the church. Paul III convened the council, but he clearly feared the conciliarist leanings of some of the prospective council members. Julius III (15501555) and Pius IV (15591565) moved the Tridentine assembly vigorously toward completion. In between those two, however, Paul IV insisted categorically that the meeting remain in suspension, convinced that he could carry out the reform on his own through the Roman Inquisition, over whose meetings he presided, and through his personal Index of Prohibited Books. In the end, the decrees were formulated by conciliar bishops, who put themselves in charge of bringing the documents from Trent to life in Catholic practice.


Implementation of the decrees of the Council of Trenta series of clarifications of doctrine, disciplinary decrees, and directives on such matters as clerical educationshould have brought a uniform church into existence in short order, but local realities made this impossible. Papal authority was not strong enough to effect any change as broad-ranging as that outlined at Trent. In France, implementing the decrees was especially slow, as royal control restricted even the publication of the decrees. Bringing clerical behavior there into something resembling conformity with the decrees took centuries, not decades. Recent scholarship on the Netherlands reveals that seventeenth-century bishops faced opposition to their reform plans not just from local constituents, but from Rome as well. They engaged in especially complex negotiations to try to secure claustration of nuns, that Tridentine rule most often cited as evidence of effective, centralized, disciplining control, in local convents. In the end, Netherlandish nuns determined the characteristics of their own common life, apparently at least as much as bishops. In Italy, prelates had the example of Carlo Borromeo (15381584), archbishop of Milan, not to mention precedents like Gian Matteo Giberti (14951543) in Verona, Bartolomeo de Martyribus (15141590) in Braga, and Marcello Cervini in Gubbio, to follow. Borromeo became the model Tridentine bishop, holding diocesan synods, enhancing catechetical instruction, and conducting pastoral visits. But even in Italy the process was relatively slow, as bishops elsewhere butted up against the many cathedral chapters, and monastic institutions that asserted their independence from episcopal control and appealed to Rome any challenge to that independence.

Effective implementation of the decrees was a complicated matter. The process hinged not just on the ability of bishops to operate freely over those at least theoretically under their control, but also upon the determination of some rulers to control their national churches. The papal prerogative of simply naming bishops, let alone controlling their activity, was decidedly limited, especially in Spain, France, and England. The tradition of royal leadership in religious matters in Spain continued throughout the early modern period and was already well established in 1478, when Ferdinand (ruled 14741516) and Isabella (ruled 14741504) convinced Rome of the need for a Spanish Inquisition controlled by the monarchs. Spanish monarchs retained the right to appoint bishops in the Netherlands, as well as across the so-called New World. Such an arrangement within France was created in the Concordat of Bologna (1516) between Leo X and King Francis I (ruled 15151547). Behind these and similar practicessuch as monarchical control of appointments to ecclesiastical benefices in Englandwas a concern over the distribution of revenues that was more financial than religious. When viewed in the context of Tridentine decrees insisting on the appointment only of properly trained clerics who would take seriously the cura animarum, 'care of souls', these facts illustrate that Roman determination to control the reform process, as well as the practical ability to do so, varied considerably.

Some of those who drafted the Tridentine decree on seminaries may have desired a highly centralized clergy obedient to Roman doctrine and leadership, but recent research suggests implementation of this directive was desperately slow, and that any such desire went largely unfilled. In places like Milan, seminary training after Trent was anything but uniform. Many candidates studied in multiple institutions, and only some of those were under the control of the archbishop. Diocesan seminaries there were part of a larger system that included schools run by some of the new Catholic religious orders. In Fiesole, the first attempt to found a seminary did not occur until nearly a generation after the assembly at Trent completed its work. Formal seminary instruction in Fiesole did not commence until 1635. Even if trained, the reshaping of local priests into a professional class through episcopal visitations and instructions may have been the intention of early modern bishops, but they apparently made little progress in this era. In Milan, during the archiepiscopal administrations of Carlo and Federico Borromeo (15641631), the majority of priests resembled the superstitious, worldly, sinful laity they served far more than the confessional interrogators the archbishops had in mind.


The intention of all Catholic reformers was to revive religious life generally, but locally support for revival and opposition to it were both common. Hence, real change was limited. Seminary education and pastoral visits were supposed to create a consistently well-educated and attentive clergy. Local records suggest that the members of the laity supported such an intention, but in practice, some established members of the clergy challenged the change. Giambattista Casale, a carpenter and late-sixteenth-century diarist in Milan, enthusiastically praised the reform work of Carlo Borromeo. Casale related popular support both for the attention Borromeo devoted to his personal pastoral responsibilities, and for his initiatives to improve the quality of local priests. Clerics there, however, were not so favorably impressed. In 1569 and 1570 they assaulted the archbishop, first verbally and then physically, as his reforming ideals were threatening their clerical positions and income. One can find many examples of ecclesiastical and civic leaders developing new institutions and enhancing the power of old ones, designed to enforce religious orthodoxy, proper notions of political sovereignty, and moral purity. At the same time, crime statistics, court recordsincluding the recently opened central archive of the Roman Inquisitionand other forms of documentation all reveal that the goal of conformity was far from achieved. Archbishops and parishioners in the Netherlands in this era did not completely agree on what constituted a good pastor, but one thing was sure: neither were satisfied with those they observed. The well-noted crackdown on questionable belief and behavior among upper-ranking clerics did not preclude behavior by oneReginald Pole (15001558, the cardinal archbishop of Canterbury and papal legate to the early sessions at Trent)that led his most recent biographer to assert that he was, for all practical purposes, married to his longtime companion, the Venetian noble and cleric Alvise Priuli (d. 1560).

Where Catholic religious practice was effectively reformed in early modern Europe, it often came through leadership from members of a variety of religious orders. The members of long established orders, like the Franciscans, Benedictines, and Augustinians, initiated reforms to improve adherence to the religious rule each followed, but the reform movements frequently resulted in division and the creation of new branches of these orders. This operation followed a well-established pattern in the Franciscan order, for example. The new Capuchin group founded by Matteo di Bassi (14951552) was not unlike the so-called spirituals from an earlier age in its call for stricter observance of the rule of Saint Francis. Their emphasis on preaching and identification with common people, especially in towns, contributed to the spread of reformed Catholicism. Angela Merici of Brescia (14741540) and Ignatius of Loyola founded brand new orders, the Ursulines and the Society of Jesus, respectively, whose inspiration turned as much on the goal of serving the needs of others as on the pursuit of perfection among its own members. The Ursulines became educators, especially in catechism, as well as servants of orphans and women in need of shelter. The Jesuits engaged in a wide variety of ministries, but like the Ursulines, their principal influence on the European community came through work in education. They were central to the development of secondary schools that prepared young men for university study, and to the beginnings of seminary education. These were just a few of the many new and newly reformed orders of the early modern period.

Members of the secular (that is, diocesan) clergy on the one hand, and members of religious orders (both clerics in religious orders and nuns) on the other, engaged in disputes that further complicate the picture of Catholicism in this age. In general terms, members of religious orders tended to assert their independence from episcopal control based upon their foundations and authorizations that came directly from the papacy. This was a traditional position for religious orders to take. But when they did so in the early modern period, especially after the Council of Trent, they butted up against bishops armed with the decrees of Trent. Many of these bishops intended to exercise their authority to examine clerics and grant permissions to preach and to hear confessions in their dioceses, whether they were secular or regular clergy. Members of religious orders could often, through appeals to the papacy, gain exemption from such episcopal authority. There was not, however, any general position of the papacy in favor of the independence of regular clergy. Paul IV, to take a notable example, was decidedly suspicious of the devotional innovations designed by Ignatius of Loyola and the Jesuits to facilitate their pastoral activities. For a time, he even insisted that they recite the divine office in unison, in violation of the Jesuit constitutions established under preceding popes. We ought not to think of this distrust of religious orders as a position taken up exclusively by belligerent popes like Paul IV. When questions were raised concerning the propriety of the independence of the Ursulines and their activities outside the convent, the push to cloister them came not just from authorities in Rome, but also from parents of the sisters and other family members.

European members of both branches of the Catholic clergy increasingly engaged in preaching, a fact that undermines one of the most common stereotypes about Catholicism in this era. A common assumption is that, to the Catholic clergy of this period, preaching was either completely marginal or used only for unjust fundraising operations such as the sale of indulgences. But the historical record of preaching in the early modern period is much more complicated. At the beginning of the period, members of religious orders, like Franciscan and Dominican friars, were exceedingly popular preachers. They delivered well-attended sermons on a daily basis during Lent and Advent. In fact, civic leaders vied to secure the best known preachers among them. The popularity of these preachers was based, at least in part, on the lack of preaching by members of the secular clergy, who were largely absent from their pastoral duties. After the Council of Trent, short homilies within the Eucharistic celebration became increasingly common. There was a veritable explosion of publications related to preaching in the early modern period. The explosion included simple instructions by bishops, handbooks of forms for the composition of sermons, and collections of the work of celebrated preachers, in addition to formal treatises on the topic. This literature reveals that theorists recommended explicitly the utilization of humanist rhetorical ideals and clear explication of basic doctrine in sermons. Court preachers speaking before popes and heads of state retained the prominent characteristic of their medieval predecessors. Preaching held a central place in the religious culture of all early modern Europe, not just Protestant lands.


Preachers touched local Catholic communities whose common experience of the religion varied considerably. During the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, Milan was a very different place compared to a city in a Protestant territory, like Amsterdam. In the former, priests were on the lookout for both clerics and members of the laity who deviated from the newly defined norms of Trent. They spent the bulk of their time trying to form Catholic identity around those norms, often with minimal success. In the latter, and in many other towns and cities in the British Isles, the Holy Roman Empire, and the Dutch Republic, Catholics created religious spaces in places where such were officially proscribed, but in practice they were tolerated by neighbors and officials who knew well of their existence. At the turn of the eighteenth century, Catholics controlled twenty such semi-secret churches (schuilkerk) in Amsterdam. One was a narrow row house whose third-floor church could hold some 150 persons in pews and galleries. Catholics in early modern Spain probably experienced religion in a manner that was closer to that of the Milanese. They surely were the subjects of a plan for orthodox indoctrination. For some, especially in rural areas, their practice may have become outwardly Christian, even approaching Catholic, but it was mixed with appeals to the supernatural through spells and potions that illustrate the difficulty with which "pagan" superstitions died in this era. Moreover, the divide between Christians and Jews in European communities was often anything but complete. Paul IV set up an enclosed ghetto in Rome that is still widely seen as a precursor of Nazi versions in Eastern Europe. But emphasis on this episode encourages ignorance of the more tolerant policy that both preceded and followed his administration. It also hides the fact that, as recent scholarship has shown, Jews and members of the Catholic laity in Rome shared a good deal in common, and that the ghetto had few negative effects on the religious and cultural identity of Jews in Rome.

Believers, especially in urban areas, organized themselves into confraternities, a vast array of diverse organizations that belied the image of contemporary Catholicism as uniform. Confraternities had existed as devotional organizations promoting piety and social service, mainly in the towns of the medieval period. In the early modern period, when centralizing tendencies in the organization of Catholicism allegedly held sway, such organizations and their independence from hierarchical control should, logically, have disappeared. They did not. Instead, they tended to become stronger. Whether their increased strength was based upon enhanced devotion to more clearly defined dogmas, on the Eucharist, or upon an increasing charitable need in contemporary cities is unclear. Some of these institutions seemed on the surface to cooperate with growing states and their centralization of charity. In some places, however, like Bologna, confraternities that took on a more political role allowed patricians to maintain secure hold on certain elements of administration in the Papal State (specifically over the prison system) against centralization under the papacy.

