Roman Catholic Church's Response to Protestant Reformation

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During the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s, the Catholic Church did not want to be rolled over by the Protestant tide and so they began the Counter Reformation. The Protestant Reformation was the religious, revolutionary movement in the 16th century against the Roman Catholic Church authorities and certain doctrines, which led to the establishment of the Protestant sect. The decline in Church prestige, abuses such as corruption, worldliness in the church, simony (selling of Church office positions), and the sales of indulgences (pardons for committed sins) caused the Reformation. Social, economic, and political problems (Black Death, Hundred Years’ War, money for St. Peter’s Cathedral’s construction, and local leaders not wanting the Church to run things, etc.) were also factors in the cause of the Reformation. The Counter (Catholic) Reformation was the answering reform movement in which the Catholic Church tried to prevent Protestantism from spreading. The Roman Catholic Church set out to reform by using instituting measures such as the Council of Trent, the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), and the Inquisition, in which Church practices were defined.

Between 1545 and 156, the Roman Catholic Church held a series of conferences in Trent, Italy called the Council of Trent. They were held in order to define Catholic beliefs and counteract Protestant views and teachings. Three popes, Paul III, Julius IIII, and Pius IV led the Council, which was a central event in the Counter Reformation. The Council was held in three periods which were interrupted by wars and other disputes. In general, the Council upheld traditional Church doctrines, but significant reforms in religious practices were instituted. Clergy was punished for corruption and worldliness. New schools were established so the clergy could be better educated in order to challenge the Protestant teachings. Simony and indulgences, the practices which sparked the start of the Reformation, were uprooted. The council also rejected Protestant views on salvation and sin. It reaffirmed that the Bible was a major, but not the only source, of religious truth, and that salvation comes from faith and good works. In the end, even though it did not stop the spread of Protestantism, the Council of Trent succeeded in making some changes, not by condoning violence, but simply by presenting a united front against the Protestants. The Church at last proved itself capable of action, and of reinforcing its representation of the orthodox faith by making significant reforms to the religion.

The Society of Jesus is a religious order of men in the Roman Catholic Church. The members of this order are called Jesuits. In 154, Saint Ignatius of Loyola and six of his companions, who bound themselves by vows of poverty and personal integrity, founded the Society. Pope Paul later confirmed it in 1540. Jesuits supported Catholic doctrines. Their object was to limit or even stop the spread of Protestantism and combat heresy. This strict program required spiritual and moral discipline, intense religious training, and obedience to the Church. The Jesuits became missionaries who traveled to distant places, such as Asia, Africa, and the Americas, to spread Catholicism and they risked getting caught while providing spiritual needs to Catholics in Protestant lands. Many Jesuits have been canonized (declared saints) by the Roman Catholic Church. The best-known Jesuit saints include Robert Bellarmine, Peter Canisius, and Isaac Jogues.

The Inquisition was a permanent judicial institution, which was set up by the papacy in the Roman Catholic Church. It was established in order to seek out, try, sentence, and punish heretics (ones who go against an accepted belief). Starting in the 1th century, rulers were required to prosecute heretics. Pope Gregory IX established the Inquisition in 11. It operated mainly in France, Germany, Italy, and Spain and soon was used against Protestants. The Inquisition often used cruel methods in order to secure convictions for heresy. Penalties for convicted heretics ranged from prayer and fasting to imprisonment. Secular authorities could execute those who refused to recant (to give up one’s views of beliefs). Pope Sixtus IV authorized the Spanish Inquisition in 1478. The auto-da-f�, a public ceremony at which sentences were pronounced, became an elaborate celebration where many heretics were burned at the stake. In 155, the Inquisition set up the Index of Forbidden Books. This is a list of books that are immoral or irreligious for Catholics to read (usually books that portrayed Protestant views). Catholics now condemn the Inquisition for violating modern standards of justice.

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Even though the Counter Reformation did not have much effect on the spread of Protestantism, it certainly did effect European life in many ways, good and bad. The Jesuits helped to spread Catholicism throughout many parts of Asia, Africa, and Europe. The Council of Trent tried to set the direction of reforms in the right path. Whereas in the efforts to end heresy, the Inquisition killed thousands of people and tens of thousands of lives were ruined through imprisonment and confiscation of property. By the 17th century, the Roman Catholic Church stopped the spread of Protestantism in France, won back Hungary and Poland, and kept Catholicism in Bavaria, Austria, Ireland, and the southern Netherlands (present-day Belgium).

Peters, Edward. Inquisition. California The Free Press, 188

The Reformation and the Counter Reformation. James Jackson. October, 00. http//

Jesuit Resources on the World Wide Web. Jesuit Conference. October, 00.


The Reformation. Stony Brook University. October, 00. http//

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