Section II: Theological Humanism (1517-1648)




32. The Papal Reform (1521-85)

33. Tridentine Reform

34. Clerical Tridentine Execution





A. Pre-Tridentine Period (1522-34)

(1) ADRIAN VI (1522-23)

Cardinal Hadrian Dedel (1459-1523) was elected to succeed Pope Leo X on January 9, 1522. The new pontiff had been born at Utrecht, then within the German Empire, and ha[d until the election of Pope St. John Paul II, been] the last non-Italian to date to become pope. Trained by the Brethren of the Common Life, he had been a professor at Louvain University and a tutor of Charles von Habsburg. The emperor always respected this austere ecclesiastic and had named him regent for Spain during his trip to Germany. Adrian was still in Spain when news of his election was brought him.

Thwarted reform. The new pope did not enter Rome until August, 1522. The Romans, charmed by Medicean Humanism, were unprepared for a foreign reformer. Nor were they pleased when Adrian VI, waving the arts away with a “Proh! idola barbarorum,” vigorously and perhaps intemperately attacked entrenched abuses of nepotism and preferment. The pope’s efforts were blocked, sometimes by open defiance, more often by tacit disregard. Pope Adrian did everything in his power to allay discontent in Germany. Through his nuncio Chiergati he informed the Diet of Nuremburg (1522) that he would reform the papal curia, redress grievances and, if need be, convoke a general council. He frankly admitted that current ills may have had their source in the Roman court. But at his death, September 14, 1523, Adrian VI gloomily directed that his epitaph should acknowledge: “How unfortunate that there are times when the best intentioned man is obliged to yield.” [p. 209]

 (2) CLEMENT VII (1523-34)

Cardinal Giulio de’ Medici (1478-1534) was promptly chosen for the papal office on November 18, 1523. Illegitimate son of the Medici slain in the Pazzi Conspiracy, he had been legitimated in virtue of his parents’ sponsalia and admitted to a clerical career. His cousin Leo X had named him cardinal and one of his chief aides. Though without flagrant vices, Cardinal Medici had not been ordained until 1519. Once pope, he reverted to the more easygoing regime of Leo X, whom he came to resemble in his halting and ambiguous diplomacy.

Lessons of adversity. Though Clement VII may have hoped to restore Leonine Humanism, the times would no longer permit it. Woefully misinformed about German conditions, the Italian Pontiff was prone to employ political more than moral means. The Sack of Rome (1527) was the result and rebuke of such pettiness. In 1524 the emperor had requested a general council, and German diets continued to demand a “free general council held in Germany.” Though Clement so far yielded as to issue a summons for a council in 1530, neither time, place, nor mode of assembly were specified. Having failed to reconcile either Germans or English, and still fearful of convoking a general council, Clement VII died on September 25, 1534. If Adrian VI had tried to proceed too fast, Clement VII demonstrated that excessive tact was not the remedy either. Germany and England had rebelled against the papacy, and France’s monarch was of uncertain loyalty.

B. The Tridentine Period (1534-65)

(1) PAUL III (1534-49)

Alessandro Farnese (1468-1549) was elected to the papacy on October 12, 1534, by a conclave comparatively free from pressure. His early life had been immoral, and though a cardinal since 1493, he had not been ordained to the priesthood until 1519. Thereafter, however, he had become one of the rare converts of the Fifth Lateran reform program; excessive nepotism toward his illegitimate progeny was the only major fault to be laid to his charge during his long pontificate.

Papal initiative. It is greatly to Pope Paul III’s credit that he resolutely challenged inertia in the papal curia so that reform, not merely in desire and gesture, but in reality, began during his reign. The Church had been receiving the type of popes that it did because the majority of the cardinals were indifferent to reform. Beginning in 1535, Paul III nominated enough worthy men to tip the balance in favor of reform. Among these were Gasparo Contarini (1483-1542) , Giovanni Morone (1509-80) , and Reginald Pole (1500-58) . During the same year the pope expressed his willingness to summon an ecumenical council. Although it did not actually [p. 210] convene until a decade later, it was largely due to papal perseverance that Trent ever got under way at all.

Reform measures. In March, 1537, a reform commission, named by Paul III the preceding year, made its report on abuses and did not spare the Roman curia and its canonists in its indictment. The pope faithfully followed up its recommendations: clerical discipline was tightened; absentee clerics were admonished in no uncertain terms; abuses in indulgences and censures were curbed; the Inquisition was reorganized with particular vigilance for the censorship of books. During the same year a papal document, Sublimis Deus, forbade enslavement of the American Indian. At the same time St. Philip Neri, as yet a layman, arrived to become the “second apostle” of Rome. Reform began to penetrate Roman laxity and was not halted by the apostasy of Ochino, the Capuchin superior-general, in 1542, nor that of Vergerio, papal legate to Germany, in 1549. Little profit came from the imperially sponsored theological discussions with the Lutherans at Regensburg (1540-41) and Augsburg (1548), and papal-imperial relations were strained. The death of the pope’s grandson, Pierluigi Farnese, at imperialist hands, and Charles V’s doctrinal usurpation in the Interim (1548) severed relations and paralyzed Trent. Aged and vexed, the great pontiff died at Rome, November 10, 1549.

(2) JULIUS III (1550-55)

Giovan-Maria del Monte (1487-1555), senior Tridentine legate during the first period of sessions, was elected to succeed Paul III on February 7, 1550. The new pope was a sincere but unstable reformer, whose un-pleasing mannerisms somewhat prejudiced his influence. He, too, resorted to nepotism by making his youthful adopted son his cardinal-secretary.

