Martin Luther's revolt was, almost from the beginning, an essential matter, i.e., it was explicitly directed against the
pope's essential claim that he is the ruler of the whole Church of Christ. He had already moved away from the Catholic belief,
in certain matters regarding the divine forgiveness of sins, by the time he made the famous attack on Indulgences with which
Protestantism began (1517). Within a further six months he was writing that the first thing needed in order to cure the manifold
ills that afflicted religion was to overthrow the whole accepted system of theological teaching (1518). To the papal legate
who now called on him, in the name of a fundamental papal law, to withdraw his teaching about Indulgences Luther replied by
denying the validity of that law; and, within a few weeks, by appealing from the pope who had commissioned the legate, to
the judgment of the next General Council whenever it should meet--an appeal made in due legal form, and in defiance of the
papal law that forbade such appeals. The controversies continued without intermission, and a year later than the appeal (i.e.,
in 1519) Luther's mind had moved so far that he now denied that General Councils had any special divine protection that kept
them from erroneous teaching when deciding questions about belief.
These rebellious principles were listed among the errors for which Luther was condemned by the papal bull Exsurge Domine
(June 15, 1520). He was given sixty days to appear and publicly recant his sayings. Instead, he wrote two most violent--and
exceedingly popular--pamphlets, the one to show how the popes had systematically corrupted the whole teaching of Christ for
a thousand years and so led all the world astray, the other denouncing the papal institution as a vast financial racket which,
for centuries, had been draining the life out of Germany. In impassioned phrases he called on the princes of Germany to destroy
the papacy, and to wash their hands in the blood of the sacrilegious impostors at Rome. As to the bull Exsurge, Luther waited
until the fatal sixtieth day, and then with a vast amount of public mockery, he threw it into the bonfire kindled on the town
dunghill--and into the flames he threw, after the bull, the whole collection of the popes' laws binding the whole Church of
This was spectacular, and symbolical. Not for centuries had there been any defiance so far-reaching--and with the encouragement
and protection of the state. To what means were the popes, drawing on a vast experience of crisis, now to turn and so avert
the general destruction that threatened German Catholicism? There could only be one answer, since this was the opening of
the sixteenth century. From all quarters came a demand for the classic panacea. The pope must call a General Council. And
finally the General Council met, the Council of Trent--but not until twenty-five years after the great defiance of the appeal
to the princes and the Wittenberg bonfire.
Since in all that long time the needed council never ceased to be talked of by Catholics and by rebels, by princes and
by popes, and since it was amid the angry dissensions on the subject between Catholic princes and the popes that the men were
largely formed who actually were the Council of Trent, to recall something of those twenty-five unhappy years is a first condition
of understanding the history of the council, of its failures as of its splendid successes.
The sentences of bishops, and popes also, against heretics were mere noise until they were taken up by the State and put
into execution. Luther was assured that his own sovereign, the elector Frederick the Wise, would not execute the bull Exsurge.
It was however quite another thing to be assured that the sentence would remain a dead letter once the pope had appealed to
the emperor and the princes of Germany, assembled at the first diet of the new emperor's reign. It met at Worms in January
1521, and in the way it both thwarted and supported the pope it was curiously prophetic of the history of the coming years.
The princes accepted the papal sentence, and they made it their own by outlawing Luther. Whoever could, might kill him without
fear of punishment, as though he were a dangerous bandit. But they ignored the papal sentence to this extent that they re-tried
Luther; that is to say, they gave him a hearing, under a safe conduct, refusing to listen to the protestations of the ambassador
whom the pope had sent to direct the action of the diet. The action of this solemn assembly was thus a great public flouting
of the papal law, a serious repudiation, in a most serious matter, of the will of the man whom all these princes acknowledged
to be the head of their church.
This is not the place in which to tell again the familiar story of the events of the next ten years. But something must
be said, however briefly, about the papal delay in applying the only remedy that could meet the German situation--the General
The general attitude towards the plan of a General Council may thus be summed up: the man who was pope through the greater
part of the period, Clement VII (1523-34), was at heart consistently hostile; the cardinals and other officers of his Curia
were, for quite other reasons, still more hostile; the German Catholics were eager for a council, but a council in which they
would really matter, a council fashioned rather after the pattern of a parliament than General Councils have usually been;
the Catholic kings who enter the story are Charles I of Spain (just lately become the emperor Charles V), the life-long champion
of the council idea, and Francis I of France, its bitterest opponent. And the history of Europe during the crucial twenty-five
years, 1520-45, is little more than the history of the duel between these two princes. In their wars Clement VII, as often
as he dared, sided with the King of France, for purely political reasons--it was, invariably, the side that lost.
The council problem comes to this, that a General Council was absolutely necessary, and that, for political reasons, it
was just not possible to summon one. Whence, inevitably, on the part of Charles V, and of the German princes, a succession
of schemes to bring back the Lutherans (for this, in the early years, is what it was hoped the council would achieve) by negotiations,
conferences, local councils, informal councils, and the like. All of these failed and, in the long run, these ventures complicated
the problem of reconciliation or submission; while the refusal of the Holy See really to take action gradually destroyed all
confidence in its integrity among the Catholic princes of Germany. To such a depth, indeed, had the prestige of Rome sunk
that when the successor of this timorous, vacillating, and all too worldly-wise pope announced, in the first hours of his
reign, that he proposed to summon a General Council, the news stirred not a ripple among the Catholic reformers of Germany.
This second pope was Paul III (1534-49) and ultimately he lived to see the council he had dreamed of meet at Trent, but
after bitter vicissitudes--for some of which history must hold his own personal failings responsible. The catalogue of these
events needs to be set down.
By the time of the election of Paul III (October 13, 1534) the situation in Germany had radically altered since Leo X had
first faced the problem in the Diet of Worms (1521). The Lutheran movement had long since passed from the stage where it was
a matter of preachers and writers and the masses they influenced. The state was now in control of it, half a dozen princes
in central Germany and a number of leading cities north and south. In all these places the adherents of the new religion and
the preachers were organised into churches, installed in the buildings that had once been Catholic; monasticism had been abolished
and the monks' properties taken over by the state; the clergy who wished had married, with the state's approval; the mass
was everywhere forbidden and the new rites made obligatory; and these Lutheran states were banded together in a formidable
military alliance, so powerful that it had been able (at a moment when a Turkish invasion threatened) to ignore the diet's
summons to disband and submit, and furthermore it had won for their sect's new status in these regions a provisional acquiescence
from the emperor.
One root of Clement VII's troubles had been his ambition to strengthen the hold of his family--the Medici--as rulers in
what had been the republic of Florence. With Paul III there was the like family concern, to see his son, Pierluigi, established
among the reigning families of Europe. In the end the pope succeeded, giving him in fief the duchies of Parma and Piacenza,
carved out of the States of the Church, and marrying Pierluigi's son-- Ottavio--to a natural daughter of Charles V. The intricate
business of forcing his offspring into the charmed circle of royalty-by-birth, the negotiations with Charles for example over
recognition of the new duchies, runs like a subtle poison through what was, despite the very evident Renaissance worldliness
of this great pope, the leading policy of his reign, the calling of this council that would reform the life of the Church
and heal the divisions in Germany.
Paul III's first obstacle was his cardinals, who voted unanimously against the plan to call a council, when he proposed
it. After an exhaustive study of the situation in Germany--a matter where he had everything to learn--he despatched nuncios
to all the courts of Europe, to the Lutherans as well, with invitations to attend. The French king was unfavourable, the German
Protestants refused with insults. In these negotiations a whole year went by, and then, on June 2, 1536, the official announcement
was made: the council would meet at Mantua, May 23, 1537. What followed next, however, was a whole series of postponements
that finally brought the Catholics of Germany to feel that the new pope was as shifty as the old; postponements first to November
1537, then to May 1538, then to April 1539, and then a postponement indefinitely.
