Council Of Trent And The Counter-Reformation
Author: Ward, Adolphus W.
Council Of Trent And The Counter-Reformation
1545
 


An important phase of history in the sixteenth century is summarized by
Macaulay when he says that "the Church of Rome, having lost a large part of
Europe, not only ceased to lose, but actually regained nearly half of what she
had lost." Macaulay is speaking of what is known as the "Counter-reformation,"
a reaction against the Protestant movement, which was rapidly spreading in
Europe. By the Counter-reformation not only were the Roman Catholic losses
largely recovered, but an increased zeal for the regeneration of the Church of
Rome became fruitful of results.

The reformation of the Church from within had been often attempted by the
ecclesiastical leaders. Several "reforming councils" had been held, but the
desired object had not been accomplished. During the pontificate of Paul III
(1534-1549) the movement for regenerating the Church, as well as for opposing
the progress of Protestantism, was effectually inaugurated. At the Council of
Trent the new policy was definitely set forth.

A general council had long been demanded by the Germans. Even many of
the leading Italians had come to desire it. Charles V, who had his own
reasons for temporizing with the Protestants, had urged it year after year.
Much as the domination of the Emperor might be feared in such an assembly,
Paul at length decided to comply. Twice he ordered the assembling of a
council (1536 and 1538), but the distracted state of Europe caused
postponement. Meanwhile, owing to the continued progress of the Protestants,
Paul and Charles came to an agreement that another summons should be issued. A
few prelates were gathered at Trent in 1542, but, owing to the Emperor's war
with France and the Turks, the Pope next year dispersed them.

Finally a papal bull summoned all the bishops of Christendom to Trent for
March 15, 1545. The Pope showed much sagacity in calling this council at the
moment when Charles and his inveterate enemy, Francis I, were concerting the
suppression of the Protestants.

On December 13, 1545, three legates appointed by the Pope held their
public entry into Trent, and the council was formally opened. Paul III's
continued desire to conciliate the Emperor was shown by his adherence to Trent
as the locality of the council, when the legates again urged the choice of a
town on Italian soil. Yet the very Bishop of Trent, Cardinal Madruccio, was a
prince of the Empire, and by descent attached to the house of Austria, whose
interests he consistently represented during the first series of sessions.
The papal legates, with whose control over the council the Emperor at the
outset showed no intention of interfering, typified the different elements in
the ecclesiastical policy of Paul III. The presiding legate, Cardinal del
Monte - afterward Pope Julius III - while notable neither for religious zeal
nor for wise self-control, was a thorough-going supporter of the interests of
the Curia. Cardinal Cervino, afterward Pope Marcellus II, a prelate of
blameless life, was animated by those ideas of ecclesiastical reform of which
Pope Paul had encouraged the open expression; but he was more especially eager
for the extirpation of heresy, and not over-scrupulous in the choice of means
for reaching his ends. Lastly, Cardinal Pole's ^1 presence at Trent, in which
some have seen a mere papal ruse, must have surrounded the early proceedings
of the council with a hopeful glamour in the eyes of those who, like himself,
expected from it the reunion as well as the reinvigoration of Western
Christendom.

[Footnote 1: Pole became archbishop of Canterbury (1556) and chief adviser to
Queen Mary, under whom he was largely responsible for the persecution of
English Protestants.]

Nothing, as had probably been foreseen at Rome, could have better
facilitated the immediate establishment of the ascendency in the council of
the papal policy than the composition of its opening meeting. Of the
thirty-four ecclesiastics present, only five were Spanish and two French
bishops, and no German bishop had crossed the Alps. Nor had any secular power
except the Emperor and King Ferdinand sent their ambassadors. The business
machinery of the council, which the legates lost no time in getting into
order, was altogether in favor of their influence as managers. Learned
doctors, without being, as in former councils, allowed to take part in the
debates, prepared the work of the three committees or congregations, who in
their turn brought it up for discussion to the general congregations.

The sessions in which the decrees thus prepared were actually passed had
a purely formal character, but before they were successively held opportunity
enough was given for manipulation and delay. The voting in the council was by
heads, instead of by nations, as at Constance and Basel; and care was taken to
refresh by occasional additions the working majority of Italian bishops,
mostly, in comparison with the "ultramontane" prelates, holders of petty sees.
Some of these are even stated to have bound themselves by a sworn engagement
to uphold the interests of the holy see, though by no means all of the Italian
bishops were servile Curialists; witness those of Chioggia and of Fiesole.
The council in its second session (January 7, 1546) waived the form of title
by which previous councils had implicitly declared their representative
authority paramount. On the other hand, it boded well for the cause of reform
that, by an early resolution, virtually all abbots and members of the monastic
orders except five generals were excluded.

