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Rejection of the Safe-conduct by the Protestants—Discussions on Penance
Opposition to Reform-Affair of the Bishop of Verdun-Arrival of Protestant Ambassadors from Wirtemburg, Strasburg, &c.-FOURTEENTH Session--Decree on Penance-Reflections thereon-Detection of error in the Decree after its Publication.
Ir might have been expected that the Protestants would be dissatisfied with the safe-conduct issued by the council; and so it proved. They particularly animadverted on the words “ as far as the council is concerned,” which they thought left an opening for a breach of faith on the part of the civil power; and they complained of the clause containing the proposed appointment of judges, to take cognizance of any crimes they might commit during their stay at Trent, in which the expression was found—"even such as savour of heresy;" they could not help suspecting that it concealed a purpose to entrap them. The safe-conduct was therefore unanimously rejected, and it was agreed to demand ancther, exactly conformable to that which had been granted to the Bohemians by the council of Basle. Should this request be denied, they would be justified in rejecting the council altogether; should it be conceded, a great advantage would be gained, as they would then have power to “deliberate and decide,” and the decisions of the assembly must be founded on the authority of scripture.*
Penance and extreme unction were the subjects fixed for the ensuing session. With a view to expedite business, and decide as much as possible before the arrival of the Protestants, two congregations were held every day; one in the morning, the other in the afternoon.t Certain articles, con
* Sarpi, lib. iv.s. 20. + From 14 o'clock to 17, and from 20 o'clock to 23. The Italians reckon from sunset. The hours just mentioned were about equivalent, at that time taining the presumed heresies of the reformers, were submitted to the consideration of the divines. But it was impossible to confine them to the prescribed rules of discussion. They were much more apt at citing the school doctors and the canon law than the word of God; and when they did appeal to the testimony of scripture, the manner in which they used it shewed how poorly skilled they were in biblical theology, and how imperfectly they understood the true method of ascertaining the “mind of the Spirit.” For instance, to prove that auricular confession is taught by the inspired writers, they collected all the passages in which the words “confess” and 6 confession” are found, and unceremoniously converted them into evidence on their side, regardless of the real meaning of the texts so quoted; and they busied themselves in searching the Old Testament for figures, by which it might be supposed that confession was typified, and he was accounted the most skilful who produced the greatest number.* By such labours were the decisions of an infallible council framed !
Although there was much better agreement among the fathers on the present than on some previous occasions, some differences of opinion appeared, which led to warm and complicated disputes. The divines of Louvain and Cologne objected to the condemnation of those who disapproved of “reserved cases.” Protestants, they said, regarded them as only contrivances to get money, and Cardinal Campeggio had confessed the same in his work on reformation. They required also that public penance should be mentioned, which Cyprian and Gregory the Great had so strongly recommended in their writings, and even declared to be of divine right. The Franciscans complained that those were condemned who held sacramental absolution to be only declarative, and who in this followed Jerome, the Master of the Sentences, Bonaventura, and almost all the scholastic divines. Ambrose Pelargo said, that scarcely any of the fathers had considered the words of Christ, “ Whose sins soever ye remit,” &c., to contain the institution of the sacrament of penance, and that to restrict them to that interpretation, and declare those to be heretics who understood them otherwise, would be, in effect, to condemn the ancient doctrine of the church.*
of the year, to 8 and 11 o'clock in the morning, and 2 and 5 o'clock in the afternoon, according to our reckoning.
* Sarpi, lib. iv. s. 23. Pallav. lib. xii. c. 10.
The legate was extremely angry at these observations. It was beneath the dignity of the council, he said, thus to humour the inclinations of private individuals; the decrees and canons had been composed with great care, and ought to pass. Nevertheless, he wished it to be understood, any one might suggest such alterations as he thought proper. This was the language of his public addresses; in conversing with his colleagues and confidants he was less guarded. The custom of disputing, the freedom of speech, he would remark, must be suppressed; or the Protestants, when they come, will follow the evil example in defending their heresies. He maintained that all reasonable liberty was given if every one was permitted to speak freely during the course of discussion ; but that when the decrees had been framed by a committee, approved by the presidents, examined and confirmed at Rome, they must not be again called in question.t
Very little was done in furtherance of ecclesiastical reform. The legate's furious opposition, his haughty and tyrannical demeanour to those who resisted his measures, and the number of purchased votes, left no chance of success. Many prelates would have retired in disgust, but for the solicitations of the imperial ambassadors; despair enfeebled their energies; they began to think that nothing short of a miracle could cleanse away the corruptions and abuses of the church; and there were not wanting some suspicions that the Protestant interpretations of the prophecies respecting antichrist were founded in truth.[
An occurrence that happened a short time before the session will illustrate these statements. The legate proposed that no
* Sarpi, ut sup. s. 24.
