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A History of the Reformation (Vol. 2 of 2)

Thus the old conciliar conception


The

question was raised on its practical side. One of the standing abuses in the mediaeval Church was the non-residence of Bishops. The Council was passionately called upon by the Spanish and northern Bishops to declare that residence was a necessary thing, and unanimously responded that it was. Their function was the oversight of their dioceses, and this could only be done when they were resident. But how was this to be enforced? To compel the Bishops to reside within their dioceses would depopulate the Court of Rome, and make it very much poorer. Bishops from every country in Europe were attached to the Roman Court, and their stipends, drawn from the countries in which their Sees lay, were spent in Rome, and aided the magnificence of the papal entourage. The reformers felt that a theoretical question lay behind the practical, and insisted that the oversight and therefore the residence of Bishops was _de jure divino_ and not merely _de lege ecclesiastica_--something enjoined by God, and therefore beyond alteration by the Pope. Behind this lay the thought, first introduced by Cyprian, that every Bishop was within his congregation or diocese the Vicar of Christ, and in the last resort responsible to Him alone. Thus the old conciliar conception, maintained at Constance and at Basel, faced the curial at Trent; and both were too powerful to give way entirely. In spite of his Italian majority, the Pope could not get a majority for a direct negative denying the _de jure divino_ theory.
At the final vote, sixty-six fathers declared for the _de jure divino_ theory, while seventy-one either rejected it altogether or voted for remitting it to the decision of the Pope. The Pope dared not make use of the liberty of decision thus accorded to him by a majority of five. If he did he would then be left to face the European Roman Catholic Courts of Germany, France, and Spain--all of whom supported the conciliar view. Thus the theoretical question was left undecided at Trent, but the papal diplomacy prevailed to the extent of creating a bias in favour of curialist ideas, which left the Pope in a stronger position as regards the episcopate than any other General Council had ever placed him in.

The prominence given to the _Roman_ (_i.e._ the papal) Church throughout the decisions of the Council, beginning with the way in which the Constantinopolitan (Nicene) Creed was affirmed;[720] the insertion of the phrase _His own Vicar upon earth_;[721] the injunction that Patriarchs, Primates, Archbishops, Bishops, and all others who of right and custom ought to be present at a provincial council ... _promise and profess true obedience to the Sovereign Roman Pontiff_;[722] the 10th clause in the _Professio Fidei Tridentinae_: "I acknowledge the holy Catholic Apostolic Roman Church for the mother and mistress of all Churches; and I promise and swear true obedience to the Bishop of Rome, successor to St. Peter, Prince of Apostles, and Vicar of Jesus Christ"; the way in which the Council at its last session (Dec. 4th, 1563) left entirely in the Pope's hands the confirmation of its decrees and the measures to be used for carrying them out; and above all its calm acquiescence in the Bull _Benedictus Deus_ (Jan. 24th, 1564), in which Pope Pius IV. reserved the exposition of its decrees to himself[723]--all testify to the triumph of curialist ideas at the Council of Trent. The Roman Catholic Church had become, in a sense never before universally accepted, the "Pope's House."

This Council, so eagerly demanded, so greatly protracted, twice dissolved, buffeted by storms in the political world, exposed, even in its later sessions, to many a danger, ended in the general contentment of the Roman Catholic peoples. When the prelates met together for the last time on the 4th of December 1563, ancient opponents embraced, and traces of tears were seen in many of the old eyes.


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