Trent, Council of

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.
Save to active project

Trent, Council of

Council of Trent, 1545–47, 1551–52, 1562–63, 19th ecumenical council of the Roman Catholic Church, convoked to meet the crisis of the Protestant Reformation. Earlier efforts at reforming the church had already produced the Fifth Lateran Council (1512–17), but it had proved ineffectual. The rise of Lutheranism brought forth a church-wide reaction that was strongly anti-Lutheran. It hoped for a new council, and when Paul III was elected pope in 1534 such a council seemed assured (see Counter Reformation). The obstacles, however, took 10 years to overcome, for now that a known reformer was pope, those opposing reform were not eager for a meeting.

The Meetings of the Council

The Protestants at first stipulated that it be held in Germany, while the pope insisted on an Italian venue. Mantua was chosen, but its duke refused; then Venice prevented a meeting at Vicenza. Finally Trent, an imperial city, almost in Italy, was selected as a compromise between the papal party and that of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. There was an abortive start in 1542.

In 1544 the pope convened the council definitively. There were no Protestant delegates. The work of the council embraced dogmatic definition and correction of abuses, and it was so planned that discussion of doctrine and of reforms of practices could be carried on at the same time. The 10 years of delay bore good fruit, for the reformers arrived at the council intensively prepared in every question likely to be studied. The chief functions of the council were occasional solemn one-day sessions (25 in all, of which 10 dealt with formalities only) for the purpose of making the final decisions and declarations; the hard work of the council was done at informal, sometimes private, meetings. The council met at first in three great committees, later as a whole.

As with every ecumenical council since antiquity, the presence of the pope or his legates was required, and at Trent they drew up the agenda. The sessions of the council fell into three periods: 1–10 (1545–47), under Paul III; 11–16 (1551–52), under Julius III; and 17–25 (1562–63), under Pius IV. The two great interruptions were chiefly occasioned, first, by an impasse over the place of meeting after most of the bishops had left Trent for fear of the plague (1547), and, second, by the lack of interest of Paul IV (1555–59). Furthermore, the swiftly changing events of German politics often made delays seem wise. The numbers attending the council varied; in the first group of sessions there were less than 200, in the second group somewhat less, and in the third considerably more.

The Work of the Council

The work of the council was confirmed by Pius IV (in the papal bull Benedictus Deus, 1564), and its most important prescription, the issuance of an explicit account of the beliefs of the church, was fulfilled by the publication (1566) of the Catechism of the Council of Trent, or Roman Catechism (which, in fact, was not catechetical but descriptive in form). The dogmatic definitions and the reform decrees of the first group of sessions treated the Scriptures (canon, text, interpretation, and function), original sin, justification, the sacraments in general, baptism, and confirmation; and also the regulation of education, preaching, and alms collecting and the duties and obligations of bishops and beneficiaries. The canons on justification (6th session), the product of seven months of discussion, are among the chief work of the council.

The second period of the council was notable for the work of the Jesuits, especially Diego Lainez. The subjects treated were the Eucharist, penance, extreme unction, episcopal jurisdiction and office, clerical discipline, and benefices. The third period was dominated by St. Charles Borromeo; its definitions and regulations covered communion in both kinds, the Mass, the sacraments of orders and matrimony, the veneration and invocation of the saints, the cult of relics and images, the list of forbidden books, the priesthood in all its phases, ecclesiastical foundations, education, marriage, religious orders, feasts and fasts, and the service books of the church.

Influence

The doctrinal canons of the Council of Trent cover most of the controverted points in Roman Catholic dogma, and the definitions are so clear and lucid that the language of the council is often quoted in definitions. The reform measures of the council were tremendously far-reaching and their enforcement was probably the most thoroughgoing reform in the history of the church. The Counter Reformation afterward was to a great extent occupied with carrying out the principles and requirements laid down at Trent. The modern Roman Catholic Church can be understood only in the light of the work of the Council of Trent.

Bibliography

The most complete history is found in Ludwig Pastor's history of the popes; there is an English translation of the dogmatic canons and decrees and of the Roman Catechism, which includes much from the conciliar canons. See also H. Jedin, History of the Council of Trent (2 vol., tr. 1957–61); study by J. A. Froude (1896, repr. 1969); J. W. O'Malley, Trent: What Happened at the Council (2012).

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Trent, Council of
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?