It is understandable that five hundred years worth of corruption could not be removed in the immediate short term after the Council of Trent, but the Council did indeed try to end such problems and it certainly reaffirmed the Catholic faith. It may have taken many years before the effects of Trent had success on a ground roots level as they were implemented, but nevertheless Trent was very important in bringing about the emergence of a stronger Papacy in spiritual terms as well as ensuring that Protestantism could no longer attack the church with the curtailing of church abuses and putting much of the Churchs own house in order. As Euan Cameron put it, Trent saw the Catholic Church drop some of the excesses of the medieval period, affirm the role of the Catholic church and attack the exaggerated parodies of Protestant teaching.The first significant factor about the Council of Trent is that is actually met.
It was of the utmost importance to religious development as it actually took place. Even Luther wanted a general Council called to be the arbiters in the dispute regarding his criticisms of the Church- when it finally did he claimed that the remedy comes too late. Similarly Contorinni had wanted a General Council in the 1520s as did Charles V, but Popes had often viewed councils with suspicion as they could be used to check their power. Previously the outcomes of councils in the early fifteenth century had been less than desirable for the authority of the Pope. Such a council of this significance was the Council of Constance in 1414-1418 which had claimed that supreme authority in the Church lay with the General Councils and not the Pope.
Equally, a Council could lead to reform and to many Popes this was undesirable as it would lead to much being lost as the issues concerning abuses and corruption were resolved. The Popes were also hesitant to the notion of a Council as it may increase the power of the already very influential Emperor, Charles V. As well as the discontinuation of beneficial money attained through abuses and corruption, the Popes were fearful of losing some secular power to Charles V. With much territory as the kings of Castile and Aragon, Aragon controlling a good amount of the Italian peninsula, their was a fear that if a Council were called Charles V would gain yet more control and the balance of power shifted in his direction.
The political climate in Europe also made the calling of a Council difficult. Not only did it serve as an excuse for reluctant Popes not to call a Council but the Habsburg-Valois wars made the calling of a Council hard. There could never be a Council unless Charles and Francis agreed on it and were cooperative. Francis was quite happy to see the religious problems continue, seeing the religious division in Germany as a useful means of weakening his enemy Charles. Francis even offered financial aid to the Lutherans so to make the running of Germany even more difficult for the Emperor. As Randell says, nothing short of a miracle could induce the Emperor and the French king to agree on the time and the place or the method of working of any council that was proposed.
By the mid-1540s, the situation of Europe finally looked right for a Council to be called. Not only did was there the Sack of Rome in 1527, which, according to Mullet, initiated the Italian Catholic Reform as an active process, but there was a reform-minded Pope, Paul III. Papal fears of the Catholic Church suffering a complete collapse completely outweighed his individual fears of calling a Council. Furthermore, the Peace a Crepy in 1544 meant that Charles and Francis signed a pledge of peace. Part of the agreement was that Francis ceased to provide financial aid to Lutheranism. With a gap in the Habsburg-Valois wars, suddenly the opportunity for a council was deemed present.
There is a general consensus that the Council of Trent is important as a coherent attempt to address the issue of faith and theology of the Catholic Church. Trent drew hard and fast lines between the Catholic and Protestant faith. Until the tridentine decrees were published in the mid 1560s, all of the theological initiative lay with the Lutherans. Before their publication the Catholics had been subjected to a series of attacks, their substance providing an impetus for the Council.
Protestant theology seemed more progressive and thereby appealing against the incoherent and theologically ephemeral statements of the Catholic Church. Luthers pamphlets of the 1520s offered such appealing theology as did the alternative offered in Phillip Melanthons pamphlets of the 1530s. Trent, however, brought the theological initiative firmly back to the Catholics. There was an altered perception that they had a clear expression of their faith which allowed them to put up a proper fight against Lutheranism and to attack it head on with a theologically sound base.
The Council of Trent was importance in its reemphasis on its traditional rulings of doctrine to be the only correct dogma within the Catholic faith. For example, Trent stressed the fact that in Catholicism there were seven sacraments and not two, like Luther had argued. The most important sacrament, the Eucharist, was reaffirmed as the actual transformation of bread and wine to the body and blood of Christ and that this practice should be called transubstantiation. All characteristically Protestant teachings on the Eucharist were rejected.
The theology surrounding the role of the priest was asserted. By emphasising the role of the priest, the principles of Sola-Fide and Sola-Scriptura aswell as Luthers concepts of the priesthood of all believers, were rejected. Trent reinstated the priests role as a mediator between man and God. Salvation thus also depended upon the ability of the Church to bestow merit on the recipient. A similar accumulation was placed on the veneration of saints. If the Protestant view that sola-fide was the only way to get to heaven, then the religious activities of the Church were irrelevant. Needless to say, Trent discredited the Protestant view.
Trent was also important in the more peripheral issue of the interpretation of scriptures. Official disapproval was given to the work of humanists such as Erasmus and it was decided that the Bible in the Vulgate was vastly superior to the supposedly crude vernacular forms. There was a prevailing feeling at Trent that the mysticism of the Church should be in the context of a Catholic language.
Luther and the German Reformation, 1517-55 (Access to History)by Keith RandellReformation : Europe’s House Divided by Diarmaid MacCulloch
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