Earlier in this series we saw that when the church disagreed about which pope was in authority, it called for councils to try to reach an agreement. It did the same when the Reformation questioned the Catholic Church’s authority, even though the Reformers weren’t invited.
The council met three times in the northern Italian town of Trent over the course of 1545 to 1563. By the time the Council of Trent ended, it had been over four decades since Martin Luther had nailed his ninety- five theses to the door of Wittenberg Cathedral. Trent dealt with two types of issues: matters of doctrine and matters of church life and practice. Almost all the doctrines that Trent produced directly countered what the Reformers were saying. The Reformers had emphasized the sole authority of Scripture; the Council of Trent said that the church tradition also needed to be respected. The Reformers said salvation was by grace alone; Trent said that human cooperation was important too. It was a blatant no to the theology Protestants had developed in response to the abuses in the Catholic Church.
But when it came to the life and practice of the church, Trent was also a cause for renewal. Granted, this renewal was decidedly Catholic in its spirit, not Protestant. Trent affirmed that there were still seven sacraments (the Protestants only recognized baptism and communion). It also maintained that Latin should still be used in church services instead of local languages, contrary to what the Reformers preferred so people could hear God’s Word in a language they could actually understand. But on the other hand, the council made efforts to address some of the causes of abuse with which the Reformers had taken issue. For example, Trent condemned pluralism (holding more than one church office). It also established seminaries and training centers for priests, which hadn’t existed before, and encouraged bishops to make regular visits to the churches in their dioceses, which helped decrease the gap between leaders and church members. And it also affirmed the missionary efforts that we took a look at over the past two days, which spread the message of the gospel beyond the lands of Christendom. All these measures served to increase the spiritual vitality of the Catholic Church and effect needed changes while remaining true to the values and heritage of the Catholic tradition.
Division and Renewal
In some ways, the Council of Trent solidi ed the differences between Protestants and Catholics. At the same time, it set in motion a set of renewals that reverberated throughout the Catholic Church for centuries to come, and that ultimately made it stronger. Ironically, that would not have happened without the Reformation. It’s encouraging to see that God can use our differences to shape us so we become more faithful and fruitful, even if our disagreements remain unresolved.
Do you currently have any disagreements with another disciple or with your church? It’s important to understand that as we study the Word of God, we will most likely disagree with others at times because God’s thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways. So there will always be some mystery to things of faith this side of heaven (Isaiah 55:8–9). The question is, what do we do when we disagree? Do we take on a posture of humility, or one of arrogance? Are we quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry? Or are we quick to speak, slow to listen, and fast to become angry? Do we fight for unity or settle for disunity and separation? Do we pray for our enemies and want what’s best for them, even “enemies” in our own church body?
The heart issue here is twofold: What will we do with disagreements externally and internally? And who, at the end of the day, will receive our worship?
Sign Up for Anno Domini Vol. 2 Emails
get the daily devotionals delivered to your email every morning