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Medieval Sourcebook:
Tenth Ecumenical Council:
Lateran II 1139

The Canons of the Second Lateran Council, 1123

[Note: Fr. Schroeder's notes have been retained here. They are often factually well-informed and useful. But Schroeder's perspective -- basically pro-papacy and clericalist-- is not the only one possible. He fails to bring out the revolutionary nature of the claims of the Gregorian reform papacy and accepts, without questioning, the basically monastic approach to Catholicism which promoted a sexually abstinent clergy and rejected lay involvement in Church governance. It needs to be emphasized that while such a view may be valid, it represents as much an ideological position much more than a historical one.]

[Schroeder Introduction] History. The day that witnessed the election of Innocent II (February 14, 1130) to the highest honor in Christendom, saw also a few hours later the election of Cardinal Pietro Pierleone as antipope. He took the name of Anacletus II. Both claimants received episcopal consecration on the same day, February 23, the former in Santa Maria Nuova, the latter in St. Peter's. By the lavish expenditure of his immense wealth and the plundered treasures of the churches, Anacletus was able to maintain the confidence and favor of the Roman people, with the result that Innocent was for a long time prevented from performing the duties of his office in Rome. When he learned that the influential family of the Frangipani, which had been one of his chief supporters, had deserted his cause and gone over to the antipope, he retired to the family fortress in Trastevere. Not feeling safe even here, he fled by way of Pisa and Genoa to France where he secured the support of Louis VI and, through the activities of St. Bernard, St. Norbert, and others, obtained the support also of the French and German bishops. On November 18, 1130, he presided over a great synod held at Clermont, which was attended by the archbishops of Lyons, Bourges, Vienne, Narbonne, Arles, Tarragona (in Spain), Auch, Aix, and Tarantaise with their suffragans and many abbots [[1]]. On October 18, 1131, he opened and presided over another great synod held at Reims, which came to a close on October 29. The number of bishops in attendance is uncertain. Some sources speak of 50, others of 300, while a third tells us that it was the most largely attended synod ever held in ides the French, in attendance were representatives from Germany, England, Aragon, and Castile [[2]]. Both of these synods enacted a number of salutary disciplinary decrees. In 1132, Innocent held a synod at Piacenza, [[3]] and in 1135 another at Pisa, which was attended by bishops from England, Germany, France, Hungary, Italy, and other countries [[4]]. His cause was steadily gaining ground, when the death of Anacletus in January, 1138, left him in undisturbed possession of the Eternal City and the papacy [[5]]

To remove the evil consequences of the eight year schism, to condemn certain current errors, and correct abuses among the clergy and laity, Innocent convened the Second Council of the Lateran. It began its sessions on April 4, 1139, and was attended by nearly a thousand prelates: patriarchs, archbishops, bishops, and other ecclesiastical superiors, representing most of the Christian nations. It was opened by the Pope with a discourse in which he declared null and void the official acts of Anacletus and deposed all who had been appointed or ordained by him and his chief partisans, Gerard of Angouleme and Gilo of Tusculum. Roger, the king of Sicily, who also had been a staunch adherent of the antipope, was excommunicated for keeping the schism alive in southern Italy. The council condemned the errors of the Petrobrusians and the Henricians, the followers of Peter of Bruys and Arnold of Brescia. Archbishop Theobald of Canterbury, who was present with five English bishops and four abbots, was invested with the pallium, and St. Sturmius, the first abbot of Fulda, was canonized. Whether the Pope in this council made a rule restricting the election of the popes to the cardinals, thus eliminating whatever participation had been left to the lower clergy and people by Nicholas 11 (1059-61), is a point that is disputed, though it appears not at all improbable when we consider the circumstances of his own election and those also of the election of Anacletus. One of the purposes of the council was to remove the evils of an eight-year schism, and it seems more than merely probable that the Pope was not content with this only, but went a step farther to prevent the repetition of such a schism from that particular contributing cause. Moreover, such a rule seems to form a necessary link in the historical development of papal elections [[6]].

In conclusion the council drew up thirty canons for the correction of moral and disciplinary abuses of the time. Twenty-eight of these are in great measure a reproduction of decrees promulgated by the Synods of Clermont (1130) and Reims (1131 ). These thirty canons are all that we have of the acts of this council. [[7]]

Note 1. Mansi, XXI, 437; Hefele-Leclercq, V, 687 f.

Note 2. Mansi, XXI, 453; Hefele-Leclercq, V, 694-99.

Note 3. Mansi, XXI, 479; Hefele-Leclercq, V, 700 ff

Note 4. Mansi, XXI, 487; Hefele-Leclercql V, 706 ff.

Note 5. For the circumstances surrounding the election of Innocent and his activities till the opening of the council, cf. Hefele-Leclercq, V, 676-721. Also article "Anacletus II" in Catholic Encyclopedia.

Note 6. Our only authority for the enactment of such a law by Innocent is Onofrio Panvini (d. 1568) in his work De origine cardinalium, ed. Mai, Spicileg. Roman- IX, 495. The passage is given by Grauert (Hist. Jahrbuch d. Görresgesellschaft, I (1880), 595, Ein angebliches Papstwahlgesetz v. 1139), who, however, with Sägmiiller (Die Tätigheit u. Stellung der Kardinäle, Freiburg, 1896, p 135), does not accept the report of Panvini as trustworthy. In favor of its trustworthiness are Hefele (V, 737 f.) and Bemhardi (Jahrbüicher d. deut. Geschichte unter Konrad III, 1, München, 1883, p. I56). Cf. also Wurm, Die Papstwahl; Ihre Geschicbte u. Gebräuche (Kö1n, 1902), pp 32 f. For the decree of Nicholas II, cf. Grauert, 1. c., pp. 502-94, and Hefele, IV, 1139-65-

Note 7. Mansi, XXI, 523 ff.; Hefele-Leclercq, V, 721-46; Hergenröther, Handbuch d. allg

Kirchengescbichte, II, 5th ed., 445 ff-; Dict. de tbéol. catholique, VIII, 2637-44.

CANON 1

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. [[8]]

Note 8. Identical with canon I of Clermont (1130) and renewed by Reims (1131)

CANON 2

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.[[9]]

Comment. This canon is directed against simony in the acquisition of benefices and ecclesiastical promotions and in the matter of certain sacramentals. Those guilty are to lose what they illicitly obtained; buyer, seller, and intermediary, that is, the one who conducts the transaction between the contracting parties, are to be branded as infamous. Nothing shall be demanded for chrism, holy oil, or the consecration of altars and churches. This is an old prohibition. In 813 a synod held at Châlons-sur-Saône in canon 16 ruled: Omnes uno consensu statuimus, ne sicut pro dedicandis basilicas et dandis ordinibus nibil accipiendum est, ita etiam pro balsamo sive luminaribus emendis, nibil presbyteri chrisma accepturi dent. And then added: Episcopi itaque de facultatibus ecclesiae balsamum emant et luminaria singuli in suis ecclesiis concinnanda provideant [[10]]. Neither before nor after the bestowal of a benefice or the consecration of an altar or a church is anything to be demanded. Some there were who maintained that simony is then committed when something is exacted before a benefice is bestowed, not however when the demand is made after its bestowal. This subterfuge had long ago been dissipated by St. Basil in a letter to the chorepiscopi of his diocese, among whom simony was rife: Putant se non delinquere quod non ante sed post ordinationem accipiunt. Accipere autem accipere est, quomodocumque fiat. [[11]]

Nor shall anyone presume to give, that is, he on whom a benefice or honor has been conferred, or whose church has been consecrated, etc. All of these prohibitions are, of course, based on the command of Christ to His Apostles: Gratis accepistis, gratis date.

Note 9. An expansion of canon I of Clermont and Reims and analogous to one of Pisa (1135) and to canons 1, 3, and 4 of London (1138). Denzinger, no 364

Note 10. Mansi, XIV, 97; Hefele-Leclercq, 111, 1144.

Note 11. Epist. LIII

CANON 3

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.

