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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



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.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
The 2006 cloth edition was titled The Arts of the Anglican Counter-Reformation.
Prior to the Council of Trent, according to the authors, ecclesiastical courts, and legal experts revealed practices of marriage that not only relied on the principle of individual consent but also presented multilayered definitions that defied and departed from the normative directives imposed by the Counter-Reformation church during the seventeenth century.
The climax of this uneasy relationship came with the Council of Trent's decree imposing strict cloister on nuns under the oversight of local bishops and more broadly, as Anne Jacobson Schutte emphasizes in her new book, with the disciplining "confessionalization" undertaken by the Counter-Reformation church, with the Roman Inquisition as one of its main weapons.
Overell brings the personalities of these men to life but her main emphasis is on their role within both Reformation and Counter-Reformation.
In the third section of the book, Rivka Feldhay's "Recent Narratives on Galileo and The Church or The Three Dogmas of the Counter-Reformation," inveighs against scholars and their use of totalitarian, fundamentalist, and fictionalist categories to interpret Counter-Reformation theologians and astronomers at the time of Galileo.
On the other hand, in the context of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, the world itself seemed to be descending into madness.
Lawson approaches Ruben's masterful secular and religious paintings by exploring his mix of sex, violence and spectacle in relation to the taste of Counter-Reformation Catholic Antwerp.
As he notes in his conclusion, a good deal of present-day criticism on early modern Spanish literature "has as its ultimate goal the location of oppositional voices in the midst of the nation-building impulse of imperial and Counter-Reformation Spain" (133).
Chatellier's thought-provoking argument is that the Counter-Reformation did not convert the Catholic rustic to its values, rather the Catholic rustic forced the Catholic church to reform and to refine earlier medieval Catholic sensibilities.
He expands that study into the discourse of the Counter-Reformation, and explores the very real element of desire in depiction of women whose only desire was, rightly, to disconnect from the world and connect with the divine, if not be absorbed by it.
O'Malley has devoted much of his distinguished career to moving beyond older notions of "Counter-Reformation" and even "Catholic reform" to a more comprehensive view of "early modern Catholicism." Older constructs, often colored by confessional biases and focusing on the Inquisition, the Council of Trent, papal monarchy, and Jesuit "shock troops," tended to underscore the failures of a monolithic and repressive Catholic church fighting to overcome Protestantism.
Martins' Press 1999) is an unique study addressing laughter during the religious-political volatile era of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation in the Southern Netherlands.