The Council of Trent was convened by Pope Paul III on December 13, 1545—the year prior to Luther’s death—and lasted, with interruptions of three and ten years respectively, until December 4, 1563. Inasmuch as Pope Paul VI has just convened the second session of Vatican Council II, the 400th anniversary of the closing sessions of the Tridentine council deserves the attention of conservative Protestantism. The city of Trent stands in the southern and Italian part of Tyrol, seventy-three miles northwest of Venice. Not all sessions were held here, for in March, 1547, the council was transferred to Bologna, Italy, due to fear of a plague, though later it was reconvened at Trent, where the final and most important sessions took place. The council closed with the triple curse: “Anathema to all heretics; anathema; anathema”—an odious imprecation which Rome has never revoked.

The history of the council is divided into three distinct periods: 1545–1549; 1551–1552; 1562–1563. Of these, the last was the most significant for evangelical Protestantism. The council itself is ranked by Roman Catholics as ecumenical, and its decrees and canons are forever binding on the church and its converts. The “decrees,” or doctrinal decisions of the council—approved by papal authority—set forth the positive statements of Roman doctrine. The “canons” are solemn declarations condemning the dissenting Protestant tenets (Lutheran and Reformed), each closing with the grim curse: anathema sit, that is, let him (the dissenter) be accursed. For conservative Protestantism, the Council of Trent is a momentous challenge because it declared anathema every evangelical doctrine taught by Luther, Calvin, and other Protestant leaders. For Rome itself, it was the beginning ...

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