1503-1534 History of Italy 1566-1590

Papal State and Papacy, 1534-1566

The Council of Trent In contrast to his predecessors, who were fearful of Conciliarism because the Council of Constance in 1415 had deposed popes, Paul III. (1534-1549, Alessandro Farnese) strove energetically toward the assembly of a general council which was to tackle the reform of the Catholic church. He appointed eminent theologians cardinals, appointed a reform commission in 1536 and in 1540 confirmed the statutes of the Jesuit Order.
First attempts to convene a general council at Mantua (1536), then at Vicenza (1537) failed, as did the first attempt to convene one at Trent (1542). Peace concluded between Emperor Charles V. and France (1544) then established conditions which permitted a general council, attended by representatives of all major Catholic nations, to assemble. The small town of Trent had been selected, because it was located geographically in Italy, but politically part of the Holy Roman Empire; her location thus making it possible for the representatives of the Lutheran territories to attend (for they trusted in their safety as guaranteed by the Emperor). The Council of Trent opened on December 13th 1545.
The Council of Trent had been intended a council of the entire church, including the German Lutherans; however the Lutherans were not at all, the German Catholics hardly represented in the opening stages, at the situation at home was too volatile. Germany soon became the stage of the Schmalkaldic War (1547). The reasoning for the choice of Trent as location of the council thus not effective, in 1547 the Council decided to relocate to Bologna. The Emperor refused to accept this decision; in 1549 Pope Paul III. declared the Council of Bologna for dissolved. He died shortly afterward and was succeeded by Julius III. (1550-1555, Giovanni Maria Ciocchi del Monte), who had been the president of the just terminated council. In 1551 he called for the council to again assemble at Trent. This time both Germany's Catholic bishops, as well as Germany's Lutheran princes and Imperial cities, were well represented, as were Spain and Italy. There seemed to be a brief opportunity to reconcile the Catholic and the Lutheran sides; then, the Protestant Union, headed by Duke-Elector Moritz of Saxony, signed an alliance with France (1552). The council was suspended for 2 years.
In 1555 Emperor and Germany's princes signed the Peace of Augsburg, which accepted the coexistence of the two confessions. Pope Julius III. died that year, succeeded by Marcellus II. (1555, Marcello Cervini) and Paul IV. (1555-1559, Gian Petro Carafa). Paul IV. in 1555 signed an alliance with France (which herself was allied with the Protestant German princes and with the Ottoman Empire); in 1556 the Papal State was invaded by a Spanish force. In 1557 the Treaty of Cave reestablished peace. During the pontificate of Paul IV., no attempt was made to resume the council. In 1559, a list of heretical books was published (Index of forbidden books).
Paul IV. died in 1559 and was succeeded by Pius IV. (1559-1565, Giovanni Angelo de Medici). In 1562 the Council of Trent was reopened; now clearly dominated by representatives of romance language nations, foremost by Italians; Germany hardly was represented, the protestant princes not at all. The suggestion of Emperor Ferdinand to permit laymen to participate in the eucharist and to permit the marriage of priests - two central issues for Germany's Lutherans - were not decided by the council, but transferred to the pope. The Tridentine Council in other aspects had redefined Catholicism, had established the sources of Catholic belief, which besides the bible (i.e. the Vulgata) included the church fathers, decisions of church councils, papal statements, officially recognized revelations and church tradition. It had decided to enforce celibacy, the rules of monastic orders on monasteries, to abolish the sale of letters of indulgence. It also decided for councils to be regularly assembled (every 5 to 10 years). The Holy Inquisition was charged with introducing redefined Catholicism into the various dioceses; the idea was to reform Catholic communities in the Tridentine sense and to 'return' protestant communities to Catholic faith (Counterreformation). The Jesuits, and to a lesser extent the Dominicans and Franciscans took care of this task. The council was concluded on December 4th 1563.
Shortly after, the Tridentine Confession (Professio fidei Tridentina, 1564), a new index of prohibited books, the Tridentine Catechism (1566), a revised breviary (1568) and missale (1570) were published. Pope Pius IV. did not live to see the last two publications; he died in 1566.

Papal Diplomacy Much on papal diplomacy has been described in the previous paragraph. The organization of a general council required the popes to take in a neutral position between France and the Habsburgs. In 1534, King Henry VIII. had had the Church of England separate from Rome, to which Pope Paul III. responded by banning him. In 1553, Henry VIII.'s daughter Mary, known to history as Bloody Mary, became Queen (1553-1558). She attempted to impose Catholicism on England by force; after her early death she was succeeded by her half-sister Elizabeth, who again favoured the (protestant) Church of England. Relations between the papacy and England, except for the brief rule of Bloody Mary, thus were poor.
Pope Pius V. derived from the policy of neutrality between France and the Habsburgs and thus imperiled the prospects of the Council of Trent as well as the Papal State. Three popes, Paul III., Julius III. and Pius IV. deserve the credit habing facilitated the conditions under which the council could convene and decide on the reform of the church.

The Papal State. Paul III. appointed two of his grandchildren cardinals. He had the University of Rome restored, the fortifications of the city repaired and strengthened. In order to pay for the construction, he had letters of indulgence sold. Michelangelo worked in Rome, among others on the Last Judgment 1535-1541. The next pope, Julius III., continued to promote Renaissance art.
Paul IV. (1555-1559) was a nepotist; in the last year of his pontificate he punished one of his privileged relatives, Carlo Carafa, for abuses of power. His animosity toward Spain triggered the Spanish invasion of the Papal State, and Paul IV. was fortunate to be offered the generous conditions of the Treaty of Cave. He ordered Jews (already confined to the ghetto) to wear identifying badges and had homosexuals burnt at the stake. Paul IV. was hated by the people of Rome; when he died, the mob of Rome beheaded his statue. Pius IV. had Jews expelled from the Papal States, except the ghetto in Rome, where rigid conditions were imposed on them.

Biography of Paul III., from Catholic Encyclopedia, 1911 edition
Biography of Julius III., from Catholic Encyclopedia, 1910 edition
Biography of Paul IV., from Catholic Encyclopedia, 1911 edition
Biography of Pius IV., from Catholic Encyclopedia, 1911 edition
Article Council of Trent, from Catholic Encyclopedia, 1912 edition
Article Roman Catechism, from Catholic Encyclopedia, 1912 edition
Article Sacraments, from Catholic Encyclopedia, 1912 edition
DOCUMENTS Council of Trent, Canons and Decrees, from Hanover Historical Texts Project
The Roman Catechism, posted by James Akin
Council of Trent, Rules on Prohibited Books, from Modern History Sourcebook
Council of Trent, Session of Jan. 13th 1547, from EWTN
REFERENCE Book Reviews : Papal State, from History Book Reviews

Franz Xaver Seppelt, Georg Schwaiger, Geschichte der Päpste (History of the Popes), München : Kösel 1964, 572 pp., in German [G]
Christopher Hibbert, Rome. The Biography of a City, Penguin 1988, 387 pp. [G]

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on September 6th 2002, last revised on March 29th 2006

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