Canon 12--Council of Trent--cursing Evangelicals?


Hi. A non-Catholic relative just emailed me this quote, which,. apparently is from the Council of Trent:

“If anyone says that justifying faith is nothing else than confidence in divine mercy, which remits sins for Christ’s sake, or that it is this confidence alone that justifies us, let him be anathema.”

From what little I’ve read online about it, it is seen as “the Catholic Church cursing Evangelicals”…???

Can someone explain this quote to me so that I may pass it along to them?


They, (and you) need to have a proper understanding of what anathema means. Many misconstrue it in order to show the Church in a bad light, however it’s just not so.

Send them this article by Jimmy Akin. Anathema
Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum.


Thanks so much! That’s very helpful. I’m still looking for something specific on the council of Trent and just what the passage I quoted meant and means and perhaps why evangelicals should not be offended by it.


Anathemas are for Catholics and not Evangelicals.


It’s amazing how some Protestants (including the most erudite and otherwise informed) seem to have a major hang-up and mental blocks when it comes to this topic of anethemas. You hear it again and again and even as a huge reason why they won’t consider the Church. No matter how you explain it to them, they go back to their pre-determined notions in this area which is rooted, I think, in some of those durable anti-Catholic myths (like Catholics worshipping Mary and Luther issuing the first vernacular Bible, etc) that many Protestants cut their teeth on.

For what it’s worth, here is the key passage in Akin’s article on anathemas that was linked above:

With this as background, the absurdity of the things said by anti-Catholics about the anathemas pronounced by Trent and other councils is plain. A number of errors are nearly ubiquitous in anti-Catholic writings:

  1. *An anathema sentenced a person to hell. *This is not the case. Sentencing someone to hell is a power that is God’s alone, and the Church cannot exercise it.
  1. An anathema was a sure sign that a person would go to hell. Again, not true. Anathemas were only warranted by very grave sins, but there was no reason why the offender could not repent, and those who repent aren’t damned.
  1. *An anathema was a sure sign that a person was not in a state of grace. *This is not true for two reasons: (a) The person may have repented since the time the anathema was issued, and (b) the person may not have been in a state of mortal sin at the time the anathema was issued.

Anathemas—like penalties imposed under civil law—rest on the judgment of the court, which must make its decision based on the evidence presented. It cannot directly examine the conscience of the individual in question. Thus, while anathemas were imposed on account of gravely sinful behavior, this was not a guarantee that it was mortally sinful. For a grave sin to become mortal, it must be performed with the requisite knowledge and consent, and while an offender might have given every appearance of these conditions, they might not be there in reality—e.g., through a hidden cognitive or volitional impediment.

  1. Anathemas were meant to harm the offender. No. Anathemas were simply a major excommunication performed with a special papal ceremony, and, like all excommunications, their intent was medicinal, not punitive. The goal was to protect the Christian community from the spread of evil doctrines or behaviors and to prompt the individual to recognize the nature of his actions. While being deprived of the fellowship of the Church is not pleasant, this does not change the fact that the fundamental orientation of excommunications and anathemas is medicinal, not punitive.
  1. *Anathemas took effect automatically. *While the Church does have penalties that take effect automatically (latae sententiae), the penalty of anathema was not one of them



Also if its any consolation there were no evangelical churches at the time of Trent. Those denominations came latter.


Evangelicals believe that justifying faith is “nothing else than confidence in divine mercy”?


Always read VERY carefully when you read the documents of Trent. ALWAYS go look up for yourself whatever someone else quotes. Always look to the EXACT phrasing of the text.

The anathema in question relates to “faith alone,” exclusive of living out the Christian faith in practice. Read the language of that article again. It means that if anyone says that justifying faith is merely “confidence in divine mercy” and nothing else – no living it out, no faith beyond “confidence”, and that such “faith” only justifies, and not the Person of Jesus Christ, by grace through faith, then the anathema is invoked.

This article states that the doctrine of “faith alone” as articulated by some reformers is not the Catholic faith, is not “justifying faith” and that anyone teaching such a thing is teaching falsehood. Hence, the anathema.

Your evangelical friends should not take offense that the Whore of Babylon rejects their novel soteriology. They should look at Trent as the perfect culmination of their worst suspicions about us Catholics. Refer them to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It says the same thing but in positive rather than in negative language.


Thanks! I discovered that when I read further.


Excellent point, thanks!


Thanks to Fidelis & Church Militant.
I found a lot of good things on Catholic Answers. :thumbsup:


The “evangelical” quote anathematised is a half-truth. It is reasonable and right to have confidence in divine mercy. The problem comes when someone says “I am confident in divine mercy, so that’s the end of the story. That’s all that justifying faith means. All I need do is say ‘God, I have confidence in your mercy’ and I’m OK. Anyone who claims anything else hasn’t really understood the picture.”

Note the anathema is not upon those who simply throw themselves upon the mercy of God, nor does it suggest that these will not be saved. It is upon those who say that this is the only possible course of action, all that can be done.


Excellent points–thanks so much.


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit