Summary: The Catholic Counter-Reformation.

Church History: Examining the Creeds and Confessions of the Church Through the Ages and Why They Matter.

Today, we come to the first council we have studied so far with which we will have profound disagreements.

It is called the Council of Trent, and it described by the Catholic Church as the 19th Ecumenical Council. The Catholic Encyclopedia reads as follows:

“The nineteenth ecumenical council opened at Trent on 13 December, 1545, and closed there on 4 December, 1563. Its main object was the definitive determination of the doctrines of the Church in answer to the heresies of the Protestants; a further object was the execution of a thorough reform of the inner life of the Church by removing the numerous abuses that had developed in it.” (

The truth is that this was not an ecumenical council.

Ecumenical councils, you will remember, mean “world-wide” or “Universal”.

This Council did not take into consideration the Eastern Churches which had divided from Rome in 1054, nor did it have any representatives from the Protestant Churches which it sought to condemn.

This is also a good reminder to us that Rome considers us all to be heretics.

There have been times in my ministry where I have been accused of being quite hard on Roman Catholic doctrine, which I am because I believe it to be wrong.

Yet, we mustn’t consider the Roman Catholic Church to be a “whipping boy” in this debate, as they bear a rather large whip of their own.

In this Council, the Roman Catholic Church would condemn to eternal perdition all who teach the doctrines which we would affirm as Reformed Theology.

The History and Purpose of the Council

When Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church at Wittenberg, I do not believe he meant to set off the firestorm which it did.

It was intended to spawn intramural scholastic debate among his fellow Roman clergy.

But, instead, it became the match which would eventually set the whole of Christendom ablaze.

The Roman Catholic hierarchy was very aware of what was happening in regard to the Protestant movement.

And, as you can imagine, they were less than pleased with the growing dissension.

They had dissenters in the past, but this was different - the dissent was growing exponentially and entire regions were turning from Rome to Reformation teachings.

The reason for the Council could be defined as much political as it was doctrinal.

By condemning the Reformers, Rome was seeking to reaffirm her own authority over all of western Christendom.

There was a desire on behalf of the Emperor Charles V to see the council conveyed to bring peace in the empire.

He sought that the council would address the moral abuses of the church with the hope that suppressing them would bring the protestants back into the fold.

Pope Paul III did not want these things suppressed because it would have financially damaged him (

As a result of this division between Emperor and Pope, the moral issues and doctrinal issues were dealt with simultaneously.

Rather than bringing peace, Trent would drive the wedge further between Rome and the Reformers.

The Council of Trent was the embodiment of the Counter-Reformation.

The Council met in three sessions over a period of 18 years.

Though it would appear to have a rather long lifespan, the Sessions which occurred within the council only amount to about 4 1/2 years.

The Council met on different occasions between 1545 and 1563.

In addition to the Council, there was also a new catholic order established called The Society of Jesus, also known as the Jesuits.

The Jesuits were very influential in the counter-reformation and encouraged people to continue their devotion to the Scripture as the Catholic Church had defined it.

This order was founded by Ignatius Loyola in 1540.

Loyola wrote, “I will believe that the white that I see is black if the hierarchical Church so defines it.” (Ignatius Loyola, The spiritual exercise, trans. Anthony Mottola. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1964, pp. 140–141. Reference from William B. Ashworth Jr, "Catholicism and Early Modern Science" in David C. Lindberg, Ronald L. Numbers, God and Nature, p. 159, n. 91 (p. 166)

Ultimately, the purpose of the Jesuits is the propagation of the Catholic Church by any means possible.

The Decisions of the Council

There were many decisions handed down by the Council, and we will look at just a few which are directly related to the Reformation teachings.

(1) The council decided that the books of the apocrypha (sometimes called the deuterocanonical books) would be included in sacred scripture.

Session 4 But if any one receive not, as sacred and canonical, the said books entire with all their parts, as they have been used to be read in the Catholic Church, and as they are contained in the old Latin vulgate edition; and knowingly and deliberately contemn the traditions aforesaid; let him be anathema.

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