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The subject will be considered under the following heads:
I. Significance of the term
II. Low ebb of Catholic fortunes
III. St. Ignatius and the Jesuits, pioneers of the new movement
IV. The Council of Trent
V. Three great reforming popes
VI. The missions
VII. Progress in European States
VIII. Ecclesiastical literature
IX. Close of the period and retrospect.
The term Counter-Reformation denotes the period of Catholic revival from the pontificate of Pope Pius IV in 1560 to the close of the Thirty Years' War, 1648. The name, though long in use among Protestant historians, has only recently been introduced into Catholic handbooks. The consequence is that it already has a meaning and an application, for which a word with a different nuance should perhaps have been chosen. For in the first place the name suggests that the Catholic movement came after the Protestant; whereas in truth the reform originally began in the Catholic Church, and Luther was a Catholic Reformer before he became a Protestant. By becoming a Protestant Reformer, he did indeed hinder the progress of the Catholic reformation, but he did not stop it. It continued to gain headway in the Catholic South until it was strong enough to meet and roll back the movement from the North. Even if our Catholic reform had been altogether posterior to the Protestant, we could not admit that our reform movement owed its motive power or its line of action to the latter, in the way that modern reform movements among Orientals are due to the influence of European thought. For the principles of the Protestant Reformation are to Catholics principles leading to deformation and to the perpetuation of abuses, such as the subservience of Church to State, or the marriage of the clergy, to say nothing of doctrinal error. Both the continuance and correction of the same abuse cannot be due to the same movement. Moreover, it will be seen that the Catholic reform was not even originally due to reaction from Protestantism, in the way In which inert nations are sometimes spurred by initial defeats to increased energy, which In the end may even make them victorious. Though this reaction undoubtedly had its effect on certain Catholic reformers, it had little or no influence on the leaders or on the best representatives of the movement, as, for instance, on St. Ignatius, its pioneer, or on St. Philip Neri and St. Vincent de Paul, exemplars of its maturity.
Another point to be noticed is that, though we assign certain dates for the beginning and end of the period under consideration, there has never been any break in the striving of the Church against the heresies which arose in the sixteenth century. In this sense the Counter-Reformation began in the time of Luther and is not even yet closed. But while the points of similarity between this period and those which preceded and followed it might be dwelt upon at some length, and must occasionally be called to mind, there is no reason for rejecting the term, or for denying that it corresponds with a real and important historical period. Historical periods, it will be remembered, are never sharply cut off, during the actual course of events, from what goes before and comes after, as they are described in books; for history in the concrete is always continuous. In this case the limits of the period are to be measured not by reversals of reforming policy and methods, but by the increased or decreased energy with which such reformation is pursued. When there is intense zeal on the part of many for making reforms, then is the "period" of reform. Similarly this "period" ceases when such zeal becomes rare, or only mediocre in intensity, even though it does really continue here and there in some individuals or classes. It would be a misrepresentation of the heroes of the Counter-Reformation to describe their reforms as having differed from those of the older opponents of Protestantism, except in degree, in earnestness, thoroughness, adaptability to altered circumstances, etc. Their predecessors had been clear in the condemnation and punishment of error. They had preached, pleaded, threatened, even fought, but they did not remodel their ways seriously everywhere, in small things and in great. They did not institute new and vast schemes of education, or alter the constitutions of their States. They did not succeed in awakening the enthusiasm of their party, or in encouraging whole classes to make heroic sacrifices, or heroic efforts. But there did come a time when there was such heroism on a large scale, when whole classes, as for instance episcopates, new religious orders, and even the laity (as in England during the persecutions), were filled with enthusiasm; when martyrs were numerous; when great writers, preachers, and leaders abounded; when education was attended to from the highest motives and with the greatest interest; when the old duties of life were discharged with an alertness, a faith, a meaning which were new; when for a time Catholic rulers and whole States rose superior to considerations of self-interest.
The span of time during which this enthusiasm lasted may be justly considered as an historical period, and it is that which we call the period of the Counter-Reformation. It may also be well to note at the outset that this period is the harder to follow, not only because of its continuity with previous and succeeding periods, but also because it did not commence or end at the same time in any two countries, and in each land began, grew strong, and died away, through different causes, in different ways and degrees, and at different times. Broadly considered, however, the dates assigned above will be shown to be perfectly accurate.
"From the time of St. Peter there has not been a pontificate so unfortunate as mine. How I regret the past! Pray for me." Such were the sad words of Pope Paul IV to Father Laynez, as he lay dying in August, 1559 (Oliver Manare, Commentarius de rebus Soc. Jesu, Florence, 1886, 125). It never looks darker, it is said, than just before dawn; the prospects of Catholicism at that moment did indeed seem gloomy to the watchers in the Vatican. Luigi Mocenigo, Venetian ambassador at Rome, sent thence to the seignory this report on the situation:
In many countries, obedience to the pope has almost ceased, and matters are becoming so critical that, if God does not interfere, they will soon be desperate . . . Germany . . . leaves little hope of being cured. Poland is in almost as hopeless a state. The disorders which have just lately taken place in France and Spain are too well known for me to speak of them, and the Kingdom of England . . . after returning a short time since to her old obedience, has again fallen into heresy. Thus the spiritual power of the pope is so straitened that the only remedy is a council summoned by the common consent of all princes. Unless this reduces the affairs of religion to order, a grave calamity is to be feared.
Another Venetian diplomatist (and these men were reckoned among the most acute of their day) wrote not long after, that Cardinal Morone, when leaving for the council, told him that "there was no hope" (Albéri, Relazioni degli ambasciatori Veneti, 1859, II, iv, 22, 82). Though Morone's prophecy was soon falsified the events about to be described, his words must be considered as conclusive proof that even the bravest and best-informed in Rome regarded the situation with profound discouragement, and it will be worth while to seek an explanation by going back to Mocenigo's words. At the same time, without attempting an account of the Reformation itself, notice may be taken of what had hitherto been done in order to stem the religious revolution.
