A copy of the Vulgate (the Latin edition of the Catholic Bible) printed in 1590, after many of the Council of Trent's reforms had begun to take place in Catholic worship

The Counter-Reformation (Latin: Contrareformatio), also called the Catholic Reformation (Latin: Reformatio Catholica) or the Catholic Revival,[1] was the period of Catholic resurgence that was initiated in response to the Protestant Reformation. It began with the Council of Trent (1545–1563) and largely ended with the 1781 Patent of Toleration, although smaller expulsions of Protestants continued into the 19th century.[2] Initiated to preserve the power, influence and material wealth enjoyed by the Catholic Church and to present a theological and material challenge to Reformation, the Counter-Reformation was a comprehensive effort composed of apologetic and polemical documents, ecclesiastical reconfiguration as decreed by the Council of Trent, a series of wars, political maneuvering including the efforts of Imperial Diets of the Holy Roman Empire, exiling of Protestant populations, confiscation of Protestant children for Catholic institutionalized upbringing, heresy trials and the Inquisition, anti-corruption efforts, spiritual movements, and the founding of new religious orders.

Such reforms included the foundation of seminaries for the proper training of priests in the spiritual life and the theological traditions of the church, the reform of religious life by returning orders to their spiritual foundations, and new spiritual movements focusing on the devotional life and a personal relationship with Christ, including the Spanish mystics and the French school of spirituality.[3]

It also involved political activities that included the Roman Inquisition and the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Protestants. One primary emphasis of the Counter-Reformation was a mission to reach parts of the world that had been colonized as predominantly Catholic and also try to reconvert areas such as Sweden and England that were at one time Catholic, but had been Protestantized during the Reformation.[3]

Various Counter-Reformation theologians focused only on defending doctrinal positions such as the sacraments and pious practices that were attacked by the Protestant reformers,[4] up to the Second Vatican Council in 1962–1965. One of the "most dramatic moments" at that council was the intervention of Belgian Bishop Émile-Joseph De Smed when, during the debate on the nature of the church, he called for an end to the "triumphalism, clericalism, and legalism" that had typified the church in the previous centuries.[5]

Key events of the period include: the Council of Trent (1545–1563); the excommunication of Elizabeth I (1570) and the Battle of Lepanto (1571), both occurring during the pontificate of Pius V; the construction of the Gregorian observatory, the founding of the Gregorian University, the adoption of the Gregorian calendar, and the Jesuit China mission of Matteo Ricci under Pope Gregory XIII; the French Wars of Religion; the Long Turkish War and the execution of Giordano Bruno in 1600, under Pope Clement VIII; the birth of the Lyncean Academy of the Papal States, of which the main figure was Galileo Galilei (later put on trial); the final phases of the Thirty Years' War (1618–1648) during the pontificates of Urban VIII and Innocent X; and the formation of the last Holy League by Innocent XI during the Great Turkish War.


Confutatio Augustana

Confutatio Augustana (left) and Confessio Augustana (right) being presented to Charles V

The 1530 Confutatio Augustana was the Catholic response to the Augsburg Confession.

Council of Trent

A session of the Council of Trent, from an engraving

Pope Paul III (1534–1549) is considered the first pope of the Counter-Reformation,[3] and he also initiated the Council of Trent (1545–1563), tasked with institutional reform, addressing contentious issues such as corrupt bishops and priests, the sale of indulgences, and other financial abuses.

The council upheld the basic structure of the medieval church, its sacramental system, religious orders, and doctrine, and declined to update the ritual of the Mass since historical studies of the Mass were lacking at the time.[6] It rejected all compromise with the Protestants, restating basic tenets of the Roman Catholic faith. The council upheld salvation appropriated by grace through faith and works of that faith (not just by faith, as the Protestants insisted) because "faith without works is dead", as the Epistle of James states (2:22–26).

Transubstantiation, according to which the consecrated bread and wine are held to have been transformed really and substantially into the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ, was also reaffirmed, as were the traditional seven sacraments of the Catholic Church. Other practices that drew the ire of Protestant reformers, such as pilgrimages, the veneration of saints and relics, the use of venerable images and statuary, and the veneration of the Virgin Mary were strongly reaffirmed as spiritually commendable practices.

The council, in the Canon of Trent, officially accepted the Vulgate listing of the Old Testament Bible, which included the deuterocanonical works (called apocrypha by Protestants) on a par with the 39 books found in the Masoretic Text. This reaffirmed the previous Council of Rome and Synods of Carthage (both held in the 4th century AD), which had affirmed the Deuterocanon as scripture.[7] The council also commissioned the Roman Catechism, which served as authoritative church teaching until the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992).