Individual Catholic believers, and not just those in confraternities, seem to have experienced religion much more through their devotional practices than through any conscious adherence to dogma, whether orthodox or heterodox. Popular religious practice varied widely despite the hope of some Catholic leaders to regularize devotional life. Throughout the sixteenth century, there is little evidence to suggest that instruction in dogma went far beyond practice in the memorization of basic prayers and foundational formulas like the Nicene Creed. Later, increasing expansion of the Confraternities of Christian Doctrine and the publication of the Catechism of the Council of Trent in 1566 surely facilitated the spread of the doctrines defined at Trent. But real work on that document did not begin at least until late in 1562, if not 1563. Once it was completed under Pius V in 1566, priests had to learn and translate the contents of the massive Latin edition before the process of explaining the ideas in terms accessible to common people could begin. Popular cults honoring the mostly unofficial but locally recognized patron saints continued. Pilgrimage sites that had developed in the Middle Ages, such as Loreto, location of the house in which Mary allegedly grew upmiraculously transported from Palestine to the Adriatic coastmaintained their popularity, along with the sacramentals that attended their use. Popular piety found expression throughout Europe, but frequently outside the confines of standard religious instruction, outside of new Tridentine liturgical parameters, and outside of the sacraments. Processions were often more boisterous than devout, the majority of Catholics received Communion infrequently, and clerical reform rarely touched rural areas in large portions of Europe before 1650. Popular piety could be found in other forms, however, as in the well-attended theatrical productions presented in towns, especially the university towns, of northern Europe. Jesuit colleges were famous for presentations that dramatized the spiritual life with scenes of both angels and hell, and these remained popular, especially in southern Germany, through the middle of the eighteenth century. Some earlier religious dramas produced in the Low Countries during the reign of Emperor Charles V (ruled 15191556) included presentation of varying religious positions from contemporary theological debates.


Efforts to spread the faith through missionary activity in Europe and beyond have received scant attention, but consideration of this activity exposes still more variations in the Catholic experience. The revival of Catholicism represented by reform initiatives that predate Luther, as well as those initiatives designed to counteract his work and that of other Protestant reformers, spurred action to spread Catholicism throughout Europe, not to mention the New World. The Jesuits led an attempt to recover believers in the German-speaking territory who were "lost" to the Protestant movement. They were active in cities like Cologne and Vienna in the Holy Roman Empire in the 1550s, where their schools enrolled large numbers and where they attempted to prepare better trained clergy who might help in the recovery process. They tried to do the same in Slavic-speaking lands at approximately the same time, but with much less success. The English crown attempted to thwart Jesuit efforts to spread Catholicism in Britain after the Reformation. Jesuit missionary work there was complicated by the political and theological controversy over the divine right of kings during the age of King James I (ruled 16031625). Catholic clerics from a number of religious orders took part in efforts to spread the faith in Spanish and Portuguese holdings in Asia, Africa, the Americas, and the Pacific islands. The standard image of these missionaries arriving on the heels of the conquistadors and forcing adherence to the new religion, armed with an ideology that permitted coercion, is only partly true. While mass conversions were frequently carried out, missionaries often faced a hostile initial response from local populations, especially in Asia. When they did, somelike Francis Xavier (15061552), for examplesimply moved on to other towns and regions where they hoped for better luck. Our image of the character of Catholic proselytism in this era must be able to explain not just the mass conversions, but also the retention of Roman doctrine over the long term. It must explain not just those instances where the value of native culture was discounted, but also Catholic missionary work that accommodated local practices. The latter was so extensive in China, for instance, that Jesuits there like Matteo Ricci (15521610) were considered promoters of paganism by some Roman authorities.


Perhaps the most enduring image of early modern Catholicism is that of an institution that systematically shut down emergent local culture and freedom of thought. Exploration of the activity of Catholics in art, literature, music, and science demonstrates the inadequacy of that image: the reality was far more complex. In the artsincluding sculpture, painting, poetry, drama, prose, oratory, and musicthere is no doubt that anti-Protestant ideology contributed to new Catholic production. The Protestant attack on art, not to mention the development of new notions of Christian heroism, certainly influenced the way biographers, preachers, painters, sculptors, and composers expressed themselves. But they looked for effective techniques and for attention-grabbing flourishes to impress audiences and to demand an active response. There is no doubt that rules for propriety in various forms of art, notably oratory and painting, reflect an attempt by church leaders to control. The Tridentine decree on sacred images from the twenty-fifth session (1563) and the discourse on sacred and profane images published in 1582 by Cardinal Gabriele Paleotti (15221597) are the texts most frequently cited to suggest that ecclesiastical repression in the world of art was effective. However, the assertion that the attempt was successful ignores a vast body of evidence. Evidence lies in the humanistic oratory of post-Tridentine preachers and funeral eulogists. It can be found in the intense painting and sculpture created by artists like Agostino (15571602), Annibale (15601609), and Ludovico Carracci (15551619), as well as Gian Lorenzo Bernini (15981680) and Giambologna (15291608). The era was one of bold creativity that followed from humanistic innovations that were only partly subordinated to the goals of religious leaders. The works produced by popular Italian vernacular authors also serve as evidence. They offered everything from legal to occult texts, in addition to the orthodox religious publications associated with the post-Tridentine printing industry. Yet another example can be found in northern Europe. In Germany, Catholics, and even Jesuits, were behind an artistic revitalization that contributed to the survival of Catholicism there, but also to the emergence of the German baroque movement.

Early modern Catholicism allegedly had a stultifying effect on intellectual life, and especially on the development of science, but recent scholarship suggests that this view needs considerable revision. Intellectual historians have insisted that humanism remained a vital, dynamic intellectual movement in the seventeenth century throughout Europe, despite attempts by church authorities to refocus scholarship to support new confessional ideologies. Spanish intellectual life apparently was much more complex than historians in previous generations had thought. In Spain, humanism mixed with more traditional scholastic thought, and writers moved with considerable flexibility between methods: even Spanish inquisitorial records illustrate this reality. Something similar was largely true in Italy, especially in the age of Athanasius Kircher (16021680). Jesuits at the Roman Collegesome from Germany like Kircher, and others from elsewhereshowed considerable favor for the cosmology of Tycho Brahe (15461601), even though it stood in sharp contrast to the Aristotelian status quo. The "church," both as an institution and literally as a structure, provided a great deal more support for the development of science, especially astronomy, than most would imagine, given the pervasive image of the struggle Galileo Galilei (15641642) had with the bureaucrats of the Roman Inquisition. Observations and calculations carried out in some of the principal cathedral churches of Europe, with the financial support of high-ranking prelates, paved the way for improvements in observational astronomy. They also belie the image of the Catholic Church as an effective, let alone pervasive, barrier to the expansion of learning. However, extreme Catholic opposition to the Enlightenment movement also reared up toward the end of this period. Still, had counter-cultural efforts like these been effective on any significant level, historians would have considerably greater difficulty explaining the emergence of the jarring political revolutions of the late eighteenth century.

If, as the famous American lawmaker Tip O'Neill once said, "All politics is local," then perhaps all history is local, too. The history of early modern Catholicism surely could stand as an example to defend such a thesis. Historians studying more distant ages in the past sometimes face a paucity of sources and data that makes generalization necessary. The early modern period was no such era. It was, on the contrary, the very age in which the passion for record keeping that we take for granted today first emerged. Such records, in their display of local circumstances and realities, illustrate a human complexity that defies categorization. When Martin Luther wrote his letter to Leo X, he set the pattern for consideration of early modern Catholicism, either demon or hero, that is only now being revised and seen with a human face. Further historical investigation will reveal even more wrinkles and complexities. Early modern Catholicism will take a good deal longer to describe, but the description will be closer to the human reality of that fascinating era.

See also Calvin, John ; Clergy: Roman Catholic ; Index of Prohibited Books ; Inquisition ; Jesuits ; Luther, Martin ; Missions and Missionaries ; Papacy and Papal States ; Reformation, Catholic ; Reformation, Protestant ; Religious Orders ; Trent, Council of .


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William V. Hudon

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CATHOLICISM. Spanish and French explorers brought Roman Catholicism to what is now the United States in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Spanish explorers founded St. Augustine, Florida, in 1565, and it became the site of the oldest Christian community in the United States. Missionary priests established mission towns that stretched from St. Augustine north to Georgia. Their goal was to Christianize and civilize the native population. The golden age of the missions was in the mid-seventeenth century, when seventy missionaries were working in thirty-eight missions. The missions then began to decline, and by the early eighteenth century St. Augustine was the only Catholic mission left in Florida. The mission era ended when the British gained control of Florida in 1763.

The French established a permanent settlement at Québec in 1608 that became the center of New France. Missionary priests traveled from Québec down the St. Lawrence River through the Great Lakes region seeking to evangelize the native population. This mission era endured through the first half of the eighteenth century, coming to an end when the British took over Canada in 1763. Throughout the Midwest, French missionaries and explorers left their mark in places like St. Ignace and Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, and St. Louis, Missouri.

The Catholic presence in the Southwest was quite widespread. Spanish explorers settled Santa Fe in 1610 and then branched into what is now Arizona and Texas. In the eighteenth century Spanish missionaries, led by the Franciscan friar Junipero Serra, traveled the Pacific coast and founded a chain of twenty-one mission towns stretching from San Diego to San Francisco. The Mexican government took over the missions in 1833 in what marked the end of the Spanish mission era. The dissolution of the missions, however, did not mean the end of frontier Catholicism. The church survived, ministering to the needs of Hispanic Americans and Catholic Indians. When northern Mexico became part of the United States in 1848 as a result of the Mexican-American War, the Catholic Church there entered a new chapter in its history.

In 1634 Cecil Calvert, an English Catholic nobleman, and a small group of English colonists founded Maryland. That colony became the center of the Catholic colonial presence in the English colonies. St. Mary's City

in southern Maryland became the capital of the colony, where Jesuit missionaries from England and Europe established farms. Worship services took place at these farms, which also became the home base for traveling missionaries who ministered to the needs of a rural population scattered about southern Maryland. Catholics were always a minority in Maryland, but they were in a position of prestige and power so long as the Calvert family was in control. That all changed in 1689 when William and Mary ascended to power in England and the Catholic Calverts lost ownership of the colony. Since Maryland was now a royal colony, England's penal laws became law in Maryland. These statutes discriminated against Catholics by denying them such rights and privileges as voting and public worship. Nonetheless, the Catholic population continued to grow, mainly because of the large numbers of Irish immigrants. By 1765, twenty-five thousand Catholics lived in Maryland; while another six thousand lived in Pennsylvania.

One of the most prominent families in colonial Maryland was the Carroll family. Irish and Catholic, Charles Carroll of Carrollton became a distinguished figure in the American Revolution. A delegate to the Continental Congress, he fixed his signature to the Declaration

of Independence. He also helped to write the new Maryland state constitution. Like Carroll, the vast majority of Catholics supported the Revolution of 1776.

