The history of the Catholic Church is marked with many
monumental meetings that have influenced, even changed, the
role of the Catholic church in the world. These meetings
are called councils. Councils are meetings of the pope and
his cardinals and bishops designed to deal with a new
situation or crisis that threatens the church. From the
Council of Jerusalem to Vatican II, they have sought to
identify and define the Catholic church.
The Council of Trent was no different than the
councils that came before it. This council was held to
counteract Luther and the Reformation, at least originally.
The Council was actually held over a span of twenty years.
Of this time, only two years were actually spent in
meetings. The Council of Trent was convened three times
before formally being adjourned. The first period began in
1545 and ended in 1548. The purpose of this first period
was to define doctrine not for the good of the church, but
against the position of Protestant reformers. One of the
major statements of the first period was regarding the
Christian faith and salvation. The Council determined that
the Christian faith was based on Scripture and on
tradition. Tradition meaning "teachings and practices which
had been current in the church from the beginning and which
had been handed down to the present day." The issue of
salvation was also addressed. The Council decided that
salvation was gained through the grace of God, in
conjunction with "good and meritous works." The Council
hoped to reject Luther through this declaration, but all it
succeeded in doing was confusing Catholics worldwide. This
is because this decision went directly against Ephesians 2:
8-9 which states that "by grace ye are saved through
faith...not of works, lest any man should boast." There
were many cardinals who realized the biblical truth of
Luther's view on this subject, but the Jesuit theologians'
erroneous views prevailed, and were adopted by the Catholic
The second period- from 1551 to 1552- dealt mainly
with the Eucharist. This meeting of the Council confirmed
that the body and blood of Jesus the Christ was truly
present whenever communion was celebrated. This phenomenon
is called transubstantion. This decision was made mainly to
defy the Calvinist view of the Eucharist. It was also
during the second period that penance and extreme unction
were declared sacraments. The Council asserted that Jesus
himself instituted these practices, and that they could
only be administered by a priest.
The third and final period of the Council of Trent
convened in 1563. This period emphasized three doctrines.
First, purgatory was defined as a real place in which those
that had committed sins were detained until they fully
atoned for them. The priesthood and marriage were also
ordained as sacraments. Finally, indulgences were explained
and justified.
All in all, there were four major decisions reached by
the Council of Trent. The most momentous of these was the
declaration that salvation was gained through works and
grace. Also, the pope's interpretation of the Bible was
final. Anyone who substituted her or his own interpretation
was a heretic. Regarding the Christian lifestyle, the
Council decided that the Bible and tradition governed a
Christian's life equally. Finally, indulgences,
pilgrimages, and holy relics were all valid ways of
expressing Catholic piety.
All of these decrees to some degree directly refuted
the teachings of the protestant church. In its effort to
contradict Protestant beliefs, the Council of Trent often
strayed from biblical truth. Despite its shortcomings, the
Council of Trent remains one of the most influential
councils in the history of the Roman Catholic Church.

The Council of Trent

Elizabeth Atwater
Pre-IB World History
Mrs. Ostendorf
April 7, 1997


1. Dwyer, John C. Church History. Paulist Press: New York, 1985.
2. Hughes, Philip. The Church in Crisis: A History of the General Councils, 325- 1870.
Hanover House: Garden City, New York, 1961.

I. Introduction

II. First period

III. Second period

IV. Third period

V. Accomplishments of the Council

VI. Conclusion