The Counter-Reformation Movement
The Catholic Church managed to survive the Reformation and to renew itself from within. The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were a time of the birth and rebirth of religious orders, of saints and mystics, of dedicated popes, and sweeping reforms ushered in by the Council of Trent (1545–1563).
Among religious orders, the new Oratory of Divine Love, founded in Genoa, Italy, in 1475, involved regular devotions and works of mercy for personal spiritual renewal. Composed of both laypeople and the clergy, it included members of the Curia. Important Christian humanists and reformers, including Gian Pietro Carafa (later Paul VI), came from the ranks of this order.
The Capuchin order branched out from the Franciscans as a result of the struggle against the Reformation. The Augustinians and Dominicans both undertook reforms, and the Dominican Antonio Ghislieri became Pius V (1566–1572), bringing greater integrity to the papal office.
The Carmelite order underwent reforms thanks to two saints, St. Teresa of ávila (1515–1582) and St. John of the Cross (1542–1591). Both saints were known for their mysticism and exceptional writing. St. Teresa wrote the inspirational
This time period also saw the founding of the Jesuit order by St. Ignatius of Loyola, a soldier who experienced spiritual enlightenment while recovering from his wounds. Active and practical, the Jesuits worked for propagation and defense of the faith. Members were recruited carefully and received proper training.
Other men and women who distinguished themselves by reforming or founding a religious order during the Counter-Reformation include the following:
Philip Neri (1515–1595), who founded the Oratorian Priests. Neri was a cheerful, zestful man with deep spiritual qualities. He was prominent in Rome during the latter part of the sixteenth century; as confessor of popes and cardinals, he no doubt influenced the transformation of the Curia.
Saint Francis de Sales (1567–1622), founder of the Salesians, managed to persuade the people of the Chablais district to return to the Catholic faith. His writings are held to be classic guides to the spiritual life.
St. Jane Frances de Chantal (1572–1641), a protégé of Francis de Sales, founded the order of the Sisters of the Visitation.
St. Vincent de Paul (1580–1660) founded the Congregation of the Mission, which did much to improve the French clergy. With Louise de Marillac, he established the Sisters of Charity in 1633. The nuns of this order were not cloistered. Instead, they went out to work among the poor and the sick and were instrumental in founding many hospitals.
Pope Paul III speeded up papal reform by appointing reformers to the College of Cardinals and by finally convening the Council of Trent (1545–1563), which accomplished a great deal.
The Council of Trent reaffirmed the primacy of the pope. It upheld the importance of tradition. It reminded Catholics that salvation requires hope and charity — manifested in good works — as much as it does faith in God's love. Additionally, it rejected Protestant beliefs on the number and nature of the sacraments.
The council strengthened the authority of the bishops and required each bishop to reside in his diocese. It passed regulations on the granting of indulgences and forbade the practices of simony (the buying of sacred things and offices) and pluralism (the holding of more than one diocese). Seminary education and clerical dress became mandatory for the diocesan priests, along with the practice of celibacy. The council encouraged the priests as well as the laity to be active in acquiring virtue and to meditate. The Council of Trent concluded under the reformer Pope Pius IV.
The next pope, Pius V (1504–1572), issued new editions of the Index of Forbidden Books, Catechism, the Breviary (the devotional book of priests), and missal. The new missal transformed the Roman Catholic Mass and made it uniform throughout the Church. With all the Catholic churches around the world adopting the same way of conducting the Mass, the faithful could go anywhere in the world and still find the same services familiar from home.