Trent, Council of

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The Nineteenth Ecumenical Council, which opened at Trent, Italy, on Dec. 13, 1545, and closed there on Dec. 4, 1563, having held 25 sessions. The council's objective was the order and clarification of Catholic doctrine, and legislation for a thorough reform of the Church.

The 25-Year Conflict over Its Convocation

On June 15, 1520, Pope leo x had condemned 4l propositions from the writings of Martin luther. But this condemnation had, in many quarters, not been accepted or regarded as the final, irrevocable decision of the Church, because the impression persisted, partly under the influence of the conciliar theory and partly because of the memory of the councils of the early centuries of the Church, that the final decision on controversies concerning the faith accrued to an ecumenical council. [see conciliarism (history of); conciliarism (theological aspect).]

Charles V and the Lutherans. Both the Catholic estates of the empire and those friendly to Luther demanded in the Diet of Nuremberg (1523) a "free, Christian Council on German soil" within a year. The Lutherans understood this to mean a council "free of the Pope," which would be summoned by pope and emperor in concert; "Christian" meant that the Bible alone would be the touchstone at that council and that the laity would be represented; "on German soil" meant within the boundaries of the empire, analogously to the ancient Christian councils that had been held where the controversies had erupted. The tenor of this Nuremberg formula explains why Pope clement vii was dilatory in his treatment of the demand for a council, which had the support of Emperor charles v; besides, wars between the emperor and King Francis I of France (152129, 153638) made the convocation of a council in the empire virtually impossible. The Lutherans gained time to establish, with the support of the secular authorities, a new ecclesiastical organization and submitted a profession of faith at the Diet of Augsburg (1530). The emperor made an effort to reach agreement with the Lutherans at this Diet but without success. Thereupon, in accord with an agreement reached with Charles V in Bologna, Clement VII offered to summon a council. But the pope attached so many conditions to the proposal that nothing came of it.

Proposal of Paul III. Pope paul iii was the first to make the council a part of his program; but the convocation agreed upon during Charles V's visit to Rome in April of 1536 came to nothing, because of the demand of the duke of Mantua for the provision of a strong papal guard for the council, which according to a previous agreement was to be brought to Mantua, at that time an imperial fief. The date of this convocation had been set for June 2, 1536; and when this effort failed, the council was transferred to Vicenza, to which city papal delegates journeyed to find that no bishops had appeared. The German Protestants and France refused to send delegates to the council. The emperor again made an effort to heal the breach at the Diet of Regensburg (1541) by direct negotiations with the Protestants, but in vain (see interims).

On May 22, 1542, the pope summoned the council to Trent, a site recommended by the emperor and approved by the estates. But a new war between Charles V and Francis I intervened, and seven months later there were only ten bishops present in Trent. The council had to be suspended; only after the Peace of Crépy (Sept. 18, 1544), in which the king of France assumed the obligation of sending delegates to the council, could the date March 15, 1545, be set for its convocation at Trent. The council was decreed by the bull Laetare Jerusalem (Nov. 19, 1544). The bull set three orders of business: healing of the confessional split, reform of the Church, and establishment of peace so that a defense against the Ottomans could be elaborated. On Feb. 22, 1545, the pope named

Cardinals Giovanni Del Monte, Marcello Cervini, and Reginald Pole as his legates.

The Council Under Paul III and Julius III (154552)

This second convocation sent to Trent was successful primarily because the pope and the emperor had reached agreement on a common procedure against the German Protestants: First, their opposition to the council (and to the emperor) was to be broken with military force, and then they were to present themselves to the council and, if necessary, be compelled to submit to its decisions. Because no imperial campaign against the Schmalkaldic League materialized, and it seemed unwise to keep the bishops already in Trent waiting much longer, the pope ordered the council to open on Dec. 13, 1545, in the Cathedral of St. Vigilius, although there were only 34 participants present with the right to vote. Since there had not been sufficient preparatory work, the deliberations took almost two months to get into meaningful action; on Jan. 22, 1546, the decision was taken to treat dogma and reform side by side.

Scripture and tradition. The debates on dogmatic points by the council fathers with right to vote in the general congregations were prepared in theological congregations (the first held on Feb. 20, 1546). Since Sola scriptura (Scripture alone), was recognized by the Protestants as a rule of faith, this was the point first attacked. The decree on the sources of revelation published in session 4 (April 8, 1546) contained a list of the canonical Books of the Old Testament and New Testament [see canon, biblical] and decreed that the apostolic traditions on faith and custom that "have been transmitted in some sense from generation to generation down to our times" were to be accepted "with as much reverence" (pari pietatis affectu ac reverentia ) as Sacred Scripture. There is scarcely any doubt that the majority of the council fathers were thinking in terms of a material supplementation to Sacred Scripture when they proposed the principle of tradition. A second decree declared the Vulgate (vetus et vulgata editio ) to be authentic, that is, apodictic when quoted in lectures, debates, and sermons. Criticism of this decree in Rome was answered by the council legates with the declaration that no suppression of the study of the original texts (Greek and Hebrew) was intended.

License for preaching. The proclamation of the Word of God in sermons presupposed a better training of priests. The council judged that it could content itself with the renewal and expansion of the decree promulgated at the Fourth Lateran Council on the establishment of lectorates in grammar and theology in the cathedral churches. Preaching on Sundays and holy days was made obligatory for all bishops and pastors; a controversy between bishops and exempt orders concerning the granting of the license to preach was resolved by a ruling that in the churches of exempt orders only the permission of the superiors of the order was required, whereas in all other churches, the license of the local ordinary was needed.

Original sin and justification. Also in session 5 (June 17, 1546), the council condemned in six canons both the Pelagian denial of original sin and Luther's teaching that original sin is not entirely effaced by Baptism; the evil concupiscence remaining after Baptism was held to be not sin in the strict sense but was sometimes called sin (even by the Apostle Paul), because it came from sin and inclined to sin (quia ex peccato est et ad peccatum inclinat ).

The ensuing debate on the doctrine of justification lasted seven months because of the impossibility of resolving the question by recourse to the decisions of earlier councils and because of the desire to avoid definite statements on standing controversies within the Catholic schools of theology (Thomists, Scotists, Augustinians). Moreover, in July of 1546 the war against the Protestants began, and at times it approached so threateningly close to the city of Trent that consideration was given to a suspension or transferral of the council. The first draft of a decree on justification (submitted on July 28) had to be withdrawn since it encountered general disapproval; the second draft, commissioned by Cervini from the Augustinian general Girolamo seripando (submitted on August 23) was finally adopted after repeated revision in session 6 (Jan. 13, 1547). For the first time, 16 doctrinal chapters were prefaced to the 33 canons in order to present the Catholic doctrine in positive form. The council answered Luther's most ardent desire by affirming that God's grace is necessary for the entire process of justification, although the process does not exclude dispositions for grace or the collaboration of free will (see grace; free will and grace). The essence of justification was declared to consist not in the remission of sins alone but rather in the "sanctification and renovation of the inner man" by supernatural charity. Faith is not the only condition of justification, although it is the "beginning, foundation and root"; no one can be certain that he is in a state of grace. The grace of justification increases through observance of the commandments of God, which is a duty imposed by God and not simply a sign of accomplished justification. The grace of justification can be lost as a result of mortal sin (not simply by loss of faith), and it can be regained through the Sacrament of penance. Eternal life in God is a grace, not merely a reward.

Residence and jurisdiction of bishops. The decree on justification was adopted almost unanimously, but the decree on obligatory residence for bishops and pastors, submitted on Jan. 7, 1547 in the general congregation, encountered strong opposition because it limited itself to enacting the punishment for the neglect of residence over a six-month period, that is, deprivation of revenue, without giving sufficient consideration to the reasons for nonresidence (impedimenta residentiae ), which had already been submitted for consideration by many bishops in the summer of 1546: These were the trammeling of episcopal activities by the secular power, the Curia, the exempt cathedral chapters, and others. Only 28 of the 60 participants with the right to vote gave the decree their unconditional placet in this session, and only in the general congregation of February 25 could its adoption be established by taking account of the qualified placet votes. The legates felt compelled to consider the bishops' demands and expand their reform program. The reform decree adopted in session 7 (March 3, 1547) eliminated a number of abuses in the matter of rights of jurisdiction and ordination; the prerogatives of the bishops were extended to include the right to make visitations of exempt parochial benefices as well.

First deliberation on the sacraments. The same session, after a detailed debate that extended from February 8 to 22, determined the Catholic notion of a Sacrament and placed their number at seven. The Sacraments were defined as efficacious signs, bringing grace by the rite itself ex opere operato and not simply by reason of the faith of the recipient. The council also defined the doctrine on the Sacraments of Baptism and confirmation (see sacramental, theology).

Transfer to Bologna. An epidemic of typhus, probably brought in from the German war front, provided the opportunity to transfer the council from Trent, the sphere of the emperor's influence, to Bologna, which was under papal hegemony. The decree of transference, adopted in session 8 (March 11, 1547), was protested by a minority of 14 bishops, almost all of them subjects of the emperor; they remained in Trent. The majority attended the first session in Bologna, held on April 21, 1547. The ensuing months were spent in intensive treatment of the doctrine on the remaining Sacraments and on the Sacrifice of the Mass [see sacrifice, iv (in christian theology); eu-charist in contemporary catholic thought], purgatory, veneration of the saints, and monastic vows, both in the theological congregation and the general congregation. But not a single one of the decrees on these dogmatic matters and their corresponding abuses could be adopted, because the pope did not want to push to the breaking point the tension with the emperor, which resulted from the council's transfer. The pope, however, rejected Charles V's demand for a return to Trent. After the emperor had submitted a solemn protest both in Rome and Bologna against the change of the site of the council, Paul III decreed a suspension of its deliberations on February 16, 1548. The significance of the Bologna interval lay in its important preparatory work for later conciliar debates.

Return to Trent. After the death of Paul III, his successor, julius iii, yielded to the pressure of the emperor and on Nov. 14, 1550 transferred the council back to Trent. The only legate was Cardinal Marcello Crescenzio, with whom were associated as co-chairmen Bishop Sebastiano Pighino and Bishop Luigi Lippomano. The council opened punctually on May 1, 1551, but it did not begin its deliberations until late summer; yet, as a result of the work that had been done in Bologna, it managed as early as Oct. 11, 1551 (session 13) to finish with the important decree on the Eucharist, which defined the Real Presence of Christ (vere, realiter et substantialiter ) in opposition chiefly to the doctrine of U. zwingli, and the doctrine of transubstantiation, as opposed to that of Luther. These definitions covered eight doctrinal chapters and 11 canons. On Nov. 25, 1551 (session 14), there followed the definition of the doctrine on Penance and Extreme Unction. [see anointing of the sick, i (theology of).] In the matter of the Sacrament of Penance, the council distinguished three elements: contrition, confession (at least of mortal sins), and reparation; the priestly absolution was defined to be a juridical act. In the matter of Extreme Unction, the main issue at stake was the sacramental nature of this action, which Luther had contested. The reform decrees of both sessions concerned the rights and duties of the bishops with respect to their clergy and regulated the procedure in church courts.

