{15}     Catholic Counter Reformation

ERA 5 << Modern Church (1): Reformation & Struggles (AD 1500–1700) >> SESSION 4

Reference: Gonzalez, volume 2, chapters 12-13

        15.1.1  Queen Isabella’s reformation in Spain

·         Reforms: When Isabella became queen in Spain [1474], she planned to reform the church so she obtained from the pope the right to fill high ecclesiastical posts. Francisco Jimenez was appointed as archbishop. Isabella and Jimenez reformed the monasteries.

        15.1.2  Activities of the Inquisition

·         Inquisition: In 1478, the Inquisition was placed by the pope under the authority of Ferdinand and Isabella. The objective was to purge the church of heretics. Coercive penalties included confiscation of goods and property, imprisonment, public scourging, the galleys, exile, and death.

·         Unjust practices: The Inquisition operated on many unjust rules and torture. It became the instrument to persecute Jew, Moors, and Protestants. The Spanish Inquisition was not abolished until 1834. In the 350 years of the Inquisition [1478–1834], the number of executions was estimated to be 15,000 to 150,000.

        15.2.1  Suppression of Protestantism with theological arguments

·         Robert Bellarmine (1542–1621)—He was the systematizer of Catholic theology against Protestants. He helped in the accusation against Galileo (1564–1642), who taught the theory of the Earth rotating around the sun. The Inquisition declared [1616] that it is the Earth, not the sun, that is at the centre of the universe and that the sun moves around the Earth. Galileo’s theory was condemned as heretical.

        15.2.2  New monastic orders

·         Discalced (“Barefoot”) Carmelites [1562]—It was founded by Teresa of Avila (1515–1582). She spent much time in mystical contemplation leading to visions or to ecstasy. Her book Interior Castle [1577] was a classic exposition of the stages of mystical prayer until reaching God Himself.

·         Society of Jesus or Jesuits [1540]—Ignatius Loyola (1491–1556) gathered a group of well-educated monks at Montserrat (near Barcelona), aiming at winning back believers from Protestantism. They swore vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience to the pope. In addition, they operated like a military. But the ethical relativism of the Jesuits made them justify any means to accomplish their ends.

        15.2.3  Papal reforms

·         Paul III [1534–1549]—He was tainted with nepotism—his son was made duke and his grandsons made cardinals. He appointed a commission of 9 reform-minded leaders to report the abuses in the church.

·         Paul IV [1555–1559]—He increased the activity of the Inquisition to the point of terror, published the Index of Forbidden Books [1559], cleansed the Roman curia and eliminated nepotism.

        15.2.4  Missionary efforts

·         Catholic missionary century: The 16th-c was the great century of Roman Catholic missions, gaining Central and South America, Quebec, Indonesia, and the Philippines.

        15.2.5  Reconciliation effort

·         Colloquies: Protestant and Catholic theologians sought to reach an understanding in a series of colloquies. They did not wish to see the division of the Western church.

·         Regensburg [1541]—the last colloquy. While agreement was reached over justification by faith, there was no room for compromise in the questions of transubstantiation and papal authority.

·         Impact: This failure opened the door to the Roman hardliners who dominated the council of Trent.

15.3  Council of Trent [15451563]

        15.3.1  The meeting

·         Papal control: The RCC needed to deal with the challenge of Protestantism. A council met in Trent in northern Italy. In most of the 25 meetings, there were fewer than 75 bishops so the council is not representative of all churches. The council was under tight papal control.

·         Objectives: The objectives were: [1] to define Roman Catholic doctrine in opposition to Protestantism, and [2] to introduce disciplinary reforms within the RCC.

·         Issues: There were definitions over a many areas—Scripture and tradition, original sin, justification, the sacraments, purgatory, relics and images, indulgences. The council produced more than the previous 18 general councils put together. The decisions dominated the RCC until the Council of Vatican II [1962–1965].

        15.3.2  Measures of reform

·         Internal reforms: The council made numerous reforms, including: [1] bishops were to reside in their sees; [2] pluralism (holding of several ecclesiastic offices by one person) was condemned; [3] relics and indulgences were regulated; [4] seminars were founded to train priests; [5] the study of Thomas Aquinas was promoted.

        15.3.3  Reaction against Protestantism

·         On the Vulgate: The Latin translation of the Bible, the Vulgate, was declared to be authoritative in matters of dogma; in opposition to the Protestant emphasis of the authority of the Bible in its original languages.

·         On tradition: Tradition has authority parallel to the Bible; in opposition to the Protestant emphasis of sole authority of the Bible (sola scriptura).

·         On sacraments: There are 7 sacraments; in opposition to the Protestant acceptance of only 2 sacraments.

·         On transubstantiation: The dogma of transubstantiation was reaffirmed; in opposition to the Protestant opposition to transubstantiation and the Protestant insistence for both cup and bread given to the laity.

·         On justification: Justification is based on faith and subsequent good works done; in opposition to the Protestant teaching of justification by faith alone (sola fide).

        15.4.1  Impact of the Reformation

·         End of papal control: The Reformation [1517–1545] ended papal control of the universal church.

·         End of widespread corruption: The widespread corruption of the medieval Roman Church disappeared.

·         Unity of Protestants: The Protestants agreed on salvation by faith alone, the sole authority of the Bible as an infallible rule of faith and practice, and the priesthood of all believers.

·         End of reconciliation: After the Council of Trent, reconciliation with Protestantism was impossible.

·         Accessibility to the Bible: By emphasizing the Bible as the final authority and the right of private interpretation, the Reformation encouraged the translation of the Bible into the vernacular.

·         Individualism & democracy: Protestantism led to religious individualism and the rise of democracy.


[1] treasure our heritage

The Reformation marked the beginning of the modern era. Religion was the main force and component of human history.

[2] appreciate God’s providence

Though bringing many struggles, the Reformation also brought many benefits to the church, the society, and western culture.

[3] avoid past errors

The many unbiblical decisions of the Council of Trent were reaction to challenges. Decisions made in such situations must be careful.

[4] apply our knowledge

The elements in Protestantism condemned by Trend are precisely the elements that Protestant should defend, based on the Bible.

[5] follow past saints

Some monastic leaders, though part of the RCC, wrote inspired writings that can teach all Christians.