English: Council of Trent, detail: Allegory of...

English: Council of Trent, detail: Allegory of the Roman Catholic Church. Santa Maria in Trastvere, Rome (Photo credit: Wikipedia)






Inside of the Roman Catholic Church in Győrvár

Inside of the Roman Catholic Church in Győrvár (Photo credit: Wikipedia)





Not long after the Reformation began, a mighty effort was made by the Roman Catholic Church to regain its lost ground in Europe, to subvert the Protestant faith, and to promote Roman Catholic missions in foreign lands. This movement is called the Counter-Reformation.


Reform within the church was attempted through the Council of Trent, called in 1545 by Pope Paul III, mainly to investigate and put an end to abuses which had called forth the Reformation. The council met at different times, and in more than one place, though mainly at Trent in Austria, seventy-six miles northwest of Venice. It was composed of all the bishops and abbots of the church, and lasted nearly twenty years, through the reigns of four popes, from 1545 to 1563. The hope had been that the chasm between Catholics and Protestants might be bridged over, and Christianity reunited; but this could not be accomplished. Yet many reforms were made, the doctrines of the church were definitely stated, and even Protestants admit that the popes since the Council of Trent have been better men than many of those before it. The result of the council might be considered a conservative reformation within the Roman Catholic


Inside of the Roman Catholic Church in Újkér

Inside of the Roman Catholic Church in Újkér (Photo credit: Wikipedia)




A more powerful influence in the Counter-Reformation was the Order of Jesuits, established in 1534 by the Spaniard, Ignatius Loyola. This was a monastic order characterized by the union of the strictest discipline, the most intense loyalty to the church and the order, the deepest religious devotion, and a strong proselyting endeavor. Its principal aim was to fight the Protestant movement with methods both open and secret, and it became so powerful as to incur the bitterest opposition, even in Roman Catholic countries. It was suppressed in nearly every state of Europe, and by decree of Pope Clement XIV, 1773, forbidden throughout the church. But it was continued for a time in secret, afterward openly, was again recognized by the pope in 1814, and is now one of the most potent forces for the spreading and strengthening of the Roman Catholic Church throughout the world.


Active persecution was another weapon employed to quell the growing spirit of reform. It is true that Protestants also persecuted, even to death; but generally their motive was political, rather than religious. In England, those put to death were mainly Catholics who conspired against Queen Elizabeth. But on the continent every Roman Catholic government sought by fire and sword to extirpate the Protestant faith. In Spain, the Inquisition was established and untold multitudes were tortured and burned. In the Low Countries, the Spanish rulers undertook to kill every one suspected of heresy. In France, the persecuting spirit reached its height in the massacre on St. Bartholomew’s Day, and for weeks afterward, in 1572, when by different estimates from twenty thousand to seventy thousand people perished. These persecutions in every land where Protestantism was not in control of the government, not only stayed the reforming tide, but in some countries, notably Bohemia and Spain, crushed it out.


English: Renaissance print

English: Renaissance print (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


The missionary efforts of the Catholic Church must be recognized as one of the forces in the Counter-Reformation. This was largely, though not entirely, under the direction of the Jesuits. It resulted in the conversion of all the native races of South America and Mexico, and in a large part of Canada; and in the establishment of great missions in India and the lands adjoining by the saintly Francis Xavier, one of the original founders of the Jesuit society. Roman Catholic missions in heathen lands began centuries earlier than Protestant missions, and have greatly increased the numbers and power of the church.


As the inevitable effect of the clashing interests and aims of the Reformed and Catholic states in Germany, a war began in 1618, a century after the opening of the Reformation, and finally involved nearly all the European nations. It is known in history as the Thirty Years’ War. Political rivalries as well as religious became involved, and states of the same faith were at times on opposing sides. For nearly a generation the strife went on, and all Germany suffered by the Peace of Westphalia, which fixed the boundaries of Roman Catholic and Protestant states mainly as they have continued unto the present time. At that


English: Roman Catholic church, Târgovişte, Ro...

English: Roman Catholic church, Târgovişte, Romania (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


point, therefore, the Period of the Reformation may be considered as ended.


In and epoch so momentous, embracing so many lands, and fraught with such far-reaching results, there were of necessity many leaders on both the Reformed and Catholic sides. Only a few of these can be named in our brief account of the movement.


Desiderius Erasmus, born in Rotterdam, Holland, 1466, was one of the greatest scholars of the Renaissance and Reformation period. He was trained in a monastery and ordained as a priest in 1492, and devoted himself to literature. At different times he lived in Paris, England, Switzerland, and Italy, but his home was mainly at Basel, in Switzerland. Before the Reformation opened, he became a relentless critic of the Roman Catholic Church, in many writings, of which the most widely circulated was his “Praise of Folly.” His greatest and most valuable work was his edition of the New Testament in Greek, with a Latin translation. Although Erasmus accomplished as much as any man of his age in preparing for the Reformation, yet he never joined the movement, remained outwardly a Catholic and criticized the Reformers as sharply as he did the old church. He died in 15356


