The Council of Trent

The Council of Trent was instituted to propagate Catholicism in the face of the Protestant uprising and reformation during the 16th century. Council meetings were held at Trent for the period, 1545-1563. This ecumenical council is hailed for its efforts towards achieving Counter-Reformation. The council fully justified the teachings of Catholicism and Protestant opposition was dismissed and termed heretic. Protestants disputed several core aspects of Catholicism and these mainly included sacraments, pilgrimages, saints, mass celebration, original sin as well as the church’s scripture interpretation. The significance of these practices was well elaborated in the decrees issued by the council. The Jesuits also played part in the reformation but the council Trent played the major role. Basically, the council of Trent helped in producing a clear Catholic doctrine that marked the church’s distinction from Protestantism.

The popes sent their representatives to follow the council proceedings. These representatives ensured that council decisions always reflected papacy interest and they were also supposed to be in line with the ideals of Catholicism. The council also intended to examine pro-protestant policy and reform in an attempt to attract Protestants back to the church.

In the mid-1500s, the council of Trent was very successful in discussing matters that would counter the Lutheran protestant reformation

Moreover the council discussed the church’s disciplinary changes, how to define the term dogma, and means of establishing the main standards of Roman Catholicism. Actually, the rising difficulties of the matters at stake grew so huge that it took almost twenty years, with five popes, for the council to really convene.

During the council of Trent, the scripture and church tradition were regarded as the cornerstone upon which the Roman Catholic Church is based and derives identity. Another important achievement by the Council of Trent was the dumping of the salvation by grace so as to favor the “sacramental” and “works” virtue. According to the council, seven sacraments were founded by Christ and they include baptism, confirmation, Holy Communion, repentance or penance, anointing with oil (unction), orders and marriage. The council was so much against anybody who said that sacraments were not essential for salvation. The sacraments were essential components of sanctification and greatly aided in the spiritual connection with the blessed Trinity. Moreover, the council really emphasized the virtue of “works” as a means of fulfilling their divine purpose on earth

At the council of Trent, the belief in transubstantiation was verified and indeed bread and wine given during the Eucharist (Holy Communion) is transformed to the real body and blood of Christ. Furthermore, the council stressed that man can never be able to save his life but can begin a new life through baptism. This was in accordance to Christ’s directive of repentance when he instructed that people needed to be “born again” via baptism. Baptism offers man redemption from the original sin.

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The aim of the Council of Trent was to strengthen papacy and that is why the associates involved themselves in managing, organizing as well as controlling the participants. The council made sure that it only involved agreeable bishops who underwent a vetting process that was conducted by the pope. The pope was also involved in controlling the discussions that were made in the council as well as outlining the agenda’s content. In the council, there were several groups that discussed different things.

The council was so much determined to make several changes by keeping the idea of salvation

Also, the Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible was maintained and made acceptable. They also proposed that every diocese had to have a seminary that would cater for any accusations of the priests who were not well educated. They dealt with disciplinary matters by punishing the corrupt and incompetent people.

At the council, the main aim was to fight Protestantism and change the discipline of the church. It dealt well with organized doctrinal revolutions of the improvers together with those gross abuses that helped them in getting a chance to set in. The key strict decisions discussed by the council included verification of the Nicene Creed. Besides, the council also discussed the Latin’s vulgate validity as well the canonicity of its books. Additionally, they discussed the doctrine used when defining the original sin. Other dogmatic decisions were: the exactness of the principle of justification, rebuking justification by trust alone and accusation by grace; the conviction of the thirty errors that are about the sacraments; the exactness of the sacraments principle on penance. In addition, the Holy Communion is not essential for lay people and clerics who are not celebrating Christ as their savior. During the council’s meetings, Protestant privileges were declined and instead a lot of effort was directed towards the Catholic doctrine which was newly formulated and organized. The council clearly opposed Protestantism by reasserting the sacraments, the need for priesthood and purgatory.