Comment. The first part of this canon is an old ordinance and is met with again and again in the synods of this and preceding periods. The second part also is a reaffirmation of the ancient and traditional policy of the Church toward those who hold unlawful intercourse with one excommunicated, as is attested by Rom. 16: I 7; Tit. 3:10; II John 10:11; by the Synod of Antioch (341) in canons 1, 2, 4, and by numerous subsequent synodal decrees. In the early Church there was only one kind of excommunication properly so called, that known later as excommunicatio major.[[12]] It was the extreme ecclesiastical penalty for laymen; for guilty clerics the punishment was deposition, that is, reduction to the ranks of the laity. Later on, when deposition was replaced by suspension, clerics also became subject to excommunication. Till the thirteenth century, when the excommunicatio minor became a definite and independent instrument of ecclesiastical discipline, this was the excommunication incurred by hose who held prohibited intercourse with one excommunicated.[[13]] The excommunicatio minor was identical with penitential exclusion in early times, that is, it was identical with the state of the penitent during his period of public penance. It consisted chiefly in the exclusion of those who had incurred it from the reception of the sacraments, but indirectly it entailed also other consequences. Beginning in the thirteenth century, the penalty incurred by prohibited intercourse with the excommunicated was minor excommunication, and till the beginning of the fifteenth century no exception was Made of any class of excommunicated persons. The distinction between exconmunicati vitandi and tolerati dates from the Ad evitanda scandala, published in 1418 at the Council of Constance by Martin V. It forms Article VII of the concordat concluded at Constance with the German nation, but eventually became universal lkaw. Till then intercourse with all excommunicated persons, whether they had incurred major or minor excommunication, had to be avoided when once they were known as such. This constitution restricted unlawful communication to the notorii clericorum percussores and to those formally named as persons to be avoided. With the further reduction in modern times of this twofold class of vitandi, minor excommunication became a matter of little consequence and, after the publication by Pius IX of the constitution Apostolicae Sedis (1869), ceased to exist. [[14]]

Note 12. Beside the complete exclusion from the Church by excommunication properlv so called, there existed in early times a milder form of punishment, also known sometimes as excommunication, but really only a temporary suspension of communication between a bishop and his episcopal brethren, imposed by reason of an act deemed reprehensible and deserving of chastisement. Such bishops were not, properly speaking, excommunicated. It did not interfere with the government of their dioceses or with any of their episcopal duties. It simply meant that they were deprived for a specified period of time the consolation of intercourse or communion with their colleagues. It was most frequently imposed by provincial synods on bishops who without good reason neglected to attend such synods. Thus the Fifth Synod of Carthage (401) in canon 10: If bishops for a good reason cannot attend the provincial synods, they must make that fact known in writing; nisi autem rationem impedimenta sui apud primatem suum reddideriiit, ecclesiae suae communione debent esse contenti (c.10, D.XVIII); that of Arles (452) in canon 19: if a bishop neglects to attend a synod or leaves before it has come to an end, alienatum se a fratrum communione cognoscat; nec eum recipi licea, nisi in sequenti synodo fuerit absolutus (c.12, D. XVIII) ; similarly the Synods of Agde in canon 35 (c.13, D. XVIII), of Tarragona (516) in canon 6 (c.14, D. XVIII), etc , The same penalty is imposed by the Sixth Synod of Carthage (401) in canon 14 on a bishop who should promote a monk not of his diocese to the clerical state, or appoint such a one superior of a monastery within his diocese (Hefele-Leclercq, II, 129).

Note 13. Innocent III distinguished between intercourse or communication knowingly held with one excommunicated in crimine criminoso, that is, giving advice or aid of anv kind in the crime for which the excommunication was incurred, and ordinary communication, that is, ordinary conversation with, or praying or eating with the one excommunicated. The former was punished with major, the latter with minor excomnication (c.29, X, De sentent. excomm., V, 39)

Note 14. Kober, Der Kirchenbann, Tübingen, 1863; Hollweck, Die kircblicben Strafgesetze, Mainz, 1899.

CANON 4

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.[[15]]

Note 15. Identical with canon 2 of Clermont and Reims.

CANON 5

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. [[16]]

Note 16. Identical with canon 3 of Clermont and Reims.

CANON 6

Summary. Clerics living with women shall be deprived of their office and benefice.

