The Council of Trent: Reform and Controversy in Europe and Beyond (1545-1700)

Exactly 450 years after the solemn closure of the Council of Trent on 4 December 1563, scholars from diverse regional, disciplinary and confessional backgrounds convened in Leuven to reflect upon the impact of this Council, not only in Europe but also beyond. Their conclusions are to be found in these three impressive volumes. Bridging different generations of scholarship, the authors reassess in a first volume Tridentine views on the Bible, theology and liturgy, as well as their reception by Protestants, deconstructing many myths surviving in scholarship and society alike. They also deal with the mechanisms ‘Rome’ developed to hold a grip on the Council’s implementation. The second volume analyzes the changes in local ecclesiastical life, initiated by bishops, orders and congregations, and the political strife and confessionalisation accompanying this reform process. The third and final volume examines the afterlife of Trent in arts and music, as well as in the global impact of Trent through missions.

All the details of the volume can be found here.   Just click the Leseprobe tab.  There you will find the table of contents, etc., so that those materials won’t be repeated here.

Readers of book reviews generally want to know what the book under consideration contain (and thanks to the internet, that information is now generally available on the publisher’s website) and, more importantly, if it’s worth buying or recommending to their library or even checking out from their lending source.

Further, potential readers of the book want to know if there are problems with it.  If it fails to meet the reader’s needs or doesn’t deliver the advertised scholarship then the review it receives should reflect those facts.  If, however, it meets expectations or surpasses them, it receives a more positive review.

This book meets expectations.  And it is the first of a planned three in the series.  Volume two will take in hand the Bishops and Princes along with Church and Politics.  And volume three will turn our attention to Art and Music followed by Global Catholicism.

But I’ve gotten ahead of myself a bit and wish to return to consideration of the present volume.  It’s highlight, for me, is the chapter titled Trent and the Latin Vulgate: A Louvain Project?  This really amazing piece traces the incredible significance of the Louvain-ers in the production and promulgation of the biblical text that would be chosen as THE Catholic Bible.   Seldom does one encounter such carefully reconstructed historical detail.  Text critics and students of the history of the Vulgate will benefit immensely from reading this essay.

Equally enjoyable is G. Frank’s essay on Melanchthon and Trent.  Perhaps because I enjoy Melanchthon so much or perhaps because Frank is such a clear writer.

Not, strictly speaking, a theological essay but rather a historical one is Sachet’s “Privilege of Rome: The Catholic Church’s Attempt to Control the Printed Legacy of the Council of Trent”.  The attempts of Rome to control the narrative about Trent by controlling what was published of and from it is extremely intriguing.  The Church of Rome has always manifested a fairly high level of control.  This essay shows how that mentality worked itself out in the wake of Trent.

Enjoyable too is the essay by John O’Malley on Trent and Vatican II.  Here he shows that in spite of the major differences between the two Councils, they share some amazing similarities.  ‘They nicely illustrate the paradox of history’, opines O’Malley in the closing paragraphs.  I will let readers discover for themselves the surprise in store.

I think this is a very fine collection of essays and if volumes two and three are as excellent, then this series will become standard fare for historians of the Catholic Church.  I am happy to recommend it to your personal library and to your research library.  It fills an important gap in that it goes into greater detail on the issues of the Council of Trent than more general treatments and histories do.

Where the general textbooks scratch the surface, this volume bores into the bone.