Even before the Protestant Reformation the holding of synods and provincial councils had been frequent, and they had always been attentive to points requiring reform. After it, the popes had sent thither a succession of legates and nuncios, such as Aleander, Campeggio, Cajetan, Contarini, Morone, who had upon the whole been men of conspicuous sincerity, vigour, and prudence. There had also been found among the German Catholics many men of splendid eloquence and zeal, of holy life and ceaseless labour, such as Tetzel, Johann von Eck, Miltitz, Nausea, Jerome Emser, Julius Pflug, Johann Gropper, who had striven courageously and most effectively on the Catholic side. The Emperor Charles V had laboured upon the whole with marked devotion in favour of Catholicism, though his Italian policy, it is true, had frequently been repugnant to the wishes and the interests of the Roman pontiffs. But now he was gone, and his successors, Philip II of Spain and Ferdinand of Austria, whether their energy and devotion or the power which they wielded be considered, were far inferior to him as champions and protectors of Catholicism. There had, of course, been some, indeed many, improvements on the Catholic side. The German episcopate, once so worthless, now numbered many noble characters, of whom Otto von Truchsess, Bishop of Augsburg and afterwards cardinal, was the most brilliant representative. The Dominican and Franciscan friars had showed from the first to advantage; always ready to meet the foe, they everywhere encouraged and strengthened the men of their own side, and prevented many defections (see N. Paulus, Die deutschen Dominikaner im Kampf gegen Luther, 1903). The first Jesuits too had won many notable successes. Thus while on the one hand it was evident that there was still life in the Church of Germany, while there was no intrinsic impossibility in carrying further the good that had begun, on the whole the outlook was as dark as the retrospect. No bulwark against Protestantism had yet been found. Attempts to conclude a "religious peace" or an "Interim", at the various diets of Nuremberg, Speyer, Ratisbon, and Augsburg seemed to effect nothing better than to give the Protestants breathing time for fresh organization, and so prepare the way for new attacks and victories. The Turks were pressing on Hungary and Austria from the south-east; the French, allying themselves with the Reformers, had invaded the German West, and had annexed the "three bishoprics" Metz, Verdun, and Toul. Charles had then made large sacrifices to get the Protestants to agree to "the religious peace of Augsburg" (1555), in order to combine all forces against France. The alliance was made, but was unsuccessful; the French retained their conquests; Charles retreated; the power of Catholic Germany seemed to be under an eclipse. Mocenigo might well say that "Germany leaves little hope of being cured".
"Poland is in almost as hopeless a state." Protestantism had latterly gained ground rapidly. In 1555 a "national synod" had been held, which had requested the marriage of priests, Communion under both kinds, Mass in Polish, the abolishment of "annates". Such demands had but too often proved the forerunners of a lapse to Protestantism, and in fact in 1557 the weak King Sigismund Augustus had allowed "liberty" of conscience in Danzig and some other towns. There were waverers even among the clergy and the bishops, like James Uchanski, Archbishop of Gnesen and Primate of Poland in 1562. Fortunately the evil was not yet deeply rooted in the country. There had been no sweeping confiscations of church property, nor apostasies among the actual rulers. The great bishop and cardinal, Stanislas Hosius, was rising to fame, and behind him stood a number of zealous clergy, who would in due time renew the face of the Church; Still for the moment the state of the country was very serious. (See Krause, Die Reformation und Gegenreform. im ehemaligen Königreiche Polen, Posen, 1901.)
"The disorders in France and Spain are too well known for me to speak of them." The first open revolt of the Huguenots, styled the Tumulte d'Amboise, had taken place just before Mocenigo wrote. Hitherto, France though allying herself with the heretics of Germany, had preserved her own religious peace. But the converts to Protestantism were numerous and well organized, and counted not a few of the highest nobility and of the blood royal, especially princes of the House of Bourbon, to which the crown was destined to fall ere very long. The ruling sovereign, Francis II, was but a boy, and though for the moment the House of Lorraine and the family of the Guises brought victory to the Catholics, the position was one of evident danger, and was soon to result in a long series of wars of religion.
The troubles of Spain were in a sense rather foreign than domestic. It was true that there had been some defections, as Enzinas (Dryander), Servetus, and Valdez. Though not numerous, these had been sufficient to cause much alarm and suspicion, so much so that the Archbishop of Toledo himself, Bartolomé Carranza was put on his trial. (Cf. Schäfer, "Gesch. des spanischen Protestantismus", Gütersloh, 1902; Menéndez y Pelayo, "Historia de los heterodoxos Españoles", Madrid, 1880-82.) The proceedings lasted a long term of years, but in the end nothing could be proved against him. There was also danger from the Moriscoes. But what gave most cause for anxiety to serious thinkers was the linking of the Netherlands, Naples and so many parts of Italy to the Spaniards. The latter were everywhere unpopular, and the Reformers were beginning, especially in the Netherlands, to pose as patriots, with results very unfortunate for Catholicism. For instance, King Philip had arranged with the Holy See in 1569 for certain changes in the Flemish sees. Mechlin, Cambrai, and Utrecht were made archbishoprics, and fourteen smaller districts were formed into bishoprics. This measure, wise and commendable in itself, was badly received when it came from Spanish rulers. The redistribution of benefices, which had to be made in order to endow the new sees, caused complaints which grew constantly louder, and in the end proved one of the chief causes of the revolt of the Netherlands.
Of all the countries of Europe none changed sides with such appalling facility as England. At first she had seemed the least likely of any to revolt. She had been peaceful and contented; the observance of the canons compared favourably with that in many other countries; her king was emphatically on the side of the Church, until "the Gospel light first shined in Boleyn's eyes". Then it was found that the absolute power of the sovereign was easily greater than any other force in the realm. There were some glorious martyrs (see FISHER; HOUGHTON; MORE) and, in general, sufficient resistance to show that the country, as a whole, clung to its old faith, and would never have changed but for force. When that force was applied, the change was shamefully rapid and complete. When Queen Mary gained the upper hand, there was remarkably little difficulty found in the much more arduous task of restoring the old order, in spite of the church property, which had been confiscated, and had already been redistributed into thousands of hands. Only about two years were available for the actual restoration of the Church, and though the work was carried out in a way that was not very conciliating, yet the Marian establishment proved itself more stable, when tried in the fire of Elizabeth's persecution, than the ancient Church when attacked by King Henry. In neither case, however, could the Church withstand the power of the Crown; and again the resistance, though sufficient to be reckoned a magnificent protest against the royal tyranny, was entirely inadequate to hinder the dictates of the Tudor sovereign and her powerful ministers. The Marian reaction movement should not be reckoned under the Counter-Reformation proper, for it was in effect almost entirely a restoration of old methods and old ideas, and derived its force from the old religious feelings of the land. These had lain dormant while beaten down by overwhelming force, but rose again as soon as that repression ceased.
