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§ 24. The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent.


I. Latin Editions.

Paul. Manutius (d. 1574): Canones et Decreta Œcum. et Generalis Conc. Tridentini, jussu Pontificis Romani, Rome, 1564, fol., 4to, and 8vo.

Canones et Decreta Œcum. et Generalis Conc. Trident. . . . Index dogm. et reformationum, etc., Lovan. 1567, fol.

Canones et Decreta Œcum. et Generalis Conc. Trident. additis declarationibus cardinal. Ex ultima recognitione J. Gallemart et citationibus J. Sotealli et Hor. Luth, nec non remissionib. Agst. Barbosæ (Cologne, 1620; Lyons, 1650, 8vo), quibus accedunt additiones Blo. Andræae, etc., Cologne (1664), 1712, 8vo.

Ph. Chifflet: S. Concilii Trid. Canones et Decreta cum præfatione, Antw. 1640, 8vo.

Judov. le Plat (or Leplat; a very learned and moderate Catholic, d. 1810): Concilii Tridentini Canones et Decreta, juxta exemplar authenticum, Romæ 1564 editum, cum variantibus lectionibus, notis Chiffletii, etc., Antwerp, 1779; Madrid, 1786. The most complete Cath. edition.

Æm. Lud. Richter et Frid. Schulte: Canones et Decreta Concilii Tridentini ex editione Romana a. 1834, repetiti, etc., Leipz. 1853. Best Protestant ed.

Canones et Decreta sacrosancti Œcumenici Concilii Tridentini, etc., Romæ, ed. stereotypa VII., Leipz. (Tauchnitz), 1854.

W. Smets: Concilii Tridentini sacrosancti œcumenici et generalis, Paulo III., Julio III., Pio IV., Pontificibus 91Maximis, celebrati, Canones et Decreta. Latin and German, with a German introduction, 5th ed. Bielefeld, 1859.

The doctrinal decrees and canons are also given in Denzinger's Enchiridion.


II. English Translations.

J. Waterworth (R.C.): The Canons and Decrees of the Sacred and Œcumenical Council of Trent (with Essays on the External and Internal History of the Council), London, 1848. (From Le Plat's edition.)

Th. A. Buckley (Chaplain of Christ Church, Oxford): The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent, London, 1851.

There are also translations in French, German, Greek, Arabic, etc.


III. History of the Council.

Hardouin: Acta Conciliorum (Paris, 1714), Tom. X. 1–435.

Jodov. Le Plat: Monumentorum ad historiam Concilii Trid. potissimum illustrandum spectantium amplissima collectio, Lovan. 1781–87, Tom. VII. 4to. The most complete documentary collection.

Fra Paolo Sarpi (liberal Catholic, d. 1623): Istoria del concilio Tridentino, nella quale si scoprono tutti gl’artificii della corte di Roma, per impedire, che ne la verita di dogmi si palesasse, ne la riforma del papato e della chiesa si trattasse, Lond. 1619, fol.; Geneva, 1629, 1660. Latin transl., Lond. 1620; Frankf. 1621; Amst. 1694; Leipz. 1699. French translation by Peter Francis Courayer, with valuable historical notes, Lond. 1736, 2 vols. fol.; Amst. 1736, 2 vols. 4to; Amst. 1751, 3 vols. (Courayer was a liberal Roman Catholic divine, but, being persecuted, he fled from France to England, and joined the Anglican Church; d. 1776.) English translation by Sir Nathaniel Brent, Lond. 1676, fol. German translations by Rambach (with Courayer's notes), Halle, 1761, and by Winterer, Mergentheim and Leipz. 2d ed. 1844.

Card. Sforza Pallavicini (strict Catholic, d. 1667): Istoria del concilio di Trento, Roma, 1656–57, 2 vols. fol., and other editions, original and translated. Written in opposition to Paul Sarpi. Comp. Brischar: Beurtheilung der Controversen Sarpi's und Pallavic.'s, Tübing. 1843, 2 vols.

L. El. Du Pin (R.C.): Histoire du concile de Trente, Brussels, 1721, 2 vols. 4to.

Chr. Aug. Salig (Luth.): Vollständige Historie des Trident. Conciliums, Halle, 1741–45, 3 vols. 4to.

Jos. Mendham: Memoirs of the Council of Trent, principally derived from manuscript and unpublished Records, etc., Lond. 1834; with a Supplement, 1846.