Reform nevertheless went forward amid more cordial papal-imperial relations. The council was reassembled at Trent, though the rebellion of Maurice of Saxony brought it to a premature suspension. The Jesuit German seminary, founded in 1552, became the nucleus of the Collegium Germanicum, first of a series of pontifical institutes designed to provide clergy for Catholics in Protestant territories. The pope loyally supported Mary Tudor and Cardinal Pole in the restoration of England to Catholic unity. During his last two years, however, illness hampered the effectiveness of the pope’s reform labors. Julius III died on March 23, 1555.

(3) MARCELLUS II (1555)

Marcello Cervini (1501-55), junior Tridentine legate during the first period, was then chosen pope on April 8, 1555. He had been a zealous and learned worker for ecclesiastical reform and high hopes were placed [p. 211] in him. But his efforts were cut short by death twenty-one days later, May 6, 1555. His influence survived in his nephew, St. Robert Bellarmine, doctor of the Church, and his name in Palestrina’s Mass.

(3) PAUL IV (1555-59)

Giovanni Pietro Caraffa (1476-1559) was promptly elected on May 23 to fill the vacant Roman see. This zealot of seventy-nine was an ardent and austere reformer, still possessed of boundless energy. He was also an Italian patriot anxious to restore the “good old days” of his youth before the foreign interventions beginning in 1494. His political obsessions, together with credulous reliance upon unworthy relatives, were to prejudice much of his work as pope.

Reform. With inexorable vigor the pope promoted the reform already initiated without the assistance of the Council of Trent, which his autocratic spirit readily dispensed with. He took a vigorous interest in the Inquisition, and did not draw the line at torture. In 1559 the irate pontiff for half an hour rebuked Cardinal Ghislieri—the St. Pius V of the future—for supposedly being too indulgent toward a petition on behalf of the suspect archbishop of Toledo, Carranza. The pope also arrested the conciliatory Cardinal Morone and prosecuted him for heresy. The same fate would have befallen Cardinal Pole if Queen Mary had agreed to surrender him. The Jesuits, confirmed by Paul III, incurred the displeasure of Paul IV, who proceeded to remodel their institute.

Reverses. The pontiff had cut down his own and the cardinals’ revenues by two thirds, only finally to be informed that his nephew, Cardinal Carlo Caraffa, had brought papal finances near disaster. Another nephew, Galeazzo Caracciolo, joined the Lutherans in 1551. Once disillusioned about his relatives, Paul IV was seen weeping and praying in St. Peter’s; resolutely he renounced nepotism in his last year. After warring against the Habsburgs, Paul IV was “respectfully defeated” by the duke of Alba. Surprised by the moderation of Habsburg terms, the pope relented a bit of his enmity. He died on August 18, 1559.

(4) PIUS IV (1559-65)

Gian-Angelo Medici (1499-1565) was chosen in December, 1559, by a conclave seeking a character diametrically opposed to that of Paul IV. The new pontiff was mild, cultured, and not overly energetic. There might have been a reversion to Medicean Humanism had not Pius’s moderate nepotism included the promotion of St. Charles Borromeo (1538-84) as cardinal secretary. Pope and cardinal thereupon collaborated in a fruitful pontificate.

Consolidation of reform was sought by Pius IV and Borromeo in reassembling the Council of Trent and conducting it to a successful [p. 212] conclusion. The Tridentine decrees, approved by Pius IV, could now begin their work of leavening, labor in which St. Charles Borromeo took the lead in his see of Milan. The pope had to curb the Caraffa relatives, but issued an amnesty for political prisoners, and restored cordial diplomatic relations with Catholic states. Well-beloved and well-served, Pius IV died on December 9, 1565.

C. Post-Tridentine Period (1566-85)

(1) ST. PIUS V (1566-72)

Cardinal Michele Ghislieri (1504-72) was elected on January 7, 1566, largely through the influence of St. Charles Borromeo. The Church has officially testified that St. Charles’s confidence in his candidate was not misplaced. Like Pius X four centuries later, this Dominican cardinal—from whose pontificate dates the papal white cassock—was a poor boy who reached the papal throne after a distinguished and faithful career in lesser clerical offices.

Reform measures. St. Pius provided the greatest stimulus to reform by the power of his own example. Resolutely he opposed granting of excessive dispensations to the higher clergy. He carefully supervised episcopal residence and parochial care of souls. He strove for harmony between the secular and regular clergy, and resisted the abuses in patronage and usurpations of clerical rights and property. As well as he could, he sustained St. Charles at Milan against the Spanish court, insisted on Carranza’s surrender by the king to Roman judgment, and delayed the grant of tithes to enforce compliance from Philip II. St. Pius supported St. Peter Canisius in his patient heroism in the revival of German Catholicity, and exacted oaths of obedience from bishops and professors. Not only was the pope personally diligent in Rome in the care of souls, but he secured prompt revision and publication of the most needed ecclesiastical books, the missal, breviary, and catechism.

Theocratic twilight. In the ancient theocratic tradition St. Pius V in 1568 ordered annual public reading of the document, In Cena Domini. This pronounced excommunication upon all heretics, schismatics, confiscators of church property, and monarchs in league with heretics or infidels. It was unfavorably received by absolute monarchs intent on national or personal aggrandizement by any means. Fearing a reversion to the spirit of Unam Sanctam, Catholic princes largely disregarded In Cena Domini down to its revocation on the eve of the French Revolution. Had it been sustained, however, prelatial subservience would not have degenerated into Gallicanism and Febronianism. A concrete instance of St. Pius’s resort to theocratic weapons is his deposition of Elizabeth of England; its utter failure revealed that theocratic prestige  [p. 213] was nearly gone. Neither could he effect the recall of the oppressive Monarchia Sicula from Philip II as monarch of the Two Sicilies.