Meanwhile, ambassadors and theologians of several Protestant estates (Brandenburg, Württemberg, Strassburg) had appeared in Trent for the first and only time. They had indeed promised to attend the council of Trent; this promise had been given at the Diet of Augsburg in 1548 after the defeat of the Schmalkaldic League, but conditions had been attached that made any rapprochement difficult, if not impossible. These included a revision of the resolutions already taken by the council so as to base them solely on Scripture and the subordination of the pope to the council. The demand for an improved safe-conduct that would guarantee their safety in Trent was acceded to in session 15 (Jan. 25, 1552), but fulfillment of the other provisions was impossible. The debate on the Sacrament of holy orders and the Sacrifice of the Mass, begun on Jan. 2, 1552, could not be concluded because of the revolt against Charles by the German princes allied with France. This broke out in the spring and forced suspension of the council on April 28, 1552 (session 16).

Ten-year prorogation. The council's deliberations remained suspended for a decade, and thus far it had arrived only at fragmentary results: Its dogmatic definitions were incomplete, only a fraction of the controversies with the Protestants having been doctrinally resolved; still less satisfactory were its reform decrees, which left unanswered many urgent petitions of the bishops. In 1553 Julius III prepared an extensive reform bull to cope with the many unresolved practical problems, but he died before it could be published. paul iv, who had always been opposed to the council, summoned a papal reform assembly to Rome in 1556 as a substitute for the council, but this assembly was dissolved after a short time because of the pope's war against Spain.

The Council Under Pius IV (156263)

The reopening of the council under Paul IV's successor, pius iv, was occasioned by the advance of calvinism in France. As a result of the vacillating attitude of the regent catherine de mÉdicis, Catholicism seemed to be so severely threatened in France that only a general council could rescue it. Should this be a new council, as France and Emperor Ferdinand I wished, or should it be a continuation of the previous sessions, as King philip ii of spain demanded? Although the bull of convocation, published on Nov. 29, 1560, evaded the controversial question, an answer was implicit when in the course of the negotiations opened at Trent on Jan. 18, 1563, with 113 Council fathers present with right to vote, it was decided to resume discussion of the agenda broken off in 1551 and 1552, namely, Communion under both species and the doctrine of the Sacrifice of the Mass.

Renewed deliberation on episcopal residence. Presiding as legates were Cardinals Ercole Gonzaga, Girolamo Seripando, Stanislaus hosius, and Ludovico simonetta; the pope's nephew, Cardinal Marcus Sitticus von Hohenems (Altemps), also named as legate, left the council after a short time. In order to avoid the politically tense question of whether this was a new council or a continuation of Trent, the legates on March 11, 1562, presented 12 reform articles, the first of which dealt with the yet unresolved problem of episcopal residence. The debate centered on whether the council should declare bishops to be obliged to reside in their dioceses by divine law. The supporters of the ius divinum were convinced that this was the only way to cure the neglectfulness of bishops who resided at court or elsewhere than the territory entrusted to their pastoral care; the opponents saw in such a declaration a threat to papal primacy. A vote taken on April 20 on whether the council should make a declaration on the ius divinum of the residence obligation yielded 67 placets, 35 non-placets, with 34 council fathers referring the decision to the pope. Thereupon Pius IV forbade a continuation of the debate. Cardinals Gonzaga and Seripando, who were reputed to be in favor of the ius divinum solution, fell into disfavor with the pope, and their recall was contemplated. The vehement reaction of the Spanish bishops, led by Archbishop Pedro Guarrero of Granada, and of the imperial bishops against the measure condemned the council to inactivity until Gonzaga promised in the general congregation of June 6 to continue the debate on the residence obligation when the Sacrament of Holy Orders would be discussed. The crisis was temporarily surmounted.

Communion under both species. The first fruit of the renewed deliberations was the decree of session 21 (July 16, 1562) on Communion under both species, which laid the dogmatic basis (expressed in the statement that under either species the whole and undivided Christ is received) for the resolution of the practical question of the granting of the chalice to the laity. The practical question itself, however, which had been raised by Emperor Ferdinand I and the duke of Bavaria, was postponed in view of the reservations expressed, especially by the Spaniards. In the following session, the regulation of the practical question was referred to the pope, who, after the conclusion of the council (April 16, 1564) authorized the chalice for the laity under certain conditions for several ecclesiastical provinces of Germany and the hereditary territories of the hapsburgs.

Sacrifice of the Mass. The nine canons and nine doctrinal chapters adopted in session 22 (Sept. 17, 1562) on the Sacrifice of the Mass are, together with the decree on justification, by far the most important definitions of the entire council. All the reformers had denied the sacrificial character of the Mass, and its abolition had always been the decisive step toward separation. For the Catholic Church the Mass is the center of the mystery of salvation, latreutic and Eucharistic but also propitiatory, a commemoration but also a rendering present of the sacrifice of the cross; the Mass in no way encroaches upon the uniqueness of the sacrifice of Calvary because the same sacrificial priest offers the same sacrificial gift, although in a different way (eadem hostia, idem offerens, sola offerendi ratione diversa ). The council defined that the Sacrifice of the Mass may be offered in honor of the saints and for the faithful, living and dead. A simultaneous reform decree bound the bishops to eliminate abuses in its celebration. The claim that a contemplated ban on florid counterpoint was prevented by Giovanni Pierluigi da palestrina's Missa Papae Marcelli is a legend that originated only in 1609; but there may be a grain of historical truth in it inasmuch as the council fathers were acquainted with the newly developing church music of Palestrina and Orlando di Lassus through the polyphonic conciliar prayers by the Dutch composer Jacobus de Kerle and through other compositions.

Ius Divinum of episcopal office. During the ensuing debate on the Sacrament of Holy Orders (October 13 to 20, November 3 to 10) and on the schema on the obligation of residence presented on December 10, the clash between the supporters of the ius divinum of the episcopal office and the "Zelanti" backed by the legate Simonetta broke out afresh. The former were reinforced by 12 French bishops led by Cardinal Charles Guise, who arrived in Trent on November 13. All the efforts of Gonzaga and Seripando to bring the two parties to agreement on the controversial canon 7 of the decree on Holy Orders were unsuccessful. The draft formula of Seripando to the effect that the bishops had "been established in the Church by Christ" but received their jurisdiction from the pope was rejected not only by the "Zelanti" but also in Rome; conversely, the French resisted the suggestion made by Rome that the Florentine council's definition of the primacy be adopted. Again the negotiations bogged down and the council seemed incapable of fruitful progress. Guise, now the undisputed leader of the opposition, went to Emperor Ferdinand I at Innsbruck and persuaded him to draw the attention of the pope in two letters written on March 3, 1563, to the seriousness of the situation; simultaneously a special ambassador of the king of Spain appeared in Rome with similar complaints. This intervention of the secular powers accented the full seriousness of the conciliar crisis.

It was surmounted only after the two senior legates, Gonzaga and Seripando, had died (March 2 and 17 respectively) and been replaced by Cardinals Giovanni morone and Bernardo Navagero. Morone, the best diplomat then available to the Curia, and possessing the full confidence of the pope, became the savior of the council. Soon after his arrival in Trent, he went to the emperor at Innsbruck and dissipated his fears that the pope wanted neither reform of the Church nor the council's continuation. The pope meanwhile assured the king of Spain in several personal letters that he was resolved to continue the council, to confirm and implement its decisions, in short "to do everything that a good pope and a good Christian can and must do." This put a stop to the intervention of the secular states in the affairs of the council. In Trent itself, Cardinal Morone's diplomatic skill managed to win over Cardinal Guise for a compromise involving a simple omission of the most important point of doctrinal controversy, the ius divinum of the episcopal office.

The decree on Holy Orders (4 chapters and 8 canons) adopted in session 23 (July 15, 1563) defined the sacramental character of sacerdotal ordination and the existence of an ecclesiastical hierarchy based on divine ordinance. The controversial canon 7, now become canon 8, condemned the contention that bishops named by the pope are not legal and true bishops. The simultaneously adopted decree on the residence obligation began with the words "it is a divine precept that the pastor know his flock," but refrained from any statement concerning the basis of the obligation of episcopal residence that was made specifically to include the cardinals.

Establishment of seminaries. Session 23 also ordered the establishment of episcopal seminaries for the training of priests (De ref. c. 18). Previously there had been neither binding norms nor appropriate institutions for the training and education of future priests; it had been left up to each individual candidate to acquire the training necessary for his priestly functions. There was practically no question of any spiritual formation. The council averted to certain examples of organized training already in existence in Verona and Granada, and noted the decree of the English National Synod (1556) that established cathedral schools as "nurseries" (seminaria ) of the clergy and laid upon the bishops the obligation of erecting, with the financial assistance of their diocesan clergy, "colleges" for the training and education of future priests.

Reform petitions. The deepest reason for the two crises of the council was the suspicion of many non-Italian bishops that the pope and Curia wanted to avoid any consequential reform of the Church and preferred to settle for measures of little gravity. What the bishops judged was needed for reform they had committed to writing in reform memoranda. On April 6, 1562, the Spaniards had presented such a list to the legates; later the emperor and the French had proposed similar "reform petitions," but the council had not taken them up. Now Morone had these proposals sifted by the auditor of the Rota, Gabrielle Paleotti, and an extensive text was elaborated, taking account of curial traditions; its first portion was put up for debate on Sept. 3, 1563. Its basic thought was that the salvation of souls must be the supreme law. Therefore, in the selection of bishops, attention was to be paid to choosing only the more worthy (digniores ), who would be able to function, on the model of Christ, as good shepherds and heralds of the gospel. The episcopal powers, hitherto exposed to many limitations, were de facto expanded; bishops were given, for instance, in their quality as delegates of the Holy See, the right of correction and punishment over all exempt orders and chapters, institutions and individuals insofar as any of these were engaged in pastoral work. Provincial synods were to be held every three years, diocesan synods every year; the exempt were also to appear at them and obey their enactments. Competition for pastoral appointments was introduced after the Spanish model, so as to discover the most qualified (magis idoneus ) candidates.

Decrees on marriage. Session 24 (Nov. 11, 1563), which adopted this reform legislation, also enacted a dogmatic and a disciplinary decree on marriage. The former defended the sacramental character of marriage, from which derived the Church's right to establish impediments; it likewise proclaimed the unity and indissolubility of marriage. The second decree, usually called the Tametsi from its initial word, declared that secret marriages not solemnized in facie ecclesiae (matrimonia clandestina ) were not only illicit, as the law then in force had declared, but invalid as well: It made the validity of a marriage dependent on the observance of the prescription regarding form, namely, that the marriage be solemnized before a competent pastor and two or three witnesses. The fact of the marriage is to be entered in a register. The Tametsi decree came into force only where it was promulgated.

Morone made every effort, in accord with Pius IV and his nephew Charles borromeo, who was responsible for the correspondence with the conciliar legates, to end the council before Christmas; the Spanish ambassador, Count Luna, with a small group of malcontents, tried to prolong it, but without success. The second part of the great reform text was debated in the general congregation. It was directed against excessive ostentation on the part of cardinals and bishops and reminded them that they ought to be models of holy humility (sanctae humilitatis exempla ); in the interest of pastoral efficiency, many changes were made in the law governing ecclesiastical offices, with particular regard to patronage, union of benefices, and claims to benefices.

