This book offers a study in continuity of the transformation of Catholicism in early modern Europe. For much of the time I shall be emphasising an enduring tradition of reformism in the Catholic Church and stressing the way that aspirations towards religious reform found in late medieval Catholicism were strongly endorsed and affirmed in the Catholic Reformation that arose from the sixteenth century onwards. However, and while emphasising these continuities—stress on which has endowed this book with its title, The Catholic Reformation (rather than the perhaps more traditional Counter-Reformation) —I am also bound to acknowledge the extent to which my ‘Catholic Reformation’ was also a response to the Protestant one. The Protestant Reformation inaugurated by Martin Luther (1483-1546) was indeed such a titanic movement that its effect must be taken into full consideration in any account of the transformation of Catholicism in early modern Europe, a process that was largely set in motion by the Council of Trent (1545-63).
Luther’s movement of protest and reform arose out of a widespread aspiration in favour of renovation within Western Christianity in the late middle ages. Though forced out of the Church he had initially—between about 1517 and 1520—aimed to cleanse, Luther had a deep impact on its amelioration, in three areas: first, the inculcation of a sense of the urgency in Catholic minds of the need for reform, especially so as to avert what was seen as divine wrath in the form of the new schism in the Church that opened up from around 1521; second, an awareness, again amongst Catholics, of the need to give expression to reformist criticism of the abuses—especially the financial abuses—of the Catholic Church to which Luther drew attention in such works as The Babylonian Captivity of the Church (1520); and, third, responsiveness to the emphasis on the redemptive indispensability of divine grace which Luther himself inherited from the theological tradition of the early Church Father St Augustine (354-430) and, beyond him, from St Paul (d. AD 69).
George Yule writes: ‘Catholics…[including] speakers at the Council of Trent, even if they did not offer positive assessments of Luther’s teaching, could…see God chastizing the [Catholic] church through Luther’. He adds: