Council of Vienne
1311-1312 A.D.

part seven

For document sources noted, see Abbreviations


CONTENTS

  • DECREES

    [33]. If anyone at the instigation of the devil has committed the sacrilege of wrongfully and rashly striking a bishop, or of seizing or banishing him, or has ordered these things to be done, or approved them when done by others, or been an accomplice, or given advice or shown favour, or knowingly defended the guilty, and has not incurred excommunication by canons already published, he is excommunicated by this our present constitution, notwithstanding any custom to the contrary. Indeed, with the approval of the sacred council, we consider such a custom to be a corruption, and the culprit may be absolved by the supreme pontiff only, except at the moment of death. In addition, he shall lose all fiefs, leases, offices and benefices, whether spiritual or temporal, which he holds from the church over which the offended bishop presides. All these shall revert freely to that church. The offender's descendants in the male line to the second generation shall be disqualified, without hope of dispensation, from holding ecclesiastical benefices in the city and diocese of the bishop. The offender's estates also, when within one diocese, shall lie under interdict until he has made due satisfaction. The place where the captured bishop is detained shall likewise be under interdict for as long as he remains detained. If the criminal's estates include two or more dioceses, then the diocese of his principal domicile and the diocese where the crime was committed, if the land is his, and two other dioceses which belong to his territory and are nearest to the place of the crime, shall he under the same interdict.

    Since his confusion will increase the more his offence is known, his excommunication will be announced in public, with the ringing of bells and candles burning, until he has made due satisfaction, in all the places where the crime was committed, as also in the churches of the neighbouring cities and dioceses, on all Sundays and feast days. And when he is to receive absolution, let him be well prepared to undergo the punishment imposed and, with the help of God, to perform the penance enjoined on him. The city, moreover, that has committed any of the crimes described above against its bishop, shall be placed under the above-mentioned interdict until it has made satisfaction. The authorities, counsellors, bailiffs, magistrates, advocates, consuls, governors and officials of any description who are at fault in this affair, are likewise subject to excommunication from which they can be absolved only in the manner stated above. All these instructions shall be observed all the more strictly in dealing with those who kill bishops, since they should be punished more severely than the offenders already mentioned and merit greater indignation.

    Let nobody be surprised that we do not inflict heavier punishment on those who perpetrate the above crimes. Alas! shameful to relate, these crimes are of frequent occurrence, and for the many men of violence an example is needed. The punishment of the offender ought to be in proportion to the dignity of the person wronged. Bishops are called most holy, are Christ's ambassadors, spiritual fathers, our brothers and fellow bishops, the acknowledged pillars of the church. The punishment, then, ought to be heavy, proportionate to the guilt of one who violates the dignity of such an eminent person. However, we wish to mitigate the severity of the punishment for the present, being prepared to impose other penalties if we see that the offenders' insolence demands such action. If of course anyone involved in the above cases has been absolved at the moment of death from excommunication, he shall incur automatically the same sentence if after recovery he does not, as soon as conveniently possible, present himself before the Roman pontiff in order to receive humbly his commands, as justice shall advise. Although this has been fully enough provided for elsewhere in the law, we thought it well to make this addition, lest someone from ignorance of the law should busy himself to find excuses.

    [34]. Many serious complaints have reached us that some who hold temporal power do not hesitate to capture ecclesiastics frequently and detain them with sacrilegious audacity until they resign their benefices, nor to prevent those summoned to the apostolic see by someone or by law from going there, for the most part seizing them as they depart. In view of the great offence to our honour and that of the apostolic see, as also to the peace and welfare of ecclesiastical persons, not to speak of the damnable scandal, we, with the approval of the sacred council, decree that, in addition to the penalty attached by the canon to such deeds, those who bring them about, if prelates, are suspended for three years from receiving the revenues of their churches. If they are lower clergy, they are automatically deprived of their benefices. Those who have brought about their own capture by the secular power -- this, we have heard, sometimes occurs -- as a pretext for not obeying a summons to the apostolic see, are to incur the same penalty. Resignations of benefices extorted in the above manner, although accepted and ratified by the prelates of those who resign, have no validity whatever. We enjoin on local ordinaries that, after learning that subjects of theirs have incurred these penalties, they do not delay in publishing them and, as far as it concerns them, they put the penalties into execution.

