Tuesday, 16 July 2013

The Lateran Councils of the 12th Century

A two ecumenical synods of the Roman Catholic Church, called Councils of the Lateran, took place during the half century preceding the Constitutions of Clarendon, and one soon afterwards.  Much new canonical legislation was passed during their sessions, much of which is relevant to an understanding and discussion of the historical circumstances of the Constitutions and the issues concerning church and state affairs of these times. The Lateran Councils were a revival of the Western Catholic Church seeking to re-establish its authority, and an assertion of papal leadership.

An ecumenical council, was one summoned by the pope. These were synods or special council meetings of the whole Christian world, of the prelates and overseers of the Christian faith [bishops and abbots], fathers of the church, which, in the case of the Roman Catholic Church; that world essentially meant a full meeting of as many representatives of the church from the whole Latin world as possible, that is the non-Muslim lands of the former Western Roman Empire, Scandinavia, Outremer, and Holy Roman Empire). These special councils held during this period of ecclesiastical history were often seen to have a legitimate authority above that of the pope, and could depose him, if necessary: later this theoretical power was called Conciliarism. The fathers of the church were summoned in this manner whenever there was a grave crisis, theological or otherwise, which affected the practice and management of the faith, for important matters concerning church and state relations, schisms, or matters concerning the general governance of the church. Many new canon laws were drawn up and ratified at these synods. Many of the new canon laws paased at these Councils found their way into Gratian's Decretals (c. 1140).

The First Lateran Council was a confirmation of the terms of the Concordat of Worms (1122), which itself was based on the Concordat of London (1107). It resolved the Investiture Controversy: the ancient right presumed by the Holy Roman Emperors to name the pope, to appoint bishops and priests; to invest them with secular symbols of office, the sword or sceptre, and symbols of spiritual authority: ring, mitre and crozier. There was a general movement within the church to try to break free from secular control, to exert its independence. This programme was known as the Hildebrandine programme, after Hildebrand, Pope Gregory VII.

The Canons pronounced during these Councils lend and lent very considerable authority to the apparent stubborn position adopted by Thomas Becket in his handling of the crisis caused by King Henry II's insistence that the bishops of England  should confirm the Constitutions of Clarendon as the accepted undeniable "Customs of the Kingdom", when many of its clauses were in direct conflict with the Canon Law of the Roman Church.

First Council of the Lateran (1123) addressed investment [appointment] of bishops and the Holy Roman Emperor's role therein, simony, episcopal control over benefices, the requirements of persons seeking ecclesiastical office and the authority of the pope.

Second Council of the Lateran (1139) reaffirmed Lateran I and addressed clerical discipline (dress, marriages).

Third Council of the Lateran (1179) restricted papal election to the cardinals, condemned simony, and introduced minimum ages for ordination (thirty for bishops).

Some Canons Ratified at the FIRST LATERAN COUNCIL (1123)


Summary. Ordinations and promotions made for pecuniary considerations are devoid of every dignity.

Text. Following the example of the holy fathers and recognize ng the obligation of our office, we absolutely forbid in virtue of the authority of the Apostolic See that anyone be ordained or promoted for money in the Church of God. Has anyone thus secured ordination or promotion in the Church, the rank acquired shall be devoid of every dignity.


Summary. Only a priest may be made provost, archpriest, and dean; only a deacon may be made archdeacon.

Text. No one except a priest shall be promoted to the dignity of provost, archpriest, or dean; and no one shall be made archdeacon unless he is a deacon.


Summary. Lay persons, no matter how pious they may be, have no authority to dispose of anything that belongs to the Church.

Text. In accordance with the decision of Pope Stephen, we declare that lay persons, no matter how devout they may be, have no authority to dispose of anything belonging to the Church, but according to the Apostolic canon the supervision of all ecclesiastical affairs belongs to the bishop, who shall administer them conformably to the will of God. If therefore any prince or other layman shall arrogate to himself the right of disposition, control, or ownership of ecclesiastical goods or properties, let him be judged guilty of sacrilege.


Summary. Marriages between blood-relatives are forbidden.

Text. We forbid marriages between blood-relatives because they are forbidden by the divine and secular laws. Those who contract such alliances, as also their offspring, the divine laws not only ostracize but declare accursed, while the civil laws brand them as infamous and deprive them of hereditary rights. We, therefore, following the example of our fathers, declare and stigmatize them as infamous.


Summary. Those excommunicated by one bishop, may not be restored by others.

Text. We absolutely forbid that those who have been excommunicated by their own bishops be received into the communion of the Church by other bishops, abbots, and clerics.


Summary. A bishop consecrated after an uncanonical election shall be deposed.

Text. No one shall be consecrated bishop who has not been canonically elected. If anyone dare do this, both the consecrator and the one consecrated shall be deposed without hope of reinstatement.