J. Göschl: Geschichte des Conc. z. Tr., Regensburg, 1840, 2 vols.

J. H. von Wessenberg (a liberal R.C. and Bishop of Constance, d. 1860): Geschichte der grossen Kirchenversammlungen des 15 und 16 ten Jahrh., Constance, 1840, Vol. III. and IV.

Card. Gabr. Paleotto: Acta Concilii Trid. ab a 1562 descr., ed. Mendham, Lond. 1842.

Ed. Köllner: Symbolik der röm. Kirche, Hamb. 1844, pp. 7–140.

J. T. L. Danz: Gesch. des Trid. Conc., Jena, 1846.

Th. A. Buckley: History of the Council of Trent, London, 1852.

Felix Bungener: Histoire du Concile de Trente, Paris, 2d edition, 1854. English translation, Edinburgh, 1852, and New York, 1855. Also in German, Stuttg. 1861, 2 vols.

A. Baschet: Journal du Concile de Trente, redigé par un secrétaire vénitien present aux sessions de 1562 à 1563, avec d'autres documents diplomatiques relatifs à la mission des Ambassadeurs de France, Par. 1870.

Th. Sickel: Zur Geschichte des Concils von Trient. Actenstücke aus österreichischen Archiven, Wien, 1872 (650 pp.). Mostly letters to the German Emperor, in Latin and Italian, from 1559 to 1563.

Augustin Theiner (Priest of the Oratory, d.1874): Acta genuina SS. Œcumenici Concilii Tridentini . . . nunc primum integra edita. Zagrabiæ (Croatiæ) et Lipsiæ, 1874, 2 Tom. 4to (pp. 722 and 701).

Jos. von Döllingke: Ungedruckte Berichte und Tagebücher zur Geschichte des Conc. von Trient, Nördlingen, 1876.


The principal source and the highest standard of the doctrine and discipline of the Roman Church are the Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent, first published in 1564, at Rome, by authority of Pius IV.175175   The editor of this rare authentic edition was the learned Paulus Manutius (Paolo Manuzio), Professor of Eloquence and Director of the Printing-Press of the Venetian Academy, settled at Rome 1561, and died there 1574. Not to be confounded with his father, Aldo Manuzio, sen. (1447–1515), the editor of the celebrated editions of the classics; nor with his son, Aldo Manuzio, the younger (1547–1597), likewise a printer and writer, and Professor of Eloquence.

The Council of Trent (1543–63) is reckoned by the Roman Church as the eighteenth (or twentieth) œcumenical Council.176176   There is a dispute about the reformatory Councils of Pisa (1409), Constance (1414–18), and Basle (1431), which are acknowledged by the Gallicans, but rejected by the Ultramontanists, or accepted only in part, i.e., as far as they condemned and punished heretics (Hus and Jerome of Prague). The Council of Ferrara and Florence (1439) is regarded as a continuation of, or a substitute for, the Council of Basle. There is also a dispute among Roman historians about the œcumenical character of the Council of Sardica (343), the Quinisexta (692), the Council of Vienne (1311), and the fifth Lateran (1512–17). See Hefele, Conciliengeschichte, Vol. I. 50 sqq. It is also the 92last, with the exception of the Vatican Council of 1870, which, having proclaimed the Pope infallible, supersedes the necessity and use of any future councils, except for unmeaning formalities. It was called forth by the Protestant Reformation, and convened for the double purpose of settling the doctrinal controversies, which then agitated and divided Western Christendom, and of reforming discipline, which the more serious Catholics themselves, including even an exceptional Pope (Adrian VI.), desired and declared to be a crying necessity.177177   Adrian VI., from Holland, the teacher of Charles V., and the last non-Italian Pope, succeeded Leo X. in 1522, but ruled only one year. 'He died of the papacy.' He was a man of ascetic piety, and openly confessed, through his legate Chieregati, at the Diet of Nurnberg, that the Church was corrupt and diseased, from the Pope and the papal court to the members; but at the same time he demanded the sharpest measures against Luther as a second Mohammed. Twelve years later, Paul III. (1534–49) appointed a reform commission of nine pious Roman prelates, who in a memorial declared that the Pope's absolute dominion over the whole Church was the source of all this corruption; but he found it safer to introduce the Inquisition instead of a reformation. The Popes, jealous of deliberative assemblies, which might endanger their absolute authority, and afraid of reform movements, which might make concessions to heretics, pursued a policy of evasion and intrigue, and postponed the council again and again, until they were forced to yield to the pressure of public opinion. Pius IV. told the Venetian embassador that his predecessors had professed a wish for a council, but had not really desired it.

