“How far were the aims and achievements of the Council of Trent influenced by the Protestant Reformation?” Part 2

Despite the Catholic Church rejecting the Protestants’ theological arguments, they did adopt and accept some of the more practical approaches to religion and religious practice. Moreover, the use of the consistory, the emphasis put on the sermon, and the importance attached to the role of education, and the social and spiritual welfare of the people, were all key features protestant practices. The Jesuits especially used preaching as a method of achieving and transmitting the ideas of the ideas of the Council of Trent. In addition the Protestants also emphasised education, focusing on the written word, literacy. As the religion itself was focused on the bible. As a result Protestants could openly communicate their religion. In response to this religious education, the education, the Catholic Church set up schools, such as in Poland under the Jesuit’s control. As this was a way of emphasising Catholic teaching and thought, most of these ideas were implemented after the Council of Trent.

Although Protestantism had the effect of speeding up Catholic reform; thereby serving as a catalyst for the subsequent calling of the Council of Trent. However, there probably would have still been a general Council, as there were problems with the Fifth Lateran Council 1512-1517, where there were attempts to reform such as the education of the clergy long before Luther had even revolted. But has the contribution of the seminary been in place before the Reformation or because of the Reformation, and did Trent set up seminaries because it sought to promote priestly education as a means of challenging Protestantism? To answer this the initiatives for the quest of priestly education going back before pre-reformation reform must be considered. For instance popes such as Pope Eugenius II in 826AD worked towards the establishment of facilities for training clerics. It is not simply the case of Trent countering the Protestants views and adapting its aims in order to suit this initiative. Many of Trent’s aims and decisions were in fact, as previously stated, pre-determined by prior medieval councils.

The papacy established the supremacy of the papal authority without any resolution being passed to that effect. Consequently it could be argued that the papacy deserves most of the credit for the success of the Council of Trent, because conciliation would probably have resulted in the Church tearing itself apart. More than simply a prolonged theological seminar, the Council of Trent was a practical forum of reform. Mention of the role of the papacy as the guiding institution of the Catholic Church, brings us to the leadership of Catholic reform during and after the sixteenth century by a succession of resolute, upright and energetic popes. For instance, Pius IV took up the agenda of the concluded Council of Trent and produced the key documents that it had authorised, including the Catechism and Missal.

To conclude, it was highly unlikely that there would be any rapprochement with the Protestant schism, although the demands of the Lutherans and the rejection of papal authority probably made the split permanent even before the Council met. The Council in reality just re-emphasised an already existing institution in the light of the Protestant threat. In the short term the Tridentine decrees were important for the Catholic Church because until then the theological initiative had been in the hands of the Protestants. As a result the Council of Trent can be seen as a turning point in the fortunes and legacy of the Catholic Church. The fact that the Council took place at a time when the Protestant advance was slowing down might have more to do with the work of the Jesuit order and the Inquisition rather than the Council of Trent decrees. The Council of Trent certainly seemed to accept papal supremacy without any innovative resolutions, Trent was simply reasserting existing dogma.

However, there is no doubt the decrees were significant in that they made it absolutely clear what Catholics should believe, therefore tackling the Protestant threat head on.  The Church had developed many conflicting sets of ideology that had arisen during the fifteenth century. The resulting achievement of Trent was to consolidate the Church and establish papal supremacy over the Roman Catholic Church.
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