These countries were probably included by Mocenigo under England, though their condition was in reality widely different. Scotland, unlike England, was perhaps of all countries in Europe the most likely to take up the Reformation. Bloody and incessant feuds had sadly demoralized monastic life, and rendered church government extremely difficult, while the rough barons had intruded their illegitimate children into a large number of the livings, abbacies, and episcopal sees. Yet Scotland resisted for a generation the reformation which Henry and Edward strove with all their might to impose upon her. Elizabeth's efforts were more subtle and more successful. Mary of Guise, Queen Regent of Scotland, relied almost entirely upon the French arms for the maintenance of royal and religious authority. It was represented to the nobility that this was an insult and an injury to those on whom the government of Scotland should naturally have fallen, the House of Hamilton and the nobility of the land. Moreover the Calvinists in France had won over many young Scottish soldiers and students in Paris, notably the Earl of Arran who stood but two or three steps from the throne. The revolution took place, and though the regent might have held her own if England had been neutral, there could be no doubt as to the issue when Elizabeth actively supported the rebels with money, men, and ships. The ninth clause of the Treaty of Edinburgh (6 July, 1560) stipulated that "the matter of religion be passed over in silence", which in effect left to the Scottish Protestants, with England at their back, absolute power to do what they liked. The estates of the Church were seized by the laity, and (except in the inaccessible North) every vestige of Catholic observance was forcibly banished from the land. It was the last national revolt from the Church, and was the more lamentable because of Scotland's previous constancy.
As to Ireland, Rome probably knew nothing except the darkest features. The Marian bishops and indeed all the Anglo-Irish of the Pale had thrown in their lot with Elizabeth, though she had as yet made few changes. Officially the state of Ireland seemed as bad as that of England. Communication with the Irish beyond the Pale was most difficult to keep up; it had probably not yet been opened.
Mocenigo said nothing of these nations. The former was so far away from Roman influence that the Counter-Reformation never reached it. Of the latter he would surely have given a better account than of any other European nation. A couple of generations back, when the pagan Renaissance was at its height, it might have been, or at least seemed, otherwise. There was then corruption in high places, as everyone could see, but the miseries of war had checked the spread of luxury, which had not permeated far down among the people, and better conditions resulted (Cantù, Gli eretici d'Italia, Turin, 1865-67). At every papal election better men were chosen, and the College of Cardinals certainly contained more enlightened reformers than could be found in any other body. Aleander, Contarini, Morone, Pole, Sadolet may be named as good examples of their class. There were many admirable prelates like Gian Matteo Giberti, Bishop of Verona. Moreover, several new and efficient religious orders had lately come into existence, the Capuchins, Theatines, and Barnabites, while St. Jerome Emiliani had formed the Clerics Regular known as the Somaschi.
Pope Paul IV (Giovanni Pietro Caraffa) was himself a representative of the best traditions of the Italian Church immediately before the Council of Trent. He was holy and sincere, business-like and energetic, as he had proved before his elevation to the papacy. But the virtues of a great reformer are not always the virtues most needed in a ruler. Like St. Pius V, on certain occasions, Paul IV was sometimes rash in having recourse to medieval methods. His Bull against nepotism was a reform of the utmost importance, yet he was betrayed, in a great measure by nepotism, into the fatal war against Spain (1557-58), the misfortunes and disturbances of which affected the cause of Catholicism so adversely throughout Western Europe. Because of this war Mary Tudor's reign closed in gloom, the Netherlands were distracted, intercourse with the pope was practically intermitted for England, Flanders, and Spain, and the Reformers in France maintained that the evils of the time were due to the ambition of the popes. As soon as the Peace of Paris was concluded, In 1559, the evils which had hitherto been working unperceived became evident. While England fell away, followed by Scotland, France and the Netherlands were found to be deeply infected by heresy; the Holy See had either no representatives in those countries to combat the evil, or they were so out of favour as to have little or no power. This explains the words of Paul IV on his death-bed, quoted above, which so vividly describe the unfortunate condition of the Church at this moment.
But though Paul IV did not advert to it, the Catholic reaction had already made considerable progress. The number of great men among the cardinals, and the foundation of the Capuchins, Theatines, and other orders, have already been mentioned as symptomatic of the improvement. Then there appeared Ignatius and the Jesuits, so conspicuous in the new movement. And here it may be well to notice how very different the evolution of the Protestant Reformers (even of those who were most conscientious) was from that of the vocation of this Catholic leader. The monk Luther and many like him began by denouncing abuses. The abuses were serious, no doubt, but from the nature of the case abuses in matters or of matters themselves holy and laudable. Yet so violent did the accusers become that they gradually forgot any good there was connected with the object decried, though the good perhaps in reality far outweighed the evil. Then came attacks upon the persons who maintained or defended the thing impugned, or who failed to make the changes demanded, and they were almost always declared to have virtually or actually betrayed or deserted the Church itself. Finally the reformer, setting himself up as the true standard of orthodoxy, fell to self-exaltation, and at last rebelled and separated from the Church, which he had originally intended to serve.