Regular clerics. The schema on reform of the regulars presented on November 20 limited itself to establishing certain definite principles concerning the novitiate, the making of profession and the vita communis, binding for all orders. It contained precautions to safeguard the freedom of action in making profession and a tightening of the enclosure for convents. The ban on awarding abbeys to secular priests, especially cardinals, as commendatories, was so vaguely worded as to be ineffectual. A minority of about 40 cardinals complained of its indefiniteness but to no avail, and this abuse was not entirely suppressed in the sequel.

Indulgences. Besides these reform decrees, there was on the agenda a declaration of the council on indulgences, against which Luther had previously composed his 95 Theses, on purgatory, and on the veneration of the saints, of their relics, and of images; this veneration of saints had been a great point of contention in the polemic with the Protestants. Since it proved impossible for lack of time to treat these articles of faith in detail with the same care as the others (in the theological and general congregations), Morone yielded to the insistence of Guise and formed three council committees to elaborate brief decrees that reproduced the essentials of Catholic doctrine on these points and also contained the reform measures necessary precisely in this area. The council stated that the Church has full power to grant indulgences; that there is a place of purification for the dead that is accessible to the intercession and sacrifice of the faithful; that it "is good and profitable to invoke the saints" and to venerate their relics; that it is permissible to place images of Christ and the saints in churches and to venerate them, because, as the seventh Ecumenical Council had defined: "the honor given them is directed to the originals whom they represent."

Close of the council. It was intended to publish these decrees and the last-mentioned reform decrees on December 9 and thus to conclude the council. But when during the night of November 30 and December 1 a courier brought the news from Rome that the pope was dangerously ill, session 25 was advanced to December 3. It lasted two days because the decrees from all the previous sessions were read again and approved and signed. The signatories were 6 cardinals, 3 patriarchs, 25 archbishops, 169 bishops, 19 proxies for absent bishops, and 7 generals of religious orders. At the conclusion of the session, Cardinal Guise acclaimed the reigning pope and his predecessors Paul III and Julius III, who had convoked and continued the council. All the council fathers then obligated themselves to confess the faith and doctrine contained in the dogmatic decrees and to observe the directives of the reform decrees.

Papal confirmation. In its final session the council had commissioned the legates to obtain papal confirmation of their work. This was given on Jan. 26, 1564; after this oral approval, the bull Benedictus Deus was prepared but was not published until June 30, 1564. All decrees were approved without alteration; the pope reserved the authentic interpretation to the Apostolic See and forbade the publication of commentaries and glosses without its approval. On Aug. 2, 1564, the authentic interpretation of the decrees was entrusted to a committee of cardinals from which developed the Sacred Congregation of the Council.

Supplementation. The council had also in its final session given over to the pope several pieces of business that it had not been able to dispatch itself. Accordingly, Pius IV published on March 24, 1564, the revised Index of Forbidden Books; Pius V, the Roman Catechism for Pastors (1566), the reformed Roman Breviary (1568), and the Reformed Roman Missal (1570). The revised edition of the Vulgate did not appear until 1592 (Sixto-Clementina). The reform of the offices of the Roman Curia, from which the council had abstained entirely, was mainly the work of Pius V and Sixtus V.

Implementation. Still more important than the supplementation of the decrees was their implementation. The official edition of the decrees printed by Paulus Manutius was sent to the bishops; in this way they also reached America and Africa (Congo). They were accepted and accommodated at provincial and diocesan synods. A crucial factor was the intervention of the popes on behalf of an implementation of the decrees; nuncios and apostolic visitors were commissioned to supervise this execution. In view of the still-intimate ties between Church and State, the papal representatives were also at pains to get the decrees accepted by the governments. The Italian states and Poland accepted them unconditionally; Spain, "without prejudice to the rights of the King." The decrees were not officially accepted by the secular power either in France or in the empire.

Historical significance. The Council of Trent was the Church's answer to the Protestant reformation. It delimited Catholic doctrine sharply from Protestant doctrine and eliminated the disastrous obscurity as to what was an essential element of the faith and what was merely a subject for theological controversy. This Tridentine faith was briefly summarized in the Professio fidei Tridentina, prescribed on Nov. 13, 1564. This profession of faith has one striking lacuna: There is no definition of the Church or of the papal primacy, against which the attacks of the reformers had been concentrated. It is clear from the history of the council that this definition was impossible at that time because the opposing conceptions still in existence could not be reconciled.

The reform decrees of the council were a compromise between the radical reformers' wishes and the curial tradition, not an ideal solution but a serviceable one. Wherever implemented, they effected a renewal and strengthening of ecclesiastical life. The new Catholic piety and mysticism, the revival of scholastic theology, the emergence of positive theology, and the art and culture of the baroque age depend upon the Council of Trent or at least are inconceivable without it. It was no mere restoration of the Middle Ages; rather, it brought so many new features to the countenance of the Church that with it a new era of Church history begins. To the present-day reproach that the council deepened the split between Catholics and Protestants and imbued the Catholic Church for a century with an anti-Protestant attitude, the answer must be that there was an absolute need to delimit clearly the Catholic faith from the Protestant confessions. A resultant anti-Protestant posture was scarcely avoidable given the circumstances. The Council of Trent is not an insurmountable barrier for Christian reunion, as often alleged, for its doctrinal decrees, though not in need of revision, are capable of supplementation.

