Behind the Tridentine Myth

What Happened at the Council

What Happened at the Council
John W. O’Malley
Harvard University Press, $27.95, 335 pp.

The Council of Trent, ostensibly the response of the Catholic Church to the Protestant Reformation, is poorly known for what occasioned it and what it did, and, ironically, known too well for things it did not do at all. Few readers have either the time or the inclination to read the four volumes of Hubert Jedin’s magisterial work on Trent, and only its first two volumes appeared in English translation. Partly because Trent deserves to be more widely known and understood and partly because there is such flourishing talk about Vatican II, John O’Malley’s book is especially welcome. Like all O’Malley’s books, this one is beautifully written, richly but manageably detailed, and unostentatiously learned.

O’Malley accomplishes three things in this book. He explains why it took so long to call a council at all. He describes what happened at Trent and how factors internal and external to the church influenced the proceedings. Finally, speaking about the decades—even centuries—after the council, O’Malley carefully distinguishes between Trent and Tridentinismo.

From the middle of the eleventh century until the outbreak of the Great Western Schism (1378), popes...

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About the Author

Thomas Noble teaches history at the University of Notre Dame.