The soldier, Ignatius, in the enforced leisure after his wound at Pampeluna (1521) bethought himself of serving Christ as a captain. The idea slowly took possession of him and aroused a lofty spiritual ambition. The imitation and service of Christ were to be most thorough. He would first educate himself as well as his age would allow, become a priest, induce the best of his companions to join him, and then go to the Holy Land and imitate the Saviour's life as literally and exactly as possible. This was a humble but sublime ideal, capable of appealing to and satisfying the most earnest souls, and sure to lead to great efforts. There was no preoccupation here about the reform of abuses, nor indeed any temporal concern whatever, even the most praiseworthy. For twelve years Ignatius, now a middle-aged man, laboured at the education and the sanctification of himself and of the few followers who threw in their lot with him, and the plan would have been completed as it had been conceived, had not war with the Turks kept him and his companions waiting for several months at Venice, unable to proceed to Palestine. Then he turned to Rome, which he reached in November, 1537, and never left again. The services of his small band of companions were soon in great request; they were the "handy men" of the hour, with heads and hearts ready for any work. In a short time they had been heard of and seen everywhere. Though few in number they had carried the Gospel to Abyssinia, India, and China, the ends of the known world. They had faced and fought the most redoubted heretics; they had preached to the poor and tended the sick in the darkest purlieus of the manufacturing cities. They had not indeed as yet the great colleges which afterwards made them famous, nor did people feel their force as a corporate body, but this only made their position as the pioneers, or advance guard of the Church, the more noteworthy. If so few preachers could do so much, their calls on others to join in the struggle roused multitudes to confidence, energy, and fresh efforts. (See SOCIETY OF JESUS.)
The Council had been originally summoned in the year 1537, and sixteen sessions were held during the next fourteen years. In 1552 it was prorogued for the third or fourth time, and so serious were the quarrels throughout Europe that its conclusion was almost despaired of. "The only remedy", said Mocenigo, "is a council summoned by the common consent of all princes." Yet there was small chance that the factious, overbearing princes of those days would give up their own views and interests. Still, for the common good, it had to be attempted, and when the bishops met again in 1561 they came with hearts resolved to do their utmost. But "the consent of all the princes" was not easy to obtain. If they had known of Elizabeth's secret dealings with the French Court (Foreign Calendars, 1561, nn. 682, 684), they might have put a very sinister interpretation on the proposals with which the Cardinal of Lorraine and other Gallicans were constantly interrupting the progress of business. At last Cardinal Morone and the Cardinal of Lorraine paid personal visits to the emperor and the pope. A better understanding between the clerical and the state parties ensued, and so the council was concluded, with much more expedition and satisfaction than had seemed possible. While the politicians had been squabbling, the theologians had been doing their work well, and when the decrees came to be promulgated, there was general admiration at the amount of definition that had been accomplished. Though there had been so many rumours of quarrels and divisions, the points on which all were agreed were surprisingly numerous and formed a striking contrast to the contradictions and feuds among the Protestant sects, which were becoming ever more conspicuous and bitter. No council that had ever been held had pronounced so clearly nor on so many useful points. Moreover, the Catholic bishops and representatives of various countries had come to know one another as never before, and when they separated they returned to their flocks with a new perception of the unity of the Church, and edified by the sincere holiness of her hierarchy. From this time we find that a certain readiness for compromise, and apprehension of change, which was once widespread, has passed away. Though, for instance, many had wished the laity to receive the Chalice, in order to stay further defections, and though the council and the Holy See had allowed it for certain countries, it was now found that the concession was unnecessary, and it was not made use of. The decrees, at least those which regarded doctrine, were everywhere received with approval. The disciplinary decrees, on the other hand, were not accepted without serious qualifications by the Catholic sovereigns. Spain withheld "the privileges of the Spanish Crown"; France at first refused them altogether as inconsistent with the Gallican Liberties, a refusal significant of the danger of Regalism which was to beset the Church of France for generations to come. [Cf. besides the decrees of the council (Rome, 1564, et soep.), the valuable publication of the Görres Society, "Concilium Tridentinum, Diariorum, actorum, epistularum, Tractatuum nova collectio", I, "Diariorum pars prima", ed. S. Merkle (Freiburg, 1901), and "Actorum pars prima", ed. S Ehses (Freiburg, 1904).]
The popes are as a rule, and from the nature of their position, extremely conservative, but it was characteristic of the Counter-Reformation that after the Council of Trent three popes of great reforming energy should be elected in close succession.
The great achievement of this pope was the example which he gave of heroic virtue. In the language of the day, "he made his palace into a monastery, and was himself a model of penance, asceticism, and prayer". He inspired all about him with his own high views, and new life and strength were soon seen in all parts of the papal administration. Many and notorious had been the corruptions which had crept in during the reigns of the easy-going humanistic popes who had preceded him. They had indeed passed severe laws after the fashion of the time, hoping to maintain good order by occasional severities and the constant dread of heavy penalties, but with lax administration such a method of government produced deplorable results. Pius V applied the laws with an unflinching regularity to rich and noble, as well as to mean and poor. His rigour and vigour were sometimes excessive, no doubt, but this would not have seemed very reprehensible in those days. There had been a popular outcry for "reform in the head as well as in the members", but it had seemed hopeless to expect it, considering the strong conservative traditions of the Roman Court. Now that the seemingly unattainable had been accomplished, occasional excesses in the manner of its attainment were easily forgiven, if they were not actually relished, as signs of the thoroughness with which the desired change had been made. Esteem for the papacy rose, papal nuncios and legates faced with firmness the powerful sovereigns to whom they were sent, and strove with dignity for the correction of abuses. Reforms were more easily accepted by inferiors when superiors had already embraced them. Even Protestants mentioned Pope Pius with respect. Bacon spoke of "that excellent Pope Pius Quintus, whom I wonder his successors have not declared a saint" ("Of a Holy War", in his Works, ed. of 1838, I, 523; the words however are put into the mouth of another). Though the forces against Pope St. Pius were powerful, and the general position was everywhere so critical that extreme caution might have seemed the best policy, his fearless enforcement of existing church law was on the whole wonderfully successful. Thus, though his Bull excommunicating and depriving Elizabeth (1670) was in one sense ill-timed and a failure, on the other hand its results in the spiritual sphere were admirable. It broke the English Catholics of their subservience to Elizabeth's tyranny over their consciences in a way which no milder measure could have done.
