Cardinal lauds Council of Trent, hopes Vatican II will bear similar fruit
December 06, 2013
In his homily marking the 450th anniversary of the conclusion of the Council of Trent (1545-63), Pope Francis’s special envoy for the occasion described the nineteenth of the Church’s 21 ecumenical councils as a “miracle.”
“Only in retrospect can we recognize with how much power the Spirit of God, precisely by means of this Council, intervened in the destiny of the Church,” said Cardinal Walter Brandmüller, the president emeritus of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences.
Dismissing the view that the Second Vatican Council marks a departure from the Council of Trent, Cardinal Brandmüller said that Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church cited Trent 16 times. “So even after 450 years, it is still present in the doctrine and life of the Church.”
Like Pontius Pilate, many people today, Cardinal Brandmüller preached, ask, “What is truth?” The Council of Trent, he said, answers this question: “It forcefully reminds us that the author of the Sacred Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as well as of sacred tradition, is the Triune God Himself, who spoke first through the mouths of the prophets, but then also by means of His Son, the Logos made man.”
Observing that “man has become an enigma to himself, dragged here and there between delusions of grandeur and desperation,” the prelate asked rhetorically whether man is a Nietzschean superman, a Promethean master of the world, a “mere cog in the manufacturing process,” or “a naked ape, which lacks hair solely through the caprice of evolution.”
The answer, he said, is offered by the Council of Trent, which opposed the view that man is so depraved that he is incapable of doing good. Instead, the Council emphasized that human beings are “not left helpless before evil, in spite of all temptations, but have been redeemed and called to eternal glory.” This teaching “set free the best powers of the mind and hearts of the faithful,” fostering an “extraordinary religious impulse, missionary commitment in Asia and in America, the growth of many works of love of neighbor, the arts and the sciences.”
The Council of Trent’s teaching on the Church, the cardinal continued, remains important today. The Church is not an “invisible entity, purely spiritual,” nor, “as Pope Francis has repeatedly stressed,” is the Church “a purely human institution, temporal, a kind of non-governmental organization for bettering the world.”
To address errors concerning the Church, the “Tridentine fathers made the seven holy sacraments the object of their doctrinal proclamations, thus placing the true nature of the Church at the center of attention.”
“The human-historical figure of the Church,” he continued, is “Christ’s instrument for the redemption of the world.”
Understanding “in a new and more profound manner this divine reality of the Church,” he added, could “produce the end of the worldliness of the Church,” which he described as a “precondition for effectively carrying out its mission on behalf of the eternal salvation of men.”
When the Council of Trent was convened in 1545, “the Church was bleeding from wounds … Discouragement and confusion paralyzed many of those who had remained faithful.” Dedicating themselves to reform and “to clarifying and separating the truth of the faith from error,” the Council fathers produced “a bountiful harvest that also reached the new continents of Asia and America.”
“The Spirit of God animates and guides His Church through the centuries, until the Lord returns,” Cardinal Brandmüller concluded. “So today, we must not only be filled with gratitude for this, but also hope that the Second Vatican Council, which the older among us have experienced in person, in its own time can yield the same fruits as what we remember today.”
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- Il miracolo di Trento (L’Osservatore Romano, p. 4)
- Pope Francis echoes Pope Benedict, underlines continuity of Council of Trent, Vatican II (CWN, 11/25)
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