Making bishops in the Malta of the knights (1530-1798). An international game of parties, patronage and diplomacy

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Charles V’s donation of Malta to the Order of St. John in 1530 also established the procedure for appointment of the bishop of the island, whose episcopal seat since the time of the Norman conquest was subject to royal patronage, and thus to the King of Sicily’s right of presentation: the Grand Master would propose to the Spanish king, through the viceroy of Sicily, a ranking of three candidates, previously approved by the Council of the Order, belonging to the rank of convent chaplain and which contained at least one Sicilian. From that time until the expulsion of the knights from the island after the French occupation (1798), 15 bishops were chosen for the Maltese episcopal see. In these nearly three centuries it is possible to identify certain phases that characterized the complex negotiations between the court and various diplomacies in Malta, Palermo, Rome, Madrid (then replaced by Vienna and Naples in the XVIIIth), regarding the selection and appointment of the bishop. Recurring elements of these negotiations were, on the one hand, the political patronage of the Grand Masters of the Order, seeking to obtain de facto the “delegated” right of presentation to the Maltese episcopal see by imposing their most trusted men as bishops, and on the other, the “national” rivalries within the Order, particularly between French and Spanish knights, replica of the broader international conflict between the two most powerful monarchies in Europe. It is also important to estimate the reforming activity of bishops appointed in such “non-spiritual” ways, especially through the application of some instruments provided by the Council of Trent (seminaries, diocesan synods, pastoral visits) and the comparison with Italian, Spanish and French bishops. It is worth remembering indeed that, «since all bishops owed their nominations to patronage, political appointments as such did not necessarily imply unwillingness to reform» (Po-chia Hsia 1998), because «part of the pressure on bishops to play a more interventionist role within their dioceses came from rulers concerned about religious orthodoxy as well as social order and political control» (Bergin 1999).
Lingua originaleEnglish
Stato di pubblicazionePublished - 2011


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