Clearly, episcopal interest was resolved upon asserting itself. So long,
however, as the German bishops were detained in their dioceses by the duty of
repressing heresy there, while the great body of the French were kept away by
the vigilant jealousy of their government, the episcopal interest and the
episcopal principle were mainly represented in the council by the Spanish
prelates, the loyal subjects of Charles. Their leader was Pacheco, Cardinal
of Jaen. With him came eminent theological professors, who in the early
period of the council at least were without rivals - Dominico de Soto, whom
Queen Mary afterward placed in Peter Martyr's chair at Oxford, and Bartolomeo
Carranza, afterward primate of all Spain and for many years a prisoner of the
Inquisition. Through the Emperor's ambassador, the accomplished and
indefatigable but not invariably discreet Mendoza, the Spanish bishops were
carefully apprised of the wishes of their sovereign.

The crucial question as to the order in which the council should debate
the two divisions of subjects which it had met to settle had to be decided at
once; and the compromise arrived at showed both the strength of the minority
and the unwillingness of the leaders of the majority, the presiding legates,
to push matters to an extreme. Their instructions from the Pope were to give
the declaration of dogma the preference over the announcement of disciplinary
reforms; for it seemed to him of primary necessity to draw, while there was
time, a clear line of demarcation between the Church and heresy; and for this,
as he correctly judged, the assistance of the council was absolutely
indispensable. The Emperor, on the other hand, was still unwilling to shut
the door completely against the Protestants, while both he and the episcopal
party at the council were eager for that reformation of the life and
government of the Church which seemed to them her most crying need.

Ultimately it was agreed that the declaration of dogma and the
reformation of abuses should be treated pari passu, the decrees formulated in
each case being from time to time announced simultaneously. Taking into
account the subsequent history of the council, one can hardly deny that this
arrangement saved the work of the assembly from being left half done. Nor was
the progress made in the period ending with the eighth session of the council
(March 11, 1547), intrigues and quarrels notwithstanding, by any means
trifling. On the doctrinal side, the foundations of the faith were in the
first instance examined, and the whole character of the doctrinal decrees of
the council was in point of fact determined, when the authority of the
tradition of the Church, including of course the decrees of her ecumenical
councils, was acknowledged by the side of that of Scripture. Little to the
credit of the council's capacity for taking pains, the authenticity of the
Vulgate was proclaimed, a pious wish being added that it should be henceforth
printed as correctly as possible. At first, Pope Paul III hesitated about
giving his assent to these decrees, which had been passed before receiving his
approval, and showed some anxiety to prevent a similar course being taken in
the matter of discipline by publishing a regulatory bull on his own authority.
But on being more fully advised by the legates of the nature of the situation,
he consented to allow the debates to proceed, provided always that the decrees
should be submitted to him before publication.

During the next months (April to June, 1546) the work of the council was
accordingly vigorously continued in both its branches. In that of discipline,
the episcopal and the monastic interests at once came into conflict on the
subject of the license for preaching; and still more excitement was aroused by
the question of episcopal residence, which brought into conflict the highest
purposes of the episcopal office and the selfish profits of the Roman Curia.
The discussions on preaching ended with a reasonable compromise, monks being
henceforth prohibited from preaching without the bishop's license in any
churches but those of their own order. The question of residence was by the
Pope's wish adjourned.

Thus the council, now augmented by Swiss and many other bishops, while
all the chief Catholic powers except Poland were represented by ambassadors,
could venture to approach those questions of dogma which the Emperor would
gladly have seen postponed, so long as he was still pausing on the brink of
his conflict with the German Protestants. The Pope, on the contrary, while
ostentatiously displaying on the frontier the auxiliary forces which he had
promised to the Emperor, was eager to proclaim through the council as
distinctly as possible the solid unity of the orthodox Church. The doctrine
concerning original sin having been promulgated in the teeth of imperial
opposition, the legates pressed for the issue of the decree concerning
justification. In the midst of the debates the Smalkaldic War broke out
(July, 1546).

