Years of Christianity: Battle of the Sword and Cross in Mactan, Part 9



“In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” -Albert Einstein


The battle for the man’s soul highlighted the fight between Catholics and Protestants in the 16th century, a fight that still drags on to this day. What began as doctrinal disagreements, complaints of clergy abuses, and religious persecutions; the attempt to reform the Catholic Church has instead, became a full blown conflict with the Council of Trent’s subtle declaration of war through its Counter Reformation strategies against the Protestants.


What exactly did the Council of Trent advocate that prompted the Wars of Religion in France and later, the 30 Years’ War between European countries in the early 17th century, and religious war in Catholic countries that persisted in the new millennium? What made the schism between the two warring religions wider and more permanent? And more importantly, why did the Council believe that the Protestants were wrong (heretical) in all respects of faith and doctrines?


The Council of Trent was meant to address the very complaints that Protestants termed as doctrinal and clergy abuses but ended up drawing a red line on the sands of time with the establishment of a confession or profession of faith. With such declaration came the recognition of the supremacy of the Papacy and affirmed all what the Roman Catholic has believed and practiced for centuries. More importantly, it sealed the Roman Catholic Church apostasy that man is saved by faith and good works alone for salvation.


To begin with, it will be instructive to highlight the differences between the two religions. They worship the same God but differ in the principles of their faith. Among these differences, they can be categorized into eight areas: Bible utility, what the church represents, role of the pope, the papacy, mass in the context of the Eucharist, sacraments, Mary and saints, and celibacy.


These differences allowed one catholic Christian church to splinter into what is now three separate religions: Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestants. The Eastern Orthodox Church is not at war with the Roman Catholic Church but functions separately (does not recognize the pope as leader of Catholic Church). The Protestants broke away precisely for these disagreements and true to their belief, allowed Protestant churches (Evangelicals) of various names to mushroom.


The Profession of Faith (or Creed) affirmed (canons and decrees or dogmas) the Catholic orthodoxy including those from antiquity such as the Nicene Creed, and the Apostles’ Creed and Athanasian Creed. The recitation of the Creed has become part of the Catholic Mass. One dogmatic line arrogates for the Catholic Church an irrevocable belief that it is: “One, holy, and apostolic Church.”


Protestants believed that the word “catholic” means “all-embracing” but as the line goes, the Catholic Church sees itself as the only legit church worldwide. With such belief, thousands of Protestant churches have emerged as Evangelicals meaning “according to the Gospel” and do not make up one united church. The Protestant churches consider themselves equal.


Among traditional Catholics, they live by the motto “In essentiis, unitas; in dubiis, libertas; in omnibus, caritas (“In essential, unity; in doubtful matters, freedom; in all things, charity.”) With such motto, they’re able to “defy” the pope, Synod or a certain Catholic teaching by distinguishing between “essentials” and “doubtful matters.” While the ordinary faithful follow in-tutu church dogmas, traditionalists can distinguish between “De fide” (of the faith) or “Sententia Probabilis” (probable teaching). In other words, they can split hairs.

With the codified creed, it declared itself correct and the Protestants wrong. Furthermore, the Council declared that the holy Catholic and apostolic Roman Church as the mother and teacher of all churches thus making the Protestant teachings inferior. It also arrogated the role of the Roman Pontiff (the pope) being the successor of Peter, as the chief of Apostles and vicar of Jesus Christ.


The Council exhorted all Catholics to recognize and swear true obedience to the primacy of the Pope and his infallible teaching. And that what the Protestants were teaching were heresies and therefore anyone who believed other than what the Church teaches (through sacred canons and ecumenical councils) are punishable by excommunication. The most potent punchline that instilled fear among Catholics was that any belief outside of the Catholic Church is destined to eternal damnation.


The profession of faith also tells the faithful to accept and embrace the apostolic and ecclesiastical traditions and all other observances and constitutions of the Catholic Church. It also forbids relying on individual understanding of the Bible but instead accepts what the priests and bishops proclaim as the true meaning and interpretation of the Holy Scripture and to do otherwise is guilty of heresy.


The profession includes admonition that the seven sacraments: baptism, confirmation, the Eucharist, penance, extreme unction, holy orders, and matrimony are necessary for the salvation of mankind. And that baptism and confirmation can only be done once (meaning you can’t leave the Church and come back) to do otherwise will be sacrilegious. With baptism becoming a sacrament has institutionalized the concept of the original sin (of Adam and Eve) and justification (from sin to a state of grace).


Baptism of infants was contested even among bishops of the Synod. The counter argument was that a child of such age (up to 3 months) have no faculties to discern the meaning of the sacrament much less the ritual but the thinking was that this was already part of the Church’s tradition and therefore must be adhered to.


Contextually, the tradition being referred to ironically, was when there was an epidemic during the time of Emperor Marcus Aurelius over a century after Jesus’ crucifixion. Referred to as the Antonine Plague, was a cholera epidemic that the Roman soldiers brought back from their conquest of Parthia (Iran) with the first outbreak being reported in Seleucia (Baghdad), then to Rome where it killed about 2,000 people a day.


The pagans blamed the Christians thinking that the epidemic was God’s expression of displeasure, Aurelius agreed but for a different reason (feared the second coming of Christ) began ordering the building of sacred sites and shrines to offer prayers and religious ceremonies that coincidentally, helped spread Christianity. The epidemic was particularly harsh for children claiming a good portion of the population. Aurelius ordered bishop Irenaeus (as written by Tertullian) the baptism of children hoping to please God.


During the Parthian war, Emperor Aurelius composed the well-known best seller “Meditations.” Ironically, Aurelius was also credited with having martyred over 50 Catholic saints during his persecution of Christians.


Perhaps one aspect of the profession that received strong response from the Protestants was the idea that purgatory exists and that images of saints, Christ and the Virgin Mary be venerated. Interestingly, the word “should” preceded the declarations thus what traditionalists call “doubtful.” In practice, many members of the clergy are not fans of saints or Mary but are constrained to play a role for something that has developed as part of tradition. (To be continued..)