The Catholic Church’s Counter Reformation

By Rev. John Trigilio, Rev. Kenneth Brighenti

In 1545, the Church called the general Council of Trent, which lasted more than 18 years due to wars and other interruptions, such as the death of a pope. During this age, known as the Counter Reformation, men and women who were considered outstanding in their holiness combated the attacks.

Using the printing press now to its own advantage, the Church was able to counterattack its opponents, mass-producing its catechisms, canon law, the Catholic Bible, and the lives of the saints so that many new religious communities could evangelize through their schools and parishes. Parts of Germany, Switzerland, and France that had become Protestant then returned back to the Catholic religion. The Catholic monarchs of Spain, Ferdinand and Isabella, colonized the New World, and religious orders, such as the Franciscans, Dominicans, and Jesuits, went to that vast new area, evangelizing native peoples and establishing churches, missions, and schools.

The Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) gave rise to some of the best colleges and universities in the world. A Jesuit priest often received a doctoral degree in a secular science, such as math, chemistry, biology, or law, along with his religious background of philosophy and theology. Jesuits were considered the best answer to the Reformation by using positive means to show the advantages, logical rationale, beauty, and history of Catholicism without having to resort to bitter or personal attacks against their Protestant counterparts. Jesuit missionaries preached and taught where no European had gone before: Japan, China, India, and the New World.

The Counter Reformation also gave rise to a new style of art and architecture, known as Baroque. And whereas the new Protestant faith emphasized the written Word of Scripture, Catholicism continued its ancient tradition of appealing to the symbolism used by the sacraments: tangible signs to the physical body (via the human senses) of the invisible work and presence of divine grace.