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Waterworth's Council of Trent

Brownson's Quarterly Review, April, 1849

ART. VII.— The Canons and Decrees of the Sacred and Oecumenical Council of Trent, celebrated under the Sovereign Pontiffs, Paul III., Julius HI., and Pius IV. Translated by the REV. J. WATERWORTH. TO which are prefixed Essays on the External and Internal History of the Council. New York : E. Dunigan & Brother, 151, Fulton Street ; London : C. Dolman, 61, New Bond Street. 8vo.    1848.    pp. ccliii. and 326.

OUR readers will best form a general idea of what they are to look for in this valuable work, from the editor's Preface, which we copy entire.

"Many years have elapsed since the Editor of this work formed the design of publishing a translation of the General Councils. The advantage, or necessity, of studying the Councils, as one of the chief records of the faith, morals, and discipline of the Church ; as the main basis and exponents of canon law ; as containing much of the history of the Church and of heresy; and finally, as forming part of that deposit of doctrine and practice which so many are called upon to receive in the Profession of Faith of Pius IV., — furnished motive enough to regard the undertaking as one of importance and general utility. And it was also thought that a work of this class would be acceptable and advantageous, not only to the ecclesiastical student, but also to all who may wish to make themselves acquainted with the real doctrines of the Catholic Church, as stated and defined, not by individuals, but by her assembled prelates, secured from error, in matters of faith, by the promised assistance of the Holy Spirit, when thus representing in Council the entire Church of God.

" The Council of Trent has been first prepared for press, because that Council is of more immediate use for the present times; as the errors of the Innovators of the sixteenth century are there condemned, and the Catholic doctrine is there also stated, on the chief points which still unfortunately separate so many from our communion ; and also because the decrees of discipline and reformation, published by that Council, embody the leading principles of Canon Law, by which the government and polity of the Church are, in a great measure, now regulated.

" This latter consideration weighed much with the Editor, in inducing him to proceed at once with this last of the General Councils. The times were said to be ripe for a restoration, in this country, of the ordinary discipline of the Church, as regards bishops and clergy ; or, at all events, it appeared to many that the day could not be far distant when such a consummation must be looked for, and when, therefore, it would become, or was becoming, necessary, to enable all, readily and easily, to study the true duties and rights which they would, perhaps soon, be called upon to exercise.

" It only remains to notice such details in the execution of the work as may be thought likely to interest the reader.

" 1. The edition of the Council used is Le Plat's copy*(footnote: * Antwerpiffi, 1779. This edition is very valuable, on account of its vast mass of various readings, and the catalogues of the Fathers present at the Sessions. Two of those lists will be found in an Appendix at the close of this volume.") of the authentic edition, published at Rome in 1564.

" 2, Neither time nor labor has been spared to render the translation as faithful a transcript as possible of the original; the most minute accuracy being essential to the value of a work of this character. Hence, the translation will be found to be a literal, and, as far as was attainable, a verbatim representation of the words of the Council; and where those words seemed either susceptible of a somewhat different rendering, or to convey some slight shade of meaning not capable of being reproduced in ouv language, they have been uniformly placed in the margin.

" 3. Many notes, and especially numerous references to previous Councils, bad been prepared, to elucidate the meaning of the Council; but, after much reflection, they have been almost entirely suppressed, for fear of infringing on a wise and extensive prohibition, issued in the Bull of Confirmation, against glosses, and other attempts at illustrating the decrees of the Council. Such, then, is the general character, or what it has been the Editor's endeavour to render the character, of this the first translation* of the Council of Trent into the English language; but should any passage or word be discovered, or be thought, to be less accurately translated than might be wished, the translator will feel grateful to have the place pointed out to him, that he may give the suggested emendation a candid consideration, and adopt it, if advisable.

