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 initiated in response to the Protestant Reformation, beginning with the Council of Trent (1545–1563) and ending at the close of the Thirty Years' War (1648). 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 five major elements:

  1. Defense of Catholic sacramental practice;
  2. Ecclesiastical or structural reconfiguration;
  3. Religious orders;
  4. Spiritual movements;
  5. Political dimensions.

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.[2]

It also involved political activities that included the Roman Inquisition. 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.[2]

Various Counter-Reformation theologians focused only on defending doctrinal positions such as the sacraments and pious practices that were attacked by the Protestant reformers,[3] 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 juridicism" that had typified the church in the previous centuries.[4]

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 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.


The 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries saw a spiritual revival in Europe, in which the question of salvation became central. This became known as the Catholic Reformation. Several theologians[who?] harkened back to the early days of Christianity and questioned their spirituality. Their debates expanded across most of the Western Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries, whilst secular critics[who?] also examined religious practice, clerical behavior and the church's doctrinal positions. Several varied currents of thought were active, but the ideas of reform and renewal were led by the clergy.[citation needed]

The reforms decreed at Fifth Council of the Lateran (1512–1517) had only a small effect.[citation needed] Some doctrinal positions got further from the church's official positions,[citation needed] leading to the break with Rome and the formation of Protestant denominations. Even so, conservative and reforming parties still survived within the Catholic Church even as the Protestant Reformation spread. Protestants decisively broke from the Catholic Church in the 1520s. The two distinct dogmatic positions within the Catholic Church solidified in the 1560s. The Catholic Reformation became known as the Counter-Reformation, defined as a reaction to Protestantism rather than as a reform movement. The historian Henri Daniel-Rops wrote:

The term, however, though common, is misleading: it cannot rightly be applied, logically or chronologically, to that sudden awakening as of a startled giant, that wonderful effort of rejuvenation and reorganization, which in a space of thirty years gave to the Church an altogether new appearance. ... The so-called 'counter-reformation' did not begin with the Council of Trent, long after Luther; its origins and initial achievements were much anterior to the fame of Wittenberg. It was undertaken, not by way of answering the 'reformers,' but in obedience to demands and principles that are part of the unalterable tradition of the Church and proceed from her most fundamental loyalties.[5]

The regular orders made their first attempts at reform in the 14th century. The 'Benedictine Bull' of 1336 reformed the Benedictines and Cistercians. In 1523, the Camaldolese Hermits of Monte Corona were recognized as a separate congregation of monks. In 1435, Francis of Paola founded the Poor Hermits of Saint Francis of Assisi, who became the Minim Friars. In 1526, Matteo de Bascio suggested reforming the Franciscan rule of life to its original purity, giving birth to the Capuchins, recognized by the pope in 1619.[6] This order was well-known to the laity and play an important role in public preaching. To respond to the new needs of evangelism, clergy formed into religious congregations, taking special vows but with no obligation to assist in a monastery's religious offices. These regular clergy taught, preached and took confession but were under a bishop's direct authority and not linked to a specific parish or area like a vicar or canon.[6]

In Italy, the first congregation of regular clergy was the Theatines founded in 1524 by Gaetano and Cardinal Gian Caraffa. This was followed by the Somaschi Fathers in 1528, the Barnabites in 1530, the Ursulines in 1535, the Jesuits, canonically recognised in 1540, the Clerics Regular of the Mother of God of Lucca in 1583, the Camillians in 1584, the Adorno Fathers in 1588, and finally the Piarists in 1621. In 1524,[clarification needed] a number of priests in Rome began to live in a community centred on Philip Neri. The Oratorians were given their institutions in 1564 and recognized as an order by the pope in 1575. They used music and singing to attract the faithful.[7]

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