The reasons given were real enough, the steady refusal of the French king to co-operate (i.e., in practice, the impossibility
of any French bishop or cardinal taking part in the council), the renewal of the war between France and the emperor, and so
forth. But it came to be believed that the true cause was that the pope really preferred that the council should not ever
Actually, as the years went by, Paul III came to understand that the task before the council was much more complex than
he had conceived, or his official advisors. As was to be the case with the Vatican Council, three hundred years later, the
official world began by oversimplifying the problem. The heresies, it was thought, could be simply dealt with by re- enacting
the various decrees in which, at their first appearance, centuries before, they had been condemned. There would, of course,
be no need to discuss such burning topics as the reform of the Curia Romana--that was not the business of any council, but
a matter for the pope's personal action. The reform of Catholic life, again, called for no great research; the old laws were
adequate, if only they were enforced. The council, once it met, would accomplish its task in a matter of weeks. Actually,
the working time of the Council of Trent--to anticipate the story--was to amount to four and a half years; the constant hard
work of the bishops and theologians who attended would produce a mass of decrees and canons exceeding in volume the whole
of the legislation of all the previous eighteen General Councils.
What was also gradually borne in on Paul III was that the kind of council he had in mind--the traditional meeting of bishops--was
not at all what Charles V was thinking of, nor the Catholics of Germany. Was the coming council to begin with a new religious
crisis, with all these champions of the council demanding a say in how it should conduct its business, in what should appear
upon its agenda? The Catholic critics of the intolerable abuses--for which the Roman Curia was generally held responsible--now
expected to be heard, at the council. Luther's insistent cry, that there would never be any reform so long as Rome controlled
the council, found echoes in the secret thoughts of many of Luther's Catholic adversaries.
And the achievement of the councils of Constance and of Basel, in those sessions ever since officially disregarded, came
into the mind of more than one Catholic reformer as the obvious instrument to bring off the desired improvement. The acts
of these councils, the wholeheartedly Catholic bishop of Vienna (for example) wrote to Rome, were indispensable as a guide
to the council now under consideration. German bishops, supporting the pope's desire for a council, were taking for granted
that just as they desired it should meet in Germany, so it would follow the pattern of these two classic German councils.
How was the pope to accept this position, and not risk at the outset a new damaging controversy about the nature of his own
authority? a controversy that might send thousands of Catholics in Germany, not, indeed, into the Lutheran body but into schism
no less disastrous. Then there were the Catholics who, for years, had been thinking that unless the power of the Curia to
grant dispensations were checked, reform legislation would be a dead letter from the day it was enacted.
"The pope was not merely having bad dreams when he saw these dangers." And so he hesitated, time and again, and even
when he did not hesitate he failed to be insistent. With all his gifts--and with the merit of the great reform he had achieved
in his own personal life--Paul III was far from that perfect state where the supernatural controls every act and every thought.
He was not a saint. And as his great servant Cardinal Girolamo Morone once expressed it, "He who conducts God's business must
not be exclusively actuated by human considerations."
The emperor now won over the pope to try what another, much lauded method might do to bring peace to Germany, the method
of peaceful negotiation between the theologians of both parties, with reunion (perhaps) as the fruit of "a better understanding
of what it is that divides us." For many years some leading Catholics had been urging that this way promised better results,
some of them influenced in part--let it be bluntly stated--by the fatal delusion that the differences between the Church and
the Lutheran bodies did not amount to a real separation. This seemingly incredible blindness had one source in the dangerous
superficialities of Erasmus, who, for example, saw no reason why any differences mattered provided men agreed in accepting
Christ, and who could not understand why either party would not accept as a sufficient statement of the Eucharistic mystery
the unexamined ambiguity that Christ is here present somehow. The "appalling" intellectual confusion of which Jedin speaks
is indeed, by this time, a leading characteristic of the age among the Catholics.
Let it be remembered, also, that in the twenty years since the somewhat elementary directions of the bull Exsurge, Rome
had not said a word about the divergencies. Lutheranism had, since then, developed all its doctrines, and a varied host of
Catholic writers, each according to his lights and temperament, had, in criticising the heresiarch, offered his own solution
for the new theological problems he had posed. For the Catholic princes and their political advisors the "conference" method
offered this advantage that an official business like the General Council must result in clear-cut definitions of doctrine;
in sentences, that is to say, and a summons to accept these or take the appropriate punishment; in strong resistance, and-
-who knows?--in civil war. And this with Francis I longing to renew the war against Charles; and the French ally, the Turk,
already at the gates! Of the emperor's critical position, in the world of armies, of the grave risk of a Catholic defeat,
the belligerents in the Sacred College and the Curia knew all too little. Paul III never lost sight of all this. His knowledge
was one reason for his reluctance to act with decision.
The high-water mark of the reunion-through-negotiation movement was the conference held at Ratisbon in the summer of 1541
about which historians are still arguing. This history is of interest because it does much to explain what, at first sight,
is utterly incomprehensible, viz., that nearly thirty years went by before the vitally necessary council met, and also because
it reveals the nature of one serious weakness that hampered the Catholic champions in these critical years.
To Ratisbon, where most of the princes of Germany attended and the emperor himself, there came two of the principal reformers,
Philip Melanchthon and Martin Bucer, the last-named bringing with him a reformer of the second generation who was soon to
eclipse in influence all the rest, the young John Calvin. The pope sent, as legate, the Venetian Gaspar Contarini, theologian
and statesman, the greatest figure the Curia had known for generations, and a man of saintly life. If Contarini, a steady
opponent of extreme solutions, went to Ratisbon still really believing that disagreement about the essentials was not so serious
as many believed, he was soon enlightened. Though he contrived an apparent, momentary harmony on the question of Justification,
there was no resolving the flat contradictions he encountered on the doctrines of the Eucharist and of the sacrament of Penance.
The conference failed utterly, and when Paul III announced that the preparation for the General Council would be resumed the
emperor did not dissent. The conference had had this useful result: it demonstrated to the "practical" minds the truth which
the controversial theology of twenty years had ever insisted on, that Catholicism and the new theologies were contradictory,
and impossible to reconcile.
The bull convoking the council is dated May 22, 1542. It was to meet on November 1 following, at the episcopal city of
Trent, the first town outside Italy on the great road along which for a thousand years and more the traffic had travelled
between Rome and Germany. Trent was a city of the empire, a German city where the bishop was also the reigning prince. Eighty
miles to the north, along the same road, is Innsbruck, the capital of Charles V as Count of Tyrol.
The three legates appointed to preside arrived at Trent on November 2. They found scarcely a single bishop awaiting them.
In January 1543 the representatives of the emperor arrived, and very slowly bishops came in-- very slowly, for by May there
were no more than a dozen. The fact was that four months before the summons of Paul III's bull, the long-expected war had
broken out between France and the empire. Francis I had explicitly refused to countenance the council, and had forbidden the
hundred bishops of France to leave the country. The emperor, driven to fury by the pope's determined neutrality in the war,
had taken a similar course, barring out thereby any participation of the bishops, not only from Spain, but from his kingdom
of the Two Sicilies (110 bishops), from the Netherlands, from Austria and Hungary; and affording an excuse for all the bishops
of the empire. A General Council, at a time when three fourths of the bishops of the world were violently prevented from attending?
By July 1543 there was only one thing to be done, suspend the council yet once again.
