THE COUNCIL MET HERE
Europe and England were in turmoil.The activities of the dissident Augustinian Priest Martin Luther and the unadmitted  heretic King Henry VIII had , between them, deformed the Catholic Church in the name of reform. It was the largest fraud in history.

The scandal and dis-order which these events had brought about within the Church needed an effective response, but, for a long time, in the most human of ways , the Church dithered. At first it was thought that the drink driven Priest could be contained, but he remained defiant having obtained political backing from local nobles. 

The evolution of the Protestant Deformation can be highlighted as follows:

1517  Father Martin Luther pins his "95 Theses" to the door of the Church in Wittenberg chiefly complaining of alleged abuses  relating to the conditions for Indulgences.  He was then 34 yrs of age and had 29 years to live.

 1520 Father Luther publishes three major works, one of them denying Papal authority among other things.

1521 (Jan - May)At the Diet of Worms , Luther is tried before the Holy Roman Emperor for heresy, and convicted, he is subsequently excommunicated by Pope Leo X. Frederick III Elector of Saxony takes Luther under his protection and keeps him in the Castle at Wartburg.

          (October) King Henry VIII is awarded by Pope Leo X the title " Fidei Defensor"  ("Defender of the Faith") for his writing against Luther  " The Defence of the Seven Sacraments").

1522 At Wartburg Castle Luther publishes his translation of the New Testament in German. It features some words added which suit his opinions.

1526 William Tyndale publishes an English language translation of the Bible. 

1533 Henry VIII's puppet Archbishop of Canterbury - a Protestant believer - declares Null and Void King Henry's Marriage to Catherine of Aragon. The King goes through the form of marriage with Anne Boleyn.

1534 Saint Ignatius of Loyola founds the Jesuit Order. Parts of Poland, Germany and Hungary return to the Catholic Faith, abandoning Protestantism.

          (NOVEMBER)  King Henry VIII has Parliament pass The Act of Supremacy which purports to make him the "Head" of the Church in England.

1535 King Henry VIII has Saint John Cardinal Fisher Bishop of Rochester, and Saint Thomas More executed for Treason for refusing to take the Oath of Supremacy and denying the validity of the King's marriage.Many others are similarly executed.

1536 The King also has William Tyndale executed, but for heresy.

          The King also commences the Dissolution  of the Monasteries , Priories and Abbeys : a naked grab for plunder attended by much cruelty and leaving the Kingdom for decades without any welfare services which had been provided by them for centuries.  

1545 -63 The  Council of Trent defines the Catholic position against the Protestant Heresies, and prepares the Catholic Church to respond to the new situation.

In Germany , as well as in England, nationalism was beginning to be powerful force and the "supra national " character of the Catholic Church was rubbing at sore points. Luther was quick to recognise this and to take advantage of it. In late November 1518 Luther had sought to appeal from the Pope to a General Council because he saw he was about to be declared a heretic. In 1523 the Diet met in Nuremberg and called for " a free Christian Council" to be held on German soil.And in 1524 the Diet meeting again in Nuremberg called for a German National Council to temporarily judge the Lutheran issues and for a General Council to settle them permanently. The Holy See rejected the National Council idea which was then forbidden by the Emperor, who expressed his support for a General Council and proposed Trent as its site.But the Holy See was rightly wary of the intentions of the Germans and nothing came of the idea even though Pope Clement VII met with the Emperor at Bologna in 1530. Meeting again at Bologna in 1532 the Pope and the Emperor agreed that a Council should be held as soon as all the Christian Princes agreed, and Briefs were sent to each of them, Henry VIII deferred a reply and the French King was not favourable and the German Protestant Princes objected to the conditions proposed by the Pope.


Upon Clement VII's death, Cardinal Alessandro Farnese became Paul III ( 1534 - 1549). He had always favoured a Council and advocated this course during the Conclave that elected him. Nevertheless convoking a Council did not proceed smoothly. In a manner which seems unthinkable to-day various Kings and Princes decided or sought to frustrate its convocation, by refusing their consent , not allowing the Bull of Convocation to be published in their Kingdom, or forbidding Cardinals in their Kingdom from participating, or seeking to alter the venue chosen. Rome , Mantua, Vicenza and finally Trent were successively considered or chosen. Wars between the Emperor and various other Kings notably the King of France led to the council being postponed time and again.Finally, by the Bull " Laetare Hierusalem" the Council was convoked on 19 November, 1544  to meet at Trent on 15th March, 1545 . This opening was subsequently deferred to 13th December, 1545 for the first formal session.Exhaustive but finally successful discussion on how to proceed  was carried through into early 1546. But finally very thorough and workable procedures and mechanisms were evolved and a regular courier service to Rome kept the Holy Father informed of all that was happening.

The first Period of the Council was held at Trent, the Second at Bologna, the third at Trent, the fourth at Trent brought it to a close.

The move from Trent to Bologna took place on 12th March, 1547. The Bologna meeting was closed on 17th September, 1547 and the Council suspended.

On 10th November, Pope Paul III died and was succeeded by Pope Julius III ( 1550-1555) who re-convened the Council on 14th November, 1550 by the Bull " Quum ad tollenda" . It remained in sitting until suspended for two years on 23rd April, 1552.

But Pope Julius III did not get to recall the Council. He died in 1555 and was succeeded by Pope Marcellus II but he died only 22 days after his election. He was in turn succeeded by Pope Paul IV (1555-1559)though he was an energetic reformer, he did not consider re-convening the Council.  However his Successor Pope Pius IV ( 1559- 1565) shortly after his election, announced his intention to do so.

