What was the Counter-Reformation?

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The Counter-Reformation, often called the Catholic Reformation, was the response of the Roman Catholic Church to the Lutheran Reformation.

Much of Europe had remained Catholic despite the Reformation movement, and many princes who had left the church regretted their decision and returned. Still, the church saw the need for reform, and Pope Paul III, after stating that "fish stink from the head down," convened the famous Council of Trent. Church Councils were the only authority with power to overrule the Pope himself.

The Council, which met for eighteen years and through the reign of four popes, made a number of important reforms, but also made the separation from Protestantism permanent. Among the reforms instituted by the Council:

  1. The Church reaffirmed the need of good works as necessary for salvation, as well as the authority of the Pope and Bishops and the requirement of a celibate clergy.
  2. Church tradition and doctrine was equally important as Scripture. The council held:

No one shall presume to interpret scripture contrary to that sense which Holy Mother Church…has held and now holds.

  1. The doctrine of Purgatory, the seven sacraments, and indulgence for sin was affirmed, although the sale of indulgences was prohibited.
  2. Clerical absenteeism (church officials who were not present in their diocese) and simony (selling of Church offices) was condemned.

Education soon became the major element of response and reform, primarily the Jesuits (the Society of Jesus) founded by St. Ignatius Loyola) who ultimately founded thirty five colleges.