In the early stages of the Reformation, Luther himself appealed to a general council, but he came to the conviction that even general councils had erred (e.g., the Council of Constance in condemning Hus), so that he had to trust exclusively to the Word of God and the Spirit of God in history. In deference to the special wish of the Emperor Charles V., the evangelical princes and divines were invited; but being refused a deliberative voice, they declined. 'They could not fail,' they replied, 'to appreciate the efforts of the Emperor, and they themselves were longing for an impartial council to be controlled by the supreme authority of the Scriptures, but they could not acknowledge nor attend a Roman council where their cause was to be judged after papal decrees and scholastic opinions, which had always found opposition in the 93Church. The council promised by the Pope would be neither free nor Christian, nor œcumenical, nor ruled by the Word of God; it would only confirm the authority of the Pope, on whom it was depending, and prove a new compulsion of conscience.' The result shows that these apprehensions were well founded.178178   At the second period of the Council, 1552, a number of Protestant divines from Württemberg, Strasburg, and Saxony, arrived in Trent, or were on the way, but they demanded a revision of the previous decrees and free deliberation, which were refused.

After long delays the Council was opened by order of Pope Paul III., in the Austrian City of Trent (since 1917, belonging to Italy), on the 13th December, 1545, and lasted, with long interruptions, till the 4th of December, 1563. The attendance varied in the three periods: under Paul III. the number of prelates never exceeded 57, under Julius III. it rose to 62, under Pius IV. it was much larger, but never reached the number of the first œcumenical Council (318). The decrees were signed by 255 members, viz., 4 legates of the Pope, 2 Cardinals, 3 Patriarchs, 25 Archbishops, 168 Bishops, 39 representatives of absent prelates, 7 Abbots, and 7 Generals of different orders. Two thirds of them were Italians. >From France and Poland only a few dignitaries were present; the greater part of the German Bishops were prevented from attendance by the war between the Emperor and the Protestants in Germany. The theologians who assisted the members of the Synod belonged to the monastic orders most devoted to the Holy See.

The pontifical party controlled the preliminary deliberations as well as the final decisions, in spite of those who maintained the rights of an independent episcopacy.179179   The overruling influence of the papal court over the Council rests not only on the authority of Paolo Sarpi, but on many contemporary testimonies, e.g., the reports of Franciscus de Vargas, a zealous Catholic, who was used by Charles V. and Philip II. for the most important missions, who watched the proceedings of the Council at Trent from 1551 to '52 and gave minute information to Granvella. See Lettres et Mémoires de Fr. de Vargas, de Pierre de Malvenda et des quelques erèques d'Espagne, trad. par Michel le Vassor, Amst. 1699; also in Latin, by Schramm, Brunswick. 1704. Le Plat pronounced this correspondence fictitious, but its authenticity has been sufficiently established (see Köllner, l.c. pp. 40, 41).

During a period of nearly twenty years twenty-five public sessions were held, of which about one half were spent in mere formalities. But the principal work was done in the committees or congregations. The articles of dispute were always fixed by the papal legates, who presided. 94They were then first discussed, often with considerable difference of opinion, in the private sessions of the 'Congregations,' and after being secretly reported to, and approved by, the court of Rome, the Synod, in public session, solemnly proclaimed the decisions. They are generally framed with consummate scholastic skill and prudence.

The decisions of the Council relate partly to doctrine, partly to discipline. The former are divided again into Decrees (decreta), which contain the positive statement of the Roman dogma, and into short Canons (canones), which condemn the dissenting views with the concluding 'anathema sit.' The Protestant doctrines, however, are almost always stated in an exaggerated form, in which they would hardly be recognized by a discriminating evangelical divine, or they are mixed up with real heresies, which Protestants condemn as emphatically as the Church of Rome.180180   Thus the Canones de Justificatione (Sess. VI.) reject Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism, as well as Solifidianism and Antinomianism.

The doctrinal sessions, which alone concern us here, are the following:


Decretum de Symbolo Fidei (accepting the Niceno Constantinopolitan Creed as a basis of the following decrees (Febr. 4, 1546).