The Early National Era and the Democratic Spirit

In 1790 John Carroll, an American-born and European-educated priest, was ordained as the first bishop of Baltimore. Only about 35,000 Catholics lived in the United States at that time. Carroll articulated a vision of Catholicism that was unique at this time. Together with many other Catholics he envisioned a national, American church that would be independent of all foreign jurisdiction and would endorse pluralism and toleration in religion; a church in which religion was grounded in the Enlightenment principle of intelligibility and where a vernacular liturgy was normative; and finally, a church in which the spirit of democracy, through an elected board of trustees, defined the government of parish communities.

The vital element in the development of American Catholicism was the parish. Between 1780 and 1820 many parish communities were organized across Catholic America. Perhaps as many as 124 Catholic churches, each one representing a community of Catholics, dotted the landscape in 1820. In the vast majority of these communities, laymen were very involved in the government of the parish as members of a board of trustees. The principal reason for such a trustee system was the new spirit of democracy rising across the land.

In emphasizing the influence of the democratic spirit on the Catholic parish, however, it is well to remember that tradition played a very important role in this development. When they sought to fashion a democratic design for parish government, American Catholics were attempting to blend the old with the new, the past with the present. The establishment of a trustee system was not a break with the past, as they understood it, but a continuation of past practices, adapted to a new environment. Lay participation in church government was an accepted practice in France and Germany, and English and Irish lay Catholics were also becoming more involved in parish government. Thus, when they were forced to defend their actions against opponents of the lay trustee system, Catholic trustees appealed to tradition and long-standing precedents for such involvement. This blending of the old with the new enabled the people to adapt an ancient tradition to the circumstances of an emerging, new society.

Mass Immigration and the Church

Once large-scale immigration began in the 1820s and 1830s, America's Catholic population increased dramatically. Many thousands of Irish and German Catholics arrived in the United States prior to the Civil War, marking the beginning of a new era in the history of American Catholicism. It was the age of the immigrant church. The republican model of Catholicism that defined the era of John Carroll went into decline as a more traditional, European model became normative as a result of the influx of foreign-born clergy who brought with them a monarchical vision of the church. Henceforth, the clergy would govern the parish.

In the closing decades of the century, Catholic immigrants from southern and eastern Europe settled in the United States. As a result, the Catholic population soared, numbering as many as seventeen million by 1920. It was a very ethnically diverse population, including as many as twenty-eight ethnic groups. The largest of these were the Irish, Germans, Italians, Polish, French Canadians, and Mexicans. Together they accounted for at least 75 percent of the American Catholic population. Each of these groups had their own national parishes. Based on nationality as well as language, these parishes became the hallmark of the urban church. A city neighborhood could have several different national parishes within its boundaries. Like separate galaxies, each parish community stayed within its own orbit. The Irish did not mix with the Poles. The Germans never mingled with the Italians. Some of these parishes were so large that their buildings (church, school, convent, and rectory) occupied an entire city block.

Because the public school culture was highly Protestant in the middle decades of the nineteenth century, Catholics began to establish their own elementary schools. John Hughes, the Irish-born archbishop of New York City, and John Purcell, the Irish-born archbishop of Cincinnati, were the two most prominent leaders championing parochial schools. The women religious were the key to the success of the schools. Like the clergy, most of these women were immigrants who worked within their own national or ethnic communities. In 1850 only about 1,344 sisters were at work in the United States. By 1900 their number had soared to 40,340, vastly outnumbering the 11,636 priests. This phenomenal increase in the number of women religious made the growth of schools possible, since they were the people who staffed the schools. Their willingness to work for low wages reduced the cost of schooling and made feasible an otherwise financially impossible undertaking.

In addition to the school, parishes sponsored numerous organizations, both religious and social. These organizations strengthened the bond between church and people. Hospitals and orphanages were also part of the urban church and women religious operated many of these institutions.

The Ghetto Mentality versus Americanization

In the antebellum period a Protestant crusade against Catholics swept across the nation. Anti-Catholic riots took place and convents as well as churches were destroyed. The crusade reached its height in the early 1850s when a new political party, the Know-Nothings, gained power in several states. Their ideology was anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic. During this period Archbishop John Hughes became a forceful apologist on behalf of Catholics. Because of the discrimination they encountered, Catholics developed their own subculture, thus acquiring an outsider mentality. Often described as a ghetto mentality, it shaped the thinking of Catholics well into the twentieth century.

Some Catholics wanted the church to abandon this outsider mentality and become more American, less foreign.

Isaac Hecker, a convert to Catholicism and a founder of the religious community of priests known as the Paulists, was the most prominent advocate of this vision in the 1850s and 1860s. Archbishop John Ireland of St. Paul, Minnesota, with support from James Gibbons, the cardinal archbishop of Baltimore, promoted this idea in the 1880s and 1890s. Advocating what their opponents labeled as an "American Catholicity," these Americanists endorsed the separation of church and state, political democracy, religious toleration, and some type of merger of Catholic and public education at the elementary school level. They were in the minority, however. Authorities in Rome were hostile to the idea of separation between church and state. They also opposed religious toleration, another hallmark of American culture, and were cool to the idea that democracy was the ideal form of government. As a result, in 1899 Pope Leo XIII issued an encyclical letter, Testem Benevolentiae, which condemned what he called "Americanism." The papal intervention not only ended the campaign of John Ireland, but also solidified the Romanization of Catholicism in the United States.

Devotional Catholicism

A distinguishing feature of the immigrant church was its rich devotional life. The heart of this devotional life was the exercise of piety, or what was called a devotion. Since the Mass and the sacraments have never been sufficient to meet the spiritual needs of the people, popular devotions have arisen throughout the history of Catholicism. In the nineteenth century some of the more popular of them were devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, devotion to Jesus in the Eucharist through public exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, devotion to the passion of Jesus, devotion to Mary as the Immaculate Conception, recitation of the rosary, and of course, devotion to particular saints such as St. Joseph, St. Patrick, and St. Anthony. Prayer books, devotional confraternities, parish missions, Newspapers, magazines, and the celebration of religious festivals shaped the cosmos of Catholics, educating them into a specific style of religion that can be described as devotional Catholicism. This interior transformation of Catholics in the United States was part of a worldwide spiritual revival taking place within Catholicism. The papacy promoted the revival by issuing encyclical letters promoting specific devotions and by organizing worldwide Eucharistic congresses to promote devotion to Christ.

Devotional Catholicism shaped the mental landscape of Catholics in a very distinctive manner. The central features of this worldview were authority, sin, ritual, and the miraculous. The emphasis on authority enhanced the prestige and power of the papacy at a time when it was under siege from Italian nationalists. Bishops and clergy also benefited from the importance attached to authority. Being Catholic meant to submit to the authority of God as mediated through the church—its pope, bishops, and clergy. Such a culture deemphasized the rights of the individual conscience as each person learned to submit to the external authority of the church. Catholic culture was also steeped in the consciousness of sin in this era. Devotional guides stressed human sinfulness and a multitude of laws and regulations sought to strengthen Catholics in their struggle with sin. Confession of sins became an important ritual for Catholics and priests spent long hours in the confessional. The Mass was another major ritual along with other sacraments such as baptism and marriage. Various devotions were associated with public rituals in church or with processions that marched through the streets of the neighborhood. In addition to such public rituals, people practiced their own private rituals of devotion. Fascination with the miraculous was another trait of devotional Catholicism. Catholics believed in the supernatural and the power of their heavenly patrons. Religious periodicals regularly reported cures and other miraculous events. Shrines such as Lourdes in France attracted much attention. In the United States many local shrines were associated with the healing powers of certain statues, relics, or pictures.


From the 1920s through the 1950s the church underwent a period of consolidation. Many new churches were built, the number of colleges grew, and record numbers of men and women entered Catholic seminaries and convents. In these years Catholicism still retained many features of the immigrant era. At the parish level Catholicism remained very ethnic and clannish into the 1940s. Devotional Catholicism remained the dominant ethos. Within the educated middle class, which was growing, there was a strong desire for Catholics to become more involved in the public life of the nation. What contemporaries called a Catholic renaissance took place in these years as Catholics began to feel more confident about their place in the United States. Catholics supported the New Deal and many worked in President Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration. Catholics also held influential positions in the growing labor movement. John Ryan, a priest and professor at the Catholic University of America, gained a national reputation as an advocate of social action and the right of workers to a just wage. Dorothy Day, a convert to Catholicism, founded the Catholic Worker movement in 1933 and her commitment to the poor and underprivileged inspired many young Catholics to work for social justice. In the 1950s Catholicism was riding a wave of unprecedented popularity and confidence. Each week new churches and schools opened their doors, record numbers of converts joined the church, and more than 70 percent of Catholics regularly attended Sunday Mass. The Catholic college population increased significantly. Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, an accomplished preacher, had his own prime time, Emmy Award–winning television show that attracted millions of viewers. In 1958 a new pope, John XXIII, charmed the world and filled Catholics with pride. The 1960 election of an Irish Catholic, John F. Kennedy, to the presidency of the United States reinforced the optimism and confidence of Catholics.


In the 1960s the Catholic Church throughout the world underwent a period of reform. The catalyst was the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965). Coupled with the social changes that were taking place in the United States at this time, the reforms initiated by the Council ushered in a new age for American Catholicism. Change and dissent are the two words that best describe this era. The most dramatic change took place in the Catholic Mass. A new liturgy celebrated in English replaced an ancient Latin ritual. Accompanying changes in the Mass was a transformation in the devotional life of the people. People began to question the Catholic emphasis on authority and sin. The popular support for devotional rituals and a fascination with the miraculous waned. An ecumenical spirit inspired Catholics to break down the fences that separated them from people of other religious traditions. Catholics emerged from the cultural ghetto of the immigrant era and adopted a more public presence in society. They joined the 1960s war against poverty and discrimination, and were in the forefront of the peace movement during the Vietnam War. Also, the Catholic hierarchy wrote important pastoral letters that discussed war and peace in the nuclear age along with economic justice. An educated laity became more inclined to dissent, challenging the church's teaching on birth control, clerical celibacy, an exclusively male clergy, and the teaching authority of the pope. Other Catholics have opposed such dissent and have strongly defended the authority of the pope and the hierarchy. Such ideological diversity has become a distinguishing trademark of contemporary Catholicism.

Changes in the Ministry and the New Immigration

The decline in the number of priests and nuns in the late twentieth century also changed the culture of Catholicism. In 1965 there were 35,000 priests; by 2005 their numbers will have declined to about 21,000, a 40 percent decline in forty years. Along with this came a decline in the number of seminarians by about 90 percent from 1965 to the end of the century. In 1965 there were 180,000 sisters in the United States; in 2000 they numbered less than 100,000. This demographic revolution has transformed the state of ministry in the church. Along with this has come the emergence of a new understanding of ministry.

This new thinking about ministry emerged from the Second Vatican Council. The council emphasized the egalitarian nature of the Catholic Church, all of whose members received a call to the fullness of the Christian life by virtue of their baptism. This undermined the elitist tradition that put priests and nuns on a pedestal above the laity. This new thinking has transformed the church. By 2000 an astounding number of laypeople, 29,146, were actively involved as paid ministers in parishes; about 85 percent of them were women. Because of the shortage of priests many parishes, about three thousand, did not have a resident priest. A large number of these, about six hundred, had a person in charge who was not a priest. Many of these pastors were women, both lay women and women religious. They did everything a priest does except say Mass and administer the sacraments. They hired the staff, managed the finances, provided counseling, oversaw the liturgy, and supervised the educational, social, and religious programs of the parish. They were in charge of everything. The priest came in as a special guest star, a visitor who celebrated the Eucharist and left.