Naval crusade. St. Pius organized the crusade which turned back a Turkish advance to Italy and the central Mediterranean. Through his legate Commendone, the pope kept Emperor Maximilian II in line and urged him to defend Hungary against the Mohammedans. Philip II of Spain financed and organized, with aid from the papal and Venetian fleets, the flotilla which Don Juan of Austria and Marc Antonio Colonna led to victory at Lepanto, October 7, 1571. The feast of the Holy Rosary commemorates this triumph. Having given the Catholic Reformation an impetus that it never again wholly lost, St. Pius V died on May 1, 1572.

(2) GREGORY XIII (1572-85)

Ugo Buoncompagni (1502-85) was selected as St. Pius’s successor on May 13. The new pope presented a considerable contrast to his predecessor. His early life had been immoral and his clerical career had been somewhat lax. As pope, however, he strove to reform his life, and his pontificate merits no grave censure, although he himself winced before the rigorous standards of St. Charles Borromeo.

Reform. Gregory XIII was an able canonist and his reforms were more of a curial than parochial nature. He was instrumental in establishing or reorganizing twenty-three colleges throughout Europe. At Rome he developed the Jesuit College into a truly international university. He aided the German and English colleges for the relief of Catholics in Protestant-dominated areas. For the Oriental Church, he displayed a new solicitude, setting up Greek and Maronite institutes, together with a printing press for the eastern languages. Through his efforts appeared revised editions of the Corpus Juris Canonici (1582) and the Martyrologium Romanum. Nor was secular learning neglected: the present calendar bears his name since he gave authoritative currency to the reform of the Julian Calendar, then ten days in arrears, by Luigi Lilio and Clavius.

Temporal administration. The pope also devoted considerable care to the promotion of art and architecture at Rome. Financial penury and the needs of social justice, however, induced him to attempt the reduction of feudalism throughout the Pontifical States by reappropriating castles, lands, and other properties from such nobles as had failed to render their obligatory service. In his effort to create a modernized government for the papal temporalities, however, Pope Gregory XIII was largely unsuccessful. During his pontificate rebellion became chronic: an estimated fifteen thousand brigands were at large and the temporal administration had nearly broken down when Gregory died, April 10, 1585. Yet his innovations, experiments, and very mistakes in temporal  [p. 214] administration indicated the way for his successor’s vigorous restoration of order.

Conclusion. In terminating the discussion of papal reform leadership at the year 1585, it is not meant to imply that the work of reform did not continue at the papal court during the succeeding pontificates. But by this time the most glaring abuses had been corrected, and during the next period of papal administration, while the prosecution of reform measures remained important, stress may be shifted to the militant Catholic revival, sometimes called the Counter. Reformation. The foregoing, moreover, is intended merely as a survey or listing of the chief changes in some chronological order; more detailed treatment of various types of reform will follow in the next topics.



A. Conciliar Proceedings (1545-64)

(1) FIRST PERIOD (1545-47): SESSIONS 1 TO 10

Convocation. After papal diplomacy had overcome a decade of disheartening obstacles, wars and national jealousies, and after attempts to convene at Mantua and Vicenza had fallen through, an ecumenical council opened at Trent, a Tyrolese town on the German-Italian frontier. On the day of convocation, December 13, 1545, there were present besides the papal legates, Cardinals Del Monte, Cervini, and Pole, only four archbishops, twenty-one bishops, five superiors-general, three abbots, and some fifty theologians and canonists.

Organization. It was decided that three commissions of theologians and canonists were to prepare schemata of subjects for discussion. Their proposals were then to be discussed by general congregations of bishops, and the conclusions of the latter were to be formally voted on in the public sessions. Unlike Constance and Basle, voting was to be by individuals, and definitive suffrage was restricted to cardinals, bishops, religious generals, and certain abbots. Angelo Massarelli (1510-66) remained secretary throughout all the sessions. The second session of January 7, 1546, revealed disagreement as to the order of discussion. Though the pope wished to give precedence to doctrinal matters, the emperor sought priority for disciplinary questions likely to conciliate the Protestants. After much argument, a compromise was reached to take up some dogmatic and a few disciplinary topics at each session. It was with some difficulty, moreover, that the council was induced to reject the formula proposed by Bishop Martelli, universalem Ecclesiam repraesentans, as savoring too much of conciliarism. Papal direction through the cardinal legates, if at times heatedly challenged, remained a reality during the conciliar sessions.

Discussions. Before papal-imperial disagreement suspended the first [p. 215] period of deliberations, the Tridentine Council endorsed the Nicene Creed and Latin Vulgate, defined the nature of original sin and its justification, began a doctrinal review of the sacraments, and laid down decrees regarding preaching, episcopal residence, and benefices. Seripando’s “double justification” theory, partly extrinsic and partly intrinsic, was rejected by the bishops who followed the Thomistic Jesuit theologians, Lainez and Salmeron, in favor of true intrinsic justification. But when Bishop Martelli attacked the independence of religious preachers, Seripando, while conceding the primary rights of the ordinaries, defended the orders and obtained a compromise granting regulars virtual freedom in their own churches, but requiring episcopal license to preach in secular parishes. Some of the most heated debates concerned not so much episcopal duty of residence as the nature of the obligation, whether of divine or ecclesiastical law. Implicit in this question—which was never definitively settled—was the further dispute whether bishops received their jurisdiction immediately from Christ, or mediately through the Roman pontiff. The discussions of the first period, transferred to Bologna in April, 1547, practically ended the following June as the papal-imperial disagreements became acute.

(2) SECOND PERIOD (1551-52): SESSIONS 11 TO 16

Deliberations. By summons from the new Pope Julius III, the Tridentine Council reassembled on May 1, 1551, under the presidency of Cardinal Crescenzio as chief legate. French objections to the continuity of the council and delay in the arrival of the bishops prevented serious business until October. Then the assembled fathers issued important dogmatic decrees regarding the Holy Eucharist and penance and extreme unction, and various points of clerical discipline were discussed. But Maurice of Saxony’s rebellion prorogued the council in April, 1552, and it was not reassembled for a decade.

