Proper Passion: A Lesson from Trent


Christian passion—the fervency to pursue the purposes of Christ over our own—is an enviable quality. In fact, looking back over two millennia of church history, we recognize it to be a common trait among those who have been used by God to advance his kingdom: we can hear it in their voices, observe it in their actions, and see it in their eyes. Passion is unmistakable.

It is possible, however, for passion to become a liability. Indeed, unbridled passion may spin out of control and inadvertently frustrate the purpose for which it was intended. When this happens, we allow our temperaments to usurp the gentle leading of God’s Spirit, which in turns spawns sins such as impatience, harshness, and even anger.

To shed light on the dynamics of Christian passion, I tell the story of Sanfelice, a 16th-century Catholic bishop who presided at the Council of Trent. Sanfelice, a zealous advocate of justification by sola fide (faith alone), allowed his passion for the doctrine to overtake his pastoral discretion. Sharing this unusual episode of the council from its historical location in northern Italy, I encourage fellow believers to embed our passion in the ethics of Christian humility and love.

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