In addition to the changes in ministry, Catholicism is experiencing the impact of a new wave of immigration ushered in by the revised immigration laws starting in 1965. The church became more ethnically diverse than ever before. In 2000 Sunday Mass was celebrated in Los Angeles in forty-seven languages; in New York City thirty languages were needed to communicate with Sunday churchgoers. The largest ethnic group was the Spanish-speaking Latino population. Comprising people from many different nations, they numbered about 30 million in 2000, of whom approximately 75 percent were Catholic. It is estimated that by 2014 they will constitute 51 percent of the Catholic population in the United States. The new immigration transformed Catholicism in much the same way that the old immigration of the nineteenth century did.

At the beginning of the twenty-first century Catholicism in the United States is entering a new period in its history. No longer religious outsiders, Catholics are better integrated into American life. Intellectually and politically they represent many different points of view. The hierarchy has become more theologically conservative while the laity has become more independent in its thinking. An emerging lay ministry together with a decline in the number of priests and nuns has reshaped the culture of Catholicism. The presence of so many new immigrants from Latin America and Asia has also had a substantial impact on the shape of the church. Continuity with the past, with the Catholic tradition, will be the guiding force as the church moves into the twenty-first century.

In 2002 a major scandal shocked the American Catholic community, when it was revealed that some priests in Boston's Catholic community had sexually abused children over the course of several years. The crisis deepened with the revelation that church leaders had often reassigned accused priests to other parishes without restricting their access to children. The same pattern of secretly reassigning priests known to be sexual predators was discovered in other dioceses across the country. This unprecedented scandal of abuse and cover-up severely damaged the sacred trust between the clergy and the laity.


Carey, Peter W. People, Priests, and Prelates: Ecclesiastical Democracy and the Tensions of Trusteeism. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1987.

Dolan, Jay P. The American Catholic Experience: A History from Colonial Times to the Present. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1985.

———. In Search of an American Catholicism: A History of Religion and Culture in Tension. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Dolan, Jay P., and Allen Figueroa Deck, eds. Hispanic Catholic Culture in the U.S.: Issues and Concerns. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1994.

Ellis, John Tracy. The Life of James Cardinal Gibbons: Archbishop of Baltimore, 1834–1921. 2 vols. Milwaukee, Wis.: Bruce Publishing, 1952.

Gleason, Philip. Keeping the Faith: American Catholicism, Past and Present. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1987.

Greeley, Andrew M. The American Catholic: A Social Portrait. New York: Basic Books, 1977.

Hennesey, James, S.J. American Catholics: A History of the Roman Catholic Community in the United States. New York: Oxford University Press, 1981.

McGreevy, John T. Parish Boundaries: The Catholic Encounter with Race in the Twentieth-Century Urban North. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996.

Morris, Charles R. American Catholic: The Saints and Sinners Who Built America's Most Powerful Church. New York: Times Books, 1997.

O'Toole, James M. Militant and Triumphant: William Henry O'Connell and the Catholic Church in Boston, 1859–1944. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1992.

Jay P.Dolan

See alsoDiscrimination: Religion ; Education: Denominational Colleges ; Immigration ; Religion and Religious Affiliation ; Religious Liberty ; Religious Thought and Writings ; Vatican II .

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The Catholic nature of childhood is often elusive, changes across time and place, and often reflects the broader culture of which it is part. In addition, historians of Catholicism have only recently turned their attention to childhood experiences. Given these important cautions, however, there are some important distinctive ways in which Catholicism has shaped childhood experiences.

The Early Church

Early church sources contain repeated favorable references to people who chose the church over their families, of parents who abandoned their children to lead devout lives themselves, or who gave their children to the church to help build monastic populations. But it is not clear whether this indifference to children reflected more the Christian or the Roman cultural influence. Some historians suggest that these attitudes reflected the dualistic thought of early Christians that contrasted the perfect sacred with the profane secular. Theologians and church officials often characterized things of the world, such as the body and material goods, as inherently evil. Attachment to biological families reflected the power of the world to sway individuals. Christian literature characterized those who chose marriage and parenthood as weaker and more prone to their passions and desires than those who chose childlessness. Christianity clearly praised the latter over the former. But for those Christians who bore and raised children, little evidence suggests a powerfully distinct experience from that of non-Christian families.

The emphasis on the duality of thought did appear to provide a theological or philosophical foundation for child-rearing practices, however. Many debated whether children, and especially "infant" children (those under seven years of age), were capable of sin. Did they suffer from the same earthly passions and enticements that plagued adults? The introduction and adoption of infant baptism during the fourth century suggests that church officials believed that children could sin, and that they inherited original sin. Evidence of severe corporal punishment for childhood transgressions abounds, and suggests a special fervor aimed at rid-ding children of their proclivity to sin. But here again it is not so clear that these Christian child-rearing practices differed significantly from those of non-Christians. The Christian reasons for severe child-rearing practices might differ, but the practices themselves seem more widely shared. Moreover, some historians see the Church as a strong child advocate. Historian Richard Lyman Jr., for example, writes that the Church insisted that "children had souls, were important to God, could be taught, and should not be killed, maimed or abandoned, and that they were very useful to the self-image of the parents" (p. 90). In short, the Church championed children's interests against cultural pressures to kill, abandon, or devalue them.

Infant baptism had other implications for church sacraments and children. The early Church initiated adults with a process that required great preparation and instruction, and culminated with a ceremony incorporating what Roman Catholics today know as baptism, first communion, andconfirmation. By the fourth and fifth centuries, however, Roman churches began to baptize infants (relative newborns), and delay the other ritual sacraments until later in childhood. This separation of the sacraments did not spread universally until the eleventh century, however, and did not receive official sanction until the Council of Trent in 1562 asserted that small children need not receive the Eucharist. Throughout the medieval period, the Church stressed Christ's divinity more and more, and therefore discouraged children from receiving communion for fear that they might not fully comprehend the distinction between the Eucharist and normal bread and wine. Catholic theology teaches that the bread and wine actually transform into Christ's body and blood during Mass, and so communion reception is a powerful sacred act. Delaying communion reception until children become older was a recognition that young boys and girls would likely not appreciate the gravity of the ritual. Some places forbade children from receiving communion until age fourteen.

Pope Pius X sought to increase communion reception among all Catholics, and so decreed in 1910 that children should receive first communion at age seven. Only in the twentieth century has this become the common age at which Catholic children receive their first communion. Confirmation too has changed a great deal over the years. Eastern churches continued to link baptism and confirmation, so that Eastern-rite Catholic children were confirmed in their infancy. Western churches saw a variety of practices over time and from place to place, with a more uniform practice emerging only in the twentieth century. Pope Pius X's 1910 decree Quam singulari had the effect of making confirmation a sacrament that children received in their adolescence, as a mark of spiritual maturity.

Despite the universal practice of infant baptism during the Middle Ages, the Church came to see children younger than seven years old as largely incapable of sin. Manuals for confessors began to focus on the sins of older children. These manuals suggested a great concern for two kinds of sin: theft and sexual activity. One presumes that the church stressed these to parents as well, and urged them to discourage their children from stealing (especially food) and having sex. Italian Catholic child-rearing manuals in the mid-sixteenth to the early eighteenth century recognized the important role that parents played in shaping their children,

and for this reason struggled with two somewhat opposed positions. The first supported and encouraged parents as the surest teachers of their children to help in resisting the allure of sin. The second worried about the parents' roles in discouraging children of mature age from choosing a religious vocation. These guides, commissioned largely for powerful bishops who sought to guide their flocks in their roles as parents, concentrated on urging parents to take on nurturing rather than repressive roles in moving children toward a virtuous life. They saw within children the seeds of virtue, and not primarily the weeds of sin, and they instructed parents to support virtue's growth within their children. Catholic parents following these manuals would have created a nurturing and affectionate environment for their children.

Catholic childhood experiences varied so widely throughout Europe during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and the state of research is so young, that it is difficult to make broad and accurate generalizations. But it is reasonable to suppose that as the international Church became more tightly controlled by Rome, and as the local Bishops sought to establish their own power more firmly, the emphasis on obedience to authority heightened. Catholic child-rearing practices may have reflected the greater stress on hierarchy within the family. Some social scientists have suggested as much, though the empirical data are not so strong here. It is clear that many Catholic children felt the difficult transition to industrialization through first-hand experience with mechanized work. Even Catholic orphanages embraced child labor as a means of covering institutional costs. It is also quite clear that many Catholic children embarked on overseas voyages as their families sought economic improvement in the developing United States.

American Catholicism and Childhood

American Catholic children in the revolutionary and early national period grew up in what historian Jay Dolan has termed the "republican" church. American Catholics in this period sought to align themselves culturally, politically, and socially with the democratic ideals of the emerging nation. Catholics sought less to separate themselves from prevailing norms than to embrace the new ideals that guided social and cultural behavior. Because so few priests and nuns labored in America during this time, the laity provided most of the institutional, community, and liturgical structures for themselves. Children would have grown up experiencing their religious lives in their homes primarily, rather than in a separate sacred space. Their parents provided religious instruction and the opportunities for prayer, reflection, and ritual practices, and they would have emphasized very similar social and cultural ideals to their Protestant neighbors. Though still clearly patriarchal, Catholic families moved with Protestant Americans toward a more democratic family structure that emphasized affection over duty.

Once European Catholics began immigrating to America in large numbers during the early nineteenth century, the nature of American Catholic childhood experiences changed dramatically. Catholics in this immigrant church constructed and lived within a church suffused with a hierarchical and formal institutional presence that sought to shape children's lives profoundly. The family remained the most powerful influence on Catholic children, of course, but the institutional church sought to shape Catholic children much more powerfully than in the republican church. The rise of the separate Catholic school system and the devotional culture that immigrants brought with them and then adapted to the new nation shaped Catholic childhood indirectly through its influence on parents and directly by its pervasive contact with children themselves. With the masses of lay Catholic immigrants to America came thousands of Catholic priests and nuns as well, so that a church that had developed largely independent of clerical presence saw the dramatic growth of the formal institutional structure.

The Catholic school system grew tremendously throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as an alternative to the emerging public school system. For many Catholics, their experiences in parochial schools constituted their most extensive immersion in the Catholic world. Catholic bishops stressed to their priests from the middle of the nineteenth century onward the importance of developing parish schools, with the result that parishes built their schools before even their churches. Until the latter half of the twentieth century, Catholic children often sat in classes of fifty to seventy students taught largely by women religious whose own education often ended with the eighth grade. Students learned discipline, deference, obedience, and respect for hierarchy.

Despite extraordinary efforts to educate all Catholic children in parochial schools, at no point in American history did more than half of Catholic children actually attend such schools. Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, most Catholic children attended public schools with their Protestant, Jewish, and other neighbors. For these Catholics, the most significant institutional encounters came when they joined the Catholic school children in the extensive devotional culture that immersed Catholic children in an extensive array of formal rituals. This powerful devotional experience most distinguished Catholic childhood from others.