Gregory XIII became a leader of the reform movement by virtue of qualities very different from those of his predecessor. He was a kindly, sociable man, who had risen to fame as a lecturer on canon law, and his successes were due to his zeal for education, piety, and the machinery of government, rather than to anything magnetic or inspiring in his personal influence. He was bountiful in his support of the Jesuit missions, and in his grants to seminaries and colleges. The German, English, and Greek colleges, and many others owe him their foundation Bulls, and much of their funds. He sent out missionaries at his own expense to all parts of the world. Though he had no great genius for politics, he had an admirable secretary, Ptolomeo Galli, Cardinal of Como, whose papers remain to this day models of perspicacity and order. Standing nunciatures were now established at Catholic courts in lieu of the old special envoys (Vienna, 1581; Cologne, 1584), and with the happiest results. Thus, when Gebhard Truchsess (q.v.) the Archbishop of Cologne, turned Protestant and tried (1582) to carry over his electorate with him, the nuncios on all sides organized a vigorous counterattack, which was completely successful. Since then Cologne has been a tower of strength to the Catholicism of North-Western Europe. The reform of the Calendar was another piece of large-minded and far-sighted office work, if it may be so described, which reflected much credit on the pope who organized it. Gregory was also most generous in granting Indulgences, and he encouraged works of piety on a large scale. He took an active part in the celebration of the Holy Year of Jubilee in 1575, and the pilgrims, who had flocked in thousands to the Eternal City returned to spread throughout Europe the satisfaction they had felt at the sight of the good pontiff performing in person the long religious ceremonies, leading processions, or tending poor pilgrims with his own hands.
Like Pius V, Gregory XIII was too much of an enthusiast for abstract theories and medieval practices to be an ideal ruler; he was also a poor financier, and, like many other good lawyers, was somewhat deficient in practical judgment. It was exactly on these points that his successor, Sixtus V, was strong. Where Gregory, at the end of his reign, was crippled by debts and unable to restrain the bandits, who dominated the country up to the gates of Rome, Sixtus, by dint of good management, was soon one of the richest of popes, whose word was law in every corner of his States. He finished St. Peter's, and erected the obelisk of Nero before it. He built the Vatican Library and that wing of the palace, which the popes have inhabited ever since, while he practically rebuilt the Quirinal and Lateran Palaces. He constructed the aqueduct known as the Aqua Felice, the Via Sistina, the hospital of San Girolamo and other buildings, though his reign only lasted five and a half years. Sixtus was large-minded, strong, and practical, a man who did not fear to grapple with the greatest problems, and under him the delays (reputed to be perpetual) of the Eternal City seemed to be changing to briskness, almost precipitation.
As the Council of Trent had given Catholics, just when they most needed it, an irrefragable testimony to the unity and catholicity of their Faith, so these three pontiffs, with their varying excellences, showed that the papacy possessed all the qualifications which the faithful expected in their leaders, virtues which afterwards repeated themselves (though not quite so often or so frequently) in succeeding popes, especially in Clement VIII, Paul V, and Urban VIII. Now at all events, the tide of the Counter-Reformation was running in full flood, and nowhere can its course and strength be better studied than in the missions.
While persecution and war, politics and inveterate custom, hampered progress in Europe, the wide continents of America, Asia, and Africa offered a freer outlet for the spiritual energy of the new movement. Beginning with St. Francis Xavier, there are among the Jesuits alone quite a multitude of apostles and martyrs, confessors and preachers of the first order. In India and China, Antonio Criminale, Roberto de' Nobili, Ridolfo Acquaviva, Matteo Ricci, Adam Schall. In Japan, after Padre Valignano's great successes, ensued the terrible persecution in which there perished by heroic death almost eighty Jesuits, to say nothing of others. Abyssinia and the Congo were evangelized by Fathers Nunez, Baretto, and Sylveira. In North America there were heroic struggles to convert the Indians (see BRÉBEUF; LALLEMANT), and in South America, St. Peter Claver's work for the slaves from Africa and the reductions of Paraguay. The Franciscan and Dominican friars and the secular clergy were in the field before the Jesuits in Central America (where Las Casas has left an unperishing name); elsewhere also they were soon in the front rank. Later on in the period there are St. Vincent de Paul and his zealous apostolic followers and (1622) the Roman Congregation "De Propaganda Fide", with its organized missionaries (see COLLEGE OF PROPAGANDA).
In order to appreciate the connexion of the aforesaid names with the movement under consideration, we must remember that these apostles were not only showing forth in their heroic labours and sufferings the true nature of the Counter-Reformation; they were also winning many new converts to it by their preaching, while their letters raised to the highest pitch the enthusiasm of generous souls at home (see Cros, "St. François Xavier, Sa vie et Ses lettres", Paris, 1900; also "Lettres Edifiantes et Curieuses", 34 vols., Paris, 1717, sqq.).
Whilst in distant lands the new spirit found to some extent a free field, its progress in Europe was very largely dependent on the varying fortunes of the Catholic and Protestant political powers. Here it will only be possible to indicate the chief stages in that progress, and it must be remembered that controversies have arisen at one time or another even about the leading facts.
Here it is evident that in the first named country the losses of the Catholics did not cease with the Religious Peace of Augsburg in 1555. The Protestants, as the occasion arose, had not hesitated to avail themselves of religious troubles in various episcopal sees and had possessed themselves of two archbishoprics (Magdeburg and Bremen), and of 12 important bishoprics. It was only by recourse to arms that Cologne was saved in 1583; and the freedom of Strasburg and Aachen was in grave danger. There were also many defections among the lesser princes, and so long as Maximilian II (1564-76) was emperor, his Protestant proclivities prevented the Catholics from acting with the vigour and authority which became their number and their cause. For the alarming condition of Northern Germany about 1600 see "Röm. Quartalschrift" (1900), p. 385 sqq. So serious did the general position become, that St. Peter Canisius rhetorically compared the Catholic countries of Bavaria and the Tyrol to the two tribes of Israel, which alone were saved while all the others were carried off captive (see O. Braunsberger, Canisii Epistulæ et Acta, Freiburg, 1896-1905, I-IV). Indeed, Albert V of Bavaria (1550-79) seemed almost the only Catholic prince who could make head against the Protestants. He used his authority freely to exclude Protestants from posts of trust, etc., an example afterwards imitated by other Catholic princes (see Knöpfler, Die Kelchbewegung in Bayern unter Albrecht V, Munich, 1901). There was more satisfactory progress among the Catholics themselves. A new generation of bishops was growing up. Though it was impossible to put an immediate end to the abuses of "patronage" practised by the nobility and the princes, the proportion of men chosen for their capacity and virtues had everywhere increased. Otto von Truchsess, Bishop of Augsburg, has been mentioned, and with him may be classed Julius Echter von Mespelbrunn, Bishop of Würzburg (said to have reconciled some 60,000 souls), Cardinal Klessel, Archbishop of Vienna, Theodore von Fürstenberg, Ernst von Mengersdorf, Dietrich von Raitenau, of Paderborn, Bamberg, and Salzburg respectively, and many others. They were truly "columns of the church", whose influence was felt far beyond the limits of their dioceses. Far-reaching, too, were the good results effected by the Catholic writers, Tanner, Gretscher (Gretser), Laymann, Contzen, and by preachers and missionaries, especially Canisius, called the malleus hoereticorum, and other Jesuits and Dominicans. The Jesuit colleges also increased steadily and were productive of great and permanent good.
