The Catholic Reformation

By Michael A. Mullett | Go to book overview

1

‘Reform in head and members’

The medieval background of the Catholic Reformation

A traditional view of the reinvigoration of Catholicism that got under way from the 1540s onwards is that at that juncture the Church was shaken by the impact of the Protestant Reformation out of apparently almost total torpor to rid itself of chronic abuses: the phrase ‘Counter-Reformation’ sums up a view of a defensive, as well as aggressive, and somewhat delayed, reaction to Protestantism, without whose challenge the Catholic Church could hardly have revived itself out of its own depleted moral and spiritual resources. Such a view can be traced in a number of surveys. For instance, in his textbook, Renaissance and Reformation, V.H.H. Green wrote, ‘Headed by non-reforming Popes, whose policy was dictated by family and secular interests, the Catholic Church might well have demanded a miracle if it was to be saved from…Protestant aggression’. Green went on to trace the origins of the Catholic response to Protestantism to a stimulus operating within the Church only from the time of Luther’s protest—the Oratory of Divine Love, founded in around 1517. The author of another textbook, Harold J. Grimm, while acknowledging the medieval roots of the sixteenth-century Catholic renewal, nevertheless saw it as an ‘amazing revival’, triggered ‘about the middle of the sixteenth century’, in a ‘defensive’ Catholic Church that had so far ‘showed few signs of spiritual vigor’. H.O. Evennett also pointed to the defensive nature of the Catholic revival as a reaction initiated within the sixteenth century to the Protestant challenge:

By the Counter-Reformation is…meant the long and difficult process by which, after the unexpected shock of the Reformation, the old church underwent a spiritual revival and an administrative renovation, putting her own house into a better order and deploying her rejuvenated forces against her assailants. 1

Against a view that the early modern revival in Catholicism had its genesis in a defensive reaction to Protestantism within the sixteenth century, mainly from its middle decades onwards, the argument of this chapter is that the renovation of the Catholic Church that gained momentum from the time of the Council of Trent (1545-63) represented an accelerated continuity of earlier reform trends and a number of realisations of earlier aspirations: by ‘reform’ in this context I

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The Catholic Reformation
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • 1 - ‘reform in Head and Members’ 1
  • 2 - The Council of Trent and the Catholic Reformation 29
  • 3 - New Religious Orders 69
  • 4 - The Papacy and the Episcopate of the Catholic Reformation 111
  • 5 - The Impact of the Catholic Reformation 142
  • 6 - The Catholic Reformation and the People 175
  • 7 - The Catholic Reformation and the Arts 196
  • Notes 215
  • Index 247
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