How, upon the peace between the rival sovereigns (September 1544), Francis I withdrew his prohibition, while Charles was
reconciled to the pope, and how next there supervened the new trouble over the investment of the pope's son with the duchies
of Parma and Piacenza--all these highly relevant matters must be studied elsewhere. But in November 1544 Paul III revoked
the suspension of the council, and on March 13, 1545, the legates once more made their entry into Trent.
The council was solemnly opened there on December 13, with thirty-one bishops in attendance and forty-eight theologians
and canonists, technical experts, summoned to assist them.
It will perhaps help the reader if, before the attempt is made to convey what is contained in the legislation of Trent--itself
equal in volume to this present work--it is stated, once and for all, that the various political difficulties that had delayed
the council's meeting for so many years never ceased to harass it during its entire progress. Here, of course, lay the cause
of the two long suspensions which the council suffered--one of four years and one of ten. The council's history has, in fact,
three chapters: sessions 1-10, December 13, 1545, to June 2, 1547; sessions 11-16, May 1, 1551, to April 28, 1552; sessions
17-25, January 17, 1562, to December 4, 1563
What I now propose to do is to explain how the council organised itself, how the bishops and the technicians did their
work, and then to show, by some examples, the tone of the council's treatment of the twofold task before it, viz., the restatement
of belief in opposition to the new theologies, and the reformation of Catholic life.
The direction of the council was in the hands of the three cardinal- legates. Of these the senior, Gian Maria del Monte,
a man of fifty-eight, had been in the service of the papal curia for well over thirty years. He was esteemed one of its leading
canonists and had a vast experience of administration, civil and ecclesiastical. He was the practical man of the trio, level-headed,
firm, and a good manager of men. The second in rank, Marcello Cervini, was another type altogether, a theologian primarily
and a man of rigidly austere life, dedicated passionately to the extirpation of the abuses that had almost become an ecclesiastical
institution. He was not really a curialist at all, and had come to the notice of Paul III as a tutor to the pope's two grandsons
whom the old man had made cardinals, at the age of fifteen, in the opening weeks of his reign. The third legate was the solitary
English cardinal, Reginald Pole, the near kinsman of King Henry VIII, and an exile for his faith this many a year. His mother,
and other relations, had some years before been executed by the king, and the cardinal was continuously in danger from the
Italian bravos whom Henry hired to assassinate him. Pole, at forty-five, was roughly Cervini's contemporary, a scholar primarily,
the Christian humanist indeed, and learned in the Fathers, in the new Renaissance manner. With his great friend Contarini,
whom a premature death had carried off in 1542, he was regarded by all as the very embodiment of the Catholic Reformation.
It fell to him to write the opening address of the legates to the council--a frank admission that it was clerical sin mainly
that had brought religion to this pass, and a passionate plea for sincerity in the deliberations. One who was present has
recorded that as the secretary of the council read the speech, the bishops instinctively turned to look at Pole, recognising
from its tone and content who was its actual author. Paul III could have given no clearer sign of his own sincerity than in
this association of Cervini and Pole in the direction of the longed-for council.
As to procedure, the bishops decided that only bishops and generals of religious orders should have the right to a vote.
The question whether to treat doctrinal matters first (as the pope required, to the anger of Charles V) or the reforms, they
settled by treating both simultaneously-- along with each decree about a doctrine called in question by the reformers there
would be enacted a definite law about reforms. After some experiments the following system of work was adopted. The technicians
would debate the proposed decree with the bishops assisting as an audience. This was the meeting called the "particular congregation"
of the council. Next the bishops, meeting alone, discussed the matter under the presidency of the legates--the "general congregation"--and
came to a final conclusion about the text. Then, in a public meeting called a "session," an open vote was taken and the decree
read out as the council's definition. In the first chapter of the council's history the public sessions took place in the
cathedral of Trent, later in the church of S. Maria Maggiore. The particular congregations were held in various mansions of
the little city. Of the twenty-five public sessions between 1545 and 1563, seventeen were devoted to definition of doctrine
and the promulgation of reform laws. The rest were ceremonial occasions for the transacting of the inevitable legal formalities--the
opening of the council, the various suspensions, and reopenings, and so forth.
The technical work done by the bishops, the theologians, and the canonists was of a very high order, and the work was done
thoroughly. It took, for example, seven months to hammer out the decree on the key doctrine of Justification, forty-four particular
congregations and sixty-one general congregations. The decrees about belief especially are evidence of the theological revival
that had begun with the emergence of the great figure of Cajetan, and is marked by the teaching of Francis de Vittoria and
Soto-- the last named of whom actually took part in the council. The language of the decrees, again, is that of men influenced
by the new classical learning of the Renaissance--as is that other literary monument of the council, the so-called Catechism
of the Council of Trent. And all in all, the theological achievement of Trent is a memorial to the small band of competent
writers who, from Luther's first adventure, had never ceased to examine critically and to expose the weaknesses and the mischievousness
of his theology.
It was a small band also who, at Trent, whether of the theologians or of bishops, brought about this great result. The
modern French historian who, to a statement similar to this, appends the word heureusement was not merely cynical. The comparatively
small number of bishops made for manageable discussions. When, three hundred years later, there appeared at the Vatican Council
some seven hundred or so bishops and, in the early days, the drafts of decrees prepared proved inadequate, and debates dragged
on endlessly, a prelate who knew his history said, feelingly, "If the Fathers of Trent could rise from their graves, they
would disown us." The number of bishops present at the Tridentine sessions varied greatly. At the opening of the council there
were, besides the legates, 32. During the remainder of this first (1545-47) period the numbers gradually increased to 68.
In the two sessions of the second (1551-52) period there were 44 and 51, respectively. The third (1562-63) period began with
105, and rose to 228 at the session of November 11, 1563. At the closing session there were 176. As well as the bishops, there
were also present the generals of five religious orders, who were full members of the council, with the right to speak and
to vote. Two of these played a principal role in the council, the Augustinian Girolamo Seripando in the Paul III period
of the council, and the Jesuit, Diego Lainez in the two closing years.
Throughout the council, the great majority of the bishops were from Italian sees--which does not imply that they were all
equally at the disposal of the Curia Romana. The Italy of the sixteenth century was not, of course, a single unified national
state. In central Italy--one sixth of the whole Italian territory--the pope was the sovereign. To the south and in Sicily
and Sardinia, it was Charles V (as King of Naples) who ruled, and he also ruled the Duchy of Milan in the north. Whether the
110 bishops of the kingdom of Naples were likely to favour papal policies against those of their king needs no telling. To
the east of Milan lay the Venetian Republic, one of the most powerful states in Europe which, notoriously and for generations,
had taken its own line in ecclesiastical affairs. In a list of 270 bishops present, at one time or another, during the third
period of the council, 187 are set down as "Italians," 31 are Spaniards, 26 French, with no more than 2 from Germany.
The various orders of friars played a great part in the council, furnishing the bulk of the theological experts, and--many
others of them--sitting as bishops. There were no fewer than 23 Dominican bishops at the council, for instance, and a total
of 28 Dominican theologians besides. It was at Trent that St. Thomas Aquinas first really came into his own as the doctor
communis among the theologians.
The prestige of the Council of Trent was to approach the fabulous in the ensuing centuries. And not surprisingly. In answer
to the challenge of the reformers it had surveyed anew the greater part of the Christian belief and had reaffirmed it, always
with an especial explicitness about the points where Luther and the rest had gone astray. It had looked directly in the face
the dreadful disorders that had for centuries disfigured the practice of religion, and had laid the axe to the root of the
tree. It had no less boldly innovated in the remedies it provided. The decrees of Trent "remain to this very day, the most
noble part of all the Church's legislation," a modern authority can say. All this is what every man knows about the Council
of Trent. It remains for us to examine, a little more in detail, what those scores of pages of reform decrees contain. Perhaps
the summary will be less deadly if it follows the simple historical fact that the council abolished altogether many practices
hitherto lawful, and introduced much that was new, and that it hoped to secure the future observance of what it now decreed
by the related legal devices of a new kind of power for the diocesan bishop and of penalties for wrongdoing that would work
automatically. The summary list of the achievements that follows is not, of course, complete, and it does not follow the chronological
order of the sessions.