Historian Jay Dolan has characterized devotional Catholicism for the century between 1850 and 1950 as exhibiting four key features: a strong sense of sin, a heavy emphasis on ritual, a firm belief in the miraculous, and a keen sense of hierarchy and deference within that hierarchy. Catholic children experienced this culture in the churches when they attended weeklyand sometimes dailyMass, confession, any of the regularly sponsored novenas (special rituals typically dedicated to particular saints offered each of nine consecutive weeks), benedictions, and adorations. Parishes also sponsored "missions" offered by orders of priests who specialized in generating enthusiasm among the faithful or fallen away. Children here learned of the dangers that the temporal world posed for them, that God would intervene to help deserving believers in their crises, and that they should respect churchand by extension allauthority. Wedded to each other through a vast array of distinctive behaviors, Catholic children developed powerful identities as a unique and religiously privileged group. Though historians disagree on whether these experiences aided or hindered adult Catholic social and cultural success in America, they generally agree that Catholics developed a very powerful Catholic identity with strong boundaries that limited social interaction with others. They lived within an extensive Catholic social and cultural (though not geographical) ghetto that prized otherworldly salvation above all else, and saw as the only means to that aim a life lived apart from the evil influences of the broader materialist society.

In the schools and churches, Catholic institutional representatives had direct and powerful contact with Catholic children. Priests and nuns sought to shape childhood experiences according to religious norms defined largely by church officials. But the children came from families with varying commitments to these ideals, and embraced or resisted the institutional influences accordingly. The Catholic family more than any official church institution most profoundly shaped Catholic childhood, and the Catholic family did not always embrace official church ideals. Because Irish Catholics dominated the clergy, for example, families from other ethnic backgrounds often resisted the institutional influence resolutely.

Immigrant Catholics came to America from a number of different nations and cultures even within their nations of origin. Catholic families often differed from each other in the values that they prized and passed on to their children. It is difficult therefore to make precise conclusions that apply to all Catholics in this period, so readers should be mindful of the great variety of American "Catholic" experiences throughout the period. Some generalizations are warranted, however. In general, Catholic immigrant families in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries tended to have more children than their native counterparts, and they tended to be quite poor. Catholic children often grew up in large families that suffered great economic hardship. They understood want and deprivation, and they went to work at young ages to help support their families. At a time when middle-class American culture prized domesticity and a pronounced and prolonged childhood experience apart from the emerging market economy, American Catholic children experienced the market intrusion into their lives at very young ages. Catholic parents worked long hours in the mills and mines, and their children filled the tenements and alleys of America's emerging slums. Catholicism both challenged and ameliorated these experiences.

American church officials and the parochial schools by and large emphasized deference to authority, and this included civic and economic authority. In this way the Church pushed children to work within established social structures rather than challenge them. Yet the late nineteenth century saw increasing sanction for social justice efforts that condemned exploitation of the poor and their families. Pope Leo XXIII's 1893 encyclical Rarem novarum officially endorsed social justice work and supported demands for family wages, unions, and a just economic order. For the most part, Catholic families remained largely working class through the early decades of the twentieth century. The real changes in Catholic family size and child-rearing strategies came in the latter decades of the twentieth century, and coincided with Catholics' movement to the middle classes.

Social scientists in the twentieth century tell us that American Catholic families in the early decades of the century had more children than Protestants. Catholic fertilityrates then converged briefly with Protestant in the 1930s before diverging during the baby boom decades of the 1950s and 1960s. The Catholic rate declined faster than the Protestant during the 1970s, however, so that they were largely indistinguishable by the 1980s. Not surprisingly, Catholic attitudes toward birth control followed similar patterns, so that by the 1970s they differed insignificantly from Protestant attitudes even as church officials persisted in forbidding their use.

A similar pattern seems to have existed for Catholic child-rearing strategies. Social scientists suggest that Catholic parents more than Protestants valued obedience highly and devalued intellectual autonomy in their children throughout much of the twentieth century. The evidence for these claims is less firm than for the birth rate patterns, however. The conclusions depend upon the logical extension of a hierarchical church model into the family, and interpretations of responses on social surveys. Catholic parents presumably discouraged their children from creative explorations of intellectual challenges and from pursuing challenges to authority. By the early 1980s, however, Catholic parenting values converged with mainline Protestant perspectives, and conservative Protestant parents appear to have adopted the positions once held by Catholics. At the end of the twentieth century, American Catholic parents differed very little in their child-rearing attitudes and practices from their Protestant neighbors. But the Church continued to support a separate school system, mark childhood milestones with sacraments, and prize child rearing as a laudable vocation. The latter two actions characterized Catholic practices throughout the rest of the world as well. The Catholic influence on childhood experience throughout the western world matters less than socioeconomic class, race, and geography, but it continues to mediate responses to these forces. It does not do so uniformly, though, nor with the same power.

See also: Islam; Judaism; Protestant Reformation .


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Ellison, Christopher, and Darren Sherkat. 1993. "Obedience and Autonomy: Religion and Parental Values Reconsidered." Journalfor the Social Scientific Study of Religion 32, no. 4: 313329.

Hyde, Kenneth E. 1990. Religion in Childhood and Adolescence: A Comprehensive Review of the Research. Birminghan, AL: Religious Education Press.

Lyman, Richard B., Jr. 1974. "Barbarism and Religion: Late Roman and Early Medieval Childhood." In The History of Childhood, ed. Lloyd deMause. New York: Psychohistory Press.

Martos, Joseph. 1982. Doors to the Sacred: A Historical Introduction to the Sacraments in the Catholic Church. Garden City, NY: Image Books.

Mosher, William D., David Johnson, and Marjorie Horn. 1986. "Religion and Fertility in the United States: The Importance of Marriage Patterns and Hispanic Origin." Demography August: 367380.

Shahar, Shulamith. 1990. Childhood in the Middle Ages. Trans. Chaya Galai. London: Routledge.

Walch, Timothy. 1996. Parish School: American Catholic Parochial Education from Colonial Times to the Present. New York: Crossroad.

Wood, Diana, ed. 1994. Church and Childhood: Papers Read at the 1993 Summer Meeting and the 1994 Winter Meeting of the Ecclesiastical History Society. Oxford, UK: Blackwell.

Timothy Kelly

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The Catholic Church traces its origins directly to the person and life of Jesus Christ. Therefore, any historical presentation of family life as it relates to the Catholic Church must go back two thousand years to the very dawn of Christianity. Scholars of this early period point to a major role played by the family in the life and expansion of Christianity.

During the first three centuries of its existence, Christianity not only lacked public approval, but its followers also experienced regular persecution by secular powers. The early Christian church was an assemblage of families who met together for prayer and worship in homes, rather than in public church buildings. Such gatherings contributed to the spirit of church life by having an important family dimension. Roman society failed to value the importance of women and children. The early church took a strong position on the dignity and value of all people. Some historians claim that the church's valuing of everyone, its openness to all regardless of gender, age, or social class, was partly the reason Christianity was persecuted by the state. Its openness to all people was deeply at odds with the hierarchical values and social structures supported by the reigning authorities.

Christian families were sometimes referred to as households of faith in the writings of the early church. Both the celebration of the Eucharist, sometimes called the agape or love feast, along with the celebration of baptism, were events directly involving the family. Occasionally, whole families were baptized into the church. Further, local church leaders, both bishops and presbyters, were chosen in part because of their proven leadership of a Christian household.

Two influential church theologians and leaders, St. Augustine (354–430) and St. John Chrysostom (347–407), both referred to the family as a domestic church in their writings. Although this language was not taken up by the church in subsequent centuries until the Second Vatican Council (1961–1965), the apparent high regard for the family was nevertheless an essential dimension of church life. That their language seemed all but forgotten indicates that soon after this early period, the family seems to recede into the background as a major setting for the Christian life. Family life was no longer a central interest of the church.

Its place as the primary small community of the church was replaced by the creation of monasticism, especially through the efforts of St. Benedict (480–550) and his sister St. Scholastica (480–543). In the rule written for monastic life, they borrowed language inherent to family life. The head of the monastery was to be called the abbot (a derivation of the word for father) while abbesses headed the convents for religious women. The members of the monastic community were to be called brothers and sisters. Entrance into the monastic community was akin to being brought into a new family. Often one's name was changed to underscore a new identity and a new set of familial relationships.

From the inception of the monastic movement, the quest for spiritual perfection within the Catholic Church was largely considered a matter for vowed monks and nuns. Those who lived in ordinary families were implicitly considered second-class members of the church. As the Christian Church became more of a public institution after Emperor Constantine's Edict of Milan (313), Christian families blended in with all the other families of the west. For the next 1,400 years, there is a loud silence in the writings and teaching of the Catholic Church about the role of family life. There is no mention of the importance of family life as significant either for salvation or sanctification.

The Beginnings of a Social Concern for Families

In 1891 Pope Leo XIII initiated a new interest in the church about family life with his pioneering social encyclical called Rerum Novarum (On New Things). The primary focus of this letter concerned the state of labor particularly as it was being influenced by the socialist revolution of the times. As the pope considered the condition of the typical worker, he also took the opportunity to comment on the state of the worker's family. Here he noted the right of families, especially poor families, to adequate food, clothing, shelter, and protection. His interest was primarily on the material or social needs of the family.

The issuance of that encyclical began a pattern of church support for the social welfare of the family. Especially in the United States there developed a group of major church agencies whose primary purpose was assistance to families, especially economic assistance. The St. Vincent de Paul Society, along with many diocesan programs under what was usually called Catholic Charities, sought to meet the needs of families and children. Catholic hospitals and schools, while attending primarily to the sick and to children, often included an interest in the families of those they served. Starting with a huge influx of Irish immigrants in the mid-nineteenth century, the number of needy Catholic families has remained high.

Toward the end of the twentieth century, many Catholic families came to the United States from Latin America and Asia. Helping these families remains a high priority for the Catholic Church. A similar effort toward helping needy families occurs around the world though a variety of international Catholic agencies like Catholic Relief Services and various international organizations sponsored by such religious communities as the Jesuits, Franciscans, and Maryknoll.

Catholic Teachings on Marriage and Family Life

Catholic teaching about marriage was minimal until the Catholic Church formally taught that Christian marriage or matrimony was one of the seven sacraments of the church. This was officially declared at the Council of Trent (1545–1563). This teaching was partly to counteract Martin Luther's claim that there were only two sacraments: baptism and eucharist. Theologians from the thirteenth century on had made mention of the sacramental nature of Christian marriage, but it was not made part of official church teaching until the abovementioned council.

Naming Christian marriage as one of the seven sacraments of the church meant that the act of marrying another, with the intent that the marriage be faithful, exclusive, and open to the creation of new life, creates a sacramental relationship between the wife and husband that participates through the working of grace. Marriage was not only a human or secular relationship. It was part of the dynamic life of being a Christian. It was drawn into the energizing presence of God's spirit that continuously breathes life into the church. Marriage is a sanctified state of life. It renders the wife and husband holy through all those acts that constitute the marriage. This graced dynamic begins with the exchange of marriage vows and through the consummation of the marriage in sexual intercourse. The process of sanctification continues though their life together.

After Christian marriage was officially incorporated as part of church life, there followed a whole series of changes in church practice. These changes happened slowly. In fact, some four hundred years later, there still remain further opportunities on the part of the church to enrich the graced state of marriage and the spiritual lives of families. First of all, the Catholic Church established rather detailed laws concerning who could marry, what dispositions or attitudes were required for marriage, how the sacramental ritual of marriage should be enacted (before a priest and two witnesses), and when and where marriages should take place when celebrated in the church.

Because of these church requirements, the church involved itself in the period before marriage to insure that all its requirements for Christian marriage were satisfied. From the sixteenth until the middle of the twentieth century, this requirement was usually met by a meeting with a priest right before the wedding.

