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Counter Reformation,16th-century reformation that arose largely in answer to the Protestant Reformation; sometimes called the Catholic Reformation. Although the Roman Catholic reformers shared the Protestants' revulsion at the corrupt conditions in the church, there was present none of the tradition breaking that characterized Protestantism. The Counter Reformation was led by conservative forces whose aim was both to reform the church and to secure the its traditions against the innovations of Protestant theology and against the more liberalizing effects of the Renaissance.
Origins of the Counter Reformation
Since the time of St. Catherine of Siena (14th cent.) there had been a growing demand for reform—of the clergy, of Christian life, and of ecclesiastical administration. Probably the Great SchismSchism, Great,
or Schism of the West,
division in the Roman Catholic Church from 1378 to 1417. There was no question of faith or practice involved; the schism was a matter of persons and politics.
..... Click the link for more information. did more than anything else to prevent change, for in its duration ecclesiastical politics preoccupied those who might have been busy with reform. In the 15th cent. the papacypapacy
, office of the pope, head of the Roman Catholic Church. He is pope by reason of being bishop of Rome and thus, according to Roman Catholic belief, successor in the see of Rome (the Holy See) to its first bishop, St. Peter.
..... Click the link for more information. was too weak to lead any movement, much less a drastic reform of the kind called for by Girolamo SavonarolaSavonarola, Girolamo
, 1452–98, Italian religious reformer, b. Ferrara. He joined (1475) the Dominicans. In 1481 he went to San Marco, the Dominican house at Florence, where he became popular for his eloquent sermons, in which he attacked the vice and worldliness of the
..... Click the link for more information. . A key factor in the stagnation in Christendom was the general worldliness and negligence of the prelates who—with their kings and princes—really ran the church. Such was their power that in the only vigorous papal effort at reform of the century, the mission of Nicholas of Cusa in Germany (1451), the papal legate dared not touch the bishops. At the time the most publicized scandal was the immoral Renaissance papal court.
Of all the evils the papal scandal proved to be the easiest remedied, once it was attacked by Paul IVPaul IV,
1476–1559, pope (1555–59), a Neapolitan named Gian Pietro Carafa; successor of Marcellus II. First superior of the Theatines (see Cajetan, Saint), he was sternly ascetic. A leading reformer, he organized the Inquisition set up by Paul III.
..... Click the link for more information. . Before he became pope, Paul was (as Cardinal Carafa), with St. CajetanCajetan, Saint
, 1480–1547, Italian churchman and reformer. Son of the count of Thiene, he studied civil and canon law, but abandoned work as a jurist at the papal court to become a priest.
..... Click the link for more information. (1480–1547) and others, a member of a small reform party at Rome. The nucleus was a society of priests and laymen, the Oratory of Divine Love, founded (1497) at Genoa for charitable work and then extended as a spiritual movement in the Curia itself. The reformers in Rome were helped from abroad by men of the prestige of St. Thomas More, Erasmus, St. John Fisher, and Cardinal Jiménez.
However, the first major reform efforts failed; these were the Fifth Lateran Council (see Lateran Council, FifthLateran Council, Fifth,
1512–17, 18th ecumenical council of the Roman Catholic Church, convened by Pope Julius II and continued by his successor Leo X. Julius called the council to counter an attempt begun (1510) by Louis XII of France to revive the conciliar theory (i.e.
..... Click the link for more information. ) and the election of Adrian VI, who died too soon to accomplish anything. In the next pontificate (Clement VII, 1523–34) the reform party worked on quietly, forming the core of resistance to Lutheranism; they founded the Theatines (1524) and the Capuchins (1525), religious orders to evangelize the common people. Meanwhile Protestantism expanded, and the sack of Rome (1527) convinced even the most complacent cardinals that political gambling was a danger to the church. The influence of Holy Roman Emperor Charles VCharles V,
1500–1558, Holy Roman emperor (1519–58) and, as Charles I, king of Spain (1516–56); son of Philip I and Joanna of Castile, grandson of Ferdinand II of Aragón, Isabella of Castile, Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I, and Mary of Burgundy.
..... Click the link for more information. weighed on the side of reform.
Phases of the Counter Reformation
In 1534, Paul IIIPaul III,
1468–1549, pope (1534–49), a Roman named Alessandro Farnese; successor of Clement VII. He was created cardinal by Alexander VI, and his influence increased steadily.
..... Click the link for more information. became pope, and St. Ignatius of LoyolaIgnatius of Loyola, Saint
, 1491–1556, Spanish churchman, founder of the Jesuits (see Jesus, Society of), b. Loyola Castle near Azpeitia, Gipuzkoa, Spain. Early Life and Ordination
..... Click the link for more information. and his friends took the vows that founded the Jesuits (see Jesus, Society ofJesus, Society of,
religious order of the Roman Catholic Church. Its members are called Jesuits. St. Ignatius of Loyola, its founder, named it Compañia de Jesús [Span.,=(military) company of Jesus]; in Latin it is Societas Jesu (abbr. S.J.).
..... Click the link for more information. ). Thus simultaneously (but quite independently) the reformers finally won the papacy, and the pope was provided with a resolute band of helpers. In 1545, after delay and miscarriage, the Council of Trent (see Trent, Council ofTrent, Council of,
1545–47, 1551–52, 1562–63, 19th ecumenical council of the Roman Catholic Church, convoked to meet the crisis of the Protestant Reformation.
..... Click the link for more information. ) was convened by Paul III. This council (1545–47, 1551–52, 1562–63) was the central event of the Counter Reformation. The popes of the council were Paul III, Julius III, and Pius IVPius IV,
1499–1565, pope (1559–65), a Milanese named Giovanni Angelo de' Medici; successor of Paul IV. He was probably not related to the great Medici family.