Of all the chronic scandals of the fourteen to the sixteenth centuries none had given rise to more continuous resentment
than the papal licences to ecclesiastics to hold more than one see, or abbey, or parish simultaneously--scandals connected
with what is called compendiously, the benefice system. Trent utterly forbade this practice--even where the beneficiaries
were cardinals--and the council ordered all existing pluralists to surrender all but one of the benefices they held. It abolished,
also, all expectatives, that is to say, all grants of posts when they next fell vacant; and, with these, "coadjutorships with
the right of succession," the practice whereby the benefice-holder secured, in his own lifetime, the nomination of his successor
(a relative usually) to whom, when something better for himself turned up, he could surrender the parish, or canonry, or see.
The choice of coadjutors to sees was strictly reserved henceforth to the pope. Meanwhile the third chronic benefice scandal
was checked--the absentee priest or abbot or bishop, who never even saw his flock but merely drew the profits while a hireling
tended them at a salary. Dealing with which the council roundly says, "The law about residence has become in practice a dead
letter." The new method of dealing with this old trouble was to forbid all licences allowing clerics with a cure of souls
to reside away from their posts, to set out in detail the limits of the temporary leave annually allowed them, and to provide
an automatic penalty of loss of right to the income--so that the delinquent who managed to get the income was, in effect,
stealing it and bound to restitution. No more were there to be sees where, like Milan, no archbishop had resided for a hundred
Other dispensations, to the profit of the benefice-hunting cleric, which were now abolished were the permissions which
enabled newly appointed bishops to delay their consecration all but indefinitely, so that boys could be appointed to sees,
draw their revenues (or their parents draw them in their stead), and, when arrived at an age to be ordained and consecrated,
could remain in their semi-lay state until, succeeding to some lay dignity, they chose to resign an abbey or see, marry and
found a family. No one, henceforward, is to be appointed to a see who has not been in Holy Orders for at least six months,
and he must be consecrated within six months, or the appointment lapses. For lesser clerics, the dispensation, so often given,
to delay receiving the orders which were the very condition of holding the post was likewise abolished; and also licences
to be ordained by whatever bishop the cleric chose. Bishops were now told that it was their duty to ordain personally all
the clerics destined to work in their own particular sees. The benefice-holder not yet ordained must go for ordination to
the bishop of the diocese where his benefice lay.
Money--the cleric's need and desire for more and more of it--was certainly one main cause of the religious malaise whence
Luther's chance came. Trent cut away two perennial sources of trouble by abolishing, under most stringent automatic penalties,
the custom by which bishops, making the visitation of their dioceses, either levied a tax on the parishes visited, or were
given tributes of affection, free gifts, etc., in the shape of money, and otherwise. And it abolished similar age-long customs
for the benefit of the bishop at ordinations. Finally the council remembered Luther, and how his revolution had started, in
1517, with a declaration against Indulgences which stressed the scandals deriving from the connection between these and the
Christian duty to give alms to pious causes. The council speaks of these abuses as the occasion of heretical blasphemies,
and of the wickedness of the alms collectors' practices being the source of great mischief to the ordinary Catholic. The very
office-- name and thing--of clerical "alms-collector" (questor in Latin) is therefore abolished, the council bluntly stating
that after two centuries of lawmaking there seemed to be no hope of their amendment. The duty of announcing Indulgences was
reserved henceforward to the bishop of the diocese, and, for the future, the giving of an alms was never to be the necessary
condition for the gaining of an Indulgence.
Finally, in the matter of marriage, the council restricted the force of the law which forbade marriage between in-laws
(so to call them) related through sinful sex relations, between those related through a brother or sister's solemn espousals
(sponsalia), or by the spiritual relationship set up through the sacrament of baptism--the council frankly admitted that the
number of these prohibitions had become an occasion of sin to very many, of invalid marriages, for example, contracted in
ignorance, which the partners refused to abandon, and which could not be broken off without danger of further sin. The council
also abolished secret marriages--marriages where none need be present but the man and woman who contracted the marriage. Such
marriages--provided the parties were really free to marry--were true marriages. But since the fact of the marrying could not
be proved by independent testimony, and since the mutual contradiction of the two partners (should one of them choose to abandon
the other) was not capable of resolution, these secret marriages were a chronic source of trouble. The Church, says the council's
decree (Tametsi, November 11, 1563), "has ever held the practice in detestation, and strictly forbidden it." To contract a
marriage in this way was, generally speaking, a grave sin. Those married in this clandestine fashion were, once the fact was
discovered or admitted, condemned to a public penance in reparation of the scandal, and compelled to renew their matrimonial
pledges in due form in the parish church. The council's proposal, to decree that clandestine marriages were, by the fact,
not marriages at all, met with strong opposition. All, of course, acknowledged the terrible evil they had caused from time
immemorial, but many bishops doubted whether the Church had the power to make the declaration which, for the future, nullified
all marriages but those contracted before three witnesses, one of whom must be the parish priest (parochus, i.e., "pastor"
in the modern American parlance) or a priest licensed by him or by the bishop. The reader will perceive, behind the objection,
the shade of a doctrinal controversy about the power of the Church of Christ with reference to the matter and form of the
sacraments. To avoid the chance of a debate about this, the council dealt with the practical problem only, and it is among
the disciplinary reforms, and not among the decrees on doctrine, that the great change was placed. At the same time the council
refused to declare null for the future marriages of young people made without the consent of their parents. "Had there been
no other reason for calling this council," said a bishop who took part in it, "this task alone, the condemnation of furtive
marriages, would have justified its being summoned, for there was not a corner of the world that this plague had not infected,
the occasion, for generations, of an infinity of wicked deeds."
The bishop's arm as a reformer is strengthened, time and again, in the Tridentine reforms, by the clause that he acts "as
delegated for this by the Holy See." This in such matters as these: the visitation of all chapters within his diocese, of
all monasteries which are held "in commendam," and of all "pious places," i.e., places of pilgrimage, shrines, and so
forth; for the examination of all dispensations sent through him, from Rome, to his subjects (and henceforth it is always
to the petitioner's bishop that dispensations will be sent), of all Roman permissions to change the terms of wills; the examination
and correction of all notaries, a race whose costly incompetence is frequently complained of; the correction of all secular
clerics who live in his diocese, and of all regulars there who are not living within a monastery; for the summary, out- of-hand
correction of notorious and defiant concubinary clerics, and for the suppression of all abuses and superstitions centering
round the mass.
In all these cases the bishop's sentence takes effect immediately. He is given the like power to unite neighbouring parishes,
and to divide parishes that are, geographically, too large, and this whether the priests are willing or not, and he may finance
the new from the revenues of the old as he judges best. Where the priest is too ignorant to preach, the bishop may provide
him with a better instructed curate, fix his salary and compel the parish priest to pay it. Dilapidated churches are a frequent
subject of comment in all medieval church records. The bishop's powers "as delegated," etc., make it possible to compel the
repair of churches, i.e., to compel those to whom the parish revenues are paid to finance the repairs, even the repairs of
monastic churches where the superior of the local abbot is negligent in this duty. Finally, he may use the same power to finance,
out of the revenues of the cathedral chapter, the new public lectureship of Sacred Scripture which he is ordered to institute
in his see-city, the Scripture teaching in the diocesan "high school," and the diocesan seminary which he is now ordered to
found. One sometimes hears the nonsense that never have bishops really been bishops since the Council of Trent. Actually,
with Trent there came to an end, once and for all, that reign of the exemptions from episcopal authority which had plunged
the Church into an anarchy that had well nigh destroyed her religious life, so that Pole, as legate at the council, could
speak of "the almost ruined Church."
