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Page:Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 10.djvu/509

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MONASTERIES


455


MONASTERIES


though congregations devoted to the care of the sick and to the instruction of poor children were tolerated here and there as, for instance, in the Kingdom of Italy, founded in 1805. The repressive measures could not be enforced in all localities with equal sever- ity. Napoleon extended them to the city of Rome in 1810. The authorities then closed the religious houses of both sexes. At Naples the authorities proceeded to suppress all the orders and confiscate their property (1806-13). When the Congress of Vienna restored these states to their exiled rulers, the latter hastened to make the Church free once more. In Tuscany the duke made a grant to the monasteries, in exchange for the lands that they had lost. In the Pontifical States things reverted to the ancient order: 1824 houses for men and 612 for women were re-established. In Naples the religious had diminished by at least one-half.

The period of peace, however, was not destined to endure: the establishment of Italian unity was fatal to the religious orders. The persecution was resumed in the constitutional Kingdom of Sardinia, which was about to become the agent and the type of united Italy. Cavour imposed this anti-religious policy on King Victor Emmanuel. He proposed first to secu- larize the monastic property' : the money thus ob- tained was to serve as a church fund to equalize the payment of the diocesan clergy. The king finally gave his sanction to a law which suppressed, in his own states alone, 334 convents and monasteries, contain- ing 4280 religious men and 1200 nuns. This ruin and depredation proceeded uniformly with the cause of Italian unity, since the Piedmontese constitution and legislation were imposed on the whole peninsula. The religious orders and benefices not charged with cures of souls were declared useless, and suppressed; the buildings and lands were confiscated and sold (1866). The Government paid allowances to the surviving re- ligious. In some abbeys — as at Monte Cassino — the members of the community were allowed to remain as care-takers. The Papal States were subjected to the same policy after 1870. The Italian authorities con- tented themselves with depriving the religious of their legal existence and all they possessed, without raising any obstacles to a possible reconstruction of regular communities. A certain number of monasteries have thus been able to exist and carry on their work, owing solely to the guarantee of individual liberty; their ex- istence is precarious, and an arbitrary measure of the Government might at any time suppress them. After the general dissolution, some Italian religious — for in- stance, the Olivetans and the Canons Regular of St. John Lateran — crossed the Alps and established houses of their respective orders in France. J. M. Besse.

Suppression op Monasteries in ENGiiAND under Henry VIII. — From any point of view the destruc- tion of the Enghsh monasteries by Henry VIII must be regarded as one of the great events of the sixteenth century. They were looked upon, in England, at the time of Henry's breach with Rome, as one of the great bulwarks of the papal system. The monks had been called "the great standing army of Rome". One of the first practical results of the assumption of the highest spiritual powers by the king was the super- vision by royal decree of the ordinary episcopal visi- tations, and the appointment of a layman — Thomas Cromwell — as the king's vicar-general in spirituals, with special authority to visit the monastic houses, and to bring them into line with the new order of things. This was in 1.534; and, some time prior to the December of that year, arrangements were already being made for a systematic visitation. A document, dated 21 January, 1535, allows Cromwell to conduct the visit through "commissaries" — rather than per- sonally — as the minister is said to be at that time too busy with "the affairs of the whole kingdom". It is now practically admitted that, even prior to the issue


of these commissions of visitation, the project of sup- pressing some, if indeed not all, of the monastic estab- ishments in the country, had been not only broached, but had become part of Henry's practical pohtics. It is well to remember this, as it throws an interesting and somewhat unexpected light upon the first disso- lutions: the monasteries were doomed prior to these visitations, and not in consequence of them, as we have been asked to believe according to the traditional story. Parliament was to meet early in the following year, 1536, and, with the twofold object of replenish- ing an exhausted exchequer and of anticipating oppo- sition on the part, of the religious to the proposed ec- clesiastical changes, according to the royal design, the Commons were to be asked to grant Henry the pos- sessions of at least the smaller monasteries. It must have been felt, however, by the astute Cromwell, who is credited with the first conception of the design, that to succeed, a project such as this must be sustained by strong yet simple reasons calculated to appeal to the popular mind. Some decent pretext had to be found for iiri'si'iiting the proposed measure of suppression and confiscation to the nation, and it can hardly now be doubted that the device of blackening the characters of the monks and nuns was deliberately resorted to.

The visitation opened apparently in the summer of 1535, although the visitatorial powers of the bishops were not suspended until the eighteenth of the following September. Preachers were moreover commissioned to go over the country in the early autumn, in order, by their invectives, to educate public opinion against the monks. These pulpit orators were of three sorts, (1) "railers", who declaimed against the religious as "hypocrites, sorcerers, and idle drones, etc."; (2) "preachers", who said the monks "made the land un- profitable"; and (3) those who told the people that, "if the abbeys went down, the king would never want any taxes again". This last was a favourite argu- ment of Cranmer, in his sermons at St. Paul's Cross. The men employed by Cromwell — the agents en- trusted with the task of getting up the required evi- dence — were chiefly four, Layton, Leigh, Aprice, and London. They were well fitted for their work; and the charges brought against the good name of some at least of the monasteries, by these chosen emissaries of Cromwell arc, it must be confessed, sufficiently dreadful, although even their reports certainly do not bear out the modern notion of wholesale corruption.

The visitation seems to have been conducted sys- tematically, and to have passed tlu'ough three clearly defined stages. During the summer the houses in the west of England were subjected to examination; and this portion of the work came to an end in September, when Layton and Leigh arrived at Oxford and Cam- bridge respectively. In October and November the visitors changed the field of their labours to the east- ern and southeastern districts; and in December we find Layton advancing through the midland counties to Lichiield, where he met Leigh, who had finished his work in the religious houses of Himtingdon and Lincolnshire. Thence they proceeded together to the north, and the city of York was reached on 11 Janu- ary, 1536. But with all their haste, to which they were urged by Cromwell, they had not proceeded very far in the work of their northern insiiection before the meeting of Parliament.

From time to time, whilst on their work of inspec- tion, the visitors, and principally London and Leigh, sent brief written reports to their employers. Practi- cally all the acru.salions made against the good name of the monks and nuns are contained in the letters sent in this waj- by the visitors, and in the document, or documents, known as the "Comperta Monastica", which were drawn up at the time by the same visitors and forwarded to their chief, Cromwell. No other evidence as to the statoof the monasteries at this time is forthcoming, and the inquirer into the truth of