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Trent on Reform: The Catholic Counter-Reformation

So what did the Catholic Church do after Protestants had year after year pointed to obvious corruption in the church?  Trent.  That’s what they did.    

O’Malley teaches that although the Council of Trent published many decrees, the decrees can be boiled down to two areas: 1) denouncing Protestant doctrines (particularly Luther) and 2) reforming the “institutional” church.  In our last post we looked at Trent’s doctrinal reforms.  Now we look at the council’s ecclesiastical reforms.

All this comes from John W. O’Malley’s chapter, “The Council of Trent: Myths, Misunderstandings, and Misinformation,” in Spirit, Style, Story: Essays Honoring John W. Padburg, S.J.  Edited by Thomas Lucas. Jesuit Way Loyola Press: 2002, pp. 205-225.

The Goal of the Reform 

 “The reform of the bishops and pastors had as its goal a more effective ministry” (215).  “The most notable effect, perhaps, was that within a century bishops were, for the most part, resident in their dioceses and taking their pastoral responsibilities more seriously than before.  They established seminaries and insisted on a new standard of deportment for the parish clergy” (222).     

Papal Reform

 Only after a long “stand-still,” the suspension of all sessions, and the new appointment of Giovanni Morone as a papal legate (“who had recently been released from the papal prison”) was there significant progress made on reform (214).  This is because “of the three offices in the church that needed reform, the papacy was first on just about everybody’s list,” but the pope wanted to have control over the reform of the papacy (214).  Imagine that right?  

Finally, “except for a brief and perfunctory bit of sumptuary regulation for prelates that in passing mentioned the cardinals, it was agreed that the papacy would have complete control of its own reform” (214).  “Trent did not define the prerogatives of the papacy because, had it been able to do so, it would have in some measure tried to restrict them.  This is another aspect of the Council of Trent that is little known or appreciated” (216).  “The bishops at Trent realized that all their work would go for naught if it failed to receive papal approval” (221).  It is important to remember that “none of the three popes under whom the council met during its eighteen-year history had ever set foot as pope in the council chambers” (221).   

Pastoral Reform: Bishops and Pastors

“By the third period, under Morone’s leadership, it courageously passed a series of measures that aimed, as Jedin puts it, at transforming bishops from collectors of benefices into pastors of souls” (214).  Trent forbade absenteeism (bishops or priests who were absent from their dioceses or parish) and pluralism (the practice of collecting revenues from more than one bishopric at a time and the practice of being pastor of more than one parish).  These were the practices that enabled bishops and priests to collect lots of money while not doing any pastoral ministry.  These were the practices that caused greedy people to aspire to ecclesiastical offices just for the sake of money.  Therefore, this part of the council of Trent O’Malley calls a “moral miracle,” since “this meant reforming themselves where it hurt most—in their bank accounts” (214).  These were the two “foundation stones” of the Tridentine Reform. 

Furthermore, it required each bishop to 1) “hold regular synods with their clergy,” 2) “visit and oversee” more closely “their parishes and other institutions of the diocese,” 3) “show greater stringency in admitting candidates to priestly ordination,” 4) “to assure that confessors be properly qualified,” 5) to establish a seminary for the training of poor boys for the priesthood, 6) “to promote teaching on Sundays and feast days, setting the example themselves” (215). 

The council understood the pastor’s function as consisting in residing in his parish, administering the rites and sacraments of the church, and preaching on Sundays and holy days.  While the council dealt extensively with the reform of both the bishops and pastors, it did so largely through the bishops.  “These are the ‘pastoral’ decrees of a council often not conceived of as pastoral.  In time they had great impact on the way bishops and pastors functioned.  … They illustrated beyond a doubt how episcopal the reforms of the Council of Trent were” (216).

Mendicant Orders

“This purview excluded (except almost as a bothersome intrusion) the ministry of the members of mendicant orders like the Franciscans and the Dominicans. … At Trent the bishops passed measures that limited the pastoral prerogatives of the mendicants and that also tried to regulate various aspects of the life of members of all religious orders” (216).

Nuns

There was a “decree insisting on the strict cloister of nuns, so that ‘no nun shall after her profession be permitted to go out of the monastery’ except with Episcopal approval” (217).  It is extremely important, however, to remember that “this decree applied only to the nuns in the strict sense of the word (monialies—in today’s popular parlance, ‘contemplatives’), and did not apply to members of the Third Orders like Saint Catherine of Siena who, always depicted as wearing the Dominican habit, looks to us for all the world like a ‘nun’” (217).  

