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Marking the 474th Anniversary of the Commencement of the Ecumenical Council of Trent

The following is a guest post by Dante Figueroa, Senior Legal Information Analyst at the Law Library of Congress.

         Canon law books at the Law Library of Congress. Photo by Dante Figueroa.

Recently, I was reviewing a full cart of canon law books and found interesting materials related to the Catholic Church’s ecumenical councils. Ecumenical councils are “legally convened assemblies of ecclesiastical dignitaries and theological experts for the purpose of discussing and regulating matters of church doctrine and discipline.”

Among these documents, those related to the 19th Ecumenical Council of Trent caught my attention. The Council of Trent opened on December 13, 1545, and closed on December 4, 1563. Today marks the 474th anniversary of the commencement of the Council. The Council was held as a reaffirmation of the Articles of Faith of the Catholic Church (that is, the creed or beliefs of a specific religion) and the ancient and established rules for the conduct of clerics and the internal management of the Catholic Church vis-à-vis the doctrinal and violent turbulence unleashed during the 16th century.

From the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church had been actively battling some issues of clerical behavior and internal adherence to doctrine that were still simmering by the beginning of the 16th century throughout Europe. By then, the division of the Western Christian Church was looming in the horizon as the Protestant Reformation started making in-roads. Although in the making as far back as the 15th century, the so-called Catholic Counter-Reformation’s most important expression was the Council of Trent.

The book below, published in Lucerne, Switzerland, in 1832, contains a collection of documents concerning the Council of Trent, and translated to English reads as follows: “The Holy Universal and General Council of Trent, that is, the Resolutions and Holy Canons, including the Related Pontifical Bulls.”

Das Heilige, Allgültige und Allgemeine Concilium von Trient, das ist: dessen Beschlůsse und Heil. Canones nebst den Betreffenden Påbstlichen Bullen; Treu übersezt, und mit einem Vollständigen Sachregister Versehen von Jodoc. Egli. Edition: 2, genau durchgesehene, verb. und verm. aufl. (Luzern, X. Meyer, 1832). Photo by Dante Figueroa.

The twenty-fifth and final session of the Council took place from December 3 to 4, 1563, and promulgated a number of dogmatic decrees. In general, these decrees concern:

  • The Creed of Faith
  • The Canon of Scripture (the Vulgate)
  • The Edition and Use of the Sacred Books
  • Original Sin
  • The Doctrine of Justification
  • A Refusal of the Protestant Doctrine of Predestination
  • Episcopal Jurisdiction
  • The Sacraments, in particular the Sacrament of Orders (Priesthood and Consecrated Religious Life) and Matrimony
  • Purgatory
  • Invocation, Veneration, and Relics of the Saints and Sacred Images
  • Indulgences
  • Fasting and Abstinence
  • The Liturgy (Index of Books, the Catechism, the Breviary, and the Missal)

The decrees were approved by Pope Pius IV on January 26, 1564, through the Bull (“Benedictus Deus”), which made them obligatory in the whole Catholic world. The Bull was followed by the publication in November of that year of the Professio Fidei Tridentinæ, which is a binding formula of faith (formula professionis et juramenti) for all dignitaries and teachers of the Catholic Church.

Additional Library of Congress materials on the Council of Trent are also available in other languages, including:

Bull of Indiction of the Sacred Oecumenical and General Council of Trent, issued by the Sovereign Pontiff, Paul III. From: Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent. Photo by Dante Figueroa.

Further bibliographical resources on the Ecumenical Councils of the Catholic Church in the Library’s collection include:

  • ItalianDecisioni dei Concili Ecumenici, a cura di Giuseppe Alberigo (1978), which includes the councils of Nicaea I (325), Constantinople I (381), Ephesus (431), Chalcedon (451), Constantinople II (553), Constantinople III (680-681), Nicaea II (787), Lateran IV (1215), Lyon II (1274), Vienna (1311-1312), Constance (1414-1418), Basil (1431-1445), Vatican I (1869-1870), and Vatican II (1962-1965).
  • LatinConciliorum Oecumenicorum Decreta, Centro di documentazione, Istituto per le Scienze Religiose, Bologana, curantibus Josepho Alberigo et al. (1962).

The Law Library’s foreign legal specialists are here to help you discover and examine our unique and valuable collection of canon law materials.

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