In order to understand the Counter Reformation one must consider the political factors and motivators behind them as well as the belief factors when examining clashes with the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church during 16th century experienced a reformation that was both politically and belief driven. The Catholic Reformation also known as the Counter Reformation allowed the church to clearly define its position, eliminate unchristian practices and examine its role in world.
This paper will address the political motivators of the Counter Reformation, the unchristian practices that fueled corruption and the clearly defined religious concerns of reformers. It will establish that the use of patronage and nepotism ultimately undermined the spiritual piety of the church. Also, the movements that brought spirituality back to the church will be addressed along with those movements that led to separation from church.
In detailing the events and character of this era and analyzing the outcomes of reform it will be concluded that the Counter Reformation was the beginning of a stronger church and an end to an era that quite possibly could have led to the dissolution of the Catholic Church. One must understand the political make up of the Catholic Church during this period prior to addressing the reforms to the church. The church was far more than a religious institution. The Catholic Church was supreme in Europe. The power of the pope was total and this was supplemented by the power the Holy Roman Emperor had as temporal defender of the Catholic Church.
Even though the church had no determinate territory it was a state. It had a monarch as a pope, it princes in prelates and its subjects in Western Christendom. It had legislative assemblies in ecumenical councils, a constitution in cannon law, and fiscal agency in the Curia. It went to war, negotiated treaties and collected taxies. The church was the Holy Roman Empire with a stronghold throughout Europe. But this would quickly change. (www. History) At the time of the reformation there was great concern that the Old Church with all its history and tradition was in trouble.
This concern came from both within the church and outside the church. Protestant and Catholic reformers alike were troubled by the corruption in the church and its inner workings. Reformers saw that the Christian faith had in many ways been taken captive by a religious system more interested in politics and social accomplishment than in following the example of Christ. They saw the church and its leadership filled with corruption and greed. The Renaissance popes who led the church were not spiritual leaders. Those at the top of the clergy were wealthy and lived lavish lifestyles.
They indulged in nepotism, power politics and patronage. Furthermore, the priests at the bottom were poor and unable to administer to the multiple parishes in their charge. Thus it can be said that Counter Reformation was a response to a need for clarity in purpose. But also, one can also say that the Counter Reformation was a natural and necessary response to the Protestant reformation. Catholic reform was slow until after the Protestant Revolution began to make serious in roads upon the ancient faith. A variety of Protestant sects had made their ways into almost half the nations of the Europe by the 16th century.
Catholics were dismayed by the great increase in unorthodoxy. Many claim that the Counter Reformation was initiated to win back lost souls. Thus it can be said that the Counter Reformation was a response to maintain and gain back the followers. (Bossy) There were a variety of movements that initiated reform within the church. The Catholic Church during the Middles Ages had lost much as a religious institution. During this period ignorance and corruption in the church was insidious. One only has to look at the church leaders in Spain as evidence.
Some priest didn’t even understand the Latin in the mass, monks kept concubines and clerics ran taverns and brothels. In response steps were taken toward reform as early as the end of the 15th century. This initial reform from within started as a grassroots effort by zealous monastic groups. Reformers like Cardinal Jimenez realized that the only way to succeed in the war against heresy was to reform the church. Jimenez devoted his life to reforming and educating the clergy. His work came on the heals of the Spanish Inquisition. Through his works the Spanish church by the time of his death in 1517 rested on a moral foundation of iron.
Yet Christianity throughout the rest of Europe was sinking deeper into scandal and corruption. (103TL) Another initiative that led to reform was the revival of mysticism and monasticism. Both mysticism and monasticism gave the Church’s followers a more personal relationship with God. Actually one can look to Teresa of Avila as an example. Her reconversion to the faith led to the establishment of 17 convents of the Carmelite Order. Through her works a movement of Christianity arose that could be practiced and experienced from within the believer.
This kind of reform was another factor why the Protestant movement did not take hold in Spain. Followers had faith that stressed personal devotion so why would they look to change faiths. (Bell and Sumner) Like Spain reform had begun in the church’s strong hold Italy prior to the Counter Reformation. There were reasons that Protestantism did gain the firm foothold it gained in the north. “Most prosperous Italians were secularly and humanistically inclined and found little in the dour doctrines of the north to inspire a transfer of allegiance, they also saw Catholicism as a buttress of social order.