" 4. To the canons and decrees are prefixed two historical essays. The first of those pieces treats of the causes and events which immediately preceded and occasioned the convocation of the Council; whilst the second essay is a connected narrative of the proceedings of the assembled prelates and theologians, preparatory to each Session. The one gives the history of the times, the other of the Council; and the second especially will, it is believed, be found useful in elucidating many phrases and canons, and in fixing the meaning of passages and decrees which might labor under some obscurity, if considered only as they stand in the text. In fact, without an intimate acquaintance with the debates in the congregations which prepared for and preceded ihe public Sessions, it would be difficult or impossible to form a just arid an accurate judgment on the form of words used in several of the most important decrees, especially of discipline and reformation,

" 5. In compiling both the external and internal history of the Council of Trent, continued use has been made of the noble work of Pallavicino ; and as nearly all the leading facts and statements are derived from that authentic record, it has not been thought necessary to load the margin with references; almost every important circumstance narrated in the essays being capable of being confirmed by reference to that work." — pp. v. - viii.

As far as we are able to judge, Mr. Waterworth has executed the difficult and delicate task he proposed to himself with singular skill, judgment, and fidelity, and he has given us

" * An anonymous translation appeared in 1087 ; but it is so unfaithful, and even ludicrously absurd, that it must be regarded as rather a burlesque, than a translation, of the decrees."

" I Istovia del Concilio di Trento, Roma, 1657."

a work of real value, which was much wanted in our English Catholic literature. The introductory essays have been written with great care and labor, and, though brief, leave unstated no important historical fact necessary for the elucidation of the Council. The translation, as far as we have compared it, is successful, and, for the most part, gives the exact sense of the original, without paraphrase, in good idiomatic and intelligible English. Mr. Watervvorth has been so successful in this volume, that we hope he will be encouraged to continue his labors, and give us the other works he refers to in his Preface. We subjoin the remarks with which Mr. Waterworth closes his essay on the internal history of the Council.

"Before closing these essays, it may be well to subjoin a short notice of some of the usual objections brought against the Council.

" It is not unusual with Protestant writers, to copy, without hesitation, the assertion of Fra Paolo, that the Council of Trent deceived the expectations formed of it at its opening, and to represent it as a perfect failure. So far, it is said, from restoring unity, it has rendered a reconciliation impracticable; the reformation of discipline was scarcely attempted, and, where attempted, was touched with too sparing a hand to be effectual ; the jurisdiction of bishops was reduced, instead of being enlarged; and the authority of the Sovereign PontifF was in the same proportion increased.

" 1st. To represent the Council of Trent as in any way influencing the conduct, or confirming the separation, of any of the sects whose opinions it condemned, is to gainsay plain facts of history. For all these sects hud completely separated from the Church, before a single decree had emanated from the Council. The change of religion in Germany, England, and elsewhere, was an established fact, before the Council was assembled. Before the Council, entire nations abandoned the faith of their fathers; after the Council, no single instance can be adduced of any extensive revolt from the authority of the Church.

" 2. Neither is it true to say that a reunion has been rendered more difficult since the promulgation of the decrees of the Council. For what doctrine is there now prominently put forward as dividing the Catholic Church from the innovators, which had not already been defined by some other General Council, held before the Council of Trent? Whether on the sacraments, or on the other doctrines and practices of the Church, the decrees of Trent but followed those of anterior Councils, or the received constitutions of the Sovereign Pontiffs. There is not one article of faith contained in the profession of faith by Pius which cannot be shown to have been defined and believed as Catholic truth, or practised, when a practical doctrine, throughout Christendom, long before the Council promulgated or enjoined that doctrine or practice.

" 3. If there were any so credulous or zealous as to believe that tbe Separatists would be brought back to Catholic unity by means of tbe Council, they were indeed disappointed ; but disappointed in spite of the warning of experience, and of all the past history of heresy and of tbe Church. No such hope could ever have been entertained, had they but reflected on the result of the decrees of the earliest, as well as of the more recent, Councils. The Arian heresy was not crushed by the Council of Nictm; nay, it never was so extended, its ravages and power were never so great, as after the Council which condemned it. So was it after the Council of Constantinople, after that of Ephesus, and even after the magnificent assembly at Ohalcedon. Such, then, had been the ordinary result; and there was every thing in tbe conduct, and doctrine, and declarations of the self-styled Reformers, to prepare men's minds for the conclusion, that the heresies of the sixteenth century would be no exception to the rule. In fact,their fundamental principle, or practical adoption of the absurd system of private interpretation,— their denial of all infallible authority, — would almost necessarily preclude the possibility of submission to the decrees of a Council which was based on principles diametrically opposite. Hence, as is recorded in the preceding pages, both Clement and Paul III. declared that the assembling of a Council was not to be regarded as a means of converting Germany.

