Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Council of Trent (AD1545-1563)



Subject; Ecumenical Movement

Topic; Council of Trent (AD.1545-1563).

Submitted to; Rev. Pratap Digal

Submitted by; Mr.M.Jose Kumar &Mr.Sanda Aung

Submitted on; 6th September, 2008.


The Council of Trent, the 19th ecumenical council of the Roman Catholic Church, was held at Trent in northern Italy between 1545 and 1563. It marked a major turning point in the efforts of the Catholic Church to respond to the challenge of the Protestant Reformation and formed a key part of the Counter-Reformation. The need for such a council had long been perceived by certain church leaders, but initial attempts to organize it were opposed by Francis I of France, who feared it would strengthen Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, and by the popes themselves, who feared a revival of Conciliarism

1. Council of Trent.

It is also known as the nineteenth general council of the Roman Catholic Church, this council opened on 13 Dec 1545 and closed on 4 Dec 1563,after twenty-five formal sessions.[1]

In the year 1530s Pope Paul III made several a abortive attempts to call one. Finally in 1542, after the failure of Rgensburg, he called the Council of Trent. The choice of venue was subtle-within the territories of the German Emperor, yet near enough to Rome ensures Papal control of the council.[2]

In 1547 the Italian members obtained its transfer to Bologna, farther from the North .In May ,1551,it was once more at Trent .Less than a year later, in May,1552,it adjorned,and did not again cover for nearly a decade, in January,1562.It finally completed its works in December ,1563.The Roman Catholic count it as December,ninethenth Ecumenical council.[3]

1.1. III phrases of Council of Trent

The Council of Trent met in three phrases 1545-47, 1551-52, 1562-63.,under the leadership of three different popes (Paul III, Julius III, Pius IV). All of its decrees were formally confirmed by Pope Pius IV in 1563[4].It is the nineteenth of the general or ecumenical councils recognized by the Roman Catholic Church. But while it was called ecumenical or world-wide, more than two-thirds of the Bishops who attended were Italian. Thus the council was not representative of even the Roman Catholic world and it was certainly not free of Papal control.[5]

1.2. Geographical Location of Trent

Trent owed its choice as the theatre of the council both to its geographical situation and its juridical status. Situated at the gate of Italy and even then predominantly Italia city, it nevertheless belonged to the Holy Roman Empire of the German nation and was subject to the territorial over lordship of its Bishop, so that answered both the express wish of the curia that the council should be held in an Italian city and the demand of the German Estates for a council in ‘German land’.[6]

Trent was a small Italianized town in northwest of Venice that was nevertheless an imperial free city and thus druidical “in German land” the road to Trent, long and tortuous passed through Constance, Basel, and Pisa

1.3. Causes for the council of Trent From 1545 to 1541 there were a number of colloquies in Germany at which leading protestant and Roman Catholic theologians sought to reach an understanding[7] The spread of Protestantism renewed the demand for general council, both to return and reunite Christendom.

The emperor Charles V,in his anxiety to restore religious unity among the Germans, pressed for a council on German soil that was prepared to offer the maximum concession consistent with the essentials of Oxthodoxy.This policy was not agreeable to Rome, where dangers to Catholicism, together with an overstreghtening of the Emperor’s power, both ecclesiastical and political, were feared.[8]

The pope’s chronic misuse of their dispensing power, particularly with regard to the appointment to benefices, was the root cause of these abuses.

The demand for a council became the standard rhetoric not only of churchmen but also of princes and statesmen.[9]

1.4. Agenda for the council of Trent.The work of the council was twofold- the definition of Roman Catholic doctrine in opposition to Protestantism and the introduction of disciplinary reforms within the Roman Catholic Church. There were definitions of doctrine override range of areas- scripture and tradition; original sin; justification; the sacraments; purgatory; relics and images; indulgences.[10]

1.5. Procedure for conducting the Council.In tits procedure Trent was more akin to the Papal councils of the high Middle Ages than to Constance or Basel. Franchise belonged only to the “father” of the council, that is, to the Bishops present –not their proctors-and to the generals of the mendicant order. The presiding officers were the legates appointed by the Pope. They were empowered to set the agenda. The work schedule followed a consistent pattern. It began with a “particular congregational which theologians and canonists would discuss the draft of a particular decree. The fathers formed the audience for these technical expositions

A “session” was a public meeting of voted upon, and promulgated at the councils’ decree.Between 1545 and 1563 the council of Trent held twenty-five session, of which seventeen were substantive in the sense that they were occasion for the proclamation of doctrinal definitions and reform legistation,while the rest were ceremonial affairs[11]

