Roman Catholic Church

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Roman Catholic Church

"Profession of the Tridentine Faith" (1564)

Reprinted in Confessions and Catechisms of the Reformation

Edited by Mark A. Noll
Published in 1997

The Catholic Reformation was a reform movement that took place within the Roman Catholic Church from the mid-sixteenth century into the early seventeenth century. Reforms were initiated by the Council of Trent, a conference of church officials, in a series of reports titled Canons and Decrees of the Council Trent. (A canon is a church law. A decree is an official order that implements a canon.) The council met in twenty-seven sessions between 1545 and 1563. The Catholic Reformation is also known as the Counter Reformation, but some historians prefer not to use this term because it suggests that changes came as a reaction to the Protestant Reformation. The Protestant Reformation was a reform movement that began within the Catholic Church in the early 1500s and resulted in the establishment of Protestantism as a separate Christian faith. These historians note that Catholics were aware of the need for reform long before Protestants came on the scene.

Catholics seek reform

By the mid-1400s popes (supreme heads of the church), cardinals (church officials ranking directly below the pope), bishops (heads of church districts), and priests (pastors of congregations) had become greedy and corrupt. Neglecting their responsibilities as spiritual leaders, they pursued their own personal advancement and pleasure. Nepotism (appointing family members to church positions) and simony (selling of church offices) were common practices, and clergy of all ranks were noted for their luxurious lifestyles. In fact, the Catholic Church had more property and wealth than kings and princes. Clergymen routinely ignored celibacy rules (church prohibitions against having sexual relations) by keeping mistresses and fathering children. Other problems were equally serious. Bishops did not reside in their dioceses, or church districts, and priests did not live in their parishes as they were required to do. Bishops failed to supervise priests, who were often poorly educated and could not fulfill their duties to parishioners. Church doctrines, or teachings, had become empty rituals that were secondary to the quest for power. Even worse, clergymen misused their power to control and exploit church members.

Many Catholics were troubled by this situation. Outside the church, the Devotio Moderna (Modern Devotion) stressed a renewed commitment to spirituality. Christian humanist scholars also promoted an upright and devout life. (Humanists were scholars who promoted a human-centered literary and intellectual movement based on the revival of classical culture.) Within the church, Benedictine monks formed monasteries directly based on Christian teachings. Several priests openly criticized church officials' unethical practices and abuse of power. Among them was Girolamo Savonarola (1452–1498) of Florence, Italy, who achieved fame as an inspiring preacher. He was executed, however, because he challenged the pope's authority. Twenty years after Savonarola's death, the rapid rise of Protestantism brought more demands for reform. In keeping with a practice dating back to early times, many Catholics wanted to hold a general council of bishops to discuss problems. A general council met at Rome from 1515 until 1517. This gathering, called the Fifth Lateran Council, agreed to make various reforms. It adjourned shortly before the German reformer Martin Luther (see entry) posted his Ninety-Five Theses, a list of grievances against the church, at Wittenberg, Germany, in 1517. Luther attacked the practice of selling indulgences (partial forgiveness of sins), but soon other reformers such as the Swiss priest Huldrych Zwingli (see entry) were questioning most of the teachings and practices of the Catholic Church. Popes showed no serious interest in reform until 1537, when Pope Paul III (1468–1549; reigned 1534–49) appointed a committee of cardinals to study problems in the church. Their report, A Council … for Reforming the Church, denounced evils and abuses at all levels. Most of these abuses were laid at the door of the papacy (office of the pope) itself.

Council of Trent addresses problems

For the next few years Paul III tried to convene a council, but it had to be postponed several times, mainly because bishops felt threatened by his efforts to bring change. He therefore initiated his own reforms, such as encouraging new religious communities. Among them was the Society of Jesus (known as the Jesuits), an order for men founded by Ignatius of Loyola (see entry), which the pope approved in 1540. Two years later Paul III established an official church court, the Congregation of the Roman Inquisition, which was responsible for seeking out heretics (those who violate the laws of God and the church) and putting them on trial. In 1545 the pope finally succeeded in organizing the first session of the Council of Trent. He adjourned the council in 1547, however, because of poor attendance, an outbreak of typhus (bacterial disease), and a bad climate. The second session of Trent met in 1551 and 1552 under Pope Julius III (1487–1555; reigned 1550–55). The next pope, Marcellus II (1501–1555; reigned April–May 1555), held office only briefly and did not call any meetings. His successor, Paul IV (1476–1559; reigned 1555–59), opposed the council as a threat to papal authority and refused to hold meetings. He undertook his own reforms, strengthening the Roman Inquisition and establishing the Index of Prohibited Books, a list of "unholy and dangerous works." The final session of the Council of Trent met in 1562 and 1563, during the reign of Pope Pius IV (1499–1565; reigned 1559–65).