Text. We also decree that those who in the subdiaconate and higher orders have contracted marriage or have concubines, be deprived of their office and ecclesiastical benefice. For since they should be and be called the temple of God, the vessel of the Lord, the abode of the Holy Spirit, it is unbecoming that they indulge in marriage and in impurities. [[17]]

Note 17. Identical with canon 4 of Clermont and Reims. Cf. canon 21 of I Lateran.

CANON 7

Summary. Masses celebrated by members of the clergy who have wives or concubines are not to be attended by anyone.

Text. Following in the footsteps of our predecessors, the Roman pontiff s Gregory VII, Urban, and Paschal, we command that no one attend the masses of those who are known to have wives or concubines. But that the law of continence and purity, so pleasing to God, may become more general among persons constituted in sacred orders, we decree that bishops, priests, deacons, subdeacons, canons regular, monks, and professed clerics (conversi) who, transgressing the holy precept, have dared to contract marriage, shall be separated. For a union of this kind which has been contracted in violation of the ecclesiastical law, we do not regard as matrimony. Those who have been separated from each other, shall do penance commensurate with such excesses.

CANON 8

Summary. This applies also to nuns.

Text. We decree that the same be observed with regard to nuns if, which God forbid, they attempt to marry.

CANON 9

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. [[18]]

Comment. The first part of this decree forbids monks and canons regular to engage in the practice of civil law, while the second makes the same prohibition in regard to the practice of medicine. In early times it was common for clerics to devote a portion of their time to these avocations, nor was such practice disapproved by the Church. Later, however, when abuses multiplied, especially in the practice of medicine, the Church took steps in the twelfth century to express its disapproval of such occupations by clerics. The private study of these sciences and the public teaching of them were, of course, not forbidden. What the canons chiefly condemn is the secularity of the motive back of the practice. The words of the second part of the canon, cumque impudicus oculus impudici cordis sit nuntius, would seem to suggest that there were not wanting monks and canons regular who practiced medicine not only from the motive of avarice, but also because it afforded them freer access to the houses of women.

Note 18. Identical with canon 5 of Clermont.

CANON 10

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. [[19]] 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.

Note19. Cf. canon 2 of I Lateran.

CANON 11

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. [[20]]

Note 20. Identical with canons 8 of Clermont and 10 and 11 of Reirns.

CANON 12

Summary. Rules governing the truce of God. Bishops should do all in their power to establish peace.

Text. We decree that the truce of God be strictly observed by all from the setting of the sun on Wednesday to its rising on Monday, and from Advent to the octave of Epiphany and from Quinquagesma to the octave of Easter. If anyone shall violate it and does not make satisfaction after the third admonition, the bishop shall direct against him the sentence of excommunication and in writing shall announce his action to the neighboring bishops. No bishops shall restore to communion the one excommunicated; indeed every bishop should confirm the sentence made known to him in writing. But if anyone (that is, any bishop) shall dare violate this injunction, he shall jeopardize his order. And since "a threefold cord is less easily broken" (Eccles. 4:12), we command the bishops, having in mind only God and the salvation of the people, and having discarded all tepidity, offer each other mutual counsel and assistance for firmly establishing peace; nor should they be swayed in this by the love or hatred of anybody. But if anyone be found to be tepid in this work of God, let him incur the loss of his dignity.

Comment. The two foregoing decrees deal with the truce of God, of which something has already been said in canon 17 of the foregoing council. The successful reduction of the evils associated with that incessant private warfare which made Europe a battlefield overrun by armed bands as not the work of a few days or a year without respect for anything. It was brought about by a slow and gradual process that was born in very humble beginnings on French soil, but expanded as time went on and as the forces of law and order multiplied. In canon 11, which is a renewal of the canons of Clermont and Reims, peace is assured at all times to priests, clerics, monks, travelers, merchants, and country people going to and returning from the market, churches, fields, and various other places.

CANON 13

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 .[[21]]

Note 21. Denzinger, no.. 365. Schneider, Das kircbl. Zinsverbot u. d. kuriale Praxis im 13. Jahrh., in Festgabe f. Hein. Finke, Münster, 1904.

CANON 14

Summary. Tournaments are condemned. Anyone losing his life in them shall be deprived of Christian burial.

