Francis Beckwith on the Council of Trent


Then I read the Council of Trent, which some Protestant friends had suggested I do. What I found was shocking. I found a document that had been nearly universally misrepresented by many Protestants, including some friends.

I do not believe, however, that the misrepresentation is the result of purposeful deception. But rather, it is the result of reading Trent with Protestant assumptions and without a charitable disposition.
For example, Trent talks about the four causes of justification, which correspond somewhat to Aristotle’s four causes. None of these causes is the work of the individual Christian. For, according to Trent, God’s grace does all the work. However, Trent does condemn “faith alone,” but what it means is mere intellectual assent without allowing God’s grace to be manifested in one’s actions and communion with the Church. This is why Trent also condemns justification by works.

I am convinced that the typical “Council of Trent” rant found on anti-Catholic websites is the Protestant equivalent of the secular urban legend that everyone prior to Columbus believed in a flat earth.



Wow. Very well put. Converts always offer a brand-new uniqueness to the eternal story of the road to Rome, which makes every new convert story a treasure to read, filled with things to learn. All took a different “road” in some sense. And isn’t it another witness to the truth that “All roads lead to rome”. So many roads, and each has a unique story to tell about the view on the way.



“Without a charitable disposition” explains a lot.



So the definition of Faith by evangelicals is allowed??



The fact is “faith alone” can mean different things to different people, Trent knew this and set parameters by saying what it cannot mean so the Catholic must have his understanding fit in those parameters.



What this does show is that there was a deep seated ignorance on the part of Beckwith with Christian history. How he got to the position he did without understanding Trent (Reformation anyone?), nevermind even reading it, is astounding.

It is also interesting that he was pursuing Catholicism before he ever even accepted the presidency at ETS.

Now he proposes that Catholics plumb the works of Protestants (“heretics”) and says Protestant (“heretical”) teachers are unequaled in all of Christendom.

Is that not cause for concern to Catholics?



Thanks so much for posting this. I anxiously await my ‘hardcopy’ in the mail this week!



Protestants who affirm sola fide, yet condemn faith as merely being intellectual assent only or antinomianism, many times don’t know that during the time of the reformation the term “faith alone” meant intellectual assent only which does not justify because it isn’t a true faith in Christ. So, when Trent condemned faith alone, it condmened what most all Protestants today also condemn and which James condemns in chapter 2.



It is not a cause of concern. Any intellectual Catholic who already has a grounding in Catholic theology would do well to read Protestant theology to garner what truth it has in it and its insights. Although I do disagree with Calvin very vehemently, I found his work to be fascinating (I read what he wrote on penal substitution theory), and although I am but a young theology student, I fully expect to read works of great Protestant theologians, such as Barth. How can I hope to understand the insights of a Hans urs von Balthasar if I don’t? Yes, we think the Protestant theologians are wrong. That doesn’t mean we have to shun them-- we can learn from them.

As for saying Protestant teachers are peerlees-- or unequaled-- he’s just saying they’re better at, “expository preaching, as well as teaching the laity.” Now, I don’t think I agree with this, but he’s just saying that they’re better at communicating their message. He isn’t endorsing their message. But he is saying that we need to learn from their methods of communicating their message. That’s a valid criticism.

Neither of these are causes of concern. He seems to be a faithful Catholic with a love for the Church. God bless him!


P.S. I agree with Dr. Beckwith. Trent is a fantastic document!


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