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COUNCIL OF TRENT

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Originally appearing in Volume V27, Page 250 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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COUNCIL OF TRENT. The Council of Trent (1545—1563) has a long antecedent history of great significance for the fortunes of the Catholic Church. During the 15th and the earlier half of the 16th century, the conception of an " ecumenical council " remained an ideal of which the realization was expected to provide a solution for the serious ecclesiastical difficulties which were then prevalent. True, the councils of Constance and Basel had fallen short of the desired goal; but confidence in the unknown quantity persisted and took deeper root as thepopes of the Renaissance showed themselves less and less inclined to undertake the reforms considered necessary in wide circles of the Church. The papacy indeed did not recognize the jurisdiction of the ecumenical council, and in 1459 Pius II. had prohibited any appeal to such a tribunal under penalty of excommunication. This, however, had no effect on public opinion, and the council continued to be invoked as the supreme court of Christianity. So in 1518, for instance, the university of Paris demanded the convocation of a general council, to which it referred its solemn protest against the papal encroachments on the privileges of the French Church. Thus, when Luther took this very step in the same year, and repeated it later, his action was not devoid of precedent. Again in 1529 the evangelical estates of Germany made a formal appeal in the Diet of Spires, and, in the preface to the Augsburg Confession of 1530, requested a "general, unfettered council of Christendom." The same demand was formulated by Charles V. The emperor indeed—though, as a statesman, he had found himself in frequent opposition to the papal policy of his day—had never entertained the slightest doubt as to the truth of Catholic doctrine, and had rendered inestimable services to the Church in the perilous years which followed the emergence of Protestantism. Still he could not blind himself to the fact that ecclesiastical life stood in urgent need of reform; and the only method of effecting an alteration in the existing regime was by means of a council. Consequently he declared himself in favour of convening a general assembly of the church—a project which he pursued with the greatest energy. True, the passive resistance of the Curia was so stubborn that the decisive step was postponed time and again. But the goal was finally attained, and this result was essentially the work of Charles. Actually, the meeting came too late: the Evangelical Church had gathered strength in the interim, and the council failed to exercise the decisive influence anticipated on the relations between Catholicism and Protestantism. In 1536 its convocation seemed imminent. Pope Paul III., who in the conclave had already admitted the necessity of a council, convened it on the 2nd of June 1536, for the 23rd of May 1537, at Mantua. He then altered the date to the 1st of November of the same year. Later it was summoned to meet at Vicenza on the 1st of May 1538, only to be postponed till the Easter of 1539. Finally, be adjourned the execution of the project sine die. Charles met this dilatory policy by arranging colloquies between Protestant and Catholic at Worms and Regensburg, the result being that the Curia became afraid that the emperor might take the settlement of the religious question into his own hands. This consideration forced Paul III. to compliance, and fresh writs were issued convoking the council, first for Whitsuntide, 1542, then for the 1st of November of the same year. In consequence, however, of the hostilities between Charles and the French king Francis I., the conference was so scantily attended that it was once more prorogued to the 6th of July 1543, before it had come into active existence. Not till the peace of Crespy, 1544, when the emperor showed some disposition to attempt an accommodation of the ecclesiastical feud in a German Diet, did the pope resolve to translate his numerous promises into deeds. The bull Laetare Hierusalem (November 19, 1 544) fixed the meeting of the council for the 15th of March 1545, in Trent, and assigned it three tasks: (I) the pacification of the religious dispute by doctrinal decisions, (2) the reform of ecclesiastical abuses, (3) the discussion of a crusade against the infidels. The selection of the town of Trent, the capital of the Italian Tirol, and part of the empire had a two-fold motive: on the one hand it was a token of concession to the emperor, who wished the synod to be held in his dominions; on the other, there was no occasion to fear that an assembly, meeting on the southern border of Germany, would fall under the imperial influence. The opening of the council was deferred once again. To-wards the end of May 1545, twenty bishops were collected at Trent; but there was no sign of action, and the papal legates—Del Monte, Corvinus and Reginald Pole—delayed the inauguration. The cause of this procrastinating policy was that the emperor and the pope were at cross purposes with regard were now free, and he utilized his military successes to balance his account with the Church. At the Diet of Augsburg he secured the enactment of a modus vivendi, leavened by the Catholic spirit, between the adherents of either religion; and this provisory settlement—the so-called Interim of Augsburg—was promulgated as a law of the empire (June 3, 1548), and declared binding till the council should reassemble. The Protestants, it