Summary. Abbots and monks may not have the cura animarum.

Text. We forbid abbots and monks to impose public penances, to visit the sick, to administer extreme unction, and to sing public masses. The chrism, holy oil, consecration of altars, and ordination of clerics they shall obtain from the bishops in whose dioceses they reside.


Summary. The appointment of priests to churches belongs to the bishops, and without their consent they may not receive tithes and churches from laymen.

Text. Priests shall be appointed to parochial churches by the bishops, to whom they shall be responsible for the care of souls and other matters pertaining to them. They are not permitted to receive tithes and churches from laics without the will and consent of the bishops. If they act otherwise, let them be subject to the canonical penalties.

Some of the  Canons of the Second Lateran Council


Summary. Anyone simoniacally ordained shall be deposed.

Text. We decree that if anyone has been ordained simoniacally, he shall lose the office thus illicitly obtained.


Summary. If anyone has obtained ecclesiastical promotion simoniacally, he shall lose the honor thus acquired and buyer and seller as well as intermediaries shall be condemned.

Text. If anyone, impelled by the execrable vice of avarice, has by means of money obtained a prebend, priory, deanery, or any ecclesiastical honor or promotion, or any ecclesiastical sacrament, as chrism, holy oil, or the consecration of altars and churches, he shall be deprived of the honor thus illicitly acquired, and buyer and seller and intermediary agent shall be stigmatized with the mark of infamy. Neither for provisions nor under pretense of some custom shall something be demanded from anyone either before or after, nor shall anyone presume to give, because it is simoniacal; but freely and without any price shall he enjoy the dignity or benefice conferred on him.


Summary. Those excommunicated by one bishop may not be restored by othcrs. Communication with one excommunicated entails the same censure.

Text. We absolutely forbid that those who have been excommunicated by their own bishops be received by others. He who shall dare communicate knowingly with one excommunicated before he is absolved by the one who excommunicated him, shall incur the same penalty.


Summary. Bishops and clerics should so conduct themselves that they do not offend those whose model and example they should be.

Text. We command that bishops and clerics in mind and in body strive to be pleasing to God and to men, and not by superfluity, dissensions, or the color of their clothes, nor in their tonsure, off end the sight of those whose model and example they ought to be; but rather let them manifest the sanctity that should be part and parcel of their office. But if, admonished by their bishops, they do not amend, let them be deprived of their benefices.


Summary. Possessions of deceased bishops must remain in charge of the steward and clergy and must not be seized by anyone.

Text. We decree that that which was enacted in the Council of Chalcedon (canon 22) be inviolately observed; namely, that the possessions of deceased bishops be not seized by anyone, but that they remain in the hands of the steward and the clergy for the needs of the Church and his successor. That detestable and barbarous rapacity shall henceforth cease. If anyone in the future shall dare attempt this, let him be excommunicated. Those who seize the possessions of deceased priests or clerics, let them be subjected to the same penalty.


Summary. Monks and canons regular are not to study jurisprudence and medicine for the sake of temporal gain.

Text. An evil and detestable custom, we understand, has grown up in the form that monks and canons regular, after having received the habit and made profession, despite the rule of the holy masters Benedict and Augustine, study jurisprudence and medicine for the sake of temporal gain. Instead of devoting themselves to psalmody and hymns, they are led by the impulses of avarice to make themselves defenders of causes and, confiding in the support of a splendid voice, confuse by the variety of their statements what is just and unjust, right and wrong. The imperial constitutions, however, testify that its is absurd and disgraceful for clerics to seek to become experts in forensic disputations. We decree, therefore, in virtue of our Apostolic authority, that offenders of this kind be severely punished. Moreover, the care of souls being neglected and the purpose of their order being set aside, they promise health in return for detestable money and thus make themselves physicians of human bodies. Since an impure eye is the messenger of an impure heart, those things about which good people blush to speak, religion ought not to treat (that is, religious ought to avoid). Therefore, that the monastic order as well as the order of canons may be pleasing to God and be conserved inviolate in their holy purposes, we forbid in virtue of our Apostolic authority that this be done in the future. Bishops, abbots, and priors consenting to such outrageous practice and not correcting it, shall be deprived of their honors and cut off from the Church.


Summary. Church tithes may not be appropriated by laymen. Likewise laymen possessing churches must return them to the bishops. Ecclesiastical honors are not to be conferred on young men.

