The Protestant Reformation/Catholic Counter Reformtion: Spain

Spanish Protestant Reformation
Figure 1.--Here we see a Spanish school group on a field trip to Villanueva de Sigena in 2011. The children from the Miguel Servet primary school in Huesca. They are visiting the birthplace of Michael Servetus (Miguel Servet) on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of his birth. Servetus was born into a well-to-do Catholic family. The building is the family home. He was a rare Spanish humanist and an important scientist during the era, a polymath who was a physician and cartographer. He was the first European to correctly describe the function of pulmonary circulation. Spain was not a good place for a Renaissance thinker. He moved to France to pursue in career away from the attention of the Spanish Inquisition. He also pursued theology at a dangerous time. He traveld widely in Europe, becoming for a time a part of Charles V's court. He was offended by the pomp and extravagence of the papcy and became involved in the Reformation, but developed an anti-trinitarian doctrine that offended both Catholics and Protestants. He was targeted by the French Inquisition and fleeing France he stopped in Geneva where Calvin had him arrested. He was tried and comdenned to death for heresy by the Calvanists. The Protestant city of Geneva burned him (October 27, 1553).

Spain was a great power (15th and 16th centuties). This of course was the period which generated the Reformation and in which the Reformation unfolded. Thus developments in Spain would play a major role in the Reformation. Three powerful developments came together at roughly the same time in Spain. The fall of Granada and thus the completion of the Reconquista as well as Columbus' first voyage both occured in the same year (1492). The outcome of victory in the Reconquista was to expel non-Catholics from Spain (Muslims and Jews) and use the Inquisition to attack free thinking. In addition, Archbisip Jimenez de Cisneros who also served as the Grand Inquisitor of the Spanish Inquisition oversaw a wide-ranging reforms of Spanish religious life attacking many of the clerical abuses tht had so offended Luther and other early Protestants (late 15th century). As a result, Protestants ideas would not surface in Spain after Luther nailed his 95 Thesis on the church door, unitentionally launching the Reformation iun Germany (1517). At the time the Hapsburgs in the person of Charles V oversaw a vast European realm, including both German and other central European provinces as well as Spain. The Spanish army as a result of the Reconquista was the strongest in Europe and as gold and silver began pouring in from the the Indies, Charles and then his son Philip II who woiuld inherit the Spanish part of Charles' vast empire. Charles and then Philip had at their command vast power. Much of the strength and wealth of the their empires was devoted to supporting the Catholic Church and the Catholic Counter Reformation effort to supress the Protestants. Great efforts wre made to keep Protstants out of their American colonies. (In shrap contrast to what occurred in the English colonies. This would have an impact on the future history of Latin America) Two of the major and most costly Spanish efforts were the campaigns to destroy Protestantism in the Netherland and England. Both poved proved enormously expensive. The hugely expensive effort to build the Spanish Armada was a total failure. And the tiny Netherlabds fought the Spanish armies to a standstill in the Dutch War for Independence. The Spanish and German Hapsburg as well as the Spanish Bourbons undeniably suceeded in steming the Protestant advance and reqconquered the sother Netherlands (modern Belgium), but at the cost of bankrupting the realm. And they failed to destroy the Protestant stronghold on northern Europe. The Spanish would ultimately squandor much of the wealth of the indies. This and the Spanish Inquisition would in a short period turn the country into a militry, economic, and intellectual backwater. The Spanish Inquisition not only had theological consequences. The 16th century was an embriomic period in the history of science. Galileo and others invented the scientific method. Spain with its great wealth might have been thought to have been an important center of learming and science. It was not. Spainards were absent from any list of important scientists during the era. The one important Spanish scientst, Michael Servetus, pursued his career outside of Spain and the reach of the Spaish Inquisition, mostly in France.


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Created: 9:22 PM 9/2/2017
Last updated: 9:22 PM 9/2/2017