Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent  (1851) 
by the Council of Trent, translated by Theodore Alois Buckley
Bull of Indiction of the Sacred Œcumenical and General Council of Trent, under the Sovereign Pontiff Paul III by Paul III




Under the Sovereign Pontiff Paul III.

Paul, bishop, servant of the servants of God, for the future memory hereof.

At the beginning of this our pontificate, which, not on account of our own merits, but, of its own great goodness, the providence of Almighty God hath committed unto us, already perceiving into what disturbances of the times, and unto how many embarrassments of almost all our affairs, our pastoral care and watchfulness were called; we desired, indeed, to remedy the evils of the Christian commonwealth, with which it had long been afflicted and well-nigh overwhelmed; but we also, as men compassed with infirmity,[2] perceived that our strength was unequal to take upon us so great a burthen. For, whereas we saw that there was need of peace to deliver and preserve the commonwealth from the many impending dangers, we found all things replete with enmities and dissensions; above all, the princes, to whom well-nigh the whole direction of matters has been intrusted by God, at enmity with each other. Whereas we deemed it necessary that there should be one fold and one shepherd[3] for the Lord's flock, in order to confirm the integrity of the Christian religion, and the hope of heavenly things within us; the unity of the Christian name was well-nigh rent and torn asunder by schisms, dissensions, heresies. Whereas we could have wished the commonwealth safe and defended from the arms and insidious attacks of the unfaithful, yet, through our transgressions and the guilt of us all,—the wrath of God, forsooth, hanging over our sins,—Rhodes had been lost; Hungary harassed; war both by land and sea had been intended and planned against Italy, Austria, and Illyria; whilst our impious and ruthless enemy, the Turk, was never at rest, and deemed our own mutual enmities and dissensions his fitting opportunity for carrying out his designs with success. Wherefore, as we have said, having been called upon to guide and govern the bark of Peter, in so great a tempest, and in tho midst of so violently-upraised waves of heresies, dissensions, and wars, and, as we did not rely sufficiently on our own strength, we, first of all, cast our cares upon the Lord,[4] that He might sustain us, and furnish our soul with firmness and strength, our mind with prudence and wisdom. Then, recalling to mind that our predecessors, endowed with admirable wisdom and holiness, had often, in the greatest perils of the Christian commonwealth, had recourse to œcumenical councils and general assemblies of bishops, as tho best and most opportune remedy, we also fixed our mind on holding a general council; and having consulted the opinions of those princes, whose consent seemed to us to be especially useful and opportune for this matter; when we found them, at that time, not averse from this so holy a work, we, as is attested by our letters and records, indicted an œcumenical council, and a general assembly of those bishops and other fathers whom it concerned, to be opened at the city of Mantua, on the tenth of the calends of June,[5] in the year 1537 of the incarnation of our Lord, the third of our pontificate; having an almost certain hope that, when we were there assembled in the name of the Lord, the Lord himself, as He promised, would be in the midst of us,[6] and, in His goodness and mercy, easily put down, by the breath of His month, all the storms and all the dangers of the times. But, as the enemy of mankind ever sets his snares against holy deeds, at the very first, contrary to all our hope and expectation, the city of Mantua was refused us, unless we would submit to certain conditions, which we have described in other letters of ours, utterly alien from the institutes of our ancestors, the state of the times, our own dignity and liberty, that of this Holy See, and of the ecclesiastical name. We were, therefore, necessitated to find another place, and to choose some other city; and whereas one fit and suitable did not immediately occur to us, we were compelled to prorogue the celebration of the council until the ensuing calends of November.[7] Meanwhile our cruel and perpetual enemy, the Turk, attacked Italy with a vast fleet, having taken, ravaged, sacked several cities of Apulia, and carried off a booty of captives; we, amidst the greatest alarm and danger of all, were busied in fortifying our shores, and in furnishing assistance to the neighbouring states. Nevertheless, we did not meanwhile omit to consult with the Christian princes, and to exhort them to inform us what, in their opinion, would be a suitable place for holding the council: and whereas their opinions were wavering and various, and delay seemed to be unnecessarily protracted, we, with the best intent, and, as we think, with the best judgment, fixed on Vicenza, a wealthy city, and one which, by the valour, authority, and power of the Venetians, who granted it to us, offered in a special manner both unobstructed access, and a free and safe place of residence for all. But whereas too much time had already passed away; and it was requisite to signify to all the new city that had been chosen; and whereas the approaching calends of November precluded the possibility of making the announcement [of this change] public, and winter was now near; we were again compelled to defer, by another prorogation, the time for the council till the next ensuing spring, and the next calends of May.