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Counter Reformation

Phases of the Counter Reformation

In 1534, Paul III became pope, and St. Ignatius of Loyola and his friends took the vows that founded the Jesuits (see Jesus, Society of). 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 of) 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 IV. 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 V, Gregory XIII, and Sixtus V. 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 Borromeo. In the Papal States and in a few other lands the new Inquisition was extended.

A far-reaching local movement in the reformation was the Oratory (see Oratory, Congregation of the) of St. Philip Neri. 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. Theresa of Ávila and by St. John of the Cross.

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 Sales and St. Vincent de Paul. In England the Counter Reformation took effect less in the restoration of the Roman Catholic Church under Queen Mary (although Cardinal Pole was a reformer) than in the mission of the Jesuits (1580), led by St. Edmund Campion and Robert Persons. 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.

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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