Counter-Reformation

More appropriately called Catholic Reform, the period of Catholic revival which began c.1522 and lasted to the end of the Thirty Years War in 1648. It consisted chiefly in the efforts made by ecclesiastical and civil authorities to stem the tide of Protestantism, by the introduction of genuine reforms within the Church and by the use of moral means and coercive measures to bring back former Catholics into the fold. The Counter-Reformation is divided into

  1. ecclesiastical movements, carried out under the leadership of churchmen
  2. political movements, carried out under the immediate direction and with the support of civil rulers

The ecclesiastical Counter-Reformation consisted in the efforts made by word and example to restore genuine Catholic life. It assumed important proportions by the restoration of primitive observance in some existing religious orders and by the establishment of new religious institutes. The reform of the Carmelites by Saint Teresa may be cited as an example of restoration of discipline; the founding of the Society of Jesus by Saint Ignatius Loyola will serve as an illustration of a new religious order. The ecclesiastical Counter-Reformation received its official direction from the papacy and, under the latter, notably from the Council of Trent. This nineteenth general council, in luminous and peremptory fashion, restated Catholic doctrine on points controverted by the Protestants, suppressed existing abuses, prescribed special training for the clergy in seminaries, made salutary regulations regarding monastic life, and imposed thoroughgoing reform. Saint Charles Borromeo, Cardinal Archbishop of Milan, was conspicuous by his activity in enforcing the reforms decreed by the council. Saint Francis de Sales was notable in the interpretation and restoration of genuine Catholic piety.

A political counter-reformation was energetically carried out in Bavaria by some of its rulers. Its best known leaders, however, were Philip II and Mary Tudor, husband and wife, the former reigning in Spain and the Netherlands, the latter in England. Philip II was everywhere the champion of Catholicism, and Mary restored it in her kingdom; both rulers would have achieved more lasting results had they proceeded with greater discretion and moderation. The political Counter-Reformation played an important part in the antagonism between England and Scotland, England and Spain, and Poland and Sweden, and in the religious wars of the 16th and 17th centuries. The general result for the Catholic Church of the Counter-Reformation, both ecclesiastical and political, was interiorly a renewal of religious life and exteriorly an increase of Catholic power and influence.