Lasting almost two decades, the 16th century Council of Trent is widely considered to be one of the most important council’s in Catholic Church history. Though it was interrupted on several occasions due to wars, the deaths of Pope’s, and disagreements as to what should constitute Church teaching, the ecumenical Council of Trent maintains its significance in Catholic Church history for the role it played in the counter-reformation, as well as the teachings which were solidified during the time it was in session. Seeing the rise of three different Pontiffs during its lifespan, this council put to rest in the eyes of the church some of the most contentious issues of the time period. These issues included the importance of the Seven Sacraments, the Church’s take on the debate regarding faith vs. works, and the reaffirmation of the importance of the veneration of saints and images.
While many issues related to Church teaching were tackled during the periods of the ecumenical Council of Trent, the greatest amount of time was given to the validity of the Seven Sacraments as the path to salvation. It was the decision of the ecumenical council that the importance of these sacraments were a vital part of Church history and it was further decreed that transubstantiation and the doctrine of “real presence,” which states that the body and blood of Christ is truly present in the form of bread and wine, would be upheld. This stood in direct opposition to the protestant teaching of consubstantiation, which states that while the sacrament and the body and blood of Christ co-exist, they are not one in the same. In re-affirming this doctrine, the Catholic Church held to the importance given to the Holy Eucharist in Church History.
Another important decision made by the ecumenical Council of Trent which upheld Catholic Church history came in determining by which methods one can receive salvation. According to the Protestant view, salvation is attained by faith alone. The Council of Trent Vehemently denied this, and reaffirmed the Church teaching that faith, in conjunction with works, was the path to salvation. Though faith is an important component of salvation, it is Catholic Church teaching that it cannot produce salvation without works, as no man may know if they have received the grace of God. In opposing the central tenants of Protestantism, the ecumenical Council of Trent further made it clear that the Church’s interpretation of these events was the final word on matters of official Christian teaching.
Among the doctrines reaffirmed as official Church teaching during the ecumenical council of Trent was the veneration of saints and images. It had come to the attention of the Catholic Church that those of the Protestant faith looked upon this practice as a form of idolatry. In its official pronouncement, the council of Trent stressed that, though these images and statues are venerated inside the church, no order of divinity is bestowed upon them, as these images serve the purpose of honoring the sacred figures of Christian tradition. As these saints sit at the right hand of Christ by virtue of their time on earth, it is perfectly alright to honor and even pray to them, in the hopes of having those prayers answered by Christ. This practice, the council decreed, had been an integral part of Church teaching since the times of primitive Christianity, and as such, it deserved a place in the Catholic Church of the day. This decision upheld several practices that had persisted throughout Catholic Church history , such as the practice of Marian Devotion.
When the Ecumenical Council of Trent drew to a close in 1563, it had accomplished many things that would leave an indelible mark on Church history. Chief among these were the reaffirmation of basic Catholic Church teachings, some of which were given in order to strengthen the Church and respond to its Protestant detractors. In doing so, the council ended whatever confusion remained regarding Catholic beliefs, and drew a clear line between the beliefs of Catholics and Protestants. This split between Catholics and Protestants has never quite been resolved, though modern day dialogue between the two branches of faith produces hope for a unified Christian Church.
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