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Johann Michael Rottmayr (1729): The Catholic faith defeats the Protestant heresies ; Karlskirche in Vienna , dome fresco, detail

As a Counter-Reformation is generally - following the Protestant historian Leopold von Ranke the reaction of the - the Roman Catholic Church to that of Martin Luther in Wittenberg outgoing Reformation called. It took place in the field of theology and the churches and was limited to intellectual disputes. In secular politics, the Catholic Church tried to push through the re-Catholicization of Protestant regions offensively or repressively with the help of the Catholic emperor and dependent rulers.

Power politics determined by the church

The term Counter-Reformation describes a process of the Roman Catholic Church which, in the course of the Council of Trent from around 1545, tried to push back the Protestantism , which was establishing itself both politically and institutionally , also by force with the help of the Catholic Habsburg Emperor, which it supported (see Catholic Reform ) after the theological argument was over. The measures of Catholicism extended both to the ecclesiastical as well as to the secular political area and included measures to re-Catholicize Protestant-dominated territories. Together with a number of other factors, they led to the outbreak of the Thirty Years' War .

The process of the Counter Reformation lasted until the 18th century. Their means were the fight against Protestant rulers and countries, diplomacy , state repression and missionary recatholization. An important role in the counter-Reformation propaganda (from Latin propaganda fidei , to spread the faith) also played art ( baroque church building, lay and baroque theater ) and the veneration of Mary .

Church currents

The term “counter-Reformation” as a name for a movement emanating from the Catholic Church is controversial. The reason for this is the large number of renewal movements within the Catholic Church as a response to the Reformation, which also aimed at internal church renewal.

Concept history

In 1776, the Göttingen lawyer Johann Stephan Pütter introduced the expression Counter Reformation into literature. By this he understood "the forcible repatriation of Protestants to practice Catholic religion". The use of the term Counter Reformation in the sense of an age coined Moriz Ritter in 1889 ; he extended it to the Thirty Years' War . However, it was Leopold von Ranke who spoke in 1843 of the “Age of the Counter Reformation” taking into account the far-reaching Catholic movement. Ranke was already aware of the reform movement within the church, which Wilhelm Maurenbrecher finally referred to as the “Catholic Reformation”. Through the criticism of Hermann Baumgarten in particular and, to a far greater extent, of Hubert Jedin , this term was replaced by that of the Catholic Reform .

The term gained acceptance only slowly because denominational reservations were asserted. Some of the Catholic historians rejected the two expressions resolutely because they seemed to contain value judgments in favor of Protestantism, others sought a balance by differentiating between Catholic self-reform and political counter-reformation and using the epoch designation " age of religious schism " (1517–1555) and "Age of Confessional Absolutism" (1555-1648). In modern history , the term " confessionalization " introduced by Wolfgang Reinhard and Heinz Schilling is used for this .

Development of the Counter Reformation


Sebastiano Ricci : Pope Paul III. Inspired by faith in the Council of Trent , oil on canvas, 1688

The pioneer of the Counter-Reformation is the Jesuit order founded in 1534 by Ignatius von Loyola . In general, the Jesuits , who were led by Pope Gregory XIII. were decisively promoted (see also Reform Papacy ), significant contribution to the Counter-Reformation in Europe . The starting point of the Counter-Reformation was the Council of Trent (from 1545 to 1563 with interruptions). It emphasized the dogmatic and liturgical differences to Protestantism and took on the most serious grievances in the Catholic Church of that time (provisions on the formation of priests and the elimination of misuse of benefices and indulgences).

Literature and education

The Counter-Reformation was driven forward in contemporary literature primarily by sharply polemic Jesuit authors such as Jakob Gretser , Caspar Schoppe and Conrad Vetter . The publicist and translator Aegidius Albertinus was brought to Munich from Spain by Duke Wilhelm the Pious in 1593 specifically for the interests of the Counter-Reformation.

A medium of the Counter Reformation that should not be underestimated was the Jesuit theater , whose central role in the Jesuit school program has only recently been explored. Thousands upon thousands of plays ( Jean-Marie Valentin records 7650 titles), some of which only the "Periochen" (programs) have survived today, were performed in all Jesuit schools for strict Catholic indoctrination, and well-known Catholic Baroque poets such as Avancini and Bidermann appeared as Authors of these pieces to the public.

The princes

In the Holy Roman Empire , the Augsburg Religious Peace in 1555, with its provision that the sovereign decided on the denomination of his subjects ( cuius regio, eius religio ), formed the basis on which counter-Reformation efforts were based. A first high point was the Truchsessian War from 1583 to 1588, through which the Cologne bishopric and the associated electorate, as well as other principal dioceses, became Catholic again. Another conflict in which denominational camp formation and counter-Reformation efforts played a major role was the Jülich-Klevian succession dispute, which broke out in 1609 when Johann Wilhelm , the last Duke of Jülich-Kleve-Berg , died.