Bibliography: Sources. h. jedin, Das Konzil von Trient: Ein Überlick über die Erforschung seiner Geschichte (Rome 1948). Canones et decreta SConcilii Tridentini (Rome 1564), the official standard ed. repr. many times; critical text now in g. alberigo, Conciliorum oeucumenicorum decreta (New York 1962) 633775. The oldest collection of the Acta was provided by j. le plat, Monumentorum ad historiam Concilii Tridentini potissimum illustrandam spectantium amplissima collectio, 7 v. (Louvain 178187). Critical edition of all available sources, Concilium Tridentinum, containing: Diaries, ed. s. merkle, v. 13.1; Acts, ed. s. ehses, v. 4, 5, 7.2, and 9, and t. freudenberger, v. 6.1 and 7.1; Letters, ed. g. buschbell, v. 10 and 11; Treatises, ed. v. schweitzer, v. 12, and h. jedin, v. 13. The correspondence of the Legates during the last sessions in j. Šusta, Die Römische Kurie und das Konzil von Trient unter Pius IV, 4 v. (Vienna 190414). s. kuttner, ed., Decreta septem priorum sessionum Concilii Tridentini sub Paulo IIIP. M. (Washington 1945), autograph of Council Secretary Massarelli reproduced in photostat copy with important introd. on the oldest printed eds. of the decrees. Narrative and interpretative works. General. p. sarpi, Istoria del Concilio Tridentino (London 1619), strongly antipapal, critical ed. by g. gambarin, 3 v. (Bari 1935). p. s. pallavicino, Istoria del Concilio di Trento, 3 v. (Rome 165657), best ed. by f. a. zaccaria, 6 v. (Faenza 179297), with h. jedin, Der Quellenapparat der Konzilsgeschichte Pallavicinos (Rome 1940). p. richard, Histoire du Concile de Trente, 2 v. (Paris 193031). l. cristiani, L'Église à l'époque du concile de Trente (Paris 1948). g. schreiber, Das Weltkonzil von Trient, 2 v. (Freiburg 1951). h. jedin, A History of the Council of Trent, tr. e. graf,v. 12 (St. Louis 195760), v. 3 in prep. Participants in the Council. j. de castro, Portugal no Concílio de Trento, 6 v. (Lisbon 194446). c. gutiÉrrez, ed. and tr., Españoles en Trento (Valladolid 1951). a. walz, I domenicani al Concilio di Trento (Rome 1961). g. alberigo, "Cataloghi dei partecipanti al Concilio di Trento editi durante il medesimo," Rivista di storia della Chiesa iri Italia 10 (1956) 345373; 11 (1957) 4994. i. rogger, Le nazioni al Concilio di Trento durante la sua epoca imperiale, 15451552 (Rome 1952). Further bibliog. on participants from religious orders in h. jedin, History of the Council of Trent, tr. e. graf,v. 12 (St. Louis 195760) 2:60, also h. o. evennett, "Three Benedictine Abbots at the Council of Trent, 15451547," Studia monastica 1 (1959) 343377. The entire duration of the council, h. jedin, Papal Legate at the Council of Trent: Cardinal Seripando, tr. f. c. eckhoff (St. Louis 1947); "Redeund Stimmfreiheit auf dem Konzil von Trient," Historisches Jahrbuch der Görres-Gesellschaft 75 (1956) 7393. The council under Paul III and Julius III (154552). h. jedin, "Die Kosten des Konzils von Trient unter Paul III," Münchener theologische Zeitschrift 4 (1953) 119132. g. alberigo, I vescovi italiani al Concilio di Trento 154547 (Florence 1959). Bibliog. of older writings on Scripture and tradition, h. jedin, History of the Council of Trent, tr. e. graf, v. 12 (St. Louis 195760) 2:52. The extensive literature that appeared during Vatican II: j. r. geiselmann, Die Heilige Schrift und die Tradition (Quaestiones disputatae 18; Freiburg 1962). The older opinion, held also by H. Jedin, on the sense of the et-et in f. lennerz, Gregorianum 40 (1959) 3853, 624635. w. koch, "Der authentische Charakter der Vulgata im Lichte der Trienter Konzilsverhandlungen," Theologische Quartalschrift 96 (1914) 401422, 542572; 97 (1915) 225249, 529549. r. draguet, "Le Maître louvaniste Driedo inspirateur du décret de Trente sur la Vulgate," Miscellanea historica in honorem A. de Meyer (Louvain 1946) 836854. s. ehses, "Das Konzil von Trient und die Übersetzung der Bibel in die Landessprache," Vereinsschrift der Görres-Gesellschaft, 1908 3 (1908) 3750. j. rainer, "Entstehungsgeschichte des Trienter Predigtreformdekretes," Zeitschrift für katholische Theologie 39 (1915) 256317, 465523. Bibliog. on older works on original sin and decree of justification, h. jedin, History of the Council of Trent, (2d ed. Freiburg 1951) 2:146, 175176, 178179. j. olazaran, Documentos inéditos Tridentinos sobre la justificación (Madrid 1957). a. mobilia, Cornelio Musso e la prima forma del decreto sulla giustificazione (Naples 1960). The doctrine of the sacraments in general. d. iturrioz, La definición del Concilio de Trento sobre la causalidad de los sacramentos (Madrid 1951). Bologna sessions. l. carcereri, Il Concilio di Trento dalla traslazione e Bologna alla sospensione (Bologna 1910). t. freudenberger, "Der Kampf um die radikale Abschaffung der Stolgebühren während der Bologneser Periode des Trienter Konzils," Münchener theologische Zeitschrift 1 (1950) 4053. h. jedin, "Il significato del periodo bolognese per le decisioni dogmatiche e l'opera di riforma del Concilio di Trento" in Problemi di vita religiosa in Italia nel Cinquecento (Padua 1960) 116; "Der kaiserliche Protest gegen die Translation des Konzils von Trient nach Bologna," Historisches Jahrbuch der Görres-Gesellschaft 71 (1952) 184196. Sessions of 1551 and 1552. c. erdmann, "Die Wiedereröffnung des Trienter Konzils durch Julius III," Quellen und Forschungen aus italienischen Archiven und Bibliotheken 20 (192829) 238317. j. birkner, "Kardinal M. Crescentius," Römische Quartalschrift für christliche Altertumskunde und für Kirchengeschichte 43 (1935) 267285. h. jedin, "Das Konzilstagebuch des Bischofs Julius Pflug von Naumburg 15511552," ibid. 50 (1955) 2243; "Die Deutschen am Trienter Konzil 15511552," Historische Zeitschrift 188 (1959) 116. g. alberigo, "Un informatore senese al Concilio di Trento 15511552," Rivista di storia della Chiesa iri Italia 12 (1958) 173201. Protestant participation in the council. r. stupperich, "Die Reformation und das Tridentinum," Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte 47 (1956) 2063. r. e. macnally, "The Council of Trent and the German Protestants," Theological Studies 25 (1964) 122. The council under Pius IV (156263). h. jedin, "Kirchenreform und Konzilsgedanke 15501559," Historisches Jahrbuch der Görres-Gesellschaft 54 (1934) 401431. New sources for the history of the third period of sessions, which were not yet processed in Concilium Tridentinum, or in Šusta, have been adduced in g. drei, "La corrispondenza del card. Ercole Gonzaga, presidente del Concilio di Trento," Archivio storico per le provincie Parmensi 17 (1917) 185242; 18 (1918) 29143. h. jedin, Krisis und Wendepunkt des Trienter Konzils, 15621563 (Würzburg 1941). m. calini, Lettere conciliari 156163, ed. a. marani (Brescia 1963). j. i. tellechea idigoras, "Cartas y documentos tridentinos inéditos," Hispania sacra 16 (1963) 191248. n. rodolico, A. D. Addario, Osservatori Aoscani al C. di Trento (Florence 1965). h. o. evennett, The Cardinal of Lorraine and the Council of Trent (Cambridge, Eng. 1940). b. chudoba, "Las relaciones de las dos cortes Absburgesas en la tercera asamblea del Concilio Tridentino," Boletín de la Real Academia de la Historia 103(1933) 297368. l. castano, Mons. Nicolò Sfrondati, vescovo di Cremona al Concilio di Trento, 15611563 (Turin 1939). l. prosdocimi, "Il progetto di reforma dei principi al Concilio di Trento," Aevum 13 (1939) 364. p. prodi, Il cardinale G. Paleotti, v. 1 (Uomi e dottrine 7; Rome 1959). h. jedin, "Das Gefolge der Trienter Konzilsprälaten im Jahre 1562," Festschrift Franz Steinbach (Bonn 1960) 580596. The fundamental work on the deliberations on Communion under both species for the laity is g. constant, Concession à l'Allemagne de la communion sous les deux espèces, 2 v. (Paris 1923). Debate on the Sacrifice of the Mass. É jamoulle, "Le Sacrifice eucharistique au Concile de Trente," Nouvelle revue théolgique 67 (1945) 513531; Ephemerides theologicae Louvanienses 22 (1946) 3469. o. ursprung, "Palestrina und die tridentinische Reform der Kirchenmusik," Monatshefte für katholische Kirchenmusik 10 (1928) 210219. j. a. o'donohoe, Tridentine Seminary Legislation: Its Sources and Its Formation (Louvain 1957). p. fransen, "Ehescheidung bei Ehebruch," Scholastik 29(1954) 537560. h. jedin, "L'importanza del dectreto tridentino sui seminari nella vita della Chiesa," Seminarium 15 (1963) 396412; "Das Konzil von Trient und die Anfänge der Kirchenmatrikeln," Zeitschrift der Savigny-Stiftung für Rechtsgeschichte, Kanonistische 32 (1943) 419494; "Zur Vorgeschichte der Regularenreform Trid. Sess. XXV," Römische Quartalschrift für christliche Altertumskunde und für Kirchengeschichte 44 (1936) 231281; "Entstehung und Tragweite des Trienter Dekrets über die Bilderverehrung," Theologische Quartalschrift 116 (1935) 143188, 404429; suppl. in Zeitschrift für Kirchgeschichte 74(1963) 321339; Krisis und Abschluss des Trienter Konzils 156263 (Freiburg 1964), brief summary of third period of sessions. Confirmation, supplementation, and implementation of the council and its historical importance, Pastor v. 1518. Excellent reports on latest literature, g. alberigo, "Studi e problemi relativi all'applicazione del Concilio di Trento in Italia," Rivisita storica italiana 70 (1958) 239298. s. kuttner, "The Reform of the Church and the Council of Trent," Jurist 22 (1962) 123142. h. jedin, "Das Konzil von Trient und die Reform der liturgischen Bücher," Ephemerides liturgicae 59 (1945) 538. p. paschini, in Cinquecento Romano e riforma cattolica (Rome 1958) 4989, on the Roman Catechism. É mÂle, L'Art religieux de la fin du XVI e siècle, du XVII e siècle et du XVIII e siècle: Étude sur l'iconographie après le concile de Trente (2d ed. Paris 1951). p. prodi, Ricerche sulla teorica delle arti figurative nella Riforma cattolica (Rome 1962). General estimate. h. jedin, "Il Concilio di Trento: Scopo, svolgimento e risultati," Divinitas 5 (1961) 345360; "Ist das Konzil von Trient ein Hindernis der Wiedervereinigung?" Ephemerides theologicae Louvanienses 38 (1962) 841855. n. minnich, "'Wie in dem Basilischen Concilio den Behemen Gescheen': The Status of the Protestants at the Council of Trent," The Contentious Triangle (Kirksville, Mo. 1999) 201219. k. mcdonnell, "Luther and Trent on Penance," Lutheran Quarterly ns 7 (1993) 261276. d.n. power, "The Priestly Prayer: The Tridentine Theologians and the Roman Canon," Fountain of Life, ed. g. austin (Washington, D.C. 1991) 131164. j. f. mchugh, "The Sacrifice of the Mass at the Council of Trent," Sacrifice and Redemption, ed s. w. sykes (Cambridge 1991) 157181. j. e. vercruysse, "Luther as Reformer within Christendom," Studia Missionalia 34 (1985) 351371. r.a. kolb, "The German Lutheran Reaction to the Third Period of the Council of Trent," Lutherjahrbuch (1984) 6395.

[h. jedin]

Trent, Council of

views updated May 09 2018


TRENT, COUNCIL OF. Considered the nineteenth general council of Western Christendom, the Council of Trent met after much delay in response to the call of both Lutherans and Catholics at the Nuremberg Reichstag of 1524 for "a general free Christian council in German lands" to reform the church. Paul III (reigned 15341549), having failed to assemble a council in the imperial city of Mantua in 1537 due primarily to inadequate security arrangements and in Venetian Vicenza in 1538 due to the attendance of only five bishops, ordered the council to meet in 1542 in Trent. This Holy Roman Empire city had a population of about six thousand, of whom a quarter were German-speaking, was ruled by a prince-bishop, and was situated on the Italian side of the Alps about eighty miles south of an imperial residence in Innsbruck. Hostilities between France and the empire delayed the opening of the council until 1545.


The goals formally assigned to the council by Paul III in 1542 were to define doctrine, correct morals, restore peace among Christians, and repel infidels. Pius IV in 1560 made explicit the goal that "schisms and heresies may be destroyed." The pope initially gave priority to a clarification of Catholic doctrine, the emperor to a reform of abuses. The compromise was to treat simultaneously the removal of any abuses related to a teaching that was defined.

Period I. The council can be divided into three periods. Period I, under Paul III, consisted of sessions 1 to 8 (13 December 1545 to 11 March1547), which met in Trent. Claiming an outbreak of typhus, the pope had the council transferred to Bologna in the Papal States despite the opposition of the 27 bishops from Habsburg lands, who remained in Trent. Sessions 9 and 10 (21 April and 2 June 1547) issued no doctrinal or disciplinary decrees, and after the general congregation of 29 February 1548 the council was suspended. In subsequent periods the council would return to Trent. In the first period, attendance varied from about 30 to 70 prelates per session; in all there were about 100 members with a deliberative vote: 5 cardinals, 12 archbishops, 76 bishops, 3 abbots, and 6 generals of religious orders, plus two procurators of absent German bishops who had only a consultative voice. Most prelates were Italians, the Spanish were well represented, and only a few came from other Catholic lands. During this period the prelates focused on the teachings of Martin Luther (14831546), Huldrych Zwingli (14841531), and their followers in Germany and Switzerland.

Period II. Period II, under Julius III (reigned 15501555), included sessions 11 to 16 (1 May 1551 to 28 April 1552). Attendance varied between 44 and 51 prelates, with a total of about 59 prelates. As many as 13 German bishops were represented, including the personal presence of the powerful electoral archbishops of Mainz, Cologne, and Trier. Lutheran states agreed to send delegations: that from Brandenburg accepted the authority of the council and was incorporated at the 13th session; those from Württemberg and the imperial cities led by Strasbourg were allowed to read their mandates at the general congregation of 24 January 1552. Hopes that agreement could be found with so many Germans present were dashed by the reopening of military conflict.

Period III. Period III, under Pius IV (reigned 15591565), consisted of sessions 17 to 26 (18 January 1562 to 34 December 1563) and was noteworthy for the arrival of a delegation of 13 bishops, 3 abbots, and 18 theologians from France and for the increased attention to the teachings of John Calvin (15091564) and the situation in France. There were 117 prelates at the 17th session, which rose to 228 at the 24th. About 270 bishops in all attended during this period, the vast majority being Italians (187), but Spanish (31) and French (26) were also well represented, and bishops from other Catholic lands attended too. The final decree was signed by 255 prelates and procurators. Altogether, the council sat for five years and one month.


The organizational structures given to the council allowed it to achieve most of its goals. The popes were usually represented by cardinal legates, who served as council presidents and were in regular communication with the pope and congregation of cardinals in Rome, who set the agenda and at times made crucial decisions. "The Holy Spirit arrived in the saddle bags of papal couriers," quipped the historian Paolo Sarpi (15521623). The most important presidents were Cardinals Giovanni Maria Ciocchi del Monte (14871555, Tuscan canonist, administrator, and future Julius III), Reginald Pole (15001558, cousin of Henry VIII, friend of Sir Thomas More, conciliatory theologian, and archbishop of Canterbury under Mary Tudor), Girolamo Seripando (14931563, Neapolitan, conciliatory theologian, reformer, former general of the Augustinian friars, and archbishop of Salerno), Stanislaus Hosius (15041579, Polish controversialist theologian and bishop of Warmia), and Giovanni Morone (15091580, Milanese diplomat, conciliatory theologian, former bishop of Modena, and target of the Roman Inquisition, whose diplomatic skills rescued the council after the deadlock over episcopal residence in 1563). The council presidents had the difficult task of resolving disputestraditionalists versus conciliationists, papalists versus conciliarists and episcopalists, curialists and exempt religious versus diocesan bishops, Scholastics versus humanists, Scotists versus Thomists versus Augustinians, and rival national delegations eager for uniformity in teaching and practice (Spanish and Italians) or for reconciliation with the Protestants in their lands (Germans and French) or for preserving their ruler's patronage rights and prerogatives (Spanish, Portuguese, and French).