One of the main actors of the council of Tenet was Pope Paul III because the council was instituted under his papacy. He did this under great pressure from Charles V so that they could handle various issues that were being raised by the Protestant reformers. The Roman Catholics consider the council as the 19th ecumenical council. Charles V was so much determined to reunify the church as well as to resolve all outstanding reformation controversies. Pope Pius IV reassembled the council until its adjournment in 1563 when it closed with a sequence of ceremonial applauses. All participants were honored this included the reigning pope, popes who were involved in convoking the council, bishops, papal legates, the emperor as well as the kings who backed the council.

Martin Luther and Zwingli were not ready for internal renewal and thus decided to break away from the Catholic Church

They formed their own churches and this marked the beginning of Protestant Reformation. The protestant reformation changed so many things including faith principles and the sacraments that were instituted by Christ. This made the pope to protect people from Protestantism by calling the Council of Trent. He made sure that it consisted of people such as the cardinals, bishops and heads from religious orders. Their aim was not only to protect the church from Protestantism but also to bring about the right kind of reforms that were required by the church. There are so many saints who engaged themselves in the Counter-Reformation by safeguarding the deposit of faith. Some of the saints were actively involved in the council of Trent while others engaged themselves in applying the decrees that were put forward by the council after it fulfilled its purpose.

One of the major saints involved in the council of Trent was St. Robert Francis Bellarmine. He was a teacher as well as a priest. He wore several caps as he was also the theologian, cardinal, church doctor and spiritual mentor to five popes. He was very faithful and always defended the papacy. He played a major role in the renewal of the church as well as protecting the church from the reformation that was being made by the Protestants. Besides, Robert was the chairman of controversies and thus was always called to settle down disputes that occurred between religious groups. He later became the archbishop of Capua and continued with his ministry of defending the papacy as he continued to serve as a religious mediator.

Saint Charles Borromeo, Pope Pius IV’s nephew, was another main actor in the council. He was appointed as the cardinal and administrator in Rome. He was a very young cardinal who put a lot of effort in writing many letters as well as sending papal nuncios in the whole of Europe with the aim of assembling all the bishops and cardinals back to Italy so that they could re-open the council of Trent. The council was supposed to be opened by Pope Paul III. The council opposed the protestant reformation and it went ahead to fully uphold the sacraments, purgatory and salvation.

Charles was known as the key person of the council of Trent despite his permanent residence in Rome. He did not influence the Trent directly but through the personal persuasion of key stakeholders (bishops and cardinals) whom he constantly wrote to. Besides, he wrote very many personal and official letters after the reopening of the Council of Trent. Before the council closed in 1563, Charles had been ordained as a priest and bishop. He set the pace as a role model and he began to put the council’s decrees into action. He spent most of his time praying and getting spiritual directions from his Jesuit friends. Those who controlled the council of Trent were equal to their difficult task and included the legates such as Paceco of Jaen, Campeggio of Feltre etc.

The Council of Trent led to the creation of the modern Catholic Church through various reformations. To start with, all the liturgical practices were dismissed as superstitious and worship was no longer to be done in Latin only. Rather, it was supposed to be conducted in vernacular languages. This was done so that some of the liturgical texts were explained in vernacular during the holy day.

Polyphonic music was allowed along with the traditional chant but tropes were banned completely

The structure of the mass did not change much. Minor reforms were made at the beginning and the end of the mass where the medieval accretions were incorporated into the liturgy. Additionally, dispositional sacristy prayers that were formerly for the clergy became the prayers to be conducted at the beginning of the mass at the altar.

The Council of Trent decided that the tabernacle should be placed in the high altars at the center position and also used to reserve the Eucharist. Importantly, the word tabernacle was used to represent the Blessed Sacrament. Basically, putting the tabernacle at a fixed position on the high altar indicated a liturgical reform that was executed after the council of Trent. This was done by Charles Borromeo who was so much determined to renew the life of the Catholic Church.

