[This is taken from Rev. James A. MacCaffrey's History of the Catholic Church.]
than a century and a half reform of the Church "in its head and members" was the
watchword both of the friends and the enemies of religion. Earnest men looked
forward to this as the sole means of stemming the tide of neo-paganism that
threatened to engulf the Christian world, while wicked men hoped to find in the
movement for reform an opportunity of wrecking the divine constitution that
Christ had given to His Church. Popes and Councils had failed hitherto to
accomplish this work. The bishops had met at Constance and Basle, at Florence
and at Rome (5th Lateran Council), and had parted leaving the root of the evil
untouched. Notwithstanding all these failures the feeling was practically
universal that in a General Council lay the only hope of reform, and that for
one reason or another the Roman Curia looked with an unfavorable eye on the
convocation of such an assembly. Whether the charge was true or false it was
highly prejudicial to the authority of the Holy See, and as a consequence of it,
when Luther and his followers appealed from the verdict of Leo X. to the verdict
of a General Council, they evoked the open or secret sympathy of many, who had
nothing but contempt for their religious innovations. Charles V., believing in
the sincerity of their offer to submit themselves to the judgment of such a
body, supported strongly the idea of a council, as did also the Diets held at
Nurnberg in 1523 and 1524.
The hesitation of Adrian VI (1522-3) and of Clement VII. (1523-34) to yield to these demands was due neither to their inability to appreciate the magnitude of the abuses nor of their desire to oppose any and every proposal of reform. The disturbed condition of the times, when so many individuals had fallen away from the faith and when whole nations formerly noted for their loyalty to the Pope threatened to follow in their footsteps, made it difficult to decide whether the suggested remedy might not prove worse than the disease. The memory, too, of the scenes that took place at Constance and Basle and of the revolutionary proposals put forward in these assemblies, made the Popes less anxious to try a similar experiment with the possibility of even worse results, particularly at a time when the unfriendly relations existing between the Empire, France, and England held out but little hope for the success of a General Council. As events showed the delay was providential. It afforded an opportunity for excitement and passion to die away; it helped to secure moderation in the views both of the radical and conservative elements in the Church; and it allowed the issues in dispute to shape themselves more clearly and to be narrowed down to their true proportions, thereby enabling the Catholic theologians to formulate precisely the doctrines of the Church in opposition to the opinions of the Lutherans.
Clement VII. (1523-34), one of the de' Medici family, succeeded to the Papacy at a most critical period in the civil and religious history of Europe. The time that he spent at the court of his cousin, Leo X., and the traditions of his family and of his native city of Florence made it almost impossible for him to throw himself into the work of reform or to adopt the stern measures that the situation demanded. Instead of allying himself closely with Charles V. or Francis I. of France, or better still of preserving an attitude of strict neutrality towards both, he adopted a policy of vacillation joining now one side now the other, until the terrible sack of Rome by the infuriated and half-savage soldiery of Germany forced him to conclude an agreement with the Emperor. During the earlier years of Clement VII.'s reign the German people, Catholic as well as Lutheran, demanded the convocation of a general or at least a national council, and their demands met with the approval of Charles V. The naturally indolent temperament of the Pope, the fear that the eagerness for reform might develop into a violent revolution, and the danger that a council dominated by the Emperor might be as distasteful to France and England as dangerous to the rights and prerogatives of the Holy See, made him more willing to accept the counsels of those who suggested delay. When peace was at last concluded between the Pope and the Emperor (1529) Charles V. had changed his mind about the advisability of a General Council, having convinced himself in the meantime that more could be done for the cause of peace in his territories by private negotiations between the different parties.
It was only on the accession of Paul III. (1534-49) that a really vigorous effort was made to undertake the work of reform. The new Pope, a member of the Farnese family, was himself a brilliant Humanist, a patron of literature and art, well known for his strict and exemplary life as a priest, and deservedly popular both with the clergy and people of Rome. His one outstanding weakness was his partiality towards his own relatives, on many of whom he conferred high positions both in church and state. In justice to him it should be said, however, that the position of affairs in Rome and in Italy made such action less reprehensible than it might seem at first sight, and that he dealt severely with some of them, as for example, the Duke of Parma and Piacenza, once he discovered that they were unworthy of the confidence that had been reposed in them. He made his pontificate noteworthy by the stern measures he took for the reform of the Roman Curia, by the appointment of learned and progressive ecclesiastics like Reginald Pole, Sadoleto, Caraffa, and Contarini to the college of cardinals, and by the establishment of special tribunals to combat heresy.
