Today’s installment concludes The Council of Trent and the Counter-Reformation,
our selection by Adolphus W. Ward.
If you have journeyed through all of the installments of this series, just one more to go and you will have completed a selection from the great works of seven thousand words. Congratulations!
Previously in The Council of Trent and the Counter-Reformation.
Place: Trento, Italy
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 thanksgiving 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.
This ends our series of passages on The Council of Trent and the Counter-Reformation by Adolphus W. Ward. This blog features short and lengthy pieces on all aspects of our shared past. Here are selections from the great historians who may be forgotten (and whose work have fallen into public domain) as well as links to the most up-to-date developments in the field of history and of course, original material from yours truly, Jack Le Moine. – A little bit of everything historical is here.
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