Among the other leading prelates at the council were the Italians: Pietro Bertano, O.P. (Fano), Tommaso Campeggio (Feltre), Giulio Contarini (Belluno), Cornelio Musso, O.F.M. (Bitonto, then Bertinoro), and Tommaso Stella, O.P. (Salpe, then Lavello, and finally Capodistria); the Spanish: Martín Pérez de Ayala (Guadix, then Segovia), Pedro Guerrero (Granada), Pedro Pacheco (Jaen), and Melchor Alváres de Vozmediano (Guadix); the Portuguese Bartolomé dos Martires, O.P. (Braga) and João Soarez, O.E.S.A. (Coimbra); the Frenchmen Antoine Filheul (Aix), Charles de Guise (Reims), and Nicolas Psaume (Verdun); the Germans Friedrich Grau [Nausea] (Vienna) and Julius von Pflug (Naumburg); the Scot Robert Wauchop (Armagh); the Croatian Georg Draskovich (Pécs); the Moravian Anton Brus von Müglitz (Prague); and the exiled Swede Olof Månsson Store (Uppsala).

Theologians, who had only a consultative vote in the proceedings, were sent by the pope and Christian rulers or brought along as advisers (periti) by the bishops and generals of religious orders. Known as "minor theologians" (theologi minores) to distinguish them from prelates who were also theologians, the vast majority were members of religious orders, and of these over half were Franciscans and about a quarter Dominicans. In the first period they numbered about 35; their numbers rose until in the last period there were about 100, of whom only 34 were allowed to speak on a topic, for a half-hour each; the others could submit their thoughts in writing prior to a debate. Among the leading theologians were the Jesuits and papal theologians Diego Lainez and Alfonso Salmeron; the Dominican Thomists Melchor Cano, Domingo de Soto, Bartolomé Carranza de Miranda, and Ambrogio Catarino (Lancellotto de' Politi); the Franciscan Scotists Alfonso de Castro and Andrés Vega; and the secular priests Johann Gropper, Francisco de Torres, and Ruard Tapper.

The council developed its own organizational structures. It began with classes or group meetings in which bishops and theologians together debated the theological issues, frequently in the form of suspect quotations extracted from the writings of the Protestants. When the bishops soon came to hate this procedure (odiossima), the legates had the theologians debate the topics on their own with the bishops listening. Once ideas were clarified and a consensus emerged, the bishops met on their own in particular congregations to draw up draft decrees. Reform decrees were drafted by commissions (nominated by the legates and approved by the prelates) from various proposals submitted by bishops and ambassadors. Drafts of decrees were debated in general congregations, where they were modified and approved. Formal approbation was done at a session, a liturgical ceremony with a mass, sermon, and formal vote on the decree. The decrees were issued in the name of the council with the papal legates presiding and not in the name of the council representing the universal church, as the more conciliarist types preferred. Beginning with the fifth session, the council condemned certain theological statements as anathema (contrary to Catholic teaching and practice) and then gave the reasons for the condemnation. From the sixth session onward the doctrinal decrees began with chapters that stated positively the Catholic position and ended with canons that condemned unacceptable teachings. The canons had the greater doctrinal weight.


The council issued a number of important doctrinal decrees. It affirmed that all the books of the Bible, including the Apocrypha or deuterocanonical books not found in the Hebrew bible and rejected by Luther, were inspired and that the Vulgate version was "authentic," that is, could be used in sermons and disputations. Critical editions and translations were subject to ecclesiastical censorship. The Bible was to be interpreted according to the sense given to it by the church over the centuries. Unwritten apostolic traditions, whether dictated orally by Christ or by the Holy Spirit, were also a source of saving truths and rules of conduct. It restated the teaching of the Council of Orange (529) on the existence, nature, and effects of original sin, rejecting both Pelagian optimism and Lutheran pessimism. It taught that justification, whereby one's sins were remitted and one became just and could grow in holiness through good works "done in God," was an unmerited gift of God, but that those with the power of discretion must freely cooperate with grace. The traditional seven sacraments (baptism, confirmation, Eucharist, penance or reconciliation, extreme unction or anointing of the sick, holy orders, and matrimony) were taught as having been instituted by Christ (whether immediately or mediately is not defined), to contain the graces they signify, and in the case of baptism, confirmation, and holy orders to leave an indelible mark on the soul so that they could not be repeated. Baptism by water even of children was necessary for salvation. In the Eucharist the bread and wine were changed into the true Body and Blood of Christ (transubstantiation), the pope was to decide when and where it was prudent to allow reception of the Eucharist under both forms, the Mass was a sacrifice, auricular confession of one's mortal sins to a priest was required, and marriage to be valid was henceforth to be contracted before a priest and witnesses. The existence of purgatory and the veneration of saints, relics, and sacred images were also decreed.

Among the principal reform decrees were those requiring a bishop to preach and reside in his diocese. A bishop was to conduct a visitation of his diocese and celebrate a synod annually. He was also to establish a lectureship on the Bible and to see that catechetical instruction was provided for the laity in parishes and that his clergy were properly trained in ecclesiastical disciplines in collegesthis led to the establishment of seminaries. Parish churches (and not confraternity churches and private chapels) were to be the settings for the laity's regular religious worship and instruction. Books were not to be published until their orthodoxy had been determined by the local ordinary or popethis led to the issuance of lists or indices of forbidden books. Religious art was encouraged as a means for instruction and incitement of piety, but care was to be exercised that no false doctrine or unbecoming and confusing scene was depicted and no superstitious practices allowed. Avoiding more restrictive prescriptions, the council decreed that music was allowed in church provided it was not "base and suggestive," and it ordered seminarians to be taught to chant. The council entrusted to the pope the completion of a number of tasks it was unable to finish, and asked him to confirm its decrees.

By the bull Benedictus Deus, dated 26 January 1564 but issued on June 30th, Pope Pius IV confirmed all the decrees of the council unaltered and ordered their implementation. The first official edition of the decrees had been printed in Rome by Paolo Manuzio on 18 March 1564. The pope forbade the publication of any glosses or commentaries on them and established the Congregation of the Council on 2 August 1564 to interpret them. The principal doctrinal teachings of the council he summarized in the Professio Fidei Tridentina, to which all university professors (10 November 1564) and prelates (13 November 1564) were required to swear. Support for implementing the decrees was sought and secured from the rulers of Catholic states: Spain, Portugal, Venice, and Poland-Lithuania in 1564, the Catholic Swiss Cantons in 1565, and the Catholic Estates of the Empire in 1566. When the king and Estates-General of France repeatedly refused to confirm the decrees of Trent, French bishops met on their own and did so in 1615. Provincial councils applied Trent's decrees on the local levels. The decrees of the six Milanese provincial councils (15651582) held under Carlo Borromeo (15381584) and published together in 1582 as Acta Ecclesiae Mediolanensis became the model throughout Catholic Europe for much of the implementing legislation on the provincial and diocesan levels. The papacy brought to completion the tasks assigned to it by the council, issuing revised indices of forbidden books (1564 and 1596), the first Roman Catechism (1566), and corrected editions of the Breviary (1568) and Missal (1570). The decisions of the Congregation of the Council imposed on Catholicism a uniformity and passive deference to Rome that became known as Tridentinism. The implementation of Trent's decrees on the local level, pushed forward by papal nuncios, reforming bishops and religious, and dedicated Catholic rulers, took many generations to effect.

See also Bible: Interpretation ; Borromeo, Carlo ; Catholicism ; Clergy: Roman Catholic Clergy ; Index of Prohibited Books ; Jesuits ; Lutheranism ; Marriage ; Paul III (pope) ; Pius IV (pope) ; Reformation, Catholic ; Religious Orders ; Ritual, Religious ; Sarpi, Paolo (Pietro) ; Seminary .


Primary Sources

Concilium Tridentinum: Diariorum, Actorum, Epistularum, Tractatuum Nova Collectio. Edited by the Görres-Gesellschaft. 13 vols. Freiburg im Breisgau, 19012001. A critical edition of the primary sources for the council.

Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils. Original texts edited by Giuseppe Alberigo et al., translation editor Norman P. Tanner, S.J., 2 vols. London and Washington, D.C., 1990. Vol. II, pp. 657799.

Secondary Sources

Alberigo, Giuseppe, and Iginio Rogger, eds. Il concilio di

Trento: nella prospettiva del terzo millennio. Istituto di Scienze Religiose in Trento, Religione e Cultura, 10. Brescia, 1997.

Bäumer, Remigius, ed. Concilium Tridentinum. Wege der Forschung, 313. Darmstadt, 1979. Collection of the important articles on the council, plus useful bibliography.

De La Brosse, Olivier, Joseph Lecler, Henri Holstein, Charles Lefebvre, and Pierre Adnès. Latran V et Trente. Histoire des conciles oecuméniques, 10 and 11. Paris, 19751981.

Jedin, Hubert. Geschichte des Konzils von Trient, 4 vols. in 5. Freiburg, 19481975. Vols. 1 and 2 translated by Ernest Graf as A History of the Council of Trent. St. Louis and London, 19571961.

. Girolamo Seripando: Sein Leben und Denken im Geisteskampf des 16. Jahrhunderts. 2 vols. Würzburg, 1937. Translated by Frederic C. Eckhoff as Papal Legate at the Council of Trent: Cardinal Seripando. St. Louis, 1947.

. Krisis und Abschluss des Trienter Konzils 1562/63: Ein Rückblick nach vier Jahrhunderten. Herder Bücherei, 177. Freiburg im Breisgau, 1964. Translated by N. D. Smith as Crisis and Closure of the Council of Trent: A Retrospective View from the Second Vatican Council. London and Melbourne, 1967.

Tallon, Alain. La France et le concile de Trente (15181563). Rome, 1997.

Nelson H. Minnich

Trent, Council of

views updated Jun 27 2018


TRENT, COUNCIL OF . Also known as the nineteenth general council of the Roman Catholic Church, this council opened on December 13, 1545, and closed on December 4, 1563, after twenty-five formal sessions. The road to Trent, long and tortuous, passed through Constance, Basel, and Pisa. The cry for a sweeping reform of the church from top to bottom"reformatio capitis et membrorum"had been raised one hundred years before Luther posted his theses. It continued to ring out through the fifteenth century, accompanied more often than not by the insistence that serious reform could be achieved only within the framework of a general council. Basic to this coupling of reform and council was the widespread conviction that the papacy was incapable of or unwilling to put right the tangle of abuses that threatened to smother the ecclesiastical life of Christendom. Indeed, it was argued by many that the popes' chronic misuse of their dispensing powers, particularly with regard to the appointment to benefices, was the root cause of those abuses.