(3) THIRD PERIOD (1562-63) : SESSIONS 17 TO 25

Reform crisis. Though summoned back to session by Pius IV in November, 1560, the council did not actually reopen until January, 1562, with Cardinal Ercole Gonzaga as chief legate. Before and after convocation lengthy disputes went on between imperialists and French partisans as to whether Trent’s new sessions ought to be considered a new council or not. Catherine de’ Medici, the French regent, finally abandoned demands for a revision of the decrees of the preceding periods, and permitted the French hierarchy to participate. To the pope’s alarm, the two leading legates, Gonzaga and Seripando, allowed Archbishop Guerero to reopen the heated discussion on episcopal residence. When a bloc of fifty-five French, Spanish, and Imperialist prelates demanded  [p. 216] vindication of episcopal jurisdiction dare divino, discussions verged on conciliarism. After both Cardinals Gonzaga and Seripando had died of their exertions, a deadlock was reached in March, 1563. Pius IV then named Cardinal Morone, but recently freed from the prison of Paul IV, chief legate. This experienced and tactful diplomat quickly repaired his predecessors’ well-meaning blunders. Conciliarism was rejected by all—pace Guerrero—and the troublesome but academic question of the source of the obligation of episcopal residence shelved. The conciliar fathers could then resume work on the doctrine and discipline of the sacraments: the Holy Eucharist, holy orders, and matrimony. During a final two-day session, December 3-4, 1563, the council at last got around to indulgences, along with purgatory and invocation of saints. Doctrinally Trent ended where Luther began, with the question of indulgences. Then a vote of placet was given by 255 members of the council to the papal dissolution of the council—though Guerrero insisted that the decrees needed no papal confirmation.

Confirmation came nonetheless on January 26, 1564, when by the bull Benedictus Deus Pius IV approved the conciliar decrees. A profession of faith was prepared for subscription by all bishops and professors. Promulgation of the Tridentine decrees followed immediately in Italy. Philip II seconded by publishing them in his own dominions “insofar as not derogatory to royal authority.” Portugal and Poland adopted them in 1564 without reservation. Emperor Maximilian II ratified the decrees for Germany in 1566, but the French monarchy held out, and the decrees were not promulgated in France until 1615, and then by hierarchical initiative. In Protestant countries promulgation was impossible, giving rise to certain differences in matrimonial discipline. But the labors and disappointments of nineteen years had resulted in a thoroughgoing reform for the universal Church, “in head and members.”

B. Tridentine Doctrinal Decrees


Holy Scripture was declared a primary source, but as contained in the canonical books explicitly enumerated by the council. These included the deutero-canonical books rejected by the Protestants as apocrypha. Authentic expression of Holy Writ was to be found in St. Jerome’s Latin Vulgate. Though this was declared without error in faith and morals, the council did not deny that other discrepancies might have been introduced by copyists, and directed that these be eradicated as much as possible in a new authentic version.

Tradition, as found in patristic writings and the decrees of popes and councils, was declared the only legitimate guide to scriptural interpretation. [p. 217], to the exclusion of private judgment not in harmony with it. Scholastic theology was not to be repudiated but reformed according to the norms of St. Thomas’s Summa Theologica, placed on the same table in the council with the Bible and the Sacred Canons.


Original sin was defined in accord with tradition: Canon 1 stated that Adam lost original justice, incurring death and concupiscence by an original sin. Canon 2 asserted that Adam’s sin had passed to his posterity, just as original justice would have been transmitted had he remained faithful. Canon 3 defined that baptism alone removes original sin, individually possessed by every son of Adam. Canon 4 asserted that infants have original sin so that they must be baptized, though canon 5 stated that baptism truly and completely removed sins and did not merely cover them over; concupiscence surviving baptism is not original sin. Canon 6 excepted the Blessed Virgin Mary from the foregoing declarations, although her immaculate conception was not then defined in order to avoid contemporary theological controversies.

Justification is of God with man’s free co-operation. It effects a true remission of sin, and not a mere extrinsic imputation of justice. Justification also involves positive infusion of grace and virtues. Of these virtues, faith alone cannot justify without hope and charity, nor can it afford assurance of salvation which, without special private revelation, is granted to none in this life. Grace is an indispensable and sufficient principle of supernatural life which man can use or abuse. It is gratuitous in its initial bestowal and final preservation by perseverance, although man can, with grace, merit an increase of it. Grace is lost by mortal sin, though faith is driven out only by infidelity. Grace is given to all, and not merely to the elect, so that there is no positive reprobation to hell independently of man’s deserts. With grace, man can work out his salvation, though he cannot render himself sinless. Lost grace can be regained through penance, though purgatorial punishment may be necessary. Human co-operation in no way derogates from Christ’s universal and all-sufficient redemptive work.


The sacraments are means of justification instituted by Christ to the number of seven expressly enumerated. They are efficacious independently of the faith and virtue, though not of the intention of the minister. They confer grace ex opere operato on all who do not place an obstacle, without prejudice to grace ex opere operantis according to the dispositions of the recipient. Three designated sacraments confer an indelible character and therefore cannot be repeated. The sacraments, then, are  [p. 218] not merely signs of the grace or devotion excited in the recipient, but true instruments, and in certain cases, indispensable means and causes of grace by divine power. Their administration is not in all cases common to all Christians, nor are the liturgical usages accompanying their bestowal merely optional.