" Irreconcilable, then, that separation may be, and reconciliation impracticable •, but not on account of the Council of Trent, but on account of the denial of truths which Trent did not affect to discover, or first proclaim, but simply stated and explained, in conformity with the decrees of previous Councils, and the uniform belief and practice of the Christian world. At Trent, therefore, the scattered dogmas were collected, but there was no innovation. Before the Council, whole nations fell away, since the Council, the heresies condemned may count their gains, but can they count their losses ?    The former are as nothing to tbe latter.

" II. The reformation of discipline, especially in the ecclesiastical order and government, from the highest to the lowest ranks, cannot be denied by any one conversant wilh tbe state of the Churcb before and after the Council. The extinction of pluralities, the obligation of residence, the annihilation of the mass of privileges and exemptions, the establishment of ecclesiastical seminaries,— these and similar regulations have produced so favorable an effect, that the outward appearance of the Church has been almost entirely changed •, and so effective and wise were those regulations, that, at the expiration of nearly three hundred years, they are as vigorous and operative as ever, in preventing those grievous evils which they were established to remedy. It is very easy to decry the present, and to praise the past; but it would be difficult to lay the finger on any one century in the history of the Church, in which the outward polity, government, and discipline, whether in the higher or inferior orders of the clergy, can be shown to have been more pure, or free from just subject of complaint. Neither would it be more easy to name an age which has produced men of greater eminence in holiness, in self-denial, in learning, in devotion to God's glory and the salvation of men, in all the virtues and counsels of the Gospel, than have adorned the Church since the time of the Council of Trent. Even Courayer, in his otherwise censorious remarks and notes, inserted in his translation of the history of Fra Paolo, acknowledges the excellence of the disciplinarian reforms.*(footnote: " * Preface, Vol. I. pp. xxvii., xxviii.")

" 111. As regards the jurisdiction and authority of bishops, it is a fact, which the slightest knowledge of history will make evident, that bishops have increased in power and honor, in proportion as the authority of the Sovereign Pontiff has been more fully and extensively exercised. And it is also certain, that the bishops, without losing one single particle of the jurisdiction which they enjoyed before the Council of Trent, recovered, by means of that Council, many of the privileges of which they had, by degrees and in various ways, been deprived ; so that, of all the Councils ever held, that of Trent promulgated the greatest number of decrees in their favor, and this on points the most important; and it might even be safely said, that all the previous Councils united have done less towards restoring their unfettered authority over their subjects, of all degrees, and in consequent diminution of the power of the Roman tribunals, than was effected by the single Council of Trent. A very cursory examination of the decrees of Reformation will establish the truth of this assertion beyond all controversy. And this will suffice to show the emptiness of the statement, that the Papal power was increased by that Council; the fact being, that not a decree was passed in favor of the Sovereign Pontiff, either by conferring one privilege which he did not enjoy before, or asserting even that preeminence which had been proclaimed in the Council of Florence, and that of Lateran ; — whilst, on the other hand, many graces and dispensations, previously granted freely by the Pontiff, were either suppressed altogether, or greatly limited ; many causes and persons that had been withdrawn from the cognizance of bishops, before the meeting at Trent, were again placed under their jurisdiction by that assembly,—nominally, indeed, as the delegates of the Apostolic See, but practically as completely as if no such form had been introduced to overcome the objections of privileged and exempted persons.

" It will be useful to close these remarks by a few lines on the
liberty of the Council; as it is constantly objected, that the Council of Trent was not free, but was a mere passive instrument in the hands of the Pontiff.

" But, before coming directly to the question, the reader must be reminded, that the Germans, and other nations, would never consent throughout to the Council being held in any city of the Ecclesiastical States ; so that, in the three reunions of the Council, all the proceedings were conducted in a city subject to the Emperor ; and this even after the votes of two thirds of the Fathers had transferred the Council to Bologna. Neither is it to be supposed that the majority of the bishops were from the Pontifical States, or derived their revenues thence •, the fact being, that the bishops from those States were always but a small and inconsiderable minority, when compared with those who held their bishoprics under the Emperor, and who, therefore, were far more directly under his power and influence than that of the Pontiff. Neither, therefore, as to the place in which the Council was held, nor as to the number of prelates present, was the Pope even upon a parity with the Austrian Emperor.