The demand for a council became the standard rhetoric not only of churchmen but also of princes and statesmen. Conciliar preeminence assumed doctrinal status in many of the best universities in Europe and found its way into a thousand pamphlets, treatises, and broadsides. Preachers thundered the message from their pulpits, and echoes were heard in busy chancelleries no less than in silent Carthusian charterhouses. No pope could be elected until he had assured the cardinals in conclave that he would summon a council within a year or two of his coronation.

Such were the shock waves loosed at the Council of Constance (14141418). The questions addressed there were at once constitutional, procedural, and moral. With whom or what lies ultimate authority within the church? The monarchical concept of the papal primacy had taken its classical form in the days of Gregory VII (d. 1085), had pressed its brief even further under the great lawyer popes of the thirteenth century (e.g., Innocent III, d. 1216, and Clement IV, d. 1268) and, scarcely checked by the extravagances of Boniface VIII (d. 1303), had reached a kind of practical hegemony, at least in fiscal affairs, at Avignon (13051376). But the protracted scandal of the Western Schism (13781417), when two and then three rival "popes" competed for the allegiance of Christendom, brought the notion of papal monarchy into severe disrepute, just as the solution of the crisis by a general council convened at Constance under the aegis of the German emperor enhanced the idea of conciliar superiority. The council's deposition of the three squabbling claimants, its election of a successor (Martin V, 14171431), and its solemn decree, Sacrosancta, all combined to stake out a constitutional position: a general council, representative of the emperor and other Christian princes, the learned elite of the universities, the experts in canon law, and the college of bishops, acted for the whole church, of which the pope was a functionary, albeit an exalted functionary.

The decree Frequens, which called for such a council to be held every ten years, concerned itself with the procedural problem. Frequens presumed the doctrine of Sacrosancta. Since final and decisive authority belonged to the council, the pope's position was that of chief executive or prime minister responsible to the council, which therefore had to meet frequently. The conciliar movement of the fifteenth century based itself on these grounds. Due partly to the temper of the time, that movement did not succeed. The secular counterparts of the aristocratic ecclesiastical assemblage the conciliarists had in mind were in retreat everywhere in Europe and, in most places, on the eve of dissolution. Ambitious dynasts were in the process of bringing the powers to tax, to maintain military establishments, and to appoint government personnel under their own bureaucratic control, and thus reducing and even eliminating the prerogatives of the great medieval parliaments. It was unlikely that the church, the first great Western institution to adopt this centralizing model, would have reversed direction in favor of a polity that was demonstrably anachronistic.

But there were other, more proximate causes for the collapse of the movement, not least the tendency of the conciliarists to quarrel among themselves. The popes, for their part, ignored the doctrine of Sacrosancta and evaded the provisions of Frequens. A council was indeed convoked at Basel in 1431, but it soon fell out with the pope, who withdrew from it and convened a more tame assembly under his own presidency at Florence. The rump council continued to meet at Basel until 1449, when it broke up into bitterly contending factions. After that, conciliar rhetoric sounded increasingly hollow, especially when engaged in by secular rulers who routinely invoked the threat of a council as a device to influence papal policy in Italy. So the conciliar movement died a lingering death, its last gasp coming at Pisa in 1511, when the king of France, in league with a dissident minority of the college of cardinals, summoned a council whose declared purpose was to strip the pope, the king's bitterest political enemy, of his office. This conciliabulum did not survive the French military reverses of the following year.

The effective end of the movement, however, did not put a quietus to the theory. The teaching of Sacrosancta continued to flourish in university circles, notably at the Sorbonne. Nor did those who rejected Sacrosancta necessarily repudiate Frequens as well. The two decrees had doubtlessly been wedded in the minds of the fathers of Constance, but as the century wore on a distinction between them was often drawn by those who, while not prepared to admit the constitutional superiority of the council, nevertheless believed that only a council could bring about meaningful reform.

The moral issue raised at Constance went unresolved for a hundred years. There had occurred a kind of spontaneous reform of the members in some placesthe Devotio Moderna in the Netherlands, a florescence of mysticism in England and Germany, an evangelical revival in northern Italy, a dedication among the educated classes everywhere to the scholarly endeavors of Christian humanism. But these were hardly more than specks upon a dark sea of clerical illiteracy, popular superstition, jobbery, and pastoral neglect. The belief was almost universal that such abuses perdured because the Curia Romana, the pope's own administration, permitted and even encouraged them. Curial fees, taxes, and charges proliferated, most of them designed to allow what traditional law and common sense declared to be perilous to the life of the church. The members would never be properly reformed, it was said, unless the head were reformed too.

The Renaissance popes, whose lifestyles and political ambitions were hardly calculated to inspire confidence, stubbornly refused to put their houses in order or to permit any other organ of the church to do so. They tried to keep to the high ground of constitutional theory. The papal primacy, they argued, was a datum of divine revelation that they were pledged to defend as they had received it. They also declined to have any outside agency oversee and most likely interfere with the workings of their own court, the central bureaucracy of the church. Reform of the Curia, they proclaimed, was the business solely of the supreme pontiff.

Whatever the theoretical value of this argument, the trouble with it was that the supreme pontiffs, themselves products of the curial system, were clearly not prepared to go beyond platitudes and gestures in correcting the colossal financial chicanery that corrupted the various papal departments and that reached a stunning climax in the election and pontificate of Alexander VI (r. 14921503). Since Constance, the conviction that everything was for sale in Romeoffices, judgments, indulgences, dispensations from the lawhad grown, not lessened, and the poison of simony seeped down through the whole body of the church. Julius II did indeed summon a council in 1512, largely as a counter to the French-sponsored gathering at Pisa, but the meanderings of the Fifth Lateran Council (15121517) produced reform decrees that were no better than scraps of paper and that served merely to confirm the cynical mistrust of the papacy's moral resolution.

The popes' highest card in this game of stalemate was the reluctance of even fervent conciliaristsaside from a handful of academicsto challenge the doctrine of the Petrine office. But the year that saw the conclusion of the futile Fifth Lateran Council was also the year of the ninety-five theses. By 1520, Luther declared himself ready to jettison the papacy if that institution obstructed the full flowering of the gospel as he understood it. And Luther soon proved he was no effete intellectual but the leader of a potentially vast popular movement. Over the next decade the character of the debate about a council was drastically altered. As early as 1523, the German estates, gathered in the Diet of Nuremberg, called for "a free Christian council in German lands." Here was conciliarism with a new twist. Now, besides the old clamor for a council to reform ecclesiastical abuses, there came the demand from a growing constituency in northern Europe for a reform of dogma as well.

The Council of Paul III

The pope who had to contend with this new situation, Clement VII (r. 15231534), avoided it as best he could, and though he paid lip service to the conciliar idea, he was as obstructive as his predecessors had been. His successor was cut from a different cloth. Alessandro Farnese, who upon his election assumed the name Paul III (r. 15341549), had long been a champion within the Curia of a reform council, and he had carefully distanced himself from Clement VII's duplicitous policy in this regard. Not that Farnese had the credentials of a reformer. His youthful careerAlexander VI had made him a cardinal when he was twenty-sixhad revealed many of the more seamy features of the Renaissance papal court. In his middle years he had undergone something of a religious conversion, which, though it did not eradicate all the bad habits of his past, led him at least to a greater earnestness and gravity of purpose. Never a moral zealot himself, he signaled his good intentions by promoting men of genuine probity and even holiness to high ranks and, most of all, by immediately moving to fulfill his pledge to summon a general council.

From the beginning of Paul III's initiative, everything seemed to work at cross-purposes. For a council to succeed, both great Catholic sovereignsthe German emperor and the king of Francehad to support it, but they were bitterly at odds with each other. The emperor, Charles V, pressed for a council of reconciliation to bring peace to Germany, which meant a council to correct abuses, to satisfy the gravamina of the German estates against the Curia, with as little attention as possible paid to divisive doctrinal issues. Francis I wanted no council at all, because religious unrest in Germany, which discomfited his Habsburg rival, was much to his liking. Had Paul III had his way, he would have preferred a council over which he could keep careful watch, a kind of "Sixth Lateran," which would emphasize doctrine and, with a preponderance of bishops from the Papal States in attendance, protect the prerogatives of the Curia. But he knew he had no chance for that, and so he proposed what appeared to be the next best scenario. Mantua was a petty Italian city-state whose duke was vassal to the emperor; on June 2, 1536, the pope, ignoring the unanimous advice of his cardinals, summoned a general council to convene at Mantua the following May and ordered all the bishops, abbots, and other prelates of the whole world to appear there.

Immediately obstacles sprang up all around him. The duke of Mantua demanded a large papal army to garrison the town. The Protestants promptly declined to attend because of the presence of this hostile force, and then, when security arrangements were altered to meet their objections, they refused anyway. The king of France also refused to participate or to allow any French prelates to do so. The emperor, pointing out how Francis I had connived with the Lutheran princes and even with the Turks, urged Paul III to join him in an assault upon the French and thus guarantee a successful council. The war duly broke out in 1536, but without the pope, who shrank from a step that might have provoked Francis into following the schismatic example of Henry VIII and that at the same time might have contributed to eliminating the only check upon Habsburg power, which he feared as much as the French king did. Instead, the pope postponed the Mantuan council twice, then translated it to Vicenza, postponed it again, and finally, in 1539, suspended it altogether.

The failure was more than a disappointment. It tended to sustain the viewnot only among Protestantsthat this pope was no more serious about reform than his predecessors had been. Paul III did not help his cause much by the simultaneous campaign he was carrying onin the best Renaissance style of his first mentor, Alexander VIto make a ruling dynasty of his children and grandchildren. The Farnese did indeed become dukes of Parma, but only at the cost of diminishing further the pope's limited fund of goodwill. Even so, whatever Paul III's flaws of character, lack of persistence was not one of them. The intricate diplomacy involved in the conciliar enterprise never really ceased, even when the distrustful emperor turned to another tack and urged a conference of leading theologians, Protestant and Catholic, who could discuss all the religious discontents and find solutions to them. The pope cooperated in this venture, but the distinguished participants in the Colloquy of Ratisbon, which occupied most of the summer of 1541, failed to reach a meeting of minds. Any hope of religious reunion was fast slipping away.

The pope responded by returning to his conciliar project. With the assent of the somewhat chastened emperor, he formally announced the opening of a general council for November 1, 1542. The site this time was Trent, a small italianized town northwest of Venice that was nevertheless an imperial free city and thus juridically "in German lands." But the earlier pattern of delay, postponement, and obstructiveness by Francis I and outright rejection by the Protestants, quarrels between pope and emperor, and intermittent warfare between France and the empire was bitterly repeated. Not until December 13, 1545, did Paul III's council finally begin in the Cathedral of Saint Vigilius in Trent. The process had consumed eleven years and had produced only thirty-four voting participants. It was no wonder the mood was somber throughout the Mass of the Holy Ghost and the formal reading of the bull of convocation, which reminded the fathers that their solemn task was to heal the confessional split, to reform those abuses that sullied Christ's body, and to promote amity among Christian princes.

