Tag Archives: Council of Trent





“St Pius V was a man of sterling quality: he was a person who was serious, methodical and very rigorous. The cardinals of the Holy Roman Church understood this immediately, when the newly elected Pope brusquely refused the proposal of organising a party for his rise to the Papal throne. Also his food was very simple: at the Pontifical Court, the food which the new Pope wanted to be put on the table, day after day, was connected to his being part of the Dominican Order, which adopted a strict and prohibitive [vegan] diet: no meat, no dairy products, no eggs, and this was for three hundred and sixty five days of the year. He himself was reluctant to eat all those foods which were too agreeable or elaborate. One of his favourite dishes was bread cooked with oil. This was made of stale bread, garlic, oil, salt and pepper.


In the course of the XVI Century, heresy made its attack upon Catholicism: the Turks greatly desired and prepared for the annihilation of Christianity; the Council of Trent handed over its acts to the Holy See, which was to assume the grave duty of carrying out its decisions. Pius V was ‘the man sent by God’ to direct the destiny of the Church with an able and firm hand amidst insidious snares. A fearless defender of the truth and justice at a crucial hour, he worked unceasingly for the return of the solidity of the Faith and clarity of order, by means of the fervour of his prayer and the yoke of penance.


The whole life of Pius V was a combat. His pontificate fell during those troubled times when Protestantism was leading whole countries into apostasy. Italy was not a prey that could be taken by violence: artifice was therefore used, in order to undermine the Apostolic See and to thus drag the whole Christian world into the darkness of heresy. Pius defended the Peninsula from the dangers that threatened her with untiring devotedness. Even before he was raised to the Papal Throne, he frequently manifested his zeal in opposing the preaching of false doctrines. Like Peter the Martyr, he braved every danger and was the dread of the emissaries of heresy. When seated on the Chair of Peter, he kept the innovators in check by fear, roused the sovereigns of Italy to action and by measures of moderate severity, drove back beyond the Alps the torrent that would have swept Christianity from Europe, had not the Southern States thus opposed it. From that time forward, Protestantism has never made any further progress: it has been wearing itself out by doctrinal anarchy. We repeat it: this heresy would have laid all Europe waste, had it not been for the vigilance of the pastor who animated the defenders of truth to resist Protestantism where it already existed, and who set himself as a wall of brass against its invasion in the country where he himself was the master.


Another enemy, taking advantage of the confusion caused in the West by Protestantism, organised an expedition against Europe. Italy was to be its first prey. The Ottoman fleet started from the Bosphorus. This again would have meant the ruin of Christendom but for the energy of the Roman Pontiff, our Saint. He gave the alarm, and called the Christian Princes to arms. Germany and France, torn by domestic factions that had been caused by heresy, turned a deaf ear to the call. Spain alone, together with Venice and the little Papal fleet, answered the summons of the Pontiff. The Cross and the Crescent were soon face to face in the Gulf of Lepanto. The prayers of Pius V [including all the Rosaries prayed by the Faithful] decided the victory in favour of the Christians, whose forces were far inferior to those of the turks. We shall return to this important event when we come to the Feast of the Holy Rosary in October. But we cannot omit to mention today the prediction uttered by the holy Pope on the evening of the great day of October 7th, 1571. The battle between the Christian and Turkish fleets lasted from six o’clock in the morning until late in the afternoon. Towards evening, the Pontiff suddenly looked up towards Heaven and gazed upon it in silence for a few seconds. Then turning to his attendants, he exclaimed: ‘Let us give thanks to God. The Christians have gained the victory!’ The news soon reached Rome; and thus Europe once more owed her salvation to a Pope! The defeat at Lepanto was a blow from which the Ottoman Empire has never recovered: its fall dates from that glorious day.


The zeal of this holy Pope for the reformation of Christian morals, his establishment of the observance of the laws of discipline prescribed by the Council of Trent and his publication of the new Breviary and Missal, have made his six years’ pontificate one of the richest periods of the Church’s history. Protestants themselves have frequently expressed their admiration of this vigorous opponent of the so-called ‘Reformation’. ‘I am surprised’ said Bacon, ‘that the Church of Rome has not canonised this great man.’ Pius V did not receive this honour until about a hundred and thirty years after his death; so impartial is the Church, when She has to adjudicate this highest of earthly honours even to Her most revered Pastors!


