Reformation and Counter-Reformation Movements

Reformation and Counter-Reformation Movements:

The Renaissance brought about a change in the thinking and the outlook of the people. Thinkers of this age did not agree with the Church. The conduct of the priests was not approved by them and they challenged the authority of the church. They refused to blindly believe what was written in the religious books or as it was interpreted by the religious leaders. In fact, they attacked the practices of the Church vehemently and criticised the clergy who led a luxurious life. They tried to bring about an awareness among the people that the Church had no right to interfere in matters that were not related to religion. The thinkers of the Renaissance said that man’s only concern should not be God, heaven and hell. More than these, he should first be concerned about his fellow beings. They preached humanism. Gradually the subjects, as well as the kings of northern Europe too, opposed the Church. The kings in fact did not like the growing power of the Pope. Some Christian reformers like Martin Luther, Erasmus and John Calvin denounced the Popish Church. In the fourteenth century, John Wycliffe translated the Bible into English for the common man to read it. He openly wrote against the Church. Other thinkers who tried to highlight the defects of the Church were Thomas More and Roger Bacon.

Erasmus, a Dutch scholar, demanded reforms in the Church while Martin Luther, a professor of theology in Germany, denounced the sinful life of the clergy. He protested against the authority of the Roman Catholic Church and hence his followers came to be known as Protestants. Their protests came to be known as the Protestant Reformation Movement.

As criticism against it became widespread, the Church set up courts to try and punish those who spoke against it. These special courts constituted the Inquisition.

The Pope wanted to punish Martin Luther for openly condemning the Church but the rulers of the north and merchants supported him and thus he was saved from the trial.

The followers of John Calvin came to be known as Huguenots in France, Presbyterians in Scotland and Puritans in England. They lay emphasis on leading a pure and simple life.

Seeing the effect of the Reformation in northern Europe, some of the Catholics tried to bring about about changes in their Church. The Catholic countries of the south, particularly Spain, led this movement known as Counter-Reformation. It was so called because it was started to counter the threat posed by the Reformation Movement. Ignatius Loyola, a Spanish soldier started a society called the Society of Jesus. The followers of this society were called Jesuits. The Jesuit priests and fathers travelled far and wide to spread their movement. One of them was Saint Francis Xavier who came to India and died here. His body is still kept in a church in Goa.

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