In 1564 Pope Pius IV released the Profession of the Tridentine Faith, which was a binding creed, or statement of faith, for teachers of church doctrines. It was a summary of the major decisions of the Council of Trent as reported in Canons and Decrees. Although no Protestants were mentioned by name in these documents, Protestant teachings were discussed by the council. The Profession of the Tridentine Faith therefore reflected the church's response to the main points of contention between Catholics and Protestants. The title was taken from Tridentum, the Latin word for Trent. The Profession of the Tridentine Faith is also known as the "Creed of Pius IV" and "The Creed of the Council of Trent."

Things to Remember While Reading "Profession of the Tridentine Faith":

  1. Paragraph one states that the Nicene Creed is the foundation of the Catholic faith. This position was declared by the Council of Trent in 1547. The Nicene Creed was written by early church fathers and adopted at the Council at Nicaea in C. E. 325.
  2. Paragraph three affirms that the ancient traditions of the church are equal to the truth of the Bible (the Christian holy book). Luther had asserted that the Bible, not the opinions of church officials, should be "the sole rule of faith." The delegates at Trent also agreed to accept the Vulgate (Latin translation) as the official Bible of the Catholic Church. This version of the Bible had been challenged by Luther and other Protestants as not being the true word of God.
  3. Paragraph four asserts that there are the seven sacraments, or holy rites rituals. Most Protestants rejected all sacraments except baptism and communion.
  4. Although paragraph five is brief, it addresses one of the major differences between Catholics and Protestants. Like Catholics, Protestants believed that humans are born with a sinful nature, called original sin. Protestants contended, however, that salvation, or the forgiveness of sins, is a gift from God, called grace. People are incapable of fulfilling God's will without grace, and the only way they can gain justification of God's grace is through faith, not good works. The Council of Trent reinforced the opposite view taken by Catholics, that people are capable of performing naturally good works through which they can earn grace. Nevertheless, they must be open to God's offer of grace, which enables them to fulfill his law. If they reject grace, they will not gain salvation.
  5. Paragraphs six and seven declare that Jesus of Nazareth (called the Christ; the founder of Christianity) is really and physically present in communion (known as the Eucharist). Communion is a ceremony, celebrated in a service called a mass, in which one receives bread and wine from a priest. According to Catholic belief, the bread becomes the body of Christ and the wine becomes his blood. Most Protestants rejected this belief, saying that the bread and wine are merely symbolic and do not actually become Christ's body and blood.
  6. Paragraph eight addresses other areas of conflict between Catholics and Protestants. First it asserts the Catholic belief in the existence of purgatory (a place between heaven and hell where a soul awaits forgiveness of sins), which was rejected by Protestants. Next it defends the veneration, or worship, of saints (people declared holy by the Catholic Church) and the practice of asking them for help and favors. Protestants thought Christians could learn such qualities as humility, faith, and hope from the lives of the saints, but they believed in praying directly to God. This paragraph also upholds the veneration of relics, or holy objects. Protestants declared such items as pieces of the "True Cross" on which Jesus of Nazareth was supposedly crucified, or locks of Jesus' baby hair, to be "fake."
  7. Paragraph nine states that pictures and statues of Christ, his mother Mary ("the perpetual virgin mother of God"), and other saints enhance the worship service. Protestants believed that such images only encouraged idolatry (worship of images, or false gods), so they should be removed from churches. This paragraph also defends the concept that Christ left an excess amount of God's grace when he died, and that people can gain some of this grace by purchasing indulgences. The sale of indulgences was attacked first by Luther and then by other Protestant reformers, who claimed this was simply a way for the church to get rich from people's weaknesses.
  8. Paragraph ten confirms that the pope ("bishop of Rome") is a direct descendent of Saint Peter (the first leader of Christianity after Jesus' death) and the vicar, or representative, of Jesus on Earth. Protestants rejected this belief, contending that no human being can claim such power, which belongs only to God.
  9. Paragraph eleven declares the decisions of the Council of Trent to be the only true teachings of Christianity. This means that anyone who does not accept the teachings is a heretic.

