The Goals of the Council of Trent

The Council of Trent meeting in Santa Maria Maggiore church, Trent. (Attributed to Pasquale Cati da Iesi; 1588.)

The Council of Trent was originally convened by Pope Paul III and lasted for twelve years. It was a delayed reaction to Protestantism.

The Delay in Launching the Counter Reformation

In 1545, Pope Paul III convened the Council of Trent in order to come up with effective responses to allow the Roman Catholic Church to reverse the spread of the Protestant Reformation throughout Europe. In many respects the Papacy had taken too long to convene the Council of Trent in the first place. The Protestant Reformation had unintentionally started during the year 1517 and the Papacy took almost forty years to create the Council of Trent.

Clear Goals but Uncertain Outcomes

The first objective of the Council of Trent was to define which doctrines were truly Roman Catholic ones and which doctrines were actually heretical. The Papacy believed that aim needed to be achieved to enable the rest of the Counter Reformation to be successful. The Roman Catholic church in affect had to know what it was defending as well as what did not really matter.

Another aim and objective of the Council of Trent was to highlight the doctrinal and structural differences between the Roman Catholic Church and the various Protestant denominations. Of course the purposes of highlighting the differences between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism was to demonstrate the wickedness of the latter. The Council of Trent set out to portray even the most moderate variants of the Protestant confessions as being totally unacceptable to the Papacy and all devout Roman Catholics everywhere.

The Council of Trent had the aim of adding momentum as well as direction to the Counter Reformation, something that had previously depended upon the secular Roman catholic rulers to provide the impetus for preventing the spread of Protestantism in their respective realms.

The Council of Trent also intended that by clearly defining what was Roman Catholic and what was Protestant and therefore heretical that it would stop Roman Catholic rulers making deals with Protestant subjects or Protestant rulers.

Whilst Roman Catholic rulers might have previously declared their intentions of taking strident measures to repress Protestantism they had put other diplomatic, dynastic, and military considerations above defending the true Roman Catholic church.


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  3. Roberts R M (1996) Penguin History of Europe, Penguin, London