The Catholic Church as a Governmental Institution in the 16th and 17th Centuries

How did the papacy function as an institution of government? How and why did its structures differ from those of more typical ‘hereditary’ European monarchies? What impact did papal politics have on the development of Counter-Reformation Catholicism? Much of Miles Pattenden’s work, a British and Australian joint national who specializes in Italian, and more broadly European History, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, has indeed concerned the papacy and the peculiar nature of the pope’s power and authority in the early modern period.

The work he developed at Madrid Institute for Advanced Study (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid and Casa de Velázquez) was dedicated to the production of a book manuscript entitled The Universal Church in the First Global Age, 1400-1870, which intends to explains how the Catholic Church became one of the largest organizations in human history, with the widest geographical reach in the early modern period. Pattenden’s starting point has been to observe that during the period from 1400 to 1870, the Church established its presence on all six of the world’s populated continents and its members transformed Catholicism from a local variant of medieval Christianity to a sophisticated multi-ethnic confession which proved an effective vehicle for colonial enterprises and state-building.

He discusses the five pillars on which the Church was founded: ‘office’, ‘doctrine’, ‘law’, ‘resources’, and ‘obedience’. All five have ancient origins, but also complex histories which reflect their evolution as solutions to existential problems. They gave the Church its structure, ideology, and code of conduct, they regulated the distribution of rights within it, and they protected its integrity from hostile and subversive forces. But each pillar is a complex equilibrium which its participants generate from their collective performance of its component parts. Pattenden’s thesis is therefore that the equilibrium in each of the Church’s five pillars underwent a revolutionary shift in the period after 1500 as the Church’s members confronted new challenges.

New ways of thinking about the Church, and of conceptualizing its components, created a context in which the Church could expand across the globe, but also transformed it into a more complicated and paradoxical organism than hitherto: larger and richer yet simultaneously highly fragmented and decentralized, more invested in the pope’s authority yet at the same time more dependent on the secular state, in the vanguard of forging global connectedness yet struggling to articulate – let alone fulfil – the universal mission it proclaimed. This work explores those paradoxes and uses the Universal Church as a unique case study for understanding the nature of early modernity, the impact of religious ideology, and the dynamics of geopolitically complex organizations.

Miles Pattenden is a British and Australian historian specialising in Italian, and more broadly European, history in the 16th and 17th centuries. He received his PhD from St Catherine’s College, Oxford in 2009. He has held teaching and research positions at University College Cork, Brookes University (Oxford), the University of Bologna, and Oxford University (Centre for Disability and Development Research).

  • Pattenden M., Hollingsworth M., Witte A., 2018, A Companion to the Early Modern Cardinal, Leiden: Brill, Companions to the Christian Tradition.
  • Pattenden M., Ferente S., Kuncevic L., 2017, Cultures of Voting in Pre-Modern Europe, London: Routledge.
  • Pattenden M., 2017,  Electing the Pope in Early Modern Italy, 1450-1700, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017
  • Pattenden M., 2013, Pius IV and the Fall of the Carafa: Nepotism and Papal Authority in Counter-Reformation Rome, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

L’Église comme institution gouvernementale aux XVIe et XVIIe siècles

Comment la papauté a-t-elle fonctionné en tant qu’institution gouvernementale aux XVIe et XVIIe siècles ? Comment et pourquoi ses structures diffèrent-elles de celles des monarchies européennes « héréditaires » ? Quel impact la politique papale a-t-elle eu sur le développement du catholicisme de la Contre-Réforme ? C’est à ces questions que Miles Pattenden, historien britannique et australien a cherché à répondre.

Crédits images en CC : Pixabay Clker-Free-Vector-Images, Svg Silh

Citer ce billet
Miles Pattenden (2020, 6 avril). The Catholic Church as a Governmental Institution in the 16th and 17th Centuries. Mondes Sociaux. Consulté le 18 avril 2024, à l’adresse

Miles Pattenden

Miles Pattenden, EURIAS Junior Fellow 2017-2018, Madrid Institute for Advanced Stud ( )

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1 réponse

  1. Frank Corsiglia dit :

    The Pope and the Catholic Church : How many army divisions ??

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