Alarmed by the rapid spread of Reformation, which seemed to pose a threat to the very existence of Papacy, a number of sincere churchmen made a systematic and strenuous effort to reform the church with a view to maintain its hold on the people and succeeded in winning back many ‘lost sheep’ into its fold.
The task of winning the support of the people was rendered easy by a number of factors. Firstly, there existed large amount of dissensions amongst the Protestants which made the people doubt the correctness of their doctrines. For example Luther described Zwingli as heretic and Calvin frowned on all the non-Calvinists. On the other hand, the Catholic church presented a united picture and left no doubts in the minds of people about its doctrines. Secondly, the Catholic leaders carried out thorough reforms in the church to silence their opponents. In the process they did away with some of the recognized abuses of the Church. Thirdly, the Popes strengthened the special courts with a view to punish heresy and created the offices of Inquisition.
These officers examined the cases of persons suspected of disagreeing with the orthodox church and inflicted severe punishments on those who were found guilty. In Spain particularly, the Inquisition earned the reputation of being atrocious murderers. Though posterity may condemn them for their highhanded methods, it cannot be denied that they succeeded in driving heresy from Spain.
Fourthly, the Society of Jesus founded by Spanish nobleman Ignatius Loyala with a view to spread the influence of church through all possible means, greatly contributed to the strengthening of the Catholic Church.
The Jesuits through their superior knowledge succeeded in securing unquestioned obedience from all members and greatly popularized the Catholic religion in other countries. For example, St. Francis Xavier greatly popularized Catholic religion in China and Japan.
Finally, the Popes of the sixteenth century led a noble and pious life which had a salutary effect on their followers and greatly facilitated the revival of Catholicism. Popes likes Paul III, Paul IV, Pius V and Sixtus V etc., showed keen interest in introducing much needed reforms in the Church. Notable contribution in this regard was made by Pope Paul III, who called a meeting of the Church Council at Trent in northern Italy in 1545.
The Church Council continued its meetings with interruption upto 1563 and reaffirmed the basic principles of Catholic theology. It asserted that the Pope is the head of the Church and enjoys final authority to interpret all doctrines. The Church alone enjoyed the power to interpret the scriptures.
The council condemned the practice of sale of church offices and emphasized the need of imparting proper training to the clergy in schools. It was impressed that sermons should be preached as far as possible in the language of the people. The council revived the Church Court or Inquisition. It prepared a list of heretical books and directed the Catholics not to read these books.