What did the Counter-Reformation achieve?

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The Counter-Reformation was the Catholic Church's attempt to combat the spread of Protestantism. It had two major strategies for doing this: the first was to implement reforms within the Catholic Church, and the second was to persecute perceived heresy. Many of these efforts were the result of edicts from...

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The Counter-Reformation was the Catholic Church's attempt to combat the spread of Protestantism. It had two major strategies for doing this: the first was to implement reforms within the Catholic Church, and the second was to persecute perceived heresy. Many of these efforts were the result of edicts from the Council of Trent, which met over 20 times over 18 years beginning in 1545. The efforts of the Counter-Reformation had mixed success, but likely limited a lot of the damage to Catholicism that the Reformation was doing.

One achievement of the Counter-Reformation was the formation of a precise statement of Catholic faith. This was aimed to separate Catholicism definitively from the more popular Protestant teachings of the 16th century. They rejected the notion of predestination popular among the Calvinists. They agreed with Luther that faith is an important part of receiving salvation, but differed in that salvation relies on more than just faith by reaffirming the importance of the seven sacraments and good work.

The efforts of the church also strengthened the role of the Bible as written in Latin and the role of priests to interpret it. They destroyed countless bibles written in the vernacular popular among the Protestants.

The Church also looked inward; many of the complaints against Catholicism that were driving people away had to do with corruption among the clergy. The Council of Trent demanded more training for priests and required them to spend more time preaching to their parishioners and engaging with the community. It also formalized uniform regulations so that the practices of different parishes would be more or less the same. All this allowed the church to compete better against the Protestant movements.

The Church also aggressively persecuted so-called heretics. To carry this out, the Inquisition was established with the goal of rooting out "dangerous" ideas and individuals operating within the church. Subversive texts were officially banned, and anyone found supporting anti-orthodox ideas was subject to punishment.

All this helped to preserve the power of the Catholic church. Protestant ideas and sects continued to form and spread, but the Catholic church remained dominant in Europe, although its influence was irreparably weakened. Despite all this, the reforms of the Catholic church did much to unite the faith after centuries of infighting and abuses of power.

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The Counter-Reformation essentially saw a reformation of Church practices and institutions accompanied by a reaffirmation of Church doctrine. Most of the reforms associated with the Counter-Reformation stemmed from the Council of Trent, which met in several lengthy sessions from 1545 to 1563. The Council made a number of critical reforms, especially to the priesthood, which had become, in the eyes of many Europeans, very corrupt and, at the local level, incompetent. It made provisions for education for priests and ordered that they pursue more moral lives so as to be examples to their parishoners. On the other hand, the Council reasserted and clarified key aspects of doctrine. They rejected Luther's doctrine of justification by faith alone, clearly described the seven sacraments, reiterated the doctrine of transubstantiation, and reaffirmed the belief in purgatory. The Counter-Reformation also created a new, aggressively evangelistic spirit within the church, one which was obviously intended to counter the efforts of Protestants. The creation of new evangelical orders such as the Jesuits was perhaps the most conspicuous element of this policy. Jesuits were sent into communities to combat heresy in Europe, and ultimately represented the leading edge of evangelical efforts in the New World. Finally, its doctrines reaffirmed, the Church strengthened the Inquisition to root out and destroy heresy, creating the Index of Prohibited Books to destroy intellectual opposition to its doctrines.

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