is true, received certain concessions—the non-celibacy of the priesthood and the lay chalice—but the Roman hierarchy, the old ceremonial, the feast-days and the fasts, were reinstated. Since the bishops who had remained in Trent abstained, at the emperor's request, from any display of activity qua synod, the outbreak of a schism was avoided. But the confusion of ecclesiastical affairs had grown worse confounded through the refusal of the pope to continue the council, when the death of Paul III. (November lo, 1549) gave a new turn to events. Pope Julius III., the former legate Del Monte, could not elude the necessity of convening the council again, and, though personally he took no greater interest in the scheme than his predecessor in office, caused it to resume its labours on the 1st of May 1551 (sessio xi.), under the presidency of the legate, Cardinal Crescentio. The personnel of the synod was, for the most part, different; and the new members included the Jesuits, Laynez and Salmeron. More than this, the general character of the second period of the council was markedly distinct from that of its earlier stages. The French clergy had not a single delegate, while the Spanish bishops maintained an independent attitude under the aegis of the emperor, and Protestant deputies were on this occasion required to appear at Trent. The German Protestants who, in the first phase of the council, had held aloof from its proceedings, since to have sent representatives to this assemblage would have served no good purpose, had now no choice but to obey the imperial will. Charles V. was anxious to assure them not merely of a safe conduct, but also of a certain hearing. But in this he ran counter to the established facts: the Catholic Church had already defined its attitude to the dogmas above mentioned, and the Curia showed no inclination to question these results by reopening the debate. Thus the participation of the Protestants was essentially superfluous, for the object they had at heart—the discussion of these doctrines on the gound of Holy Writ—was from the Catholic stand-point an impossible aspiration. The Wurttemberg deputies had already submitted a creed, composed by the Swabian reformer Johann Brenz, to the council, and Melanchthon was under way with a confessio saxonica, when there came the revolt of the Elector Maurice of Saxony (March 20, 1552), which compelled the emperor to a speedy flight from Innsbruck, and dissolved the conclave. Its dogmatic labours were confined to doctrinal decrees on the Lord's Supper (sessio xiii. October 11, 1551), and on the sacraments of penance and extreme unction (November 25, 1551, sessio xiv.). On the 28th of April 1552, the sittings were suspended on the news of the elector's approach. Ten years had elapsed before the council reassembled for the third time in Trent; and on this occasion the circumstances were totally changed. During the intervening period, the religious problem in Germany had received such a solution as the times admitted by the peace of Augsburg (1555); and the equality there guaranteed between the Protestant estates and the Catholic estates had left the former nothing to hope from a council. Thus the motive which till then had governed the emperor's policy was now nullified, as there was no necessity for seeking a reconciliation of the two parties by means of a conference. The incitement to continue the council came from another quarter. It was no longer anxiety with regard to Protestantism that exercised the pressure, but a growing conviction of the imperative need of more stringent reforms within the Catholic Church itself. Pope Paul IV. (1551–1559), the protector of the Inquisition, and the opponent of Philip II. of Spain as well as of the emperor Ferdinand, turned a deaf ear to all requests for a revival of the synod. The regime of Pius IV. (1559–1566) was signalized by an absolute reversal of the papal policy: and it was high time. For in France and Spain— to the mode of procedure. In the eyes of Paul III. the council was simply the means by which he expected to secure a condemnation of the Protestant heresy, in hopes that he would then be in a position to impose the sentence of the Church upon them by force. For him the question of ecclesiastical reform possessed no interest whatever. In contrast to this, Charles demanded that these very reforms should be given precedence, and the decisions on points of dogma postponed till he should have compelled the Protestants to send representatives to the council. The pope, however, alarmed by the threat of a colloquy in Germany, recognized the inadvisability of his dilatory tactics, and at last ordered the synod to be opened (December 13,1545)• Since there was no definite method by which the deliberations of ecumenical councils were conducted, special regulations were necessary; and those adopted were of such a nature as to assure the predominance of the Roman chair from the first. As the voting was not to be by nations, as at Constance, but by individuals, the last word remained with the Italians, who were in the majority. In order to enhance this superiority the legates as a rule denied the suffrage to those foreign bishops who desired to be represented by procurators; and a number of Italian prelates were enabled to make their appearance at Trent, thanks to special allowances from the pope. The dispute as to the order of precedence among the subjects for deliberation was settled by a compromise, and the questions of dogma and ecclesiastical abuses were taken simultaneously, the consequence being that in the decisions of the council the doctrinal and reformatory decrees rank side by side. In pursuance of a