    [35]. Desiring to restrain those whom the rewards of virtue do not induce to observe the law, by the addition of new penalties and by fear of those to be added, we decree that transgressors of the constitution which forbids mendicant religious to acquire houses or places of any kind, or to exchange those already acquired or transfer them to others under any title of alienation, are automatically subject to excommunication.

    The same sentence of excommunication is incurred by those religious who presume in their sermons or otherwise to restrain their hearers from due payment of tithes to churches. And since it is not enough to abstain from evil unless good is done, we enjoin on all religious, invoking the divine judgment and under threat of eternal malediction, that whenever they preach to the people on the first, fourth and last Sundays of Lent, and on the feasts of the Ascension of the Lord, Pentecost, the Birthday of blessed John the Baptist, the Assumption and the Birthday of the most blessed virgin Mary, the mother of God, they take care to exhort their hearers expressly, if required by the rectors or vicars of the churches or those taking their place, and also to inform the consciences of their penitents in confession, that they have the obligation to pay tithes. If the religious knowingly evade this duty in their sermons on the above-mentioned days, they are to receive a severe rebuke from their superiors. We also strictly command the superiors, in virtue of holy obedience, to enact laws in accordance with which they may so severely punish transgressors that their punishment may be an example for others. The constitution of our predecessor of happy memory pope Gregory IX, dealing with this matter, is to remain in full force. Those who knowingly have neglected to inform the consciences of penitents with regard to payment of these tithes, are automatically to remain suspended from preaching until they inform the consciences of their penitents, if they can conveniently do this. They are to incur automatic excommunication if they presume to preach without atoning for their neglect as above. We do not however wish this to apply to the religious of monasteries, or the rectors of churches, who are in receipt of tithes.

    Rash violators of the constitution which forbids religious and secular clerics to induce anyone to vow, swear, pledge or otherwise promise that they will choose a burial place beside their churches or, having made this choice, that they will not alter it, incur automatically the same sentence of excommunication (the penalty in the said constitution is to remain in force); they are not to be absolved except by the apostolic see, except at the moment of death, notwithstanding any privileges or statutes of whatever tenor.

    [36]. Grave complaint has been made to us by prelates that certain nobles and temporal lords, when their territory has been laid under ecclesiastical interdict, have masses and other divine offices celebrated publicly and solemnly not only in the chapels of their houses, but also in collegiate churches and other churches of prominent places. They invite and, what is worse, sometimes compel now these, now those, to celebrate the offices. Not content with these excesses, they have people summoned, even those under interdict, by the ringing of bells and by the public crier, to hear these masses. Some of the lords and nobles are not afraid to order people, for the most part their own subjects, although they are publicly under excommunication and interdict, not to leave the churches while mass is being celebrated, even though the celebrants urge their departure. It therefore happens frequently that mass is left unfinished to the offence of God and the scandal of clergy and people. In order, then, that excesses so grave may not be imitated because the transgressors are left unpunished, we excommunicate, with the approval of the sacred council, all those who shall presume to compel anyone in any way in places under interdict to celebrate the divine offices, or to summon people in the above way to hear them, especially those under excommunication or interdict. The same penalty is imposed on those who forbid persons publicly excommunicated or under interdict to leave the church during mass when warned to do so by the celebrant, also on those publicly excommunicated and those under interdict who presume to remain in church when named by the celebrant and warned that they must leave. The excommunications can be remitted only by the apostolic see.

    [37]. The friars Minor receive into their churches to hear the divine offices in time of interdict brothers and sisters of the third order, instituted by blessed Francis; they are called continent or of penance. Since this practice generates scandal in the minds of others who are excluded, thus debasing ecclesiastical censure and weakening the force of an interdict, we strictly forbid the friars Minor to admit henceforth in any way to their churches for the divine offices in time of interdict any of the above-mentioned persons, even if they or the friars have privileges of any kind in this matter; we in no way favour such privileges. If the friars infringe this decree, they lie under automatic excommunication, from which they can only be absolved by the Roman pontiff or, if they have made satisfaction, by the local bishops, whom we wish to act in this matter by our authority.

    [38]. I came out of paradise, I said: I will water my garden of plants. Thus speaks the heavenly cultivator, who is truly the source of wisdom, God's Word, begotten by the Father from eternity, yet remaining in the Father. In these last days, made flesh in the womb of a virgin by the operation of the holy Spirit, he went forth to the arduous work of redeeming the human race, giving himself to humanity as the model of a heavenly life. But because so often people, overcome by the anxieties of this mortal life, turned their mental gaze away from such a model, our true Solomon has made in the realm of the church militant, among other gardens, a garden of delight, far from the stormy waves of the world, in which people might devote themselves with greater peace and security to contemplating and imitating the works of the exemplar, and he himself entered this world that he might refresh it with the fertile waters of his spiritual grace and teaching.

    This garden is the holy religion of the friars Minor which, enclosed within the firm walls of regular observance, is content with God alone and is constantly enriched with fresh shoots, her sons. Entering this garden, the beloved Son of God gathers the myrrh and spices of mortification and penance which by their marvellous fragrance diffuse to everyone the perfume of an attractive sanctity. This is that form and rule of the heavenly life sketched by that eminent confessor of Christ, saint Francis, who taught his sons its observance by both word and example. The observers of that holy rule, men of zeal and devotion, as both pupils and true sons of so great a father, aspired and still ardently aspire to observe that rule faithfully in all its purity and fullness. They perceived certain particulars of which the interpretation was doubtful, and they prudently had recourse to the apostolic see for clarification. Receiving assurance from that see, to which their very rule proclaims allegiance, they were able to serve the Lord, free from all doubt, in the fullness of charity. Several Roman pontiffs, our predecessors, rightfully heeded their pious and just requests; they defined doubtful points, promulgating certain interpretations and making some concessions, as they thought good for the consciences of the friars and the purity of religious observance. But because there are devout consciences which very often fear sin where it does not exist, and dread any turning in the way of God, the previous clarifications have not fully quietened the consciences of all the friars. There are still some points belonging to their rule and state of life where doubts arise, as many have often told us in public and private consistories. For this reason the friars themselves have humbly entreated us to clarify opportunely the doubts which have arisen and those which may arise in the future, thus applying a remedy by the kindness of the apostolic see.

    We have from a tender age had a warm devotion to those who profess this rule and to the whole order. Now that, though unworthy, we bear the office of universal pastor, we are the more roused to cherish them and to honour them more kindly and attentively, the more often we consider and reflect on the plentiful harvest reaped continually from their exemplary lives and wholesome teaching for the good of the universal church. Moved by the pious intentions of the petitioners, we have directed our efforts to carry out diligently what they ask. We have had a careful examination made of these doubts by several archbishops, bishops, masters in theology and other learned, prudent and discreet men.

    At the beginning of the rule it is said: "The rule and life of the friars Minor is this, to observe the gospel of our lord Jesus Christ, by living in obedience without property and in chastity"2. Also, further down: "Having completed a year of probation, let them be received to obedience, promising always to observe this life and rule"3. Also, towards the end of the rule: "Let us observe poverty, humility and the gospel of our lord Jesus Christ, which we have firmly promised"4. There was uncertainty whether the friars of the order were obliged to all the precepts and counsels of the gospel by profession of their rule. Some said they were obliged to all. Others, however, asserted that they were obliged to three only, namely "to live in obedience, in chastity and without property", and to what was stated as obligatory in the rule. With regard to this article we follow in the footsteps of our predecessors and, giving this article further clarification, we answer the doubt as follows. Since every determinate vow must have a defined object, he who vows to follow the rule cannot be considered obliged by his vow to those evangelical counsels which are not mentioned in the rule. And indeed this is shown to have been the intention of blessed Francis the founder, from the fact that he laid down certain counsels in the rule but omitted others. For if by those words, "The rule and life of the friars Minor is this" etc. he had intended to oblige them to all the evangelical counsels, it would have been superfluous and futile to include some of them and not others.

    However, since the nature of a restrictive term demands the exclusion of everything foreign to it but includes everything belonging to it, we declare that the friars are bound by the profession of their rule not only to those three vows simply and solely, but also to everything related to them expressed in the rule itself. For if the friars were obliged to observe the three vows precisely and no more, in their promise to observe the rule by living in "obedience, chastity and without property", and not also to observe everything contained in the rule that is relevant to those vows, then the words "I promise to observe always this rule" would be useless, as implying no obligation. We must not think, however, that blessed Francis intended to impose on those who profess this rule the same obligation regarding everything in the rule relating to the three vows, or anything else contained in the rule. Rather, he made a clear distinction: in some matters his words imply that transgression is a mortal sin, in others not, since he applies to some the word "precept" or its equivalent, while elsewhere he is content to use other expressions.

    Besides those things laid down in the rule expressly in words of precept or exhortation or admonition, there are some things in the imperative mood in either a negative or an affirmative form. Concerning these, there has been up to now some doubt as to whether they are of precept. This doubt is not made less but rather increased by the declaration of our predecessor pope Nicholas III' of happy memory, that the friars are obliged by rule to those evangelical counsels which the rule expresses in form of precept or prohibition or equivalent words and, in addition, to the observance of everything that the rule imposes in words of obligation. The friars therefore begged that we would, for their peace of conscience, graciously define which of these matters should be considered equivalent to precepts and obligatory. We therefore, delighted by their sincerity of conscience, observing that in matters affecting salvation the safer path is to be taken in order to avoid grave remorse of conscience, say that, although the friars are not obliged to observe everything expressed by the rule in the imperative mood in the way that they are obliged to observe matters which are explicitly or equivalently of precept, it is right for them, if they are to observe the rule strictly in its purity, to acknowledge that they are bound to observe in this way the injunctions noted below.

    In order to summarise these things which appear equivalent to precepts, in virtue of the words or at least of the subject-matter, or of both, we declare the following to be of obligation for the friars, as expressed in the rule: not having more tunics than one "with a hood, and one without a hood"2, not wearing shoes, and not riding a horse except in case of necessity; that the friars "wear cheap clothes"5; that they fast "from the feast of all saints to Christmas"6 and on Fridays; that "clerics recite the divine office according to the rite of the holy Roman church"7; that ministers and guardians take great care "of the needs of the sick and of the friars' clothing"8, that, "if a friar falls ill, the other friars are to wait on him"9; that "the friars are not to preach in the diocese of a bishop when he has forbidden them this"; that "nobody ventures at all to preach to the people unless he has been examined, approved and appointed for this by the minister general" or by others having authority according to the aforesaid declaration; that "friars who know that they cannot observe the rule in detail, may and should have recourse to their ministers"3; and everything laid down in the rule regarding the form of the habit of both novices and professed friars, the manner of reception, and profession, except for the habit of novices with regard to those admitting them (here the rule which says "according to God it may seem otherwise"4 may be followed). The order generally has judged, holds and has held from of old that wherever in the rule there occurs the words "they shall be bound", there is a precept and the friars ought to act as bound by precept.