For a time it seemed as if at Trent, too, the opposing interests would
have proved irreconcilable. Pole, as the justification decree began to shape
itself, had, "for reasons of health," withdrawn to Padua; Madruccio and Del
Monte exchanged personal insults; Pacheco accused the legates of gross
chicanery, and they in their turn threatened a removal of the council to an
Italian city, where, in accordance with what they knew to be the papal wish,
the council might deliberate without being either overawed by the Emperor or
menaced by his Protestant adversaries. Soon, however, the case was altered by
the manifest collapse of the latter, notwithstanding their expectations of
support from England, Denmark, and France, long before their final catastrophe
in the battle of Muhlberg, April 24, 1547. The Emperor would not hear of the
removal of the council to Lucca, Ferrara, or any other Italian town, and in
consequence the plan of campaign at Trent was modified, in order at all events
to make the breach with the Protestants impassable. The debates on
justification were eagerly pushed on, and, after some further trials of
finesse, the decree on the subject which anathematized the fundamental
doctrines of the Lutheran Reformation was passed in the sixth session of the
council, January 13, 1547.

On the other hand, the decree on residence was again postponed, and a
very high tone was taken toward the prelates absent from the council - the
Germans being, of course, those principally glanced at. In the next session
(March 5th) decrees followed asserting the orthodox doctrine of the Church
concerning the sacraments, and baptism and confirmation in particular, and
with these was at last issued the decree concerning residence. It avoided
pronouncing on the view which had been so ardently advocated by the Spanish
bishops and argued by the pen of Archbishop Carranza, that the duty of
residence was imposed by divine law, and it took care to safeguard the
dispensing authority of the Roman see. Yet, though at times evaded or
overridden, the prohibition of pluralism contained in this decree, together
with certain other provisions for the bona-fide execution of bishops'
functions, has indisputably proved most advantageous to the vigor and vitality
of the episcopacy of the Church of Rome.

Paul III's attitude toward the Emperor had meanwhile grown more and more
suspicious. Partly they had become antagonists on the great question of
Church reorganization; partly the Emperor was becoming disposed to thwart the
dynastic policy of the Farnese; partly, again, the Pope now thought himself
able to fall back on the alliance of France. In January Paul III recalled the
auxiliaries and stopped the subsidies which he had furnished to Charles V; and
in March Henry II succeeded to the French throne, whose intrigues with the
German Protestants, though leaving unaffected his fanatical rigor against his
own heretics at home, seemed likely to break the current of imperial success.
Thus at Trent the struggle against the Spanish bishops acquired an intense
significance; and in the eighth session, March 11th, the legates at last made
use of the power intrusted to them, it was said, eighteen months before, and
carried, against the votes of Spain, the removal of the council to Bologna, on
the plea of an outbreak of the plague at Trent. By the Emperor's desire, the
Spanish bishops, plague or no plague, remained in the city.

"The obstinate old man," said Charles, "would end by ruining the Church;"
and sanguine Protestants might dream of a renewal of the situation of
1526-1527. The progress of events widened the breach between the Emperor and
the Pope. After Muhlberg Charles V seemed irresistible, and, as he would hear
of no solution but a return of the council to Trent, there seemed no choice
between submission and defiance. Gradually, however, it became clear that he
had no wish again to drive things to extremes, and least of all to provoke
anything of the nature of a schism. Moreover, France, where the Guises were
now in the ascendant, was becoming more hostile to him; and the murder of the
Pope's son at Piacenza, followed by the occupation of that city by Spanish
troops, September, 1547, nearly brought about the conclusion of a
Franco-Italian league against Charles. But though French bishops arrived at
Bologna, their attitude there was by no means acceptable to the Pope, and
Henry II had no real intention of making war upon the Emperor. Thus the
latter thought himself able to take into his own hands the settlement of the
religious difficulty.

In the midst of further disappointments and of fresh designs, the
immediate purposes of which are not altogether clear, Pope Paul III died,
November 15, 1549. That the most generous of the aspirations which had under
his reign first found full opportunity for asserting themselves had survived
his manoeuvring, was shown by the favorable reception, both outside and inside
the conclave, of the proposal that Reginald Pole should be his successor. But
Pole refused to be elected by the impulsive method of adoration, and in the
end the Farnese ^1 interest, supported by the French, prevailed, and Cardinal
del Monte was chosen.

[Footnote 1: The Farnese were an illustrious Italian family. Alessandro
Farnese was Pope Paul III.]

The papal government of Julius III (1550 to 1555) showed hardly more of
temperate wisdom than had marked his conduct of the presidency at Trent; but
he had the courage at the very outset to decide upon the safest course. After
a few conditions, most of them quite in the spirit of the imperial policy, had
been proposed and accepted, the bull summoning the council to Trent for the
following spring was issued without further ado (November).

Yet even before the council actually reopened, i.e., May 1, 1551, it had
become evident that the papal view of its purposes remained as widely
divergent from the Imperial as in the days of Paul III. The nomination of
Cardinal Crescentio, a Roman by birth, as president of the council, with two
Italian prelates, Pighino of Siponto and Lippomano of Verona, by his side, was
in itself ominous; and the German Protestants, upon whom the Emperor pressed
safe-conducts at Augsburg (1551), perceived the papal intention of treating
the council as a mere continuation of that which had previously sat at Trent.
Still, several of them, as well as the Catholic electors, finally promised to
attend. On the other hand, Henry II of France prohibited the appearance of a
single French prelate, and began to talk of a Gallican council. Thus the
brief series of sessions held at Trent from May, 1551, to April, 1552, proved
in the main, though not altogether, barren of results. Unless the assembled
fathers were prepared to reconsider the decrees already passed, and to force
the assent of the Pope to a religious policy of quite unprecedented breadth,
another deadlock was at hand; and already, in the early months of 1552, the
council, this time with the manifest connivance of Rome, began to thin. When,
in April, Maurice of Saxony, now the ally of France, approached the southern
frontier of the Empire, the Pope, whose own French war had taken a disastrous
turn, had reason enough for shunning further cooperation with the Emperor.
The council dwindled apace in spite of the efforts of Charles V, who had never
ceased to believe in his schemes. Finally, however, he could not prevent the
remnants of the council from passing a decree suspending its sessions for two
years, which was opposed by not more than a dozen loyal Spanish votes, April
28, 1552.

Charles V's resignation of his thrones (1554-1556) resulted, though far
from being so intended, in a confession of his failure. While it was in
progress, Julius III died (March 23, 1555), leaving behind him scant evidence
to support the rumor of his having indulged, at all events in the last period
of his reign, in ideas of church reformation. But the choice of his
successor, Marcellus II (April-May, 1555), shows that these ideas were not yet
extinct in the sacred college, notwithstanding the simultaneous creation by
Julius III of fourteen cardinals; for Cervino had always been reckoned a
member, though a moderate one, of the reforming party. Far greater, however,
was the significance attaching to the election of the Pope who speedily took
the place of Marcellus.

The pontificate of Paul IV (Gian Pietro Caraffa, May, 1555-August, 1559)
forms one of the most remarkable chapters in the history of the
Counter-reformation, which in him seemed under both its aspects to have
secured the mastery of the Church. God's will alone, he was convinced, had
placed him where he stood; for he was unconscious of having achieved anything
through the favor of man. He was now seventy-nine years of age, but he had
never been more eager to devote himself to his chosen purpose - the
establishment in the eyes of all peoples of a pure and spiritually active
church, free from all impediments of corruptions and abuses, and purged of all
poison of heresy and schism.

Fully aware - though he had belonged to it himself - of the virtual
failure of Paul III's commission of reform, Paul IV, in his first bull,
solemnly promised an effectual reform of the Church and the Roman Curia, and
lost no time in instituting a congregation for the purpose. The commission,
which consisted of three divisions, each of them composed jointly of
cardinals, bishops, and doctors, wisely addressed itself in the first instance
to the question of ecclesiastical appointments. The new Pope likewise issued
orders for the specific reform of monastic establishments, and his energy
seemed to stand in striking contrast with the hesitations and delays of the
recently suspended council.

But once more the seductions of the temporal power overcame its holder.
Caraffa's residence in Spain, and enthusiasm for the religious ideals and
methods prevalent there, had not eradicated the bitterly anti-Spanish feeling
inborn in him as a Neapolitan, and Charles V, returning hatred for hatred, had
done his utmost to offend the dignity and damage the interests of the
Cardinal. To these personal and national sentiments had been added the
conviction that the Emperor's dealings with the German Protestants had
encouraged them to deal a deadly blow to the unity and strength of the Church;
and thus Paul IV allowed himself to be borne away by passion. His fiery
temperament, fretted rather than soothed by old age, left him and those around
him no peace; he maltreated the imperialist cardinals and the dependents of
the Emperor within his reach, and sought to instigate the French government to
take up arms once more.