There are three phrases that continually recur in this new legislation, tamquam delegatus, deinceps (i.e., henceforward),
and ipso iure, a phrase of the same force as our own common expression, English now as well as Latin, ipso facto--the fact
here, being the law in which the phrase appears. This is the magical automatic penalty. The law issues an order, and states
a penalty, and the delinquent incurs the penalty immediately he breaks the law, sometimes a spiritual penalty such as excommunication,
sometimes the loss of a title to income. Some of these penalties we have met already, incidentally, on our voyage through
the forest. Here are more specimens. It is the bishop who is the subject chiefly affected. The bishops at Trent are legislating
about their own order; they are reforming bishops, securing to the best of their powers that "Never again," etc., etc. It
is with laws providing against the catastrophe of bad bishops that the council's reforms, indeed, begin; to which the blunt
honest words of Pole's keynote speech, at the opening of the council, all but compelled them. "Let us come to what are called
abuses.... It will be found that it is our ambition, our avarice, our cupidity that have wrought all these evils on the people
of God." Trent may indeed have been the glorious triumph of orthodoxy over the new heresies, but we shall fail wholly to understand
the real changes it brought about, unless we see also in the council the repentant episcopate, sitting in sackcloth and ashes.
"Before the tribunal of God's mercy we, the shepherds, should make ourselves responsible for all the evils now burdening the
flock of Christ ... not in generosity but in justice...." So Pole, once more.
These reforming bishops, then, use the device of the "automatic" penalty so that the absentee bishop loses the right to
his income, and the pluralist is deprived of sees he will not resign; that the concubinary prelate who defies the warnings
of the provincial council loses his see; that the bishop becomes (in law) a thief who accepts gifts from those he ordains
or from the parishes and other churches where he is making the visitation; and that the metropolitan is deprived of his right
to officiate who fails to report to Rome the fact of a defiantly absentee suffragan. It is in the same way, too, that the
pluralist of lesser degree is reached, and the non- preaching parish priest is fined.
The simplest remedy for whatever has been amiss in these matters is to appoint to the office none but good men, competently
endowed with the needed natural gifts and technical training. And on this subject the council has much to say, about preliminary
enquiries before the appointments are made. Ultimately the responsibility lies with that supreme authority whose bulls are
the essential element in all these appointments. The council ventures to hint at negligence here as the chief source of the
evils. "In the last place, this holy synod, troubled by the number of these most serious evils, cannot refrain from putting
on record, that nothing is more necessary for the Church of God than that the most blessed pope of Rome, who by his office
is bound to the care of the whole Church, should give this particular matter his closest attention, [namely] to associate
with himself, as cardinals, only men of exceptional character and gifts, and to appoint as diocesan bishops the very best
and most suitable; and this all the more because our Lord, Jesus Christ, will require at his hands the blood of those sheep
of Christ who have perished through the wicked misgovernment of neglectful bishops unmindful of their duty."
Both cardinals and bishops are explicitly warned that the natural affection of a man for his kinsfolk breeds nepotism,
that this affection can be "a seeding-plot of many evils in the Church." So the council forbids these personages to provide
for their relations out of church revenues. If they are poor folk, they may, of course, be succoured like other poor folk.
And one of the most obnoxious troubles of the past centuries is faced when the council begs bishops to be moderate in the
use of excommunication, "for experience teaches that if this penalty is inflicted rashly, and for slight offences, it provokes
contempt, not fear, and works harm to the offender rather than good"--excommunication being, in the mind of the Church, not
a vindictive act but medicinal, something done to bring a man to his senses. Bishops are warned especially not to allow themselves,
in this matter, to be made the tools of the state, excommunicating according to the wish of the prince.
Two more items in this lengthy selection and we have done; one of them about the layman--a rare subject for direct notice
in these Canon Law sections. The subject is duels, the use of which, as an acknowledged social convention among the nobles--and
what a curse it was to be down to the mid- nineteenth century!--is now first establishing itself. The council's principle
is that the man who kills another in a duel is a murderer. The man killed dies with the stigma that his last intention, too,
was murder. The seconds are accessories to murder, and the friends of the parties who assemble to see the duel are approvers.
All, then, are henceforward punished by ipso facto penalties: the principals and the seconds are excommunicated, and incur
the legal penalty of "perpetual infamy"--never again will a court of law consider their testimony in any case before it; they
rank as professional criminals, and are all to be held as murderers. If one of the party is killed in the duel he is not to
be given Christian burial. All who encourage the duel, and the spectators, are also, by the fact, excommunicated. Rulers,
whatever their rank (and the emperor is explicitly mentioned), who make provision for the fighting of duels-- providing a
kind of official duelling ground (for example) are ipso facto excommunicated, and lose all their jurisdiction over the place
where this is situated, if it is a fief of the Church; if it is held by a lay prince, the place reverts to the suzerain.
"With regard to the ordination of priests, Holy Father, no care whatever is taken," the cardinalitial committee on reform
had reported to Paul III, eight years before the council met. "The most ignorant of men," they said, "and sprung from the
dregs of society, and even themselves depraved, mere youths, are everywhere admitted to holy orders." We touch on one of the
great mysteries of medieval Catholicism, not that there were bad priests, but that the Church never faced the problem of training
and educating the rank and file of the parochial clergy--and this in the centuries which saw the rise of such remarkable formative
institutions as the monastic orders and the orders of friars. Here, more than in any other point, with Trent a new age begins.
"Youth, unless rightly trained, sinks to the pursuit of the lustful pleasures of the world," say the venerable Fathers of
the council. "Unless a boy has been formed in habits of prayer and religion from his tenderest years, before the habits of
adult vice can take root, he will never perfectly persevere in ecclesiastical discipline, unless by some very great and more
than ordinary grace from God." So the council now decrees that every bishop shall set up a special college where picked boys
shall live and be given a religious training, be taught to live the clerical life. These are to be boys who give promise of
perseverance in the Church's service, poor boys preferably. They must be twelve years old at least, and able to read and write
well, and of legitimate birth. This college "will become a permanently fruitful seed-bed (seminarium) of ministers of God."
The council, in this aside, has given the new institution the name it will henceforward always bear--the seminary. The
programme of studies is next set out, and the way of life: daily mass, monthly confession, Holy Communion as often as the
boy's confessor judges. On Sundays, and at the great feasts, the seminarians will assist at the services in the cathedral,
hard by which the college is to be placed, or in other churches in the town. Unsuitable boys, the incorrigible above all and
the troublemakers, are to be sent away. As the years pass, they receive minor orders and go on to their professional studies,
Holy Scripture, ecclesiastical treatises, the administration of the sacraments (especially the hearing of confessions), the
Church's ritual. They will receive Holy Communion more frequently once they are in minor orders, and will begin to be associated
with the practical work of the parish clergy. Once they receive the subdiaconate they are to communicate every week. For this
first of the major orders they must be twenty-one years of age completed, for the diaconate twenty-two, for the priesthood
twenty-four. The foundation of these new colleges the bishops are to take in hand quam primum--at the earliest opportunity.
The remainder of this very long decree is taken up with rules about the choice of teachers, and their needed academic qualifications.
As to finance, the bishop is given exceptionally wide powers to call upon all the ecclesiastical revenues of his diocese,
of the regulars (even the exempt) as well as the diocesan clergy, the mendicant orders alone excepted. Special provision is
made for the diocese that is too poor or too small to provide its own seminary.
