What Was the Council of Trent?

Illustration of the Council of Trent in 1565.
Illustration of the Council of Trent in 1565.

The Council of Trent was a Catholic Church’s ecumenical council that existed between 1545 and 1563 in the city of Trent, northern Italy. Also known as a general or oecumenical council, an ecumenical council is a conference of religious dignitaries from around the world who meet to discuss and vote on theological issues. During its existence, the council held 25 sessions under three popes namely Pope Paul III (1545-1547), Pope Julius III (1551-1551), and Pope Pius IV (1562-1563).

Formation of the Council

The need for the council’s formation came after the start of the Protestant Reformation, which was a period of instability for the Catholic Church that threatened the church’s power and dominance. Also known as the European Reformation, people such as Martin Luther (a German professor known for writing the Ninety-Five Theses), John Calvin, Huldrych Zwingli, and others started the Protestant Reformation. In a bid to counter the Reformation, the Catholic Church came up with a strategy known as the Counter-Reformation, which, according to most historians, was embodied by the Council of Trent. The Counter-Reformation is also known as the Catholic Reformation or the Catholic Revival.

Objectives of the Council

The major objectives of the council were divided into five. First, the council was tasked with finding ways of condemning Protestant doctrines while clarifying the Catholic Church’s doctrines. Secondly, the council had the duty of ensuring a reformation in administration or discipline such as removing the corruption in the church. In addition, the council was tasked with reaffirming the knowledge that the interpretation of the scripture was under the ultimate control of the Church. The council was also supposed to define the relationship of faith and salvation as well as the reaffirmation of Catholic ways that went against the beliefs of reformists within the Church.

Canons and Decrees

The council issued several decrees and canons during its existence. For example, the fourth session passed a decree that confirmed that deuterocanonical books, which were considered non-canonical by Protestants, were actually canonical. This confirmation was against Martin Luther’s classification of these books as being against the canon. As such, the council reassured the continued use of the Vulgate Bible translation.

The sixth session affirmed that justification was given to people depending on their level of cooperation with divinity. This affirmation was against the Protestant belief of receiving grace in a passive manner. The council also declared that mortal sin could remove the grace of God, which was all against Protestant beliefs. In addition, the council determined that Christians were vainly confident in claiming that people could know the recipients of God’s grace.

The most important decree from the council was in the sacraments and everything associated with them. Aside from the reaffirmation of the seven sacraments, the council also reaffirmed the crucial importance of the Eucharist, which is the breaking bread in church.

The council also had other decrees to do with ordination, marriage, purgatory, forbidden books, and other things. All these decrees were acknowledged in 1566 in European states like Italy and Germany.


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