Text. In virtue of our Apostolic authority, we forbid that tithes of churches which canonical authority shows to have been given for pious purposes be possessed by laymen. Whether they have received them from bishops, kings, or other persons, unless they are returned to the Church, the possessors shall be judged guilty of sacrilege and shall incur the danger of eternal damnation. We command also that laymen who hold churches shall either return them to the bishops or incur excommunication. We confirm, moreover, and command that no one shall be promoted to the office of archdeacon or dean, unless he be a deacon or priest; those archdeacons and deans or provosts who exist below the orders just mentioned, if they refuse to be Ordained, let them be deprived of the honor received. We forbid, moreover, that the aforesaid honors be bestowed upon young men, even though they are constituted in sacred orders; but let them be conferred on those who are noted for prudence and rectitude of life. We command, moreover, that churches be not committed to hired priests; but let every church that possesses the means of support have its own priest.


Summary. Clerics and other people, as well as their animals, shall at all times be secure.

Text. We command also that priests, clerics, monks, travelers, merchants, country people going and returning, and those engaged in agriculture, as well as the animals with which they till the soil and that carry the seeds to the field, and also their sheep, shall at all times be secure.


Summary. Usurers are deprived of all ecclesiastical consolation and stigmatized with the mark of infamy

Text. We condemn that detestable, disgraceful, and insatiable rapacity of usurers which has been outlawed by divine and human laws in the Old and New Testaments, and we deprive them of all ecclesiastical consolation, commanding that no archbishop, no bishop, no abbot of any order, nor anyone in clerical orders, shall, except with the utmost caution, dare receive usurers; but during their whole life let them be stigmatized with the mark of infamy, and unless they repent let them be deprived of Christian burial.


Summary. Anyone laying violent hands on a cleric or monk shall be anathematized. Likewise he who lays hands on one seeking refuge in a church or cemetery.

Text. If anyone at the instigation of the devil incurs the guilt of this sacrilege, namely, that he has laid violent hands on a cleric or monk, he shall be anathematized and no bishop shall dare absolve him, except mortis urgente periculo, till he be presented to the Apostolic See and receive its mandate. We command also that no one shall dare lay hands on those who have taken refuge in a church or cemetery. Anyone doing this, let him be excommunicated.


Summary. No one shall demand any ecclesiastical office on the plea of hereditary right. Such offices are conferred in consideration of merit.

Text. It is beyond doubt that ecclesiastical honors are bestowed not in consideration of blood relationship but of merit, and the Church of God does not look for any successor with hereditary rights, but demands for its guidance and for the administration of its offices upright, wise, and religious persons. Wherefore, in virtue of our Apostolic authority we forbid that anyone appropriate or presume to demand on the plea of hereditary right churches, prebends, deaneries, chaplaincies, or any ecclesiastical offices. If anyone, prompted by dishonesty or animated by ambition, dare attempt this, he shall be duly punished and his demands disregarded.


Summary. Marriages between blood-relatives are prohibited.

Text. We absolutely forbid marriages between blood-relatives. The declarations of the holy fathers and of the holy Church of God condemn incest of this kind, which, encouraged by the enemy of the human race, has become so widespread. Even the civil laws brand with infamy and dispossess of all hereditary rights those born of such unions.


Text. We do not deny to kings and princes the authority (facultatem) to dispense justice in consultation with the archbishops and bishops.


Summary. Ecclesiastical offices may not be received from the hands of laymen.

Text. If anyone has received a deanery, prebend, or other ecclesiastical benefices from the hands of laymen, he shall be deprived of the benefices unjustly obtained. For, according to the decrees of the holy fathers, laymen, no matter how devout they may be, have no authority to dispose of ecclesiastical property.


Summary. Men of piety are not to be excluded from the election of bishops, and only capable and trustworthy persons are to be chosen for the episcopal office.

Text. Since the decrees of the fathers insist that on the death of bishops the Churches be not left vacant more than three months, we forbid under penalty of anathema that the canons of cathedrals exclude from the election of bishops viros religiosos (that is, monks and canons regular), but rather with the aid of their counsel let a capable and trustworthy person be chosen for the episcopal office. If, however, an election has been held with such religious excluded and held without their assent and agreement, it shall be null and void.

A Selection of Canons Ratified at the Third Lateran Council

Canon 1. In order to prevent the possibility of future schisms, only cardinals were to possess the right to elect a pope. In addition a two-thirds majority was to be required in order for the election to be valid. If any candidate should declare himself pope without receiving the required majority, he and his supporters were to be excommunicated.

Canon 5 forbade the ordination of clerics not provided with any means of proper support.

Canon 19 declared excommunication for those who tried to tax churches and clergy without the consent of the bishop.

Canon 25 excommunicates those who engage in usury.





Wilhelm, J. (1908). General Councils. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.


Raymonde Foreville. — Latran I, II, III et Latran IV

First Council of the Lateran (1123)

"Second Lateran Council (1139)". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913

Third Council of the Lateran (1179)

Leclercq, H. (1910). Third Lateran Council (1179). In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.  http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09017b.htm

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