These clergy, thus carefully trained, and now duly ordered, how are they to live? The sixteenth-century parish rarely needed
more than one priest to attend to it--so numerous were the parish churches, even in the cities. In most churches there
were chapels built by pious men of means, where mass was daily offered for the repose of the souls of themselves and their
family--the chantries. The funds left were sufficient to keep the priest appointed to the duty--this was his benefice. Very
often also he served as schoolmaster. Now one of the trials of the pious man down to the end of the Middle Ages had been the
sight of the horde of beggar-priests--priests without any benefice at all, driven to live by their wits out of the general
benevolence of the laity. As well as founding the seminary system, Trent forbade bishops to ordain candidates who could never
be of service, and also all who were not able, at their ordination, to bring legal proof that they were in peaceful possession
of a benefice the income of which was enough to support them. Even good, suitable candidates are not to be ordained, says
the new law, if they are lacking here. This benefice, if it is the only one the priest possesses, he is never allowed to resign
without expressly stating that it is the benefice by title of which he was ordained.
The sixteen dogmatic decrees of the council, for all their terse style, would run to some sixty pages of this size even
in a terse translation. Little more can be done than to list them, and for the student of history especially, to point out
the excellent starting point they are for the study of the Catholic religion as it was in the early sixteenth century, and
of the theological case between the Church and the reformers. It is a statement of that case as simple and as clear as it
is authoritative. These decrees are, in form, miniature theological treatises, and they are carefully not written in the technical
language theologians use. To each decree there is a list of canons annexed, statements, that is to say, of some point of the
reformed teaching which is contrary to the teaching set forth in the decree and therefore condemned.
Here, in chronological order, is the list of the dogmatic decrees, with the dates of the sessions when they were passed,
and a note of the number of the canons attached to them and of the length (in printed pages) of the decrees:
|The Holy Scriptures
||8th Apr 1546
||7th Jun 1546
||13th Jan 1547
|The Sacraments in General
||3rd Mar 1547
||3rd Mar 1547
||3rd Mar 1547
|The Holy Eucharist II 
||11th Oct 1551
||15th Nov 1551
||4th Nov 1551
|The Holy Eucharist II 
||16th Jun 1562
|The Holy Eucharist II
||9th Sep 1562
||15th Jul 1563
||11th Nov 1563
||4th Dec 1563
|Cults: Saints Relics Images
||4th Dec 1563
||4th Dec 1563
It will be observed that more than half of the text of the decrees is given to the doctrine of the sacraments. This, indeed,
ever since Luther's famous tract, The Babylonian Captivity of the Church (1520) had been the main point of the Protestant
assault, in this sense, that what was challenged here was what every man could appreciate immediately, namely, the actual
practice of the religion instituted by Christ our Lord. All could see here the difference between the old and the new, where
only a select few were in a position to judge the implications of the new key-doctrine that Justification is through faith
alone. With this heresy the Council dealt very faithfully, in a single decree of sixteen chapters that takes up one- quarter
of the whole text.
Trent, it is sometimes said, put an end once and for all to the indefiniteness and confusion of thought among Catholics--to
their comparative freedom to believe pretty much what they liked, in one version of the criticism. But this matter of terminating
differences, when true at all, is true only with a great reservation. The confusion, or division of opinion, was not about
traditional doctrine but about the problems raised by the new theories, differences in part related to the practical problem
how best to deal with the points raised by Luther, and how to reconcile the Lutherans by so stating the tradition that it
would satisfy them also. The idea that the Catholic unity in the fundamentals of belief about grace, original sin, justification,
and the sacraments is the fruit of the Tridentine restatement of Catholic doctrine, is too grotesque for patience to bear.
Nowhere does the council say--in effect--so far some Catholics have believed it is X, others that it is Y. but from henceforth,
all shall believe it is Y. It is, on the contrary, forever using such phrases as, "following the teaching of the Fathers we
define...." Where is the doctrinal definition of this council, for comment on which the theological lecturer will not turn
for guidance to St. Thomas, to say nothing of one or other of the Fathers?
Trent is a witness to the age-long tradition, to the Apostolic tradition, as truly as Nicaea twelve hundred years before
or the Vatican Council three hundred years later. It never does more than state, with the peculiar authority and explicitness
of a General Council, what the body of the teaching theologians had been agreed on for centuries and the Church as a whole
had implicitly accepted and practiced. As to questions which do not touch the substance of a particular doctrine, but regard
methods of explaining and defending it, questions of its history, its relation to other doctrines, questions arising from
the various ways in which different ages have set it out, the council decides nothing. From the learned warfare of the Catholic
theologians about such matters, it carefully distinguishes its own role, which is not theological scholarship but the preservation
of the traditional belief, and the exposure, and condemnation therefore, of whatever contradicts this. As to the theological
views put forward in the council, and rejected, in, e.g., the long discussions that preceded the decree on Justification,
when what was called the theory of the double Justification was proposed as an orthodox solution that might reconcile Lutheranism
and Catholicism--how new such ideas were among Catholic theologians is illustrated, it may be suggested, from the fact that
when the leading theologian of the age, Cajetan, was dealing, in 1507, with St. Thomas' refutation (two centuries in advance)
of Luther's basic theory, he has no comment to make about this that would suggest that anywhere among theologians was there
any division of opinion on the essence of the question.
The decrees restate the whole doctrine; they are not merely a contradiction of the reformers' innovations. The canons attached
to the decrees are short summary condemnations of heresies that contradict the doctrine set out in the decree, and not of
the new, contemporary heresies only. Thus, along with the Lutheran theories about Original Sin, there are also condemned (yet
once again) the heresies of Pelagius. To show something of the council's teaching, the canons on the key doctrines of Justification,
the Sacraments in General, and the Holy Eucharist will now be summarised.
In the matter of Justification, a doctrine which now makes its first appearance--in its own right--at a General Council,
these new errors are condemned: the theory that man is passive, like a stone, under the influence of grace; that since
Adam's fall there is no real freedom in the human will, this last idea being an invention brought into the Church by the devil;
that the good works done by man before he is justified are sins meriting damnation; that nothing but faith is requisite to
achieve Justification; that man can be justified otherwise than through the justice of Christ; that man is justified by
the imputation only, of the justice of Christ--Justification being no more than God showing favour to a man; that the faith
without which man cannot be justified is the trustful confidence that the divine mercy has forgiven his sins for Christ's
sake; that it is a condition for a man's sins being forgiven that he believes, without any hesitation, that his sins have
been forgiven; that no one is justified unless he believes he is justified, this belief being what brings about absolution
and justification; the justified man is bound to believe, as of faith, that he is numbered among those predestined [to eternal
life]; that all men except these are, by the Divine Power, predestined to evil; to believe is the only thing commanded in
the Gospel, all the rest being neither commanded nor forbidden, the Ten Commandments having nothing to do with being a Christian;
Christ our Lord was sent as a Redeemer to save, not as lawgiver to be obeyed; man, once justified, cannot sin or fall from
grace; there is only one sin that is mortal, the sin of not believing, and through no other sin can grace once attained be
This is not a complete account of what the thirty-three canons about Justification contain. It omits some more subtle statements
that would call for a lengthy explanation, and it omits canons which state, not a theory the reformers put out, but Catholic
doctrine which they deny.