After a preliminary agreement with the Emperor, Paul III. convoked the General Council to meet at Mantua in 1537; but the refusal of the Lutheran princes to send representatives, the prohibition issued by Francis I. against the attendance of French bishops, and the unwillingness of the Duke of Mantua to make the necessary arrangements for such an assembly in his territory unless under impossible conditions, made it necessary to prorogue the council to Vicenza in 1538. As hardly any bishops had arrived at the time appointed it was adjourned at first, and later on prorogued indefinitely. Negotiations were, however, continued regarding the place of assembly. The Pope was anxious that the council should be held in an Italian city, while Charles V., believing that the Lutherans would never consent to go to Italy or to accept the decrees of an Italian assembly, insisted that a German city should be selected. In the end as a compromise Trent was agreed upon by both parties, and the council was convoked once more to meet there in 1542. The refusal of the Lutherans to take part in the proposed council, the unwillingness of Francis I. to permit any of his subjects to be present, and the threatened war between France and the Empire, made it impossible for the council to meet. Finally, on the conclusion of the Peace of Crepy (1544), which put an end to the war with France, the council was convoked to meet at Trent in March 1545, and Cardinals del Monte, Reginald Pole, and Marcello Cervini were appointed to represent the Pope. When the day fixed for the opening ceremony arrived, a further adjournment was rendered imperative owing to the very sparse attendance of bishops. The First Session was held on the 13th December 1545, and the second in January 1546. There were then present in addition to the legates and theologians only four archbishops, twenty-one bishops, and five generals of religious orders.
These two preliminary sessions were given over almost entirely to a discussion of the procedure that should be followed. In the end it was agreed that the legates should propose to the council the questions on which a decision should be given, that these questions should be examined by committees of bishops aided by theologians and jurists, that the results of these discussions should be brought before a full congregation of the bishops, and that when a decision had been agreed to the formal decrees should be promulgated in a public session. The novel method of voting by nations, introduced for the first time at Constance and Basle, was rejected in favor of individual voting, a definitive vote being allowed only to bishops, generals of religious orders and abbots (one vote to every three abbots). Procurators of absent bishops were not allowed to vote, though later on a special concession was made in favor of some German bishops detained at home by the serious religious condition of their dioceses. The legates were anxious that the dogmatic issues raised by the Lutherans should be dealt with at once, while the Emperor was strongly in favor of beginning with a comprehensive scheme of reform. By this time he had made up his mind to put down his opponents in Germany by force of arms, and he believed that if nothing were done in the meantime to widen the breach the defeat of the Lutheran princes might make them more willing to take part in the council. As a compromise it was agreed that doctrine and discipline should be discussed simultaneously, and, hence, at most of the public sessions two decrees were published, one on matters of faith, the other on reform (De Reformatione).
It was only at the 4th public session (8th April 1546) that the first doctrinal decree could be issued. Since the Lutherans had called in question the value of Tradition as a source of divine revelation, and had denied the canonicity of several books accepted hitherto as inspired, it was fitting that the council should begin its work by defining that revelation has been handed down by Tradition as well as by the Scriptures, of which latter God is the author both as regards the Old Testament and the New. In accordance with the decrees of previous councils a list of the canonical books of the Scriptures was drawn up. Furthermore, it was defined that the sacred writings should not be interpreted against the meaning attached to them by the Church, nor against the unanimous consent of the Fathers, that the Vulgate Version, a revised edition of which should be published immediately, is authentic, that is to say, accurate as regards faith and morals, and that for the future no one was to print, publish, or retain an edition of the Scriptures unless it had been approved by the local bishop.
