Since starting my RPC course on Western Civilization history, I have learned about things in European history that I didn’t even know happened and events that were incredibly devastating. The French Wars of Religion and Oliver Cromwell’s tyrannical rule are just a few examples. However, one event stands out and that is the economic decline of Spain in the 1600’s.
During the 16th Century, when Philip II was King of Spain, he was also governor of the Netherlands. Unfortunately, he was not very tolerant of any religion other than Catholicism. So this made it hard for him to deal peacefully with the Protestants. While Philip was never actually in the Netherlands, his sister Margaret, Duchess of Parma was living in the Netherlands as regent. And what she saw was that the Protestants were very tolerant towards all and that nobody was forced to do anything against their will. However, because Philip didn’t believe in religious toleration, he tried to stem the protestant growth in the Netherlands by instating the Inquisition. There were many different times in Europe when the Inquisition was used, but this was a time when the Protestants were not allowed any religious freedom and were persecuted. It was religious prejudice.
A bit fearfully, Margaret wrote to Philip pleading with him to stop the Inquisition because in the Netherlands was very happy. So Philip did the right thing and gave the Protestants some space. But what worried him next was that the Protestants were now having large gatherings, and they were all showing up armed. This made Philip start to think that maybe he had been too nice to them. Had he? Philip began receiving reports about more large gatherings and how Catholic churches and houses were being vandalized by Protestants now as well. Now that was it for Philip, he immediately organized a 10,000 strong army, led by the Duke of Alba to get the Protestants under control. He didn’t reinstate the Inquisition, but it was still just as bad. The Duke of Alba also issued a 10% tax increase, which added to the mix of the Protestants’ anger and frustration. No matter what the King did, he could no longer contain the revolting Protestants.
The revolt finally ended in 1648, long after all the people who had started it in 1568 were dead, and when the Treaty of Münster was signed and gave the Protestants religious freedom. The Netherlands as a whole was also given its own freedom.
You can read more about the Dutch Revolt and the Treaty of Münster here:
What I am about to tell you is the best way to take over a country! But, in order for you to understand why this strategy works so well, I have to tell you a story:
Charles V lived in the 16th Century and was originally from the Lowlands or Netherlands. When he inherited the crown and became King of Spain, he was only king for a couple of years before he was elected to succeed his grandfather as Holy Roman Emperor. In order to be coronated, he had to leave Spain and go to Germany. During his absence he left one of the officials in charge — an official he had brought from the Netherlands. Charles was likely scared that if he left a Spaniard in charge then they would take over and he would lose the crown. His fears were not made-up because the Spanish people and government did not care much for their foreign king, especially that did not speak Spanish. In his defense, he was learning! Just not very fast. But now, they REALLY hated him for leaving a bunch of lowlanders who thought that they were better than the Spanish people in charge of their country. Like me, you can now understand why my instructor, Tom Woods, points out that “the various provincial assemblies (known as the Cortes) hesitated to accept Charles as their king.”
When Charles got back, having been successfully coronated as H.R.E, Spain was in a mess. The Spanish people had revolted against the foreign officials and the officials had lost control. The Spanish aristocrats had sided with the officials though, not to help put down the threat of a revolt, but so that they, the aristocrats, could avoid a ‘class war’ and keep their power and wealth. Meanwhile, all that the Spanish people wanted was self-government within their own provinces. Maybe they went about it in the wrong way? But Spain had been completely spent. While Charles was not. So it was really easy for him to take back control and reorganize Spain.
The best way to take control of a country is to make the citizens angry, leave for a while, (hint: take a vacation!), put some friends from another country in charge, come back when both sides are just exhausted from fighting and arguing, and “Voila!”– take back control! Perfect.
During a recent lesson in my Western Civilization course, I had the opportunity to read a small part of Ignatius Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises. First though let me briefly tell you a little bit about this religious man then I will mention what I found about his religious and doctrinal opinions.
Ignatius lived in 16th Century Spain. When he was a young man, he joined the Spanish military. While serving in the military, he was shot in the legs by a cannonball and he survived! Unfortunately for him, he was discharged from the military. That incident left him with a limp for the rest of his life. When he was in the hospital he read some religious texts that sparked an interest in religion. In 1540 he and a few other theologians, including St. Francis Xavier, were granted permission, by Pope Paul III, to organize the Society of Jesus or Jesuits.
You cannot read Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises and not get the sense that he really was a committed Catholic. However I found it interesting in the reading that he does not want time to be wasted explaining faith vs. good works in depth. Instead, he felt that people should decide on their own whether they faith or did good works. He argued that there would be no need for faith if everybody practiced good works and no need for good works if everybody had faith.
In many ways Loyola accomplished much, but his greatest contribution was to the betterment of the current state of the world that he lived in. And even though he is not alive today, his contributions, such as his Spiritual Exercises can still be read and have the same impression it had on someone then as it does today. That is the great thing about religious books and texts, they will always be applicable no matter where and when you live!
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Do you know who St. Francis Xavier was? No, you say? Well, then let me tell you about him! This man was a Spaniard who was one of the founders of the Society of Jesus, or Jesuits. He was a missionary, and was sent all over Europe and Asia to teach and spread Catholicism. At one point, while in India he wrote a letter to the Society. He titled his ‘Letter from India’ and shared his recent experiences. I want to share some highlights that I found with you.
Francis mentions all the children he is teaching and how he tasks them with sharing what they are learning with their friends and family. In one excerpt of the letter, he told the children that all idol, not made for the intention of worshipping the one, true God, it was to be torn down. And the kids took them down! Sometimes very violently! This did not go over very well with the Brahman worshippers in Hinduism (which is a polytheistic religion). The Brahmans would sometimes test Francis on his knowledge of the Catholic religion. They tried to trip him over his words so they could argue. He was able to report one of his amazing accomplishments – his successful teaching and conversion of a Brahman worshipper to Catholicism. This Brahman man did not care about whether or not his religion was correct. This man was “a man of learning” as quoted by Xavier. This man answered questions that Francis had, and had his questions about Francis’s religion answered as well. Francis made the man promise that he would publish all that he had just told him so that other people could read for themselves all the answers to their questions pertaining to Francis’s religion. The man later asked Francis to secretly make him a Christian and Xavier also gave him the task of teaching all people.
“I charged him to teach the ignorant and unlearned that there is only one God, Creator of Heaven and Earth.”
This may not be the 16th Century or a time when religion defined just about everything you did, but it still is just as important then as it is now. Many people, young and old, teaching their religion to all no matter where or who they are.
In this post I finish up with what I learned throughout my history posts.
So, what DID I learn?
You know about how Columbus sailed to the “West Indies” and the people he found he called Indians? But he really found the underside of the Americas like the Bahamas and Cuba?
Did you know about the man who started the expedition of circumnavigating the earth?