The History Of Catholicism An How Its Depicted

1543 words - 6 pages

The History of Catholicism an How Its Depicted

The series of events which form the history of Catholicism in the
mid sixteenth century are most often depicted as follows. A violent shock
causes the very foundations of Christendom to tremble, and whole sections
of the Church's ancient edifice are swallowed up in heresy. Her rulers
then drag themselves from their lethal indifference; they determine to
oppose the Protestant menace, and at last take steps that should have been
taken long ago.

Such is the pattern implied by the word `counter-reformation.' The
term, however, though common, is misleading: it cannot rightly be applied,
logically or chronologically, to that sudden awakening as of a startled
giant, that wonderful effort of rejuvenation and reorganization, which in
a space of thirty years gave to the Church an altogether new appearance.
What happened was a true renascence in the fullest etymological sense,
more impressive from a Christian point of view than the Renaissance of art
and letters upon which contemporary Europe was priding itself. The
so-called `counter-reformation' did not begin with the Council of Trent,
long after Luther; its origins and initial achievements were much anterior
to the fame of Wittenberg. It was undertaken, not by way of answering the
`reformers,' but in obedience to demands and principles that are part of
the unalterable tradition of the Church and proceed from her most
fundamental loyalties...

Protestantism played a part, dialectically, in the Catholic
renascence. "Oportet haereses esse," as St. Paul says; and heresy obliged
the Church to devise an exact statement of her doctrine upon certain
points, to establish her position more securely than she would, in all
probability, have been led to do, had she not been confronted with the
challenge of error. But the impetus which enabled herto join battle with
her enemies was generated long before the Lutheran assault, and can in no
way be considered a result of the upheaval caused by that event.

A general view of the history of the Church makes it clear that the
sixteenth-century Catholic reform is not essentially different from other
reforms, which have applied an irresistible law and thus serve as
mile-stones on the road of time. The work of Cluny in the eleventh
century, the achievements of St. Norbert, St. Bernard and others in the
twelfth, the heroic undertakings of St. Francis and St. Dominic in the
thirteenth -- all these monumental and unending labours are of the same
spirit and the same significance as those accomplished by the Popes and
the Fathers of Trent, and by the religious founders of that period. Here
indeed we have one of the most permanent features of Christianity, one of
the most certain evidences of its divine origin and of the reality of
those promises which it claims to have received. For ever dragged
downward by the weight of original sin, the baptized soul...

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