In the middle of the twentieth century, the Catholic Church, especially in the United States and Canada, developed a variety of educational programs for engaged couples. They were designed to help couples enter Christian marriage more knowingly and more personally. These marriage preparation programs were usually given by a priest with the assistance of qualified laity.

As the Catholic Church found itself in situations where the population was religiously diverse, it also faced the issue of marriages between Catholics and non-Catholics. These were commonly referred to as mixed marriages. Up until the Second Vatican Council, these marriages were clearly thought of as second class. Usually they were not celebrated in the church building, and the non-Catholic party had to promise that any children from their marriage would be baptized and raised Catholic.

After the Second Vatican Council, the church took a more pastoral approach to these marriages, sometimes creating special programs for marriage preparation and enrichment. Also, the non-Catholic partners are no longer required to promise that children of the marriage become Catholic. Nevertheless, the Catholic partners are asked to promise to do all within their power to ensure this result. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, just under one half of the marriages that are celebrated in the church are mixed. Sometimes leaders of each one's respective religious community jointly celebrate the weddings of these people.

There are various programs and movements within the Catholic Church to enrich marriages. Many Catholic parishes and dioceses sponsor educational programs for the married. Deserving special mention are the various marriage encounter retreats or experiences that have helped thousands of Catholics gain skills in communication and insights into the sacramental and holy or sacred dimension of Christian marriage.

At the other end of the spectrum, laws and procedures were created to deal with ways the church could accept that a marriage had ended. Up until the Second Vatican Council, there were few justifying causes for a marriage to be declared ended. In brief, this could be accomplished only when the marriage partners had not consummated their union or if one of the parties decided to enter religious life. Courts were established both at the Vatican and in Catholic dioceses to deal with these cases.

Around the time of the Second Vatican Council, a new set of criteria for dissolving marriages was established by the marriage court of the Vatican, which is called the Rota. It allowed the church to declare that a given marriage lacked certain essential qualities that the church held as necessary for the existence of a Christian marriage. If the marriage lacked certain essential qualities, then the parties were given an annulment, which indicates that a Christian marriage was not canonically valid. Essential qualities may be absent in the intention of one or both parties at the time of the wedding, for example, an unwillingness to have children. Or one or both parties may have a personal psychological predisposition that makes them incapable of establishing a lifelong union of life and love.

Catholic Teachings on Human Sexuality

For most of its history, the Catholic Church taught that the primary purpose of God's gift of sexuality was the procreation and education of children. Occasionally other purposes of sexuality were noted, such as deepening the friendship of the married couple and helping to control excessive sexual desire. During the twentieth century biological science and technology made it possible to more effectively control the process of fertilization and the question arose whether Catholics might use these new methods of fertility control.

After extensive discussion involving bishops, theologians, and lay people, Pope Paul VI issued the encyclical letter, Humanae Vitae (On Human Life) in 1968. Before the issuance of that letter, many Catholics expected that the Catholic Church would change its rule of fertility control, which up to that time included only the use of natural methods. In brief, these methods allowed a couple to engage in sexual intercourse during infertile or safe times of the woman's cycle. Various methods of determining the precise time of infertility were developed to assist the couple in their quest for being responsible in the use of their procreative powers. New methods of fertility control developed in the years immediately preceding Humanae Vitae, the most well known being a pill that prevented ovulation. One of its developers was D. John Rock, who was a Catholic doctor.

The pope responded to this by saying that each and every act of sexual intercourse must be open to the creation of new life. In practice, that meant that the couple could not actively prevent possible fertilization from taking place. This teaching has been controversial for many Catholics. Nevertheless Pope John Paul II has strongly maintained the teaching of Pope Paul VI.

The Second Vatican Council reformulated and updated many teachings and practices of the church. In its document called Gaudium et Spes (The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World) it devoted a lengthy section on what it labeled The Dignity of Marriage and the Family. Here it expanded on the meaning of human sexuality in marriage by saying that it is both an expression of marital love, and it is an act that potentially could generate new human life. The church left behind any language of primary or secondary meaning to marital sex. It took a "bothand" approach in affirming two essential purposes of human sexuality. Many pastors, theologians, and married couples welcomed this broader understanding, which clearly valued human sexuality as essentially expressive of marital love.

The 1980 Vatican Synod on Family and Familiaris Consortio

As the Second Vatican Council adjourned, many church leaders felt that the ancient practice of holding regular church meetings or synods would be useful in implementing the reforms of Vatican II and for dealing with pressing issues facing the church. The Vatican has convened synods in roughly three-year intervals since 1965. In 1980, the first synod was held in the pontificate of Pope John Paul II. Its topic was the role of the Christian family in the modern word.

More than 200 bishops representing the Catholic Church from around the world met for five weeks of discussion. In general, the concerns of the bishops were divided into two sets of issues.

For bishops from developing countries, there were many issues raised dealing with such matters as family survival under difficult political and economic circumstances, the role of the state in determining family size, and the survival of the Christian family where Christians were a minority of the population.

For industrialized countries, the concerns were more concerned with internal family issues. Bishops focused the challenges of maintaining intimacy in marriage, the church's response to divorce, the need for family spirituality, and the roles of women and men in the family. The results of all these deliberations were handed over to Pope John Paul II, who then responded in a major teaching document. A year after the synod on the family adjourned, he issued Familiaris Consortio (On the Family). It was easily the lengthiest treatise on marriage and family ever created in the Catholic Church.

The papal document was divided into four sections. The first section of this apostolic exhortation (its official church designation as a document) deals with the realities of family life today. Based on the testimony of bishops from around the world, the pope notes that there are both positive and negative forces that influence family life. Like other parts of human life, the family is a mixture of the light and darkness.

The second section notes that the family must affirm and respect the full personhood of every family member. No other community can value the individual person more than can the family. The depersonalizing forces of society can be countered by an acceptance and love that is a primary part of the God-given role of the family.

Section three presents the heart of the document when it describes the comprehensive role of the Christian family. It divides the family's role into four parts. First, it is to form a community of people, bound together for life while enriching each other, especially through acts of care, kindness, compassion, forgiveness, and love. Its second role is to serve life from its beginning in the mother's womb until death. The family is to be a community of life, protecting life from all that diminishes it, supporting life in all circumstances. Third, the role of the family in society is developed by comparing families to cells that contributes directly to the life and health of the whole body. A strong message of interconnectedness and interdependency comes forth in this part of the pope's exhortation. The last aspect mentioned is the family's role in the life of the church. Here new theological ground is created by showing that the family is not just served by the church or contributes to the church, but rather that the life of the family itself is a significant part of the church's life. This teaching reaches back to the notion of the family as the domestic church, language first expressed in the early church and recaptured in the documents of the Second Vatican Council.

Section four of Familiaris Consortio calls for a comprehensive plan of support for family life from all the other sectors of church life. It calls for a pastoral outreach to all the types of family structures. It requests that local churches serve the needs of single parents, the widowed, the divorced, and the separated. In other words, there is an acknowledgement and respect given to people in a variety of family structures, which is clearly the trend that has developed in contemporary times.

The basic message of this extensive document on the family is that the church must respect and assist Christian families in whatever way it can. Clearly, the family stands at the crossroads of change in modern life. The Catholic Church is called to see that the future of the family is its own future. This perspective comes from both a sense of crisis and an awareness of a pastoral opportunity for church renewal. A family-sensitive approach to church life has roots going back to the beginning of the Christian era. In brief, the Catholic Church now affirms that the family is an essential life-giving part of the church and that it is a source of on-going vitality for entire church.

See also:Annulment; Family Ministry; Godparents; Interfaith Marriage; Marriage Preparation; Protestantism; Religion


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69. Catholicism

See also 79. CHRIST ; 80. CHRISTIANITY ; 260. MARY ; 323. POPE ; 349. RELIGION ; 359. SAINTS ; 392. THEOLOGY .

the praetiees in the Anglican communion that hold that Catholicism is inherent in a church whose episcopate is able to traee its line of descent from the apostles and whose faith Catholics agree to be revealed truth. AngloCatholic, n., adj.
an opposition to the influence and activities of the clergy in public affairs. anticlericalist, n.
a book containing the prayers, lessons, etc., needed by a priest for the reading of his daily office.
a 19th-century plan of the German parliamentarian Cahensly, successfully opposed by American interests, to have the pope divide the foreign-born population of the U.S. into ethnic groups and to appoint bishops and priests of the same ethnic and linguistic background as each group.
the condition of a person who is receiving basic instruction in the doctrines of Christianity in preparation for the sacrament of confirmation. Also catechumenate. catechumen, n. catechumenal, catechumenical, adj.
the state of being single or unmarried, especially in the case of one bound by vows not to marry. celibate, n., adj.
1. a sacramental oil.
2. a sacramental anointing; unction.
3. Eastern Christianity. the rite of confirmation.
1. an undue influence of the hierarchy and clergy in public affairs and government.
2. the principles and interests of the clergy.
3. the system, spirit, or methods of the priesthood; sacerdotalism. Cf. laicism. clericalist, n.
1. the philosophy and methods of the ultramontane party in the Roman Church.
2. the methods and processes of the Curia Romana, the bureaucracy of congregations and offices which assist the pope in the government of the Roman Church.
1. a canon lawyer versed in papal decrees on points in ecclesiastical law.
2. a person versed in the decretals. Also decretalist .
the devotion, veneration, or respect accorded saints.
the control of government by clerics. Also called hierocracy . ecclesiarch. n.
encyclical, encyclic
a letter from the Pope to the Roman Catholic clergy on matters of doctrine or other concerns of the Church, of ten meant to be read from the pulpit.
the view that the faith and practice of the Church are based in both tradition and the Scriptures. See also 43. BIBLE .
the body of doctrines, chiefly associated with French dioceses, advocating the restriction of papal authority, especially in administrative matters. Cf. ultramontanism. Gallican, n., adj.
the teaching of a 19th-century Paulist priest, Isaac T. Hecker, who regarded Catholicism as the religion best suited to promoting human aspirations after liberty and truth and to the character and institutions of the American people. Also called Americanism.
the views of Hildebrand, Pope Gregory VII (1073-85), especially those underlying his drastic reforms within the Roman Church and his assertion of papal supremacy. Usually called ultramontanism. Hildebrandic, Hildebrandine, adj.
permission, particularly that given by the Roman Catholic Church, to publish or print; hence, any sanction or approval. (Latin: let it be printed.)
1. the belief in or adherence to the dogma of papal infallibility.
2. the dogma itself.
1. the doctrines, practices, etc., of the Jesuit order of priests.
2. Disparaging, lower case. casuistry or equivocation. Also Jesuitry . Jesuitic, Jesuitical, adj.
1. the nonclerical, or secular, control of political and social institutions in a society.
2. lay participation in church matters. Cf. clericalism. laity, n.
Liguorist, Liguorian
a believer in the theological doctrines of St. Alfonso Maria da Liguori (1696-1787), founder of the Redemptorist Order.
Rare. a religious cult based on the veneration of the Virgin Mary.
Mariolatry, Maryology, Maryolatry
the cult of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Mariolater, n. Mariolatrous, adj.
an Arabic-speaking Uniat sect in Lebanon, under the authority of the papacy since the 12th century but maintaining its Syriac liturgy, married clergy, and practice of communion in both bread and wine. Maronite, n., adj.
marranism, marranoism
the forced conversion of Jews or Moors in medieval Spain. marrano, n.
1. a history or registry of martyrs.
2. the branch of ecelesiastical history that studies the lives and deaths of martyrs.
3. an official catalog of martyrs and saints, arranged according to the dates of their feast days. martyrologist, n. martyrologic, martyrological, adj.
the doctrine of the 16th-century Jesuit Luis Molina, who taught that the work of grace depends on the accord of mans free will. Molinist, n.
a Premonstrant.
a 3rd-century controversy in the Roman diocese in which Novation, elected bishop of a schismatic group, declared that lapsed Christians could not be received again into the Church. Novationist, n.
a person resident and serving in a monastery but not under vows; a lay religious worker.
1. a member of the lowest-ranking of the four minor orders in Roman Catholicism.
2. a doorkeeper of a church.
1. the institution and procedures of papal government.
2. the advocacy of papal supremacy. papalist, n., adj.
Usually disparaging. authoritarian government under the direction of the pope. Also papistry . papist, n. papistic, papistical, adj.
the theological concepts taught by or ascribed to St. Peter. Petrinist, n.
Pejorative. papal authority or actions.
a breviary.
a priest who submits a plea for beatification or canonization.
one of the order of Roman Catholic monks founded at Premontre, France, by St. Norbert in 1119. Also called Premonstratensian, Norbertine.
resistance to authority or refusal to conform, especially in religious matters, used of English Catholics who refuse to attend the services of the Church of England. Also recusance . recusant, n., adj.
advocacy of the reunion of the Anglican and Catholic churches. reunionist, n. reunionistic, adj.
Ribbonism, Ribandism
the principles of the Ribbon Society, a Roman Catholic secret society of the mid 19th century. Ribbonist, Ribandist, n.
the practices and doctrines of Roman Catholicism. romanist, n. romanistic, adj.
the system, practices, or principles underlying the priesthood. sacerdotal, n., adj.
simonism, simony
the practice or defense of the selling of church relies, preferments, etc. simoniac, simonist, n.
a fellowship, brotherhood, or other association of a benevolent nature, especially in the Roman Catholic Church. sodalist, n., adj.
the state of one who has received supernatural stigmata, i.e., marks on hands, feet, and side similar to the wounds of Christ. stigmata, n. stigmatic, adj.
a member of a council, meeting to consult and decide on church matters. synodical, synodal, adj.
adherence to tradition, rather than to revelation, independent Bible study, or individual reasoning, as the authority controlling religious knowledge and practice. traditionalist, n. traditionalistic, adj.
a member of a Roman Catholic monastic order, a branch of the Cistercians, observing an austere, reformed rule, including a vow of silence; named after the monastery at La Trappe, France, where the reformed rule was introduced in 1664. Trappist, adj.
the advocacy of the supremacy of the papacy and the papal system, in opposition to those favoring national churches and the authority of church councils. Cf. Gallicanism. ultramontane, ultramontanist, n. ultramontanistic, adj.
the union of an Eastern Rite church with the Roman Church in which the authority of the papacy is accepted without loss of separate liturgies or government by local patriarchs. Uniat, Uniate, n.
the doctrine or advocacy of papal supremacy. Vaticanist, n.

