Tridentine Ideal and Ecclesiastical Realities
The Congregation of the Council and the Apostolic Nuncios under Pope Innocent XI (1676-1689)

PhD Project

Remnants of the destroyed Turks Liberation Monument in 1945 after the fire at St. Stephen's Cathedral (Vienna). The monument was constructed in 1894 by Edmund Hellmer, on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the defense of Vienna against the Ottomans in 1683. Today it consists of the figures of Madonna, Emperor Leopold I and Pope Innocent XI as well as a new plaque. Photo by courtesy of Benedetta Albani (09/05/2014).

In 1563 the Council of Trent (1545-1563) completed its work and without doubt it initiated a fundamental renewal in the Catholic Church and lead with its reform decrees of the last session period of the Council to new impulses in the ecclesiastical life. Although the Council of Trent itself has received considerable attention from the scientific community, this can hardly be said for the Sacra Congregatio super executione et observantia sacri Concilii Tridentini, named Congregation of the Council, founded in August 1564 under Pope Pius IV. This Dicastery was responsible for the appropriate implementation of the Council’s decisions and since 1588 for the authentic interpretation of the reform decrees of the Council of Trent.

From now on, the monitoring, promotion and implementation of the ecclesiastical reform program of the Council of Trent was part of the tasks of permanent papal representations, in particular since the pontificate of Pope Gregory XIII (1572-1585). The bases for the actions of each apostolic nuncio on the diplomatic and ecclesiastical level were described in instructions and faculties (ecclesiastical authority) by the Secretary of State. In addition to his diplomatic duty, the apostolic nuncio is for example responsible for the holding of visitations of the dioceses and monasteries, the selection of suitable candidate to become bishops, the control and support of the local episcopate, the promotion of young priests, the control of the book market and much more.

Apostolic nuncios with their diplomatic and ecclesiastical tasks were subsequently important mediators between Rome and the local churches: they acted on the one hand as necessary informants for the Roman Curia as well as representatives for the administration of justice, on the other hand they were next to the local episcopate an important reference for cases where the faithful required grace, absolution, dispensations or solutions for their conflicts. If, therefore, decisions of the reform of Trent were affected that required an interpretation by the Congregation of the Council, it makes sense to assume a collaboration as well as a communicative network either directly between the nuncios and the Congregation of the Council and/or the Secretary of State. In this way, i.e. via the administration of the nunciatures, Rome was able to intervene at the local level in spite of geographical distances attaining information and decisions to resolve specific disputes and questions.

Against this backdrop, the research project takes for the first time a comprehensive look at the interplay between the nuncios and their relationship to the Sacra Congregatio Concilii. The study will concentrate on the Nunziatura di Vienna in the second half of the 17th century focusing especially on one of the great papal diplomats in this century: Cardinal Francesco Buonvisi (1626-1700), apostolic nuncio at the imperial court of Leopold I in Vienna from 1675 to 1689. He will be studied in an exemplary manner to understand the relationship between the apostolic nuncios and the Sacra Congregatio Concilii.

The research interest focusses primarily on three areas: first, on how Nunciatures, Dicasteries and the State Secretary worked together. Why and when did the papal diplomat turn (directly) to the Congregation of the Council or when was he called on by the Secretary of State to resolve specific problems? With regard to the Council of Trent and its reforms the second area of questions is: What did Cardinal Francesco Buonvisi report about the (non-)acceptance of the reform decrees of Trent in the different dioceses? To what extent and by what means did he contribute to the implementation of the Tridentine reform program? How were the decisions of the Congregation of the Council transferred to the local level and how much force did the decisions from Rome possess in the local dioceses? Finally, it has to be examined in which cases and from which dioceses the appeals came to the court of the nuncios. How did the competing juridical decision-making systems of nuncios and (arch-)bishops influence the juridical process within the Congregation of the Council and what kind of consequences had this competition for the administration of justice?

Recent research has focused on the archive of the correspondence between the nuncios and the Secretary of State, because until now the diplomatic and political significance of the Nunciature at the imperial court was at the center of research interests (esp. the promotion of the anti-Ottoman alliance by Pope Innocent XI Odescalchi). The sources of the Congregation of the Council in connection with the still unpublished files of the Nunciature-Tribunal of Vienna in the Archivio Segreto Vaticano can be an exemplary tool to disclose the discrepancy between the ideal of Tridentine demand and the ecclesiastical realities at the local level based on an analysis of the relationship between Nunciature and the Congregation of the Council. They promise intriguing insights about the government of the universal Church in the post-Tridentine era.

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