Text. We condemn absolutely those detestable jousts or tournaments in which the knights usually come together by agreement and, to make a show of their strength and boldness, rashly engage in contests which are frequently the cause of death to men and of danger to souls. If anyone taking part in them should meet his death, though penance and the Viaticum shall not be denied him if he asks for them, he shall, however, be deprived of Christian burial.

Comment. The tournament had its origin in France in the middle of the eleventh century, whence it found its way to Germany and England. While innocent enough a sport in its beginnings, it soon developed into a means of settling private grudges and satisfying revenge. It always endangered the life of the combatants and not infrequently ended in the death of one or more. Owing to these abuses, the Church took steps to end the excesses committed. The first ordinance against them was issued by the Synod of Clermont (1130) in canon 9, of which the present canon is a repetition. Though severer measures were adopted against the especially by the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) and by the Council of Lyons (1245), tournaments became more popular, and not till the middle of the sixteenth century did they disappear.

CANON 15

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.

Comment: This decree consists of two parts. The first is the celebrated privilege of personal inviolability accorded ecclesiastics and religious, and commonly known as the privilegium canonis. From early times violence against a cleric was punished by fines, severe canonical penances, and sometimes excommunication . [[22]] The Roman Synod of 862 or 863 declared in canon 14 ipso facto excommunication against anyone deliberately injuring a bishop. In the anarchy of the centuries that immediately followed, and especially during the anticlerical disturbances created by Arnold of Brescia in the twelfth century, ecclesiastics and religious, forbidden to carry weapons, were constantly exposed to physical harm and frequently bodily injury from the violence of men and mobs. And so the Church was compelled to formulate more stringent measures for their protection. In canon 13 of the Synod of Reims (1131) Innocent II issued the celebrated decree Si quis suadente diabolo, by which he enacted that anyone malciously laying hands on a cleric or monk incurred ipso facto anathema, absolution from which, except in danger of death, was reserved to the Holy See and must be sought by the offender in person. The present canon renews that of Reims and gives it a universal application. It is the first instance of a papal reservation and therefore holds an important place in the history of that discipline. In subsequent periods the application of this decree has been extended or restricted according to the needs of the times, but it has continued in force to our own day with this difference, that the absolution of the guilty party is reserved to the ordinary. [[23]] The terms cleric and monk in the canon must be understood in a wide sense and embraced all clerics in major and minor orders, tonsured persons, monks, nuns [[24]], lay brothers [[25]], novices [[26]] and tertiaries living the common life and wearing the habit. Women, however, lay brothers, etc., living the common life, who should maliciously strike or injure another member of the community or even clerics, could obtain absolution from their ordinary.[[27]] The penalty of the canon was incurred not only by the real perpetrators of the deed, but also by abetters and accomplices.

The second part of the canon deals with the right of asylum. It threatens with excommunication anyone who should inflict injury on those who have taken refuge in a church or cemetery. Even in the Old Law and among the Greeks and Romans, temples and certain specified districts were places of refuge where the criminal fled for protection from revenge or death without due trial. The right of asylum is based on the natural feeling or consciousness that it is unjust to injure anyone who places himself under the protection of the Deity. When the Christian religion became the religion of the state, it was but natural that emperors should elevate churches and episcopal residences to the right of sanctuary. In one of his capitularies, Charlemagne decreed that no one who had taken refuge in a church should be removed therefrom by force, but should be left undisturbed till the court had declared its decision. Originally limited to the church and its immediately surrounding grounds, the right was subsequently extended to cemeteries, episcopal residences, parish houses, monasteries, seminaries, hospitals, and certain other places. Our canon excludes no one from the benefit of the privilege. By later enactments the jus asyli was more clearly defined and excluded from its benefits all notorious criminals, such as murderers, adulterers, ravishers of young girls, highway robbers, plunderers of fields, public debtors, and those who chose such places for the scene of their crimes in order to enjoy immunity. Since the sixteenth century it has been considerably modified, owing to the opposition of state legislation. Modern penal codes do not recognize it. However, the right still exists, though it is limited to the church only. The new Code of Canon Law [1919] in canon 1179, like the present canon, excludes no one, and extradition may not be made, except in cases of urgent necessity, without the permission of the bishop or that of the pastor of the church.

