In short, the Catholic church reacted to the process of Reformation with immense negativity. Catholic church saw Reformation as a threat and rightfully so. Immense accumulated wealth was in the danger zone and about to be taken by people who suddenly started realizing that the church had been exploiting them for quite some time. Martin Luther and other prominent figures constantly denounced the material wealth of the church and the notion of indulgences. The reaction of the Catholic church can be understood through Counter-Reformation – a new movement instigated to mitigate the influence of Reformation.

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The counter-reformation process started with the Council of Trent that lasted for almost two decades having started in 1545. It is possible to sum up the movement through four major elements: religious orders, political dimensions, spiritual movements, and ecclesiastical reconfiguration. The reforms touched upon numerous aspects – from establishing seminaries to train future priests in the matters of spiritual life to redefining the policies on arts.

The first major figure of the movement was Pope Paul III. He is considered the first pope of the Counter-Reformation. It was his initiative to arrange the council of Trent. He was willing to address the issues of corruption, financial abuses and machinations with indulgences. The basis was still left the same compared to the traditional Medieval Church: religious orders, the doctrine and the overall sacramental system remained unchanged. Even thought the foundation remained the same – there were numerous changes in the aspects of the growing divide between clerics and the laity. It was acknowledged that too many members of the clergy, especially in rural area, had a terribly poor education. Most did not know Latin. Suffice to say that the administrative issues were paid considerable attention in order to improve the connection with the usual populace.

As far as different changes in art perception were concerned, they dealt with the way church perceived art. In some aspects, there were additional tightening of the policy. For instance, icons not based on scripture were forbidden. Pagan elements were also prohibited including all nudity. The nudity policy concerned Baby Jesus as well. Many regarded the new policy as the death of Medieval art. Reformation art, on the other hand, prospered with such masters as Titian, Rembrandt, El Greco, Rubens, Tintoretto, and many others. There were numerous interesting changes in the sphere of music. For example, it was decided during the 22nd session in Canon 8 that only measured music and organ can be used with no profane elements. Only hymns and divine prayers were allowed. Nonetheless, very few composers on the Reformation territory adhered to the new reforms of the Catholic church. The most famous among them was Kerle, who acted in conformity with the fresh decisions from the Council.

It is obvious that the Catholic church took Reformation more than seriously. It understood that changes have to be made to ensure the further strong stance of Catholicism. They have managed to enter necessary administrative reforms that made the Church look better in the eyes of common people. The problem was that the church did not feel enough determination to change the approach in arts for the better. They were too slow with the necessary changes that would have given the artists more freedom for self expression. This was one of the fundamental reasons for the Catholic church becoming more obsolete and out of touch with progress.

  • Blunt, Anthony. Artistic Theory in Italy, 1450-1660. Oxford Paperbacks, 1940.
  • Leichtentritt, Hugo. “The Reform of Trent and Its Effect on Music” in The Musical Quarterly, Vo. 30, No. 3., 1944.
  • Monson, Craig A. “The Council of Trent Revisited” in Journal of the American Musicological Society, Vo. 55, No. 1, 2002.