1. The Vulgate translation of Scripture was affirmed to be reliable and authoritative. The council declared that “the old Latin Vulgate edition, which has been used for many centu- ries, has been approved by the church, and should be defended as authentic in public lectures, disputations, sermons or expositions, and that no one should dare or presume, under any circumstances, to reject it.” 2. The authority of the church to interpret Scripture was vigorously defended, against what the Council of Trent clearly regarded as the rampant individualism of Protestant interpreters (3.2.1). “No one, relying on his or her own judgement, in matters of faith and morals relating to Christian doctrine (distorting the Holy Scriptures in accordance with their own ideas), shall presume to interpret Scripture contrary to that sense which Holy Mother Church, to whom it belongs to judge of their true sense and interpretation, has held and now holds.” 3. The Council of Trent argued that Scripture could not be regarded as the only source of revelation. The role of unwritten traditions, originating from Christ and the apostles, had to be given due weight. “All saving truths and rules of conduct . . . are contained in the written books and in the unwritten traditions, received from the mouth of Christ himself or from the apostles themselves.” Protestantism, Trent argued, had cut itself off from this second source of revelation. Furthermore, Protestant confusion over biblical interpretation reinforced the Catholic case for the church as the authorized interpreter of the Bible. 4. A number of criticisms were directed against Protestant teaching on justification by faith (3.2.2). The most important are the following.
(a) Protestantism mistakenly limited justification to the remission of sins, and failed to recognize that it embraced the idea of transformation and renewal. Protestantism defined justification as the event of the forgiveness of sins and imputation of right- eousness, and sanctification as the process of making the believer righteous. Trent argued that justification included both this event and process. It was about making the believer righteous, both in reality and in the sight of God.
(b) Justifying righteousness is not external to the believer, but is internal. It is on the basis of an imparted, not an imputed, righteousness that a believer is rendered acceptable to God.
(c) Trent rejected what it called the “ungodly confidence” of the reformers in believing that they could be certain of their salvation. The Council conceded that no one should doubt God’s goodness and generosity, but argued that the reformers erred seriously when they taught that “nobody is absolved from sins and justified unless they believe with certainty that they are absolved and justified, and that absolution and justifica- tion are effected by this faith alone.” Trent insisted that “nobody can know with a certainty of faith which is not subject to error, whether they have obtained the grace of God.”
5. The Council of Trent reiterated that there were seven genuine sacraments, and vigor- ously defended both the doctrine and the terminology of transubstantiation against its Protestant critics (3.2.5). “By the consecration of the bread and wine a change is brought about of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ and of the whole substance of the wine into the blood of Christ. This change the Holy Catholic church properly and appropriately calls transubstantiation.”
It was one thing to set out such doctrinal statements; it was quite another to make sure that these were communicated effectively to parish priests and congregations. Recognizing the importance of this point, the council decided in 1546 to produce a catechism which would convey the basics of the Catholic faith, as clarified by Trent, to children and unedu- cated adults. Twenty years later, work began on this project under the leadership of Charles Borromeo (1538–84), archbishop of Milan. The resulting catechism was widely praised for its accessibility and clarity, and did much to counter the low levels of theological awareness then typical of many clergy and laity.