Note 22. C. 21-24, C.XVII, q.4.

Note 21. Codex Juris Canonici, c. 2343, no. 4.

Note 24. C.33, X, De sent. excomm., V, 39.

Note 25. C. 33 Cit.

Note 26. C. 21, VI0, De sent. excomm., V, 11.

Note 27. C. 33 Cit.

CANON 16

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.

Comment. Owing to the license and venality of the times, episcopal sees were frequently usurped and given as fiefs to soldiers in recompense for services. Once in such hands, they were treated as property which descendcd by hereditary right from father to son. Likewise many of the clergy, bishops and priests, who had taken wives and begotten children, transmitted their benefices to their offspring.

CANON 17

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.[[28]]

Note 28. Cf. canon 5 of I Lateran.

CANON 18

Summary. Incendiarism is condemned and its perpetrators are to be.deprived of Christian burial. They are not to be absolved till they have made reparation.

Text By the authority of God and of the blessed Apostles Peter id Paul we absolutely condemn and prohibit that most wicked, devastating, horrible, and malicious work of incendiaries; for this pest, this hostile waste, surpasses all other depredations. No one is ignorant of how detrimental this is to the people of God and what injury it inflicts on souls and bodies. Every means must be employed, therefore, and no effort must be spared that for the welfare of the people such ruin and such destruction may be eradicated and extirpated. If anyone, therefore, after the promulgation of this prohibition, shall through malice, hatred, or revenge set fire, or cause it to be set, or knowingly by advice or other connivance have part in it, let him be excommunicated. Moreover, when incendiaries die, let them be deprived of Christian burial. Nor shall they be absolved until, as far as they are able, they have made reparation to those injured and have promised under oath to set no more fires. For penance they are to spend one year in the service of God either in Jerusalem or in Spain.

CANON 19

Text. If any archbishop or bishop relaxes this ordinance, he shall retore the loss incurred and shall be suspended from his episcopal office for one year.

CANON 20

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

Comment. The three foregoing decrees are clearly only one, as is evident from canon 13 of the Synod of Clermont, with which they are identical and which Innocent here renews . [[29]] Arson was one of the crying evils resulting from those petty strifes and private wars that raged among the princes of Europe. Hatred and revenge frequently found expression in the destruction of crops and dwellings by fire, at times also of churches, thus reducing helpless and innocent people to misery and dire want, which often proved detrimental not only to their bodies but to their souls as well. In the ancient canon law, in addition to the obligation of repairing the loss, the incendiary was punished with severe public penances. The destruction of profane buildings or crops by fire was subject to a penance covering a period of three years, and the similar destruction of a church. called for a penance of fifteen years.

Note 29 Cf. c.32, C.XXIII, q-8.

CANON 21

Summary. Sons of priests must be debarred from the ministry of the altar.

Text. We decree that the sons of priests must be debarred from the ministry of the altar, unless they become monks or canons regular.

Comment. To put an end to clerical incontinence various kinds of disabilities were enacted and as far as possible enforced not only against the wives but also against the children of ecclesiastics. Wives and concubines were liable to be seized as slaves by the overlord, while the children were relegated to the category of servile rank, debarred from sacred orders, and declared incapable of exercising hereditary rights, because saepe solet similis filius esse patri. The Synod of Toledo (655) in canon 10 decreed that the sons of clerics in major orders are to be held forever as serfs of the church which their father served .[[30]] In 1031 the Synod of Bourges in canon 8 decreed that the sons of priests, deacons, and subdeacons, born after the reception of these orders, are excluded from the clerical state, because they and all others born of illegitimate unions are stigmatized by the Sacred Scriptures as semen maledictum. They are deprived of all hereditary rights in accordance with the civil law, and their testimony is not to be accepted. Those who already are clerics are to remain in whatever order they are, but are not to be promoted to higher orders. [[31]]. Urban (1088-99) forbade the ordination of the illegitimate sons of clerics, unless they became members of approved religious orders. [[32]]

The present council, following earlier decisions, permits promotion to the ministry of the altar in case such candidates should choose the religious life of approved orders. The irregularity incurred ex defectu natalium is obliterated by religious profession. Moreover, the solitude and enviroment of the religious life, as well as the protection it offers a sufficient guarantee that they will not follow in the sin-stained footsteps of the fathers. From ecclesiastical benefices and from all ecclesiastical dignities they are forever excluded. Religious profession opens the way to sacred orders, but it does not unseal the gateway to dignities or even to regular prelacies.