Of a sudden, as if in another gust of passion, he made a clean sweep of
the obstacles which his own perversity had placed in his path, and then took
up in terrible earnest the work of church reform. He would allow no
appointment savoring of corruption to any spiritual office; he would hear of
no exception to the duty of residence; he completely abolished dispensations
for marriages within prohibited degrees. Into the general management of the
churches of the city, as well as into that of his own papal court, he
introduced so strict a discipline that Rome was likened to a well-conducted
monastery. But the agency which above all others he encouraged was that which
his own advice had established in the centre of the Catholic world - the
Inquisition. From the sacred college downward, no sphere of life was exempted
from its control; and his intolerance extended itself to the very Jews whose
privileges in the papal states he ruthlessly revoked. On his death-bed he
recommended the Inquisition with the holy see itself to the pious cardinals
surrounding him. It was afterward observed that many reforms decreed in its
third period by the Council of Trent were copied from the ordinances issued by
Paul IV in this memorable biennium. But inasmuch as during his pontificate
the Church of Rome had lost ground in almost every country of Europe except
Italy and Spain, his death (August 18, 1559) naturally brought with it a
widespread renewal of the demand for remedies more effective than those
supplied by his feverish activity and by the operations of his favorite
institution.

Personally, Pius IV (1559-1566) was regarded, and probably chosen, as an
opponent of the late Pope; his family history inclined him to the Imperial
interest, and he was understood to favor concessions to Germany with a view of
bringing her stray sheep back into the fold. But in general he furthered
rather than arrested the religious reaction. Above all, the Inquisition,
though he is not known to have done anything to intensify its rigor or augment
its authority, went on as before. Carlo Borromeo, ^1 the nephew of Pius IV,
served the holy see in a spirit of unselfish devotion, and began those efforts
on behalf of religion which in the end obtained for him a place among the
saints of the Church - a position not reached by many popes' nephews. With
the aid of this influence, Pius IV came to perceive that the future, both of
the Church and of the papacy, depended on the spirit of confidence and
cohesion which could be infused into the former; nor had he from the very
outset of his pontificate ever doubted the expediency of reassembling the
council at Trent.

[Footnote 1: Count Carlo Borromeo, Italian cardinal, Archbishop of Milan, was
one of the most noted of the ecclesiastical reformers. He was canonized in
1610.]

The emperor Ferdinand and the French Government, who persisted in
treating the reunion of the Church as the primary object of the council, at
first strongly urged the substitution for Trent of a genuinely German or
French town, where the German bishops, and perhaps even the Protestants, would
feel no scruple about attending. But a totally free and new council of this
description lay outside the horizon of the papacy; and Pius IV might have let
fall the plan altogether but for the fear of the entire separation in that
event of the Gallican Church from Rome. In France, Protestantism had made
considerable strides during the reign of Henry II (1547-1559). About six
weeks before the death of Henry the first national synod of Protestants was
held at Paris (May, 1559). Under Francis II the Guise influence became
paramount, and the persecution of the Protestants continued. But though the
suppression, just before this, of the so-called conspiracy of Amboise had
temporarily added to the power of the Guises, it had also made the
Queen-mother, Catherine de' Medici, resolve not to let the power of the state
pass wholly out of her hands. Hence the appointment of the large-hearted
L'Hopital as chancellor, and the assembly of notables at Fontainebleau
(August), where the grievances against Rome found full expression, and where
arrangements were made for a meeting of the States-general and a national
council of the French Church. This resolution determined Pius IV to lose no
further time. On November 29, 1560, he issued a bull summoning all the
prelates and princes of Christendom to Trent for the following Easter. The
invitation included both Eastern schismatics and Western heretics, Elizabeth
of England among the rest; but neither she nor the German Protestant princes
assembled at Naumburg, nor the kings of the Scandinavian North, would so much
as receive the papal summons. In France the death of Francis II (December 5,
1560) further depressed the Guise influence; and Catherine entered into
negotiations with the Pope with a view to concessions such as would satisfy
the Huguenots while approved by the French bishops. The "Edict of January"
(1562), which followed, long remained a sort of standard of fair concessions
to the Huguenots.

The first deliberations of the reassembled council were barren. The
question which really came home to the fathers of the Church assembled at
Trent presented itself again when the sacrament of orders had in due course to
be dabated. The imperial and French ambassadors still cooperated as actively
as ever, and the episcopal party, the Spanish prelates in particular, entered
upon the struggle with a full sense of its critical importance. If the right
divine of episcopacy could be declared, with it would be established the
divine obligation of residence. Pius IV accordingly showed considerable
shrewdness in instructing the legates at once to formulate a decree on
residence, which, while leaving the question of divine obligation open,
imposed penalties on nonresidence - except for lawful reasons - sufficient to
meet practical requirements. But though such a decree was passed by the
council, the debates on the origin of the episcopal office, which involved
nothing less than the origin and nature of the papal supremacy, continued
(November); and the critical nature of the discussion was the more apparent
when in the midst of it there at last arrived nearly a score of French
bishops, headed by the Cardinal of Lorraine. Hitherto France had been
represented at the council by spokesmen of the French court and of the
Parliament of Paris; now the foremost among the prelates of the monarchy,
whose abilities, however, unfortunately fell far short of his pretensions,
announced in full conciliar assembly the demands of his branch of the Church.
The recent January edict proved the strength of the Huguenots in France; and
though the Cardinal's first speech at Trent breathed nothing but condemnation
of these heretics, it suited him to pose as the advocate of as extensive a
series of reforms as had yet been urged upon the council.

