Friday, December 06, 2013

Trent: a renewal

In 1543 the Council of Trent met and Wednesday marked the 450th anniversary of its closure. It is worth noting that the background to the Council is quite similar to the condition of the Church today, there where sexual scandals exemplified by the Borgia, there was partisan careerism exemplified by the Rovera pope, the fearsome warrior Julius II, there were financial scandals, the selling of indulgences by the same pope, there was even a 'gay lobby' on the part of many Curial officials - remember half a century before  'the Greek vice' had been a particular target of Savonarola,

To regard the period before Trent as being a time of doctrinal clarity is to demonstrate both an ignorance of history and to underestimate the importance of the great Council. In England Lollardy had existed since the mid-fourteenth century as an undercurrent, the same in Northern Italy and Switzerland with Waldensians, the great European heresiarchs of  the 16th century built on an already established foundation.

Popes, bishops, priests, abbots, monks along with Emperors, kings and other magnates exploited the faith for their own personal and political advantage. Spurious doctrines tinged with superstition were as common as spurious relics. When heresy reared its head as a new intellectual fashion, the clergy, for the most part, either took it up or because of ignorance were ill equipped to combat it. In Northern Europe principality after principality fell away from the true faith leaving the definitions the Catholic belief ragged and the clergy and faithful demoralised.

If one wishes to understand what was wrong before, or where the Church and it teaching was weak and under attack, it is well worth looking at what Trent saw as important. Its major concern seems to have been the reform of the clergy, not just their intellectual development but their spiritual and moral formation, concubinage, simony, empty benefices, lack of pastoral care, the lack of an evangelical example, seem to have been as much a problem as shaky theology. The new technology of movable type meant that for the first time not only could the Church's theology be made widely available but also its Rites could be standardised with greater ease than with costly manuscripts - it is worth noting that pre-Trent Pontificals were more or less rites peculiar to each diocese. Trent spent a great of time on Justification and Grace because the Medieval theology was imprecise, ultimately giving an imprecise image of God, before moving on to re-write the Rites. The development of the 'Tridentine Mass' is interesting, other Rites were permitted providing they had a 200 year pedigree, which presumably would suggest providing that they were free from nascent Protestantism or exaggerated local preference.

What Trent does with great force is to introduce Thomism into the centre of Catholicism as a unifying force rather than as a possible option, a school of theology amongst other schools. At the most obvious level Trent makes Thomas' definition of Transubstantiation de fidei because previous teaching on the Real Presence was imprecise and open to misreading.

I see liberalism and confusion as being the 'spirit' of Vatican II, Ultramontanism as the 'spirit' of Vatican I. The 'spirit' of Trent is perhaps seeing too harsh a break between the theologies that united East and West before the Great Schism. Trent in many ways marks a Westernisation of Catholicism, as the decline and fall of Constantinople a century before mark the Orientalisation of Orthodoxy. For Catholicism the fruit of the Reformation, because of the Fathers of Trent, was the Glorious Counter-Reformation.

Stephen Beale has a very worthwhile article: Lessons from the Council of Trent:

The achievements of the Counter-Reformation are breathtaking: It gave rise to great religious orders like the Discalced Carmelites, the Capuchins, and the Jesuits, who, in turn launched the great missions to South America, Africa, China and Japan. It gave birth to great saints like St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Philip Neri, and St. Francis de Sales and inspired a new era of devotional fervor, as exemplified in books written by many of those saints, like The Spiritual Exercises and An Introduction to the Devout Life. And it created the form of Catholicism that withstood centuries of social strife and political turmoil, from the French Revolution to the emergence of communism...


viterbo said...

''to be steeped in history is to cease to be Protestant'.Bl. Cardinal Newman., know the Truth and it shall set you free. the fetish for the 'new' seems inimical to Catholicism.

" However, let not these priests be misled, in the maze of current opinions, by the miracles of a false Democracy. Let them not borrow from the Rhetoric of the worst enemies of the Church and of the people, the high-flown phrases, full of promises; which are as high-sounding as unattainable. Let them be convinced that the social question and social science did not arise only yesterday; that the Church and the State, at all times and in happy concert, have raised up fruitful organizations to this end; that the Church, which has never betrayed the happiness of the people by consenting to dubious alliances, does not have to free herself from the past; that all that is needed is to take up again, with the help of the true workers for a social restoration, the organisms which the Revolution shattered, and to adapt them, in the same Christian spirit that inspired them, to the new environment arising from the material development of today’s society. Indeed, the true friends of the people are neither revolutionaries, nor innovators: they are traditionalists." Notre Charge Apostolique. Pius X

Savonarola said...

You have my dates wrong! The historical Savonarola was executed in 1498, half a century before the council of Trent.
The achievements of Trent and the Counter-Reformation are indeed great and glorious, but it was a different world. The baroque style of art and worship which it fostered, for example - religion as decoration - is essentially kitsch - high-class kitsch maybe and well suited to the opera house, but of little devotional value today.
For me and, I think, still many Catholics it is the 2nd Vatican Council which remains our inspiration - in its theology of the Church, the faith, the liturgy and so much else. It was not a new departure, but a re-visioning of authentic pristine Christianity that had become distorted in the course of the centuries. The sadness is that the Council has never been properly or fully implemented, but rather its legacy has been shamefully betrayed and undermined by reactionary currents within the Church too narrow and small-minded to embrace its vision.

