The Counter-Reformation was more concerned with structural and administrative reforms than the Protestant Reformation. It also largely ignored the highly contentious theological issues that lay at the heart of the Reformers’ concerns. As such, it has been seen primarily as a reactionary movement, one devoted to fortifying the spiritual and temporal power of the Catholic Church against a growing Protestant threat.
At the Council of Trent, which gave definitive shape to the Counter-Reformation, not only was Protestant ‘heresy’ roundly condemned, but the traditional Catholic orthodoxy was reaffirmed with renewed vigor. The Church made no concessions regarding divisive theological issues such as the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist or the interpretation of scripture. In avoiding anything that smacked of compromise, it widened further the growing schism within European Christendom.
But the Catholic Church did learn some lessons from the Protestant Reformers, even if it didn’t openly acknowledge this fact. Although it continued to authorise the sale of indulgences, for example, (a major contributory factor to the development and spread of the Reformation) it did nonetheless attempt to curb the worst abuses of this controversial practice.
The Catholic Church also learned from Protestants the value of evangelization, of spreading the Christian message far and wide. With Jesuits at the forefront, the Church embarked upon a campaign of extensive missionary work, not just to remote corners of the world such as the Americas and China, but also to the very heart of Europe itself. The work of the Jesuits in this regard was arguably one of the most successful results of the Counter-Reformation, as it helped to stem what seemed at one point to be an irresistible tide of Protestantism sweeping over the European continent.