At last with the reign of Rudolph II as emperor (1576-1612) came the occasion for the Counter-Reformation in Germany and Austria. Wherever the House of Hapsburg had influence the Catholic princes and lords began to exercise the same right of reformation (Reformationsrecht, Jus reformandi) in behalf of the Church, which the Protestants had hitherto used against her. But the latter ere long became suspicious. In 1608 they joined in an offensive and defensive "union" which the Catholics answered by their "League". In this way the opposing parties soon drifted into the Thirty Years War which lasted from 1618 to 1648. Though the Catholic allies commenced at the greatest disadvantage, they gradually won the upper hand. By the end of 1631 they seemed so secure of their superiority, that Ferdinand II by his "Restitutionsedict" (Edict of Restitution) recalled the Church lands seized by Protestants since the Religious Peace of Augsburg in 1555, and in particular the aforesaid two archbishoprics and twelve bishoprics. The political power of the Catholics now stood at the highest point it reached during the Counter-Reformation. But a reaction soon set in; France and Sweden joined hands with the Protestants, and the Catholics had neither the enthusiasm nor the unity of purpose to maintain their advantage. The Peace of Münster and Osnabrück, in 1648, disastrous and humiliating as it was for Germany politically, was also most injurious to Catholicism. (See TREATY OF WESTPHALIA.) Church lands were freely secularized and distributed, as the price of peace, to lay lords who practically had the right of dictating to their subjects the religion they might profess. The secular authorities, even in Catholic countries, claimed and exercised a right of placet in the choice of bishops, which was in the long run most injurious. Amid the distractions of war, the deceits of victory, and the miseries of defeat, the fervour of the Counter-Reformation had evaporated.
If the Counter-Reformation had much to fear and to suffer from the politics of secular princes, it was from France that it had most to dread. The wars of Francis I with the Emperor Charles V had given the Reformation an occasion for spreading. France had been the chief difficulty at the Council of Trent. In France the struggle between Catholicism and Protestantism was carried on with great bitterness and cruelty. Though the eventual victory of the Counter-Reformation was very extensive, it was nowhere later in coming; nowhere had there been such danger of a great disaster. This was due to the closeness of the connexion of Church with State. In virtue of the so-called Gallican Liberties (q.v.) the king and nobles exercised undue influence over the appointment of bishops, abbots, and clergy, and ecclesiastical administration in general. But the later rulers of the House of Valois, as also Catherine de' Medici were miserably wanting in principle, and all efforts at reform under such leaders ended in turmoil and strife. Margaret of Valois, sister of Francis I, had favoured Protestantism, and it soon infected the House of Bourbon (Kings of Navarre), into which she had married, and which claimed the succession to the French throne. Henry II had shamelessly allied himself with Protestant powers abroad, while he burned heretics at home. Heresy spread among the princes of the blood and the highest nobility, who drew their retainers after them. Hence the numberless quarrels and the seven bloody "Wars of Religion" (1562, 1567, 1569, 1573, 1577, 1580, 1587-93). Both sides were cruel, but the barbarities of the Calvinists were especially revolting to Catholic feelings. In battle the Catholics were generally victorious, but in the negotiations for peace the Protestants gained more and more concessions. This was in great measure due to the unprincipled "see-saw" policy of Catherine de' Medici, who cynically inclined first to one side, then to another. At last Henry III having assassinated the Catholic leaders of the House of Guise, was himself assassinated and the throne was claimed by Henry of Navarre. But as he was a Huguenot, the Catholic people of France would not accept him, and the war dragged on, with disastrous effects to French power, until Henry IV became a Catholic in 1593, and was absolved by Pope Clement VIII in 1595. France recovered with wonderful rapidity on the restoration of peace, and it was now that the Catholic revival began in earnest, reaching its highest point in the following reign.
Clement VIII had laid down four principal conditions for absolving King Henry:
Turning now to Spain and Portugal, we see the Counter-Reformation winning here its most signal spiritual victories. There can be no question that the saints of Spain who flourished at this period, the theologians, canonists, and spiritual writers whom it educated, were more remarkable than those produced by any other country, e.g. St. Ignatius, St. Teresa, St. Francis Borgia, St. John of God, St. Peter of Alcántara, St. John of the Cross, St. Francis of Solano, John of Avila, Maldonado, Navarro, Salmeron, Toleto, Gregory of Valencia, Sanchez, Francisco Suárez, Juan a Santo Tomaso, Ripalda, Barbosa. These form a galaxy of brilliant names, which in their sphere have never been surpassed. The Spanish and Portuguese colonies in South America and the East Indies were also ennobled by missionaries, whose heroism, self-devotion, and energy were beyond compare. Starting from Las Casas, whose chief achievements, however, belong to an earlier period, mention must be made of the reductions of Paraguay and the first missions to the Philippines, while the majority of the spiritual labourers in India, China, and Japan were also furnished by the Spanish Peninsula. But here again, as in France, it was in great measure the absolutism of the Crown which prevented the triumph of the new movement from being as complete and permanent as it might have been. A series of second-rate sovereigns, an indifferent bureaucratic government, slavery, and a very bad colonial system, brought on the premature decay not only of the temporal, but also of the spiritual, greatness of these countries. Though the Inquisition was established in several European countries, it was more active in Spain than elsewhere.
