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Sunday, August 20, 2017
Date Posted:

Pope Paul III

The Consilium Emendenda: A new look at an Old Papal Document

9 December 2005
British Church Newspaper

POPE Paul III, Alessandro Farnese (1534 1549), was the architect of the Counter Reformation which dragged the papacy back from the brink of destruction following the Glorious Reformation.

He convened the Council of Trent to tone down the worst of Rome’s abuses. He founded the Sacred Congregation of the Universal Inquisition to break all opposition to his will. It was he before whom Loyola and his brethren kneeled in St Marks, Rome, on 27th September 1540 to constitute the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) for the purpose of acting as the Pope’s Counter Reformation enforcers.

And all this from a lad who would have got nowhere had his sister not named an ecclesiastical preferment for her brother as the price of her sexual favours to earlier Borgia Pope Alexander VI.

Papal pride

Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the Church Door at Wittenberg at a time when papal pride had reached the skies. Leo X had re‑confirmed that awful bull of his predecessor Boniface VIII, Unam Sanctam, which stated: “Furthermore, we declare, we proclaim, we define, that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff” (RC translation).

In 1516 Leo X pushed the bull Pastor aeternus through the Fifth Lateran Council. This was designed to rubbish the idea of church councils and make the pope the supreme, unquestionable and sole authority in the Church. When Leo X cast his own vote, which would normally be a slip with placet (Latin‑ it pleases) or non placet (it displeases), he waxed lyrical. So filled with pride and indignation was he at the thought of any appeal away from himself to any council however illustrious, he wrote on his own vote 'non solum place, sed multum placet et perplacet' which loosely translated into 21st century slang means, “Pleases me! it doesn't just please me ‑ it pleases me plenty, it pleases me more than anything!” Interestingly, most of this Bull Pastor aeternus was set in legal style language very similar to that found in contemporary Roman Catholic canon law as if the matter was settled forever.

Gathering clouds

But Rome’s mood darkened once Luther ‑ toppled her from her pinnacle of pride. The gloom deepened progressively as Protestantism grew stronger.  This was the Lord’s time and Rome was being humiliated daily.  Under Paul III’s predecessor, Clement VII, the papacy was really being driven into a corner, although it kept up appearances.  A neutral historian, in assessing Clement’s state of mind, uses the terms “alarmed”, “vacillating”, “uninspired” and “fearful”.  His indecision and incompetence led him to view the possibility of the overthrow of Rome by the Protestants “with something approaching terror”.

Rome has made a good job of spinning the history, of this period in the popular mind.  Her real feelings of terror, as Protestantism seemed poised to reduce Roman Catholicism to a mere shadow, remained largely undocumented.

Whispers occasionally escaped from the Vatican but little of substance.  However there is one document confirming the turmoil at this time which deserves to be better known amongst Protestants.  It speaks plainly of just how scared our opponents were as they viewed the Glorious Reformation going from strength to strength … This document is the Consilium Delectorum Cardinalium et aliorum Praelatorum De emendenda Ecclesia.  A fair translation would be “The Counsel (or Advice) of a Committee of Several Cardinals and other Prelates Concerning the Reforming of the Church”.  It is usually known as the Consilium de emendenda from its opening words.  Confusingly, delectus from which we get delectable has rather changed in meaning in modern English and comes from the Latin verb deligo - to choose for a purpose.

But what a change!  We now have a pope toying with the idea of allowing a Council!  When the already very wealthy Paul III ascended the papal throne his eye was very much to the main chance and he was determined not to lose the business opportunity of the century by allowing the papacy to flounder.  And if a council was the price to pay, a council it must be.  This document, the Consilium, was to select issues for deliberation.  The subtitle boldly declares Paul III to be the prime mover in its production.  “Paul III – of that name … had ordered it … had it written … and finally had it submitted to him (ipso … jubente … conscriptum … exhibitum).  The neutral historian says, “the Consilium represents an honourable stage in the process (of Counter Reformation) whereby the critical spirit captured the Holy See”.  We would put it more bluntly.  The curia were shaking in their shoes. And when the Consilium was finally submitted it confirmed the curia’s worst fears.  Many things concerning Rome await that Last Day to be unmasked but here is a foretaste as Rome’s own men condemn her in terms more blunt than any Protestant broadsheet of the time.

Fear of Divine Judgment

What a committee!  Not one of them came from the hard bitten Curia which was still basking in the audacities of the Fifth Lateral Council.  Freed from many of the usual restraints on Vatican insiders, the committee, which was sworn to secrecy, set to work.  It was in good heart, partly because it perceived that the terrible sack of Rome in 1529 was a divine judgment.  Rome’s own historian of the popes, Pastor, says of the Consilium “the abuses of the Curia and Church are fully exposed with the greatest freedom and in the strongest terms”.  The present writer has often stood in the Camera di Papagallo – the Parrot’s room (from the habit of popes keeping a parrot there) – in the Vatican palace and imagined the heated discussion on 9th March 1537 when the completed Consilium was presented to Paul III.  This was the point at which the oath of secrecy under which they all worked should have been withdrawn.  Whether colour visibly drained from his cheeks we do not know, but we do know that although Paul withdrew the oath of secrecy enjoined on the commission  - for no one could keep this under wraps in the Vatican ‑ he also forbad its publication. But suppression was futile. Almost at once its contents began percolating through to the public. It was printed without authorisation early in 1538 and, despite official efforts to ban its publication it achieved 13 editions in the next 20 years. The Consilium was a best seller, yet today the only copy the author has ever seen is in the British Library.

Rev Joseph Mendham

Even when the Rev Joseph Mendham MA, a Victorian protestant historian, wrote the preface to his History of the Council of Trent he admitted he had not got an original. This is amazing for an indefatigable collector of antiquarian documents concerning the struggle with Rome. These he had garnered from sales of great country houses, now bankrupt, or from the continental black market. He had so many gems that he was once approached by Rome for a sight of his documents in order to write on some topic themselves. The reason for this scarcity is not just Rome’s ban on publication. When the Consilium was first leaked, pirate copies went quickly to Germany. Martin Luther was amazed when he got his hands on one and immediately published it in full with his own preface and margins wide enough to add his own pungent comments at appropriate points. Luther opened with, “Dear me, how seriously the Holy See takes this matter. It is a pity no one believes these scoundrels and liars any longer, providing anyone could feel sorry about that.”

Consilium put on Index

The final irony came when Carafa eventually became Pope Paul IV He placed his own document on the newly launched Index of Prophibited Books which he himself had created! It was well hidden, not under “C” for Consilium but “L” for Lib inscrip (Book headed) Consilium de emendenda. Apologists say he perhaps meant the prohibition to apply only to heretical Protestant versions with glosses. However the impression given was of the pope putting a total ban on his own words to the great amusement of many in Europe. Certainly Mendham in his day believed a total ban was what the Index was demanding. But the Consilium is not just dead controversy. Twenty fast century historians are now showing fresh interest in it to throw light on recent research into the Counter Reformation. We hope to cover one aspect of this in the next issue DV.

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