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catholicism. The word derives from the universality of faith in the Christian church, but since the 16th cent. has referred to the portion of Christianity undivided from allegiance to papal authority and the beliefs and practices of the ancient church. In Britain, allegiance to the papacy and to those theological and doctrinal formulations rejected by reformers in the 16th cent. came to characterize a distinct brand of Christianity, as opposed to the protestantism of the Church of England, which emerged from the Elizabethan settlement, and later dissenting groups. Since the 19th cent. parts of the Church of England have argued a case for adopting the term to include themselves, the Roman catholic church, and the orthodox churches as representing the undivided church of ancient times.

Commonly the word is used to delineate the distinctive post-Reformation communities in Britain which rejected the reform of the 16th cent. and the assertion of royal supremacy over the church in England. These catholic or papist communities survived and developed by resistance to legal proscription by penal laws, eventually lifted in the late 18th and early 19th cents. That process can be understood in a series of phases, beginning with the period of survival as recusant communities during the 17th cent. Up to 1688 and the fall of James II, catholics launched a missionary campaign to retain a foothold and maintain catholic life and worship in the teeth of hostile legislation. The sacramental nature of catholicism meant that the congregations, where they could exist, were dependent on priests who had to be trained in missionary seminaries in Europe. The first of these was founded by Cardinal William Allen at Douai in Flanders and in Rome in the 1570s. The priests, subjected to the law of treason, went in fear of their lives and depended on the protection of lay families, mostly gentry, who risked safety and property to sustain catholic life. Lay and clerical catholics were executed up to the 1680s. The extent to which the penal laws were imposed varied according to the circumstances of the day and to local conditions, and in some areas catholicism flourished unmolested. Parts of Lancashire, the north-east, and the midlands became relatively safe territory, where recusant catholicism predominated. In Ireland, catholics formed the great majority outside Ulster, and in Scotland were strong in the Highlands and Islands.

In these areas it became possible, in the second phase from 1688 to the mid-18th cent., for catholic life to establish its existence, despite the fact that this was the lowest ebb in legal terms. The revolution of 1688 led to another and final wave of penal legislation and to renewed protestant antagonism towards catholicism. But the mood of the early 18th cent. turned against religious persecution and few of the laws were enforced. Almost the only lasting benefit to the catholics from the reign of James II was the appointment of vicars apostolic to govern the catholics in England and Wales (and in Scotland later). This removed the organizational uncertainty from the community and eradicated some of the quarrelsomeness which had characterized an essentially insecure and haphazard operation. By the mid-18th cent., catholic practice was largely tolerated and life for the small congregations, served by travelling missionaries or gentry chaplains, fell into a pattern of quiet independence.

The final defeat of the Jacobite cause in 1745 removed the political animus against catholicism, though not until 1829 was the prohibition on catholic MPs lifted. In the 1740s catholics were a negligible fraction of the population of England and Wales—perhaps 1 or 2 per cent—but from that time they entered a new phase of confidence and modest growth. Between about 1745 and the first Catholic Relief Act of 1778, catholics, along with their contemporaries, began to taste the first fruits of economic development. The drift to the towns began and though rural catholicism declined in some areas, urban catholicism in London, the midlands, and parts of the north began to emerge. New congregations, built around the independent self-determination of artisans and skilled craftsmen, grew up. They were able to persuade missioners to create settled missions, where there was a sufficiently stable population. Chapels and schools, though still technically illegal, began to appear. In these growing towns catholics were left to pursue their trades unmolested and were the basis of the emerging nouveaux riches, who were to take English catholicism into its 19th-cent. revival.

Between the Relief Acts of the late 18th cent. and about 1840, these emerging industrial catholics began to take greater responsibility for religious activities. At the same time this often brought them into conflict with the clergy. Tensions over the control and funding of the missionary enterprise had dogged English catholicism since the 16th cent. Clergy and laity had to be interdependent, but by the early 19th cent. both groups were asserting their rights and dignities. Numbers were increasing rapidly, from around 80,000 at the end of the 18th cent. to nearer 700,000 in the 1851 religious census. This growth was partly endogenous and partly due to massive migration of impoverished Irish catholics. Clerical training had been forced back onto British soil by the French Revolution and clerical numbers, organization, and ecclesiastical authority were increasing. Urban laity wanted at times to behave like the old gentry and were reluctant to relinquish the control over church life which money gave them.

The battle was ultimately resolved largely in favour of the clergy, whose role in an increasingly centralized and authoritarian contemporary catholicism was reinforced by enhanced papal discipline. The restoration of the catholic hierarchy to England and Wales in 1850, as well as resolving issues of control and organization, gave English catholicism a sense of belonging fully to the universal church under papal authority. The task after 1850 was to restore and rebuild English catholicism in the image of European catholicism and to create the churches, schools, society, devotions, and loyalty which built the powerful, close-knit catholic culture characteristic until the middle of the 20th cent.

Judith Champ


Bossy, J. , The English Catholic Community, 1570–1850 (1975);
Butler, D. , Methodists and Papists: John Wesley and the Catholic Church in the 18th Century (1994);
Norman, E. , The English Catholic Church in the 19th Century (1984);
Quinn, D. , Patronage and Piety: The Politics of English Roman Catholicism 1850–1900 (1993).

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Immigration. During the first half of the nineteenth century the Roman Catholic Church in the United States was transformed from a tiny religious minority into the largest church in the nation. There had been many Catholics among the earliest European explorers and settlers of the North American continent, and the colony of Maryland became a haven for English Catholics. But Catholicism was still the smallest denomination in the nation, with only 195, 000 members. In the 1830s this situation began to change dramatically as tens of thousands of Catholic immigrants flooded into the United States from Ireland and Germany. These new immigrants greatly altered the ethnic makeup of the American Catholic Church, which grew to 1, 600, 000 members by 1850, and changed the religious composition of the United States as a whole.

Irish and Germans. The first significant wave of Irish immigration to America was prompted largely by social and economic stresses caused by rapid population growth in Ireland. Job opportunities at home were limited, and the lure of positions in American factories was strong. In 1845 the potato blight hit Ireland, causing widespread famine and a new surge in emigration. Most Irish immigrants were single men and women with little money who settled primarily in the growing port cities of New England and the Middle Atlantic states, where work was easy to find. German immigrants, in contrast, tended to arrive in family units and settle in both urban and rural areas. Some German Catholics left Europe in the face of political and religious conflict, but as in Ireland, population growth was a major factor prompting emigration. Crop failures, scarce land, and industrialization had begun to eliminate traditional occupations. Many German farmers and artisans chose to leave for America rather than adapt to the factory system. Because they had more money than Irish immigrants, they were often able to head inland and take advantage of farming opportunities, settling in western New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and the upper Midwest.

Anti-Catholicism. The transition to life in America was not easy for most of these new immigrants, who faced not only the hardships of finding homes and work but also the anti-Catholic prejudices of a largely Protestant population. In the cities immigrants brought unwelcome competition for industrial jobs and, because of their poverty, placed economic burdens on their communities. Their religious beliefs and rituals seemed alien and deeply suspect to many non-Catholics, and these feelings merged with negative ethnic stereotypes, particularly of the Irish, who were thought to be lazy, depraved, corrupt, and prone to drunkenness. Additionally, many Protestants felt that the authoritarian and hierarchical nature of the Catholic church, along with its allegiance to a foreign power in the figure of the Pope, made the religion inherently incompatible with American values and potentially subversive. Bolstered by the growing Protestant press, anti-Catholicism made integration into American life difficult for many immigrants and sometimes sparked violence.

Social Resources. As the Catholic community grew, so did its social resources. Catholic relief agencies were established to aid impoverished immigrants, and local parishes offered housing and employment opportunities. Dozens of Catholic schools were built to provide an alternative to the newly developed American public school system. While many non-Catholics felt that the public schools simply transmitted the religiously neutral ideals of republicanism and democracy, most Catholics believed the schools propagated Protestant views that threatened the faith of Catholic schoolchildren. In 1840 New Yorks Bishop John Hughes sought to secure public funds for Catholic schools. He failed to win enough support, however, and it became clear that Catholic education would have to rely on private resources.