This country had from the first been ready for the Counter-Reformation, and in the papacy and the Council of Trent had, as it were, opened the field to reform. Nowhere did the course of the movement progress more uniformly, or last longer. This is best seen in the papal Curia, where the College of Cardinals continued to be thoroughly representative of the best talent and virtue in the Church and where the Sacred Congregations worked with an efficiency and steadfastness never known before. But in truth, wherever it is possible to look into the religious life of the nation, a remarkably high level of fervour will be recognized. St. Charles Borromeo did not lack followers among the bishops, as the great names of Sirleto, Paleotto, Arrigoni, Rusticucci, and many others testify. The detailed accounts that have come down to us of the Jubilees of 1575 and 1600, give us a glimpse of a whole community sensible to, and familiar with, works of piety and charity on a very large scale. Among the new congregations of this period mention should be made of the Scolopii, founded in 1600 by St. Joseph of Calasanza (Calasanctius). The most serious set-back was the quarrel of Paul V with Venice, 1606 to 1607, and the constant friction with unsympathetic Spanish rulers of Milan, and of the Two Sicilies, about the immunities of the clergy and the administration of ecclesiastical property. In the former case the pope may have precipitated the quarrel by the vigour with which he took extreme measures. But when the hostilities had commenced the Venetians showed an ominous tendency to ally themselves with the Gallicans and even with English heretics. The quarrel, however, only lasted one year. Such men as Paolo Sarpi and Antonio de Dominis were found but seldom. The "Index Librorum Prohibitorum" of 1564 may appropriately be mentioned here, though it applies to and illustrates all countries.
Turning now to England we find the spirit of the Counter-Reformation suddenly bursting into most vigorous life at the preaching of Blessed Edmund Campion in 1580. The organization of the mission was due to the magnanimous soul of Cardinal Allen, whose noble sentiment oportet meliora non ezpectare sed facere (Letters, p. 367) conceived as it was in the face of overwhelming persecution, gives us the measure of his lofty spirit. "This Church here", wrote Campion, "shall never fail, so long as priests and pastors shall be found for the sheep, rage man or devil never so much." So it fell out. Allen's seminary, first at Douai, then at Reims, sent forth, year after year, its small quota of missionaries, and the Jesuits, with the lesser seminaries, added a few more. It was an heroic struggle, for no persecution can be heavier than that of the law remorselessly applied in a law-loving country. But the courage of the whole Catholic body (numerically small) rose to the occasion, and if there were many failures, as also some serious quarrels and scandals, there was an astonishingly high average of courage and perseverance. In time their worst persecutors died off, and calmer days ensued, but at the close of the period the Puritans were renewing Elizabeth's cruelties, and priests' blood was flowing almost as fast as ever. This same religious enthusiasm manifested itself during the last decade or so of the period, in the foundation of new convents, orders, etc., on the Continent. The movement roughly corresponded with the similar movement in France. The name of Mary Ward is one of the most noteworthy in England. The mission of the English Jesuits to Maryland in spite of home trials is another manifestation of the same spirit.
During Elizabeth's reign the Irish ware almost always engaged in a struggle for life against the ever increasing forces of the English "planters". Sometimes they had their hour of victory, but there never had been time for reform. The process of the Irish martyrs claims about a hundred sufferers in this reign headed by Dermod O'Hurley, Archbishop of Cashel. There were also many missionaries of note, the earliest of whom was David Wolfe, S.J., sent by Pope Pius V; there were also several heroic bishops like Richard Creagh of Armagh, and many notable Franciscans and Jesuits.
But it was not until the comparative peace under King James that it was possible to fill up the gaps in the episcopate, to found colleges on the Continent, at Paris, Salamanca, Lisbon, Douai, etc. (only one or two had commenced earlier), to organize anew the religious orders (especially the Franciscans). The old life revived in many secluded sanctuaries at home: synods were actually held at Kilkenny, Dublin, and Armagh, and elsewhere literary life was reawakening. (See FOUR MASTERS; LUKE WADDING.) There were many notable bishops like Peter Lombard, David Rothe, etc. Though the persecution never wholly ceased (Bishop Cornelius O'Devany, 1612, and some sixty others were martyred during this period), the Counter-Reformation made great progress, and there were moments when it seemed about to triumph, as, for example, in 1625 and 1641-49. But at the close of the period Cromwell was to blot out with cruelties worse than those of the Tudors all the good that had been accomplished.
The Counter-Reformation can hardly be said to have affected Scotland and Scandinavia, so complete had been the victory of Protestantism. Yet while Queen Mary reigned in Scotland there had been renewed signs of life. Fathers de Gouda, Edmund Hay, James Gordon, S.J., Bishop Leslie, and Ninian Winzet are the more notable names of this period. Mention must also be made of John Ogilvie, S.J., martyred in 1615, and the heroic resistance made by many Catholic nobles to the tyranny of the Kirk. There was no local ecclesiastical superior or government, the mission depending directly on the Holy See till 1653; but there were some small Scottish colleges for the secular clergy at Rome, Douai, Paris, and Madrid. In Scandinavia the fall of Catholicism did not come about in a day or a generation Father Possevin, S.J., as also several papal nuncios strove hard to avert it but the Counter-Reformation as a movement did not reach any of its peoples.
In the Netherlands every effort was made to exterminate Catholicism in the United Provinces, which had revolted from Spain, contrary to the repeated promises of the Prince of Orange. Still considerable numbers retained their faith their spiritual needs being cared for by missionaries though it was impossible to keep up the ancient hierarchy. In Catholic Flanders the revival ran a more or less uniformly prosperous course. Amongst the great prelates and writers of this period were Lindanus, Bishop of Roermond, Justus Lipsius, Leonard Lessius, Cornelius a Lapide, Martin Becan, Thomas Stapleton (an Englishman), etc. But the controversies occasioned by Baius form a less pleasant episode, and the wars at the end of this period were most injurious. Campaigns and battles ruined the country, and the final terms of peace notably reduced its power.