Note 30. C.3, C. XV, q. 8.

Note 31. Mansi, XIX, 504; Hefele-Leciercq, IV, 953 f.

Note 32. Synod of Melfi (1089), canon 14, Mansi, XX, 724; Hefele-Leclercq, V, 345. Cf. also Lib I, tit. 17 of the decretals of Gregory, and Catalani, Sacr. concilia oecumenica,III, 107-111

CANON 22

Summary. Bishops and priests are admonished to instruct the people against false penances.

Text: Since among other things there is one that chiefly disturbs the Church, namely, false penance, we admonish our confrères (that is the bishops) and priests that the minds of the people be not deceived by false penances, lest thus they should run the risk of being drawn into hell. A penance is false when it is performed for one sin only and not also for the others, or when only one is avoided, and the other are not. Hence it is written: "Whoever shall observe the whole law but offend in one (point), is become guilty of all," [[33]] so as far as eternal life is concerned. For as one guilty of all sins will not enter the gate of eternal life, so also if one be guilty of only one sin. A penance, moreover, is false when the penitent does not resign a curial or commercial occupation, the duties of which he cannot perform without committing sin, or if he bears hatred in his heart or does not repair an injury or does not pardon an offense, or if he carries arms in contravention of justice. [[34]]

Comment: This canon is practically a verbatim repetition of canon 16 of the Synod of Melfi (1089), presided over by Urban II, and is directed against the abuse so prevalent, especially during the eleventh and twelfth centuries, of seeking sacramental absolution without fulfilling the required conditions. This misuse, as the canon indicates, had as its cause the ignorance, negligence, and laxity of bishops and priests, who are here admonished to guard the people against such sacrilege. In canon 5 of his Seventh Roman Synod (1080), Gregory VII solemnly warned the people to choose for their confessors prudent and pious men. [[35]]

Note 33. James 2:10.

Note 34. Denzinger, no. 366. Synod of Melfi, canon 16, Mansi, l.c.; Hefele-Leclercq, 1. c.

CANON 23

Summary. Those who reject the sacraments are condemned, and the civil power is invoked to restrain their mischief.

Text. Those who, simulating a species of religious zeal, reject the sacrament of the body and blood of the Lord, the baptism of infants, the priesthood, and other ecclesiastical orders, as well as matrimony, we condemn and cast out of the Church as heretics, and ordain that they be restrained by the civil power. For their partisans also we decree the same penalty.[[36]]

Comment. This canon is a word for word repetition of canon 3 of the Synod of Toulouse (1119) [[37]] and was directed against the Petrobrusians, a heretical sect of the twelfth century, so named after their founder, the renegade priest Peter of Bruys, whom Peter the Venerable and Abelard characterized as one of the most dangerous of heretics. Their principal doctrinal tenets were five: (i) Baptism must be preceded by personal faith; hence its administration to children who have not yet attained the use of reason is worthless. (2) Christians need no holy place in which to pray. Their prayers, if worthy, are heard in a barn as well as in a church; hence churches must not be built, and those already built must be destroyed. This doctrine harmonizes with the teachings of the spiritualistic sects of the preceding century. (3) Crosses must be destroyed; because this instrument on which Christ suffered so much, must not be an object of veneration, but of detestation. (4) What is offered daily in the mass is pure nothing. Christ gave His flesh and blood to His disciples once and it cannot be given again. (5) Prayers and good works by the living cannot profit the dead, and God ridicules all ceremonies and chant. The reference in the canon to the rejection of matrimony does not seem to a apply to the Petrobrusians. Probably the council had other sects in mind.

Note 35. Mansi, XX, 533; Hefele-Leclercq, V, 263 f.

Note 36. Denzinger, no. 367.

Note 37. Mansi, XXI, 226; Hefele-Leclercq, V, 570.