† Sarpi, ut sup. I “Le Legat tâche de nous epouvanter, en parlant avec hauteur et fierté Il traite les evèques comme des esclaves : il menace et il jure de s'en aller... La conclusion et l'issue du concile seront comme je l'ai toujours dit, à moins que Dieu ne fasse un miracle pour l'empescher.”—Vargas, pp. 218, 219. “ La prediction de S. Paul dans la seconde Epistre au Thessaloneiiens,
bishopric should be given in commendam to those who had not attained the age prescribed by the canons. Many objected to this, as it seemed to imply a tacit approbation of commendams, if bestowed on persons of suitable age: the article was ultimately withdrawn. In the course of the debate, the Bishop of Verdun said that such a reformation as was evidently intended would be fruitless, unworthy of the council, and illsuited to the exigencies of the times. He added, that commendams were a gulf that swallowed up the wealth of the church, and in the honest warmth of his zeal, ventured to utter the words “ pretended reformation.” The legate was much enrageil, and grossly insulted the prelate, calling him an ignorant, stupid fellow, and using many other opprobrious epithets. This conduct was repeated some days after; and when the bishop attempted to defend himself, he was silenced. All this took place in the full assembly of the fathers; yet so completely had they the fear of the legate before their eyes that no one ventured to say a word in defence of his injured brother. Stifled murmurs and low whispers were the only manifestations of concern and anger. “ Tell me now,” said the Archbishop of Cologne to the Bishop of Orenza, as they left the place of meeting, “ do you think that this is a free council?” “My lord,” replied the bishop, “you ask me a very difficult question. I cannot answer it immediately. All that I can say now is, that the council ought to be free.” “ Speak plainly,” rejoined the archbishop, “is there really any liberty in the council ?” “I beseech you, my lord,” answered the timid prelate, “ do not press me any further with the subject now. I will give you a reply at your own house."*
Towards the end of October, John Theodoric Pleninger and John Echlin, ambassadors from the Duke of Wirtem
chap. 2. achêve de s'accomplir dans l'Eglise de Rome. Car enfin, S. Anselme explique ce passage de l'Eglise Romaine, à cause des abus et des vices qui y regnent. Il y a des auteurs qui sont de ce même sentiment. Je scai bien aussi qu'on donne d'autres interprétations à cet endroit. Dieu veuille avoir pitié de nous, et ne nous punir pas autant que nos péchez le méritent.”— Ibid. pp. 237. See also p.p. 222, 230.
• Vargas, pp. 245, 263. Some of the Spanish bishops, while they appeared among the most zealous adherents of reform, employed their leisure moments in endeavours to procure better benefices, by flattering and cringing to the Emperor's prime minister, Granvelle, Bishop of Arras.-Ibid. pp. 204–209.
burg, arrived at Trent. They were instructed to present the confession of faith prepared by Brentius, and to demand a safe-conduct for the divines, who were ready to enter the lists with their Roman-catholic opponents as soon as that document should be received. In the following month they were joined by the ambassadors from Strasburg and five other cities; among them was Sleidan, the celebrated historian. As they all engaged to act in concert, and refused the offer of a private audience with the legate, lest it should be construed into a recognition of the Pope's authority, their arrival was regarded with no small anxiety and alarm. In reply to a letter sent to the pontiff, his holiness instructed the legate to take particular care that the papal authority should not be infringed ; to avoid mild measures and temporizing expedients ; if necessary, to transfer or dissolve the council, the odium of which measure he [the Pope] undertook to bear; to propose as many doctrinal questions as possible, partly that the Lutherans might despair of any accommodation without subjection to the council, and partly to furnish employment to the prelates, and prevent them from thinking on reform.* If he found himself compelled to yield to the bishops, in regard to the increase of their authority, he might do so, after having resisted as long as possible; because, should anything be done prejudicial to the interests of the court of Rome, it would be easy to restore things afterwards to their former state, if the papal authority were preserved uninjured.t
The fourteenth session was held November 25. The decisions of the council on the subject of penance were expressed in the following terms :
“ Although in the decree concerning justification many observations on the sacrament of penance were necessarily
* Sarpi, lib. iv. s. 28. Vargas bears similar testimony. It was too evident to be unobserved, that the legate purposely protracted the doctrinal discussions, in order to abridge the deliberations on reform. “Tout cela n'est qu'un jeu premédité. Le concile ne peut rien faire par lui mesme. On l'a depouillé de son autorité. Il n'y a point de liberté. Le Légat est le maitre, il tient tout dans sa main.”—Vargas, p. 203.
+ “ It is a surprising thing,” said Vargas, “that God's affairs go on so badly. No one is on his side, no one dares speak for him. We are all dumb dogs, that cannot bark.".... C'est une chose surprenante, que les affaires de