2.Popes’ Intervention in the Council of Trent

2.1.Pope Paul III (1534–49) when he proposed the idea of the Council to his cardinals, it was unanimously opposed. Nonetheless, he sent nuncios throughout Europe to propose the idea. Paul III issued a decree for a general council to be held in Mantua, Italy, to begin May 23, 1537. However, the council was delayed until 1545, and convened right before Luther's death. Unable, however, to resist the urging of Charles V, the pope, after proposing Mantua as the place of meeting, convened the council at Trent .On December 13, 1545; the Pope's decision to transfer it to Bologna in March, 1547 on the pretext of avoiding a plague failed to take effect and the Council was indefinitely prorogued on 17 September 1549.[12]

2.2.Pope Julius III (1550-1555) The new pope faced many of the same political problems as his predecessor, and it was in the teeth princes and the new king of France, Henry II,that the council reopened at Trent on May 1551.Julius III,at heart an indolent and self-indulgent man, made no effort through the rest of this pontificate to receive it.[13]

2.3Pope Pius IV(1559–65)The council was reconvened by Pope Pius IV (1559–65) for the last time, meeting from 18 January 1562, and continued until its final adjournment on 4 December 1563. It closed with a series of ritual acclamations honouring the reigning Pope, the Popes who had convoked the Council, the emperor and the kings who had supported it, the papal legates, the cardinals, the ambassadors present, and the bishops, followed by acclamations of acceptance of the faith of the Council and its decrees, and of anathema for all heretics.

During the second period, the Protestants present asked for renewed discussion on points already defined and for bishops to be released from their oaths of allegiance to the Pope. When the last period began, all hope of conciliating the Protestants was gone and the Jesuits had become a strong force.

The number of attending members in the three periods varied considerably. The council was small to begin with..3The decrees were signed by 255 members, including four papal legates, two cardinals, three patriarchs, twenty-five archbishops, and 168 bishops, two-thirds of whom were Italians. The Italian and Spanish prelates were vastly preponderant in power and numbers. At the passage of the most important decrees not more than sixty prelates were present[14].

3. Discussions in the Council of Trent

3.1. Scripture and tradition

The first particular congregations met on 20February, 1546 to examine Luther’s assertion of solar scriptura on April, at the fourth session, the Council declared that apostolic tradition, “which have come form 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 reverential) as scripture itself.[15]

Trent cut off all possibility of reconciliation with prtestants,sftartin Catholic dogma in a manner that defined protestant doctrines as heretical authority in the church was defined as tradition plus the scriptures ( including tradition the Apocraha(,but it was clear that no one could interpret the Bible contrary to the church.[16]

3.2. Decree concerning canonical scripture (1546)

This decree came in due course to be misunderstood. As Latin words subtly changed their meaning, it was thought to concern the issue of unwritten doctrinal traditions. But in fact the traditions in mind at Trent were ceremonies and practices, such as infant baptism or Sunday worship.[17]

3.3. Decree concerning Justification (1547)

This decree was intended to define the doctrine of justification in an anti-protestant direction. The main thrust of the decree is about the justification of adult convert. Taking into account different meanings given to key words such as ‘justification’ and ‘faith’ by the two sides, their positions are not that starkly opposed. But moving on to other questions covered in the decree-the effects of sin committed after baptism, the meriting of eternal life at the last judgment-the difference becomes pronounced. It needs to be remembered that the justification of the adult convert is largely theoretical issue-the majority of Roman Catholics are baptized as infants. For them, the reality which they face is sin committed after baptism. If they repent and confess their sin to priest, the eternal punishment due to sin (hell) is remitted, according to Trent.[18]

4. Resolutions

The council of Trent (1545-1563), which ensured clear definition of the Catholic faith, encouraged spiritual reform in the life of the church and mission and by aggressive procedure of suppressing heresies appeared to have cut off any aspiration for holding a general council for reunion.

The introduction of systematic measures like the setting up of the office of Inquisition, the publication of a list of prohibited books, the burning down of non-Catholic published writings, the establishment of academic and theological institutions for the training of priests and support of the clergy to quell the growing influence of Protestantism, bore testimonies to intended plans shutting off reconciling negotiations.[19]

In the area of religious doctrine, the council refused any concessions to the Protestants. It also crystallized and codified Catholic dogma for more than before.

