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The General Mobilization of the Catholic Church – The Council of Trent (1547-63)

In December 1546, Pope Paul III called a General Council to Trent, where it met sporadically between 1547 and 1563. During the following century, Trent's doctrinal definitions and reform decrees served as a general program for the reform of the Catholic Church and its defense against the Protestants. In their doctrinal decisions, the bishops who convened in Trent highlighted Catholic teaching and condemned Protestant teaching on the chief points at issue: Justification, Eucharist, Penance, Scripture and Tradition, Original Sin and Justification, the Mass as a real sacrifice, and the veneration of saints. The reform decrees provided the entire Church with an agenda on points ranging from episcopal residence, the holding of benefices, the founding of seminaries, and matrimony. The following seven excerpts from the canons and decrees illustrate some of the most important parts of the conciliar agenda. They are ordered chronologically according to their date of approval.

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Session VI
January 13, 1547



Since there is being disseminated at this time, not without the loss of many souls and grievous detriment to the unity of the Church, a certain erroneous doctrine concerning justification, the holy, ecumenical and general Council of Trent [ . . . ] intends, for the praise and glory of Almighty God, for the tranquillity of the Church and the salvation of souls, to expound to all the faithful of Christ the true and salutary doctrine of justification, which the Sun of justice (1), Jesus Christ, the author and finisher of our faith (2) taught, which the Apostles transmitted and which the Catholic Church under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost has always retained; strictly forbidding that anyone henceforth presume to believe, preach or teach otherwise than is defined and declared in the present decree.


The holy council declares first, that for a correct and clear understanding of the doctrine of justification, it is necessary that each one recognize and confess that since all men had lost innocence in the prevarication of Adam (3), having become unclean (4), and, as the Apostle says, by nature children of wrath (5), as has been set forth in the decree on original sin, they were so far the servants of sin (6) and under the power of the devil and of death, that not only the Gentiles by the force of nature, but not even the Jews by the very letter of the law of Moses, were able to be liberated or to rise therefrom, though free will, weakened as it was in its powers and downward bent, was by no means extinguished in them.

[ . . . ]

(1) Mal. 4:2.
(2) Heb. 12:2.
(3) Rom. 5:12; I Cor. 15:22.
(4) Is. 64:6.
(5) Eph. 2:3.
(6) Rom. 6:17, 20.

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