Papacy and the Atlantic World

Shona Johnston

in Atlantic History

ISBN: 9780199730414
Published online December 2012 | | DOI:
Papacy and the Atlantic World

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The early modern papacy (c. 1500–1800) constituted a vast bureaucracy (sometimes called the Holy See or the Vatican) inherited from the medieval church and dedicated to asserting papal authority throughout the Catholic world. The pope dictated Catholic religious orthodoxy and oversaw a network of church offices that controlled the activities of theologians, the clergy, European monarchs, and individual believers. The discovery of the New World and the opening of sub-Saharan Africa to European traders in the 15th century rapidly expanded the boundaries of the Christian world and brought with it new political and religious challenges for the papacy. Papal officials disseminated information on new discoveries in the Atlantic, provided a theoretical framework to justify conquest and colonization, and ensured that the promotion of the Catholic faith lay at the heart of Spanish and Portuguese expansion. Key colonial institutions—such as the patronato real and the Inquisition—firmly bound temporal authority in the Atlantic world to the spiritual authority of the papacy. Under the leadership of Gregory XIII (1572–1585), the papacy instituted a series of reforms that sought to strengthen Vatican control of the church and revitalize the Catholic faith. Based on the findings of the Council of Trent (1545–1563), these new reforms standardized Catholic practices, reigned in the abuses of the clergy, and promoted missionary endeavors across the globe. The Catholic Church had long viewed the conversion of non-Christian peoples as an essential aspect of the church’s civilizing mission. By the late 16th and 17th centuries, revitalized missionary orders, sponsored and supported by the papacy, targeted Catholic, Protestant, and non-Christian populations in an attempt to expand the Catholic faith and ensure the political and cultural dominance of Catholicism. Papal attempts to coordinate and control this international program of missionary expansion culminated in the creation, in 1622, of the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, or Propaganda Fide. The increasing emphasis placed on missionary activities and the civilizing mission of the early modern church placed the papacy at the center of key European debates over the justification of conquest, the treatment of colonized peoples, and the enslavement of non-Christians in the Atlantic world.

Article.  7165 words. 

Subjects: History of the Americas ; European History ; African History ; History ; Regional and National History

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