The Decrees of the Council of Trent fall into two major categories; Doctrinal definition and reform of abuses or Disciplinary reform within the church.

Disciplinary Reforms

  1. Bishops
    • Strengthened the hand of Bishop in his diocese.
    • Bishop was to be the linchpin on the Tridentine reforms.
    • Bishop to reside in their See.
    • Income of the See attached to his performance of his Episcopal duties.
    • Bishops to have strict control over the ordination of all priests in their diocese and to have the right to debar unworthy incumbents from receiving benefices.
    • Had to carry out regular visitations to enforce discipline.
  2. Priests & other Clergy
    • Setting up of diocesan seminaries for training.
    • Measures were taken to check absenteeism and pluralism.
  3. Laity
  4. Administration of Church

Doctrinal Decrees

  1. Scripture and the tradition of the Church held equal standing.
  2. The Church’s authority was paramount in the matter of interpreting the scriptures.
  3. The Church’s traditional affirmation of seven sacraments was correct.
  4. Protestant propositions on Justification were false. Good works played a central role in salvation and participation in the sacraments of the Church was interpreted as an essential element of good works.
  5. The doctrine of transubstantiation is a true interpretation of the Eucharist.
  6. Given the validity of the sacrament of ordination, there was no case for the laity to receive both the bread and the wine at communication.
  7. Marriage for members of the clergy was unacceptable.
  8. The authority of the Bishops originated from their appointment, by the Pope, and did not come directly from God as some Spanish bishops wanted to claim.

The effectiveness and importance of the decrees can, as with most things, be debated. However it is widely agreed that the doctrinal decrees and definitions were of greater importance in the short term, particularly in the battler against Protestantism. The disciplinary decrees were useful but they took longer to implement because they relied on the cooperation of both the secular rulers and the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church.

Philip II of Spain accepted the decrees but with the proviso that he could discount those that would affect his regal power. This was surprising and a blow for the Tridentine decrees as Philip II was the most Catholic ruler of the time.

The French refused to accept any of the Tridentine decrees and they were never implemented in France.

In the Holy Roman Empire they were implemented by some Catholic Princes but the Diet refused to implement them.

Even within the Church there were very strong vested interests which made the implementation difficult.

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