precedent established by the last Lateran Council, the sessions were divided into two classes: those devoted to discussion (congregationes generales), and those in which the results of the discussion were put to the vote and formally enacted (sessiones publicae). To ensure a thorough consideration of every proposition, and also to facilitate the exercise of the papal influence on the proceedings, the delegates were split into three groups (congregationes), each group debating the same question at the same time. This arrangement, however, only endured till 1546. Since these sections were only brought into conjunction by the legates, and met under their presidency, the pontifical envoys in effect regulated the whole course of the deliberations. They claimed, moreover, the right of determining the proposals submitted, and were throughout in active and constant communication with Rome—a circumstance which provoked the bon mot of the French deputy (1563), that when the rivers were flooded and the Roman post delayed the Holy Ghost postponed his descent. These precautions nullified any possible disposition on the part of the council to enter on dangerous paths; and in addition the clause " under reservation of the papal authority " was affixed to all enactments dealing with ecclesiastical irregularities—thus leaving the pope a free hand with regard to the practical execution of any measures proposed. Contrary to the emperor's wish, the council began its labours in the region of dogma by defining the doctrines of the Church with reference to the most important controversial points—a procedure which frustrated all his projects for a reconciliation with the Protestants. On the Sth of April 1546 the doctrine of the Holy Scriptures and tradition (sessio iv.) was proclaimed; on the 17th of June 1546, the doctrine of original sin (sessio v.); on the 13th of January 1547, the doctrine of justification (sessio vi.) ; and on the 3rd of March 1547, the decree concerning the sacraments in general, and baptism and confirmation in particular (sessio vii.). On the 11th of March, however, the council was transferred to Bologna on the pretext that an epidemic was raging in Trent (sessio viii.), though, at the imperial command, part of the bishops remained behind. But on the 2nd of June the council of Bologna resolved (sessio x.) to adjourn its labours. The emperor's demands that the council should again be removed to Trent were vain, till on the 24th of April 1547, the battle of Muhlberg decided the struggle with the Schmalkaldic league, formed by the Evangelical princes of Germany, in his favour. His hands the very countries where the Protestant heresy had been most vigorously combated—a great mass of discontent had accumulated; and France already showed a strong inclination to attempt an independent settlement of her ecclesiastical difficulties in a national council. Pius IV. saw himself constrained to take these circumstances into account. On the 29th of November 156o he announced the convocation of the council; and on the 18th of January 1562 it was actually reopened (sessio xvii.). The presidency was entrusted to Cardinal Gonzaga, assisted by Cardinals Hosius, bishop of Ermeland, Seripando, Simonetta, and Marc de Altemps, bishop of Constance. The Protestants indeed were also invited but the Evangelical princes, assembled in Naumburg, withheld their assent—a result which was only to be expected. In order to enhance the synod's freedom of action, France and the emperor Ferdinand required that it should rank as a new council, and were able to adduce in support of their claim the fact that the resolutions of the two former periods had not yet been formally recognized. Pius IV., however, designated it a continuation of the earlier meetings. Ferdinand, in addition to regulations for the amendment of the clergy and the monastic system, demanded above all the legalization of the marriage of the priesthood and the concession of the " lay chalice," as he feared further defections to Protestantism. France and Spain laid stress on the recognition Qf the divine right of the episcopate, and its independence with regard to the pope. These episcopal tendencies were backed by a request that the bishops should reside in their sees—a position which Pius IV. acknowledged to be de iure divino; though, as it would have implied the annihilation of the Roman Curia, he refused to declare it as such. In consequence of these reformatory aspirations, the position of the pope and the council was for a while full of peril. But the papal diplomacy was quite competent to shatter an opposition which at no time presented an absolutely unbroken front, and by concessions, threats and the utilization of political and politico-ecclesiastical dissensions, to break the force of the attack. In the third period of the council, which, as a result of these feuds, witnessed no session from September 1562 to July 1563, doctrinal resolutions were also passed concerning the Lord's Supper sub utraque specie (sessio xxi., July 16, 1562), the sacrifice of the Mass (sessio xxii., September 27, 1562), the sacrament of ordination (sessio xxiii., July 15, 1563), the sacrament of marriage (sessio xxiv., November u, 1563), and Purgatory, the worship of saints, relics and images (December. 3, 1563). of independence. For the freedom of speech which had been accorded was exercised under the supervision of papal legates, who maintained a decisive influence over the proceedings and could count on a certain majority in consequence of the overwhelming number of Italians. That the synod figured as the responsible author of its own decrees (sancta oecumenica et generalis tridentina synodus in spiritu sancto legitime congregata) proves very little, since the following clause reads praesidentibus apostolicae sedis legatis; while the legates and the pope expressly refused to sanction an application of the words of the Council of Constance—universalem ecclesiam repraesentans. The whole course of the council was determined by the pre-supposition that it had no autonomous standing, and that its labours were simply transacted under the commission and guidance of the pope. This was not merely a claim put forward by the Roman see at the time: it was acknowledged by the attitude of the synod throughout. The legates confined the right of discussion to the subjects propounded by the pope, and their position was that he was in no way bound by the vote of the majority. In difficult cases the synod itself left the decision to him, as in the question of clandestine marriages and the administration of the Lord's Supper sub utraque specie. Further, at the close of the sessions a resolution was adopted, by the terms of which all the enactments of the council de morum reformations atque ecclesiastica discipline were subject to the limitation that the papal authority should not be prejudiced thereby (sessio xxv. cap. 21). Finally, every doubt as to the papal supremacy is removed when we consider that the Tridentine Fathers sought for all their enactments and decisions the ratification (confirmatio) of the pope, which was conferred by Pius IV. in the bull Benedictus Deus (January 26, 1564). Again, in its last meeting (sessio xxv.), the synod transferred to the pope a number of tasks for which their own time had proved inadequate. These comprised the compilation of a catalogue of forbidden books, a catechism, and an edition of the missal and the breviary. Thus the council presented the Holy See with a further opportunity of extending its influence and diffusing its views. The ten rules de libris prohibitis, published by Pius IV. in the bull Dominici gregis custodiae (March 24, 1564), became of great importance for the whole spiritual life of the Roman Catholic Church: for they were an attempt to exclude pernicious influences, and, in practice, led to a censorship which has been more potent for evil than good. These regulations On the 4th of December 1563 the synod closed. were modified by Leo XIII. in his Constitution 0fficiorum ac The dogmatic decisions of the Council of Trent make no 1 munerum (January 24, 1897). Acting on a suggestion of the attempt at embracing the whole doctrinal system of the Roman council (sessio xxiv. c. 2; sessio xxv. c. 2), Pius IV. published a Catholic Church, but present a selection of the most vital short conspectus of the articles of faith, as determined at Trent, doctrines, partly chosen as a counterblast to Protestantism, and in the bull Injunctum nobis (November 13, 1564). This so-formulated throughout with a view to that creed and its objec- called Prof essio fidei tridentinae, however, goes beyond she tions. From the discussions of the council it is evident that doctrinal resolutions of the synod, as it contains a number of pronounced differences of opinion existed within it even on clauses dealing with the Church and the position of the pope most important subjects, and that these differences were not within the Church—subjects which were deliberately ignored reconciled. Hence came the necessity for reticences, equivoca- in the discussions at Trent. In 1877 this confession—binding tions and temporizing formulae. Since, moreover, the council on every Roman Catholic priest—was supplemented by a pro-issued its pronouncements without any reference to the decisions nouncement on the dogma of papal infallibility. of earlier councils, and omitted to emphasize its relation to The great and increasing need of a manual for the instruction these, it in fact suppressed these earlier decisions, and posed of the people gave rise in the first half of the 16th century to not as continuing, but as superseding them. numerous catechisms. At the period of the council, that com- The reformatory enactments touch on numerous phases of posed by the Jesuit Peter Canisius, father-confessor of the ecclesiastical life—administration, discipline, appointment to emperor Ferdinand, enjoyed the widest vogue. ' It failed, spiritual offices, the marriage law (decretum de reformatione however; to receive the sanction of the synod, which preferred matrimonii " Tametsi," sessio xxiv.), the duties of the clergy, to undertake the task itself; and, as that body left its labours and so forth. The resolutions include many that marked an unfinished, the pope was entrusted with the compilation of a advance; but the opportunity for a comprehensive and thorough textbook. Pius V. appointed a commission (Leonardo Marini, reformation of the life of the Church—the necessity of which Egidio Foscarari, Francisco Fureiro and Murio Calini) under the was recognized in the Catholic Church itself—was not em- presidency of three cardinals, among them Charles Borromeo; hraced. No alteration of the abuses which obtained in the and this commission discharged its duties with such rapidity Curia was effected, and no annulment of the customs, so lucra- that the Catechisms a decreto concilii tridentini ad parochos tive to that body and deleterious to others, was attempted. was published in Rome as early as the year 1568. The book is The question of the annates, for instance, was not so much as designed for the use of the cleric, not the layman. The Missale broached. ronaanum, moreover, underwent revision: also the Breviarium The Council of Trent in fact enjoyed only a certain appearance romanum, the daily devotional work of the Roman priest. The