The next subject proposed for examination was Original Sin. The Emperor showed the greatest anxiety to secure a delay, and at a hint from him several of the Spanish bishops tried to postpone a decision by prolonging the discussions and by raising the question of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin. That the Fathers of Trent were not opposed to this doctrine is clear enough from the decrees they formulated, but the majority of them were of opinion that purely domestic controversies among Catholic theologians should be left untouched. In the fifth general session (17th June 1546) it was defined that by his transgression of the commandment of God the head of the human race had forfeited the sanctity and justice in which he had been created, and had suffered thereby in both soul and body, that in doing so he had injured not merely himself but all his descendants, to whom Original Sin is transmitted not by imitation merely but by propagation, that the effects of this sin are removed by the sacrament of Baptism, necessary alike for adults and infants, and that the concupiscence, which still remains in a man even after baptism has produced its effects, is not in itself sinful. It was declared, furthermore, that in the decrees regarding the universality of Original Sin it was not intended to include the Blessed Virgin or to weaken the binding force of the decrees issued by Sixtus IV. regarding her Immaculate Conception.
The way was now cleared for the question of Justification. This was the doctrine on which Luther first found himself in disagreement with the Church, and which he put forward in his sermons as the foundation of his new gospel. The importance of the subject both in itself and in the circumstances of the time cannot be exaggerated, nor can it be contended that the Fathers at Trent failed to realize their responsibilities or to give it the attention it deserved. Had they done nothing else except to give to the world such a complete and luminous exposition of the Catholic teaching on Justification their meeting would not have been held in vain. In the 6th public session (13th January 1547), at which there were present besides the legates, ten archbishops, forty-two bishops, two procurators, five generals of religious orders, two abbots and forty-three theologians, it was defined that, though by the sin of Adam man had lost original justice and had suffered much, he still retained free-will, that God had been pleased to promise redemption through the merits of Jesus Christ, and that baptism or the desire for baptism is necessary for salvation. The decrees dealt also with the method of preparing for Justification, with its nature, causes, and conditions, with the kind of faith required in opposition to the confidence spoken of by the Reformers, with the necessity and possibility of observing the commandments, with the certainty of Justification, perseverance, loss of Grace by mortal sin, and with merit. The 7th public session (3rd March) was given to decrees regarding the Sacraments in general and Baptism and Confirmation in particular.
Meanwhile the long-expected civil war had begun in Germany, and Europe awaited with anxiety the result of a struggle upon which such momentous interests might depend. Charles, supported by most of the Catholic and not a few of the Protestant princes, overthrew the forces of the Elector of Saxony and of Philip of Hesse (1547) and by his victory found himself for the first time master in his own territories. Coupled with rejoicing at the success of the imperial arms there was also the fear in many minds that the Emperor might use his power to overawe the Council, and force it to agree to compromises, which, however useful for the promotion of unity in Germany, might be subversive of the doctrine and discipline of the Church and dangerous to the prerogatives of the Holy See. The selection of Trent as the place of assembly for the council was never very satisfactory to the Pope, but now in the changed circumstances of the Empire it was looked upon as positively dangerous. An epidemic that made its appearance in the city afforded an excellent pretext for securing a change of venue, and at the 8th public session (11th March 1547) a majority of the members present voted in favor of retiring to Bologna. The legates accompanied by most of the bishops departed immediately, while the bishops who supported the Emperor remained at Trent. For a time the situation was critical in the extreme, but under the influence of the Holy Ghost moderate counsels prevailed with both parties, and after a couple of practically abortive sessions at Bologna the council was prorogued in September 1549. A few months later, November 1549, Paul III. passed to his reward.
In the conclave that followed the cardinals were divided into three parties, namely, the Imperial, the French, and the followers of the Farnese family. By an agreement between the two latter Cardinal del Monte was elected against the express prohibition of Charles V., and took as his title Julius III. (1550-5). He was a man of good education, of sufficiently liberal views, and with a rather large experience acquired as a prominent official in Rome and as one of the legates at the Council of Trent. While acting in the latter capacity he had come into sharp conflict with the Emperor, but as Pope he found himself forced by the conduct of the Farnese family to cultivate friendly relations with his former opponent. The alliance concluded with the Emperor turned out disastrously enough owing to the French victories in Italy during the campaign of 1552, and in consequence of this Julius III. ceased to take an active part in the struggle between these two countries. During the earlier years of his reign the Pope took earnest measures to push forward the work of reform, patronized the Jesuits, established the Collegium Germanicum at Rome for the use of ecclesiastical students from Germany, and succeeded in restoring England to communion with the Holy See, but as time passed, discouraged by the failure of his cherished projects, he adopted a policy of laissez-faire, and like many of his predecessors laid himself open to damaging though to a great extent unfounded charges of nepotism.