Of the many miracles which attested to the merits of this holy Pontiff, even during his life, we select the following two: As he was one day crossing the Vatican piazza, which is on the site of the ancient Circus of Nero, he was overcome with a sentiment of enthusiasm for the glory and courage of the martyrs who had suffered on that very spot in the first persecution. Stooping down, he took a handful of dust from the hallowed ground which had been trodden by so many generations of Christian people since the peace of Constantine. He put the dust into a cloth which the Ambassador of Poland, who was with him, held out to receive it. When the Ambassador opened the cloth, after returning to his house, he found it all saturated with blood, as fresh as though it had been that moment shed: the dust had disappeared. The faith of the Pontiff had evoked the blood of the martyrs, which thus gave testimony against the heretics that the Roman Church, in the sixteenth Century, was identically the same as that for which those brave heroes and heroines laid down their lives in the days of Nero.

The heretics attempted more than once to destroy a life which baffled all their hopes of perverting the faith in Italy. By a base and sacrilegious stratagem, aided by treachery, they put a deadly poison on the feet of the crucifix which the Saint kept in his Oratory, and which he was frequently seen to kiss with great devotion. In the fervour of prayer, Pius was about to give this mark of love to the image of his crucified Master, when suddenly the feet of the crucifix detached themselves from the Cross and eluded the proffered kiss of the venerable old man. The Pontiff at once saw through the plot whereby his enemies would fain have turned the life-giving Tree into an instrument of death.

In order to encourage the Faithful to follow the sacred Liturgy, we will select another interesting example from the life of this great Saint. When, lying on his bed of death, and just before breathing his last, he took a parting look at the Church on earth, which he was leaving for that of Heaven and he wished to make a final prayer for the flock which he knew was surrounded by danger; he therefore recited, but with a voice that was scarcely audible, the following stanza of the Paschal hymn: ‘We beseech thee, O Creator of all things! that in these days of Paschal joy, thou defend thy people from every assault of death!’ Having said these words, he died peacefully.”
– Servant of God Dom Prosper Gueranger. This article was published in “De Vita Contemplativa” (Monthly Magazine for Monasteries), issue May 2013. [Capital headings added.]


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St Pius V was born near Allesandria in Italy in 1504; he entered the Dominican Order and became Pope in 1566. He put into practice the reforming decrees of the Council of Trent, which ended in 1563: in his name the Catechism, the Breviary, and the Missal were promulgated, and these endured until the recent reform in the 20th century. He encouraged the practice of saying the Rosary. He died in 1572.


you chose Saint Pius V as pope of your Church
to protect the faith and give you more fitting worship.
By his prayers,
help us celebrate your holy mysteries
with a living faith and an effective love.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever.


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“Every great reforming council has looked back to the scriptures, the early Christian community and the Fathers of the Church for their inspiration. This was particularly true of the Fourth Lateran Council, whose reforms were successfully put into practice thanks to the inspirational genius of St Francis more than to anyone else… What I would like to do now is to show how, by following the example of St Francis, we can help make the teaching of the Second Vatican Council ever more successful in our own lives and in the lives of the wider Church.

The Second Vatican Council was preceded by what was called the ‘New Theology’ that inspired it. This was in fact the very ancient theology that prevailed at the dawn of Christianity, but reinterpreted and re-presented, thanks to the ‘modern’ biblical, liturgical and historical research that enabled this Council to take place. The sadness was that one vital branch of early Christian theology had been forgotten by the scholars who promoted the ‘New Theology’; this vital branch was central to the vision of St Francis and St Bonaventure, and was what is called ‘mystical theology’. The main reason for this was that over the centuries the very word ‘mystical’ has been debased by the early influence of the Greek philosophy of Neoplatonism. As a result the word mystical is now primarily used to refer to psychological states of awareness and various dubious ‘mystical’ phenomena. This was not how it was used by the Fathers of the Church.


