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The Counter-Reformation. Revenge, Reform, and the Inquisition. The Counter-Reformation. After decades of criticism from the likes of Martin Luther and other Protestant followers, the Catholic Church needed to address its practices and its image with the public.

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the counter reformation

The Counter-Reformation

Revenge, Reform, and the Inquisition

the counter reformation1
The Counter-Reformation

After decades of criticism from the likes of Martin Luther and other Protestant followers, the Catholic Church needed to address its practices and its image with the public.

The attitude and actions the Church in attempting to reform its practices and images drew out both the best and the worst that the Church had to offer.

the counter reformation2
The Counter-Reformation

There were three main goals of the Counter-Reformation:

A renewed spirit and faith in the Catholic Church

A recognition of abuses within the Church and a dedication to reform

An attitude of intolerance towards heresy

Most truly faithful Catholics felt that the Church had addressed their greatest concerns with the first two goals. The third goal generated a lot of controversy. A split within the Catholic Church itself, over how this reform should be carried out, led to two distinct groups: one which felt concessions needed to be made with Protestants in effort towards Christian unity, and a second group which was determined to stand firmly against all compromise.


In an age of religious intolerance, no other outcome was likely. It can be said quite accurately that the intolerance of Catholics toward Protestants was equaled only by the intolerance of Protestants toward Catholics and surpassed only by the intolerance of the various Protestant groups toward one another.

the council at trent
The Council At Trent

Pope Paul III called the Council of Trent in 1545, and asked a select group of Cardinals to address corrupt Church clergy, the sale of indulgences, and other financial abuses.

The Council issued 5 declarations:

Scripture and tradition were of equal authority

The Catholic Church alone had the right to interpret the Bible

Faith and good works are the path to salvation

The Seven Sacraments are absolutely necessary on the path to salvation

Bishops and priests are to preach regularly

Unfortunately, the reform-minded Pope Paul III and his Cardinals would come and go before the Council could reach an agreement, and a more conservative group of Cardinals took power of the council.

Was it successful?

religious orders
Religious Orders

The Theatines worked for the reform of the regular clergy.

The Barnabites worked towards relieving the suffering of the people and bettering their moral standards.

The Ursulines was a religious order for women. They devoted themselves to the education of young girls and became a major teaching order.

The most notable of these orders though would be the Jesuits.

Since the Council of Trent (1545) did little to address specific concerns from Protestants, much of the work towards a reformed Church was done outside the traditional Church hierarchy.

Dozens of religious orders were established and received papal approval to do the work of the Church.

St. Ignatius of Loyola

the jesuits
The Jesuits

The Jesuits tackled corruption within the Church head-on. Their goal, quite publically, was to win back converts to Protestantism by offering a new message.

Jesuits focused on two areas: teaching and preaching. They offered a message of hope where Protestants offered one of hopelessness. The Jesuits placed an emphasis on prayer and reconciliation.

St. Ignatius

Though Jesuits would become a controversial group later in history for their political ambitions, they should be praised for their efforts to reform the Church and establish some of the world’s greatest universities.

the inquisition
The Inquisition

"If there is found among you, within any of your towns which the Lord your God gives you, a man or woman who does what is evil in the sight of the Lord your God, in transgressing his covenant, and has gone and served other gods and worshiped them, or the sun or the moon or any of the host of heaven, which I have forbidden, and it is told you and you hear of it; then you shall inquire diligently, and if it is true and certain that such an abominable thing has been done in Israel, then you shall bring forth to your gates that man or woman who has done this evil thing, and you shall stone that man or woman to death with stones.”

- Deuteronomy 17:2–5

The Inquisition was a group of loosely related and loosely governed courts designed to end heresy.

the spanish inquisition
The Spanish Inquisition

The judge, or inquisitor, could bring suit against anyone.

The accused had to testify against himself/herself and not have the right to face and question his/her accuser.

It was acceptable to take testimony from criminals, persons of bad reputation, excommunicated

people, and heretics.

The accused did not have right to counsel,

and blood relationship did not exempt one

from the duty to testify against the accused.

Sentences could not be appealed.

A separate branch of the Roman Inquisition, not directly tied to the Church, was the Spanish Inquisition. The loose adherence to law, willingness to do anything to produce a confession, and incredibly harsh punishments earned the Inquisition notoriety.

the spanish inquisition1
The Spanish Inquisition

Although there was no tradition of torture in Christian canon law, this method came into use by the middle of the 13th century.

Penalties went from visits to churches, pilgrimages, and wearing the cross of infamy to imprisonment and death. Punishments were handed down based on suspicion, not guilt.

Death was by burning at the stake.

Death or life imprisonment was always accompanied by the confiscation of all the accused's property.

the index
The Index

Another tool at the disposal of the Church was censorship. The Church established the Roman Index of Prohibited Books. Beginning in the 1520s, the Church systematically censored all books that might spread Protestantism.

All Protestant books were banned, and burned. All reform-minded writers had their books banned as well.

Keep in mind that many of these books had absolutely nothing to do with religion.

Notable figures to make the Index:

Martin Luther

John Calvin

Huldrych Zwingli

(not surprising)

Nicolaus Copernicus

Galileo Galilei

Johannes Kepler


Desiderius Erasmus

John Locke

Jean-Jacques Rousseau