CHAPTER IV. THE COUNTER-REFORMATION
These two preliminary sessions were given over almost entirely to a discussion of the procedure that should be followed. In the end it was agreed that the legates should propose to the council the questions on which a decision should be given, that these questions should be examined by committees of bishops aided by theologians and jurists, that the results of these discussions should be brought before a full congregation of the bishops, and that when a decision had been agreed to the formal decrees should be promulgated in a public session. The novel method of voting by nations, introduced for the first time at Constance and Basle, was rejected in favour of individual voting, a definitive vote being allowed only to bishops, generals of religious orders and abbots (one vote to every three abbots). Procurators of absent bishops were not allowed to vote, though later on a special concession was made in favour of some German bishops detained at home by the serious religious condition of their dioceses. The legates were anxious that the dogmatic issues raised by the Lutherans should be dealt with at once, while the Emperor was strongly in favour of beginning with a comprehensive scheme of reform. By this time he had made up his mind to put down his opponents in Germany by force of arms, and he believed that if nothing were done in the meantime to widen the breach the defeat of the Lutheran princes might make them more willing to take part in the council. As a compromise it was agreed that doctrine and discipline should be discussed simultaneously, and, hence, at most of the public sessions two decrees were published, one on matters of faith, the other on reform ('De Reformatione).
It was only at the 4th public session (8th April 1546) that the first doctrinal decree could be issued. Since the Lutherans had called in question the value of Tradition as a source of divine revelation, and had denied the canonicity of several books accepted hitherto as inspired, it was fitting that the council should begin its work by defining that revelation has been handed down by Tradition as well as by the Scriptures, of which latter God is the author both as regards the Old Testament and the New. In accordance with the decrees of previous councils a list of the canonical books of the Scriptures was drawn up. Furthermore, it was defined that the sacred writings should not be interpreted against the meaning attached to them by the Church, nor against the unanimous consent of the Fathers, that the Vulgate Version, a revised edition of which should be published immediately, is authentic, that is to say, accurate as regards faith and morals, and that for the future no one was to print, publish, or retain an edition of the Scriptures unless it had been approved by the local bishop.
The next subject proposed for examination was Original Sin. The Emperor showed the greatest anxiety to secure a delay, and at a hint from him several of the Spanish bishops tried to postpone a decision by prolonging the discussions and by raising the question of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin. That the Fathers of Trent were not opposed to this doctrine is clear enough from the decrees they formulated, but the majority of them were of opinion that purely domestic controversies among Catholic theologians should be left untouched. In the fifth general session (17th June 1546) it was defined that by his transgression of the commandment of God the head of the human race had forfeited the sanctity and justice in which he had been created, and had suffered thereby in both soul and body, that in doing so he had injured not merely himself but all his descendants, to whom Original Sin is transmitted not by imitation merely but by propagation, that the effects of this sin are removed by the sacrament of Baptism, necessary alike for adults and infants, and that the concupiscence, which still remains in a man even after baptism has produced its effects, is not in itself sinful. It was declared, furthermore, that in the decrees regarding the universality of Original Sin it was not intended to include the Blessed Virgin or to weaken the binding force of the decrees issued by Sixtus IV. regarding her Immaculate Conception.
The way was now cleared for the question of Justification. This was the doctrine on which Luther first found himself in disagreement with the Church, and which he put forward in his sermons as the foundation of his new gospel. The importance of the subject both in itself and in the circumstances of the time cannot be exaggerated, nor can it be contended that the Fathers at Trent failed to realise their responsibilities or to give it the attention it deserved. Had they done nothing else except to give to the world such a complete and luminous exposition of the Catholic teaching on Justification their meeting would not have been held in vain. In the 6th public session (13th January 1547), at which there were present besides the legates, ten archbishops, forty-two bishops, two procurators, five generals of religious orders, two abbots and forty-three theologians, it was defined that, though by the sin of Adam man had lost original justice and had suffered much, he still retained free-will, that God had been pleased to promise redemption through the merits of Jesus Christ, and that baptism or the desire for baptism is necessary for salvation. The decrees dealt also with the method of preparing for Justification, with its nature, causes, and conditions, with the kind of faith required in opposition to the confidence spoken of by the Reformers, with the necessity and possibility of observing the commandments, with the certainty of Justification, perseverance, loss of Grace by mortal sin, and with merit. The 7th public session (3rd March) was given to decrees regarding the Sacraments in general and Baptism and Confirmation in particular.