Julius III. was anxious to continue the work of reform that had been begun in Trent. In 1550 he issued a Bull convoking the council to meet once more in Trent on the 1st May 1551. When the papal legates attended at the time fixed for the opening of the council they found it necessary owing to the small numbers present to adjourn it at first till the 1st September, and later till the 11th October. On account of the unfriendly relations existing between France and the Empire regarding the Duchy of Parma, and to the alliance of the Pope and the Emperor, the King of France would not permit the French bishops to attend. The majority of the bishops present were from Italy, Germany, and Spain. In the 13th public session (11th Oct. 1551), at which there were present in addition to the legates, ten archbishops and fifty-four bishops, decrees were passed regarding the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, Transubstantiation, the institution, excellence and worship of the Eucharist, its reservation and the conditions necessary for its worthy reception. In the 14th public session (25th Nov. 1551) the council dealt with the sacraments of Penance and Extreme Unction. In the meantime the Emperor was negotiating with the Lutherans with the object of inducing them to send representatives to Trent. Some of their procurators had arrived already, amongst them being the well-known theologian and historian John Sleidanus of Strasburg, but their demands, including the withdrawal of the decrees contravening the articles of the Augsburg Confession and the submission of the Pope to the authority of a General Council, were of such an extravagant character that they could not be entertained. While the subject was under consideration news arrived that Maurice of Saxony had gone over to the side of the Lutherans, that there was no army in the field to hold him in check, that the passes of the Tyrol were occupied by his troops, and that an advance upon Trent was not impossible. Many of the bishops took their departure immediately, and in April 1552 against the wishes of a few Spanish bishops the council was suspended for two years. As a matter of fact close on ten years were to elapse before the work that had been interrupted could be resumed.
On the death of Julius III. (1555) Marcellus II. succeeded, but his reign was cut short by death (22 days). In the conclave that followed Cardinal Pietro Caraffa, the first general and in a certain sense the founder of the Theatines, received the required majority of votes notwithstanding the express veto of the Emperor. He was proclaimed Pope under the title of Paul IV. (1555-9). During his life as an ecclesiastic the new Pope had been remarkable for his rigid views, his ascetic life, and his adherence to Scholastic as opposed to Humanist views. As nuncio in Spain he had acquired a complete distrust of the Spanish rulers, nor was this bad impression likely to be removed by the treatment he received from the Austro-Spanish party when appointed Archbishop of Naples. The conclusion of the religious peace of Augsburg (1555) and the proclamation of Ferdinand I. were not calculated to win the sympathy of Paul IV. for the House of Habsburg. Hence, he put himself in communication with the Italian opponents of Philip II. of Spain, and concluded an alliance with France. The French army dispatched to Naples under the leadership of the Duke of Guise was out-maneuvered completely by the Spanish Viceroy, the Duke of Alva, who followed up his success by invading the Papal States and compelling the Pope to sue for peace (1556). The unfriendly relations existing between Paul IV. and Philip II. of Spain, the husband of Queen Mary I., rendered difficult the work of effecting a complete reconciliation between England and the Holy See. Owing to the disturbed condition of Europe and the attitude of the Emperor and the King of Spain, it would have been impossible for the Pope even had he been anxious to do so to re-convoke the council. He would not so much as consider the idea of selecting Trent or any German city as a fit place for such an assembly, while the Austro-Spanish rulers were equally strong against Rome or any other place in Italy. But of his own initiative Paul IV. took strong measures to reform the Roman Curia, established a special commission in Rome to assist him in this work, stamped out by vigorous action heretical opinions that began to manifest themselves in Italy, and presided frequently himself at meetings of the Inquisition. He even went so far as to arrest Cardinal Morone on a suspicion of heresy, and to summon Cardinal Pole to appear before the tribunal of the Inquisition. By the Romans he had been beloved at first on account of his economic administration whereby the taxes were reduced considerably, but the disastrous results of the war against Philip II. in Naples effaced the memory of the benefits he had conferred, and he died detested by the people. After his death the city was at the mercy of the mob, who plundered and robbed wholesale for close on a fortnight before order could be restored.