Ethnic Differences. Throughout much of the nineteenth century ethnic differences simultaneously strengthened the American Catholic Church and kept it from being fully united. Catholics from England, France, Ireland, Germany, and later Italy and eastern Europe not only spoke different languages but also had different cultures and styles of worship. Rituals for births, weddings, and funerals differed, as did tastes in sacred music. Most Catholic immigrants preferred to live, work, and worship within ethnically defined parishes, where they could maintain their native languages and customs. At the same time, however, strong ethnic identification served to create conflict. Well after Irish and German Catholics became numerically dominant, the church hierarchy continued to be occupied by bishops of English and French heritage. When assigning priests to local parishes, these bishops often antagonized immigrant Catholics by ignoring their desires to have German priests appointed to German churches or Irish priests to Irish churches. Imbued with American democratic ideology, many laymen argued that they should have the power to select their own priests. Others proposed further Americanist innovations such as allowing the laity, rather than the clergy, to control church property, as did most Protestant congregations. Bishops strongly opposed such innovations, and they worked during the 1830s and 1840s to increase uniformity and centralized authority in the church. This was a challenge, however, since the appearance of Irish and German bishops resulted in sharp differences and power struggles even among church leaders.

Cultural Prominence. Despite internal differences and opposition from outside, Catholics made significant progress toward becoming a strong cultural force in American life. By 1850, as the flow of immigration continued unabated, dozens of Catholic newspapers issued from the presses, often carrying news of the remarkable successes of Irish-Catholic politicians. Denominational colleges such as Holy Cross and Notre Dame had been established, and great advances had been made in womens education. Though some Catholics left the fold to join Protestant churches, more notable were the number of prominent intellectuals who converted to Catholicism in the 1840s and 1850s. These included Orestes Brownson and Isaac Hecker, both of whom became eloquent spokesmen for the growing importance of the Catholic Church in Protestant America.


Jay Dolan, The American Catholic Experience (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1985);

James Hennesey, American Catholics: A History of the Roman Catholic Community in the United States (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981).

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In the Middle Ages, Christians of western Europe looked to the pope, the bishop of Rome, as the earthly leader of their faith. The catholic church meant the entire community of believers, whose lives were guided by church doctrine, and whose heresies and sins were punished by church authorities. Catholicism knit Europeans together at a time when political authority was weak, and when most people knew little of the world outside their village or feudal domain. Although the Holy Roman Emperors would challenge the popes for power in Italy, in the rest of Europe the Catholic hierarchy remained an unquestioned authority; the seven sacraments administered by a priest marked the most important events in an individual's life, and the calendar of holidays, saints' days, feasts, and fasts guided believers through the seasons of the year.

The Catholic Church grew into a wealthy institution from the tradition of the tithe, a donation of 10 percent of one's goods or income to the church. In Rome, the popes lived in luxurious palaces and presided over the Curia, the papal headquarters. Catholicism was a complex hierarchy of cardinals, archbishops, bishops, and local priests, who administered the sacraments and guided the members of the parish. The church was a cultural as well as religious institution. Catholic doctrine guided artists in their works, universities were founded under the authority of the church, and scholars devoted their writings to interpretation of the Bible and the works of the early church fathers.

The authority of the popes, however, posed a direct challenge to secular rulers who were attempting to consolidate their authority and create national governments. The kings of France had a long standing feud with the church over the authority of the pope to appoint bishops. Eventually, a French faction would take the Papacy out of Rome entirely and establish a new Catholic capital in the French city of Avignon. This Babylonian Captivity led to a split in the church and to several men all claiming to be pope at the same time. To resolve the problem, church members held a series of councils; this conciliar movement, which claimed that an assembly of church leaders held ultimate authority over the pope himself, became another source of debate and division.

In the Renaissance, as communication improved, as the Bible was translated into new languages, and as scholarship brought to light ancient philosophies, the Catholic Church found its doctrines and authority challenged. Jan Hus, a fifteenth-century reformer from Bohemia, founded a national church that paid no allegiance to the pope. Martin Luther, a German priest of the early sixteenth century, directly challenged the pope, accusing his church of corruption, worldliness, and godlessness. Hus, Luther, and other reformers sought to return Christianity to its roots, and restore the simple faith and religious devotion of the apostles and the early Christians. Luther's reform took Christians out of the Catholic Church entirely, and denied the authority of popes, bishops, and priests over the lives of believers.

The Catholic Church fought this Protestant Reformation with religious trials and threats of excommunication, which denied the sacraments to a heretic and barred his entry into heaven. The church also fought heresy with the Inquisition, a religious court, and the Index, a list of prohibited books. Catholicism was coming into conflict with many new currents of philosophy as well as scientific investigation. Astronomers such as Galileo Galilei and Nicolaus Copernicus had to be cautious about advancing theories that conflicted with accepted church doctrine.

In the century following Martin Luther's Reformation movement, civil and international wars were fought in Europe between Catholics and Protestants, with northern Europe largely breaking away, and southern Europe remaining loyal to papal authority. Although the Renaissance popes were the most powerful individuals in Europe, with immense treasuries and armies at their disposal, they were looked on as just another center of power, contending for land, taxes, and political authority with all the other rulers of the continent. The Papacy, in the hands of many Renaissance popes, became an instrument of amassing wealth and prestige and advancing the interests of their families.

The movement known as the Counter-Reformation was in full swing by the end of the Renaissance. The Council of Trent, which first convened in 1545, passed decrees against the Protestant movement, clarified Catholic doctrine, and attempted to set down uniform guidelines for the administration of the church. Although the Council of Trent was meant to reassert Catholic primacy, the church struggled for centuries to implement the decrees in the far-flung domains that still accepted the Catholic Church as the true Christian authority. The rise of powerful nation-states brought the church directly into conflict with kings over the appointment of bishops, the ownership of income-producing land, the authority of the religious courts, and other matters, while secular authorities sought to assert themselves as the final law of the land.

The most beneficial legacy of the Renaissance Catholic Church was its patronage of artists and their work. Under the commission of church authorities, artists such as Giotto, Michelangelo, Masaccio, and others raised artists well above their traditional status as mere artisans. The Renaissance popes made possible the new classicism in architecture, the monumental sculptures of Rome and other cities, and the innovations in painting, woodworking, engraving, and metalworking, all done in the service of the church. Even as the Protestant movement was splitting the church down a lasting divide, the popes were creating an enduring artistic legacy in cities all over Europe.

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The Roman Catholic Church established ties to the Russian lands from their earliest history but played only a marginal role. The first significant encounter came during the Time of Troubles, when the Catholic associations of pretenders and Polish interventionists triggered intense popular hostility toward the "Latins" and a hiatus in RussianCatholic relations. Only in the last quarter of the seventeenth century did Muscovy, in pursuit of allies against the Turks, resume ties to Rome. Peter the Great went significantly further, permitting the construction of the first Catholic church in Moscow (1691) and the presence of various Catholic orders (including Jesuits).

But a significant Catholic presence only commenced with the first Polish partition of 1772, when the Russian Empire acquired substantial numbers of Catholic subjects. Despite initial tensions (chiefly over claims by the Russian government to oversee Catholic administration), relations improved markedly under emperors Paul (r. 17961801) and Alexander I (r. 1801-1825), when Catholicespecially Jesuitinfluences at court were extraordinarily strong.

Thereafter, however, relations proved extremely tempestuous. One factor was the coercive conversion of Uniates or Eastern Catholics (that is, Catholics practicing Eastern Rites), who were "reunited" with the Russian Orthodox Church (in 1839 and 1875) and forbidden to practice Catholic rites. The second factor was Catholic involvement in the Polish uprisings of 1830-1831 and 1863; subsequent government measures to Russify and repress the Poles served only to reinforce their Catholic identity and resolve. Hence Catholicism remained a force to be reckoned with: By the 1890s, it had 11.5 million adherents (9.13% of the population), making it the third largest religious group in the Russian Empire. It maintained some 4,400 churches (2,400 in seven Polish dioceses; 2,000 in five dioceses in the Russian Empire proper). The 1905 revolution forced the regime to declare religious tolerance (the manifesto of April 17, 1905); with conversion from Russian Orthodoxy decriminalized, huge numbers declared themselves Catholic (233,000 in 1905-1909 alone).

The 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, however, brought decades of devastating repression. The Catholic Church refused to accept Bolshevik nationalization of its property and the requirement that the laity, not clergy, register and assume responsibility for churches. The conflict culminated in the Bolshevik campaign to confiscate church valuables in 1922 and 1923 and a famous show trial that ended with the execution of a leading prelate. That was but a prelude to the 1930s, when massive purges and repression eliminated all but two Catholic churches by 1939. Although World War II brought an increase in Catholic churches (mainly through the annexation of new territories), the regime remained highly suspicious of Catholicism, especially in a republic like Lithuania, where ethnicity and Catholicism coalesced into abiding dissent.

The "new thinking" of Mikhail Gorbachev included the reestablishment of relations with the Vatican in 1988 and relaxation of pressure on the Catholic church in the USSR. The breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 turned the main bastions of Catholicism (i.e., Lithuania) into independent republics, but left a substantial number of Catholics in the Russian Federation (1.3 million according to Vatican estimates). To minister to them more effectively, Rome, in February 2002, elevated its four "apostolic administrations" to the status of "dioceses," serving some 600,000 parishioners in 212 registered churches and 300 small, informal communities.

See also: lithuania and lithuanians; orthodoxy; poland; religion; uniate church


Zatko, James. (1965). Descent into Darkness: The Destruction of the Roman Catholic Church in Russia, 1917-1923. Toronto: Baxter Publishing.

Zugger, Christopher. (2001). The Forgotten: Catholics of the Soviet Empire from Lenin to Stalin. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press.

Gregory L. Freeze

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In Roman Catholicism, death has been understood primarily in terms of an issue of justice. Having turned away from God, humans are deprived of the life-giving energy that they need and which is to be found solely in God. Death, then, is both a sign of and an effect of human estrangement from God. The radical character of this consequence mirrors the radical character of human (intended) dependence upon God for identity and existence. For some Catholic theologians in the past, death is the most symmetrical consequence of a desire for ontological independence, as death reveals the fundamental limitation of that very ontology. In the very early Church, Catholics were encouraged to reject any fear of death, as it seemed to express too great an attachment to the life of "this world." But by the end of the fourth century, fear of death was understood as an internal sign that something about the way things werethe cosmic order was indeed wrong. As a pedagogic device, then, the fact of death should teach humility; fear of death is the beginning of a wise appreciation of human fragility. "Death" became an ascetic metaphor for selflessness and the end of pride.

If death is the greatest sign of human dislocation, it is the punishment for the act of will that produced the fundamental dislocationsin. Traditional Catholic theology emphasized the just character of the punishment, in part to explain why the sentence of human mortality could not be simply overturned. Human explanation of the efficacy of the incarnationGod becoming humanand crucifixion has been that the unjust death of Jesus, the Son of God, ended the just claim death had upon humanity. In his resurrection, Jesus was thus the physician who dispensed the "medicine of immortality." The incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection reveal something about God as well, namely that the old punishment was overturned "not through power," as St. Augustine put it, "but through humility."

As a community, Catholics live and die with the ambivalence typical of the modern world: A loved one's death is a great loss and an occasion of intense trauma, and must be acknowledged as such. Death is also a great transition for the deceased, who exchanges penalty for reward, replacing estrangement from God with fellowship. To deny grief is to deny what the experience of death teaches; to deny hope is to deny what the resurrection offers.

See also: Christian Death Rites, History of; Heaven; Hell; Jesus; Protestantism; Purgatory


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See Christianity, Roman Catholic, Issues in Science and Religion

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