The Council of Trent Passes Reforms

To establish the direction that reform should take, the pope called the Council of Trent in 1545. It met off and on for almost 20 years. The council reaffirmed the traditional Catholic views that Protestants had challenged. The council believed that salvation comes through faith and good works. It declared that the Christian Bible, while a major source of religious truth, is not the only source.

The council also took steps to end abuses in the Church. It provided stiff penalties for worldliness and corruption among the clergy. It also established schools to create a better-educated clergy who could challenge Protestant teachings.

The Inquisition Is Strengthened

To deal with the Protestant threat more directly, Pope Paul strengthened the Inquisition. The Inquisition was a Church court set up during the Middle Ages. To battle Protestant ideas, the Inquisition used secret testimony, torture, and execution to root out what the Church considered heresy. It also prepared the Index of Forbidden Books, a list of works considered too immoral for Catholics to read. The list included books by Luther and Calvin and even some books by Italian humanists.

Painting of men in papal hats seated and reading while talking, surrounding by other men seated and discussing. In the center of the painting, an altar holds a monstrance. On a raised area in the upper left, a man on a throne in a papal hat receives tribute.

Pope Paul III meets with Catholic religious leaders at the Council of Trent, where he called for a series of reforms to correct abuses within the Church.

The Jesuits

In 1540, the pope recognized a new religious order, the Society of Jesus, or Jesuits. Founded by Ignatius of Loyola, the Jesuit order was dedicated to combating heresy and spreading the Catholic faith.

Ignatius was a Spanish knight whose military career ended abruptly when his leg was shattered in battle. During a long and painful recovery, he found comfort reading about Christian saints who had overcome mental and physical torture. He then vowed to become a “soldier of God.”

Ignatius drew up a strict program for the Jesuits. It included spiritual and moral discipline, rigorous religious training, and absolute obedience to the Church. Led by Ignatius, the Jesuits embarked on a crusade to defend and spread the Catholic faith worldwide.

To further the Catholic cause, Jesuits became advisers to Catholic rulers, helping them combat heresy in their lands. They set up schools that taught humanist and Catholic beliefs and enforced discipline and obedience. Daring Jesuits slipped into Protestant lands in disguise to minister to Catholics. Jesuit missionaries spread their Catholic faith to Asia, Africa, and the Americas.

Illustration of a bearded man in plain robes holding a cross and writing in a book while looking skyward.

Ignatius of Loyola founded the Jesuits and was one of the key individuals of the Catholic Reformation. He represented the Church's new commitment to religious education, moral reform, and strict obedience to Church teachings.

Teresa of Avila

As the Catholic Reformation spread, many Catholics experienced renewed feelings of intense faith. Among those who experienced religious renewal was Teresa of Avila.


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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments