Council Of Trent
by the most Reverend Jerome Ragazonus, of Venice, Bishop of Nazianzus and Coadjutor of Famagusta
Session IX – and last – celebrated on the third and fourth day of December, 1563 under the Supreme Pontiff, Pius IV
Wherein all that was defined in the Council of Trent pertaining to faith and morals is summarized
“Hear these things, all ye nations; give ear all ye inhabitants of the world.”
The Council of Trent which was begun long ago, was for a time suspended, often postponed and dispersed, now at last through a singular favor of Almighty God and with a complete and wonderful accord of all ranks and nations has come to a close. This most happy day has dawned for the Christian people; the day in which the temple of the Lord, often shattered and destroyed, is restored and completed, and this one ship, laden with every blessing and buffeted by the worst and most relentless storms and waves, is brought safely into port. Oh, that those for whose sake this voyage was chiefly undertaken had decided to board it with us; that those who caused us to take this work in hand had participated in the erection of this edifice! Then indeed we would now have reason for greater rejoicing. But it is certainly not through our fault that it so happened.
For that reason we chose this city, situated at the entrance to Germany situated almost at the threshold of their homes; we have, in order to give them no ground for suspicion that the place is not entirely free, employed no guard for ourselves; we granted them that public security which they requested and which they themselves had drawn up; for a long time we awaited them and never did we cease to exhort them and plead with them to come here and learn the truth. Indeed, even in their absence we were, I think, sufficiently concerned about them. For since in a twofold respect medicine had to be applied to their weak and infirm spirits, one, the explanation and confirmation of the teaching of the Catholic and truly evangelical faith in those matters upon which they had cast doubt and which at this time appeared opportune for the dispersion and destruction of all the darkness of errors; the other, the restoration of ecclesiastical discipline, the collapse of which they claim was the chief cause of their severance from us, we have amply accomplished both so far as was in our power and so far as the conditions of the times would permit.
At the beginning, after having in accordance with a laudable custom of our forefathers made a profession of faith, in order to lay a foundation, as it were, for subsequent transactions and to point out by what witnesses and evidence the definition of articles of faith must be supported, this holy council scrupulously and prudently enumerated, after the example of the most approved ancient councils, the books of the Old and New Testaments which must be accepted without a doubt; and that no difficulty might arise as regards the wording of various translations, it approved a trustworthy and certain translation from the Greek and Hebrew. Thereupon, attacking the pillar and bulwark of all heresies concerning the original corruption of human nature, it stated what the truth itself would express if it could speak. Then, with reference to justification, an important matter and assailed in a striking manner by heretics of ancient as well as modern times, it defined, with such wonderful order and admirable wisdom that the spirit of God is easily discerned therein, those things by which the most pernicious opinions of this kind might be refuted and the correct manner of thinking pointed out. Through this most extraordinary decree in the memory of man well-nigh all heresies are strangled and, as darkness before the sun, dispersed and dissipated, and the truth appears with such clearness and splendor that no one can any longer pretend not to see so great a light. Hereupon followed the consideration of the seven sacraments of the Church; first in general, then each one in particular. Who does not see here how exactly, how clearly, copiously, resplendently, and, what is most important, how truly the nature of these heavenly mysteries is summed up? Who can in this body of doctrine, so great and rich in content, in any way still wish for something which is to be observed or avoided? Who will in all this find room or occasion to go astray? Who finally can henceforth entertain any doubt as to the power and efficacy of these sacraments, since it is clear that that grace which daily like trickling water flows through them into the souls of the faithful was then so abundantly present in us? Thereupon followed the decisions concerning the most holy sacrifice of the mass, communion under both species and for little children, than which we have nothing holier, nothing more beneficial, so that they appear to have fallen from heaven rather than to have been composed by men. To these is added today the true teaching concerning purgatory, the veneration and invocation of saints, images and relics, Whereby not only the deceptions and calumnies of heretics are opposed but also the consciences of pious Catholics fully satisfied.
These things, dealing with matters that pertain to our salvation and known as dogmas, have been successfully and happily accomplished, and in this respect nothing more will be expected of us at this time.
But since in the administration of some of the foregoing matters there were some things which were not rightly and properly observed, you have, most esteemed Fathers, very carefully provided that they be carried out in a correct and untarnished manner and in accordance with the usages and institutions of the Fathers. You have thereby removed from the celebration of the mass all superstition, all greed for lucre and all irreverence; forbidden vagrant, unknown and depraved priests to offer this holy sacrifice; removed its celebration from private homes and profane places to holy and consecrated sanctuaries; you have banished from the temple of the Lord the more effeminate singing and musical compositions, promenades, conversations and business transactions; you have thus prescribed for each ecclesiastical rank such laws as leave no room for the abuse of the orders divinely conferred. You have likewise removed some matrimonial impediments which seemed to give occasion for violating the precepts of the Church, and to those who do not enter the conjugal union legitimately you have closed the easy way of obtaining forgiveness.
And what shall I say about furtive and clandestine marriages? For myself I feel that if there had been no other reason for convoking the council, and there were many and grave reasons, this one alone would have provided sufficient ground for its convocation. For since this is a matter that concerns all, and since there is no corner of the earth which this plague has not invaded, provision had to be made by which this common evil might be remedied by common deliberation. By your clear-sighted and well-nigh divine direction, most holy Fathers, the occasion for innumerable and grave excesses and crimes has been completely removed, and the government of the Christian commonweal most wisely provided for. To this is added the exceedingly salutary and necessary prohibition of many abuses connected with purgatory, the veneration and invocation of the saints, images and relics, and also indulgences, abuses which appeared to defile and deform in no small measure the beautiful aspect of these objects.
The other part, in which was considered the restoration of the tottering and well-nigh collapsed ecclesiastical discipline, was most carefully performed and completed. In the future only those who are known for their virtues, not for their ambition, who will serve the interests of the people, not their own, and who desire to be useful rather than invested with authority, will be chosen for the discharge of ecclesiastical offices. The word of God, which is more penetrating than any two-edged sword, will be more frequently and more zealously preached and explained.
The bishops and others to whom the <cura animarum> has been committed, will remain with and watch over their flocks and not wander about outside the districts entrusted to them. Privileges will no longer avail anyone for an impure and wicked life or for evil and pernicious teaching; no crime will go unpunished, no virtue will be without its reward. The multitude of poor and mendicant priests have been very well provided for; everyone will be assigned to a definite church and to a prescribed field of labor whence he may obtain sustenance.
Avarice, than which there is no vice more hideous, especially in the house of God, will be absolutely banished therefrom, and the sacraments, as is proper, will be dispensed gratuitously. From one Church many will be established and from many one, according as the welfare of the people and circumstances demand. Questors of alms, as they are called, who, seeking their own and not the things of Jesus Christ, have brought great injury, great dishonor upon our religion, will be completely removed from the memory of men, which must be regarded as a very great blessing. For from this our present calamity took its beginning; from it an endless evil did not cease to creep in by degrees and daily take a wider course, nor have precautionary and disciplinary measures of many councils thus far been able to suppress it. Wherefore, who will not agree that for this reason it was a very prudent undertaking to cut off this member, on whose restoration to health much labor had been vainly spent, lest it corrupt the remainder of the body?
Moreover, divine worship will be discharged more purely and promptly, and those who carry the vessels of the Lord will be so chastened that they will move others to follow their example. In connection with this point plans were skillfully devised whereby those who are to be promoted to sacred orders might in every church be from their youth up instructed in the habits of Christian life and knowledge, so that in this way a sort of seminary of all virtues might be established. In addition, provincial synods were restored; visitations reintroduced for the welfare of the people, not for the disturbance and oppression of them; greater faculties granted to the pastors for guiding and feeding their flocks; public penance again put into practice; hospitality recommended to ecclesiastical persons as well as to pious foundations; in the bestowal upon priests of the <cura animarum> a memorable and well-nigh heavenly method was adopted; plurality of benefices abolished; the hereditary possession of the sanctuary of God prohibited; excommunication restricted and the manner of its imposition determined; first judgments assigned to the places where the disputes arise; duels forbidden; a sort of bridle put on the luxury, greed and licentiousness of all people, particularly the clergy, which cannot be easily shaken off; kings and princes diligently reminded of their duties, and other things of a similar nature were enacted with the greatest discernment. Who does not see that you, most illustrious Fathers, have also in these matters done your duty in the fullest measure?
Oftentimes in earlier councils our faith was explained and morals corrected, but I do not know whether ever more carefully and more clearly. We had here, especially during these two years, from all peoples and nations by whom the truth of the Catholic religion is recognized, not only Fathers but also ambassadors. And what men! If we consider science, the most learned; practice, the most experienced; mental gifts, the most penetrating; piety, the most religious; and deportment, the most irreproachable. The number also was such that if the present distresses of the Christian world are considered, this assembly appears the largest in attendance of all that preceded it. Here the individual wounds of all were uncovered, morals exposed, nothing was concealed. The propositions and arguments of our adversaries were so treated that it appeared as if their case not ours was the point under consideration. Some things were discussed three and even four times; debates were carried on with the greatest vehemence, for the purpose, namely, that as gold is tried in the fire, so might the power and vigor of the truth be proved through such contests. For how could there be discords among those who have the same view and the same aim?
That being the case, though it was very much desired, as I said in the beginning, to discuss these things conjointly with those for whose sake they were chiefly discussed, nevertheless such provision was made for the welfare and salvation of the absentees that it appears it could not have been otherwise even if they had been present. Let them read with humility, as becomes a Christian, what we have defined concerning our faith, and if some light should come upon them, let them not turn away the face; if they should hear the voice of the Lord, let them not harden their hearts, and if they should wish to return to the common embrace of mother Church from which they severed themselves, they may rest assured that every indulgence and sympathy will be extended to them.
But the best way, most esteemed Fathers, to win the minds of those who differ with us and to hold in the faith and duty those who are in union with us is this, that we in our churches translate into action the enactments which we have here expressed in language. Laws may be the best, they are, however, but mute entities. Of what avail to the Hebrew people were the laws that came from the mouth of God Himself? What advantage did the laws of Lycurgus bring to the Lacedaemonians, those of Solon to the Athenians, for the preservation of liberty, the sole purpose for which they were written? But why do I make mention of such alien and ancient instances? What further instructions and precepts for good and holy living can we or should we desire in the life and teaching of our Lord Christ?
Likewise, what was omitted by our forefathers that belongs either to the true faith or to a commendable conduct? For a long time we have had the salutary medicine, properly mixed and prepared; but if it is to drive out disease it must be taken and through the veins find its way throughout the entire body. From this cup of salvation, dearest brethren, let us first satiate ourselves, and let us be living and vocal laws, a model and rule by which the actions and aspirations of others may be guided, and so each one may convince himself that nothing will be gained from the advantage and honor of the Christian commonweal unless he zealously contributes in so far as is in him.
If this was our solicitude in the past, it must be more scrupulously so in the future. For if after the example of our Master and Savior we must first do and then teach, what can be our excuse if after we have taught we fail to practice our teaching? Who could endure and tolerate us if after we have pointed out that theft is forbidden we ourselves steal? that adultery is forbidden and we ourselves commit adultery?
It is certainly not proper that saints turn away from the holy council, the innocent and virtuous from the precepts of virtue and innocence, the strong and steadfast in the faith from the firmly established teaching of our faith. And such are we expected to be by our people, who, for a long time anxiously awaiting our return, have consoled themselves with the consideration that we on our return will with greater zeal repair this absence. This you will do, I hope, most holy Fathers, with zealous endeavor; and as you have done here so will you also at home render due service to God and to the people.
Now let us first of all, so far as time will permit, express and render our most fervent and undying thanks to the great and eternal God, who has recompensed us not according to the sins that we have committed nor according to our transgressions, but in His great goodness has granted us not only to see this most joyful day, which many desired to see, but also to celebrate it with the full and unqualified consent and approval of the entire Christian people.
Then we must give special and everlasting thanks to our great and illustrious pontiff, Pius IV, who, as soon as he had ascended the chair of St. Peter, was so kindled with the desire to reconvene this council that he directed to it all his energy and attention. He immediately dispatched as delegates the most experienced men to announce the council to those provinces and nations for whose benefit it was chiefly convoked. These traversed nearly all the countries of the North, entreated, implored and adjured; they promised every security and friendship, and even passed over into England. Later, since he could not himself be present at the council, as he so ardently wished, he sent legates distinguished for piety and learning, two of whom, whose memory is in benediction, he wished to be here on the day appointed, though scarcely any bishops had yet arrived.
These, together with a third added shortly after, spent nine inactive months in this place waiting for the arrival of an adequate number of bishops to open the council. In the meantime the Pope himself did nothing and contemplated nothing other than that very many and very distinguished Fathers should come here as soon as possible and all kings and princes of Christendom should send their ambassadors, so that by the common desire and deliberation of all this common matter, the gravest and most important of all, might be fully considered. And what did he later omit in the way of attention, anxiety and expenses that seemed in any manner to contribute to the greatness, liberty and success of this council?
Oh, the extraordinary piety and prudence of our pastor and father! Oh, the fullest happiness to him by whose authority and under whose protection this long tossed about and distracted council found stability and rest! You who have passed away, Paul III and Julius, you I ask, how long and with what yearning have you desired to see what we see! at what costs and labor have you brought this about!
Wherefore, most holy and most blessed Pius, we truly and heartily congratulate you that the Lord has reserved to you such great joy, to your name such high honor, which is the greatest proof of God’s benevolence toward you; and with united prayers and supplications we beseech Him that He will for the honor and ornament of His holy Church very speedily restore you to us in good health and preserve you for many years. To the most illustrious Emperor also we must by every right extend our thanks and congratulations.
Having won as a basic point the good will of the most powerful rulers who were kindled with such wonderful zeal for the propagation of the Christian religion, he has kept this city free from all danger and by his vigilance has seen to it that we might enjoy a safe and undisturbed peace; by the constant presence of his three representatives, men of the highest character, which was almost a pledge to us, he brought great security to our minds.
In conformity with his eminent piety he was singularly solicitous about our affairs. He spared no labor to bring out of the densest darkness in which they dwell those who differed from him and from us in matters of faith and to lead them to see the bright light of this holy council. We must, moreover, hold in grateful remembrance the exceedingly pious disposition of the Christian kings and princes in honoring this council with the presence of their highly esteemed ambassadors and in committing their power to your authority.
Finally, who is it, most illustrious legates and cardinals, who does not acknowledge his great obligation to you? You have been the most trustful leaders and directors of our deliberations. With incredible patience and perseverance you have taken care that our freedom either in the discussions or the decisions might not appear to be infringed upon. You have spared no bodily labor, no mental effort, that the business which many others like you have attempted in vain might be brought to the desired termination as soon as possible. In this, you, most illustrious and distinguished Morone, must feel a special and peculiar joy, you who twenty years ago laid the first stone for this magnificent edifice, and now, after many other master-builders have been employed at this work, you have fortunately by your extraordinary and almost divine wisdom put the final hand to it. This remarkable and singular deed of yours will be forever celebrated in words and no age will ever maintain its silence regarding your renown.
What shall I say about you, most holy Fathers? How well you have merited by these your most marvelous deliberations in the interests of the Christian state! What commendation, what glory will be given to the name of each one of you by the entire Christian people! All will acknowledge and proclaim you true fathers, true pastors; everyone will cheerfully reward you for the preservation of his life and the attainment of salvation. Oh, how happy and joyful will that day be for our people, when on our return home from erecting this temple of the Lord they can again for the first time see and embrace us!
But thou Lord, our God, grant that we may by noble needs justify so generous an opinion of ourselves, and that the seed which we have sown in Thy field may yield abundant fruit and Thy word issue forth as dew, and that what Thou hast promised may take place during our time, that there be one fold and one shepherd of all, and he preferably Pius IV, to the eternal glory of Thy name. Amen.
1 Ps. 48:2.
2 Heb. 4:12.
3 Ecclus. 10:9.
4 Acts 1:1.
5 Ps. 102:10.