The Council of Trent gave precise theological indications that were supposed to be followed when constructing new churches as well as those that already existed. The Council used the word sacrarium to represent the new purpose of the altar tabernacle. This is in contrast to its usage during the medieval times when it was simply any place that was used to reserve the Eucharist. The council also encouraged reforms by stressing the responsibilities of the bishops in carrying out ecclesiastical changes and instructed the publication of new versions liturgical books; this was done by subsequent popes in the years that followed. This led to the normalization of the liturgical life, which made the idea of reserving the Eucharist in the high alter spread to all the Catholic churches.

Barromeo, the reforming bishop, applied the tridentate decrees in the Milan archdiocese using perfect assiduousness. Catechism mentions the council of Trent seventy-five times in a positive and authoritative manner. Surprisingly, some of the paragraphs mention it even twice. For instance, the ninth paragraph of catechism states that the Council of Trent became the origin of Catholic catechisms. The Council reformed the Catholic Church by revoking all protestant doctrines. Moreover, Protestants were cursed and condemned to the damnation of hell. Most noteworthy, the Council fully elaborated Catholic doctrines and put a surety that any person who went against them was anathema. The Council clearly reformed the pope’s authority, tolerance practices, adoration of the saints and Mary as well as the use of statues.

The word anathema was used to mean cursed and devoted to damage

In essence, if the Roman Catholic Church anathematizes somebody, then it means that the person is convicted to hell.

The Council of Trent has been used by certain groups in our own time to reject the teachings of the second Vatican council. To start with, the second Vatican council states that the main work of ecumenism is to bring back the non-Catholics to the Catholic Church. The council of Trent rejects this idea of the second Vatican council because it anathematizes any Christian who is against the Catholic doctrine. The second Vatican council says that ecumenical activity cannot occur due to the change in the features of the Catholic faith. Moreover, it emphasizes that “the unity, we believe dwells in the Catholic church”. The “unity” means that all every person will eventually become a Catholic. The Trent disagrees with the above statements made in the second Vatican council since the Catholic doctrines are clearly defined and meant solely for willing Catholics.

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There are several traditionalist groups who oppose the second Vatican council together with subsequent reforms. These groups refer to those who have accepted these changes as the “Conciliar church’; those members who are no longer Catholics but the loyal remnant. The traditionalist groups support the council of Trent instead of the second Vatican council because it used some of the traditional Catholic doctrines. This is the main reason why those groups that oppose the second Vatican council gravitate to the council of Trent. Besides, the traditionalists know very well that the ecumenical councils spoke with authority each and every time. So, they try to explain the pastoral nature of Vatican II saying by asserting that it is not a doctrinal council. Additionally, they argue that pastoral council is capable of teaching the wrong things and thus does not need approval. Indeed, such a distinction does not exist at all because a pastoral council, as it was called by pope XXIII, meant just an approach.

The traditionalists propose the council of Trent’s style whereby the anathemas were put against heresies. They get attracted to the Trent than the Vatican II because they find the kind words used by the Vatican contradicting with the work done by the Trent. Simply, this is not so because Trent was assembled to deal with attacks on faith by earlier Catholics or heretics, therefore, making the anathemas to be part of their work. In addition to that, Vatican II was involved in other things such as preaching the message of Christ to the whole world and thus was engaged in the pastoral approach. To make it worse, the traditionalists support their arguments by using fake quotations that are not in the council’s context. For instance this quote concerning the “lumen gentium’ says that “but the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the creator, in the place among these are the Muslims, who. Professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God who on the last day will judge mankind.”

The traditionalists believe that any idea by the Vatican II is an error. They accuse them by saying the following, “ask any Muslim if he adores Jesus as God. He does not and therefore he denies the one true God. Therefore Vatican II is in error when it equates Islam with Catholicism. Jesus established one church and it has no equal.”

Moreover the traditionalists believe that even those who do not go to church will still get to heaven. “Those who through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do His will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience – those too may achieve eternal salvation.”