In the conclave that followed the two great parties among the cardinals were the French and the Austro-Spanish, neither of which, however, was strong enough to procure the election of its nominee. After a struggle lasting three months Cardinal Giovanni Angelo de' Medici, who was more or less neutral, was elected by acclamation. He was proclaimed under the title of Pius IV. (1559-65). The new Pope had nothing of the stern morose temperament of his predecessor. He was of a mild disposition, something of a scholar himself, inclined to act as a patron towards literature and art, and anxious to forward the interests of religion by kindness rather than by severity. He was determined to proceed with the work of the council at all costs, and as a first step in that direction he devoted all his energies to the establishment of friendly relations with the Emperor Ferdinand I. and with Spain. In all his schemes for reform he was supported loyally by his nephew, Charles Borromeo, whom he created cardinal, and to whom he entrusted the work of preparing the measures that should be submitted to the future council.
When all arrangements had been made the Bull of re-convocation, summoning the bishops to meet at Trent at Easter 1561, was published in November 1560. Though not expressly stated in the document, yet it was implied clearly enough that the assembly was not to be a new council but only the continuation of the Council of Trent. This was not satisfactory to France, which demanded a revision of some of the decrees passed at Trent, and which objected strongly to the selection of Trent as the meeting-place. The Emperor Ferdinand I. and Philip II. expressed their anxiety to further the project of the Pope. Delegates were sent from Rome to interview the Lutheran princes and theologians, but only to meet everywhere with sharp rebuffs. In an assembly held at Naumburg in 1561 the Lutherans refused to attend the council, unless they were admitted on their own terms, while many of the Catholic princes and bishops showed no enthusiasm to respond to the papal convocation. When the legates arrived to open the council they found so few bishops in attendance that nothing could be done except to prepare the subjects that should be submitted for discussion.
It was only on the 15th January 1562 the first (17th) public session could be held. There were present in addition to the legates, three patriarchs, eleven archbishops, forty bishops, four generals of religious orders, and four abbots. From the very beginning the legates found themselves in a very difficult position owing to the spirit of hostility against the Holy See manifested by some of the bishops and representatives of the civil powers. At this session very little was accomplished except to announce the formal opening of the council, to fix the date for the next public session, and to prepare safe conducts for the delegates of the Protestant princes. Similarly in the 18th public session (25th February) no decrees of any importance could be passed. Despite the earnest efforts of the presidents it was found impossible to make any progress. Grave differences of opinion manifested themselves both within and without the council. The question whether bishops are bound to reside in their dioceses by divine or ecclesiastical law gave rise to prolonged and angry debates. Spain demanded that it should be stated definitely that the council was only a prolongation of the council held previously at Trent, while France insisted that it should be regarded as a distinct and independent assembly. The Emperor put forward a far-reaching scheme of reform parts of which it was entirely impossible for the legates to accept. At length after many adjournments the 21st public session was held (16th July 1562), in which decrees regarding the Blessed Eucharist were passed. It was defined that there was no divine law obliging the laity to receive Holy Communion under both kinds, that the Church has power to make arrangements about Communion so long as it does not change the substance of the sacrament, that Christ is really present whole and entire both under the appearance of bread and under the appearance of wine, that infants, who have not come to the use of reason, are not bound to receive Holy Communion because they have been regenerated already by baptism. At this session there were present six cardinals, three patriarchs, nineteen archbishops, and one hundred and forty-eight bishops.