CANON 24

Summary. Sacramentals shall be gratis.

Text. We decree further that not money shall be demanded for chrism, oil, and burial.

CANON 25

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.[[38]]

Note 38. Cf. canon 4 of preceding council.

CANON 26

Summary. Women who pretend to be nuns are forbidden to live in private houses and receive strangers and persons of little faith.

Text. We decree that that pernicious and detestable custom of some women who, though they live neither according to the Rule of Blessed Benedict nor according to the rules of Basil and Augustine, yet wish to be commonly regarded as nuns be abolished. For while, according to the rule, those living in monasteries must observe the common life in the church as well as in the refectory and dormitory, these build their own retreats (receptacula) and private houses in which, contrary to the sacred canons and good morals, they are not ashamed to receive at times under cover of hospitality strangers and persons of little religious faith. Wherefore, since all who do evil hate the light, moved by the same impulse, these, hidden in the tent of the just (that is, under the name of nuns), think they can conceal themselves also from the eyes of the judge who sees all things, we absolutely and under penalty of anathema forbid that this disgraceful and detestable evil be practiced in the future.

Comment. The religious institutes of the time were not immune against disorders and disturbances born of feudalism. During the tenth and two succeeding centuries the number of women's communities increased rapidly, with the unfortunate result that not all who entered were inspired the proper religious motives. The present canon, it seems, was directed chiefly against those canonicae seculares who lived outside the convents, in their own private houses, and who, from the character of the guests they entertained, left themselves open to well-grounded suspicion regarding their morals. A few years later the Synod of Reims (1148), presided over by Eugene III, in canon 4 ordained that nuns and canonesses must at all times live in the convent, must rid themselves of their private possessions, and follow strictly the Rule of St. Benedict or that of St. Augustine. If they did not amend by the next feast of SS. Peter and Paul, all religious services in their churches would be prohibited, and in case of death such religious would be denied Christian burial. [[39]]

Note 39. Mansi, XXI, 714; Hefele-Leclercq, V, 824 f-

CANON 27

Summary. Nuns may not sing the office with the monks.

Text. We likewise forbid nuns to sing the divine office in the choir with the canons or monks.

Comment. In the Decretum this canon is united with the preceding one. The reason for the prohibition it contains arose from abuses that had found their way into certain monasteries. It does not seem to have had the desired effect. In fact, about the year 1220, Jacques de Vitry wrote of churches in Germany and the Netherlands in which on solemn festivals the canonesses and the canons not only sang the divine office in the same choir, but also marched in procession together, the canonesses on one side and the canons on the other, that is, side by side. [[40]]

Note 40. "Sunt autem in eisdem ecclesiis (canonicarum) pariter canonici seculares in diebus festis et solemnibus ex altera parte chori cum predictis domicellis canentes et earum modulationibus equipollentes responders studentes.... Similiter et in processionibus composite et ornate, canonici ex una parte et domine ex parte concinentes procedunt", Historia, lib. II, c.31.

CANON 28

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.

CANON 29

Summary. Slingers and archers directing their art against Christians, are anathematized.

Text. We forbid under penalty of anathema that that deadly and God-detested art of stingers and archers be in the future exercised against Christians and Catholics.

Comment. The reference seems to be to a sort of tournament, the nature of which was the shooting of arrows and other projectiles on a wager. The practice had already been condemned by Urban II in canon 7 of the Lateran Synod of 1097, no doubt because of the it involved. [[41]]

Note 41. Hefele-Leclercq, V, 455-

CANON 30

Summary. Ordinations by the antipope are null.

Text. The ordinations conferred by Peter Leonis (Pierleone, the antipope Anacletus II) and other schismatics and heretics, we declare null and void. [[42]]

Note 42. Cf. Nicaea, note 106.


From H. J. Schroeder, Disciplinary Decrees of the General Councils: Text, Translation and Commentary, (St. Louis: B. Herder, 1937). pp. 195-213.

NOTE 1: B. Herder's list was bought by TAN books, of Rockford IL. TAN confirmed that US copyright was not renewed after the statuary 28 years and that the text is now in the public domain in the US.


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(c)Paul Halsall, November 1996
halsall@murray.fordham.edu