"Profession of the Tridentine Faith"

I. I,—, with a firm faith believe and profess all and every one of the things contained in that creed which the holy Roman Church makes use of:

"I believe in one God, the Father almighty; Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.


Substance: Essence.


Incarnate: In bodily form.

Holy Ghost

Holy Ghost: Holy Spirit; third person of the Holy Trinity (God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit).

Pontius Pilate

Pontius Pilate: Roman official who condemned Jesus to death.

"And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds [God of God], Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of onesubstance with the Father; by whom all things were made; who, for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and wasincarnate by theHoly Ghost of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us underPontius Pilate; he suffered and wasburied; and the third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father; and he shall come again, with glory, to judge both thequick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.

"And [I believe] in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of life; who proceedeth from the Father [and the Son]; who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified; who spake by theProphets. And [I believe] one holy catholic andapostolic church. I acknowledge onebaptism for the baptism of sins; and I look for theresurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen."

II. I moststeadfastly admit and embrace apostolic andecclesiastic traditions, and all other observances and constitutions of the same church.

III. I also admit the holy Scriptures, according to that sense which our holy mother Church has held and does hold, to which it belongs to judge of the true sense and interpretation of the Scriptures; neither will I ever take and interpret them otherwise than according to the unanimous consent of the fathers.

IV. I also profess that there are truly and properly seven sacra ments of the new law, instituted by Jesus Christ our Lord, and necessary for the salvation of mankind, although not all for every one,to wit: baptism,confirmation, the Eucharist,penance, extreme unction, holy orders, andmatrimony; and that they confer grace; and that of these, baptism, confirmation, and ordination cannot bereiterated withoutsacrilege. I also receive and admit the received and approved ceremonies of the Catholic Church, used in the solemn administration of theaforesaid sacraments.

V. I embrace and receive all and every one of the things which have been defined and declared in the holy Council of Trent concerning original sin and justification.

VI. I profess, likewise, that in the Mass there is offered to God a true, proper, andpropitiatory sacrifice for the living and the dead; and that in the most holy sacrament of the Eucharist there is truly, really, and substantially, the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ; and that there is made a change of the whole essence of the bread into the body, and of the whole essence of the wine into the blood; which change the Catholic Church calls transubstantiation.


Quick: Living.


Prophets: Writers of the books of the Old Testament, the first part of the Bible.


Apostolic: Relating to the teachings of the New Testament, the second part of the Bible.


Baptism: Christian sacrament marked by the use of water and admitting the recipient into the Christian community.


Resurrection: Rising.


Steadfastly: Firm in belief.


Ecclesiastic: Pertaining to the church.

To wit

To wit: Specifically.


Confirmation: Conferring the gift of the Holy Spirit.


Penance: Act of showing sorrow for a sin.

Extreme unction

Extreme unction: Sacrament in which a priest anoints an prays for the recovery and salvation of a critically ill or injured person.

Holy orders

Holy orders: Confirmation of those who administer the sacraments.


Matrimony: Marriage.


Reiterated: Repeated.


Sacrilege: Violation of what is consecrated (made holy) by god.


Aforesaid: Previously stated.


Propitiatory: Gaining of favor of good will.

VII. I also confess that under either kind alone Christ is received whole and entire, and a true sacrament.

VIII. I firmly hold that there is a purgatory, and that the souls therein detained are helped by thesuffrages of the faithful. Likewise, that the saints reigning with Christ are to be honored andinvoked, and that they offer up prayers to God for us, and that their relics are to be had in veneration.

IX. I most firmly assert that the images of Christ, and of the per petual virgin the mother of God, and also of the other saints, ought to be had and retained, and that due honor and veneration are to be given them. I also affirm that the power of indulgences was left by Christ in the church, and that the use of them is most wholesome to Christian people.

X. I acknowledge the holy Catholic Apostolic Roman Church for the mother and mistress of all churches; and I promise and swear true obedience to the bishop of Rome, successor to Saint Peter, prince of the apostles, and vicar of Jesus Christ.

