The Catholic Reformation

The Catholic Reformation, more commonly known as the Counter Reformation until recently, took place in the second half of the 16th century and continued well into the 17th. It involved the revival of the Roman Catholic Church and the fight back of Catholicism against Protestantism.

The groundings of the Catholic Reformation are disputed:
Most Catholic historians will claim that its foundings are in the humanist movement of the late 15th and early 16th centuries. There is much evidence to suggest that through societies such as the oratory of divine love and the writings of humanist thinkers such as Erasmus the Catholic reformation does indeed have its groundings in pre-Lutheran ideas.
However most protestant historians will subscribe to the counter reformation argument. That being that the catholic reformation was merely a reaction to the Lutheran and protestant reformations in Germany and Switzerland. There is no doubt that the main movement of reform was first instigated by the Lutheran reformers and there was little or no effort made by Rome to reform until 1534 and the pontificate of Paul III.

Some key figures of the Catholic reformation are:

Some key organisations of the Reformation were:

I personally believe that the catholic reformation is the correct term as I believe that the Roman Catholic Church was moving inevitably towards reform before Luther and his 95 theses. However that opinion is biased as I am, myself, a catholic.

"I will believe that the white that I see is black if the hierarchical Church so defines it."
The abuses of the Catholic Church in the Early Modern Period led to Martin Luther publishing his Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences (one of the main reasons it was felt reform of the Church was needed was that the Pope sold "indulgences", which supposedly allowed people to buy their way through purgatory). Soon, the cancerous fire of Protestantism began to spread through Europe. Spain and France were forced to abandon their decades old animosity to combat it, and a series of revolutions began which would bring about the downfall of the Spanish Empire and change the face of Europe forever1.

The Catholic Church had not been caught unawares by the reformation - it had been battling dissent and heresy for years. Its response was actual reform and a conservative reaction to Protestant doctrine. One of the most important movements in the Catholic reformation were the Jesuits, or Society of Jesus, founded by Ignatius of Loyola. The Jesuits preached total obedience to Church doctrine and for the rituals of Catholicism that the Lutherans so despised to be lavishly financed. The Jesuits were able to have a lot of influence because they acted behind the scenes in Catholic monarchies, often as confessors to royalty.

Such was the extremism of the Jesuits, they declared their mission to be the rooting out and destruction of all non-Catholics, including non-Christians. Given the chaotic nature of this movement and significant Protestant gains made in Europe, the Catholic Church was eventually forced to call the Council of Trent. Some far-reaching reforms were instigated, including the banning of indulgences and a decree making priests live in the area they preached in (see Decrees of the Council of Trent for the full list).

However, the Catholic Reformation was too little, too late. Although Catholicism remained a major world religion it would eventually cease to be the majority religion of the West.

1. The peasants began to see the reformation as a way to social empowerment as Luther urged them to push for democracy. See Peasants War, 1524-1525.

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