Another group that rejected the second Vatican council was known as sedevacantists. It knew that Catholics were supposed to obey the pope but since the council the group was just at loggerheads with the pope. They tried to solve this confusion by saying that there has never been a pope since 1958 just because they were disagreeing with every pope. The group made a mistake because heresy is not established by failing to agree with someone’s interpretation of the documents found in the church. According to them pope Pius XII, the last true pope, talked of his apostolic constitution and he later wrote that “none of the cardinals may in any way, or by pretext or reason of any excommunication, suspension, or interdict whatsoever, or of any other ecclesiastical impediment, be excluded from the active and passive election of the supreme pontiff. We hereby suspend such censures solely for the purpose of the said election; at other times they are to remain in vigor”.

Passive election, according to these groups that rejected Vatican II, refers to electing the cardinal as pope

Heresy should be an internal nature or personality that should not be influenced by outward appearance. Besides, they argue that if becoming a heretic would disapprove a papal election, then a pope would not be known if he were a heretic and no one would know if a pope existed. Some of the traditionalists believe that only the Catholics that are going to be saved. Besides, Christ died only for a number of selected people. Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre is a traditionalist who appoints his own bishops. This was not supported by Pope Pius XII who excommunicated all those who were involved. The second Vatican council was a great event in the twentieth century and significantly, it led to the division of one type of Catholicism with another. In spite of the efforts the council made in changing the Catholics to become more honest, dialogical, responsible and human there are still many groups that rejected it. Change has not been very common in the Catholic Church and that is why the council condemned the theologians as well as philosophers for their disagreement against ecclesiastical orthodoxy.

Something very disturbing happened to damage the spirit of Vatican II. Some of the reasons why it was rejected by some of the groups are because the extreme happiness that followed the council ended up in two encyclicals: sacerdotalis celibatus, which encouraged the continuation of compulsory clerical celibacy: and Humanae vitae that justified the condemnation of controlling birth artificially. This led to the loss of credibility in the Catholic Church due to many Christians suffering from depression and anxiety making majority of them to leave the church due to the condition of their church.

The council has made clergy and many religious workers to leave the church because they feel that the kind of church system have affected them psychologically since they have refused to make reforms in the law that deals with compulsory clerical celibacy. They feel that the priests should be given the freedom to marry. Pope John XXIII offered great hope to the Catholics on reforms and renewal of the church. Catholicism did not support change at all and when Pope John assembled the second Vatican council, he knew that most of the church councils have been followed in great confusion and Vatican II was not an exception. From the onset, there are some forces in the Catholic Church that opposed the pope’s reformist agenda. His aim was to transform the Catholic Church into a modern world church. This really offended the Roman Curia as well as some of the Italian cardinals who had elected him as a transitional pope.

There were more than ten documents that were written by theologians and the bishops to reform Catholicism in the second Vatican council. This has resulted to a great turmoil within the church. The Catholic clergy who were determined to implement the Vatican II have been put on the defensive by those Catholics who rejected the reforms made in the council. Majority of the grass root Catholics feel so much depressed due to the church’s agreement to do away with Vatican II; a coup that most of the Catholics who value reform feel hard to stop. The Catholics who do not support change use the council of Trent to reject the ideas put down in the Vatican II council. Pope John XXVII tried to reform the Vatican II council. He needed the change in the Catholicism “from a religion of coercion to a religion of freedom, from fear to love, from triumphalism to humanism, from authoritarianism to democracy, from ritualism to service, from dogmatism to openness, and from brutal discipline to compassion and mercy.”

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The traditionalist papacy of John Paul II has made the Catholics reject the reforms made in the Vatican II by pope XXIII

Since John Paul II was elected, he led a counter-reformation to retain orthodoxy as well as the authority within the Catholic Church. Besides, he uses the council of Trent to support his orthodoxy and authority in the church as it has been opposed by the Vatican II council. Therefore, the Council of Trent has been used to reject the idea of democracy which has been stated in the reforms agenda by Pope John XXIII. Moreover, Pope John does not support the theological and spiritual freedom that has been encouraged in the Vatican II. He still uses the council of Trent to support his ideas in opposing the spiritual freedom and thus gets the right to reject the Vatican II council.

