The Council of Trent
The Council of Trent stated that its purpose was to counter the Reformation. The Council would affirm that the unwritten traditions of the Catholic Church were inspired by the Holy Spirit, i.e., that all revelation did not end with Scripture. The Catholic Church draws its teachings from Sacred Scripture, but also from apostolic traditions, church fathers, holy and approved councils, and the authority of the supreme pontiffs.
The Council defended the baptism of infants as necessary because of the Augustinian doctrine of Original Sin. It stated that the principal point of difference with the Protestants is that "there is nothing more vexing and disturbing to the church of God than novel, perverse, erroneous doctrines of some men about justification."
What Did the Council of Trent Do
The Council of Trent met in three sessions, spanning nineteen years, starting in 1545. Only 28 of the 600 European bishops attended. It confirmed that only the Roman Catholic Church could properly interpret Scripture, and Catholic traditions, inspired as they were by the Holy Spirit, were equal to Scripture.
The Council insisted on regular confession as a sign of submission to the authority of the Catholic Church. "The secret sacramental confession of all mortal sins to a priest is not a mere human tradition but a matter of divine law that has been observed in the church since the very beginning."
The Council of Trent came out in support of a wide range of communal activities, such as processions, pilgrimages, and ceremonies, accompanied by theatrical music, art, and architecture. The Baroque churches built thereafter left nothing to the private thoughts of the individual, as they were crammed with statues, altars, cherubs, columns, icons, candelabra, incense, and gold leaf.
For Catholics, to let Protestants overturn the established doctrines and practices of the Church was blasphemy. For Protestants, for human beings to override Scripture was blasphemy. Here the two sides were at loggerheads.
The Council declared: "The Roman Catholic Church is the mother and the teacher of all the churches." Thus was reasserted the hierarchical structure of the Church. "In the Eucharist the body and blood of Christ were present in real fact, truly, and really."
"The Mass for the dead came from apostolic tradition."
"The question of the chalice has become highly politicized. The church has the right to change, in accordance with the exigency of the times, both the ritual and the interpretation of Scripture."
Undeniably, Scripture favored both species in the Eucharist (Communion). But the change had been made in response to demands by the laity that they be protected from possibly spilling the Blood of Christ from the chalice. Thus the sacrament was communicated only through the bread.
The Roman Catholic Church maintained that its "traditions are derived from the apostles; and its ecclesiastical structure is derived from those who were by the apostles instituted as bishops in the churches, and the succession of these men in our times."
The Protestants questioned these assumptions and drove to restore primitive Christianity. The Catholics stressed community over the rugged individualism of the Protestants. They continued to stress that no Bible was allowed besides the Latin Vulgate.
The final draft proclaimed:
"Faith is believing to be true what has been divinely revealed and promised. For it is not by faith alone but more by hope and love than by faith that those who are justified take hold of the righteousness of Christ. Anyone who says the sinner is justified by faith alone is condemned. As though the gospel were a bare and absolute promise of eternal life, without the condition of observing the commandments, if anyone says that Jesus Christ was given to men by God only as Redeemer in whom they are to trust, and not also as a Lawgiver whom they are to obey, let him be anathema."
Human Will can resist grace and man must consent to the call of God by free will. Protestants were to be condemned above all for teaching that a believer could and should be certain of salvation. "No one can know that he has obtained the grace of God."
Council of Trent Reforms
The principle accomplishments of the Council of Trent were its legislation regarding the reform and administration of the church. The new requirements that the clergy is properly trained and that preaching be restored to its proper place in the church, led to the creation of the modern theological seminary devoted exclusively to the professional preparation of the servants of the church.
Spain and Italy were the strongholds of Catholicism after the Protestant Reformation. In Germany, the 1555 Peace of Augsburg left each prince free to decide the religion of his subjects. England was targeted for reconversion in an effort led by St Edmund Campion; that effort failed in 1581.
Ireland was confirmed as a Catholic land in 1598. Beyond that most of Northern Europe went Protestant, except Poland and Belgium, while most of Southern Europe remained Catholic. The Counter Reformation launched by the Catholic Church included force.
The Effect of the Counter Reformation
The Roman Catholic Church was hemorrhaging souls, revenue, and territory. The Counter Reformation was a campaign to counter the Protestant Reformation, and to reform the Catholic Church on its own terms.
Cardinals Carafa and Contarini were assigned to prepare a report on the state of the Church in 1537. The problem was that they reported massive decline and corruption within the Church and their report was leaked to the press, providing an invaluable arsenal for gleeful Protestant propagandists.
Protestant and Catholic leaders met in 1541 and almost reconciled. But they could not agree on the mass, and this difference proved too profound and important to be compromised.
The Protestant Reformation caused the Catholic Church to develop its doctrines with a clarity that had not hitherto been necessary. Many in the Catholic Church welcomed the opportunity provided by heresies to define orthodoxy. The Protestant Reformation represented an unprecedented threat.
The Catholic Church responded that only it had the available truth of doctrine and the holiness of grace. Luther had been the first to break the bond of unity and peace. As the author of the schism, Luther himself became the chief issue, "Martin the heretic, Martin the schismatic, Martin the prince of utter pride and temerity."
Dr. Eck went so far as to condemn Luther for his defense of images against later Reformers who were more radical than he was, claiming that Luther wanted it both ways.
