Continued from previous post –
Council of Trent: 1545-1563
Pope Paul III first proposes in 1536 a council to tackle the issues raised by the Protestant reformers. He also sets up a commission of cardinals to report on abuses within the church. The cardinals find evidence of many of the failings pointed to by Martin Luther, including inadequate training of priests, incompetence of bishops, laxity in the monastic and mendicant orders and the scandal of prelates holding multiple appointments.
It is nine years before Paul III finally assembles his council, at Trent in 1545. The delay caused by many conflicting interests - including those of the emperor Charles V, who insists on it being held in imperial territory, and Francis I of France who fears it may somehow benefit Charles V, king of France.
From an unpromising start (only 3 papal legates and 31 prelates at the first session), the council grows in stature during a period of 18 years. There are long intervals during which it is not convened. The sessions occur in 1545-47 under Paul III, in 1551-52 under Julius III and in 1562-63 under Pius IV. All this was happening when construction of St. Peter was undergoing.
By the end, it proves a turning point for the Roman Catholic Church largely because the council responds differently to the two prongs of the Protestant challenge - in each case with considerable vigor.
On the question of abuses within the church, the council accepts the validity of the criticism and puts in place corrective measures - improved seminaries to educate clergy, strict rules about bishops residing in their dioceses, reforms within the monastic orders.
With these practical steps taken, the council refuses by contrast to yield an inch on doctrinal matters. The number of "Sacraments" remains at seven, "marriage for priests" is rejected, "justification by works" and "justification by faith" both supported, and the efficacy of relics and "indulgences" is reaffirmed - as also is the "cult of the Virgin Mary" and the saints.
With the ancient colorful certainties thus reinforced, and an improved priesthood entering service, including the invaluable Jesuits, the Roman Catholic Church after the Council of Trent is suddenly well placed to confront the Protestant challenge.
During the period of the council, in 1562, the Spanish mystic and ascetic, Teresa of Avila, founds the first of many convents in the movement known as the Carmelite Reform. St John of the Cross applies the same reforming zeal to monasteries.
Saints such as Teresa of Avila (and there will be several during the 17th century) are the perfect Roman Catholic response to the Protestant reformers. They are as morally severe as any northern puritan is, but there is an ecstatic quality to their religion, which is distinctly southern (European). In its new style, the baroque, the Roman Church has the ideal medium in which to hint at religious ecstasy. Now with renewed force confession and inquisition continued with new form.
It is conventional to call this renewal of Roman Catholicism the Counter-Reformation, but the phrase is too negative. Originally, a response to northern (European) reform the movement amounts in the end to a full-scale southern (European) alternative. Catholic Reformation is a more accurate description.
Continues in the next post –
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