[8] This matter having been firmly settled and decreed; considering,—whilst we were making ready ourselves, and all other matters for fitly conducting and celebrating that assembly under the help of God,—that it was a point of the greatest importance, both as regards the celebration of the council, and the general weal of Christendom, that the Christian princes should be united together in peace and concord; we ceased not to implore and conjure our most beloved sons in Christ, Charles, ever august, the emperor of the Romans, and Francis, the most Christian king, the two main supports and defences of the Christian name, to meet together for a conference between them and us; and, with both of them, by letters, nuncios, and our legates a latere selected from the number of our venerable brethren, did we very often urge that they should, instead of their jealousies and animosities, unite in one alliance and holy friendship, and succour the tottering cause of Christendom: for whereas it was to preserve this especially, that their power had been bestowed on them by God, if they neglected to do this, and directed not their counsels to the common weal of Christians, a sharp and severe account would they have to render unto that God. They, yielding at last to our prayers, betook themselves to Nice; whither we also, for the cause of God, and to bring about peace, undertook a long journey, though greatly unsuited to our advanced age. Meanwhile, as the time fixed for the council, the calends, to wit, of May, drew nigh, we did not omit to send to Vicenza three legates a latere,—men of the greatest virtue and authority, chosen from the number of the aforesaid our own brethren, the cardinals of the Holy Roman Church,—to open the council; to receive the prelates as they arrived from various quarters; and to transact and manage such matters as they should deem necessary, until we, returning from our journey and message of peace, should be able to direct everything with greater precision. In the mean time, we applied ourselves to that holy and most necessary work, to wit, the negotiation of peace between the princes; and this with all the zeal, the affection, and the earnestness of our soul. God is our witness, relying on whose clemency we exposed ourselves to the dangers of that journey to the peril of our life: our conscience is our witness, which herein, at least, cannot reproach us with having either passed by, or not sought for, an opportunity of effecting a reconciliation: the princes themselves are our witnesses, whom we so often and so earnestly conjured by our nuncios, letters, legates, admonitions, exhortations, and by all kinds of entreaties, to lay aside their jealousies, to unite in alliance, with combined zeal and forces to succour the Christian commonwealth, which was now reduced to the most pressing danger. Yea, witnesses too are those watchings and cares, those labours of our soul both by day and night, and those grievous solicitudes, which we have already endured to such an extent in this business and cause. Yet have our counsels and acts not as yet brought about the wished-for result. For so hath it seemed good to the Lord God, who, however, we doubt not will yet cast a more favourable eye on our wishes. For ourselves, we, as far as in us lay, have not, indeed, omitted anything in this matter that was due from our pastoral office. And if there be any who interpret our labours in behalf of peace in any other sense, we are grieved indeed; but, in our grief, we, nevertheless, return thanks to Almighty God, who, as a pattern and lesson of patience unto us, willed that His own apostles should be accounted worthy to suffer shame for the name of Jesus,[9] who is our peace.[10] However, in that our meeting and conference held at Nice, though, by reason of our sins hindering, a true and permanent peace could not be concluded between the two princes, yet was a truce for ten years settled; under favour of which having hopes, that both the sacred council might more conveniently be celebrated, and further that peace might be fully established by the authority of the council, we were urgent with those princes to come in person to the council, to bring with them those of their prelates who were at hand, and to summon the absent. They have excused themselves upon both these points,—because it was at that time necessary for them to return to their kingdoms, and because the prelates whom they had with them, being wearied and exhausted by the journey and its expenses, must needs be refreshed and recruited,—exhorted us to decree yet another prorogation of the time for holding the council. And whereas we made some difficulty in yielding in this matter, we meanwhile received letters from our legates at Vicenza, to the effect that, although the day for opening the council had arrived, nay, had long since passed by, barely one or two prelates from any of the foreign nations had betaken themselves to Vicenza. Upon receiving this information, derceiving that the council could not, under any circumstances, be held at that time, we granted to the aforesaid princes, that the time for holding the council should be deferred till the next holy Easter, the feast-day of the Resurrection of the Lord. Of which our ordinance and prorogation, the decretal letters were given and published at Genoa, in the year of the Incarnation of our Lord 1538, on the fourth of the calends of July.