Direct sphere of influence of the Habsburgs

In the Habsburg hereditary lands , which with the exception of Tyrol had become predominantly Protestant, the Counter-Reformation began on a grand scale with Emperor Rudolf II from 1576 and was carried out with particular severity against the civilian population. The Protestant estates united in the Bohemian Confederation rebelled against it. This revolt went down in history as the so-called Second Prague Window Lintel , which formed the occasion for the Thirty Years' War in 1618 . The Bohemian Confederation was defeated by Ferdinand II in 1620 in the Battle of White Mountain near Prague .

The Protestant nobility and the Protestant clergy of Bohemia and Austria were expelled from the country or forced to change their denominations. Among these " exiles " were important German poets such as Sigmund von Birken , Catharina Regina von Greiffenberg , Wolf Helmhardt von Hohberg and Johann Wilhelm von Stubenberg , who had a significant influence on the development of German baroque literature, especially in the Regensburg - Nuremberg area .

Others moved to Saxony or the Mark Brandenburg. Salzburg residents mainly moved to West and East Prussia in the 18th century. Others were deported to eastern, Habsburg Transylvania (→ Landler and Transmigration ). As heir to the throne, Joseph II spoke out vehemently to his mother Maria Theresa in 1777 against the expulsion of Protestants from Moravia. His tolerance patent from 1781 can be seen as the end of the Counter Reformation. After that there were still individual expulsions and reprisals against Protestants (see Zillertal Inclinants ). Migrations to a tolerance community could now take place within the hereditary lands.

International politics

In France , from 1559, the Huguenots , who had been operating underground until then, tried to get their faith recognized. They were also supported by the English Queen Elizabeth I and her agent Nicholas Throckmorton - officially ambassador at the French court - and William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley against the Catholic Duke François de Lorraine, duc de Guise . The English crown tried, also taking advantage of the uprising of the civil population in the Spanish Netherlands, to put the French Catholics on the defensive and to recapture their possessions in France, which had been lost in 1559. The English were particularly interested in Calais , where they had lost control of the English Channel .

The denial of the rights of the Huguenots and their state persecution began with St. Bartholomew's Night on August 24, 1572 and led to denominational civil wars between groups of the civilian population, which ended in 1598 with the Edict of Nantes . From 1661 new measures against Huguenots were used within France. On October 23, 1685, the edict of King Louis XIV was revoked in the Edict of Fontainebleau . As a result, many Huguenots fled from France to North America as well as to Protestant countries such as England , the Netherlands or German imperial cities and principalities such as Kurbrandenburg , which granted asylum to the fugitive Huguenots with the Edict of Potsdam under the "Great Elector" Friedrich Wilhelm .

See also


  • Franz Schnabel : Germany's historical sources and representations of the modern age. Teubner, Stuttgart 1972, ISBN 3-519-07323-4 (reproduction of the first edition: Teubner, Leipzig / Berlin 1931):
    • The Age of Reformation 1500–1550. 2nd Edition. Teubner, Stuttgart 1972, ISBN 3-519-07323-4 (reproduction of the first edition: Teubner, Leipzig / Berlin 1931, no further parts published).
  • Ernst W. Zeeden, Hans G. Molitor (ed.): The visitations in the service of church reform. 2nd Edition. Aschendorff, Münster 1977, ISBN 3-402-03314-3 .


  • Stefan Bauer: The Invention of Papal History. Onofrio Panvinio between Renaissance and Catholic Reform . Oxford 2020, ISBN 978-0-1988-0700-1 .
  • Karl Brandi : German history in the age of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation . 5th edition. Societäts-Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1979, ISBN 3-7973-0341-6 .
  • Gustav Droysen : History of the Counter Reformation . Magnus, Stuttgart 1983, ISBN 3-88400-110-8 .
  • Heinrich Lutz : Reformation and Counter-Reformation. Oldenbourg, Munich 2005, ISBN 3-486-49585-2 (= Oldenbourg floor plan of history , volume 10).
  • Gerhard Oestreich : Spirit and Shape of the Early Modern State. Selected essays. Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 1969 DNB 457730978 .
  • Moriz Ritter: German History in the Age of the Counter Reformation and the Thirty Years' War. 3 volumes, Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 1974 (reprint of the Stuttgart edition 1889–1908).
  • Philipp M. Soergel: Wondrous in His Saints. Counter Reformation propaganda in Bavaria. University of California Press, Berkeley, Calif. 1993, ISBN 0-520-08047-5 .
  • Dieter J. Weiss: Catholic Reform and Counter-Reformation. An overview. Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 2005, ISBN 3-534-15121-6 .
  • Rudolf Leeb, Susanne Claudine Pils, Thomas Winkelbauer (eds.): State power and salvation. Counter-Reformation and Secret Protestantism in the Habsburg Monarchy. Oldenbourg, Vienna / Munich 2007, ISBN 978-3-7029-0546-0 .
  • Klaus Ganzer: Counter Reformation. In: Lexicon for Theology and Church . 3. Edition. 1995, Volume IV, Col. 346-350.
  • Heribert Smolinsky: Catholic Reform and Counter Reformation. In: Evangelisches Kirchenlexikon . 3. Edition. 1989, Volume II, Col. 1003-1007.
  • Rudolf Hoke: Counter Reformation. In: Concise dictionary on German legal history . 2nd Edition. 2008, Volume I, Col. 1996-2001.

Web links

Wiktionary: Counter Reformation  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations