The Council of Trent

The Council of Trent (1545-1563) condemned the “heresy” of Protestantism. It is the embodiment of the Counter-Reformation.

 


 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

 

Historical Setting

A meeting that lasted 18 years

Underwhelming attendance

Read online

The 25 Sessions of the Council:

IN TRENT under POPE PAUL III

Session 1. Opening the council: December 13, 1545

Session 2. Discipline during the council: January 7, 1546

Session 3. Reaffirming the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed: February 4, 1546

Session 4. The Holy Scriptures: April 8, 1546

Session 5. Original sin: June 17, 1546

A gap of nearly seven months, and then …

Session 6. Justification: January 13, 1547

Session 7. Baptism & Confirmation: March 3, 1547

Session 8. Relocating the council to Bologna: March 11, 1547

IN BOLOGNA under POPE PAUL III

Session 9. Deferring the next session: April 21, 1547

Session 10. Deferring the next session (again): June 2, 1547

A gap of nearly four years, and then …

Session 11. Resuming the council: May 1, 1551

IN TRENT under POPE JULIUS III

Session 12. The arrival of powerful bishops: September 1, 1551

Session 13. Holy Eucharist: October 11, 1551

Session 14. Penance and Extreme Unction: November 25, 1551

Session 15. Discontinuing the session: January 25, 1552

Session 16. Suspending the council: April 28, 1552

A gap of nearly eight years, and then …

IN TRENT under POPE MARCELLUS II and then POPE PIUS IV

Session 17. Celebrating the council: November 30, 1560

A gap of a year and a quarter, and then …

Session 18. Administrative decisions: February 26, 1562

Session 19. Discontinuing the session: May 14, 1562

Session 20. Discontinuing the session: June 4, 1562

Session 21. Communion under both species: July 16, 1562

Session 22. The sacrifice of the Mass:

A gap of ten months, and then …

Session 23. Ordination: July 15, 1563

Session 24. Matrimony: November 11, 1563

Session 25. Cults and Saints, Relics and Images and Indulgences: December 3-4, 1563

 


 

HISTORICAL SETTING

 

In 1517, Doctor Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the cathedral door in Wittenberg. In 1518, he appealed to the pope to a general council.

The popes were reluctant. They had several excuses:

  1. They were focused on political machination and wars in Europe.
  2. They were ambivalent toward Germany and France.
  3. They had little interest in the Bible or theological matters

In in 1533 the king of France suggested a general council to include both Catholic and Protestant rulers of Europe. The pope opposed this, because it gave official recognition to the Protestants and also because it elevated the secular Princes of Europe above the clergy.

Pope Paul III proposed a Council to be held in 1537. However, it was almost unanimously opposed by his cardinals. To prepare for it, Martin Luther wrote the Smalcald Articles. However, the Council failed to convene due to another war between the Holy Roman Empire and France.

After countless delays, and shortly before the death of Martin Luther, the pope finally convened the council in 1545. They gathered in the Italian city of Trento.

 

A MEETING THAT LASTED 18 YEARS

 

The council met in two different cities, and in three distinct eras, and with long intervals in-between sessions, and under four different popes:

ERA 1: 1545 to 1549

Under pope Paul III.

Located in Trento in Italy and Bologna in Italy.

ERA 2. 1551 to 1552

Under pope Julius III. And then under Marcellus II

Located in Trento in Italy.

ERA 3. 1562 to 1563

Under pope Pius IV

Located in Trento in Italy

 

UNDERWHELMING ATTENDANCE

 

The number of attending members in the three periods varied considerably.

The council was very small to begin with, opening with only 26 bishops. At the passage of the most important decrees, no more than sixty prelates were present.

The final decrees were signed in 1563 by a mere 255 members.

 

READ ONLINE

 

Considering the great importance of the council of Trent, there are surprisingly few translations available online.

As of this writing, we suggest the J. Waterworth translation of 1848. It was scanned by Hanover College students in 1995, and is available online at the website of Hanover College.

 

THE 25 SESSIONS OF THE COUNCIL

 

SESSION 1. Opening the council

December 13, 1545

Why did the council meet? One motive was for the suppression and destruction of the enemies of the Christian name.

That hardly seems like something Jesus Christ would do.

 

SESSION 2. Discipline during the council

January 7, 1546

The bishops were to amend their evils and walk in the fear of the Lord. They were to fast and pray. They were to abstain from alcohol and to meditate on the Scriptures.

Those are laudable goals. However, they were almost certainly not carried out. Bishops are very much like politicians. They say commendable things. But they do not act on them personally.

 

SESSION 3. Reaffirming the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed

February 4, 1546

The council aimed for the extirpation of heresies. That means condemning the Protestants.

And the council aimed for a reform of morals. That means cleaning up the moral cesspool of the Catholic church.

The council reaffirmed their acceptance of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan creed.

 

SESSION 4. The Holy Scriptures

April 8, 1546

The council fathers affirmed the uniquely Catholic notion that eternal truths are found in two very different sources:

  • Sacred Scripture
  • Sacred Tradition

The council published their list of the official books of the Bible. It is the same 73 books that are in Catholic Bibles of today. This is the first time the Catholic church ever published such a list.

The council said anyone who rejects their list is anathema. An anathema is their proclamation that if you disagree with them, you will be be eternally damned.

That was clearly meant to condemn the Protestants, who had been saying there are 66 books.

The council deemed that the old Latin Vulgate Edition is the only official version. They made it illegal to print other versions.

No one is permitted to interpret the Scriptures differently than “holy mother Church.” This is almost certainly the first time this expression was ever used by a Council.

The Council said “holy mother Church” is the the only one who can judge the true sense and interpretation of the Scriptures.

 

SESSION 5. Original sin

June 17, 1546

In the introduction, the council fathers say is impossible to please God without the Catholic faith.

Original Sin: The council fathers reaffirmed that Adam sinned. That caused him the loss of holiness and justice. His “original sin” infected every person who has ever lived. The remedy for original sin is baptism. Every person, including infants, must be baptized for the forgiveness of sins. That is how people are born again of water and the Holy Spirit.

Reform: When churches and monasteries hire experts to expound the Holy Scriptures, they must be true experts. This is probably a rebuke of simony, which was quite common in those days.

Preachers. Bishops are required to preach the holy Gospel of Jesus Christ. But if they cannot, they can delegate the task to someone else.

 

SESSION 6. Justification

January 13, 1547

Justification: The council fathers say a certain erroneous doctrine [“Martin Luther”] has led to the loss of many souls.

In the 16 chapters that follow, the Council Fathers map out a very standard Catholic vision of the doctrines of sin and justification.

Canons: The council fathers dogmatize their theology by writing 33 canons. Each canon concludes with an anathema. An anathema is their proclamation that if you disagree with them, you will be be eternally damned.

Reform: Bishops must reside within their diocese. Clerics must reside within the region of their assignment. Bishops must visit their parishes regularly.

 

SESSION 7. Baptism & Confirmation

March 3, 1547

Canons: The council fathers write 30 canons on the sacraments. Each concludes with an anathema. . An anathema is their proclamation that if you disagree with them, you will be be eternally damned.

Here is an overview:

  • General: 13 canons
  • Baptism: 14 canons
  • Confirmation: 3 canons

Reform: The council fathers write 15 chapters about reforming aspects of how bishops govern their dioceses.

 

SESSION 8. Relocating the council to Bologna

March 11, 1547

A disease had broken out in the city of Trent. Most of the bishops had already left. So the council was relocated to the city of Bologna.

 

SESSION 9. Deferring the next session

April 21, 1547

The next session of the council is deferred.

 

SESSION 10. Deferring the next session (again)

June 2, 1547

The next session of the council is deferred again.

 

SESSION 11. Resuming the council

May 1, 1551

The council will re-convene in Trent in September.

 

SESSION 12. The arrival of powerful bishops

September 1, 1551

Because certain bishops arrived, bishops with power and influence, the council will be able to resume in October.

 

SESSION 13. Holy Eucharist

October 11, 1551

In eight chapters, the Council Fathers map out a very traditional Catholic vision of the Holy Eucharist.

The council fathers dogmatize their theology by writing eleven canons. Each canon concludes with an anathema. An anathema is their proclamation that if you disagree with them, you will be be eternally damned.

In eight chapters, the bishops are to reform their subjects.

In a Decree, the council grants “safe passage” to Protestants who must journey through Catholic lands. That is, Catholics will temporarily cease murdering Protestants.

 

SESSION 14. Penance and Extreme Unction

November 25, 1551

PENANCE. Divine law says the sacrament of penance is necessary for those who commit mortal sins after baptism. However, the document equates the church word “penance” with the Greek word for “repentance” which is μετάνοια (metanoia). They are different words.

Contrition is necessary. Venial sins do not exclude us from the grace of God and do not require the sacrament. The only minister of the sacrament is a bishop or priest. The absolution of select sins can be reserved to a bishop.

Canons: The council fathers wrote 15 canons on the sacrament of penance. Each concludes with an anathema. An anathema is their proclamation that if you disagree with them, you will be be eternally damned.

EXTREME UNCTION. The council does not claim that anointing actually heals anybody. The proper minister of this sacrament is a priest.

Canons: The council fathers wrote four canons on the sacrament of Extreme Unction. Each concludes with an anathema (a condemnation to be eternally damned if you disagree).

Reform. The council fathers wrote 14 chapters about reforming aspects of how bishops govern their dioceses.

 

SESSION 15. Discontinuing the session

January 25, 1552

The council fathers complain that the Protestants have not yet arrived. The next session is therefore deferred.

The council fathers again promise safe passage to the Protestants. That is, Catholics will temporarily cease murdering Protestants.

 

SESSION 16. Suspending the council

April 28, 1552

Many bishops had left the council and gone back to their home dioceses. Therefore the council is suspended.

 

SESSION 17. Resuming the council

November 30, 1560

The pope and cardinals summon the council fathers to the city of Trent on January 18, 1562. On that date, they resolved to resume the council on February 26, 1562.

 

SESSION 18. Administrative decisions

February 26, 1562

The next session will be on May 14, 1562.

The council fathers again promise safe passage to the Protestants. That is, Catholics will temporarily cease murdering Protestants.

 

SESSION 19. Deferring the Council

May 14, 1562

The next session of the council is deferred until June 4, 1562.

 

SESSION 20. Deferring the Council

June 4, 1562

The next session of the council is deferred until July 16, 1562.

 

SESSION 21. Communion under both species

July 16, 1562

People are not required to receive the sacrament of the Eucharist under both forms. One form is sufficient for salvation.

Little children are required to receive the Eucharist.

Canons: The council fathers wrote four canons on the sacrament of the Eucharist. Each concludes with an anathema. An anathema is their proclamation that if you disagree with them, you will be be eternally damned.

Reform. The council fathers wrote 9 chapters about reforming aspects of how bishops govern their dioceses.

 

SESSION 22. The sacrifice of the Mass

September 17, 1562

The council fathers write nine chapters about the Eucharist. It is the sacrifice of the new priesthood according to the order of Melchisedech. It confers grace and penitence. It honors the saints. It is based on “the holy canon,” which is probably a reference to the Gelasian sacramentary of the 8th-century. The Eucharist must be majestic and keep the faithful excited. A priest can say it by himself. The water mixed in the wine evoke that from Christ’s side flowed blood and water. It may NOT be celebrated in the local language.

Canons: The council fathers wrote nine canons on the sacrament of the Eucharist. Each concludes with an anathema. An anathema is their proclamation that if you disagree with them, you will be be eternally damned.

Reform. The council fathers wrote 11 chapters about reforming aspects of how bishops govern their dioceses.

 

SESSION 23. Ordination

July 15, 1563

The council fathers write nine chapters about Catholic sacramental priesthood.

There are seven degrees of priesthood. The first are sub-deacon, acolyte, exorcist, rector and porter. Beyond them are deacon, priest, and bishop.

Sacramental ordination confers grace. Ordination is permanent.

Bishops are superior to priests.

Canons: The council fathers wrote eight canons on the sacramental priesthood. Each concludes with an anathema. An anathema is their proclamation that if you disagree with them, you will be be eternally damned.

Reform. The council fathers wrote 18 chapters about reforming aspects of how bishops govern their dioceses.

The next session of the council will be on September 16, 1563.

 

SESSION 24. Matrimony

November 11, 1563

The council fathers write one chapter about Catholic sacramental marriage. They say sacramental marriage traces all the way back to the Garden of Eden, where Adam and Eve were married.

The council fathers say Christian marriage is superior to Old Testament marriage.

Canons: The council fathers wrote twelve canons on sacramental marriage. Each concludes with an anathema. An anathema is their proclamation that if you disagree with them, you will be be eternally damned.

Decree: The council fathers wrote ten Decrees on sacramental marriage.

Reform. The council fathers wrote 21 chapters about reforming aspects of how bishops govern their dioceses.

The next session of the council will be on December 9, 1563.

 

SESSION 25. Cults and Saints, Relics and Images and Indulgences

December 3-4, 1563

Decree Concerning Purgatory. Bishops are to preach the more doctrinally sound teachings. They should avoid teaching the more questionable doctrines about Purgatory.

On the Invocation, Veneration, Relics of Saints, and Sacred Images. Bishops should teach that saints intercede for living people. Christians should venerate images.

Concerning Regulars and Nuns. The council fathers issue 22 chapters of reforms for religious orders and nuns.

Decree Concerning Reform. The council fathers issue 21 chapters of reforms for administrators.

Decree Concerning the Continuation of the Session.

Continuation of the Session Decree Concerning Indulgences.

Concerning the Choice of Foods; Fasts and Festival Days.

Concerning the Index of Books and the Catechism, Breviary and Missal.

Concerning the Place of Ambassadors.

Concerning the Acceptance and Observance of the Decrees of the Council.

The Reading of the Decrees of the Council.

The End of the Council and the Request for Confirmation.

Acclamations of the Fathers at the Close of the Council.

Praise Be to God.

 


Unless otherwise noted, all Bible quotations on this page are from the World English Bible and the World Messianic Edition. These translations have no copyright restrictions. They are in the Public Domain.