St Paul called the central mystery of our faith ‘The Mysterion’. By this he means the fullness of God’s Plan for humanity, revealed by Jesus Christ, to draw all who would receive it into His HIDDEN or MYSTICAL life that He continually receives and returns in kind to His Father. Christians who, by ‘carrying their daily cross’ and practising ‘the prayer without ceasing’ came to experience this mystical life in such a way that they could eventually say with St Paul: ‘I live, no it is not I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.’ These Christians came to be called ‘mystics’ by the early Fathers of the Church because of their single-minded commitment to entering into the mystery of Christ (The Mysterion), and not because they had ecstasies or strange esoteric experiences. It was after being empowered by the experience of living in Christ that many of them gave their lives for Him in what came to be called ‘red martyrdom’ and in what later came to be called ‘white martyrdom’, when the days of systematic persecution came to an end. Both of these ‘mystical martyrs’ have been the supreme witnesses to the faith, inspiring their brothers and sisters to remain steadfast in times of persecution, and to reform in times of spiritual decline.


It was only in the aftermath of the Council of Trent (1545-63) that the indispensable role of the ‘mystic’ in the church was gradually undermined. This was, in the main, due to its counterfeit, Quietism. It carried the ‘via negativa’ of Neoplatonism to the ultimate extreme. The believer was not only encouraged to do absolutely nothing in prayer, but to do nothing about temptations either! It was thanks to the Church’s success in crushing Quietism, which was condemned in 1687, and in promoting the Gospel of ‘good works’, for fear that Catholics would fall into the enemy camp, that mystical prayer simply fell into abeyance. In his monumental history of the Catholic Church, Monsignor Philip Hughes put it this way: ‘The most mischievous feature of Quietism was the suspicion that it threw on the contemplative life as a whole… At the moment when, more than at any other, the Church needed the strength that only the life of contemplation can give, it was the tragedy of history that this life shrank to very small proportions, and religion, even for holy souls, too often took on the appearance of being no more than a divinely aided effort towards moral perfection.’

In the years that followed nothing was done to repair the damage, and by the time the 20th century had fully dawned, a resurgence of Neoplatism had changed the original Christian meaning of the word mystical. It now came to be used, almost exclusively, to refer to inner psychological states of transcendental awareness. It was not surprising that both ‘progressive’ and ‘conservative’ theologians looked on mystical prayer, that was so important to St Francis and St Bonaventure, with deep suspicion. Sadly this meant that there has been a failure to emphasise the profound mystic spirituality that abounded in the early Church and which later inspired the Franciscan Spring in the 13th century.


The inner spiritual love that inspires those whose spirituality is centred on and grounded in the Risen Christ and the love that animates Him are always the best possible ambassadors to bring the sort of true and lasting renewal that followed in the wake of the Fourth Lateran Council. The early history of the Franciscan order bears witness to this. Every council depends for its success on two things – the action of the Holy Spirit and hearts ready and open to receive Him. God is continually loving us through His Holy Spirit, but if we do not freely choose to receive this loving, then we prevent God from acting through us as He wants to do.

Love can only be received by loving, and in the most ancient and hallowed teaching of the great spiritual writers prayer is the place where loving is learnt, in prolonged and protracted periods set aside for that purpose. As the Franciscan Mystic, Angela of Foligno put it, ‘Prayer is the ‘Schola Divini Amoris’ (the school) where loving is learnt.’ This is the school where the great saints and mystics learn the selflessness that opened them to receive the love that St Paul said ‘surpasses the understanding’.


It is this love, learnt in prayer, that has for centuries inspired great saints to renew the Church and to do so repeatedly. I am not just talking about vocal prayer that we share with others when we take part in the liturgy, but of the deep personal prayer that was the heart and soul of all and everything that St Francis said and did. I am talking about what St Bonaventure called ‘the prayer and the spirit of devotion’ on which he insisted all renewal depends. I am talking about what St Bernadine of Siena called ‘the prayer of the heart,’ which vocal prayer depends on. In the Franciscan hermitage of Fonte Colombo, St Bernadine had these words written and set in gold around the choir stalls where his friars chanted the divine office: Si cor non orat in vanum lingua laborat (If the heart does not pray, then the tongue labours in vain). In other words, the power of vocal prayer depends on the profound personal prayer that determines the quality of a person’s relationship with God before they even open their mouths.

On 11 October last year our former pope, Benedict XVI, announced that the Church would celebrate a Year of Faith which will end on 24 November this year. What better way to do this than by beginning again to deepen our own personal prayer life…”
– This article by David Torkington was published in “Messenger of Saint Anthony”, issue April 2013. For subscriptions, please contact: Messenger of Saint Anthony, Basilica del Santo, via Orto Botanico 11, 35123 Padua, Italy


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