Anthony Emmel said...

I once finished a course I taught on the Reformation at University by posing the question to my students, "Did the Reformation succeed? Did it accomplish its goals?" Mind you, this is in a highly Baptist and sola Scriptura part of Texas.

I made about 80% of my class angry or unpleasant with the comment that it was not success. The ultimate goal of the "Reformation" was to destroy the Roman Catholic Church. They failed...miserably.

On the flip side, the Church survived the Reformation although She did lose territory. However, because of Trent, the Catholic Church emerged as a more vibrant and leaner organization. The dead wood was removed.

Jacobi said...

Yes father, the similarities are remarkable, including the timescale of Protestantism and now of Modernism.

The danger is just as great today also, namely, that of a disintegration of the Church. The Popes between 1517 and 1563 (end of Trent) were ineffective for the most part in dealing with the forces at work or weak or excessive, until we had Pius IV and of course St Pius V
It took nine popes to sort out the mess of the Protestant Reformation so now, at five Popes into the current mess of the Modernist Reformation, we may have at least have some four Popes to go?

Sooner or later, and before we go off on our white chargers Evangelising, the current mess in the Church will have to be sorted out and that, regardless of how many Popes, will require another Council.

Interesting is it not how history tends to repeat itself?

viterbo said...

savonarola said: 'It [VII] was not a new departure, but a re-visioning of authentic pristine Christianity that had become distorted in the course of the centuries.'

The Holy Ghost can't distort.

VII instituted the word of the world and all its indifferentism anti-dogmas 9and the confusion that arise when Truth and error are given a moral equivalence0 into its documents and so the Church became more like the world - which is in error. That's not the work of the Holy Spirit. That's the work of another kind of spirit. There has always been those who claim to be 'faithful sons of the church' who have been corrupt, either through their ignorance or in full knowledge. The evidence suggests that the VII vision and certainly its application is very distorted.

gemoftheocean said...

Many thanks for this article, Father Ray. It's good to remember that the church has had its periods of up and down when we sometimes get discouraged of where it's all going. To be sure we have to remember the promise of Jesus that "the gates of hell will not prevail against it."

Sometimes we seem pretty close to those gates -- I expect it's such a time for Europe, and growing in America as well. But yet, there are bright spots for hope. I think we need to pray for GOOD leadership. Because right now I feel that while there are bright spots in the church, in various diocese around the world we have too many bishops/cardinals sitting around on their dupas tolerating scandal, either among some of their clergy, which makes the GOOD clergy too often feel depressed and unappreciated and unsupported. And then we have too many who try to be "hip" and accommodating such that real catechesis isn't done at all for fear of offending. Better to boldly and accurately state and teach and preach what the church holds - so at least if people disagree with it, they know precisely what they disagree with, rather than what they think (which may be wrong) they disagree with.

To be steeped in Catholicism is to be steeped in history.

gemoftheocean said...

Jacobi...I hope it doesn't take 9 popes. Being American, I am somewhat impatient by the glacial pace of cleaning house. If only the Holy Spirit had listened to me [/wink] Cardinal Burke would have been made pope and some heads would already be on platters worldwide and those heads would consist of a lot of bishops and more than a few backstabbers and ne'er-do-wells at the Vatican who have their dupas taking up space and undermining the faith by spreading disinformation, and then sitting back laughing at the chaos they created or helped to foment. Some people need to "get with the program." The church needs to stop rewarding mediocrity, and "yes men." And by "yes men" I mean the guys who go along to get along to avoid rocking the boat when they know something is wrong.

Sixupman said...

Cardinal Brandmuller is reported as appearing to state that Vatican II is the new 'Trent' and forsees it bearing the same fruits as 'Trent'.

Some hope!

Nicolas Bellord said...

So baroque is kitsch? Good grief I cannot think of a single church inspired by Vatican II that has any pretence to artistic merit whatsoever. Most of them are as about inspiring as the average gym.

Jacobi said...

Gem, historical parallels are never exact, so we might get away with say, two Popes. Keep praying.

Sixupman, Brandmueller is putting the best face on it.

The only authoritative opinion we have on Vat II is that of Benedict XVI, who said it defined no dogma and chose to remain at a modest level as a pastoral council. At best it can be compared to the Fifth Lateran Council which at least had objectives, although it failed to deal with the upsurge of Protestantism.

Sadly, given the Cardinal’s view, we might even need another five or six Popes, (sorry Gem), and a Syllabus of Errors of Vat II, and of course another Council such as Trent, to sort out the shambles, oh sorry, mess.

viterbo said...

Kitsch of the nu-kirk; Apparently a lot of Catholics get married in non-Catholic churches in the 'new world' because the vii kirks are just too ugly.

p.s. oorah, what gem of the ocean said about yes men.

Ben Warren said...

Dear Fr., It seems to me that conservatives ought to work for the excommunication latae sententiae of anyone voting for a left-of-center party on economic grounds. For any vote for a left of center party is a vote for the graduated income tax. But the graduated income tax is inherently unjust, according to I-II Q.96 Art. 4 of the Summa, in which St. Thomas declares that only laws are just that burden society "proportionally". In other words, leftists plunder the rich, and are therefore stealing, so they ought to be excommunicated. Don't you think this argument has merit?