As to the new theories about the kind of thing sacraments are, the canons condemn those who say: that there are more
or less than seven sacraments instituted by Christ our Lord--baptism, confirmation, the Eucharist, penance, extreme unction,
order, marriage--or that any one of these is not truly a sacrament in the full sense of the word; that these sacraments only
differ from the sacraments of the Jewish dispensation as one ritual from another; that the sacraments are not a necessity
of salvation, but that through faith alone, and without the sacraments at all, man can obtain from God the grace of Justification;
that the sacraments were instituted for the purpose of nourishing only faith; that the sacraments do not contain and confer
the grace which they signify--as though they were but outward signs of the grace or justice received through faith, badges
of Christian profession that mark off the believer from the infidel; that the sacraments do not themselves confer grace by
the very activity of the sacrament (ex opere operato), but that only faith in the divine promises is sufficient to obtain
grace; that all Christians have the power to administer all the sacraments; that any pastor of the Church can change the received
and approved rites used by the Church in the solemn administration of the sacraments.
As to the doctrine called the Real Presence, the council condemns: those who, denying that Jesus Christ, God and Man,
is truly, really, substantially present in the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, hold instead that He is only present as in
a sign or image or manifestation of power (in virtute); those who say that the substance of the bread and the wine remains
along with the body and blood of Christ, denying that marvellous and unique changing of the whole substance of the bread into
the Body [of Christ] and the whole substance of the wine into [His] Blood, while the appearance of bread and wine still remain--the
change which the Catholic Church most suitably calls Transubstantiation; those who say that the Body and Blood of Christ is
not there following upon the consecration (peracta consecratione), but only while the sacrament is in use, while it is being
received, that is to say, but not before this or after this, and that in what is left over of the consecrated hosts or particles
after communion has been administered, the true Body of the Lord does not remain; who say that the main fruit, or the sole
fruit, of this sacrament is the forgiveness of sins; or that Christ the only begotten son of God is not to be adored in this
sacrament with the externals of the reverence called latria, and that those who do so adore Him in this sacrament are
idolaters; that Christ is shown forth in this sacrament to be received [by the communicant] in a spiritual manner, and not
also sacramentally and really; that only faith is sufficient preparation for receiving this most holy sacrament.
The Council denies that there is a divine command that all shall receive Holy Communion under both the forms, i.e.,
of wine as well as of bread, and that it is a necessary sacrament for little children It condemns those who deny that the
whole Christ is received when Holy Communion is received under the form of bread alone.
There remain the canons attached to the decree about the sacrifice called the Mass, clear statements in everyday language.
The Council condemns those who say: there is not offered in the Mass a true and proper sacrifice to God; nothing more is meant
by this word "offered" than that Christ is given to us to be eaten; Christ by the words Do this in commemoration of Me,
did not constitute the apostles priests, or ordain them, so that they and other priests should offer His body and blood; the
sacrifice of the Mass is a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving only, or a mere commemoration of the sacrifice offered on
the Cross, but not a sacrifice whereby God is appeased; [the sacrifice] profits only those who receive [Holy Communion]; Mass
should not be offered for the living and the dead, or for sins, penalties, satisfactions, and other necessities; a blasphemy
is inflicted, through the sacrifice of the Mass, on the most holy sacrifice wrought by Christ on the Cross; the Mass takes
away from the sacrifice on the Cross; the Canon of the Mass is full of errors and should be done away with; the masses
where none but the celebrating priest receive Holy Communion are unlawful and should be abrogated.
It has been a simpler task to tell the story of what the council accomplished, without any reference to the contemporary
events of those eighteen years, 1545-63. But, without requiring anything like the history of those years, the reader is entitled
to ask, Why was the council twice interrupted, and for so long a period? In 1547 the cause was the outbreak of the plague
at Trent. The council hastily voted an adjournment to Bologna (March 10) to the fury of Charles V (who took for granted that
the plague was mere excuse) and to the embarrassment of Paul III, who realised he would be held responsible for what was,
in fact, in no way his doing. Several sessions were held at Bologna in 1547, a mere marking of time. Meanwhile the emperor
carried his attack on the pope to the uttermost limits--ordering his own bishops not to leave Trent, proclaiming that this
handful was the real council and the majority at Bologna a mere conventicle.
This crisis had come, in fact, at a moment when the political relations of emperor and pope were at their worst. The opening
of the council in 1545 had found them allies in Charles' often-delayed, but now about to be executed, war against the German
Protestant league. But by the time of Alva's crushing defeat of the princes at Muhlberg (April 24, 1547) relations between
the chiefs were strained. The pope's unsatisfactory son, Pierluigi, whom he had invested with the duchies of Parma and Piacenza,
against the emperor's will (and possibly against his rights) in 1545, was a thorn in the emperor's side. The imperial viceroy
in Milan arranged the duke's assassination (September 10). Was Charles V privy to this? It is hardly likely, but he had assented
to the plan to expel Pierluigi by force (May 31). This crime was committed in the early weeks of the Bologna period of the
council. Charles, by virtue of Muhlberg, was master of Germany as no emperor had been for hundreds of years. A brittle glory
it was to prove, but the threat of this prince, already ruler of half of Italy, to the independence of the pope was real indeed.
And the emperor used his mastery to impose on Catholic and Protestant, in Germany, a religious settlement of his own, the
so-called Interim. Was Charles now going to prove himself a Spanish Henry VIII? The old pope found somewhere a reserve of
patience, and the explosion never happened. The bishops went home from Bologna, and from Trent, and then in November 1549
the pope died.
There followed the long dramatic ten weeks' conclave of 1549-50, in which Pole almost became pope, and from which the senior
president at Trent, Del Monte, emerged as Pope Julius III. And now began the old weary business of persuading Charles to cooperate
in the reassembly of the council, and the French king too. Charles had a new point to urge--the reassembled council should
be a new council altogether; the Protestants would be pleased if all the matters defined at Trent were treated anew as open
questions. The French king, Henry II, whose reign had barely begun utterly refused to have anything to do with the council.
He was, in fact, on the verge of war with the pope, the casus belli being the revolt of Paul II 's grandsons against the new
pope. The French king had taken up their cause. Julius III, as more than one incident at Trent, especially with Charles V's
bullying commissioners, had shown, had one of the great tempers of the day. But somehow he managed to stifle it, and despite
some bad blunders and vacillation he managed to get the council on its feet again in 1551. It was in this period that the
Protestants accepted the invitation to come to the council--an incident which merely showed beyond all doubt that the new
doctrines were not reconcilable with the old.
And now in Germany the war with the Protestant League took up once more. This time it was the emperor who was defeated
and his army destroyed, in southern Germany. he pursuit was so hot that Charles himself narrowly escaped capture, and as he
made his way over the mountains to a precarious safety at Innsbruck, the bishops of the council decided it was high time they,
too, moved south. So ended the Julian period of the Council of Trent.
Julius III died in 1555, to be succeeded by his one-time colleague at Trent, Cervini, whose reign lasted but a short three
weeks. Then came Gian Pietro Caraffa--Paul IV--a hale old man of seventy-nine, the grimmest reformer who ever sat in St. Peter's
chair. As a young bishop, forty years earlier, he had sat in the all but futile Fifth Council of the Lateran. Perhaps it was
here that he developed his strong belief that little good came of councils. He had other methods, and for heretics they were
simple enough--the stake. Paul IV's four years of government in Rome was a reign of terror for evildoers and lawbreakers of
every sort, clerical as well as lay.
His death was followed by a conclave that lasted four months. From it came forth a pope as great a contrast to this passionate,
unbalanced Neapolitan as could be imagined, Gian Angelo de' Medici, a Milanese, who took the name Pius IV. He was by training
a lawyer, and by his career a professional administrator, who had governed one city after another for Clement VII and Paul
III; and for his moderation he had found it prudent to leave Rome, in the days of Paul IV. His election had produced the ideal
character for the delicate business of reconciling to Rome the various Catholic princes recently alienated--particularly the
Hapsburgs for whom Paul IV had had an unconcealed personal hatred.