Those princes, though their influence over the council was enormous, did not participate directly in its decision making, nor did anyone else outside the higher clergy. In its procedure Trent was more akin to the papal councils of the high Middle Ages than to Constance or Basel. Franchise belonged only to the "fathers" of the council, that is, to the bishops presentnot their proctorsand to the generals of the mendicant orders. The presiding officers were the legates appointed by the pope. They were empowered to set the agenda, although each bishop was free to request inclusion of any proposal he pleased. This arrangement met with few serious difficulties once the basic compromise between the pope's and the emperor's positions was accepted: that matters of dogma and matters of reform would be treated simultaneously.

The work schedule followed a consistent pattern. It began with a "particular congregation," at which theologians and canonists would discuss the draft of a particular decree. The fathers formed the audience for these technical expositions. Then, meeting alone in a "general congregation," they debated the matter themselves until they reached agreement upon a final text. A "session" was a public meeting at which that text was read out, formally voted upon, and promulgated at the council's decree. Since it was thought to have a liturgical as well as a juridical significance, a session was always convened in the cathedral or some other church. Between 1545 and 1563 the Council of Trent held twenty-five sessions, of which seventeen were substantive in the sense that they were occasions for the proclamation of doctrinal definitions and reform legislation, while the rest were ceremonial affairs.

The first particular congregation met on February 20, 1546, to examine Luther's assertion of sola scriptura. On April 8, at the fourth session, the council declared that apostolic traditions, "which have come from the mouth of Christ or by the direction of the Holy Spirit and have been passed down to our own times," deserve to be accepted by believers "with as much reverence [pari pietatis ac reverentia]" as scripture itself. The fifth session, on June 17, renewed earlier conciliar legislation setting up structures for the theological training of the parochial clergy and placed upon bishops and pastors a stern obligation to preach to their flocks every Sunday and holy day. On the dogmatic side this session issued six "canons," terse condemnatory statements on the Pelagian as well as the Lutheran view of original sin.

Then began the most protracted debate of the council, devoted to the central Lutheran doctrine of justification. The first draft of a decree on this controversial subject was submitted to the fathers on July 28 and promptly rejected. For the next seven months the arguments raged through forty-four particular and sixty-one general congregations, until finally an acceptable text was hammered out and promulgated at the sixth session, on January 13, 1547. There was nearly unanimous assent to the sixteen chapters of the decree and the thirty-three canons, which repudiated Luther's view of justification by faith alone. But there was no such unanimity when the next great issue of reform was introduced. The fathers and their theologians wrangled through the succeeding months over the requirement that bishops reside in their dioceses. When the proposed decree was presented the first time, only twenty-eight fathers out of a total grown by early 1547 to sixty indicated their agreement by voting placet. The divisions over the matter were so deep that it had to be set aside for later consideration. The seventh session, on March 3, 1547, therefore contented itself with asserting a bishop's right to supervise parishes in his diocese administered by members of religious orders. The dogmatic decrees of the same session defined the nature of the sacraments, fixed their number at seven, and asserted their effective spiritual power (ex opere operato). The doctrine of baptism and confirmation was also treated in detail.

Meanwhile, in the midst of all this intellectual labor, various discontents revealed themselves. Trent was a small town with limited accommodations. Its location made it a difficult place to supply with provisions, and its climate was harsher than the southerners in attendance were accustomed to. Many of the fathers complained of the discomfort in which they were forced to live. During the summer of 1546, fighting between the emperor and the Smalcald League surged close enough to the city that dissolution of the council was seriously contemplated. This danger passed away, only to be replaced by a typhus epidemic that broke out in the vicinity early in 1547 and that caused the council to translate its deliberations to Bologna (eighth session, March 11, 1547). The emperor was furious at what he considered the pope's maneuver to bring the council under his direct control by removing it to a city in the Papal States. Fourteen imperialist bishops remained in Trent, but the majority of the fathers went dutifully off to Bologna, where they labored through intense debate in both particular and general congregations on the rest of the sacraments, the sacrificial character of the Mass, purgatory, veneration of the saints, and monastic vowsall doctrinal issues raised by the Protestant reformers. But Paul III allowed no formal sessions or decrees, lest he push the angry emperor too far. The significance of the Bologna phase of the council, until its suspension on February 16, 1548, proved to be the use to which its work was put when the council assembled again at Trent three years later.

The Council of Julius III

Giovanni Maria del Monte, who had been senior legate during the first phase of the council, was elected pope in February 1550 and took the name Julius III. Immediately he came under pressure from the emperor to reconvene the council and, specifically, to get on with the business of reform. The new pope faced many of the same political problems as his predecessor, and it was in the teeth of strong resistance from the German Protestant princes and the new king of France, Henry II, that the council reopened at Trent on May 1, 1551. The fifty or so fathers did little serious work before the end of the summer, but thanks to the deliberations at Bologna they were ready at the thirteenth session, on October 11, to issue a decree on the Eucharist that in eight expository chapters and eleven canons reasserted the traditional dogma of the real presence as well as the mechanism of transubstantiation. Six weeks later, at the fourteenth session, the sacraments of penance and extreme unction received doctrinal definition. The landmark character of these dogmatic decisions, however, was not matched by the reform legislation passed in the thirteenth and fourteenth sessions. Directives about rights and duties of bishops with regard to their clergy, and regulations governing procedures in ecclesiastical courts, did not, as the council's critics were quick to point out, strike at the roots of the accumulated abuses.

At the beginning of 1552 a faint flicker of hope for reunion flared up and then quickly died out. On January 15, ambassadors and theologians from several Protestant states, having come to Trent under a safe-conduct, appeared at the council's fifteenth session. But their brief presence only served to demonstrate that the confessional divisions could no longer be healed or that at any rate a council managed by the pope and already committed to traditio no less than to scriptura as a font of revelation could never be an instrument of reconciliation.

So the fathers returned wearily to their own debates, now treating of the sacrament of orders and the sacrifice of the Mass. The congregations dragged on inconclusively into the spring, as the emperor went to war yet again with the German princes allied with France. This time he was badly defeated, and when he fled to nearby Innsbruck the fathers at Trent decided it was too risky to remain there. They used the sixteenth session, April 28, 1552, to adjourn the council sine die. Julius III, at heart an indolent and self-indulgent man, made no effort through the rest of his pontificate to revive it. His successor, Paul IV (15551559), was fiercely determined to effect reform, but he had no patience for conciliar ways and preferred instead to impose doctrinal and moral purity by liberal use of the inquisition, of which he had once been head. This policy was an utter failure, as indeed was Paul IV's whole reign, and when the cardinals entered the conclave of 1559 the scandal of an unfinished council cast a long shadow over it.

The Council of Pius IV

The conclave of 1559 lasted more than three months, and the pope who emerged from it, Pius IV (Giovanni Angelo de' Medici), was committed to bringing the Council of Trent to a satisfactory conclusion. The obstacles he encountered in persuading the Catholic powers to take up the conciliar enterprise once again were different but hardly less daunting than those Paul III and Julius III had had to face. The Peace of Augsburg (1555) and the Treaty of Cateau-Cambresis (1559) had indeed removed for the time being the threat of war that had so plagued the earlier stages of the council. But the Catholic monarchsthree of them, now that Charles V had departed the scene and had divided the Habsburg territories between his brother, Ferdinand I, and his son, Philip II of Spainwere deeply at odds over the crucial problem of whether the council Pius IV formally convoked (November 29, 1560) was to be a continuation of the former one or an entirely new undertaking. France, now troubled as Germany had been for a generation by a growing and aggressive Protestant faction, joined the imperialists in demanding a new council unencumbered by any decisions arrived at earlier. The king of Spain conversely insisted that the work begun before be allowed to run its course. The pope agreed with this view, though he dared not say so publicly. Instead he adopted a policy of studied ambiguity, confident that once an assembly had been lured back to its original site the problem would solve itself. After months of the most convoluted diplomacy, this tactic succeeded. On January 18, 1562, some 113 fathers gathered at Trenttheir number would ultimately swell to 277and implicitly accepted continuation by deciding to resume deliberations at the point at which they had been suspended ten years before.

By March the council had returned to the discussion of episcopal residence and found itself mired once again in argument. Everyone agreed that bishops should reside in their dioceses and that their widespread failure to do so was a fundamental cause of corruption in the church. But was the requirement one of divine law or ecclesiastical law? This seemingly abstract question had vast implications, because if residence were an obligation jure divino, it could mean that bishops exercised their office independently of the pope. A vote on April 20, revealed that the fathers were divided almost evenly on the subject. Tempers ran so high that the legates managed to calm the situation only by postponing discussion of the question until a later date. Dogmatic deliberations meanwhile continued, and at the twenty-first session (July 16, 1562) the council defined the sacrificial character of the Mass and the whole presence of Christ in each of the eucharistic species of bread and wine. The disciplinary decision as to whether the laity should be allowed to share the chalicesomething taken seriously by the emperor and by Germans generallywas referred to the pope for implementation after the council.

Next on the agenda came discussion of the sacrament of orders, which involved once more the thorny issue of episcopal residence. By autumn the council had reached an impasse. No formulation, however ingenious, could budge the determination of either side. The winter of 1563 arrived, and then the spring, and still no resolution was in sight. The conciliar machinery ground to a halt, and after ten months of wrangling, the breakup of the council appeared imminent. Then, in early March, the senior legate suddenly died, and Pius IV replaced him with Giovanni Cardinal Morone. This proved to be the decisive intervention.

Morone, the ablest papal diplomat of the century, recognized that behind the arguments advanced by the proponents of jus divinum lurked the conviction that the papacy intended no real reform. He moved swiftly to defuse this radical mistrust, especially in the minds of the emperor and the king of Spain, by guaranteeing that a sweeping reform schema, blessed in advance by the pope, would be proposed to the council in short order. Employing a variety of formal and informal commissions, and playing skillfully upon the vanity of the heretofore unpredictable French delegation, Morone put the council back to work again. When the emperor expressed misgivings, Morone went off to Innsbruck to reassure him; when the pope hesitated to support his program, Morone threatened to resign. At the twenty-third session, on July 15, 1563, the council approved his first package of reform legislation. Perhaps its most important provision was the directive to establish a system of seminaries to provide intellectual and moral training for the parochial clergy. As for the conciliar crisis at hand, Morone evaded the insoluble problem by ignoring it. "It is a divine precept that the pastor know his flock," the decree began, but, though strictly obliging bishops to reside, it did not try to define the basis of that obligation. Moreover, cardinals were explicitly included in the requirement, and thus was struck down one of the worst and most resented of the abuses, the accumulation of benefices by officers of the Curia.

The logjam broken, there followed a hectic summer and autumn of congregations dealing with a flood of reform ideas. The whole clerical estate was refashioned during these months. Morone moved easily through all the factions, the pope's man indeed but the council's man too, always urging accommodation, compromise, the practical attainment of the goal of restoring spiritual primacy to the workings of the church. Special emphasis was placed upon eliminating the chaos in ecclesiastical administration which had opened the door to so many abuses. Morone spared little time for theoretical discussion; the question of indulgences, for example, which had occasioned the Lutheran reformation, was settled not in a dogmatic decree but in a reform decree. This also was the case with the veneration of the saints and relics. The council indeed defined the sacramentality and the indissolubility of matrimony, but it was even more intent on suppression of clandestine marriages. Statistically the achievement was prodigious: three times as much reform legislation was passed by the council during Morone's brief legateship than in all the sessions before him combined.

