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

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At the present time, the Catholic princes are concerned, above all, to assure that they get along with the bishops, and they attend to the disputes between the ecclesiastical and secular authorities, such as have commonly existed for a long time in several states. For this reason, not only is the freedom of the Church and its jurisdiction considerably hindered, but the concern for religion even suffers huge losses, and sects and heresies benefit. The Imperial Majesty could also assist a great deal with this problem, or one could refer the disputes, with the consent of both parties, to arbitration.

Equally deplorable is the arbitrariness of the Catholic princes and nobles who tax church property and oppress the clergy, as we see everywhere. Perhaps we can see in this, however, how God punishes the clergy for their excesses and other deplorable behavior. The princes seek to excuse themselves on account of tradition, which if anything is an abuse, and to elude, where they only can, the authority of bishops, even in matters which clearly lie under ecclesiastical jurisdiction.

Because the religious orders in Germany are directly threatened with ruin, the highest superior-generals (6) at Rome must, in my opinion, emphasize the following. It must be made clear to them that, if they, after a stipulated period of time, do not support the disintegrating monasteries and staff them adequately with monks, the monasteries with all their incomes will be allocated to other good purposes. It is a disgrace and disaster for the Catholic Church to have monks living in such luxury and looking only after the interest of their estates and disdaining to make time for religious life. It would be better to immediately deploy these places, which are dedicated to piety, as seminaries than to have them either taken over by heretics or employed by secular rulers for profane purposes. It should also be suggested to the generals in Rome that they should found seminaries of their orders in Italy and recruit to them young Germans who can, after being well trained, be appointed to head German monasteries. A financial contribution from the German monastery would allow this plan to be more easily realized.

Some monasteries and collegiate foundations (7) truly annoy the people because they are places of drunkenness and debauchery. If such centers of disease do not allow a doctor’s healing hand to come near them, may they be utterly wiped out.

It would also perhaps aid reform in Germany to have the worst abuses and outrages of the clergy, those that especially catch the common people’s attention, summarized briefly in writing. His eminence, the papal legate, should negotiate these things closely with the representatives of the four archbishops (8), who should inform him of their opinion as to how this dreadful and no longer bearable depravity can be eliminated from the German churches before the salt that has lost its savor is cast out and trodden [Matt. 5:13].

(6) The highest officers of religious orders – trans.
(7) Collegial foundations [Kollegiatstifte] were corporations of secular clergy, who were normally individually beneficed – trans.
(8) It is uncertain which four are meant. The seats of the following archbishoprics lay within the Holy Roman Empire in the narrower sense (i.e., excluding Imperial Italy, the kingdom of Bohemia, and the Baltic region): Mainz, Cologne, Trier, Bremen, Magdeburg, and Salzburg – trans.

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