Saint Ignatius of Loyola - John Pollen

The Council of Trent


The greatest event in the Catholic world during Ignatius's life was the celebration of the Council of Trent. Here the ecclesiastical and civil powers of Europe met to take measures for the ills of Christendom. Even Protestant envoys were present for a time. The need for wise counsel was never greater, and the sacrifices made during nearly thirty years (1536–1564) to keep the assembly together were most remarkable. On the whole, too, it was wonderfully successful. Never before had any council defined so large a body of doctrine, or insisted on so many points of reform. The obstacles, however, had been enormous. The Latin races, on whom the burden of the legislation fell, are not by nature "parliamentary" (to use a modern phrase); while the autocrats who ruled throughout Europe, though they called aloud for a council, were in practice inevitably unfavourable to its liberty.

The Jesuits were providentially called upon to play a considerable part during the second and third sessions; a somewhat strange fortune, when one considers how very recent had been their foundation, and how very small the number of their trained men.

Their position at the Council of Trent was really due to Pope Paul III, who took his theologians exclusively from the new order. The office of papal theologian was naturally one of no little distinction in such an assembly, even though it granted no "definitive," but only a "consultative" vote. In the preparatory discussions, the Fathers chosen had much to do with the arrangement and the codifying of proposals, and much to say in reporting the various commissions. The Pope gave no reasons for his selection. He simply summoned Ignatius and left the choice of men to him. It may be that he had special trust in the order, which he had himself tested and approved, but we are not able to analyse his mind further. It seems like another step in that providential disposition by which the first Jesuits, after dedicating themselves especially to the service of the Pope, soon became through him preachers and confessors at the courts of Catholic sovereigns, and from thence found rapid entry into Catholic cities and universities.

Lainez and Salmeron, whom Ignatius had chosen, arrived at Trent, May 18, 1545. Faber, who was to have accompanied them died on the way, and his place was not filled up; but two other Jesuits had been sent from Germany: Le Jay, one of the first companions had been appointed by the Archbishop of Augsburg as his procurator, cum voto definitivo, while Pere Corillon, a Belgian, had been', sent as a theologian by the Duke of Bavaria.

Lainez and Salmeron, belonging to the Pope's mission, were maintained by his alms; but still they had various spells of hard fare, especially during the migration to Bologna. Ignatius had given them special instructions on the manner of life they were to lead. They were especially enjoined constantly to visit the hospices for the sick and the poor, and this they did with good effect, saying Mass regularly and preaching in those squalid surroundings.

Their chief work, however, lay in the congregations and consultations. Lainez's wide reading and great memory made him most serviceable. The method of the Council was to begin the legislative procedure by a study of the false doctrines current in that day. Here the Jesuit's encyclopaedic knowledge proved invaluable, and he eventually received a sort of commission to draw up a treatise of the errors current at the time. In formulating for the congregation at large the results of the studies of this or that consulting commission Lainez also performed valuable services. Several of his discourses are preserved, one upon the doctrine of justification which took three hours to deliver, is especially noteworthy. Still, some writers on this subject have slightly exaggerated his merits. He has been said, for instance, to have declared that he would not quote any author, without having read him integrally; and then to have cited several score. However, the texts of his speeches which are now edited, show that this, and one or two other stories have given, by some inaccurate touches, a tinge of romance to performances which in sober fact were very commendable, without bordering on the impossible.

Our new materials also give us the story of a certain great lady, which is sufficiently characteristic to deserve a place here. Donna Leonora de Toledo, Duchess of Florence, was a great admirer of Lainez's sermons, and after he had been for some time lost to her among the Tridentine Alps, she set to work to obtain his recall. By those delicate arts in which ladies of her high position are so often proficient, she made steady progress in her suit and one day Lainez, amidst his most successful labours, received from Ignatius a letter of recall. Like an obedient man he was packing his bag, when the Cardinal Legates heard of the proposed change and immediately interfered. They could not possibly spare him; Donna Leonora's desires must remain awhile unsatisfied.