The papacy was a cherished institution and the source of great wealth which few cared to see destroyed. Reform in Italy was largely motivated by monastic groups that were compelled to spread their religion and due good works”. (103Simon ) The revival of Monasticism strengthened during the Counter Reformation. The reforming monasteries were known to address the social and religious needs of the masses. Orders like the Capuchins, the Theatines, and the Barbanites began to appear. Probably the most important new order was the Society of Jesus.
The Jesuits were founded by the great reformer Ignatius of Loyola. The Jesuits emphasized obedience to Christ and the Church of Rome. They devoted themselves to service to God. The Jesuits were a highly selective order and they only welcomed those who spirituality reflected Loyola. One must be willing to engage in unquestionable obedience to the Pope in this order. The mission of the Jesuits was to educate the young, lead the Protestant back to Catholicism and take the Catholic message to the world. The Jesuit Order made the church stronger in that it brought back standards of Catholic priests.
Their mission was huge, it was the whole world and their efforts led to the spread of Christianity outside of Europe. Their efforts strengthened the church and increased the number of followers. The renewed Church of the latter 16th Century was largely a product of the Jesuits. (Koch) Another group that favored reform was the humanists. The humanists were a scholarly group that was well versed on the Bible. They knew that the Catholic Church needed to reform from within if it was to look anything like what written about in the Book of Acts. Their concern was addressed through the working of Contarini.
Contarini had drawn up a report on the papacy for Pope Paul III which clearly outlined the problems in the Catholic Church identifying secularism, materialism and abuses from the office of the pope. From these concerns Paul the reigning pope made changes in the government of the papacy and he eliminated the taking money for church appointments. Pope Paul III was different from him predecessors in that he was a reformer pope. (Bell Sumner) The contribution to reform from these groups might not have been huge but it was the start of something big.
The humanist, mystics, and monastics were the product of Renaissance thinking which allowed one to question. Their concerns with faith, spirit and mission showed how far the church had strayed. The churchs focus was power and that needed to be addressed. In troubling times there is always tension between groups that have the desire to reform and those that wish to separate from it. When viewing the Counter Reformation as an after effect of the Protestant Reformation one must address the concerns held by Martin Luther.
The Protestant Reformation lead by Martin Luther was set in motion over the scandalous hawking of indulgences, during the reign of Pope Leo X. Indulgences were sold as a guarantee for salvation. Christians were actually purchasing or performing services in return for indulgences. Thus these “magical cleaners” would purify them without having to change their behaviors; a true mockery to God’s saving power. Selling of indulgences had been endorsed by the popes in order to support the church and the papacy’s greed. (Simon) This scandalous practice was the cornerstone to change.
One must understand how far the selling of indulgences was from the original intent of the church. The original intention of indulgences was to offer Christians a way of dong good as penance for their sins. Money that was raised from the selling of indulgences was used to construct lavish churches while the common people lived in basically abject poverty. In essence indulgences were a source of funding for the church through coercion and threats that made the masses of believers into the financial supporters of a chosen few. Thus one can assume as did Luther that the religious practices of the church were in need of reform.
Martin Luther’s, an Augustinian Monk, discontentment with the practices of the church resulted in a respectfully worded letter to the Archbishop Albert stating his concern. His 95 These proposed dramatic reform to the church. With the advent of the printing press Luther’s manifesto spread far and wide. As the masses discussed these Theses they naturally began to take sides on the issues and the Church as a whole. Could the pope grant indulgences? Wasn’t faith enough for salvation? Wasn’t the Bible the only source of Christian Faith? How should the money collected from indulgences be used?
Luther proclaimed that the Bible was the sole supreme authority in the life of a Christian. Contrary to the church’s position that the Bible and the Church tradition have equal authority. Luther’s point was that people cannot merit or earn salvation by doing good works; salvation comes as a sheer gift. He placed indulgences in the same category as all other efforts to secure god’s grace. Martin Luther called for a general council to address these concerns. His appeal was met with indifference and thus a break away movement from the church commenced.