It also opposed Protestantism by reaffirming the existence of 7 sacraments, substantiation purgatory, the necessity of priesthood, and justification by work as well as by faith .The council also maintained clerical celibacy and monasticism.

It also issued decrees in favor of efficacy of relics, indulgences, and the veneration of the Virgin Mary and saints.

It also declared tradition coequals to scripture as a source of spiritual knowledge, and further declared that the sole right to interpret the Bible rests with the church.

Of all the church councils, the council of Trent lasted longest, and issued the longest number of dogmas and reformatory decrees.[20]

There was a degree of moral and administrative reform, the authority of the Pope was strengthened, corruption decreased greatly and better training of the clergy and more preaching were required. The inquisition was strengthened, especialloy in Spain, and was used against anyone suspected of heaving protestant ideas as well as against Jews.[21]

Evaluation and Conclusion

Trent was attacked by leading protestant theologians. One of the first responses came from Calvin, who in 1547 published the Acts of the synod of Trent with an Antidote. He was so sure of his case that he published the text of Trent in full before attacking it! A fuller and more considered responses came from the Lutheran theologian Martin Chemnitz who from 1565to 1573 published an Inversitcatio9n of the council of Trent in which he answered the council at great length.

Trent became not just a but the council of the Roman Catholic Church. It became the normative statement of anti-protestant counter-reformation Roman Catholicism. Earlier councils were read in the light of Trent and interpreted in accord with it. In this way, Trent dominated the Roman Catholic Church for some 400 years, the period of ‘Tridentine Catholicism’. This was brought to a close by the second Vatican Council, with produced even more documents than Trent and which breathed a very different spirit. Trent has now become just one of the council of the past.


Lane, Toney .The lion book of Christian Thought .Truvalla: Suvartha Bhavan, 1999.

Encyclopedia Britannica, 1972, ed., Vol, s.v; “Council of Trent”.

Marvin R.O’Connell, “Council of Trent”, The Encyclopedia of Religion,ed., Mircea Eliade ,vol.15.New York: Macmillan Publishing Company,1987.

. LaTourette, Kenneth Scott.A History of Christianity. Yale; Yale University

Snaitang, O.L.A History of Ecumenical Movement: An Introduction. Bangalore: BTESSC/SATHRI, 2004.

George, K.M. Development of Christianity Through the Centuries.Tiruvalla:Christava Sahitya Samithi,2005.

A history of The Council of Trent, Vol.I. Translated by Dom Ernest Graff O.S.B .London:Thomas Nelson And Sons Ltd,1957.

Pierson, Paul E. “the counter-reformation”, Evangelical Dictionary of World Missions. Edited by A. Scotts Moreau.Michigan: Baker Books, 2000.




[1] Marvin R.O’Connell, “Council of Trent”,The Encyclopedia of Religion,ed., Mircea Eliade ,vol.15(New York:Macmillan Publishing Company,1987),33.

[2] Toney Lane, The lion book of Christain Thouhgt (Truvalla:Suvartha Bhavan,1999),115.

[3].Kenneth Scott Latourette,A History of Christianity.(Yale; Yale University,--),866.

[4] //www.mb-soft.com/believe/txs/trent.htm

[5] Toney Lane.op.cit.115.

[6] A history of The Council of Trent,Vol.I, translated by Dom Ernest Graff O.S.B(London:Thomas Nelson And Sons Ltd,1957),545.

[7] Toney Lane.op.cit.,115.

[8] Encyclopedia Britannical, 1972, ed., Vol, s.v; “Council of Trent”, 639.

[9]Marvin R.O’Connell, op.cit.,33.

[10] Ibid.,155.

[11] Marvin R.O’Connell,op.cit.,36.

[13] Marvin R.O’Connell.op.cit.,37.

[15] Marvin R.O’Connell.op.cit., 37..

[16] Paul E.Pierson “the counter-reformation”, Evangelical Dictionary of World Missions, edited by A. Scotts Moreau(Michigan:Baker Books,200),238.

[17] . Toney Lane.op.cit.115.

[18] .Ibid.,115-116.

[19] O.L.Snaitang,A History of Ecumenical Movement: Introduction(Bangalore:BTESSC/SATHRI,2004),28.

[20] K.M George, Development of Christianity Through the Centuries (Tiruvalla: Christava Sahitya Samithi, 2005), 92-93.

[21]Paul E.Pierson., op.cit. 238.

1 comment:

Paul McCain said...

Thank you for your mention of Martin Chemnitz. We have a number of his works in English translation at http://www.cph.org