Summary: The Council was critical to the defense of the faith and the worldwide evangelical effort that was already beginning. It was truly a work of the Holy Spirit.

Thursday of the Fifteenth Week in Course 2018


The words of Jesus today are so poignant that most of us have probably memorized them sometime in our lives. A yoke is the implement an ox or other draft animal wears between head and body. Slaves might be made to wear such apparatus if they were being used to drag a heavy load. So they were not the kind of things that one would willingly take up. When Our Lord asks us to take His yoke on ourselves, it means He is asking us to work, to work on our own spiritual growth, on the unity and strength of our community, and on the labor of evangelization.

The prophet Isaiah saw that when God gave His commandments to Israel, they frequently responded by rebellion. They considered God’s call to do right by Him and by their fellow men as a burden too heavy, so they ran after other gods, who were more entertaining, who promised worship with sensual pleasures and didn’t require just actions. But, as we see in this very earthy analogy, the result was like the agony of childbirth, but without producing a human child. In fact, it doesn’t take much imagination to understand what it means to writhe with abdominal pain and bring forth wind!

No, any yoke that is given by anyone other than God is slavery. Sin is slavery, heresy is slavery. We’ve all heard “if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.” That’s the promise of sin and false teaching. They scratch our itchy ears, in St. Paul’s words, but they are just words that will lead us away from the Incarnate Word.

For the past year we have been relating the daily Scriptures to the Protestant revolution of the sixteenth century, and contrasting it with the awesome work of the Catholic saints of that same century. This is the last in that series of homilies, and I’d like to use the time to outline the teachings of the true Catholic Reformation, which centered around the work of the ecumenical council of Trent.

“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.”

Mostly political infighting involving the German princes, Holy Roman emperor and France delayed this council until mid-century. By that time the Protestant position had hardened to the point that their representatives’ participation fell through. Cardinals, bishops, heads of orders, theologians and canonists met, prayed and debated in both Trent and Bologna in twenty-five sessions. It lasted off and on until 1563, eighteen years! Five popes were involved, along with hundreds of prelates.

It would take a week or two to discuss the results in detail. Both Church reform and the definition of critical teachings came about from the Council. In terms of reform, the sale of indulgences was ended–it never should have happened–forever. The canon of Scripture was defined, and it included the books that Luther had rejected from the Old Testament. It denounced the doctrine of the total depravity that exaggerated the effects of Original Sin. The Council also took aim at the training of the clergy, and the seminary system was the result. It defined the seven sacraments, and their matter, form and effects. It confirmed the teaching that the Eucharistic elements truly contain the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ. It ended the practice of bishops “owning” more than one diocese, and made them reside in their diocese. There were dozens of other reforms, and, very importantly, the Council ordered the production of a catechism.

The Council was critical to the defense of the faith and the worldwide evangelical effort that was already beginning. It was truly a work of the Holy Spirit, and with the momentum provided three years later with the accession of Pope St Pius V, had an impact on the whole world that continues even today.

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