The movement spread quickly across Europe. This was a clear indication of the dissatisfaction with Catholic practices. The discontented separated. Within a short time new forms of religious practices, doctrines and dogmas including Lutherans, Calvinism and Anglicans were attracting adherents all over Europe. The discontented were not only in the form of followers but as nations as a whole. Rulers chose the religions of their nations. By the mid 16th century parts of Germany, Scandinavia, Switzerland, France, the Netherlands, England and parts of Eastern Europe had split from the church.
For those who separated from the church it meant independence from church taxes and the Holy Roman Emperor. With the Catholic Church’s loss of control and power went the financial support of these nations. Of course, the loss of so many followers should be considered as an impetus to the Counter Reformation, but not a spiritual impetus. In response to the new Protestant churches, the Catholic Church underwent a reformation. Catholics were dismayed by the great increase in unorthodoxy. It seemed as if nothing would stop the Protestant revolution from engulfing the whole continent.
With the church being challenged by kings for its hand in their domestic power and revenues, scholars like Luther, questioning the dogma, men of all classes chafed under the taxes laid on the laity and bitter grievances against the church’s wealth the reformation was a necessary outcome. When looking at the motivators of reform one must remember the power of the church and its leaders. It’s quite ironic that Pope Paul III who can be credited as the initiator of reform in the papacy was the product of Renaissance luxury and continued the practice of patronage by appointing his nephews as cardinals.
Likewise he lavishly patronized the arts. Yet Pope Paul III was a transition figure in the Church. Still maintaining ways of the past he addressed the issues at hand. The Catholic Church was well aware that changes needed to be made and of its shortcomings. It recognized the gap between ideals and practices. Paul III, in 1534 called for the Council of Trent to resolve the religious difference created by the Protestant revolt. Protestants were to be invited and their concerns were to be addressed, yet they were not allowed to participate.
Here one can sees that political motivation outweighs the belief factor. Even a reformer like Paul III wanted to maintain control by having only Catholics involved. The council was to have two purposes. First to bring Protestant and Catholic back together and second to state clearly the ideals of the Catholic Church. The first purpose was dropped as a consideration when the Lutherans failed to attend. (Mac Culloch) The Council of Trent met sporadically over the next three decades in three sessions. The reason for the longevity and sporadicness of the Council is seen the Roman Catholic Church’s preoccupation with wars and serious religious arguments. (1545-1547, 1551-1552, 1562-1563) Even with these interruptions the council resulted in a spectacular resurgence for Catholicism. At Trent, Catholic leaders rejected all attempts to compromise with Protestantism and retained the basic positions of the Roman Church, including the Latin Mass, the veneration of saints, the cult of the Virgin Mary, all seven sacraments are valid, the Mass is a sacrifice and the notion that salvation required both faith and good works.
They defended Catholic theology and emphasized reforms, ordering an end to abuses of power and corruption within the clergy and establishing seminaries to educate priests. Finally, the council came out strongly in support of papal power, strengthening the authority of the papacy. (www. BBC) After the Council of Trent the Roman Catholic Church gained an organizational framework, a clear body of doctrine, and unified church under the supremacy of the papacy. Many of the teachings that were reaffirmed at the Council of Trent gave the church greater power.
For example, it was confirmed that Christian faith is based in the Bible and also the traditions of the Catholic Church which left no room for interpretation of the Bible. The papacy’s interpretation of the Bible was the final word. Salvation comes through both having faith and doing good works. Not from favors through patronage. Gone were the days of cynical pleasure loving popes. Throughout and prior to the Reformation Period, many of the higher clergy were the wealthy and the privileged.
In order to maintain a following and to perform one’s duties bishops who lived outside their dioceses were ordered to return. This was the end to pluralism and believers would have leaders in their dioceses. Celibacy for priest was upheld. The coverting would end. Bishops were ordered to eliminate abuses surrounding the granting of indulgences. This was clearly in reference to the corruption and Luther. Each diocese that did not have a university was to set up a seminary for training priests. This was to maintain the stronghold of the church and gain followers.
To strengthen and direct the religious teachings the pope was to follow up the meetings with a catechism, a book of daily prayers for priests and an index of forbidden books that contradicted the faith . a commission composed a missal that standardized prayers and ritual of the mass. A reform that would clarify the teachings. All and all the most positive effect of the Council is that it did reform many of the church abuses. Religious orders returned to their rules, and new orders were founded to undertake the reform started by the council.
