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Catholic reaction, an ecclesiastical and political movement in Europe in the mid-16th to 17th century that was led by the papacy and that was directed against the Reformation, with the aim of restoring the position lost by Catholicism in several countries during the first half of the 16th century. In essence the Counter-Reformation was one of the manifestations of feudal reaction (embracing not only the economic and political spheres but the ideological as well), the religious form of the “counterattack” of feudal forces attempting to strengthen the feudal system at a time when it had already begun to disintegrate.

The Inquisition, monastic orders, and the Roman curia were the chief instruments of the Counter-Reformation. The Inquisition, reorganized in 1542 into one of the congregations of the Roman curia and placed under the direct authority of the pope, unleashed in the Catholic countries a struggle against progressive ideas, freethinking, science, and all manifestations of Reformation thought (popular movements in the Reformation were persecuted with particular force). G. Bruno and G. Vanini were burned at the stake, and T. Campanella, Galileo, and many other progressive thinkers were subjected to persecution.

The Jesuit Order, created in 1534—40, took the most active part in the Counter-Reformation. With the help of the Jesuits and other forces of Catholic reaction the papacy succeeded at the Council of Trent (1545–63) in obtaining, in particular, recognition of the unconditional authority of the pope in matters of faith, introduction of a strict ecclesiastical censorship, publication of the Index of Forbidden Books, and other measures. The resolutions of the council became something of a program for the Counter-Reformation. The Trent Profession of Faith was adopted, which all ecclesiastics had to sign; any deviation from it was considered heresy and was persecuted.

During the Counter-Reformation there were created in Rome a number of educational establishments for the special training of Catholic clergymen, who were sent, above all, to the countries that were the arena for the most intense struggle between the forces of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation (such as Germany, the Netherlands). During the Counter-Reformation the Jesuits seized control of many universities, which in turn became instruments of Catholic reaction. Among the church figures who most zealously waged the Counter-Reformation were Popes Paul III, Paul IV (Cardinal Carafa prior to his election as pope), and Pius IV, as well as Cardinal Carlo Borromeo and the Jesuit P. Canisius.

The Counter-Reformation was not only the work of institutions of the Catholic Church. It was also energetically waged by the secular powers of several countries, including the Hapsburgs in Spain and the so-called Holy Roman Empire, Maximillian of Bavaria, and Sigismund III Vasa in Poland. Supporters of the Reformation were subjected to state persecution; special government edicts were issued that demanded the return of Protestants to the “bosom of the Catholic Church” under the threat of high fines, expulsion from the country, or even execution. One of the manifestations of the Counter-Reformation was the struggle for the return of lands lost by Catholics during the carrying out of the Reformation (publication of the Edict of Restitution of 1629 by Ferdinand II, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire). Under the banner of the Counter-Reformation, Spain waged its struggle against the Dutch bourgeois revolution of the 16th century, and the Hapsburgs suppressed the liberation movement of their subjugated peoples and struggled for the realization of the idea of the creation of a “universal Christian empire” (as during the Thirty Years' War of 1618–48).

Having brought together the forces of feudal reaction, the Counter-Reformation to a certain extent strengthened the position of the papacy and the Catholic Church (having restored Catholicism and suppressed Reformation movements in several countries) and temporarily retarded the onset of the forces of the new, bourgeois society.


Mikhnevich, D. E. Ocherki po istorii katolicheskoi reaktsii (lezuity). Moscow, 1953.
Lozinskii, S. G. Istoriia papstva. Moscow, 1961.
Brandi, K. Deutsche Reformation und Gegenreformation. Vol. 2:
”Gegenreformation und Religionskriege.” Leipzig, 1930.
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