Meanwhile the remaining decrees, both of doctrine and of discipline, were eagerly pushed on.
Continuing The Council of Trent and the Counter-Reformation,
our selection by Adolphus W. Ward. The selection is presented in seven easy 5 minute installments.
Previously in The Council of Trent and the Counter-Reformation.
Place: Trento, Italy
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 the ambassadors of the powers inevitably raised against these proposals, the legates replied by raising a cry that the “reformation of the princes” should 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 a 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.”
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