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This is an important question. The Protestant Reformation was an incredibly powerful movement, because it was a movement of intellectuals. They also created a lot of creeds and confessions, such as the Westminster Confession of Faith (later on), The Thirty Nine Articles, Belgic Confession, Heidelberg Confession, to name a few. So, this made Catholicism seem anemic with respect their intellect. So, what the Council of Trent was able to do was to give Catholicism a strong intellectual foundation. They could articulate why they thought Protests were wrong and why they should come back to the Catholic fold. Also, this council brought catholics together.
The major purpose of the Council of Trent was to fight back against the Protestant Reformation. The decrees handed down at the Council did this in two major ways:
- Clearly stated Church doctrine
- Clearly set up a unified Church with a more defined hierarchy.
By restating Church doctrine, the Council provided a clearer statement of what the Church believed. This could be used to go out an try to retake Europe from the Reformation.
By clarifying and strengthening the hierearchy, the Council eliminated confusion as to who was in charge. This made it easier to have a clear stance on every issue that needed to be addressed in the face of Protestant attacks.
A series of conferences were held by the Roman Catholic Church between 1542 and 1563 to define Catholic beliefs. These conferences, collectively known as Council of Trent were directed at countering the influence of Protestant teachings.
Some of the major declarations made by the council include the following.
- Church had the sole right to interpret the scripture.
- Scripture and traditions were equally valid source of Catholic faith.
- Tradition includes the writings of apostles, the decrees of popes and councils, and the customs practiced by catholics throughout church history.
- Defined the nature of grace and salvation which rejected the Protestant view of salvation and sin.
- Definition of seven sacraments.
- Reaffirmation of the belief that bread and wine are changed into body and blood of Jesus Christ during Communion.
- Defence of granting of pardons from some of penalty of sins.
- Approval of prayer to the saints.
- Definition of many other catholic doctrines.
The Council of Trent had the effect of a Counter Reformation opposing the Protestant movement. It fulfilled the desire of many to reform the catholic faith without leaving it. The council also created clarity about the catholic beliefs and invested them with formal authority.
Two factors further contributed to the success of this counter reformation - discovery of Americas by Columbus and industrial revolution. Colonization of New World represented by the North and South America helped the church to extend its frontiers to those areas. Also migration of Catholic people to urban areas under the influence of increasing industrialization encouraged formation of catholic parishes and schools. This in turn encouraged formation of distinct Catholic culture.
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