The Primary Concern of the Reformers
The primary concern of the Reformers was wrong teachings and wrong conduct by the Catholic Church. Early on, the great scholar Erasmus, and King Henry VIII, defended the Church against the Reformers. The Belgian theologian Josse Clichtove defended the Catholic Church but wrote:
"I frankly acknowledge that there have been very many missteps. It is the duty of Church officials to clean up such abuses. There is superstition, immoderate ambition among monks, excessive credulity in the cult of the saints, crass ignorance of Scripture, and the need for instruction of the people by a better educated clergy. By boldly passing judgment on such abuses the Reformers have provided a useful service but this is no justification for overthrowing all the authority of all the ages of history."
The Catholic Church proclaimed that it was the duty of all believers to accept the doctrine of the treasury of merits; the practice of praying for the dearly departed; the doctrine of images; purgatory; and the doctrine of Mary. The Catholic Church even made the claim that Jesus and His Apostles taught the doctrines of Mary.
The Roman Catholic Church
The Protestants cited St Augustine as the ancestor of Reformed doctrines. The Catholic Church reproached the Reformers for making the forgiveness of sins too easy. As the Protestant movement advanced, the elements of Catholic sacraments to which Luther had continued to adhere came increasingly into question, particularly Transubstantiation and infant baptism.
Against Calvinism, the Catholic Church maintained that moral accountability would be invalidated if there were not freedom of the will to make a person responsible for his actions. Calvin's doctrine of double predestination was nothing but fatalism.
Protestants resisted the cult of the saints on the grounds that it was not commanded by Scripture, and that it transfers to saints the honors which belong to Christ by making them mediators. The Catholic Church countered that Scripture was only credible by the universal authority of the Catholic Church itself.
Sir Thomas More stated: "Only the Catholic Church can tell the difference between the gospels and pseudo-gospels; and it naturally follows that only the Catholic Church can distinguish the true meaning of Scripture. The Church cannot err in the sacraments and in the necessary articles of faith."
This meant that the legislation of the Catholic Church is binding on all believers. Private judgment and the subjective authority of the individual is not a worthy substitute for the authority of the Catholic Church.
The Catholic Church asserted that the truth is always one—but falsehood is always varied. Therefore, the splits that soon appeared among Protestants were evidence that the truth was not with any of them—but only with the Catholic Church.
It was also evidence that someone must discern the meaning of Scripture, and that would be the Catholic Church. The root cause of the schism was the Protestants themselves—in their refusal to be constrained by the supreme pontiff, or any of the authoritative voices of the Catholic Church. No one who was a sheep of Christ was exempt from the authority of Peter and his successors, they argued.
Hadn't Christ said, "You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church?"
Peter alone among the apostles had confessed Christ as the Son of God. Only Peter was commanded to feed the Christian flock. The pope was the successor to Peter and therefore the Vicar of Christ.
The Catholic Church put forth the argument that its infallibility did not mean the Church would be without faults. Even the Protestants had faults. But the Church had been preserved for 1500 years, and surely it was worthy of respect.
Who gave Protestants the authority to cast asunder what God had joined together—including confession to a priest and the penitential system of sacraments?
The Church was holy, even though wicked men may be present in it; not by the holiness of men but by the dignity of the office of the priesthood and the sacraments. Augustine had proclaimed that the unity of the Church must be paramount above all other concerns, including its "universality, antiquity, and consensus."
The Society of Jesus (Jesuits) was founded by St Ignatius Loyola, an exiled Spaniard, and approved by Pope Paul III in 1540, to respond to the Protestant Reformation. The plan for this elite corps was to convert the heathen, reconvert the lapsed, and to found educational institutions.
Jesuit missionaries were soon present around the world, from Japan to Mexico. Their colleges sprang up around Europe. Loyola famously said, "If the Church proclaims that what seems to be white is black, we ought to believe it to be black."
To the Protestants the Jesuits were seen as cruel and unscrupulous. The Jesuits surely aimed to destroy Protestantism and restore papal supremacy. Some saw them as the secret thought police of the Catholic Church.
To be fair, the Jesuits ministered in prisons and hospitals, tended to the poor, and renounced worldly wealth. But they seemed to have the fundamental belief that the ends justified any means—even such un-Christian-like activities as lying, theft, perjury, and assassination. Even the hated Inquisition was reinstituted.
The Jesuits spread over Europe and wherever they went popery was revived. Unfortunately, for the host countries involved, those killed or exiled included thousands of nobles, intellectuals, scholars, pastors, artists, artisans, and other solid citizens.
The Jesuits undertook the task of dealing with the young, the stubborn, and the hesitant. They intended to monopolize education. Most of those who entered teaching proved to be men of a high personal moral and intellectual caliber, and were the greatest of teachers. They taught the art of making correct choices when faced with an ethical dilemma.
They not only taught theology but secular subjects as well—and all with kindness and understanding toward their students. The Jesuits knew that born teachers are rare, and so set up the best schools for training teachers ever seen. This training was long and included apprenticeship. The unfit were weeded out in the process.
The Jesuits set up a multitude of schools, and all students—rich or poor— were welcomed, and means provided for all to attend. The system produced brilliant minds by the score, including Descartes and Voltaire, and many other famous philosophers and scientists. Some of the brightest minds taught by the Jesuits went on to undermine the Christianity they had learned so well during what we call the Enlightenment.