[11] And this delay we granted the more readily, because each of the princes promised us to send an ambassador to us at Rome; in order that those matters which were necessary for the complete establishment of peace,—all of which could not, on account of the shortness of the time, be completed at Nice,—might be treated of and arranged more conveniently at Rome in our presence. And for this reason also, they both begged of us, that this negotiation of peace might precede the celebration of the council; since, peace once established, the council itself would then be much more useful and salutary to the Christian commonwealth. For it was this hope of peace, thus held out to us, that ever moved us to assent to the wishes of the princes; a hope which was greatly increased by the kindly and friendly interview between those two princes after our departure from Nice; the news of which being received with very great joy, confirmed us in our good hope, that we believed that our prayers had at length been heard by God, and our earnest prayers for peace received. As, then, we both desired and urged the conclusion of this peace, and as it seemed good not only to the two princes aforenamed, but also to our most dear son in Christ, Ferdinand, king of the Romans, that the business of the council ought not to be undertaken until peace had been established; whilst all the parties urged upon us, by letters and their ambassadors, again to appoint a further prorogation of the time; and the most serene emperor was especially urgent, representing that he had promised to those who dissent from Catholic unity, that he would interpose his mediation with us, to the end that some plan of concord might be devised, which could not be satisfactorily accomplished before his return to Germany: we, ever impelled by the same desire of peace, and by the wishes of so great princes, and, above all, perceiving that not even on the said feast of the Resurrection had any other prelates assembled at Vicenza, we, now avoiding the word prorogation, which had been so often repeated in vain, chose rather to suspend the celebration of the general council during our own good pleasure, and that of the Apostolic See. We accordingly did so, and despatched our letters touching such suspension to each of the above-named princes, on the 10th day of June, 1539, as from them may be clearly seen. This suspension, then, having been of necessity made by us, whilst we were awaiting that more suitable time, and some conclusion of peace which was later to bring both dignity and numbers to the council, and more immediate safety to the Christian commonweal; the affairs of Christendom, meanwhile, fell daily into a worse state. The Hungarians, upon the death of their king, had invited the Turk; King Ferdinand had declared war against them; a party of the Belgians had been incited to revolt from the most serene emperor, who, to crush that revolution, traversed France on the most friendly and concordant terms with the most Christian king, and with great show of mutual good-will towards each other; and, having reached Belgium, thence passed into Germany, where he commenced holding diets[12] of the princes and cities of Germany, with the view of treating of that concord of which he had spoken to us. But since,—the hope of peace now failing,—the scheme of procuring and treating of reunion in those diets seemed rather adapted to excite greater discords, we were led to revert to our former remedy of a general council; and by our legates, cardinals of the Holy Roman Church, we proposed this to the emperor himself; and this we did finally and especially in the diet of Ratisbon, on which occasion our beloved son. Cardinal Gaspar Contarini, of the title of St. Praxedes, acted as our legate with the greatest learning and integrity. For, whereas, what we had previously feared would come to pass, that by the advice of that diet we were called upon to declare that certain of the articles, maintained by those dissenting &om the Church, were to be tolerated until they should be examined and decided upon by an œcumenical council; and whereas neither Christian and Catholic truth, nor our own dignity and that of the Apostolic See, would suffer us to yield this,—we preferred rather to command that it should be openly proposed, that a council should be held as soon as possible. Nor indeed had we ever been of any other opinion or wish, but that an œcumenical and general council should be