Further additions were made in the "libel," which was shortly afterward
(January, 1563) presented by the French ambassador, and perfect harmony
existed between the French and the imperial policy at the council. What
decision, then, was to be expected on the crucial question as to the relations
between papal and episcopal authority? How could a recognition of the Pope's
claim to be regarded as rector universalis ecclesiae be expected from such a
union of the ultramontane forces? The current was not likely to be stopped by
the papal court, which about this time Pius IV announced on his own account at
Rome; it seemed on the point of rising higher than ever when (February, 1563)
the Cardinal of Lorraine and some other prelates waited upon the Emperor at
Innsbruck. In truth, however, a turning-point in the history of the council
was close at hand. The Cardinal of Lorraine had left Trent for Innsbruck with
threats of a Gallican synod on his lips. Ferdinand I had arrived there very
wroth with the council, and had received the Bishop of Zante (Commendone),
whom the legates sent to deprecate his vexation, with marked coolness. The
remedies proposed to the Emperor by the Cardinal were drastic enough; the
council was to be swamped by French, German, and Spanish bishops, and the
Emperor, by repairing to Trent in person, was to awe the assembly into
discussing the desired reforms, whether with or without the approval of the
legates. But Ferdinand I, by nature moderate in action, and taught by the
example of his brother, Charles V, the danger of violent courses, preferred to
resort to a series of direct and by no means tame appeals to the Pope. The
latter, indisposed as he was to support a fresh proposition for the removal of
the council to some German town, urged by France, but resisted by Spain, which
at the same time persistently opposed the concession of the cup demanded by
both France and the Emperor, saw his opportunity for taking his adversaries
singly. The deaths about this time (March, 1563) of the presiding legate,
Cardinal Gonzaga, and of his colleague Cardinal Seripando, both of whom had
occasionally shown themselves inclined to yield to the reforming party, were
likewise in his favor. Their places were filled by Cardinals Morone, formerly
a prisoner indicted by the Inquisition, now an eager champion of papal claims;
and Navagero, a Venetian by birth, but not in his political sentiments.
Morone, though he had left Rome almost despairing of any favorable issue of
the council, at once began to negotiate with the Emperor through the Jesuit
Canisius. The leverage employed may, in addition to the distrust between
Ferdinand and his Spanish nephew, and the ancient jealousy between Austria and
France, have included some reference to the heterodox opinions and the
consequently doubtful prospects of the Emperor's eldest son, Maximilian.

In a word, the papal government about this time formed and carried out a
definite plan for inducing the Emperor to abandon his conciliar policy. The
consideration offered for his assenting to a speedy termination of the council
was the promise that, so soon as that event should have taken place, the
desired concession of the cup should be made to his subjects. Ferdinand I,
without becoming a thoroughgoing partisan of the papal policy, accepted the
bargain as seemingly the shortest road to the end which, for the sake of the
peace of the empire, he had at heart. Thus, notwithstanding the continued
opposition of the French bishops, the decrees concerning the episcopate began
to shape themselves more easily, and the Pope of his own accord submitted to
the council certain canons of a stringent kind reforming in a similar way the
discipline of the cardinalate (June). And when, in the course of a violent
quarrel about precedence between the kings of France and Spain, the latter,
enranged at his demands not being enforced by the Pope, had threatened, by
insisting on the admission of Protestants to the council, indefinitely to
prolong it, the Emperor intervened against the proposal. But the conflict
between the papal and the episcopal authority seemed still incapable of
solution, and, though Lainez audaciously demanded the reference of all
questions of reform to the sole decision of the Pope, and denounced the
opposition of the French bishops as proceeding from members of a schismatic
church, this opposition steadily continued in conjunction with that of the
Spaniards, and still found a leader in the Cardinal of Lorraine.