The polish pope tried to overthrow the Vatican II using various approaches. He went ahead to reemphasize the different methods of torturing psychologically; such abusive methods had been convicted earlier by the Vatican II. Furthermore, “The pope has personally silenced certain Vatican II theologians and stripped them of their academic credentials to teach theology in Catholic universities. He has also authorized the firing, without warning or due process of religious educators who implemented Vatican II.” He supports his actions firmly by using the council of Trent which does not support most of the teachings found in the Vatican II council.

John Paul II ensured that there are no books that are published with teachings that criticize the Catholic Church. Besides, he also ordered the clergy and bishops to take an oath of obedience. He does not show openness or flexibility as it has been proposed in the Vatican II. Therefore, he openly rejects the Vatican II council. John Paul II has also made sure that the central position of authority consists of theological hardliners who make sure that the policies he put forward are implemented completely. He also ensures that the council of Trent is used to base some of his arguments against the Vatican II council. He has encouraged repression of human freedom as well as theology contained in the Vatican II.

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Examples of other people who rejected Vatican II included Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal John O’Connor, Archbishop Agostini Cacciavillan and Mother Angelica etc.”Mother Angelica represents a polemical defense of post-Reformation Catholic orthodoxy that vehemently rejects the historical, biblical, theological, and pastoral developments of Catholicism. Mother Angelica condemns Vatican II as evil and blames liberal theologians for causing most of the trouble within the church.” However, the Vatican II proved to have changed Catholicism from a “clerical” church to a church that belongs to the people. The church was no longer regarded as monolithic because some of the Catholics became more independent and they were free to make their own decisions.

In the era of John Paul II, the Vatican II Catholics feel alienated from the church because he totally rejects their doctrines. They find John Paul II being conservative because he does not accept change in any way. Basically, the second Vatican council was made to destroy the earlier hierarchical military structures that were found in the Catholic Church so that power would go back to the people so as to have democracy and freedom in the church. The council of Trent was used to reject this idea and the whole Vatican II council as well. Most of the Catholics were so much gravitated to the council of Trent and thus used it to oppose the ideas found in the second Vatican council. The council supports the hierarchical structure in the church and does not propose freedom or democracy in the church. However, “traditionalists view Vatican II as a “failed experiment” against a 2,000-year tradition of Catholic orthodoxy. The pope himself sees Vatican II as a “fad” resulting from original sin.”

Pope John XXIII considered the Catholic Church to be a place of love but not a pyramid of power. He supported papacy since to him it resembled unity instead of authoritarian dictatorship. He told the Catholics to think on their own and preached the advantages that were associated with the Vatican II. His efforts were fruitless since the Catholic Church is never ready for reform. It uses the council of Trent to reject the reforms proposed in the Vatican II documents. Most of the Catholics get attracted to Trent’s teachings that are somehow against the Vatican II because they do not support the idea of freedom of the clergy and democracy in the church. Catholics believe in celibacy as it has been stated in the council of Trent and opposes the idea of marriage in the Vatican II. Therefore, the Vatican II will always be rejected by majority of them since it goes against the catholic doctrines.

However, reform might be necessary in the Catholic Church as it has been stated in the Vatican II council because catholic leadership as well as priesthood is decaying as years pass. The church has become a place for politics and there is no credibility in the church. More so, there have been many sex scandals among the clergy such as child abuse that has cost the church so much money in law suits. The power has been abused thus leading to low trust and dislike of the Catholic Church. On the other hand, there are some Catholics who would not support a religion that is full of freedom and justice. Orthodox Catholicism does not call for intellectual or moral transformation for the members of the church but, rather, simple obedience and following the rules of ecclesiastical institution. According to John Paul II, most of the Catholics would not support the reforms made in the second Vatican council and therefore would stick to the traditional Catholicism that stresses the idea of authority and obedience instead of a lot of freedom.

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