convened at the very first opportunity. For we hoped that thereby both peace might be restored to the Christian people, and the integrity of the Christian religion; yet were we desirous to hold that [council] with the good-will and favour of the Christian princes. And, whilst awaiting this good-will, whilst watching for that hidden time, for the time of thy good pleasure, O God,[13] we were at last compelled to come to the conclusion, that every time is well pleasing unto God wherein deliberations are entered upon touching holy things, and such as relate to Christian piety. Wherefore, beholding with the greatest pain of our soul, that the affairs of Christendom were daily hurrying on to a worse state,—Hungary being overwhelmed by the Turks, Germany endangered, all the other states oppressed with terror and affliction,—we resolved to await no longer the consent of any prince, but to look solely to the will of the omnipotent God, and the advantage of the Christian commonwealth. Accordingly, as we no longer had the city of Vicenza, and were desirous, in our own choice of a new place for holding the council, to have regard both to the common welfare of Christians, and also to the troubles of the German nation; and seeing, upon several places being proposed, that they[14] wished for the city of Trent, we,—although we deemed that everything might be transacted more conveniently in Italy,[15]—nevertheless yielded up our will, with paternal charity, to their demands. Accordingly, we have chosen the city of Trent as that wherein an œcumenical council should be held on the ensuing calends of November;[16] fixing upon that place as a suitable one whereat the bishops and prelates can assemble very easily indeed from Germany, and from the other nations bordering on Germany, and without difficulty from France, Spain, and the other remoter provinces. But that day for the council has been sought for by us which allowed sufficient time both for publishing this our decree throughout the Christian nations, and for giving all prelates an opportunity of coming. Our reason for not prescribing that a whole year should expire before changing the place of the council, as has been before ordained by certain constitutions,[17] was this, that we were unwilling that our hope should be any longer delayed of applying a remedy to some extent to the Christian commonwealth, suffering as it is under so many disasters and calamities. And yet we observe the times, we acknowledge the difficulties. We know that what may be hoped for from our councils is uncertain. But, seeing it is written, Commit thy way unto the Lord, trust also in him, and he shall briny it to pass[18] we have resolved rather to trust in the clemency and mercy of God, than to distrust our own weakness. For it often happens, upon engaging in good works, that what human counsels fell in, the divine power accomplishes. Wherefore, relying and resting on the authority of that Almighty God, Father and Son, and Holy Ghost, and on the authority of His blessed apostles Peter and Paul, which [authority] we also exercise on earth; with the advice, also, and assent of our venerable brethren, the cardinals of the Holy Roman Church; having removed and annulled, as by these presents we do remove and annul, the suspension of which mention has been above made, we proclaim, announce, convoke, appoint, and decree a sacred, œcumenical, and general council, in the city of Trent, a place convenient, free, and opportune for all nations; to be opened on the ensuing calends of November of the present year, 1542 from the Incarnation of the Lord; and to be prosecuted, concluded, and completed, with God's help, to His own glory and praise, and the saving health[19] of the whole Christian people; requiring, exhorting, admonishing all, from every country, as well our venerable brethren the patriarchs, archbishops, bishops, and our beloved sons the abbots, as also all others soever, unto whom, by right or privilege, the power has been granted of sitting in general councils, and of declaring their sentiments therein; enjoining moreover, and strictly commanding them, by virtue of the oath which they have taken to us and to this Holy See, and in virtue of holy obedience, and under the other penalties, which, by law or custom, are wont to be passed and proposed in the celebration of councils, against those who do not attend, that they (unless they shall happen to be hindered by some just impediment, of which, however, they shall be compelled to furnish proof,) are undoubtedly to repair to and to be themselves present in person at this sacred council—or at all events by their own lawful deputies and proctors: and the aforenamed emperor, and the most Christian king, as also the other kings, dukes, and princes, whose presence, at this time indeed, if ever, would be of especial advantage to the most holy faith of Christ, and of all Christians; we beseech and conjure [them] by the bowels of the mercy of God and of our Lord Jesus Christ,—the truth of whose faith, and whose religion are now so heavily assailed both from within and without,—that, if they would have the Christian commonwealth safe, if they feel