It was the Renaissance that ushered in the Protestant Reformation. Bernini lived during a time when the Catholic Church was trying to regain the moral high ground after Martin Luther's ninety-five theses was nailed to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. This action conveying the dissatisfaction of the people towards the Catholic Church was to have severe repercussions for religious liberty.
Catholics were widely despairing of a church which declared that only priests could be the intermediary between parishioner and God; the fact that they could only expect forgiveness of sins through the purchase of expensive indulgences further enraged the struggling masses. While ornate churches were being built, the people were suffering. While the Protestant Reformation was a response to the excesses of the Roman Catholic Church, the Vatican was still incensed by the capitulation of the German princes to Luther's doctrines. If this state of affairs was allowed to continue, it was evident that the social, political and religious implications for the Catholic Church would be devastating. The Church had no intention of surrendering their political and religious authority to such heresy. It convened the Council at Trent and established the Inquisition, published the Index of Forbidden Books and charged Ignatius Loyola with forming the band of Jesuits that was to reconvert those who had converted to Luther's form of Protestant heresy.
Luther was equally adamant that the Catholic Church had lost the moral high ground when it stubbornly defended its worship of religious images. Enter Bernini. One of his commissioned works during this time was the Ecstasy of St. Theresa, an interesting departure from usual Catholic belief. The reason why was because the religious ecstasy portrayed by the image was an example of a very personal and intense religious experience frowned upon by the Catholic Church.
"The pain was so sharp that it made me utter several moans; and so excessive was the sweetness caused me by this intense pain that one can never wish it to cease, nor will one's soul be content with anything less than God."
Therefore, the fact that the Church commissioned this work by Bernini as one of their salvos in the Counter-Reformation effort showed how seriously the Catholic Church viewed this challenge to their powers.
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