..... Click the link for more information. . The reign of Pius's predecessor, Paul IV, an interlude in the council, was devoted to the purge of the papal court; from Paul's work dates the quasi-monastic air that has ever since characterized the Vatican.
The end of the council (1563) opened the second period of the reformation, lasting until 1590, with the pontificates of St. Pius VPius V, Saint,
1504–72, pope (1566–72), an Italian named Michele Ghislieri, b. near Alessandria; successor of Pius IV. He was ordained in the Dominicans (1528) and became celebrated for his austerity.
..... Click the link for more information. , Gregory XIIIGregory XIII,
1502–85, pope (1572–85), an Italian named Ugo Buoncompagni, b. Bologna; successor of St. Pius V. He is best known for his work on the calendar, and the reformed calendar, the Gregorian, is named for him.
..... Click the link for more information. , and Sixtus VSixtus V,
1521–90, pope (1585–90), an Italian (b. near Montalto) named Felice Peretti; successor of Gregory XIII. He entered the Franciscan order in early youth.
..... Click the link for more information. . The work of the council was given effect. The chief evil in church life, simony in many forms, including the preaching of some indulgences, was uprooted. Worship was standardized; the law of the church and the government of the Holy See were reorganized; new educational requirements for parish priests were introduced and provided for (by diocesan seminaries); religious orders were reformed; and the life of the clergy was scrutinized. A new spirit began to breathe in the church, as seen in the work of St. Charles BorromeoCharles Borromeo, Saint
, 1538–84, Italian churchman, b. near Lago Maggiore. His uncle, Pius IV, summoned Charles, a student at Pavia, to Rome in 1560. In rapid order he was made cardinal-deacon, administrator of the Papal States and of the archdiocese of Milan, and papal
..... Click the link for more information. . In the Papal States and in a few other lands the new InquisitionInquisition
, tribunal of the Roman Catholic Church established for the investigation of heresy. The Medieval Inquisition
In the early Middle Ages investigation of heresy was a duty of the bishops.
..... Click the link for more information. was extended.
A far-reaching local movement in the reformation was the Oratory (see Oratory, Congregation of theOratory, Congregation of the
[Lat. abbr., Cong. Orat.], in the Roman Catholic Church, founded in 1575, an association of secular priests organized into independent communities according to the rule written by St. Philip Neri.
..... Click the link for more information. ) of St. Philip NeriPhilip Neri, Saint
, 1515–95, Italian reformer. His original name was Filippo Romolo de' Neri. From boyhood he was religious, and in 1533 he went to Rome to study.
..... Click the link for more information. . Catholicism took the offensive in Europe, and the Jesuits and Capuchins helped win Austria, Poland, the S Netherlands, and parts of Germany, Hungary, and Bohemia back to the Roman Catholic Church. The Jesuits led in foreign missions; in America it was the spirit of the Counter Reformation that led the missionaries to work for the Native Americans, often in opposition to the secular authorities. Spanish religion was deepened by the Carmelite reforms of St. TheresaTheresa or Teresa, Saint
(Theresa of Ávila) , 1515–82, Spanish Carmelite nun, Doctor of the Church, one of the principal saints of the Roman Catholic Church, one of the greatest mystics, and a leading
..... Click the link for more information. of Ávila and by St. John of the CrossJohn of the Cross, Saint,
Span. Juan de la Cruz, 1542–91, Spanish mystic and poet, Doctor of the Church. His name was originally Juan de Yepes. He was a founder of the Discalced Carmelites and a close friend of St.
..... Click the link for more information. .
In France the Counter Reformation took root later, after the accession and conversion to Catholicism of Henry IV; the great French figures were St. Francis de SalesFrancis de Sales, Saint,
1567–1622, French Roman Catholic preacher, Doctor of the Church, and key figure in the Counter Reformation in France. He was a member of an aristocratic family of Savoy and was trained for the law, but he entered (1593) the priesthood against his
..... Click the link for more information. and St. Vincent de PaulVincent de Paul, Saint,
1580?–1660, French priest renowned for charitable work, b. Gascony. He was ordained in 1600. There are conflicting stories about his capture by pirates and enslavement in Tunis and his subsequent escape.
..... Click the link for more information. . In England the Counter Reformation took effect less in the restoration of the Roman Catholic Church under Queen Mary (although Cardinal PolePole, Reginald,
1500–1558, English churchman, archbishop of Canterbury (1556–58), cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church. He was a cousin of the Tudors, being the son of Sir Richard Pole and of Margaret, countess of Salisbury, who was the daughter of George, duke of
..... Click the link for more information. was a reformer) than in the mission of the Jesuits (1580), led by St. Edmund CampionCampion, Saint Edmund
, c.1540–1581, English Jesuit martyr, educated at St. Paul's School and St. John's College, Oxford. As a fellow at Oxford he earned the admiration of his colleagues and his students and the favor of Queen Elizabeth by his brilliance and oratorical
..... Click the link for more information. and Robert PersonsPersons or Parsons, Robert
, 1546–1610, English Jesuit missionary. He left a fellowship at Balliol College, Oxford, and went to the Continent to be received (1575) into the Roman Catholic Church, then entered the
..... Click the link for more information. . Diverse figures showing effects of the Counter Reformation are Caesar Baronius, St. Robert Bellarmine, Pedro Calderón de la Barca, Richard Crashaw, St. Francis Borgia, Robert Southwell, and Torquato Tasso.
See M. R. O'Connell, The Counter Reformation 1559–1610 (1974); J. C. Olin, Catholic Reform (1990).