necessity of still further improvements in the latter was forcibly urged in the Vatican Council. The numerical representation of the Council of Trent was marked by considerable fluctuations. In the first session (December 13, 1545) the spiritual dignitaries present—omitting the 3 presiding cardinals—consisted of one other cardinal, 4 arch-bishops, 21 bishops and 5 generals of orders. On the other hand, the resolutions of the synod were signed at its close by the 4 presidents, then by 2 cardinals, 3 patriarchs, 25 archbishops, 166 bishops, 7 abbots, 7 generals of orders and 19 procurators of archbishops and bishops. In this council—as later in the Vatican—Italy was the dominant nation, sending two-thirds of the delegates; while Spain was responsible for about 30, France for about 20, and Germany for no more than 8 members. In spite of the paucity of its numbers at the opening and the unequal representation of the Church, which continued to the last, the oecumenical character of the council was never seriously questioned. On the motion of the legates, the resolutions were submitted to the ambassadors of the secular powers for signature, the French and Spanish envoys alone withholding their assent. The recognition of the council's enactments was, none the less, beset with difficulties. So far as the doctrinal decisions were concerned no obstacles existed; but the reformatory edicts—adhesion to which was equally required by the synod—stood on a different footing. In their character of resolutions claiming to rank as ecclesiastical law they came into conflict with outside interests, and their acceptance by no means implied that the rights of the sovereign, or the needs and circumstances of the respective countries, were treated with sufficient consideration. The consequence was that there arose an active and, in some cases, a tenacious opposition to an indiscriminate acquiescence in all the Tridentine decrees. tinder Charles IX. and Henry IV. the situation was hotly debated in France: but these monarchs showed as little complaisance to the representations and protests of the Curia as did the French parlement itself; and only those regulations were recognized which came into collision neither with the right* of the king nor with the liberties of the Gallican Church. In Spain, Philip II. allowed, indeed, the publication of the Tridentinun, as also in the Netherlands and Naples, but always with the reservation that the privileges of the king, his vassals and his subjects, should not thereby be infringed. The empire, as such, never recognized the Tridentinum. Still it was published at provincial and diocesan synods in the territories of the spiritual princes, and also in the Austrian hereditary states. In his official confirmation Pius IV. had already strictly prohibited any commentary on the enactments of the council unless undertaken with his approval, and had claimed for him-self the sole right of interpretation. In order to supervise the practical working of these enactments, Pius created (1564) a special department of the Curia, the Congregatio cardinalium coruilii tridentini interpretum; and to this body Sixtus V. en-trusted the further task of determining the sense of the conciliar decisions in all dubious cases. The resolutiones of the congregation—on disputed points—and their declaraliones—on legal questions—exercised a powerful influence on the subsequent development of ecclesiastical law. The Council of Trent attained a quite extraordinary significance for the Roman Catholic Church; and its pre-eminence was unassailed till the Vaticanum subordinated all the labours of the Church in the past—whether in the region of doctrine or in that of law--to an infallible pope. On the theological side it fixed the results of medieval scholasticism and gleaned from it all that could be of service to the Church. Further, by pronouncing on a series of doctrinal points till then undecided it elaborated the Catholic creed; and, finally, the bold front which it offered to Protestantism in its presentation of the orthodox faith gave to its members the practical lead they so much needed in their resistance to the Evangelical assault. The regulations dealing with ecclesiastical life, in the widest sense of the words, came, for the most part, to actual fruition, so that, in this direction also, the council had not laboured in vain. For the whole Roman Catholic Church of the 16th century its consequences are of an importance which can scarcely be exaggerated: it showed that Church as a living institution, capable of work and achievement; it strengthened the confidence both of her members and herself, and it was a powerful factor in heightening her efficiency as a competitor with Protestantism and in restoring and reinforcing her imperilled unity. Indeed, its sphere of influence was still more extensive, for its labours in the field of dogma and ecclesiastical law conditioned the future evolution of the Roman Catholic Church. As regards the position of the papacy, it is of epoch-making significance—not merely in its actual pronouncements on the papal see, but also in its tacit subordination to that see, and the opportunities of increased influence accorded to it. There were three periods of the council, separated by not inconsiderable intervals, each of an individual character, con-ducted by different popes, but forming a single unity—an indivisible whole, so that it is strictly correct to speak of one Council of Trent, not of three distinct synods.
End of Article: COUNCIL OF TRENT
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TRENT (Lat. Tridentum; Ital. Trento; Ger. relent)
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