Full Text for Church History 2- Volume 53 - Paul III and the Council of Trent (Video)

File 53. >> Please return, if you will, to the subject of Paul III. I'm intrigued by his efforts at reform. What was so important about his calling a church council? >> Joshua, a church council put onto the agenda of the Catholic church three important items for early modern Catholicism. One was a theological or doctrinal response to the various attacks of the Protestants, giving a definitive answer as to what the Catholic church would teach about the various issues that Protestantism had raised. So doctrinal definition was something that a church council could do, and that this one did. They also addressed the corruptions within the church of the sort that we've talked about before, and they passed a number of reform decrees. Kind of new legislation indicating what was expected, especially from the clergy and the hierarchy of the church. And finally, they also took some measures which they thought would help to suppress heresy, to keep the Protestant ideas from spreading into the Catholic population. So a church council was very important. As we indicated earlier, Paul III had made some effort to summon a church council as early as 1537, but for a variety of reasons most of them political a church council did not finally meet until 1545 in the city of Trent. Now, this church council did not actually complete its work until 1563, so we have a period of about 18 years in which the Council of Trent was in existence. But it was not always in session. In fact, most of the time it wasn't in session. We have really just three periods of time in those 18 years when the council actually met: From 1545 to 1547; to 1551 to 1552; and then 1562 to 1563. Those are the three periods of time in which the Council of Trent was actually in session. It's also true that the people who attended and the breadth of attendance at the council varied a great deal. At some points in its history, there are just a handful of bishops and theologians who were present. At other times for example, at the very end of the council there were a couple of hundred bishops and many theologians who were in attendance. So it kind of varies from period to period, from time to time, who's actually there and how many people there are and how representative it is of the Catholic church. But, at any rate, it did tackle both the doctrinal issues and the issue of abuses, and came up with doctrinal definitions and canons or rules regarding what was expected of the clergy and life in the church. And they kind of did this along parallel tracks. First, they deal with the doctrine and then they deal with the corruption, the doctrine of corruption, and so forth, through the various sessions in which the council was meeting. When they were done in 1563, they had given the Catholic answer to all of the attacks upon their doctrine that the Protestants had raised. So, for example, early in the history of the council, they passed decrees dealing with the scriptures, and unlike the Protestants who had said, "We hold to the Bible and the Bible alone as the authority for Christian doctrine, Christian life," the Council of Trent said, "No. We have two sources of doctrine in our church. We have the scriptures, yes; but we also have tradition." And so you have the church defining, for the first time, a kind of two source two sources of doctrine and practice, scripture and tradition. Also, regarding scripture, it was the Council of Trent that made an official decision to embrace the Latin Vulgate, the translation of the Bible from Greek into Hebrew into Latin. The Bible that had dominated the church through the entire Middle Ages, well, that was acknowledged by the Council of Trent as authentic scripture. Also, a part of that acceptance of the Vulgate was the acceptance of those books of the Bible that the Protestants had identified as apocrypha. Books that didn't appear in the Hebrew Bible, and although they were in the Latin Bible, they were rejected by Protestantism as authentic scripture. Nonetheless, the Council of Trent accepted them as authentic scripture. Moreover, with respect to authority in the church, the Council of Trent also insisted that whatever you got from the scriptures and tradition, it would be authoritatively defined by the church. In other words, it rejected the right of kind of individual understanding of Christian doctrine on your own, apart from the authorities of the church. You know, the last word would be the word of the church. So in this whole area of the scriptures and church authority, the Council of Trent gave the Catholic answer to the Protestant position. That was also true with respect to justification. You know that in Protestantism and Lutheranism, that we hold to justification as God's declaration that we are righteous for the sake of Christ, and that this is what we receive through faith is imputed to us by God. It comes to us from the outside. Well, the Council of Trent rejects that, very clearly rejects that, and, instead, insists that justification is based upon inherent righteousness. God gives us grace, and with that grace we work out our salvation through faith informed by love. In other words, we become righteous over the course of our Christian lifetime, so that God can judge us truly as righteous. So we do receive something from the outside, God's grace, but then it becomes ours and we work out that righteousness in our lives through faith and love. Well, this is a clear repudiation of what Protestantism had taught, and an affirmation of another way of understanding justification. And so, too, with the with the sacraments that were so important within Catholicism and about which, again, Protestantism in its various forms had achieved different positions from the Middle Ages. Well, now the Council of Trent addresses those questions. And so, for example, regarding the Eucharist or the Mass, the Council of Trent affirms transubstantiation, the idea that the bread and the wine actually change into the body and blood of Jesus. It reaffirms the sacrifice of the Mass. That is, the notion that the priest offers the body and blood of Jesus once and again whenever he does a Mass as a kind of repetition or a continuation of what Jesus had done on Calvary, and that this Mass is sacrificed for spiritual blessings as well as other blessings on behalf of those people for to whom and for whom the Mass is dedicated. So on issue after issue, the Council of Trent ultimately defined a position then that all good Catholics would know is the position of their church, even as they dealt with and argued against Protestantism. Now, the Council of Trent, as I said, did also deal with the reform of the life of the church, and here their emphasis was upon better clergy. There was a concern that the clergy be educated, and actually, coming out of the Council of Trent, we get kind of a seminary movement for the education of those who would be priests. Bishops were called upon to actually act as pastors in the dioceses, to supervise the clergy and the people entrusted to their care. And of course regulations regarding the worldliness of the clergy, regarding sexual immorality of the clergy, those, too, were addressed in the reform decrees of the Council of Trent. I said initially that one other area was addressed by the Council of Trent, and that had to do with the suppression of heresy. By this time in the 16th century, authorities in church and state were very much aware of the power of the printed word, the pamphlet and the book. And so the Council of Trent set up a commission to establish what they called an index or a list of prohibited books, thinking this way to kind of keep some of these bad ideas from contaminating the people of the church. The commission did not finish its work by the time the council was finished, so it had to be completed by the popes, but, nonetheless, emerging from the Council of Trent was this index, this list of prohibited books. These, of course, were books by notorious heretics from the Catholic perspective, people like Calvin and Luther, but they could also be books by people like Erasmus. The index did make provision for editing books. In other words, you could have a book that was basically good, but had a few bad passages, and those could be taken out. But, nonetheless, it was a commitment of the church to re really to censor literature on behalf of the church and to keep dangerous books from circulating. Now, as I said, this was fairly typical in the 16th century, but the Roman church maintained that index, expanding, editing it, et cetera, over the course of the centuries, and it wasn't formally abolished till 1966. So what the Council of Trent had begun certainly became a characteristic of Catholicism in the early modern period.