" As regards any undue influence exercised by rewards, I am not aware that any accusation has ever been brought, on this head, against the Popes ; but it may not be useless to remark, that there is no one instance of favor or advancement conferred on those who habitually supported the Legates, which their own merits and position did not of themselves justify and require ; whilst several of those most hostile and troublesome during the Council were, when their qualities demanded it, advanced to the highest dignities by the Sovereign Pontiffs. It is true, that, in order to retain some of the poorer bishops at Trent, a pension was assigned them out of the Papal treasury •, but the amount, twenty-five scudi a month, was so trifling, that it was regarded, by the majority of those "who received it, rather as a grievance than as a favor; because, whilst it hindered them from leaving the Council, and returning to their dioceses, under the plea of poverty, it barely sufficed for their subsistence ; whence some of the most violent opponents of the Legates were to be found amongst those who were forced to accept that pension.

" It now remains to consider, whether the Council was, on any occasion, induced or compelled to pass a decree which really was opposed to the wishes of the Fathers; or, on the other hand, was prevented, in any instance, from acting as their desires and consciences prompted them.

" As not a single decree of faith was promulgated to the advantage of the Pope, whilst many decrees of discipline were issued in direct opposition to his interests, and those of his courts at Rome, it is plain, that the plea of undue influence, or compulsion, cannot for a moment be sustained.    Neither can that of hindering the Fathers
from passing decrees be better supported. Only two cases have been adduced in support of the accusation : the first, on the origin of the law of residence ; the second, on the origin of the institution of bishops. Now, as regards the first, it has been seen, in this history of the Council, that Pius IV., though averse at first from any definition of a question so doubtful, and so violently debated, not only amongst the Fathers, but amongst Catholic writers, at length directed his Legates to decide it by the votes of the majority. Two of his own Legates were in favor of asserting the Divine origin of residence and one regarded it as of ecclesiastical law ; and if the matter was left undetermined, it was not through the fault or interference of the Pope, but because the Fathers could not sufficiently agree amongst themselves, to justify the promuigatiou of any decree on the subject. Amongst those who maintained the Divine origin of residence were some of the most strenuous supporters of the authority of the Pontiff; men afterwards raised to the highest dignities, and even to the Apostolic throne. And it may be doubted whether the effect, which the affirmation of that Divine origin was considered likely to produce, has not been as effectually secured by the zeal and attention of the Sovereign Pontiffs, in this regard, as if the Council had unanimously agreed that bishops are bound to residence by the law of God.

" Much the same must be said on the Divine institution of episcopacy, in regard of jurisdiction. The subject was left to the votes of the prelates ; and no decision was come to, because no agreement could be arrived at. Whilst, so far was the Pontiff from wishing to exalt his own privileges over those of the bishops, that, when nine tenths of the Fathers were willing to renew in his favor the decree of the Council of Florence, and even to proclaim his superiority over a General Council, he refrained from taking advantage of their readiness ; and this at the desire of the Cardinal of Lorraine, and of a few French prelates, supported by a small number of other bishops, who alone were opposed to the promulgation of decrees so advantageous to his authority. Whence it follows, that, as regards the decrees of faith, only in two instances did the Pontiff interfere at all; and in those, the matter was eventually left to the unbiased judgment of the Fathers.*(footnote: " * This is acknowledged even by Courayer, T. I., Preface, p. xxix.")

" The decrees of Reformation present no difficulty : for not only did the Pontiffs leave the Fathers to decide as they pleased on all questions over which they had direct jurisdiction, but, even on those reserved especially to the Holy See, and in regard of his own tribunals, Pius repeatedly directed his Legates to leave the whole to the judgment and votes of the Council; and his complaint constantly was, that they continued to request his instructions, even after he had ordered them to leave all to the votes and the wishes of the Fathers. The Cardinal of Lorraine, the Archbishop of Braga, the Emperor of Austria, and the Kings of Spain and Portugal, each and all bore honorable testimony to the conduct of the PonthT in this regard,—to his repeated injunctions to satisfy their demands in every practicable particular; whilst, if ever the Council was indeed checked in its wishes, it was when it was proposed to correct the abuses, caused by the interference of secular princes in the administration and government of the churches within their dominions. And whereas Pius at once accepted and enforced all the decrees of Trent, within his own territory, and in his own tribunals, detrimental as many of those decrees were to his interests and those of his courts, those princes, with few exceptions, refused to introduce the decrees of discipline, except by degrees, and in proportion as their necessity or utility was clearly manifested by the wants of their states, or the demands of their clergy." — pp. ccxlvi.-ccliii.

These remarks are solid and just, and completely vindicate the Council from the aspersions cast upon it by our adversaries. We find not the least fault with them, but we almost wish the reply to the charge of undue Papal influence on the proceedings of the Council had been omitted. All that is necessary to establish is, that the Council was regular and free. The Pope, on any hypothesis we choose to take, is an integral element of the Council, and whatever influence he exerts on its proceedings or its decisions is only so much of the integral influence of the Council itself. In no case can it be an infringement of the liberty of the Council, unless we suppose the absurdity that the Council can infringe its own liberty. What Catholic ever dreamed of excluding the Pope from the Council ? or that, when the Council is congregated, the Pope is to hold his peace, and leave all to the Fathers, without his interference, advice, or suggestion ? St. Peter, at the Council of Jerusalem, gave very frankly his view of the matters to be decided, and the Council followed it. It does not appear to have occurred to St. Peter that he must remain silent and passive, leaving it to the rest to decide, without him, the questions at issue. Instead of undertaking to show that the Pope did not exercise the influence charged against him, we would rather simply assert, that, if he did, he had the right to do so. The Pope is a better judge of the extent and limits of his powers than we are. The fact that he exercises a given power is, to say the least, a presumption that he has a right to do it, and we must be informed by a higher authority than his that he has not,
before we can deny it.    It does not become us to judge our judge.
It is often better to pass over than to deny the charges of our adversaries, even when we are abundantly able to disprove them. In replying to objections urged, we have to consider our replies not only as they bear upon those without, but also upon those within. The objections we have to meet, for the most part at least, rest on a humanitarian principle, and virtually assume the point they are urged to prove. Resting on a humanitarian basis, they are, and can be, no valid objections against an authority assumed to be Divine and supernatural. If we meet and simply refute them on the humanitarian ground, we run the risk of having our refutations react on Catholics, and create even in them a tendency to regard Catholicity itself only from the humanitarian point of view. It is desirable, no doubt, to silence the arguments and cavils of those without ; but it is far more desirable to maintain sound doctrine, and a high, uncompromising Catholic tone among those who are within. To consent to defend our own doctrines on a low, instead of a high ground, lowers the doctrinal tone of the faithful themselves, and renders them less able to withstand the attacks of the enemy. A line of argument that would be perfectly safe and even judicious in the schools, where the strict rules of logic are observed, may be the reverse when pursued before the people at large, who are unskilled in technicalities, and unable to make or to appreciate nice scholastic distinctions. The people understand us always as conceding what we do not expressly deny, and as giving up what we do not expressly assert.

The Catholic controversialist finds, to-day, his chief embarrassment, in defending the Catholic faith or repelling objections to it, in the concessions made or in the economical methods of argument adopted by his predecessors. He finds that they often deprive him of his readiest and most solid answers to objections, or render it impossible for him to use them without having to maintain a controversy with those within as well as with those without. We hold, that, in discussing the subject before the public, we should refuse to plead to objections which are objections only on the assumption of a false principle. To plead to them is to recognize the principle on which they rest, and to subject us to the inconvenience of having that principle thrown in our face just when and where we are the least prepared for it. To defend the Papacy, for instance, on humanitarian principles, even though we make a reserve in our own minds in favor of its Divine right, can only tend to prepare ha people to regard it as a human institution, and therefore as one to which they are not bound to submit. It is very convenient, in a democratic age and country, to answer objections urged against certain powers which have been claimed and exercised by the Popes, by asserting that they were held and exercised with the assent of the people ; but it is a great inconvenience to have done so, when the people become hostile to them, and assert in our face, as a truth, the principle we had conceded. What the people grant, the people can revoke. This fact, we think, is not unworthy the consideration, at the present moment, of all who have manifested a wish to assimilate the Papal power, at least in some departments, to the democratic principle. Rome is at this moment writing, in very legible characters, a striking commentary on their methods of asserting the legitimacy of the Papal authority and influence.

