Protestantism gained much ground in late sixteenth and early seventeenth-century Europe, prompting the Catholic Church to embark upon a worldwide catechizing endeavour. The reforming Council of Trent (1545–63) sought to respond to the challenges of the rapidly changing religious picture, giving increased importance to missionary vocations amongst the clergy. However, it made no provision for women religious to become part of this common effort; on the contrary, in 1563, it reasserted that the only acceptable form of religious life for women was cloistered contemplation. Yet before and after Trent, many unenclosed female movements emerged which sought to complement male apostolic movements. Earlier in this volume, Querciolo Mazzonis evoked the vocation of the Italian Angela Merici (1474–1540), whose Company of Saint Ursula combined contemplation and care of one’s neighbour. Marit Monteiro’s essay also shows that, in the Netherlands, spiritual virgins, or ‘beguines’, found it difficult to match the usefulness of their active endeavours with the authorities’ reticence towards females who escaped traditional status definitions. In France, the Congrégation de Notre-Dame (1597), François de Sales’s Visitation (1610–16) or the Filles de la Charité (1634) all shared the same apostolic essence.2 Their main vocation was not the observance of a monastic way of life but rather an evangelical brief which implied constant interaction with others.
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