Charles V had died a few months only before Paul IV. In the empire his brother, Ferdinand I, had replaced him; in the rest
of his dominions his son, Philip II. In France too there was a new ruler since June 1559, when Henry II was killed in a tournament--his
fifteen-year-old son, Francis II. This boy, whose wife was Mary, Queen of Scots, lasted barely a year and a half, and the
sovereign with whom Pius IV had to treat was this boy's mother, Catherine de' Medici, the queen-regent for his still younger
successor. Add that in England the short-lived Catholic restoration of Mary Tudor had just ended, and that Pius IV faced the
fait accompli of a restoration of the entire Protestant regime, with Catholicism proscribed utterly in legislation that culminated
in the death penalty, and with all the bishops the new queen's prisoners. The queen was, of course, Elizabeth
I. Given this unusual array of talent among the leading princes, and the fact that all the old preposessions of those who
were Catholics still survived-- the instinct to take control of the religious crisis into their own hands, to settle the problems
of their own realms, for example, by a national council not under papal influence--given all this, the fact that Pius IV succeeded
in reassembling the council, at Trent, within little more than two years would suggest that he is a more important figure
than has usually been recognised.
With patience and prudence and a constantly firm purpose, he guided the council through what proved to be the major part
of its work, and through a continuity of passionate discussions where Spanish and French bishops, as well as Italian, had
to be considered and managed. The most dangerous moments were when the Spaniards strove for a decision that the personal obligation
of the bishop to live in his diocese was an obligation of divine law, and not merely of synodal legislation. The danger was
that this excellent idea masked a point of theology, and was meant to lead to a discussion of the loaded question, Is the
pope the superior of the General Council or its servant? the question that had racked the Church of the previous century,
and for a renewal of which the Church of the sixteenth century was by no means yet sufficiently healthy. That the premature
discussion of this particular application of the defined doctrine of the papal supremacy was averted was due, in especial
manner, to the great cardinal whom Pius IV sent to preside at the last months of the council, Girolamo Morone.
The great council ended with what jubilation about the work done may be imagined. The pope by a special bull confirmed
all it had decreed, and by a second bull forthwith abolished all privileges and exemptions previously accorded by his predecessors
which went contrary to the decrees; and to settle authoritatively all questions arising out of the interpretation of the decrees
he created a permanent commission of cardinals, the Congregation of the Council of Trent, a body which developed into a kind
of permanent Ministry of the Interior of the Catholic Church, and which functions to this day as one of the most important
instruments of the government of the Church. The matter of providing the revised edition of the official Latin translation
of the Bible, a revised Breviary and Missal, a Catechism and an Index of books dangerous to Faith and Morals, the council
had left to the pope.
It was the immediate successor of Pius IV who saw to all these, except the new Bible. This successor was the Dominican,
Michele Ghislieri, known to history as Pius V (1566 72), in whom the aspirations of good men for centuries were realised,
a living saint ruling the Church. Of all the services rendered by St. Pius V (he was canonised by Clement XI in 1712) none
was greater than this, that in his ruling of the Church he was as scrupulously obedient to the laws of Trent as he had been
obedient to the Dominican constitutions during his long life as a friar. He set an example which none of his successors could
ever ignore; and perhaps nowhere more powerfully than in what he did with the task from which the council, in its last moments,
shrank--the reformation of the Catholic Princes, i.e., the defence of the rights of religion against the encroachment of the
Catholic state. But to say more about this would be to write the tragic history of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries,
of a fight where there were defeats, but no surrenders. The ideal of the example set by St. Pius V was at times obscured.
It was never forgotten. And never, since his time, has there been any such moral falling away--nor anything remotely recalling
it- -as what, in almost all his life before his election, he himself had been witness of in the highest place of all.
1. Jedin, A History of the Council of Trent, I, 351. These last two pages
of my account are especially indebted to this great book. Cf. 346-54.
2. Ibid., 354.
3. Op. cit., 369.
4. Pastor, History of the Popes, XII, chaps. 4, 5; a masterly summary in
Jedin, A History of the Council of Trent, 1, 490-544.
5. Del Monte is the future pope Julius III (1549-55), Cervini the all too
short lived Marcellus II (1555) commemorated in the title of Palestrina's
fine mass, and Pole only failed to become pope in 1549 through his refusal
to take the least step--he would not even say he was willing--on his own
behalf in the conclave.
6. Seripando, created cardinal by Pius IV (1559-65), later served as one of
the presidents of the council, 1 562-63.
7. Maroto, Institutiones Iuris Canonici (1919),1, 87.
8. As King Henry VIII was "kin" to Anne Boleyn through his sinful
association with her older sister, Mary.
9. The new law was passed by 155 votes to 55, G. H. Joyce, S.J., Christian
Marriage (1933), 127.
10. Jerome Ragazzoni, coadjutor to the see of Famagusta, preaching the
sermon with which the council closed, December 4.
11. These summaries, as has been said, are only of the principal matters.
But among these surely is, also, the change by which the council abolished
the age-long right of metropolitans (archbishops) to make the visitation of
all the sees of the bishops of their province, the local bishop's
jurisdiction suspended the meanwhile, and the archbishop correcting what he
found amiss and ordering the penalties this called for.
12. A monastery was said to be "in commendam" which was granted as his
benefice to a cleric who was not a member of the community or of the order
or even of any religious order. These commendatory abbots, who were not
bound to reside at the monastery, were sometimes not even in major orders.
13. Postremo eadem sancta synodus, tot gravissimis ecclesiae incommodis com
mota, non potest non commemorare, nihil magis ecclesiae Dei esse
necessarium quam ut beatissimus Romanus Pontifex, quam sollicitudinem
universae ecclesiae ex munens sui officio debet, eam hic potissimum
impendat, ut lectissimos tantum sibi cardinales adsciscat, et bonos maxime
atque idoneos pastores singulis ecclesiis praeficiat, idque eo magis, quod
ovium Christi sanguinem, quae ex malo negligentium et sui officii immemorum
pastorum regimine peribunt Dominus noster Iesus Christus de manibus eius
sit requisiturus. Session 24 (Nov. 11, 1563) De Reformatione, chap. 1, the
14. In London, for example, a city of about 100,000 people at the beginning
of the 16th century, there were 93 parish churches alone.
15. The doctrine of the Real Presence; the worship of God present in the
sacrament, the use of the sacrament.
16. On Communion under both kinds, and the Communion of little children.
17. On the Sacrifice of the Mass.
18. Just ten years before Luther's 95 Theses appeared.
19. Session 6, January 13, 1547. The Latin text of the canons here
summarised is in Denzinger, pp. 277-81. With respect to the phrase "all are
condemned," which continually recurs in these canons, it is to be observed
that the council has in mind Catholics and the ex-Catholics who, abandoning
the traditional doctrines, founded the various reformed bodies. The bishops
at Trent were not addressing that multitude of later, non-Catholic
Christians who, born and bred in these forms of belief, worship God and
keep His law after a non-Catholic fashion in all good faith. To these, the
personal condemnation was not addressed, although the condemnation of the
theories inevitably stands.
20. A heretical caricature of traditional doctrine, found useful in the
21. Session 7, March 3, 1547. Latin text ibid., 281-82.
22. Session 13, October 11, 1551. Latin text ibid., 290-91.
23. That homage due to God alone, as the Creator of all.
24. Session 21, June 16, 1562. Latin text ibid., 310.
25. Session 22, September 9, 1562. Latin text ibid., 314-15.
26. Luke 22:19.
27. The long prayer which is the core of the rite, during which the
consecration takes place.
28. Francis I died March 31, 1547.
29. December 4, 1563.