In the 22nd public session (17th Sept. 1562) decrees were published concerning the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. It was laid down that in place of the sacrifices and the priesthood of the Old Law Christ set up a new sacrifice, namely the Mass, the clean oblation foretold by the prophet Malachy (Mal. I., 11) and a new priesthood, to whom the celebration of the Mass was committed, that the sacrifice of the Mass is the same sacrifice as that of the Cross having the same high priest and the same victim, that the Mass may be offered up for the dead as well as for the living, that it may be offered up in honor of the Saints, that though the faithful should be advised to receive Holy Communion whenever they assist at Mass, yet private Masses at which nobody is present for Communion are not unlawful, and that, though it was not deemed prudent to allow the sacrifice to be offered up in the vulgar tongue, it was the earnest wish of the council that priests should explain the ceremonies of the Mass to the people especially on Sundays and holidays. The question of allowing the laity to receive the chalice was discussed at length, and it was decided finally to submit it to the decision of the Pope. Pius IV. did, indeed, make a concession on this point in favor of several districts in Austria; but as the Catholics did not desire such a concession and the Lutherans refused to accept it as insufficient it remained practically a dead-letter, and later on was withdrawn.
The next session was fixed for November 1562 but on account of very grave difficulties that arose a much more prolonged adjournment was rendered necessary. During this interval the old controversies broke out with greater violence and bitterness, and more than once it appeared as if the council would break up in disorder; but the perseverance, tact, and energy of the new legates, Cardinals Morone and Navagero, strengthened by the prudent concessions made by the Pope, averted the threatened rupture, and made it possible for the Fathers to accomplish the work for which they had been convoked. Cardinal Guise (de Lorraine) accompanied by a number of French bishops and theologians arrived at Trent in November 1562. His arrival strengthened the hands of those Spanish bishops who were insisting on having it defined that the obligation of episcopal residence was de jure divino. The question had been adjourned previously at the request of the legates, but with the advent of the discussion on the sacrament of Orders further adjournment was impossible. Several of the bishops maintained that the obligation must be jure divino, because the episcopate itself was de jure divino. From this they concluded that the bishops had their jurisdiction immediately from Christ, not mediated through the Pope as some of the papal theologians maintained. Consequently they asserted that the subordination of the bishops to the Pope was not, therefore of divine origin, thereby raising at once the whole question of the relations of a general council to a Pope and the binding force of the decrees regarding the superiority of a council passed at Constance and Basle.
At the same time danger threatened the council from another quarter. The Emperor, Ferdinand I. had put forward a very comprehensive scheme of reform. Some portions of this were considered by the legates to be prejudicial to the rights of the Holy See, and were therefore rejected by them after consultation with the Pope. Ferdinand annoyed by their action asserted that there was no liberty at the council, that it was being controlled entirely from Rome, and that the assembly at Trent had become merely a machine for confirming what had been decreed already on the other side of the Alps. At his request several of his supporters left Trent and joined him at Innsbruck, where a kind of opposition assembly was begun. Cardinal Morone, realizing fully the seriousness of the situation, betook himself to Innsbruck (April 1563) for a personal interview with the Emperor. The meeting had the result of clearing away many of the misunderstandings that had arisen, and of bringing about a compromise. At the same time the Pope wrote a letter pointing out that it was only reasonable that the Head of the Church, not being present at the council, should be consulted by his legates in all important matters that might arise.
Meanwhile the council was still engaged in discussing the authority of the bishops. On the ground that the Fathers should define at one and the same time both the rights of the bishops and the rights of the Holy See Cardinal Guise, who represented the Gallican school of thought, brought forward certain proposals highly derogatory to the prerogatives of the Pope. In face of this counter-move the legates were firm but conciliatory. They pointed out that the whole question of the jurisdiction of the Holy See had been decided already by the Council of Florence and that the decrees of Florence could not be watered down at Trent. On this question the Italian bishops found themselves supported by the vast majority of the Spanish, Austro- German and Portuguese representatives; but in deference to the request of the Pope, who wished that nothing should be defined unless with the unanimous consent of the Fathers, and to the feelings of the French, whose secession from the council was anticipated, it was agreed to issue no decree on the subject. As the supreme authority of the Pope had been recognized implicitly by the council no definition was required.