Reform was achieved by the council of Trent but not unity. A strengthened church would be able to rebuild and grow. The council of Trent failed to reunite the followers of Protestant sects. The decisions for reform came too late and most of the decisions supported Catholic teaching. In addition, the period of the Council of Trent was marred by a revival of inquisition most notably in Spain. As one takes a closer look at the inner workings of the Council of Trent it is clearly evident that the proceedings were politically motivated by the papal authority.
There was a difference of opinion about the function of the council, particularly between Paul and Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, who had been calling for reform for a long time. Spain had long since reformed, and was the only place in modern day Europe with little or no Protestantism. Charles expected the council to ‘clean up’ the church, remove abuses etc. that he believed were causing the flow of Catholic defectors. Paul however, had no such wish. He believed that drawing up in black and white what was acceptable and what was heretical to the church, in defense to the Protestant attacks on Catholic beliefs.
Although at the time it was agreed to look at both complaints simultaneously, as it turned out, Paul had little intention of looking at the issue of abuses. Because of this, Charles quickly lost interest in the council, meaning that there was now no France and no Spain attending the council, leaving the way open for the Pope to have a freer run of the council, which he did. He focused on the exact recording of Catholic beliefs; this was intended to force Catholics who sympathized with some Protestant beliefs, to decide one way or another whose side they were on.
This is what it did, rather successfully. Paul was not interested in reaching any kind of compromise with the Protestants; instead he wished to oust them from the Church, as far as he was concerned, they were heretics, who would burn in hell for the rest of eternity. For him to compromise with them would be a heretical act in itself. Also ignored were the protests of Catholic humanist theologians, who had for some time believed that reform was necessary, and who also believed that with the arrival of the council, these matters would be addressed.
This was not the case, and the theologians that attended the council to put across their point of view, were usually outmaneuvered by the council Legates, who although being mainly of an Italian nationality, were seen generally as ‘neutral chairmen’. These legates quite often employed Jesuit theologians to argue their cases for them. This was extremely effective; indeed, one could say that they were the reason that a lot of Protestant arguments never really got off the ground. (coursework. web) Another implication of Council of Trent was in the calling together of a council.
Many believed like Luther that a council should be called to address issues concerning the papacy, not the pope addressing the issues. There had been great fear of conciliatory meetings prior to the Council of Trent because it was believed by the popes that the council would try to take papal control away from the Pope. And in all actuality the Council of Trent reflected this concern. The 270 bishops who attended the Council of Trent were mainly Italians which were a great bonus to the pope as they were under his control. So it can be said that what passed at Trent was what was acceptable to the Pope.
The problem of patronage that was so evident in this society was actually playing a role in the Council of Trent. But that would change with a reformed church. Patronage is for the most part power-who gets it, who keeps it, and what they do with it. Power in this case is the control over the behaviors of others, and it may be derived from physical force, control over scarce economic resources, social prestige, or a mix of all of these. Patronage is an indirect for of power, a patron influences the behaviors of others in order in order to advance or withdraw benefits.
The debt which his clients have allows the patron the ability to manipulate them; his control over their behaviors gives him power. (Kettering) In a society based on favors the Counter-Reformation was in some instances a shift of power. Prior to the Reformation the wealthy and privileged had the opportunity to place members of their families, kin into the clergy. Actually some patrons were able to expand their power through this method. For power and privilege were the driving forces of the Renaissance Italian society. During the Counter-Reformation after the Council of Trent a large shift in power occurred in Italy.
The Pope who was once a large political figure in Italy had lost his political power but gained Religious Power. Patrons, who had dispersed kin as clergy members all over Italy, also lost power. Their power of placement of clergy was no longer allowed and bishops were given the choice of where clergy members should be located. The Political power that had once belonged to both the Pope and the Patrons had now been given to the sovereigns of the separated nations, who full well knew that in the Council of Trent their power would grow.
The Council of was a turning-point in the Catholic Church. There was a certainty in practices and beliefs, the church’s foundation had been strengthened and there was a base to grow. Catholicism had reestablished itself and it was a force to be dealt with. By the end of the sixteenth century the Catholic Church was still making some serious reforms. This reform movement which extended into the seventeenth century raised moral and educational standards of the clergy. All inspired by the church with a new zeal and morale. One must conclude that reform was needed.