Baptism, distinct from that of John the Baptist, was instituted by Christ as a necessary means for the salvation of all, infants or adults. When rightly administered with natural water and the invocation of the Holy Trinity—even by heretics—it remits all sin to those properly disposed, and cannot be repeated.

Confirmation is a true sacrament, distinct from that of baptism, instituted by Christ and not by the Church. Its ordinary minister is a bishop and not a simple priest; like baptism, it cannot be repeated.

The Holy Eucharist is a true sacrament in which Christ’s body and blood are really and substantially contained together with His divinity. Christ is whole and entire under both species of bread and wine, and in each of their parts. The substances of bread and wine are wholly changed into Christ’s body and blood in what is aptly termed “transubstantiation.”

The Mass is a true sacrifice, unbloody image of Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary, offered to God by the apostles and their successors in the priesthood. It applies the merits of Christ’s Passion to the living and the dead in a way not prejudicial to the sacrifice on Calvary. The rites of the Church contain no doctrinal error and are to be preserved.

Penance was instituted for the remission of sins committed after baptism in the words, “Whose sins you shall forgive, etc.” Absolution is a judicial act imparted only by a validly ordained priest having jurisdiction, though not necessarily in the state of grace. A penitent is required to have supernatural sorrow, make a reasonably complete confession of unconfessed mortal sins as far as possible under the circumstances, and perform satisfaction for the temporal punishment usually remaining. Auricular confession is necessary by divine right and truly remits sin. The Church also has the power to retain sins, and her bishops to reserve cases.

Extreme Unction is a true sacrament, instituted by Christ, insinuated by St. Mark (6:13) and promulgated by St. James (5:14) . It removes from the soul remaining effects of sins already forgiven, and gives special grace to those mortally sick. If necessary, it can remit sin; if expedient, it can restore health. The matter is olive oil blessed by the bishop, and its form consists in prayers used in applying the matter to the different senses by the priest, who is the ordinary minister of this sacrament.

Holy Orders were instituted by Christ at the Last Supper when He [p. 219] constituted the apostles priests in the words, “Do this for a commemoration of Me,” to offer the Eucharist. The hierarchy of bishops, priests, and ministers is divinely instituted. Bishops are superior to priests and have power to ordain and confirm. Priestly character is indelible. Other orders in the Church are preparatory grades to the priesthood.

Matrimony is a true sacrament instituted by Christ and subject accordingly to the Church rather than the state. A consummated valid marriage is indissoluble save by death, and bigamy is rejected by the divine law. The Church may place impedient and diriment impediments, dissolve a merely ratified marriage and grant separation without divorce. But the Church’s traditional interpretation of the prohibition of dissolution in case of adultery must be maintained. Though good and licit, matrimony is not to be regarded as a state superior to virginity.


Purgatory really exists and its tenants can be helped by prayer, especially by the sacrifice of the Mass. While preachers should exhort the faithful to believe in its purgative character, they ought to avoid subtle questions regarding its nature.

Veneration of saints is licit and profitable, and Masses in their honor are no derogation to the adoration due God alone, nor to the unique redemptive work of Christ. Relics of the saints are justly honored. Sacred images have no intrinsic power, but should be honored as a mark of respect to the prototype. Abuses will be avoided by following ecclesiastical tradition.

Indulgences. The power of granting indulgences was granted by Christ to the Church and she has exercised it from ancient times. Hence, the council teaches and directs that the practice of granting indulgences be continued, and anathematizes those who deny her power or who contend that indulgences are useless.

C. Tridentine Disciplinary Decrees


Episcopal selection. Though the episcopate is of divine institution, it is recognized that the choice of bishops and cardinals pertains to the pope, who can likewise depose them, especially for contumacy in regard to the decree on residence. The Holy See is requested to choose as cardinals worthy men from every nation. In the case of vacant sees where the Holy See has granted the privilege of election, the chapter shall act prudently and disinterestedly. Care must be taken to examine the qualifications of candidates, and a faithful attestation of the nominee’s merits should be sent to the Holy See for confirmation. Consecration is to be received within three months. [p. 220]

Episcopal residence. Bishops, including cardinals, patriarchs, and archbishops having the care of souls, are obliged to reside in their dioceses at least nine months in the year, and always during Advent and Lent unless legitimately excused. Unexcused absence for six continuous months would cause the offender to forfeit a quarter of his revenues, and further penalties, including deposition, were provided for continued defiance. Though Archbishop Guerrero had heatedly debated whether the obligation of residence was derived from divine or ecclesiastical law, the council made no decision.

Episcopal visitation. Pastoral vigilance was to be exercised by bishops in visiting their dioceses every two years to inquire into observance of discipline and reformation of morals. Even exempt religious were subjected to this canonical visitation, for which detailed norms were laid down. Provided the bishop did not transgress diocesan limits, his judgment must prevail, with appeal only to the Holy See whose prerogative it is to judge bishops. Hospitals and other foundations are to be visited as well and their stewards obliged to render an account.

Administration. Bishops are personally bound to preach, and if legitimately excused, to provide worthy substitutes. They are not to ordain in another diocese, nor ordain a subject of another bishop, without permission. They ought to examine candidates for ordination and benefices, provide a title of ordination with adequate support, observe the canonical age, and issue dimissorial letters gratis. They are to assign definite boundaries to parishes and supervise their administration. They alone shall approve both regulars and seculars for preaching and hearing confessions of seculars within the diocese. Diocesan synods are to be held annually, and unless there is legitimate excuse, provincial councils ought to assemble every three years—extended to twenty years by canon 283 of the 1918 Code.


Benefices. None shall receive a benefice unless fourteen years of age. The beneficiary must receive tonsure and wear the clerical garb. He shall be subject to the decree on residence, especially if he has care of souls, and provide substitutes if legitimately excused. Benefices, especially those with care of souls, shall not be multiplied without legitimate dispensation. Expectancies shall no longer be conceded.

