Churches and denominations, like houses and hearts, need periodic cleaning and occasional renovation. Luther’s response to the deterioration of the 16th-century church sparked not only the Protestant Reformation but the Catholic Counter-Reformation, efforts within the Roman church to repair itself. On December 13, 1545, Pope Paul III convened a council in the northern Italian city of Trent, attended at first by only 34 leaders. The several sessions lasted from 1545 to 1563. Participants included Jesuits and scholars, political leaders desiring reunification with Protestants, and clergymen, some desiring reform, others wanting none of it.
The widespread sale of indulgences (which had inflamed Luther) was modified, and many measures were passed to correct and protect the morality of clergymen and church leaders. The doctrines of the church were also reexamined in light of emerging Protestant theology. In most cases, the council reaffirmed traditional medieval doctrines. Protestant views of the Lord’s Supper were dismissed, and transubstantiation upheld (the belief that the wine and bread of the Lord’s Supper become the very body of Christ). The council affirmed Latin as the proper language for the Mass, and it disagreed with Luther on making the Bible available in the common languages. It also rejected the Reformer’s cry of Scripture Alone. Church tradition, said the council, joins Scripture as a source of divine authority for believers.
On this day in Christian history, March 3, 1547, the council began affirming the seven sacraments of the church, all of them, it said, necessary for salvation: Baptism, Confirmation, the Eucharist, Penance, Extreme Unction, Orders, and Matrimony. The Protestant view of two divine ordinances—baptism and the Lord’s Supper—was rejected.
The Council of Trent is one of the most important events in Reformation history, establishing the tone and doctrine of the Catholic Church for the next 400 years, and providing a basis for reformation within the Roman church. Not until the 1960s at Vatican II did another major reexamination take place.
Look deep into my heart, God,
And find out everything I am thinking.
Don’t let me follow evil ways,
But lead me in the way that time has proven true. (Psalm 139:23,24)
Robert J. Morgan, On This Day: 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). Mar.3.