Still Sailing with the Trent Fathers

At Mass today we hear: Then the door was locked. Sound familiar? From this past Sunday? Someday the Lord will lock the door to heaven, for good. Could be today.

St. Paul consoles us: This is the will of God, your holiness. Holiness gets us inside; God wills us inside. He will lock the door. But He wills us inside first.


Luther Theses by Ferdinand Pauwels

The question of our holiness very much preoccupied the fathers gathered in the lovely town of Trent five centuries ago. They had gathered to try to deal with Martin Luther’s teachings. I am hoping for some grace and insight from a visit there myself, next week.

We can look back at the work of the Council of Trent in two ways.

1. The fathers clarified essential points and saved us from potentially catastrophic confusion about Christianity.

We attain holiness by: believing that salvation comes through our faith in Jesus Christ, Who is the mercy of God. Salvation and holiness come as gifts from on high.

But we still must do stuff. We have to co-operate with the grace of Christ. We have to obey the divine commandments. When we don’t, we have to confess our sins to a priest.

The Church founded by Christ has a life that She must live on earth. That life always falls prey to corruption, which requires a constant struggle for purification. But the baby can’t go out with the bath water. The baby includes: the Mass, the priesthood and apostolic hierarchy, the papacy of Rome, seven sacraments, and venerating saints, especially our Lady.

On the other hand… Here comes Point-of-View-on-Trent #2. The Council defined too much, too precisely. It hardened Catholic-Protestant divisions. And it failed actually to reform the Church. The papacy and the episcopate remained hopelessly overweening and worldly.

Now, we agree with Point-of-View #1. At the same time, I don’t think it makes us Protestants to acknowledge that Point-of-View #2 also has some truth to it.

PA Grand Jury victims
sex-abuse survivors at Penn. grand-jury press conference last August

A year ago, McCarrick, Viganò, and the Pennsylvania grand jury confronted us with a stunning, but hardly deniable, fact. We Catholic Christians sail on a ship that currently lacks competent senior officers. They’re playing Parcheesi on the bridge, while we look out at the sea and realize: We lost sight of land a long time ago.

But this realization has not meant despair for us. Because of the same fundamental insight that the council fathers, gathered at Trent, had.

The Church has Her life. We read and believe the Scriptures. We celebrate the ceremonies Jesus ordered us to celebrate. We strive, by God’s grace, to obey God.

And He is still God, the same God of our ancestors–the God of Abraham, Moses, Our Lady, St. Peter, St. Paul, St. Augustine, St. Francis, St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Therese. His Son is still His Son, reigning from heaven–and present with us in the Host and chalice. His Holy Spirit still makes us holy.

2 thoughts on “Still Sailing with the Trent Fathers

  1. The faith (Point-of-View #1) gives to individual persons a liberty which the church’s authoritarianism (Point-of-View #2) denies to some persons every day of every year.
    Answer me this after your Trent stay: Why did Trent make the church a despotism of papacy and episcopate rather than follow Protestantism by embracing Christianity’s authentic individual liberty?

  2. How to reform the organizational chart while maintaining the primacy of Peter and his successors? A Bureaucratic Reformation? Infallibility on matters of faith and morals leaves room for reform in many other matters.

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