Unquestionably the foremost figure in the period was Martin Luther, “the founder of Protestant civilization.” He was born at Eisleben, in 1483, the son of a miner, who, by great effort, sent him to the University of Erfurt. Luther aimed to be a lawyer, but suddenly felt the call of duty to become a monk, and entered the Augustinian monastery. He was ordained to the priesthood, and soon attracted notice by his ability; was sent to Rome in 1510, and was disenchanted by what  he saw there of the worldliness and wickedness in the church. In 1511 he began his career as a reformer by attacking the selling of “indulgences,” or pardons for sins, and as we have seen nailed his these to the  door of the church in Wittenberg. When excommunicated, cited to Rome, and in his absence, condemned by Pope Leo X, he burned the pope’s bull or decree, in 1520. He made his celebrated response at the Diet of Worms, April 18, 1521. While returning home, in danger of assassination by his enemies, he was seized by his friends,and hidden for nearly a year in the Wartburg Castle. He employed his seclusion in the translation into German of the New Testament. Returning to Wittenberg, he became again the leader in the Reformation. In 1529 an effort was made to unite the followers of Luther and Zwingli, but it was unsuccessful, on account of Luther’s unwavering, uncompromising spirit. He was the author of many writings, which circulated throughout Germany, but most influential of all was his matchless translation of the Bible. He died while on a visit to his birthplace, Eisleben, February 18, 1546, at the age of sixty-three.


Perenye, The Roman Catholic Church

Perenye, The Roman Catholic Church (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


John Calvin, the greatest theologian in Christendom since St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, was born at Noyon, France, July 10, 1509, and died at Geneva, Switzerland, May 27, 1564. He studied at Paris, Orleans, and Bourges, embraced the Reformed teachings in 1528, and was banished from Paris. In 1536 he published at Basel his Institutes of the Christian Religion, which became the basis of the doctrine of all the Protestant churches except the Lutheran. In 1536 he fled to Geneva, where he lived, with an interruption of a few years of banishment, until his death. His Protestant Academy, which he founded with Theodore Beza and other Reformers, became one of the principal centers of Protestantism in Europe. The Calvinistic theology and the Lutheran theology possess rational and radical traits which have inspired the liberal movements of modern times, in both state and church, and have contributed mighty to the progress of democracy throughout the world.


Thomas Cranmer may be regarded as the leader of the English Reformation, from his position as the first Protestant at the head of the English Church. While a young man he fell under the favorable notice of King Henry VIII through his suggestion of an appeal to the universities of Europe on the question of the king’s divorce. He served Henry VIII on various embassies, and was made Archbishop of Canterbury. Although progressive in his views, he was also timid and pliable, wielding his influence for moderate rather than radical measures of reform in the church. During the minority of King Edward VI he was one of the regents, and was able to advance the cause of Protestantism. Cranmer’s greatest service was as one of the compilers of the Prayer Book, and writer of nearly all the articles of religion. On the accession of Queen Mary, he was deposed from his archbishopric, and committed to prison. Under stress of suffering he recanted his Protestant opinions in hope of saving his life, but was condemned to die by burning. Before his martyrdom, in 1556, he renounced his disavowal, and died bravely, holding out in the fire his right hand which had signed his recantation, that it might be the first


The Roman Catholic Church in Káptalantóti

The Roman Catholic Church in Káptalantóti (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


to burn.


John Knox was the founder of the Scottish Church, and has been rightly called “the father of Scotland.” He was born in or near 1505, in the Lowlands, was educated at the University of St. Andrews for the priesthood, and ordained, but instead of entering upon the pastorate became a teacher. Not until he was forty-two years old, about 1547, did he embrace the cause of reform. He was made prisoner with other Reformers by the French allies of the Queen-regent, and sent to France, where he served in the galleys, but was released, and spent some years as and exile partly under King Edward VI, and after the accession of Queen Mary, on the Continent. At Geneva he met John Calvin, and adopted his views both in doctrine and in church government. In 1559 he returned to Scotland, and became at once the leader, almost the absolute ruler, in the Reformation of that land. He was able to make the Presbyterian faith and order supreme in Scotland, and to direct a reform more radical than in any other land of Europe. He died in 1572. As his body was lowered intl its grave, Morton, the regent of Scotland, pointed to it with the words, “There lies a man who never feared!”


Among the great men of this great period, at least two should be named of those eminent on the Roman Catholic side. One of these Ignatius of Loyola, a Spaniard, born either in 1491 or 1495, of a noble family, in the Castle of Loyola. from which he took his name. Up to the age of twenty-six he was a brave, though dissolute soldier; but after a severe wound and a ling illness he devoted himself to the service of the church, and in 1534 established the Society of Jesus, generally known as the Jesuits, the most powerful institution of modern times for the promotion of the Roman Catholic Church. His writings were very few, the constitutions of the order, which have been practically unchanged to the present time; his letters, and “Spiritual Exercises,” a small work, but one that has greatly influenced not only the Jesuits, but all the Catholic religious orders. Ignatius of Loyola must be recognized as one of the most remarkable and most influential personalities in the sixteenth century. He died in Rome, July 31, 1556, and was canonized as a saint in 1622.


Roman Catholic Church from Orsova

Roman Catholic Church from Orsova (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Saint Francis Xavier(who well deserved his title) was born in 1506 in the Spanish section of Navarre, at that time an independent kingdom on both sides of the Pyrenees. He was one of the original members of the Jesuit society, and took for his department of its work that of foreign missions, of which he became the modern founder. He established the Roman Catholic faith in India, in the island of Ceylon, in Japan, and in other lands of the Far East. He was just beginning a work in China, when he died suddenly of a fever, in 1552, at the age of only forty-six years. During his short life he brought about the conversion of pagans numbering many thousands; and he organized his mission so wisely that the Christianizing movement went on after his death. As the result of his labors and plans the Roman Catholics in the East now include many millions. Throughout his life Xavier showed a gentle, broad-minded, generous spirit which has endeared his memory to Protestants as well as to Catholics.





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