As a result of the negotiations inside and outside the council it was possible to hold the 23rd public session on the 15th July 1563. In this it was defined that the priesthood of the New Law was instituted by Christ, that there were seven orders in the Church about two of which, the priesthood (de sacerdotibus) and the diaconate (de diaconis) express mention is made in the Scriptures, that the bishops who have succeeded to the place of the Apostles pertain especially to the hierarchy and are superior to priests, that neither the consent of the people nor of the civil power is necessary for the valid reception of orders, and that bishops who are appointed by the authority of the Roman Pontiff are true bishops. The question whether the duty of episcopal residence is de jure divino, about which such a protracted and heated controversy had been waged, was settled amicably by deciding that the bishops as pastors are bound by divine command to know their flocks, and that they cannot do this unless they reside in their dioceses. At this session there were present four cardinals, three patriarchs, twenty-five archbishops and one hundred and ninety-three bishops.
Many of the bishops were anxious to return to their dioceses, and nearly all of them hoped for a speedy conclusion of the council. The Pope, the Emperor, and the King of France were in agreement, though for different reasons, in endeavoring to dissolve the assembly as soon as possible. The sacrament of Matrimony was next proposed for discussion. The French party wished that marriages contracted without the consent of the parents as well as clandestine marriages should be declared invalid, but the council refused to make the validity of marriage dependent upon parental consent. In deference to the wishes of Venice, which stood in close relation to the Greeks, it was agreed to define merely that the Church does not err when she states in accordance with the apostolic and evangelic teaching that the bond of marriage is not broken by adultery. In the 24th public session (11th Nov. 1563) the decrees on Matrimony were proclaimed.
The greatest anxiety was displayed on all sides to bring the work to a conclusion. The action of the papal legates in proposing that the interference of Catholic rulers in ecclesiastical affairs should be considered and if necessary reformed did not tend to delay the dissolution. The princes were most anxious to reform the Pope and clergy, but they were determined not to allow any weakening of their own so-called prerogatives. In accordance with the general desire the addresses were cut short, and so rapid was the progress made that the last public session was held on the 3rd and 4th December 1563. The decrees on Purgatory, on the honor to be paid to relics and images of Saints and on Indulgences were passed. It was agreed, furthermore, that in regard to fast days and holidays the usage of the Roman Church should be followed, and that the Holy See should undertake the preparation of a new edition of the missal and breviary. The decrees that had been passed under Paul III. and Julius III. were read and approved. The legates were requested to obtain the approval of the Holy Father for the decisions of the council, and Cardinal Guise in the name of the bishops returned thanks to the Pope, the Emperor, the ambassadors of the Catholic nations, and to the legates. Finally the Fathers subscribed their names to the acts of the council. There were then present six cardinals, three patriarchs, twenty-five archbishops, one hundred and sixty-seven bishops, and nineteen procurators.
The Council of Trent met in peculiarly difficult circumstances, and it carried on its work in face of great opposition and disappointments. More than once it was interrupted for a long period, and more than once, too, it was feared by many that it would result in promoting schism rather than unity. But under the Providence of God the dangers were averted, the counsels of despair were rejected, the arms of its enemies were weakened, and the hearts of the faithful children of the Church throughout the world filled with joy and gratitude. It found itself face to face with a strong and daily increasing party, who rejected the authority that had been accepted hitherto without difficulty, and who called in question many of the most cherished doctrines and practices of the Catholic world. Without allowing themselves to be involved in purely domestic disputes among Catholic theologians or to be guided by the advice of those who sought to secure peace by means of dishonorable compromises, the Fathers of Trent set themselves calmly but resolutely to sift the chaff from the wheat, to examine the theories of Luther in the light of the teaching of the Scriptures and the tradition of the Church as contained in the writings of the Fathers, and to give to the world a clear-cut exposition of the dogmas that had been attacked by the heretics. Never had a council in the Church met under more alarming conditions; never had a council been confronted with more serious obstacles, and never did a council confer a greater service on the Christian world than did the 19th ecumenical council held at Trent (1545-63).
