The Counter Reformation, or the Catholic Reformation, which dates from 1534, was the Roman Catholic Church's answer to the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century in Europe. Calls for church reform had been voiced by parishioners and members of the Roman Catholic clergy for more than two centuries. Finally, German monk and theology (study of religion) professor Martin Luther (1483–1546) nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the Castle Church at Wittenberg (Saxony, Germany) in 1517. Attacking the doctrines and authority of the church in the theses, Luther sparked the Reformation, and leaders of the movement—called Protestants since they protested against the Catholic Church—totally transformed religious life in Europe by creating new Christian churches. In 1534 the newly elected pope, Paul III (1468–1549), recognized that the church must respond to this Reformation movement with its own reforms. He therefore convened the Council of Trent in Italy and ordered council members to review all aspects of the church. The group met three times: 1545 to 1547, 1551 to 1552, and 1562 to 1563. Out of their deliberations emerged the modern Catholic Church. The reforms brought an end to the selling of indulgences (pardons of sins), introduced educational requirements for parish priests, established standardized worship services, and reorganized the laws of the church. The Counter Reformation was aided by the Jesuits, brothers and priests who belonged to the Society of Jesus, a religious order dedicated to education and missionary work. The Jesuits were instrumental in spreading the reforms and promoting a new spirit among Catholics throughout Europe and in converting native peoples in North America.
Further Information: Birely, Robert. The Refashioning of Catholicism, 1450–1700: A Reassessment of the Counter Reformation. Catholic University of America Press, Washington, D.C.: 1999; "The Counter-Reformation." Catholic Encyclopedia. [Online] Available http://www.knight.org/advent/cathen/04437a.htm, October 20, 2000; Flowers, Sarah. The Reformation. San Diego: Lucent Books, 1995; Jackson, James. Reformation and Counter-Reformation. [Online] Available http://www.johnco.cc.ks.us/~jjackson/refo.html, October 20, 2000.