The Papacy is the element in our Church which is always the most exposed to attacks, because it is the foundation and centre of unity, because it is the chief executive authority of the Church, and because it is that which offers the more immediate and effectual resistance to those who would suppress the independence of the spiritual order, trample on the rights of conscience, and enslave  their brethren.    St. Peter stands in the forefront of the battle, protecting as well as leading on hi; troops ; and the enemy knows full well, that, if he can be struck down, they will soon be put to flight or compelled to surrender at discretion.    Hence, all the efforts of the enemy are directed against the Papacy ; and no one can have read the history of the Church for the last six hundred years, without perceiving that the greater part of the evils which have afflicted her maternal heart have been occasioned by a disposition, among many even of her own children, to distinguish between her and the Papacy, and to circumscribe the Papal authority and influence within the narrowest limits possible.    Hence, the Papacy is that to which all good Catholics should especially rally, and prepare to defend with their hearts and their lives.    Whatever tends to lower it, or to favor low and narrow views of it, they must look upon as un-Catholic and dangerous in its effects.
But though the extract we have made has suggested this train of remark, our readers must not for a moment suppose that Mr. Waterworth is in the least degree obnoxious to the censure implied in what we have said. No writers have gone farther in their efforts to circumscribe the Papal authority than English Catholic writers, and the wisdom of their proceeding may be seen in the leanness which has characterized English Catholics for these three hundred years, and more. They have, indeed, acknowledged the Primacy of St. Peter and his successors, but one can hardly help feeling, when reading their writings, that they regard the Papacy as little better than a blunder, and secretly wish that Almighty God had seen proper to have constituted his Church without it, — or at least, to have exempted Englishmen from the obligation to obey it, especially since the Holy See was to be at Rome, instead of Canterbury or York. They seem always to grudge the Pope every obedience they yield him, and to have no love, no warm, living affection, for the chair of Peter. But we see nothing of this in Mr. Waterworth, although he is an Englishman. Indeed, we owe it to truth and justice to say, that there appears to be a far more healthy and high-toned Catholic feeling growing up among our English brethren. A little namby-pambyism there may be still, here and there, in our mother country, as well as among ourselves, where the old English spirit remains to be exorcised ; but, upon the whole, English Catholics are beginning to set a truly edifying example. They are active, and their press teems with Catholic works,— many of them works of a lofty tone, and of great value. It would seem that the day has gone by when we were to say of them, They are first Englishmen, and then Catholics. They are becoming, rapidly, Roman Catholics, and apparently are already far more Roman than we are in this country. There is scarcely a periodical in this country that has the courage to use, on some subjects, the strong language which we read habitually in the London Tablet, or occasionally in the Dublin Revieio, which, notwithstanding its name, is English rather than Irish.
The English Catholics, in fact, are setting us an example which we should do well to follow, and which, while it consoles us, should excite us to renewed zeal and greater activity. They are far ahead of us. We rely upon them for nearly all the books we read in our own language, and for nearly all the matter that fills our Catholic newspapers. They send us much ; we return them little. This is not as it should be. If we were less engrossed in politics and the world, if we were only resolved to be, first of all, Catholics, and thoroughgoing Roman Catholics, our numbers and means are sufficient to enable us to take as active and as important a part in the Catholic movement of the day as our English brethren are taking.

We are too supine, too indifferent, too forgetful of the duty we owe to the Church, and of the blessed privilege of laboring to promote her interests. Let us look across the water to England, and to France, and ask ourselves if we have not reason to blush at the little we do. It really seems to us, that, unless it be some portions of Spanish America, there is at this moment no part of the globe where the great body of the Catholic laity, and especially those in easy circumstances, are so little intent upon the interests of their religion, where they have so little mental activity and energy, as in this free and happy country of ours. May it be so no longer ; but may we all pray God to grant us the grace necessary to perform our share in the great work now going on.