It was of essential importance that the council should determine the matters of faith that had been raised, but it was almost equally important that it should formulate a satisfactory scheme of reform. Reform of the Church in its Head and members was on the lips of many whose orthodoxy could not be suspected long before Luther had made this cry peculiarly his own, the better thereby to weaken the loyalty of the faithful to the Holy See. As in matters of doctrine so also in matters of discipline the Council of Trent showed a thorough appreciation of the needs of the Church, and if in some things it failed to go as far as one might be inclined to desire the fault is not to be attributed to the Popes or the bishops, but rather to the secular rulers, whose jealousies and recriminations were one of the greatest impediments to the progress of the council, and who, while calling out loudly for the reform of others, offered a stubborn resistance to any change that might lessen their own power over the Church, or prevent the realization of that absolute royalty, towards which both the Catholic and Protestant rulers of the sixteenth century were already turning as the ultimate goal of their ambitions.
The council struck at the root of many of the abuses that afflicted the Christian world by suppressing plurality of benefices, provisions, and expectancies, as well as by insisting that, except in case of presentation by a university, nobody could be appointed to a benefice unless he had shown that he possessed the knowledge necessary for the proper discharge of his duty. It determined the method of electing bishops, commanded them to reside in their dioceses unless exempted for a time on account of very special reasons, to preach to their people, to hold regular visitations of their parishes, to celebrate diocesan synods yearly, to attend provincial synods at least once in three years, and to safeguard conscientiously the ecclesiastical property committed to their charge.
It put an end to abuses in connection with the use of ecclesiastical censures, indulgences, and dispensations, and ordained that all causes of complaint should be brought before the episcopal court before being carried to a higher tribunal. It made useful regulations concerning those who should be admitted into diocesan chapters, defined the relations between the bishop and his canons, and arranged for the administration of the dioceses by the appointment of vicars-capitular to act during the interregnum. It ordered the secular clergy to be mindful always of the spiritual dignity to which they had been called, not to indulge in any business unworthy of their sacred office, condemned concubinage in the strongest terms, and commanded priests to look after the religious education of the young, to preach to their flocks on Sundays and holidays, and to attend zealously to the spiritual wants of the souls committed to their charge.
The council recognized, furthermore, that the best method of securing a high standard of priestly life was the careful training of ecclesiastical students. Hence it ordained that in the individual dioceses seminaries should be established, where those who were desirous of entering the clerical state should live apart from the world, and where they should receive the education and discipline necessary for the successful discharge of their future obligations. It put an end to many abuses of monastic life, suppressed questing for alms, drew up rules for the reception of novices, gave the bishop power to deal with irregularities committed outside the monasteries, and subjected all priests both regular and secular to episcopal authority by insisting on the necessity of Approbation for all who wished to act as confessors. Finally, in order to apply a remedy against the many scandals and crimes that resulted from secret marriages, the Council of Trent laid it down that those marriages only should be regarded as valid which should be contracted in the presence of the parish priest of one of the contracting parties and two witnesses.
On the conclusion of the Council of Trent Cardinal Morone hastened to Rome with the decrees to seek the approval of the Pope. Some of the Roman officials, who felt themselves aggrieved by the reforms, advised the Pope to withhold his approval of certain decrees, but Pius IV. rejected this advice. On the 26th January 1564 he issued the Bull of confirmation, and set himself to work immediately to put the reforms into execution. To assist him in this design he appointed a commission, one of the ablest members of which was his own nephew, Charles Borromeo, and he dispatched representatives to the princes and bishops to ensure their acceptance of the decrees. As an example to others he established the Roman Seminary for the education of priests for the city. All the princes of Italy received the decrees in a friendly spirit and allowed their publication in their territories, as did also the King of Portugal. Philip II. acted similarly except that he insisted upon the addition of a saving clause "without prejudice to royal authority." The Emperor Ferdinand I. hesitated for some time, but at last he accepted them in 1566. In France very little opposition was raised to the dogmatic decrees, but as several of the practical reforms, notably those relating to marriages, benefices, ecclesiastical punishments, etc., were opposed to civil law, permission to publish them was refused.
A profession of faith based on the decrees of the Council of Trent and of previous councils was drawn up by Pius IV. (13th Nov. 1564), and its recitation made obligatory on those who were appointed to ecclesiastical benefices or who received an academic degree as well as on converts from Protestantism. The Catechism of the Council of Trent (Catechismus Romanus) was prepared at the command of Pius V. and published in 1566. It is a valuable work of instruction, approved by the highest authority in the Church, and should be in the hands of all those who have care of souls.
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