Perhaps we may smile at the way in which humano modo  the great lady so nearly got her way, in spite of all interests against her. But there may be circumstances, now in the background, which will explain the proceedings better. Lainez was really very fatigued and had later on to leave Trent, though only for a short holiday. Moreover, the Council itself was in some appearance of danger through the ravages of "the plague." Finally, the Protestants in Germany were beginning to take up arms and the continuance of the Council, at Trent, was threatened. Before long it had been resolved to move to Bologna and in March, 1547, the three Jesuit theologians, Lainez, Salmeron and Canisius, who had now joined them, left Trent. But Le Jay, who represented the Archbishop of Augsburg, remained behind. The Emperor had ordered all the bishops of his realms to stay; and the German and Spanish bishops obeying, the Council was thus divided. Though the papal party remained for some time at Bologna, nothing more could be done, and in September they began to disperse, although the Pope would not officially close the assembly. His death, however, in 1549, finally terminated this, the second session.

The next Pope was Julius III, who, as Cardinal del Monte, had been the first of the presiding Legates. It was natural, therefore, that he should have at once devoted himself to the continuation of the Council, and in July, 1551, Lainez and Salmeron were back again at Trent as papal theologians. Again they took a notable position in arranging the preliminaries of the session, in discussing and reporting on the matters under dispute with the Protestants.

The subject now to be defined was the Holy Sacrament of the Altar, and on this Lainez spoke at length on the eighth of September; while Salmeron soon after reported on Communion under both kinds. In October they were speaking on the Sacrament of Confession, in December, on the Sacrifice of the Mass. In January envoys at last arrived from the Protestants at Wittenberg, but it will easily be believed, that they took a view of the Council's duties entirely different from that of the Catholics. They began by proposing that everything hitherto decreed contrary to their Confession of Augsburg, should be rescinded. Though this could not be made the subject of debate, the Council was not at all unwilling to hear, and study more closely, their new tenets. In spite of the general anxiety to get forward, all the decrees and canons then ready to be proposed and voted upon, were patiently adjourned; and time was freely given to discussions with the Wittenbergers.

No decisions were reached, but this does not at all prove that no good was done. On the contrary we may regard this interlude with much satisfaction, not only as a proof of the Council's good faith, but as an indication of its anxiety to get to the root of the current dissensions. I have found no indications of the parts taken by the Jesuits in these debates. They were closed by the Protestant princes of Germany rising once more against Charles V. The Council again recognized that the state of war must prevent free discussion and decision, and resolved to disperse (April 28, 1552).

Before this Ignatius had asked the Jesuit Fathers at Trent to inquire whether it would be possible to obtain from the Council an approbation of the Society. There was no doubt that the conciliar Fathers had had a good opportunity of seeing how the Jesuits worked; there was no doubt that in many places (Paris for example), where there was perennial jealousy at Papal approbations and privileges, a conciliar approbation would be received without demur. Ignatius's reasons were excellent, but the Jesuit Fathers at Trent were not fully satisfied. The Council being rather a legislative than an administrative body, they pointed out that the approbation of an order might appear to some to be beside its functions, so that the application might cause comment and, perhaps, no good. They had so far only consulted one of their friends, who had not been in favour of the project. If, however, Ignatius wished them to go further they would do whatever he should require. Needless to add, Ignatius did not urge his plan. It is interesting to see how free in staging difficulties these sticklers for obedience were, and how sensibly and straightforwardly they explained their case.

While the bishops at Trent neither gave, nor were asked to give a vote in approbation of Ignatius's Society, they did in fact come to know and appreciate it, as they had had no opportunity of doing before. This was a matter of no small importance for the order. After his return from Trent, Bishop du Prat formally introduced the Jesuits into France, founding three colleges for them. They also secured the powerful patronage of the Archbishop of Granada, don Pedro Guerrero, of great assistance in stormy days yet to come. The Fathers also secured the friendship of D. Guttiere de Carvajal, who was in time to found for them the college of Plasencia.

Ignatius did not live to see the conclusion. of the Council, 1560 to 1.563; but his sons continued there the labours they had undertaken in the earlier sessions. Lainez and Salmeron. were still papal theologians; Canisius was also there.

It will not be necessary to descend to details for this post-Ignatian period, though it may be mentioned that both Lainez and Salmeron were on the commission which declared attendance at Elizabeth's new services to be illicit.