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Trent Councilof

Trent THE COUNCIL OF, commonly regarded as the eighteenth OEcumenical Council of the Church, met at Trent on December 13, 1545, and, after frequent adjournments and reopenings, was dissolved on December 4, 1563. A General Council had long been advocated by the more earnest and liberal-minded among the princes, prelates, and scholars who clung to the old religion, as the most efficacious method of removing real abuses and averting the progress of heresy and schism. Luther, and the Protestant princes who favoured him, had also expressed a desire for such a meeting, though with a far different object in view. The proposal was supported, for his own ends, by the Emperor Charles V.; but, owing to the delays created by the Popes, who feared a diminution of their power, the Council was not opened till the last month of 1545, in the twelfth year of the pontificate of Paul III. It was presided over by three Legates, the Cardinals Del Monte, Cervino della Croce, and Reginald Pole, by whom the committees appointed to prepare subjects for discussion were in all cases chosen and instructed, so that it was soon obvious that the proceedings would be conducted in complete harmony with the Pope's interests. It was generally hoped throughout Europe that the reformation of the Church "in its head and members" would at once engage the attention of the Council, but the first three sessions were wasted in preliminaries, and when the actual business of the Council began matters of practical importance were subordinated to questions of doctrine. From the outset the decisions on these points ran entirely counter to Protestant views. Thus in the fourth session ancient tradition was declared to be no less binding than the express commands of Scripture, the canonical character of the Apocrypha was maintained, and the Vulgate was received as authentic. The judgments given regarding original sin, justification, and the number, nature, and administration of the sacraments in the fifth, sixth, and seventh sessions, were equally uncompromising. An attempt of the Pope to transfer the assembly to Bologna resulted in its adjournment for an indefinite period (September, 1547), and with the exception of a twelve months' session in 1551, in which the Real Presence, transubstantiation, and the necessity of penance and extreme unction were affirmed, its debates were not reopened till 1562, in the third year of the pontificate of Paul IV. During the closing sessions some enactments were passed improving ecclesiastical discipline, but the Italian bishops successfully resisted all attempts to introduce sweeping reforms. The decrees regarding Purgatory, the worship of saints relics and images, indulgences, and similar matters could not fail completely to alienate all who had any sympathy with the Protestant party. On the whole, it may be said that by its policy at the Council of Trent the Roman Church took up a position which has rendered reunion forever impossible.