Monday, December 13, 2021

Today on the Almanac, we remember the Council of Trent, which opened on this day in 1545.

*** This is a rough transcript of today's show ***

It is the 13th of December 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at I'm your guest host, Sam Leanza Ortiz.

1517’s an important year around here, but its significance took on new meaning with the subject of today’s show, the Council of Trent, which opened on this day in 1545.

Councils have been featured on the Almanac before, Nicea, the Lateran councils among some of the big ones, and this one is no different. At Trent, the fracture between Protestant and Catholic became a formal part of the Western church landscape.

In 1545, the council began nearly thirty years after Martin Luther kicked off the Protestant Reformation with his 95 Theses at Wittenberg. This was not the first response from the church to its challengers. Luther was excommunicated in 1521, but his ex-communication did not end attempts at confessional reconciliation.

Just four years before Trent, the Colloquy at Regensburg under the emperor, Charles V, attempted to navigate these confessional differences in a spirit of compromise. However, when both parties walked away from the proposed articles, all hopes of reconciliation were dead.

By the time Trent opened, the Roman church had looked to put its Protestant problem to bed and focus on the future. How would its doctrines be defined in this new era? What did it mean to be Roman Catholic? While the church has always been more diverse than an outsider might assume, what united this newly formed side of a broken church?

These questions brought papal legates to the northern Italian town of Trent, which proved to be the best compromise between imperial and papal parties, being in the regions of the north of the Italian peninsula, where papal influence was strong, but remaining technically within the Holy Roman empire.

Despite the gravity of this council, attendance was low and dominated by Italian and Spanish legates, who remained relatively untouched by the Reformation’s reach compared to their French and German counterparts.

The council ultimately took over eighteen years to accomplish its goals. The ability to assemble long enough to iron out the multiple issues raised by Protestant reformers was nearly impossible in this age of political instability.

The first meeting lasted the longest, at just over a year, in which the topics of Scripture and justification were settled. In this meeting, the Latin Vulgate was affirmed as the authoritative text of Scripture, and apostolic tradition maintained its equal footing with Scripture in terms of doctrinal authority. On justification, the Council kept the church's stance of human cooperation with divine grace.

The Council adjourned in 1547 due to fears of plague, though Pope Paul III attempted to move the Council on to papal lands in Bologna, but Charles V would disagree.

Pope Paul III died between the first and second assembly and was replaced by Pope Julius III, who reissued the call to Trent in 1551.

This brief meeting focused on finetuning the church's seven sacraments, including affirming transubstantiation and communion in one kind (where the laity only receives the bread). The assembly ended within the year after threats of Protestant invasion spooked attendees.

The Council's final meeting took place from 1562-1563. This assembly brought the most sweeping changes to church practice –– from its definition of the mass to its stricter qualifications for priests and bishops. The Council also produced new versions of the missal, the catechism, the breviary, and the Bible to disseminate these changes. The canons and decrees were approved in 1564 by Pope Pius IV in the bull, Benedictus Deus.

Some Protestants returned to the church, satisfied with how abuses were addressed. Among leading reformers, responses to Trent were sparse but uniformly in disagreement. Ever the exegete, John Calvin railed against the treatment of Scripture in the first assembly. The most significant response to Trent in its entirety would come from Martin Chemnitz in 1565.

In the years to follow, the church led by the bishop of Rome would be known as the Roman Catholic Church, signifying that the one holy, Catholic church had been forever separated. Though tumultuous among the Christian Church, the following centuries proved more stable for the Roman church, as Trent was the last Council until the first and second councils at the Vatican in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

The journey toward the Roman Catholic Church as we know it today took an essential step with the Council of Trent, which opened on this day in 1545.

The last word for today comes from the book of Revelation, the seventh chapter:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, ten and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 13th of December 2021 brought to you by 1517 at

This show was produced by Christopher Gillespie.

This show has been written and read by Sam Leanza Ortiz.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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