Theology Thursday - Anathema! The Council of Trent on Justification

Following the deep division in the church which had resulted from the Protestant Reformation, there was a widespread desire, which grew stronger and was expressed in a variety of ways, for an ecumenical council. Its aim would be to reject errors against faith, add strength to the official teaching, restore the unity of the church, and reform the standards of the Roman curia and of church discipline.1

SIXTH SESSION, held January 13, 1547.

Decree on Justification2

CANON 1. If any one saith, that man may be justified before God by his own works, whether done through the teaching of human nature, or that of the law, without the grace of God through Jesus Christ: let him be anathema.

CANON 2. If any one saith, that the grace of God, through Jesus Christ, is given only for this, that man may be able more easily to live justly, and to merit eternal life, as if, by free-will without grace, he were able to do both, though hardly indeed and with difficulty: let him be anathema.

CANON 3. If any one saith, that without the prevenient inspiration of the Holy Ghost, and without his help, man can believe, hope, love, or be penitent as he ought, so that the grace of Justification may be bestowed upon him: let him be anathema.

CANON 4. If any one saith, that man’s free-will moved and excited by God, by assenting to God exciting and calling, nowise co-coperates towards disposing and preparing itself for obtaining the grace of Justification; that it can not refuse its consent, if it would, but that, as something inanimate, it does nothing whatever and is merely passive: let him be anathema.

CANON 5. If any one saith, that, since Adam’s sin, the free-will of man is lost and extinguished; or, that it is a thing with only a name, yea a name without a reality, a figment, in fine, introduced into the Church by Satan: let him be anathema.

CANON 6. If any one saith, that it is not in man’s power to make his ways evil, but that the works that are evil God worketh as well as those that are good, not permissively only, but properly, and of himself, in such wise that the treason of Judas is no less his own proper work than the vocation of Paul: let him be anathema.

CANON 7. If any one saith, that all works done before Justification, in whatsoever way they be done, are truly sins, or merit the hatred of God; or that the more earnestly one strives to dispose himself for grace, the more grievously he sins: let him be anathema.

CANON 8. If any one saith, that the fear of hell,—whereby, by grieving for our sins, we flee unto the mercy of God, or refrain from sinning,—is a sin, or makes sinners worse: let him be anathema.

CANON 9. If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified, in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will: let him be anathema.

CANON 10. If any one saith, that men are just without the justice of Christ, whereby he merited for us to be justified; or that it is by that justice itself that they are formally just: let him be anathema.

CANON 11. If any one saith, that men are justified, either by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ, or by the sole remission of sins, to the exclusion of the grace and the charity which is poured forth in their hearts by the Holy Ghost, and is inherent in them; or even that the grace, whereby we are justified, is only the favor of God: let him be anathema.

CANON 12. If any one saith, that justifying faith is nothing else but confidence in the divine mercy which remits sins for Christ’s sake; or, that this confidence alone is that whereby we are justified: let him be anathema.

CANON 13. If any one saith, that it is necessary for every one, for the obtaining the remission of sins, that he believe for certain, and without any wavering arising from his own infirmity and indisposition, that his sins are forgiven him: let him be anathema.

CANON 14. If any one saith, that man is truly absolved from his sins and justified, because that he assuredly believed himself absolved and justified; or, that no one is truly justified but he who believes himself justified; and that, by this faith alone, absolution and justification are effected: let him be anathema.

CANON 15. If any one saith, that a man, who is born again and justified, is bound of faith to believe that he is assuredly in the number of the predestinate: let him be anathema.

CANON 16. If any one saith, that he will for certain, of an absolute and infallible certainty, have that great gift of perseverance unto the end,—unless he have learned this by special revelation: let him be anathema.

CANON 17. If any one saith, that the grace of Justification is only attained to by those who are predestined unto life; but that all others who are called, are called indeed, but receive not grace, as being, by the divine power, predestined unto evil: let him be anathema.

To be continued …


1 This short introduction is an excerpt from Norman P. Tanner, S.J. (ed.), Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, 2 vols. (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 1990), 2:657. 

2 This text is from Philip Schaff, “The Council of Trent,” in The Creeds of Christendom, 3 vols. (New York, NY: Harper & Brothers, 1890), 2:110-118.

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TylerR's picture


Canon 4 - clearly arguing against a Reformed anthropology.

Canon 5 - a misrepresentation of Reformed anthropology on free will, one that many people still make today. History moves in cycles!

Canon 6 - I wonder what the SBC traditionalists think of this one. It is fundamentally against the idea of God's decree. Erickson, for example, resorted to Molinism in his own discussion while trying to reconcile God's decree with providence. I'm saying that many Christians would agree with Canon 6. I still think that would be a mistake.

Canon 7 - a fundamental denial of Reformed anthropology. This really is a big divide. I think many Christians would side with Rome, perhaps unknowingly.

Canon 9 - against justification by faith. Here we see the Roman Catholic understanding that the initial grace in justification produces good works which then merit eternal life for the individual. Justification is a process, not an event. See also Canon 11 and Canon 12.

Canon 13 - the Roman Catholic system has no assurance of salvation. None. Read it. See also Canon 14 and Canon 15.

Canon 16 - a Christian cannot be assured he will persevere until the end. How horrifying. How awful. Blasphemy, to be sure.

Canon 17 - I think many Christians would agree with this one. That is a shame.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Bert Perry's picture

....if I can add to this without being burned at the stake.  

#1 & #2 refute Pelagius, more or less.

#3 seems to be a  somewhat incorrect way of saying John 6:44.  

Agreed with Tyler on #4 & #5.

#7 seems to contrast with the "filthy rags" passages 

#14 and #15 are not only about a lack of assurance of salvation, but #14 seems to indicate that the Council viewed Sola Fide as "solely his belief that he was saved", not that "solely trusting Christ in faith".  Interesting twisting of Sola Fide, I think.

I find this interesting that they were this concerned with Calvin when his Institutes had only recently been published.  Talk about impact of a guy who thought he'd be obscure!  Interesting as well that it seems to come out harder against Calvin than against Luther.



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