Parishes. None shall be promoted pastor without due inquiry into his qualifications, nor without the ordinary’s approbation. Those not in holy orders shall have no voice in cathedral or collegiate chapters. All shall wear the clerical garb under penalty of suspension and give an example of holy life. Due regard must be had to conscientious ministry, especially in regard to teaching catechism and giving homilies on Sunday. [p. 221] Grave crimes will merit degradation, and concubinage will be punished by forfeiture of revenues, suspension, or even excommunication.

Seminaries are to be erected for the proper training of clerics in every diocese; where this is impossible, regional institutes shall be provided. Clerics shall be so trained from the age of twelve, having received tonsure and clerical attire. Only legitimate children shall be accepted—it had been a favorite device to pawn off illegitimate children on the Church as a sort of foundling hospital. Clerics are to be recruited from the poor who can read and write and display an inclination for the clerical state. They should make their way through successive classes. Bishops are to supervise their seminaries through a capable rector and two canons of proven life. For the seminary’s support, the bishop may levy a special tax on all benefices, secular and religious, except those of the mendicants and the military orders.


Regular clerics should reside in their houses under pain of episcopal correction and should adhere strictly to their vows and rules. They ought not to be professed until they have completed a year of probation and attained the age of sixteen. Secular servants, huntsmen, buffoons, etc., must go, and begging vagrants must be regulated. Monasteries are no longer to be held in commendam. Abbots, once regularly elected, may confer minor orders on their subjects, but in external functions, such as preaching and administering the sacraments, even exempt religious are subject to the bishop’s regulations. No religious house shall be erected without his leave, and all are in varying degrees subject to his visitation. Diocesan fasts and censures should be observed. Monastic superiors are also to be diligent in correcting abuses by visitation, and this without delay.

Nuns shall observe strict enclosure, and all, even those immediately subject to the Holy See, are liable to episcopal visitation. Abuses noted above in regard to monasteries must be abolished also in convents. Girls under twelve should not be admitted to profession, nor forced into the convent. Nuns should confess and communicate at least monthly, and extraordinary confessors ought to be provided for all. Profession shall not take place without previous examination by the ordinary. None shall be elected abbess who is not thirty years old and five years professed; no abbess shall rule two convents. The Eucharist is to be reserved in the public church and not in the choir.


Clandestine marriage was banned by the decree, Tametsi, which required that Catholics must be married before the pastor of the contracting  [p. 222] parties and two witnesses. Regulations were made for marriage of vagrants, and impediments revised. Ecclesiastical authority over Christian marriage cases was reaffirmed and public sinners might be liable to condign penance.

Patronage was restricted as much as possible, and rights of presentation to benefices subjected to episcopal veto. None might be granted patronage in future unless they established an entirely new foundation. Usurpers of ecclesiastical patronage and property were subject to deprivation of their presumed rights and to excommunication. Princes in particular were forbidden to interfere with ecclesiastical jurisdiction, though Cardinal Morone sadly acknowledged: “They are men, not angels. We must deal with the princes as with the heretics: lead them by good example and not by threats, proceeding in all things with wisdom, piety, and Christian prudence.”

Other precepts affecting the laity were the censorship of books, the regulation of feasts and fasts, the threat of public penance for public sinners, the enforcement of payment of tithes under penalty of excommunication, and the strict prohibition of dueling.

The fathers who had provided this thorough review of ecclesiastical doctrine and discipline were justified in responding “Amen” to the final ruling from the conciliar president: “Go in peace.”



A. Repression of Heresy


Roman tribunal. By the bull, Licet Ab Initio (1542), Pope Paul III had revived the dormant medieval inquisition and had subjected it to a commission of cardinals under papal personal presidency. St. Pius V, who had headed this Holy Office as a cardinal, extended its powers, and Sixtus V in 1587 made it the first of his reorganized fifteen curial congregations. None were exempt from this tribunal: Paul IV arraigned before it Cardinal Morone, and St. Pius V tried Archbishop Carranza, the primate of Toledo. Procedure was basically the same as in the medieval papal inquisition, and execution was still committed to the secular power. But renaissance princes, unlike their medieval predecessors, had to be restrained rather than stimulated in the use of the inquisition against religious dissent. Throughout Italy the civil authorities were generally amenable to Rome, though Venice acted with an independence comparable to the conduct of the Spanish monarchy. The most notorious victim of the Roman Inquisition was Giordano Bruno (1548-1600), an apostate priest burned at the stake for pantheistic and anti-Christian, indeed, antimoral teachings. The scientist Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) was imprisoned more for disobedience and temerity than [p. 223] for his scientific views, though the prudence of the curial decision left much to be desired. But as the Church’s position became more secure in the Italian peninsula, the Roman Inquisition ceased to exact the death penalty and evolved into the modern Holy Office.

Spanish prosecution of heresy, however, was somewhat more rigorous. The nature and origin of this tribunal has already been treated. Despite his compromising policy toward German Lutherans, Emperor Charles V was an ardent advocate of the use of the Inquisition in Spain and the Netherlands. Yet he reproached himself on his deathbed for excessive leniency and charged his son and heir, Philip II, to root out heresy. Philip himself directed a roundup of heretical leaders from 1557, and on his return to Spain in 1559 conducted five autos-da- fé within two years. Melchior Cano preached at the first of these, at which fourteen were condemned to death. Similar scenes were enacted to the end of the century, after which Protestantism seems to have been stamped out in Spain. Refugees fled to Italy, but often went on to Germany, Switzerland, or Poland, where discipline was milder. Use of the Spanish inquisitorial system in the Netherlands, however, finally provided one of the causes of the Dutch revolt.


The Index of Forbidden Books was an adjunct of the Roman Inquisition. Though prohibitive measures had been taken since the fifth century, the invention of printing required revised legislation. Pope Alexander VI was the first to take action (1501) by the bull, Inter Multiplices. The first printed Index appeared at Venice in 1543. In pursuance of a Tridentine decree, a curial commission revised this list and published rules for enforcement. Pius IV promulgated the revised Index in 1564 and Pius V named a supervisory board in 1571. These regulations remained substantially intact until 1897 when Leo XIII undertook a complete revision.

B. Clerical Reform


St. Charles Borromeo (1538-84), though pious from boyhood, began his career as a typical renaissance ecclesiastical aristocrat. In youth he held abbeys in trust; at the age of twenty-two he was named cardinal by his uncle, Pius IV, and before ordination to the priesthood was made archbishop of Milan and secretary of state. It is typical of the yet but partially regenerate times that when his elder brother died in 1562, the cardinal was expected to resign, marry, and become Count Borromeo. St. Charles, however, made a definitive choice of the ecclesiastical state by receiving priestly ordination and episcopal consecration. He now [p. 224] bethought himself of the decree of episcopal residence, so often a dead letter in the past. Though his uncle would not spare him, St. Pius V permitted St. Charles to take up permanent residence in Milan.

The Milanese situation was similar to that of many dioceses. Milan had not so much as seen a resident ordinary for some sixty years, and this neglect had been enervating for the clergy. St. Charles found clerics being educated in universities, living alone in boarding houses like secular students. Even at that, such clerics were likely to become professors, curial officials or court chaplains. The rank and file of the parochial clergy were trained in parish rectories, receiving such education as the learning, time, and whim of the pastor might give them. Vocations were too often decided by parents who assigned sons to the Church irrespective of their inclinations or qualifications. Though most of these might acquiesce to the parental disposition for sheer need of livelihood, they seldom gave more than a minimum of attention to their unwanted calling.

The Borromean reform took the shape of giving practical effect to the Tridentine decree on seminaries. A series of synods introduced this clerical reform to the great Milanese province that embraced northern Italy and parts of Switzerland. Not content with being the first bishop actually to set up a seminary, St. Charles led the way in working out the details of administration. He provided spiritual direction to train seminarians in the daily practice of mental prayer, examination of conscience, mortification, and frequentation of the sacraments. Each student was obliged to make a retreat and general confession on entrance, each year of his course, and before receiving sacred orders. St. Charles was inflexible in overcoming opposition from canons and pastors. Religious claimed exemption from the seminary tax and one of the Humiliati fired at him. Though the powder burn was seen and the impact felt, the saint suffered no harm—not so the Humiliati, who were suppressed by the Holy See. Personal visitation of his diocese took St. Charles even to the Alpine hamlets. Despite the hardships of his pastoral duties, this “Iron Man” practiced severe voluntary mortification and even St. Peter Canisius once pleaded off accompanying him. During the Great Plague in Milan St. Charles’s ministrations attained heroism. Through a tireless episcopate of nearly twenty years he proved conclusively that the Tridentine reform could be put into execution, and need not remain a dead letter like so many previous conciliar decrees.


Pope Gregory XIII (1502-85) has already been noted as providing good example in establishing various institutes for the training of the clergy. Not only did he form the Jesuit Roman College into an international [p. 225] university, but he set up national houses to train clerics for missions among Western heretics or Oriental schismatics.

Bartolomeo Fernandez (1514-90), usually known as A Martyribus, was archbishop of Braga in Portugal from 1558. A Tridentine father and a friend and correspondent of St. Charles, this zealous Dominican labored for the introduction of the conciliar decrees in his diocese, and set up the first Portuguese seminary.

Reginald Pole (1500-58) , last Catholic archbishop of Canterbury, was preparing to establish a seminary as the culmination of his restoration revival when he died. Elizabethan persecution made native institutions impossible, but Cardinal William Allen (1532-94) carried on the work of training English missionaries at his foundation at Douay from 1567.

The Jesuits, besides the Collegium Germanicum at Rome, also established or organized pontifical seminaries at Vienna, Gratz and Olmütz, all Habsburg towns. Between 1556 and 1604, moreover, they erected sixteen colleges in Germany and Bohemia, before going on to Poland and Hungary. While all of these institutions were not primarily for clerical training, they did contribute directly or indirectly to that end.

Charles of Lorraine (1524-74), Cardinal archbishop of Rheims, and captain of the French delegation at Trent, set up a seminary at Rheims in 1567, and several other French bishops followed his example. But the disasters of the Huguenot Wars and the hostility of the French court toward promulgation of the Tridentine decrees destroyed these promising beginnings.

Pierre de Berulle (1575-1629), cardinal and founder of the French Oratory, provided the lasting stimulus to French clerical reform. His conferences to priests inspired the introduction of the Tridentine decrees by action of the French hierarchy in 1615, and persuaded many holy priests to specialize in the establishment of seminaries. At one time or another Berulle had under his guidance St. Vincent de Paul (1580‑1660), St. John Eudes (1601-80), Jean Olier (1608-57), Charles de Condren (1588-1641), and Adrian Bourdoise (1584-1665) . Of these,

St. Vincent founded a minor seminary at the College des Bons Enfants in 1636, and developed a major seminary by 1642, though he had conducted clerical conferences at St. Lazare from 1633. His Congregation of the Mission continued his work. Father de Condren and St. John Eudes co-operated in a seminary which opened at Caen in 1643, and Father Olier began the justly famous St. Sulpice in 1643. Adrian Bourdoise was something of a fanatic for immediate results by the experimental method: he established a clerical school in his parish of St. Nicholas du Chardonnet. Sometimes, however, he tended to exalt the secular priesthood by belittling monasticism, whereas the Sulpicians,  [p. 226] Eudists, and Vincentians stressed the Tridentine spirit of co-operation between the secular and regular clergy.