Yet at this very time a change began to be perceptible in the conduct of
this versatile and ambitious prelate. The Cardinal was supposed to have
himself aspired to the office of presiding legate, and, though he had missed
this place of honor and power, the condition of things in France was such as
naturally to incline him in the direction of Rome. The assassination of his
brother Francis, Duke of Guise (February, 1563), deprived his family and
interest of their natural chief, and inclined Catherine de' Medici to transact
with the Huguenots. The Cardinal accordingly became anxious at the same time
to return to France and prevent the total eclipse of the influence he had
hitherto exercised at court, and to secure himself by an understanding with
the Pope.

A letter which about this time arrived from Mary, Queen of Scots,
declaring her readiness to submit to the decrees of the council, and, should
she ascend the throne of England, to reduce that country to obedience to the
holy see, may perhaps be connected with these overtures. Pius IV, delighted
to meet the Cardinal half way, sent instructions in this sense to the legates,
whom the recent display of Spanish arrogance had already disposed favorably
toward France. Thus the decree on the sacrament of orders was passed in the
colorless condition desired by the papal party, in a session held on July
15th, the Spanish bishops angrily declaring themselves betrayed by the French
Cardinal. Other decrees were passed in this memorable session, among them one
of substantial importance for the establishment of diocesan seminaries for
priests. Clearly, the council had now become tractable and might speedily be
brought to an end. In this sense the Pope addressed urgent letters to the
three great Catholic monarchs, and found willing listeners except in Spain.

Meanwhile the remaining decrees, both of doctrine and of discipline, were
eagerly pushed on. The sacrament of marriage gave rise to much discussion;
but the proposal that the marriage of priests should be permitted, though
formerly included in both the imperial and the French libel was now advocated
only by the two prelates who spoke directly in the name of the Emperor. But
in the decree proposed on the all-important subject of the reformation of the
life and morals of the clergy, the legates presumed too far on the yielding
mood of the governments. It not only contained many admirable reforms as to
the conditions under which spiritual offices, from the cardinalate downward,
were to be held or conferred, but the papacy had wisely and generously
surrendered many existing usages profitable to itself. At the same time,
however, it was proposed not only to deprive the royal authority in the
several states of a series of analogous profits, but to take away from it the
nomination of bishops and the right of citing ecclesiastics before a secular
tribunal. To the protest which th ambassador of the powers inevitably raised
against these proposals, the legates replied by raising a cry that the
"reformation of the princes" shoul be comprehended in the decrees. It became
necessary to postpone the objectionable article; but now the fears of the
supporters of the existing system began to be excited, both at Rome and at
Trent, and it was contrived to introduce so many modifications into the
proposed decree as seriously to impair its value. Then, though the Cardinal
of Lorraine himself, during visit to Rome (September), showed his readiness to
support the papal policy, the French ambassadors at the council carried their
opposition to its encroachments upon the claims of their sovereign so far as
to withdraw to Venice. And above all, the Spanish bishops, upheld by the
persistency of their King, stood firmly by the original form of the
reformation decree, and finally obtained its restoration to a very
considerable extent. Thus the greater portion of the decree was at last
passed in the penultimate session of the council (November 11th).

With the exception of Spain, all the powers now made known their consent
to winding up the business of the council without further loss of time. But
Count Luna still immovably resisted the closing of the council before the
express assent of King Philip should have been received; nor was it till the
news - authentic or not - arrived of a serious illness having befallen the
Pope that the fear of the complications which might arise in the event of his
death put an end to further delay.

Summoned in all haste, the fathers met on December 3d for their
five-and-twentieth session, and on this and the following day rapidly
discussed a series of decrees, some of which were by no means devoid of
intrinsic importance. In the doctrinal decrees concerning purgatory and
indulgences, as in those concerning the invocation of saints and the respect
due to their relics and images, it was sought to preclude a reckless
exaggeration or distortion of the doctrines of the Church on these heads, and
a corrupt perversion of the usages connected with them.

Of the disciplinary decrees, the most important and elaborate related to
the religious of both sexes. It contained a clause, inserted on the motion of
Lainez, which the Jesuits afterward interpreted as generally exempting their
society from the operation of this decree. Another decree enjoined sobriety
and moderation in the use of the ecclesiastical penalty of excommunication.
For the rest, all possible expedition was used in gathering up the threads of
the work done or attempted by the council. The determination of the Index, as
well as the revision of missal, breviary, ritual, and catechism, was remitted
to the Pope. Then the decrees debated in the last session and at its
adjourned meeting were adopted, being subscribed by 234 (or 255?)
ecclesiastics; and the decrees passed in the sessions of the council before
its reassembling under Pope Pius IV were read over again, and thus its
continuity (1545-1563) was established without any use being made of the terms
"approbation" and "confirmation." A decree followed, composed by the Cardinal
of Lorraine and Cardinal Madruccio, solemnly commending the ordinances of the
council to the Church and to the princes of Christendom, and remitting any
difficulties concerning the execution of the decrees to the Pope, who would
provide for it either by summoning another general council or as he might
determine. A concluding decree put an end to the council itself, which closed
with a kind of general thanks-giving intoned by the Cardinal of Lorraine.