XI. I likewise undoubtingly receive and profess all other things de livered, defined, and declared by the sacred canons and general councils, and particularly by the holy Council of Trent; and I condemn, reject, andanathematize all things contrary thereto, and all heresies which the church has condemned, rejected, and anathematized.

XII. I do, at this present, freely profess and truly hold this true Catholic faith, without which no one can be saved; and I promise most constantly to retain and confess the same entire and inviolate, with God's assistance, to the end of my life. And I will take care, as far as in me lies, that it shall be held, taught, and preached by my subjects, or by those the care of whom shallappertain to me in my office. This I promise, vow, and swear—so help me God, and these holyGospels of God.


Suffrages: Short prayers in behalf of someone.


Invoked: Appealed to for help.


Anathematize: Cursed by the church.


Appertain: Belong or relate to.


Gospels: Message of Christ, kingdom of God, and salvation.

What happened next…

The Council of Trent brought about positive changes. Foremost was the clarification of church doctrines, which had previously been confusing for many Catholics. Popes, councils, and theologians had said different things at different times about purgatory, the sacraments, the veneration of saints, indulgences, and communion, among other church teachings. After the Council of Trent these doctrines became perfectly clear, to both Catholics and Protestants. Acknowledging that corruption was a serious problem, the council issued strong rulings for eliminating unethical and illegal practices. Pope Pius implemented these changes by appointing reformers to high office. As a result, church officials could no longer engage in simony and nepotism. Bishops and priests had to live in their parishes, and bishops were ordered to enforce greater discipline over priests. Seminaries were established in each diocese for the education of priests. The pope was given more control over cardinals and bishops. In addition, artists painted masterpieces on religious subjects and musicians composed grand choral works based on sacred texts, introducing a new sense of spirituality into religious life. At the same time, however, the Roman Inquisition and the Index of Prohibited Books ruined the lives of many people.

Although abuses were not entirely eliminated, the decrees of the Council of Trent were generally successful. By the turn of the seventeenth century the Catholic Church seemed to have survived assaults from Protestants. Catholics and Protestants were even living together in harmony in some places. Yet this situation did not last. In 1618 Europe erupted into another round of religious disputes, which escalated into the Thirty Years' War (1618–48), now known as the first armed conflict to involve all major world powers. The Peace of Westphalia, the treaty signed after the Thirty Years' War, was a landmark in European history. The Protestant Reformation and the Catholic Reformation had come to an end. Religion no longer played an important role in issues that divided European states—a new map of Europe had been drawn according to the principles of religious freedom.

Did you know…

  1. The Nicene Creed was adopted as a statement of faith by many Protestant denominations.
  2. In 1555 Pope Paul IV strengthened the Roman Inquisition, which had been established by Paul III. At that time the church wrongly suspected Jews of influencing the Protestant Reformation, so Paul IV established the Jewish ghetto (a part of the city in which a minority group is forced to live) at Rome. He required all Jews to wear an identifying badge, thus separating them from Christians.
  3. In 1559 Paul IV issued the first edition of the Index of Prohibited Books. The list included the complete writings of such Protestant reformers as Martin Luther, Huldrych Zwingli, the French-born Swiss evangelist John Calvin (see entry), and Scottish Presbyterian leader John Knox. Also condemned were some works by the Dutch humanist Desiderius Erasmus, The Prince by the Italian political theorist Niccolò Machiavelli (see entry), and the Koran (the Islamic holy book). Appearing on later lists were such Renaissance classics as sonnets by the Italian poet Petrarch, poems by the Italian courtesan (woman who sells sexual favors to members of a court) Veronica Franco, Book of the Courtier by Italian author Baldassare Castiglione, and the scientific works of Galileo (see entry). The Index of Prohibited Books was terminated in 1948 with the publication of the twentieth and final edition. In 1966 the Catholic Church abolished the Index and classified it as an historical document.

For More Information


Noll, Mark A., ed. Confessions and Catechisms of the Reformation. Vancouver, B.C.: Regent College Publishing, 1997.

Web Sites

Halsall, Paul. "Council of Trent: Rules on Prohibited Books." Modern History Sourcebook. [Online] Available, April 10, 2002.

"Paul III." [Online] Available, April 10, 2002.

"Savonarola, Girolamo." MSN Encarta. [Online] Available, April 10, 2002.

"Trent, Council of." [Online] Available, April 10, 2002.