` The Reformation was a movement against the Catholic Church in the early 1500’s. The Counter-Reformation was a movement by the Catholic Church to ignite the passion that was once contagious in Europe, but had seemed to die down. In 1483 some would say that the greatest reformer of all time was born. Martin Luther changed the world forever when he posted his 95 theses on the door of the castle church in Wittenburg, Germany. His target audience was mostly the people that were fed up with the Catholic Church’s selling of indulgences. While the Catholic Church struggled with its own predicaments, they too fought back to regain their credibility. The Church attempted to get as many people back in the church as possible. Reputation, integrity, and the rights of people were at stake during the time of both reformations.
When looking at the Reformation and the Counter Reformation, one must consider the implications of each. Each had to have taken place for a reason, had their target audience, and both had to have an outcome. The Christian world, and moreover the entire world, would change due to this time of transformation that lasted about one hundred years.
The reason for the Reformation was the irresponsibility of the Catholic leaders and their lack of interest in keeping their doctrines. The immediate cause of the Reformation was Luther (Spitz 57). It started on October 31, 1517 when he posted his 95 Theses on the subject of indulgences. This sent a jolt through the very soul of Christendom. The theme of these Theses was the doctrine of indulgences, acknowledging a minor point of Catholic Theology, which Luther meant to expound in a routine academic disputation (Hillerbrand xiv). At the time, Luther had no intention of splitting Christianity into two sects. In fact, Luther had no intent of even leaving the Catholic Church. His only intention was to get the Catholic leaders to realize what they were doing. Many people rallied around Luther and convinced him that he could challenge the Catholic Church, and eventually Luther started to believe it. In 1519 Luther repudiated the infallibility of the Pope and replaced him with sola scriptura, Scripture alone. He believed that a person didn’t need a religious individual help them get to heaven; one just needed their faith. In 1520, Luther was excommunicated from the church for his, what some believed, outlandish remarks.
The target audience for the movement in which Luther led was people who did not want anything to do with the Church. People who were in need of change and who yearned for different explanations in theology sought Luther’s advice and followed him. Although he was out of the church, Luther had brought a lot of people with him. Most people felt it was time for a change.
The outcome of the Reformation is still very much felt today. Christianity has more than 15 major sects just in the US, not counting the sub-sects of those. Luther encouraged a new wave of thinking around the world.
The Reformation and the Counter-Reformation had many differences, but they also had their similarities. Both happened because certain individuals sought change.
Contrary to popular belief, the Counter Reformation was taking place before the Reformation. 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. The name most likely came from the fact that Protestant historians had been using it, most likely for propagandist attention. The Papal office had been sending missionaries all over Europe long before the Reformation to help recharge the enthusiasm that Catholicism once had. Not until the Protestant Reformation, though, did the Church realize that it really had a problem. In 1537, the Council of Trent was summoned (3: 46). During the council, leaders strictly forbade the further selling of indulgences and held individual Bishops and Priests responsible for their own diocese. Also, during the Council, new missionary groups were created to help regain the popularity of Catholicism.
The target audience for the Catholic Church was the people who they had lost because of the Reformation and others who had grown uninterested in the Church. The Catholic leaders were interested in getting back the people that they had lost from the Reformation. Sending out the Ursulines and the Jesuits as missionaries, Catholicism started to gain the people that they had lost. Even sending missionaries to previously uncharted territory seemed to be a very popular thing to do. The Catholics wanted to truly be catholic (Greek for Universal) again by sending their converters all over the world.
The outcomes of the Counter-Reformation can even be felt today. The Jesuits are the most well known missionary group in the world. The Council of Trent helped ignite the fuel that the Catholic Church needed for change. If the leaders of the early Church hadn’t taken action and brought about change, some of the most recent Councils, like Vatican II, may not have taken place. The Counter-Reformation brought on exactly that, change.
In conclusion, the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation had both negative and positive effects. Both reformations, especially the Protestant reformation, brought on a whole new line of thinking, meanwhile splitting Christendom apart. In most cases, the Reformation was just a reformulation of Catholic values. New sects of Christianity appear nearly daily, all being Protestant. The Catholic Church is still the biggest sect of Christianity and still the biggest religion in the world. Despite the new sects, the Catholic Church population is growing more and more. The true Church founded by Christ cannot be destroyed. “You are Peter and on this rock I build my Church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it”, (New American Bible, Matt 16:18).