The Counter-Reformation

While the Catholic Reformation (or the counter-reformation) was too little too late to save the schism in the church from the growing Protestant Reformation movement, it was an integral part of salvaging the Catholic church, revitalizing it and directly addressing the corruption that had allowed for the Protestant movement to begin with.[1]

The counter-reformation was positive in that it addressed some key issues within the Church that needed to be addressed and resolved, such as abuses in the Church and its leadership.[2]  Some of the methods it employed however, such as a distinct intolerance for heresy, increased repression, the expansion of the Roman Inquisition and its list of prohibited books made it impossible to reconcile with Protestants and once again unite the Church under a single name or set of doctrines.[3]  While some leaders of the church did desire a more lenient approach, the conservatives were victorious overall.  A growing sense of religious intolerance spread across Europe, with Catholics intolerant of Protestants, Protestants intolerant against Catholics, and Protestants intolerant of other Protestants as well.[4]  The actions of the Protestants in their reformation combined with the actions of the Catholic church in their counter reformation ensured that the Christian Church was permanently and irrevocably divided, and the Catholic church would never have the absolute power that it claimed throughout the medieval period.[5]

New religious orders were created, most notably the Jesuit order under Ignatius Loyola.  The Jesuits, in addition to the standard vows of poverty, celibacy and obedience, the Jesuits also took an additional vow of special loyalty and obedience to the Pope.[6]  The Jesuits became a specialized institution focused on education and were successful missionaries both in Asia and in the New World.[7]  Loyola, St. Teresa and others throughout the counter-reformation period also were commonly interested in combining a form of mysticism with their devout Catholic faith.  For Loyola, this came in the form of the Spiritual Exercises which focused on meditation and special devotion.  For St. Teresa it was visions, and a desire to rededicate the Carmelite order to an ascetic lifestyle rather than a secular one.[8]

The Counter Reformation was not enough to unite the Church again after the Protestant movement had been set into motion, and although it made attempts to reconcile doctrine and address the abuses in the church that had initially been cited as the cause for the Protestant movement, it was too late to stem the growing tide of Protestantism.  It did, however, lead to a renewed love of and passion for the Catholic faith, allowing it to continue into the modern age, ensuring its survival forward into the future.


[1] William Gilbert, Renaissance and Reformation (Lawrence, KS: Carrie Books, 20013) Chapter 19, http://vlib.iue.it/carrie/texts/carrie_books/gilbert/19.html.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

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