I am aware that there have been two wide spread movements to bring the Evangelical and Roman Catholic Churches closer together (ECT and ECT2). My question is this: What has changed in Roman Catholic doctrine since the Council of Trent when the split was fully made and the evangelical movement anathematized by Rome? Have all of the changes that have encouraged these movements been from the side of the Evangelicals?

  • Can you please clarify whether you are using Evangelical in the Lutheran sense or the more common modern sense of the word. Mar 20, 2017 at 17:09
  • By 'evangelical' here I mean those who believe in salvation by faith alone through grace alone, which is exactly what the catholics anathematized in trent. That would include traditional Lutherans, Reformed, and Evangelicals and any others that hold to the five solas of the reformation. Mar 22, 2017 at 15:38
  • @KorvinStarmast Evangelical has nothing to do with evangelism per se. It has to do with holding the "Good News". "εὐαγγέλιον" from which we transliterate Evangelical means "Good News". Mar 22, 2017 at 15:41
  • @NateBunney Humpty Dumpty style word redefinition does not promote clarity nor understanding. Convening the Council of Trent was a response to the Protest of Luther (and others, and in some ways a response to heresy, improper teaching, what have you as seen from Rome) hence Protestant is a far more accurate term in that context than "Evangelical" .... which seems a deliberately vague appellation. Mar 22, 2017 at 16:02
  • Likewise "reformed" is more accurate, given that Trent crystalized the tension between the Reformation and the Counter Reformation. As I said, ALL Christians are called to evangelize ... you don't get to appropriate that term to your faith community alone. Mar 22, 2017 at 16:09

2 Answers 2


It's not that doctrine has changed as much as the importance of the arguments. The Roman Catholic Church and many Evangelicals now agree that much of the arguments were semantic, and political and cultural opposition played a large role (especially ongoing political rivalries between France and Germany and the Turkish threat in the Mediterranean). So what has changed isn't really doctrine, but rather the importance of wording those doctrines in certain ways versus others.

It is actually Evangelicals who have changed their doctrines, which is the reason for the recent ecumenical successes. In fact, the Second Vatican Council's Decree on Ecumenism states that ecumenical activity cannot result in changing any aspect of the Catholic faith. For example, Post Conciliar Document Number 42 says that the purpose of ecumenism is to transform the thinking and behavior of non-Catholics so that eventually all Christians will be united in one Church. It states, "This unity, we believe, dwells in the Catholic Church." In other words, "unity" means that all Christians will become Roman Catholics.

The reality of it is that the Roman Catholic Church is engaging in ecumenical dialog with Protestants and Orthodox, calling them "separated brethren," and claiming to respect their beliefs. But at the same time, it still officially declares that they are heterodox because of these same beliefs. Some Catholics have expressed concern over this.

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    The article you link to does not actually have an accurate understanding of "anathema". Yes, formal anathema as performed by the Pope may have 12 priests with candle, but that is not the meaning intended by conciliar documents (which is closer to "major excommunication"). Mar 22, 2012 at 18:16
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    In addition to that, it is arguable alarmist and it decidedly mis-portrays Catholic theology on a number of points (whether this is conscious or not is up to interpretation of the reader). The anathemas of the councils, for example, are judgements/sentences and not a dogma. As it is not a dogma, it is not subject to infallibility and that makes her entire concluding section not only irrelevant, but misleading too. Mar 22, 2012 at 18:21
  • @cwallenpoole not my specialist subject, but : "The formula “let him be anathema” is a traditional expression that ecumenical councils used when making infallible definitions." - again, not my area, but this article suggests that may not always be the case. Mar 22, 2012 at 22:20
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    @MarcGravell I generally find that sites which feature articles whose titles actively damn their opponents are often inaccurate in their content and frequently mis-portray the arguments of their opponents. Unfortunately, apprising.org happens to be one of those sites. As I speak, the second title under the "Roman Catholicism" topic calls my faith idolatry. I don't really find such mentalities to be conducive to intellectual discourse, and that is why you will never see me cite Catholic Answers (who I view as guilty of similar straw-man arguments). Mar 23, 2012 at 8:04
  • @MarcGravell Ah. OK. But then I might counter that there are people who have argued that man has never walked on the moon. Mar 23, 2012 at 8:12

Several thoughts which came up immediately:

  • There are a number of changes which have come from both sides. On the one hand, the Church has had a decidedly different approach to the separated brethren over the past hundred years. We have come a long way from when the Pope declared the Anglican Holy Orders null and void (Apostolicae Curae). This was accelerated through VAII and by the 1980's it had gotten to the point where JPII allowed Catholics to worship at Protestant churches in 1983 (and the Sunday after the law changed, he preached at a Lutheran church).

  • As the nationalism of denominations has declined, so the scholastic cooperation has increased. The scholars who study the ancient documents couldn't care less who wrote a particular book, so long as they actually supported their thesis. This is why the New Jerome Bible Commentary includes several non-Catholic sources.

  • There is an increased eye for objectivity. I have one book dated to the first half of the 20th century which makes the statement, "unfortunately, it seems that the people who followed the apostles followed more the theology of James than the liberating theology of Paul." The implication: that the early Church documents are wrong and that this person knows better.

  • The documents from the Ancient Church are more available and less "augmented". When Protestantism first came on the scene there were something like 16 epistles of Ignatius of Antioch (we can now authenticate, at most, 7) and the TR version of the Bible was decidedly corrupt. This made it much easier to say that personal interpretation was paramount to actual Biblical literacy.

  • Finally, major enemies of the Church, like Jack Chick and Loraine Boettner, have either fallen out of favor or died in the past 20 years. It has gotten to the point where new denominations are no longer quite as concerned with attacking the Church as, say, in the 19th century.

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