themselves bound and obliged to the Lord by his great benefits towards them, they abandon not His own cause and affairs; but come in person to the celebration of the sacred council, in which their piety and virtue would be most greatly conducive to the common advantage, to their own welfare, and that of others, both temporal and eternal. But if, which we would fain wish otherwise, they shall be unable to come in person, let them at least send, with full powers to act,[20] as their deputies, men of weight, who may each in the council represent the person of his prince with prudence and dignity. But above all, let this—which is a matter very easy for them—be their care, that, from their respective kingdoms and provinces, the bishops and prelates set forth without tergiversation and delay; a request which it is just that God himself and we should obtain from the prelates and princes of Germany in a special manner; since, as it is principally on their account, and at their own desire, that the council has been proclaimed and convoked, and in the very city desired by them, let them not think it burthensome to celebrate and adorn it with the presence of their whole body, to the end that thus, what things soever appertain to the integrity and truth of the Christian religion; the restoration of good, and the correction of evil manners; the peace, unity, and concord between Christians, both princes and peoples; and whatsoever be needful for repelling those assaults of barbarians and infidels, with which they seek to overthrow all Christendom, with God going before us in our deliberations, and holding before our minds the light of His own wisdom and truth, may, in the said sacred œcumenical council, in a better and more commodious manner, be treated of, and, with the charity of all conspiring to one end, be deliberated and discussed, executed and brought to the desired issue, as speedily and happily as possible. And that these our letters, and the contents thereof, may come to the knowledge of all whom it concerns, and that no one may plead ignorance thereof as an excuse, especially also as there may not perhaps be free access to all, unto whom our letters ought to be individually communicated; we will and ordain, that in the Vatican Basilica of the prince of the apostles, and in the Lateran Church, at the time when the multitude of the people is wont to be assembled there to hear divine service, they be read publicly in a loud voice by officers of our court, or by certain public notaries; and, after having been read, be affixed to the doors of the said churches, also to the gates of the apostolic Chancery, and to the usual place in the Campo di Fiore, where they shall for some time hang exposed to be read and seen by all; and, when removed thence, copies thereof shall still remain affixed in the same places. For we will that, by being thus read, published, and affixed, all and each of those whom our aforesaid letters include, shall be obliged and bound, after the interval of two months from the day of the letters being published and affixed, even as if they had been read and communicated to them in person. And we ordain and decree, that a certain and undoubting faith be given to copies thereof written, or subscribed by the hand of a public notary, and guaranteed by the seal of some ecclesiastic constituted in authority. Wherefore, let it be lawful for no man to infringe this our letter of indiction, announcement, convocation, statute, decree, mandate, precept, and entreaty, or with rash daring go contrary thereunto. But if any one shall presume to attempt this, let him know that he will incur the indignation of Almighty God, and of His blessed apostles Peter and Paul. Given at Rome, at Saint Peter's, in the year 1542 of the Lord's Incarnation, on the eleventh of the calends of June,[21] in the eighth year of our pontificate.

Blosius. Jer. Dand.

  1. The term œcumenical (οἰκομενικὸς) is derived from the Greek word οἰκομένη, applied to the whole earth, and subsequently, in a more restricted sense, to the territory subject to the Roman empire (see Pricæus and Kuinoel on Luke ii. 1, and Matt. xxiv. 14). Hence, it signifies general; i. e. "a council gathered together from all, or most, places of the world where the church of Christ is settled.—Beveridge on Art. xxi. p. 250. Bishop Burnet (on Art. xxi.) says: "The natural idea of a general council is a meeting of all the bishops of Christendom, or at least of proxies instructed by them and their clergy. Now if any will stand to this description, then we are very sure that there was never yet a true general council: which will appear to every one that reads the subscriptions of the councils."
  2. Heb. v. 2.
  3. John x. 16.
  4. Ps. lv. 22.
  5. I. e. May 23rd.
  6. Matt. xviii. 20.
  7. Nov. 1.
  8. May 1st.
  9. Acts v. 41.
  10. Eph. ii. 14.
  11. June 28th.
  12. Conventus.
  13. Ps. lxviii. 14 (in our version, lxix. 13, "in an acceptable time").
  14. I. e. the Germans.
  15. I. e. Cisalpine Italy, Italy within the Alps.
  16. November 1st.
  17. Concil. Constantiense, sess. 39.
  18. Ps. xxxvi. 5 (xxxvii. 5).
  19. Salutem.
  20. Cum auctoritate.
  21. May 22nd.