C. Re-evangelization of Europe


The Oratory of Divine Love seems to have been founded at Genoa in 1497, but was transferred to Rome where its statutes were approved by Leo X in 1514. Inspired by St. Cajetan, it became the parent of many reform movements, such as the Theatine Congregation and the Confraternity of Charity, both of which were set up in 1519.

Gian-Matteo Giberti (1495-1543), illegitimate son of a Genoese admiral, became a protégé of the Medici: from 1512 he was employed as Humanist and papal diplomat. In 1524 he joined the Theatine Society and became bishop of Verona, though retained in the Roman curia as datary. After the Sack of Rome in 1527 he overcame all obstacles to taking up residence in his see. There he prompted clerical and liturgical reforms, while as a member of Clementine and Pauline reform commissions, he anticipated many of the Tridentine measures.

St. Philip Neri (1515-95) , yet to be treated as a religious founder, deserves mention here as “second apostle” of Rome. Advisor of popes, missionaries, and religious founders, he was patriarch of the Tridentine reform movement among both clergy and laity of Rome. Everywhere his practical charity extended: holding conferences for priests, preaching and hearing confessions, visiting hospitals and workshops, supplying the needs of the poor, instructing the young, finding work for the unemployed. Among his friends were St. Michele Ghislieri, later Pius V, St. Charles Borromeo, St. Ignatius Loyola, and St. Camillus de Lellis.


St. Peter Canisius (1521-97) was foremost among zealous missionaries who saved half of Germany for the Faith. Though but one of many Jesuit confreres, he, too, merits the title of a “second apostle.” Born at Nijmegen, Holland, and trained at Cologne and Louvain, he became a Jesuit in 1543. After his ordination in 1546, he assisted in the theological and diplomatic work of the first period of Trent. His German apostolate began in 1549 at the Bavarian University of Ingolstadt. Within five years he was the most influential man in Germany: teacher and rector at Ingolstadt and Vienna, preacher extraordinary, confessor and advisor of emperors and Catholic magnates, consultor at the imperial diets, papal theologian at Trent, administrator of the diocese of Vienna for a year, founder of parish sodalities—all this in the Swiss cantons as well as Germany proper. His polemical tracts met every attack, and his [p. 227] catechisms came in all sizes. His intervention was paramount in averting the apostasy of the Lutheranizing Emperor Maximilian II, a defection which might have entailed that of all of central Europe. St. Peter Canisius, hard-working rather than brilliant, was an example capable of imitation, and he was imitated.


St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622) made his influence felt in the Calvinist stronghold, whence it expanded to France as well. From his sacerdotal ordination in 1593 he preached in the smallest towns and after disheartening beginnings won thousands back from Calvinism. In 1599 he became coadjutor-bishop of Geneva and succeeded to the see in 1602. Resident at Annecy, he yet converted two of the Calvinist leaders, Poncet and D’Avully, and even shook the resolution of Beza momentarily. Though unable to establish a seminary, St. Francis tried to reform his clergy, and encouraged Cardinal de Berulle and others. His mildness became proverbial, and it had lasting influence upon the laity in writing, preaching, and spiritual direction.

St. Vincent de Paul (1580-1660) was by common consent the central figure of the French Reformation, for his all-embracing charity and gift of organization were called upon to head or assist in most of the projects of his day. Chaplain in the houses of ex-Queen Margaret and Madame de Gondi, he was permitted periods of parochial activity by his spiritual advisor, De Berulle. His apostolate to the poor began with a mission sermon on the De Gondi estates in 1617. The next year he began the organization of the Ladies of Charity, who enlisted the nobility and the gentry in the needs of the poor. In 1622 St. Francis de Sales committed to him the direction of St. Jane de Chantal’s Visitandine Nuns. It was in 1625 that St. Vincent founded his own Congregation of the Mission to conduct retreats for priests in addition to missions among the poor country people. Under his guidance developed the Tuesday Conferences for zealous secular priests of Paris and the neighborhood. Seminaries were undertaken while the central house of St. Lazare became a “Noe’s Ark” for every sort of charitable undertaking. With St. Louise de Marillac, he organized in 1632 the Daughters of Charity, first of the modern sisterhoods working in the world. Queen Anne named him to the Council of Conscience, which passed upon royal prelatial nominations; he was also by royal commission chaplain of the galley slaves, and director of relief for devastated provinces. He acted as mediator during the Fronde and will reappear as the foe of Jansenism. Though mentor of France, he refused all dignities and died a model of humility and charity. [p. 228]


Mention should also be made of Cardinal Stanislaus Hosius (150479), bishop of Ermland, Tridentine theologian, and greatest single human factor in saving Poland for the Faith. Another German, St. Fidelis of Sigmaringen (1577-1622), labored in Austria and Switzerland and became the proto-martyr of the new Roman congregation of Propaganda Fidei. St. Josaphat Kunceyvic (1580-1623), archbishop of Polotsk, was martyred after a successful mission among the Poles and Lithuanians of the Ruthenian Rite. In Hungary, Peter Pazmany (15701637), archbishop of Gran, was outstanding; in Poland, Peter Skarga (1536-1612), Jesuit missionary, had a remarkable career.

“Thus was the Catholic Reformation, here as well as on the shores of the Mediterranean, a movement towards the moral regeneration, not of the clergy alone, but of the whole of the Christian people as well; and its efforts, not unparalleled by those of Calvinist puritanism, tended to chasten the barbaric brutality of the North, no less than the pagan lasciviousness of the South.” 1




Newman C. Eberhardt, C.M.

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