The Pragmatic Sanction of Bourges, 1438
In 1438 the King of France, Charles VIII, called a Synod which met in the city of
Bourges. Among the decrees of that synod was the "Pragmatic Sanction," which
placed significant restrictions on the powers of the pope.
The king declares that, according to the oath taken at their coronation, kings are
bound to defend and protect the holy church, its ministers and its sacred offices, and
zealously to guard in their kingdoms the decrees of the holy fathers. The general council
assembled at Basel to continue the work begun by the councils of Constance and Siena, and
to labor for the reform of the Church, in both its head and members, having had presented
to it numerous decrees and regulations, with the request that it accept them and cause
them to be observed in the kingdom, the king has convened an assembly composed of prelates
and other ecclesiastics representing the clergy of France and of the Dauphiné. He has
presided in person over its deliberations, surrounded by his son, the princes of the
blood, and the principal lords of the realm. He has listened to the ambassadors of the
Pope and the council. From the examination of prelates and the most renowned doctors,(1)
and from the thoroughgoing discussions of the assembly, it appears that, from the falling
into decay of the early discipline, the churches of the kingdom have been made to suffer
from all sorts of insatiable greed; that the riserve and the grace expectative (2) have given rise to grievous abuses and unbearable burdens; that the most notable
and best endowed benefices(3) have fallen into the hands of unknown men, who do not
conform at all to the requirement of residence(4) and who do not understand the speech of
the people committed to their care, and consequently are neglectful of the needs of their
souls, like mercenaries who dream of nothing whatever but temporal gain; that thus the
worship of Christ is declining, piety is enfeebled, the laws of the Church are violated,
and buildings for religious uses are falling in ruin. The clergy abandon their theological
studies, because there is no hope of advancement. Conflicts without number rage over the
possession of benefices, plurality of which is coveted by an execrable ambition.(5) Simony
is everywhere glaring;(6) the prelates and other collators are pillaged of their rights
and their ministry; the rights of patrons are impaired; and the wealth of the kingdom goes
into the hands of foreigners, to the detriment of the clergy.
Since, in the judgment of the prelates and other ecclesiastics, the decrees of the holy
council of Basel seemed to afford a suitable remedy for all these evils, after mature
deliberation, we have decided to accept them-some without change, others with certain
modifications-without wishing to cast doubt upon the power and authority of the council,
but at the same time taking account of the necessities of the occasion and of the customs
of the nation.
1.General councils shall be held every ten years, in places to be designated by the
2.The authority of the general council is superior to that of the pope in all that
pertains to the faith, the extirpation of schism, and the reform of the Church in both
head and members.
3.Election is reestablished for ecclesiastical offices, but the king, or the princes of
his kingdom, without violating the canonical rules, may make recommendations when
elections are to occur in the chapters or the monasteries.
4. The popes shall not have the right to reserve the collation of benefices, or to
bestow any benefice before it becomes vacant.
5. All grants of benefices made by the pope in virtue of the droit d'expectative are
hereby declared null. Those who shall have received such benefices shall be punished by
the secular power. The popes shall not have the right to interfere by the creation of
6. Appeals to Rome are prohibited until every other grade of jurisdiction shall have
7. Annates are prohibited(7).*
(1) "Doctors" means here professors of theology.
(2) "Réserve" was the practice of the raising money from offices over which
the pope had no jurisdiction; "droit d'expectative" was raising money from
offices which were not yet vacant.
(3) A "benefice" was an endowment set aside for the maintenance of clergy.
(4) "Residence" meant that the holder of a benefice had to actually do the
work associated with that benefice.
(5) "Plurality" was when a cleric held more than one benefice.
(6) "Simony" is the buying and selling of Church offices.
(7) "Annates" were the first years revenues from an office. These were to be
sent to the pope.
From: Milton Viorst, ed., The Great Documents of Western Civilization (New York;
date?) pp. 77-78 .
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© Paul Halsall, July 1998