In this country there was a long struggle between Catholicism, which was held by the Crown and the people, and Protestantism, which filtered in from the neighbouring Protestant countries and universities, and was affected by many of the faction-loving nobles and the merchants. Catholicism at last gained the decided upper hand, through the efforts of Stanislas Hosius and other bishops, preachers like Scarga, and the Jesuit colleges. King Sigismund II and Wladislaus IV, co-operating with a series of very active and able papal nuncios, ensured the Church's victory; the Protestants, however, still retained much power.
The high spirit of this period manifested itself in literature in many characteristic forms. The age was one of the greatest for theology the world has ever known. It suffices to recall the names of Bellarmine, Baronius, Francisco Suárez, Vasquez, Petavius, and many others who have been alluded to already. More characteristic still were the writers on personal or interior reform, foremost among them St. Ignatius, whose "Spiritual Exercises", for their profound spiritual and practical wisdom, must be placed in a class apart. Similarly distinguished writers were St. Francis of Sales (declared, in 1877, a Doctor of the Church), St. Teresa, Scupoli, Blosius, Louis of Granada, M. Olier, Alfonso Rodriguez. The teachings of the Church were set forth In the admirable catechisms of Canisius (1555-60) and of the Council of Trent (1566). To the same period belong the revised editions of the Vulgate (1590-98), the Roman Breviary (1568), the Roman Missal (1570), the Roman Martyrology (1582), the Corpus Juris Canonici (1582), the Decretum of Gratian (1582). Father Campion's "Decem Rationes" (1581) and Father Person's "Christian Directory", exercised an extensive influence, doctrinal and religious, on contemporary opinion, which was also deeply affected by the religious poems of Tasso and Calderon, of Southwell and Crashaw. The music of the age also partook in the revival, as is testified by the great name of Palestrina and the pleasant memories of the exercises of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri.
It has been said before that a period of fervour and zeal comes to an end when that zeal dies down to mediocrity in many countries, or among the large majority of people. This had taken place by the year 1648. In Germany the period is generally said to close in 1618, but elsewhere, i.e. in France and in Ireland, the tide of fervour was still flowing in many places, while in Rome and Italy it was still fairly strong. But this does not prevent our regarding the broad movement as having spent itself. Though the level of education had risen, the diminution in the number of men of genius was marked. There were but few new foundations; some great missions (Japan, Abyssinia, the Congo) were given up or in full decline, though others still were growing and flourishing. And the reason was that the interior fervour, the enthusiasm had cooled down. The same thing was true also about the Protestants. An age of fair mediocrity had taken the place of the fiercely keen ardour of the previous century. In this there was no wonder. It is the ordinary course of human nature to slacken down after unusual effort, to wax cool after an effervescence of excitement. What was not ordinary, what was on the contrary one of the strangest things in the history of the world, was the display of life and vigour which had been given by the Church just when she seemed to be about to fall behind, and to be beaten out of the field by her rivals. Under such circumstances the Counter-Reformation may be regarded as one of the most striking proofs of the inherent vitality of the Church which Providence has ever vouchsafed, only to be paralleled by her triumph over the persecutions of the Roman Empire, the invasions of the Barbarians, or the subversive forces of the French Revolution.
This wide-spreading subject has occasioned an immense literature, no adequate account of which can be given here, though its classifications may be followed by referring to THE CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA, where the various persons and subjects mentioned above are treated in detail. Very few writers, however, have studied the broad but subtle influence of ideas, in virtue of which this revival originated, passed from land to land, grew, flourished and failed. No Catholic writer has described the whole movement with adequate fullness. (1) The best contemporary witnesses were the Roman nuncios, whose special business it was to study these subjects and to report upon them. But few of their papers are however yet published, except those relating to Germany. The reports of the nuncios to Germany (Nunziaturberichte aus Deutschland) are being edited (since 1892) partly by the Prussian and Austrian Historical Institutes at Rome and partly by the Görres Gesellschaft; DE HINOJOSA, Los despachos de la diplomacia pontificia en Espana (Madrid, 1896); CAUCHIE, Instructions générales aux nonces de Flandre, 1535-1596; POLLEN, Papal Negotiations with Mary Queen of Scots, 1561-1567 (London, 1901); HÜBNER, Sixte-Quint (Paris, 1870); PASTOR, History of the Popes from the Close of the Middle Ages; JANSSEN, History of the German People, with criticisms of MAURENBRECHER, Gesch. der Kathol. Reformation (1880, only one volume published), and counter criticism by DITTRICH in Jahrbuch der Görres Ges., ii, 610. There are several monographs on the details of the progress, first of the Reformation, then of the Counter-Reformation, in particular parts of Germany, e.g. WIEDEMANN, Gesch. der Reformation und Gegenreformation im Lande unter der Enns (5 vols., 1879-86); others by GINDELY (Bohemia) KELLER (Westphalia), LOSERTH (Austria), MAYER (Switzerland), MEYER (Schleswig), etc.; DUHR, Gesch. der Jesuiten in der Ländern deutscher Zunge (1907); DROYSEN, Gesch. der Gegenreformation (1903, in ONCKEN, Allgemeine Geschichte). French history is the hardest to follow. Consult VICOMTE DE MEAUX, Luttes religieuses en France (Paris, 1879), and La réforme et la politique Fracçaise en Europe, jusqu' à la paix de Westphalie (Paris, 1889); PERRENS, L'église et l'état en France sous Henri IV (1873); COUZARD, Une ambassade à Rome sous Henri IV (1902); PRAT, Recherches sur la C. de Jésus du temps du P. Coton, 1564-1626 (1876); CHENON, La Cour de Rome et la réforme cath. in LAVISSE AND RAMBAUD, Histoire Générale (Paris, 1897), V. A more objective treatment of the period is to be desired. For the ecclesiastical writers of the period, see HURTER, Nomenclator; SOMMERVOGEL, Bibl. de la c. de J. (1890-1900); HILGERS, Der Index der verbotenen Bücher (Freiburg, 1904).
APA citation. (1908). The Counter-Reformation. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04437a.htm
MLA citation. "The Counter-Reformation." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04437a.htm>.
Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Douglas J. Potter. Dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ.
Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York.
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