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The Plight of the Old Faith – Peter Canisius, SJ, to Giovanni Cardinal Morone (1576)

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4. Most bishops were censured by the church because of their ignorance of church law. I do not wish to discuss the fact that a fair number of them have entered their offices not through the open doors but have slipped in via other ways. [ . . . ] Therefore, the best thing would be for the pope to absolve them initially of all censures. Furthermore, lest they quickly fall again under such censures, the pope should instruct those who wish to avoid incurring censure by being ordained by or receiving other sacraments from a bishop they know to be himself under censure. For in that case, they, too, would fall under censure.

5. In Austria and Bohemia, more than elsewhere, there are many abbots and superiors, who, though canonically elected, had never been monks. As laymen nominated by a secular prince, they laid on vestments and took vows on the same day, though without having requested or received confirmation or dispensation from the Apostolic See. The princes take the largest part of the income for themselves, and the laymen, once appointed as monastic superiors, not only live in a worldly manner but also permit their subordinates to do the same. Thus arise offenses so numerous they can scarcely be named. Would it not be advisable for the Holy Father to negotiate with the princes, so that in the future they should renounce such, or should they retain the right of presentation [to such offices], provided they abide by the stipulations of the Council of Trent?

6. Not only do the bishops seldom visit their dioceses, but their visitations, when held, are rarely beneficial. This is the principal reason why they are ignorant of what needs to be reformed or regulated. Then, too, they lack the necessary zeal and the spiritual force to accomplish these duties. Therefore, it would be good if the Holy Father would negotiate with at least those bishops and learned men who are prepared to conduct visitations, have zeal for God, and distinguish themselves by the purity of their lives. Under the full authority of the Holy See, these men should be empowered to give absolution from most censures and ecclesiastical punishments; to visit dioceses, together with the local bishops and vicars-general, and, if possible, also the monasteries; to suppress the abuses that have crept in and reintroduce the holy habits coming from custom and practice regarding the dress and tonsure of the clergy, the decoration of churches, the celebration of the Holy Mass, and the dispensation of the sacraments. From such actions the local bishops will learn how the visitation of a diocese is carried out, so that in the future such visitations may quite often be successful. Attaining this goal will be helped along if, on the pope’s order, instructions for the visitation of a diocese are written and sent to individual bishops in Germany. In order to carry out the visitation and write instructions, it is first necessary to obtain from experienced men full knowledge of the pernicious abuses that have crept into the religious houses and clergy. To name each and every one of them would be a difficult task.

7. Great damage arises wherever unworthy men are indiscriminately chosen and appointed as priests. This happens because there is a shortage of clergy, and because prelates are ignorant and careless. The first shortcoming is easily corrected with the establishment of the seminary; the second is remedied when, at the behest of its His Holiness, regulations for holy candidates and those who are to be appointed as priests are issued and sent to bishops.

8. Since we see many books from Satan’s workshop appearing daily to seduce the poor people with their poison, it will be very beneficial if some distinguished men are selected by the Apostolic See to refute and fight back against the books of the heretics, above all, Calvin’s Institutes and [Martin] Chemnitz’s Condemnation of the Council of Trent (1), both of which cause considerable damage. To this end, it would be entirely appropriate for the pope to establish a printing house or entrust an existing one with the publication of books to refute the heretics.

(1) Martin Chemnitz (1522-83) of Brandenburg, the foremost Lutheran theologian of his time. Lutheran tradition asserted: “If Martin [Chemnitz] had not come along, Martin [Luther] would not have survived.” Cited here is his fiercely polemical analysis and condemnation of the canons and decrees of the Council of Trent – trans.

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