By the twenty-fourth session, on November 11, 1563, the end was finally in sight. The last session, at which all the conciliar decrees since 1545 were to be formally promulgated, was scheduled for December 9. However, news from Rome that Pius IV was severely ill led Morone to move the date forward. Therefore, the twenty-fifth session was held on December 3 and 4, 1563, when each of the 229 fathers gave his placet to all the work the council had done over its eighteen years of life. A Te Deum was sung, and tearful fathers embraced one another, in many cases embracing those with whom they had often violently disagreed.

See Also

Boniface VIII; Gregory VII; Innocent III; Luther, Martin; Papacy; Reformation.


The official collection of Tridentine decrees is Canones et decreta, Concilii Tridentini (Rome, 1564), many times reprinted, now to be found most conveniently in the volume edited by Giuseppe Alberigo and others, Conciliorum oecumenicorum decreta (Bologna, 1972). Relevant documents can be found in Concilium Tridentinum: Diariorum, actorum, epistularum, tractatuum; Nova collectio, 13 vols. (Freiburg, 19011967), an immense deposit and an indispensable tool of research.

The two classic studies are Paolo Sarpi's L'istoria del Concilio Tridentino (1619), 3 vols., edited by Giovanni Gambarin (Bari, 1935); and Sforza Pallavicino's Storia del Concilio de Trento (16561657), 3 vols., edited by Mario Scotti (Turin, 1968). The polemical camps trace themselves back to either Pallavicino, a defender of the council, or to Sarpi, an attacker of it.

The definitive history of the council has now been written: Hubert Jedin's Geschichte des Konzils von Trient, 4 vols. in 5 (Freiburg, 19491975), the first two volumes of which have been translated into English by Ernest Graf as A History of the Council of Trent (London, 19571960). Jedin also published many monographs on Trent, including Girolamo Seripando, 2 vols. (Würzburg, 1937), translated into English (but without the full scholarly apparatus) as Papal Legate at the Council of Trent, Cardinal Seripando (Saint Louis, 1947); and Krisis und Abschluss des Trienter Konzils, 156263 (Freiburg, 1964), badly translated as Crisis and Closure of the Council of Trent: A Retrospective View from the Second Vatican Council (London, 1967).

A useful survey of ecclesiastical history during the time the council was sitting is Leon Cristiani's L'église à l'époque du Concile de Trente, "Histoire de l'église," no. 17 (Paris, 1948). Special studies of note include Il Concilio di Trento e la Riforma Tridentina, 2 vols. (Rome, 1965), a collection of distinguished essays by a panel of international scholars; Dermot Fenlon's Heresy and Obedience in Tridentine Italy (Cambridge, U.K., 1972), on Italian humanism and its import upon reform; James A. O'Donohoe's Tridentine Seminary Legislation: Its Sources and Its Formation (Louvain, 1957); and Wolfgang P. Fischer's Frankreich und die Wiedereröffnung des Konzils von Trient, 15591562 (Münster, 1973), on the resumption of the council after the death of Paul IV. On the diplomacy during those crucial few years, H. Outram Evennett's The Cardinal of Lorraine and the Council of Trent (Cambridge, U.K., 1930) is still useful, as is Gustave Constant's La légation du Cardinal Morone prés l'empereur et le concile de Trente, avrildécembre, 1563 (Paris, 1922), a collection of documents and commentary. The best analysis of the council of Pius IV is Robert Trisco's "Reforming the Roman Curia: Emperor Ferdinand I and the Council of Trent," in Reform and Authority in the Medieval and Reformation Church, edited by Guy F. Lytle (Washington, D.C., 1981).

Marvin R. O'Connell (1987)

Trent, Council of

views updated May 29 2018

Trent, Council of

In 1545 Pope Paul III called bishops and theologians* together in the northern Italian city of Trent to respond to the challenges raised by Protestants and by reformers within the Roman Catholic Church. This meeting, known as the Council of Trent, met over three distinct periods between 1545 and 1563. The decisions it reached had a major impact on the later history of the church.

Political, military, and religious conflicts threatened the council throughout its duration. When its first session opened in 1545, only 31 prelates* attended, and the number present never exceeded 200. Although papal* delegates presided over the council, the popes were only partly successful in controlling its agenda. Moreover, the council was often torn by conflict and sharp debate. The council's first session broke up in 1547; the second session, which met in 1551, ended a year later, and the council took ten years to regroup. Many people believed it would never end successfully.

Reforms of the Council of Trent. The council's two chief goals were to respond to questions of religious doctrine raised by Protestant reformers, especially Martin Luther, and to deal with demands from both Catholics and Protestants for church reform. By the time the council met, any real chance of healing religious divisions between Protestants and Catholics had faded. Instead, the council reaffirmed the Catholic position on disputed issues, making the break with Protestants final.

The Council of Trent did not try to issue a full statement of Catholic belief. Instead, it responded only to questions raised by the Protestant reformers. One of these concerned Martin Luther's view of the Scriptures as the only proper basis for religious teachings. The council's response to this issue was twofold. It established an official body of religious texts for Catholics, but it also affirmed the importance of church traditions in addition to Scripture. Next, the council dealt with Luther's idea that humans were saved solely through their faith in Christ and not through good works. The council declared that salvation involved both God's grace and human responsibility. Finally, the council discussed the sacraments*. Luther had reduced the number of sacraments from the traditional seven to two and had redefined the nature of those two. The Council of Trent reemphasized the traditional sacraments and declared that Christ had established all seven of them.

The council also had a clear goal of reforming the offices of popes, bishops, and priests. Attempts to reform the papacy met with little success, but the council set many new requirements for bishops. It issued a decree insisting that bishops live in their dioceses* and forbidding them to hold more than one office at a time. The council also tried to establish a closer relationship between bishops and the local clergy. It required bishops to hold regular meetings with their clergy, visit and oversee local parishes, be selective in choosing priests, and promote preaching on Sundays and feast days. The council emphasized the role of the parish as the proper site for tending to a congregation's spiritual needs and required every diocese to establish a seminary to train poor boys for the priesthood.

The Council of Trent and the Renaissance. The Council of Trent gave the Catholic Church an opportunity to react to the new ideas of the Renaissance. Although the council issued no statement about the new humanist* learning, it focused on medieval* traditions in the language used in its own decrees. It also based its debates on the Latin Vulgate Bible, the version used throughout the Middle Ages. Many saw this decision as a warning against the new humanist emphasis on returning to original Greek and Hebrew texts of the Bible. The council also failed to make any mention of new vernacular* Bibles, opening the door to later efforts to suppress such works. At the same time, its decision to keep Latin as the language of church ritual helped promote the study of classical* languages among Catholics.

At the same time, the Council of Trent reflected the influence of Renaissance ideas. The council said little about the humanist goal of applying principles of classical rhetoric* to the practice of preaching, but it did stress preaching as the chief duty of bishops and pastors. This emphasis contributed to a revival of preaching and to the writing of treatises* on how to preach that were based on humanist principles. The council also reaffirmed the value of "holy images," which many Protestants had criticized. This decision gave support to the outpouring of art, especially religious art, during the late Renaissance. At the same time, the council issued warnings about superstition and sexual elements in painting. These statements led to treatises on what was appropriate in "sacred art" and to attempts to censor it.

(See alsoBible; Catholic Reformation and Counter-Reformation; Councils; Preaching and Sermons; Religious Thought. )

* theologian

person who studies religion and the nature of God

* prelate

high-ranking member of the clergy, such as a bishop

* papal

referring to the office and authority of the pope

* sacrament

religious ritual thought to have been established by Jesus as an aid to salvation

* diocese

geographical area under the authority of a bishop

* humanist

referring to a Renaissance cultural movement promoting the study of the humanities (the languages, literature, and history of ancient Greece and Rome) as a guide to living

* medieval

referring to the Middle Ages, a period that began around a.d. 400 and ended around 1400 in Italy and 1500 in the rest of Europe

* vernacular

native language or dialect of a region or country

* classical

in the tradition of ancient Greece and Rome

* rhetoric

art of speaking or writing effectively

* treatise

long, detailed essay

Trent, Council of

views updated May 11 2018

Trent, Council of (1545–63). A council of Roman Catholic bishops and superiors of religious orders, reckoned by that church to be the 19th ecumenical council. It was convoked only after pressure from the Emperor Charles V, who hoped for reconciliation between Catholics and Protestants in his German dominions. It met in three sessions at Triento in N. Italy, 1545–9, 1551–2, and 1562–3. Protestant representatives attended only the second of these sessions, with no lasting effect. The fathers of the council rejected Protestant sacramental theory and Luther's doctrine of consubstantiation, in the latter case endorsing the theory of transubstantiation. Among the ecclesiastical reforms there was an attempt to abolish pluralism, an insistence that bishops must reside in their sees, a provision of better education for, and closer control over, the clergy, and a reform of the Roman curia. It also reasserted the traditional teaching on a number of issues such as indulgences, the existence of purgatory, and the veneration of saints. It was, perhaps, the single most significant element in the Counter-Reformation.

Council of Trent

views updated May 17 2018

Council of Trent

The Council of Trent was an important church council, attended by cardinals, bishops, archbishops, and papal legates (representatives), who convened to make decisions on church doctrine and ceremony and to oppose the spread of the Protestant Reformation. The council met at the northern Italian city of Trent between 1545 and 1563. It refuted Martin Luther's ideas on the importance of certain books of the Bible, condemned the idea of grace by faith alone, and affirmed the traditional nature of the seven church sacraments. The council set down the liturgy of a standard Catholic Mass, known as the Tridentine Mass, and held that Christ was actually present in the bread and wine of the ceremony. It affirmed the rule of celibacy for priests, the need for infant baptism (which some Protestant sects considered optional), upheld the doctrine of purgatory and the veneration of relics, created an Index of forbidden books, and set down strict guidelines for marriage and divorce. The decrees of the council were ratified by Pope Pius IV in a papal bull of 1564. The council condemned the ideas of the Reformation and reserved to the church the right to punish Protestant heresy as it saw fit; many of its proclamations and decrees have been affirmed by the modern Catholic Church.

Trent, Council of

views updated May 23 2018

Trent, Council of (1545–63) Nineteenth ecumenical council of the Roman Catholic Church, which provided the main impetus of the Counter-Reformation in Europe. It met at Trent, n Italy, in three sessions under three popes (Paul III, Julius III, Pius IV). It clarified Catholic doctrine and refused concessions to the Protestants, while also instituting reform of many of the abuses that had provoked the Reformation.

Trent, Council of

views updated May 14 2018

Trent, Council of an ecumenical council of the Roman Catholic Church, held in three sessions between 1545 and 1563 in Trento. Prompted by the opposition of the Reformation, the council clarified and redefined the Church's doctrine, abolished many ecclesiastical abuses, and strengthened the authority of the papacy. These measures provided the Church with a solid foundation for the Counter-Reformation.

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Council of Trent