Wednesday, December 4, 2013
Another Reformation Anniversary
More than anything else, this council defines what we have come to call the Roman Catholic Church. Trent addressed some of the most fundamental topics of Christianity -- from the relationship between Scripture and Tradition to the nature and number of the sacraments -- and fundamentally shaped both the liturgical identity of the Church of Rome as well as restructuring its relationship to its geographically diverse locales -- not to exclude the whole of the New World.
Many of the changes were long overdue and addressed some of the very things that gave birth to the Reformation (among them bishops holding multiple episcopal jurisdictions, often bought and paid for with a sort of endowment, and creating the opportunity for short cuts to the priesthood and episcopacy for those capable of such benefices). Many of them solidified the modern form of Roman Catholicism (not that they made ground breaking change like those blamed upon Vatican II but that discrepancies were resolved, liturgical diversity tightened up, and the role and rule of the papacy strengthened).
One of the great failings of many Lutherans is to address the Reformation to the post-Tridentine Roman Catholic Church. Luther and the Reformation may have looked much different had the whole thing begun after Trent's reforms and definitions been established. That is not to say there would have been no Reformation but the church prior to Trent was certainly less centrally controlled. One other area of significance lies in the fact the prior to Trent seminaries as such did not really exist. This reform of the council had lasting impact upon the church and prevented some of the more celebrated abuses and voids in pastoral training and formation -- something that certainly did impact Luther.
Funny, though, that Trent seems to be held in higher esteem today than it was even 50 years ago when Vatican II seemed to be the springtime and Trent was judged to be the winter of discontent. What many inside and outside of Rome forget is that there is a culture of continuity within Rome that means it is never redefined, only nuanced toward this direction or that. In this respect, Lutherans would insist that the root causes of the Reformation remain valid -- post-Trent, post-Vatican I and II, and will remain post-Francis! Thus, what Jaroslav Pelikan called, the tragic necessity would not have been averted and obedient rebels would still have been needed...