While the traditional fundamentals of the church were reaffirmed, there were noticeable changes to answer complaints that the Counter-Reformers were, tacitly, willing to admit were legitimate. Among the conditions to be corrected by Catholic reformers was the growing divide between the clerics and the laity; many members of the clergy in the rural parishes had been poorly educated. Often, these rural priests did not know Latin and lacked opportunities for proper theological training. Addressing the education of priests had been a fundamental focus of the humanist reformers in the past.

Parish priests were to be better educated in matters of theology and apologetics, while Papal authorities sought to educate the faithful about the meaning, nature and value of art and liturgy, particularly in monastic churches (Reformed Protestants had criticised them as "distracting"). Notebooks and handbooks became more common, describing how to be good priests and confessors.

Thus, the Council of Trent attempted to improve the discipline and administration of the church. The worldly excesses of the secular Renaissance church, epitomized by the era of Alexander VI (1492–1503), intensified during the Reformation under Pope Leo X (1513–1521), whose campaign to raise funds for the construction of St. Peter's Basilica by supporting use of indulgences served as a key impetus for Martin Luther's 95 Theses. The Catholic Church responded to these problems by a vigorous campaign of reform, inspired by earlier Catholic reform movements that predated the Council of Constance (1414–1417): humanism, devotionalism, legalism and the observantine tradition.

The council, by virtue of its actions, repudiated the pluralism of the secular Renaissance that had previously plagued the church: the organization of religious institutions was tightened, discipline was improved, and the parish was emphasized. The appointment of bishops for political reasons was no longer tolerated. In the past, the large landholdings forced many bishops to be "absent bishops" who at times were property managers trained in administration. Thus, the Council of Trent combated "absenteeism", which was the practice of bishops living in Rome or on landed estates rather than in their dioceses. The Council of Trent also gave bishops greater power to supervise all aspects of religious life. Zealous prelates, such as Milan's Archbishop Carlo Borromeo (1538–1584), later canonized as a saint, set an example by visiting the remotest parishes and instilling high standards.

This 1711 illustration for the Index Librorum Prohibitorum depicts the Holy Ghost supplying the book burning fire.

Index Librorum Prohibitorum

The 1559–1967 Index Librorum Prohibitorum was a directory of prohibited books which was updated twenty times during the next four centuries as books were added or removed from the list by the Sacred Congregation of the Index. It was divided into three classes. The first class listed heretical writers, the second class listed heretical works, and the third class listed forbidden writings which were published without the name of the author. The Index was finally suspended on March 29, 1967.

Roman Catechism

The 1566 Roman Catechism was an attempt to educate the clergy.

Nova ordinantia ecclesiastica

The 1575 Nova ordinantia ecclesiastica was an addendum to the Liturgia Svecanæ Ecclesiæ catholicæ & orthodoxæ conformia, also called the "Red Book".[8] This launched the Liturgical Struggle, which pitted John III of Sweden against his younger brother Charles. During this time, Jesuit Laurentius Nicolai came to lead the Collegium regium Stockholmense. The overall counter-reformation effort was called the Missio Suetica.

Defensio Tridentinæ fidei

The 1578 Defensio Tridentinæ fidei was the Catholic response to the Examination of the Council of Trent.


The 1713 papal bull Unigenitus condemned 101 propositions of the French Jansenist theologian Pasquier Quesnel (1634–1719). Jansenism was a Protestant-leaning or mediating movement within Roman Catholicism that was criticized for being Crypto-Protestant. After Jansenism was condemned it led to the development of the Old Catholic Church of the Netherlands.

Other Languages
Alemannisch: Gegenreformation
العربية: إصلاح مضاد
asturianu: Contrarreforma
Bân-lâm-gú: Tùi-hoán Kái-kek
беларуская: Контррэфармацыя
беларуская (тарашкевіца)‎: Контрарэфармацыя
català: Contrareforma
čeština: Protireformace
español: Contrarreforma
français: Contre-Réforme
한국어: 반종교 개혁
Bahasa Indonesia: Reformasi Katolik
íslenska: Gagnsiðbótin
italiano: Controriforma
Lëtzebuergesch: Géigereformatioun
lietuvių: Kontrreformacija
Nederlands: Contrareformatie
norsk nynorsk: Motreformasjon
português: Contrarreforma
română: Contrareforma
rumantsch: Cuntrarefurma
Seeltersk: Juunreformation
Simple English: Counter-Reformation
slovenčina: Protireformácia
slovenščina: Protireformacija
српски / srpski: Контрареформација
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Kontrareformacija
українська: Контрреформація