Disciplinary Measures

“In its decrees and canons on reform the council set forth briefly its pastoral goals; it put teeth into them by the sanctions it threatened for noncompliance. … The council could hardly have proceeded otherwise.  No realistic person thought exhortations would do the job, but in the long run such procedures reinforced ‘social disciplining’ as an ecclesiastical style” (217).  Although articulated in juridical and disciplinary terms, “the council established a closer relationship between bishops and the parish clergy than was common earlier” (215).  

:::: In our next post we will look at what happened after the council and draw some summarize O’Malley’s conclusions.

The Pope Believes in Justification by Faith

(And before you think I’m theologically naive, make sure you read my comments that follow the quotation)

The following excerpts come from the lips of Pope Ratzinger himself, spoken Nov. 19th 2008.  

On the journey we have undertaken under the guidance of St. Paul, we now wish to reflect on a topic that is at the center of the controversies of the century of the Reformation: the issue of justification.

To be just means simply to be with Christ and in Christ. And this suffices. Other observances are no longer necessary.

That is why Luther’s expression “sola fide” is true if faith is not opposed to charity, to love. Faith is to look at Christ, to entrust oneself to Christ, to be united to Christ, to be conformed to Christ, to his life. And the form, the life of Christ, is love; hence, to believe is to be conformed to Christ and to enter into his love. That is why, in the Letter to the Galatians, St. Paul develops above all his doctrine on justification; he speaks of faith that operates through charity (cf. Galatians 5:14).

Paul knows that in the double love of God and neighbor the whole law is fulfilled. Thus the whole law is observed in communion with Christ, in faith that creates charity. We are just when we enter into communion with Christ, who is love. We will see the same in next Sunday’s Gospel for the solemnity of Christ the King. It is the Gospel of the judge whose sole criterion is love. What I ask is only this: Did you visit me when I was sick? When I was in prison? Did you feed me when I was hungry, clothe me when I was naked? So justice is decided in charity. Thus, at the end of this Gospel, we can say: love alone, charity alone. However, there is no contradiction between this Gospel and St. Paul. It is the same vision, the one according to which communion with Christ, faith in Christ, creates charity. And charity is the realization of communion with Christ. Thus, being united to him we are just, and in no other way.

Paul’s experience of the Risen Lord on the road to Damascus led him to see that it is only by faith in Christ, and not by any merit of our own, that we are made righteous before God. Our justification in Christ is thus God’s gracious gift, revealed in the mystery of the Cross. Christ died in order to become our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption (cf. 1 Cor 1:30), and we in turn, justified by faith, have become in him the very righteousness of God (cf. 2 Cor 5:21). In the light of the Cross and its gifts of reconciliation and new life in the Spirit, Paul rejected a righteousness based on the Law and its works.

Actually, in droves Catholics have come around to basically granting a doctrine of justification by faith.  

If your reaction is, “Yeah … but they don’t mean by faith alone,” you probably have been too influenced by uninformed Protestant rhetoric and haven’t been following the ecumenical discussion carefully enough.  If you say, “Yeah but when Catholics affirm justification by faith alone or by grace alone, they don’t mean the same thing the Reformers did,” well … The Reformers themselves didn’t mean the same thing by “justification by faith alone.”

There is no single doctrine of justification in the Reformation.  

To this very day Protestants understand the doctrine differently (nothwithstanding much overlap between their views, and between their views and Catholic views).  Thus, Martin Luther taught a sola fide, Calvin taught a sola fide, and Catholics also teach a sola fide, yet each are different in significant ways I do not have time to fully develop here.  They all have one thing in common: they all affirm that justifying righteousness originates outside of us in God himself (extra nos) and justifies us by grace alone (sola gratia), and the faith by which we are justified is a free gift of God—-notwithstanding the fact that all language of “free gift” and “sola gratia” are going to be understood differently by Arminians and Calvinists/Augustinians.  (It is the latter point of difference that caused a great deal of the tension between Luther and the Catholic Church).     

If you still think I’m theologically naive, leave comments in the thread.  It may be because I can’t say everything in one post.  

 

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What Martin Luther Really Said ::: Luther’s Sola Fide

Martin Luther’s doctrine of justification is all too often assumed to be the same doctrine that later wound up in the Reformed Orthodox creeds.  This sola fide (the one of Reformed Orthodoxy) tends to be read back into the magisterial Reformers, and in this manner the nuances of the original Reformation sola fide are missed.  

The excerpts below come from Martin Luther’s introduction and summary of the book of Romans.  Martin Luther, Commentary on Romans, trans. J. Theodore Mueller (Grand Rapids: Kregel Classic, Zondervan, 1954).  

Notice that Luther’s notion of justifying righteousness is faith itself because faith satisfies the law.  Luther’s notion of justifying righteousness, then, was not Christ’s active and passive obedience, as in much of the Reformed versions of the doctrine of imputation.   (more…)

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