" IV. Decretum de Canonicis Scripturis (Apr. 8, 1546).
" V. De Peccato Originali (June 17, 1546).
" VI. De Justificatione (Jan. 13, 1547).
" VII. De Sacramentis in genere, and some Canones de Baptismo et Confirmatione (March 3, 1547).
" VIII. De Eucharistiæ Sacramento (Oct. 11, 1551).
" XIV. De S. Pœnitentiæ et Extreme Unctionis Sacramento (Nov. 25, 1551).
" XXI. De Communione sub utraque Specie et Parvulorum (July 16, 1562).
" XXII. Doctrina de Sacrificio Missæ (Sept. 17, 1562).
" XXIII. Vera et Catholica de Sacramento Ordinis doctrina (July 15, 1563).
" XXIV. Doctrina de Sacramento Matrimonii (Nov. 11, 1563).
" XXV.

Decretum de Purgatorio, Doctrina de Invocatione, Veneratione et Reliquiis Sanctorum, et sacris Imaginibus. Decreta de Indulgentiis, de Delectu Ciborum, Jejuniis et Diebus Festis, de Indice Librorum, Catechismo, Breviario et Missali (Dec. 3 and 4, 1563).


The last act of the Council was a double curse upon all heretics.181181   The Cardinal of Lorraine said, 'Anathema cunctis hereticis.' To this the fathers responded, 'Anathema, Anathema.'

The decrees, signed by 255 fathers, were solemnly confirmed by a bull of Pius IV. (Benedictus Deus et Pater Domini nostri, etc.) on the 26th January, 1564, with the reservation of the exclusive right of explanation to the Pope.


The Council was acknowledged in Italy, Portugal, Spain, France, the Low Countries, Poland, and the Roman Catholic portion of the German Empire; but mostly with a reservation of the royal prerogatives. In France it was never published in form. No attempt was made to introduce it into England. Pius IV. sent the acts to Queen Mary of Scots, with a letter, dated June 13, 1564, requesting her to publish them in Scotland, but without effect.182182   On the reception, see the seventh volume of Le Plat's Collection of Documents, Courayer's Histoire de la reception du Concil de Trente, dans les differens états catholiques, Amst. 1756 (Paris, 1766), and Köllner, l.c. pp. 121–129.

The Council of Trent, far from being truly œcumenical, as it claimed to be, is simply a Roman Synod, where neither the Protestant nor the Greek Church was represented; the Greeks were never invited, and the Protestants were condemned without a hearing. But in the history of the Latin Church, it is by far the most important clerical assembly, unless the unfinished Vatican Council should dispute with it that honor, as it far exceeded it in numbers. It completed, with the exception of a few controverted articles, the doctrinal system of mediæval Catholicism, and stamped upon it the character of exclusive Romanism. It settled its relation to Protestantism by thrusting it out of its bosom with the terrible solemnities of an anathema. Papal diplomacy and intrigue outmanaged all the more liberal elements. At the same time the Council abolished various crying abuses, and introduced wholesome disciplinary reforms, as regards the sale of indulgences, the education and morals of the clergy, the monastic orders, etc. Thus the Protestant Reformation, after all, had indirectly a wholesome effect upon the Church which condemned it.

The original acts of the Council, as prepared by its general secretary, Bishop Angelo Massarelli, in six large folio volumes, are deposited in the Vatican, and have remained there unpublished for more than three hundred years. But most of the official documents and private reports bearing upon the Council were made known in the sixteenth century, and since. The most complete collection of them is that of Le Plat. New materials were brought to light by Mendham (from the manuscript history of Cardinal Paleotto), by Sickel, and by Döllinger. The genuine acts, but only in part, were edited by Theiner (1874).

The history of the Council was written chiefly by two able and 96learned Catholics of very different spirit: the liberal, almost semi-Protestant monk Fra Paolo Sarpi, of Venice (first, 1619); and, in the interest of the papacy, by Cardinal Sforza Pallavicini (1656), who had access to all the archives of Rome. Both accounts must be compared.

The first learned and comprehensive criticism of the Tridentine doctrine, from a Protestant point of view, was prepared by an eminent Lutheran theologian, Martin Chemnitz (d. 1586), in his Examen Concilii Tridentini (1565–73, 4 Parts), best ed., Frankf., 1707; republished, Berlin, 1861.183183   The editor, Ed. Preuss, has since become a Romanist at St. Louis (1871).

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