The decrees of the council were shortly afterward (January 26, 1564)
ratified by Pius IV, against the wish of the more determined Curialists, while
others would have wished him to guard himself by certain restrictions. These
were, however, unnecessary, as he reserved to himself the interpretation of
doubtful or disputed decrees. This reservation remained absolute as to
decrees concerning dogma; for the interpretation of those concerning
discipline, Sixtus V afterward appointed a special commission under the name
of the "congregation of the Council of Trent." While the former became ipso
facto binding on the entire Church, the decrees on discipline and reformation
could not become valid in any particular state till after they had been
published in it with the consent of its government. This distinction is of the
greatest importance. The doctrinal system of the Church of Rome was now
enduringly fixed; the area which the Church had lost she could henceforth only
recover if she reconquered it.

Many attempts at reunion by compromise have since been made from the
Protestant side, and some of these have perhaps been met half way by the
generous wishes of not a few Catholics; but the Council of Trent has doomed
all these projects to inevitable sterility. The gain of the Church of Rome
from her acquisition at Trent of a clearly and sharply defined "body of
doctrine" is not open to dispute, except from a point of view which her
doctors have steadily repudiated. And it is difficult to suppose but that, in
her conflict with the spirit of criticism which from the first in some measure
animated the Protestant Reformation and afterward urged it far beyond its
original scope, the Church of Rome must have proved an unequal combatant had
not the Council of Trent renewed the foundations of the authority claimed by
herself and of that claimed by her head on earth.

The effect of the disciplinary decrees of the council, though more
far-reaching and enduring than has been on all sides acknowledged, was
necessarily in the first instance dependent on the reception given to them by
the several Catholic powers. The representatives of the Emperor at once signed
the whole of the decrees of the council, though only on behalf of his
hereditary dominions; and he had his promised reward when, a few months
afterward (April), the German bishops were, under certain restrictions,
empowered to accord the cup in the eucharist to the laity. But neither the
Empire through its diet, nor Hungary, ever accepted the Tridentine decrees,
though several of the Catholic estates of the Empire, both spiritual and
temporal, individually accepted them with modifications. The example of
Ferdinand was followed by several other powers; but in Poland the diet, to
which the decrees were twice (1564 and 1578) presented as having been accepted
by King Sigismund Augustus, refused to accord its own acceptance, maintaining
that the Polish Church, as such, had never been represented at the council.

In Portugal and in the Swiss Catholic cantons the decrees were received
without hesitation, as also by the Seigniory of Venice, whose representatives
at Trent had rarely departed from an attitude of studied moderation, and who
now merely safeguarded the rights of the republic. True to the part recently
played by him, the Cardinal of Lorraine, on his own responsibility, subscribed
to the decrees in the name of the King of France. But the Parliament of Paris
was on the alert, and on his return home the Cardinal had to withdraw in
disgrace to Rheims. Neither the doctrinal decrees of the council nor the
disciplinary, which in part clashed with the customs of the kingdom and the
privileges of the Gallican Church, were ever published in France. The
ambassador of Spain, whose King and prelates had so consistently held out
against the closing of the council, refused his signature till he had received
express instructions. Yet as it was Spain which had hoped and toiled for the
achievement at the council of solid results, so it was here that the decrees
fell on the most grateful soil, when, after considerable deliberation and
delay, their publication at last took place, accompanied by stringent
safeguards as to the rights of the King and the usages of his subjects (1565).
The same course was adopted in the Italian and Flemish dependencies of the
Spanish monarchy.

The disciplinary decrees of the council, on the whole, fell short in
completeness of the doctrinal. But while they consistently maintained the
papal authority and confirmed its formal pretensions, the episcopal authority,
too, was strengthened by them, not only as against the monastic orders, but in
its own moral foundations. More than this, the whole priesthood, from the
Pope downward, benefited by the warnings that had been administered, by the
sacrifices that had been made, and by the reforms that had been agreed upon.
The Church became more united, less worldly, and more dependent on herself.
These results outlasted the movement known as the Counter-reformation, and
should be ignored by no candid mind.
 

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