He found the right man to put his plan into action and its results into effect. That man was his nephew , and the Archbishop of Milan Cardinal (now Saint) Charles Borromeo. Despite opposition from the Emperor, from the King of Francis, and from the Protestants and their supporting Nobles, on 29th November, 1560 the Bull " Ad ecclesiae regimen" re-convened the Council at Trent at Easter, 1561. After much obstruction and delay, it finally opened on 18th January, 1562. 

It finally closed on 4th December, 1563. The 450th Anniversary of which occasion this Post marks. 

  The work of the Council of Trent could hardly have been conducted in more inauspicious circumstances, but it was just those circumstances that created the need for it. One is reminded of Saint Paul's recounting of his many woes as he went about his mission. Every permutation and combination of forces external sought to stop, subvert or pervert the Council But through God's Grace and the heroic efforts of those faithful to Christ's Truth, the Council heroically persevered in its assertion and definition of the Truth and its efforts to enhance the internal discipline of the Church for the Glory of God.

Among its achievements were:
First Period at Trent -
Sacred Scripture - the Canon - the Vulgate declared the authentic text  for preaching and disputation. Further, it was decided that the unanimous testimony of the Fathers was the standard for interpretation. In addition it was decided that in matters of Faith and Morals, both the Tradition of the Church and the Scared Scripture formed the standard for supernatural revelation.

Nothing was said about vernacular translations.

Teaching concerning Original Sin was given Dogmatic form and opposing teachings were anathematised in five Canons. 

It also dealt with reforms regarding Professorships of Sacred Scripture and Secular Learning. 

After extensive debate, hotly contested by the German forces , the masterly Decree On Justification was approved.It included a Preface of 16 Chapters and 33 Canons condemning various heretical positions. One of the reforms included among a series on canonical matters , banned non- resident Bishops , thus ending one of the most poisonous abuses that had crept into the life of the Church.

A Dogmatic Decree on the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation was agreed, with 13 Canons on the former and 3 on the latter.A 15 Chapter Decree on the role of Bishops and on Ecclesiastical Benefices(especially re pluralities) was also agreed. 

But events intervened in the form of infectious disease in Trent, and it was decided to remove to Bologna.

Second Period : Bologna

The sudden removal from Trent to Bologna displeased the Pope and incensed the Emperor. Consequently the whole time at Bologna was taken up with disputation over the resulting problems . 
The only Decree in Bologna was the one proroguing the Council, which was done at the order of Pope Paul III.

Third Period : Trent

In February,1562 came the first of the fruits of this period of the Council : a decree on the drawing up a list of forbidden books. This was perfectly consistent with the thinking of the time . Books that taught heresy had no right to circulate and, certainly, no faithful Catholic had the need or right to read them, rather, the Church had a duty to protect the faithful from error. 

In July of 1562 the Council approved a decree on Holy Communion. It dealt with Communion under both kinds, with Holy Communion for children - it contained four chapters and four Canons. A decree on the Protestant deformation was also promulgated covered Priestly Ordination, the revenues of canons, the founding of new parishes and the collectors of alms.

After months of discussion, on  17th September, 1562 four Decrees were promulgated: the first concerned the Dogma of the Church on the Mass  ( in 9 Chapters and 9 Canons), the second suppressed abuses in the celebration of Mass and a third in 11 Chapters dealt with reforms in the morals of the Clergy, and related matters, and the Fourth dealt with the granting Communion of the Precious Blood to the Laity, and the decision in this matter was left to the Pope.

It now happened that the Council was beset by a " perfect storm " of difficulties, external and internal. The various Monarchs ' conflicting and often impossible demands were compounded by the deaths of two of the more important Cardinal Legates, and the arrival of a group of French Bishops on 13th November added to the problems because of their dubious propositions.

A growing desire for the Council to be brought to an end after such a long time. In the final session on 3rd and 4th December, 1563, Decrees were promulgated on the subject of:

the veneration and invocation of the Saints.
relics and images,
reform related to Monks and to Nuns,
reform and the mode of living of Cardinals and Bishops , 
a Certificate of Fitness for Ecclesiastics,
legacies for the saying of Masses,
the administration of ecclesiastical benefices,
the suppression of concubinage among the Clergy,
the life of the clergy in general,
a Dogmatic Decree on Indulgences,
on Fasts and Feast Days,
a special decree on the preparation by the Pope of a new edition of the Roman Missal, of the Breviary and of a new Catechism.

Finally the Decrees previously passed were confirmed and the whole of the work of the Council sent to the Pope, by now the austere Pope Paul IV , for his confirmation , and the Council was solemnly concluded.


The Council of Trent , more than any other Council worked under conditions of the greatest difficulty and tumult. And, like no other Council , its Agenda was massive seeking to address many problems of practice and to resolve matters of Doctrine. It was a resounding success and a tribute to those involved. It left the Church far better prepared to meet the even greater storms that were gathering in the centuries ahead. The consequences of the Protestant Deformation,rampant Secularism, the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Persecution ( including the imprisonment of two successive Popes),the German Kulturkampf, the loss of the Papal States and more.

The Council reflected the guidance and protection of the Church by the Holy Spirit, overcoming the works of diabolical deformation and destruction.




Popular posts from this blog