    The confessor of Christ, when prescribing the practice of the friars and their ministers in relation to the reception of those entering the order, said in the rule: "The friars and their ministers shall take care not to be solicitous about their temporal goods, but leave them free to do with them whatever the Lord inspires them to do; the ministers may have leave, however, to send them to some God-fearing men, if counsel be needed, who may advise them how to give their goods to the poor"5. Many of the friars were uncertain, and still are, whether they may receive anything from those who enter, if it is given; whether they may without fault persuade them to give to individuals and friaries; and whether the ministers themselves or the friars ought to give advice concerning the disposal of property, when there are other suitable advisers to whom the entrants can be sent. We observe attentively that saint Francis intended to banish from his disciples, whose rule he had based on a very strict poverty, all affection for the temporal goods of those entering the order, especially in using the above words in order that, on the part of the friars, reception into the order might appear holy and pure. They should be seen to have no eye to their temporal goods, but only to deliver the novices up to the divine service. We say that both ministers and friars ought to abstain from persuasion to give them the property, and also from advice as to its distribution. They should send those who seek counsel to God-fearing men of another state, not to friars. In this way all will see them truly as zealous and perfect observers of their father's sound tradition. Since however the rule itself wishes those entering to be free to do as the Lord inspires concerning their property, it does not seem unlawful for the friars to receive something, in view of their needs and in accordance with the aforesaid declaration, if the entrant freely wishes to give it, as he would to other poor people by way of alms. The friars however do well to take care, in accepting such offerings, that they do not create an unfavourable impression by the amount they receive.

    The rule says that "those who have promised obedience should have one tunic with a hood, and another without a hood, those who wish to have it"; also, that "all the friars should wear cheap clothes"' . We have declared that the said words are equivalent to precepts. In order to express this more clearly, however, we say that it is not lawful to have more tunics, except when this is necessary in accordance with the rule, as our said predecessor has more fully explained. As for the poverty of the clothes, both of the habit and of the inner clothing, it is to be judged in relation to the customs and observances of the country, as to the colour of the cloth and the price. There cannot be one standard for every region. We think that this poverty in dress should be entrusted to the judgment of the ministers and guardians; they must form their own consciences, but see to it that poverty in dress is maintained. In the same way we leave it to the judgment of the ministers and guardians as to when the friars have need to wear shoes.

    The rule refers to two periods: "from the feast of all saints until Christmas", and especially in Lent, when the friars are obliged to fast. We find inserted in the rule: "at other times they are not obliged to fast, with the exception of Fridays"3. From these statements some have concluded that the friars are not obliged to observe any other fasts except from propriety. We declare that they are not obliged to fast at other times except at the times established by the church. For it is not probable that either he who instituted the rule or he who confirmed it intended to dispense the friars from observing the fasting days to which the general law of the church obliges other Christians.

    When St Francis, wishing his friars to be completely detached from money, commanded "firmly all the friars not to accept money in any manner, either directly or through some other person"4, this same predecessor of ours, in his interpretation, defined the cases and the ways in which the friars cannot and ought not to be called receivers of money against the rule and sincerity of their order. We declare that the friars must take the greatest care that they have no recourse to those who give money or their agents in ways other than those defined by our said predecessor, lest they deservedly be called transgressors of the precept and rule. For when there is a general prohibition, anything not expressly granted is understood to be refused. For this reason, all collection of money and acceptance of offerings in church or elsewhere, boxes for storing offerings or gifts of money, and any other recourse to money or those who have it which is not allowed by the said declaration, is, we say, completely and absolutely forbidden. Recourse to special friends is expressly allowed in only two cases, according to the rule. These are "the needs of the sick and the clothing of the friars"'. Our said predecessor kindly and wisely extended this permission, in view of their needy life, to other wants of the friars which can occur or even be pressing when there are no alms. The friars however are to observe that for no other reasons except the above or those of a similar kind, may they have recourse to such friends, either on the road or elsewhere, whether their friends themselves give the money or their representatives, messengers or trustees, whatever name they are given, even if the ways granted by the above declaration are entirely observed.

    The confessor of Christ wished above all that those who professed his rule should be completely detached from love and desire of earthly things, and in particular from money and its use, as is proved by his constantly repeating in the rule the prohibition of accepting money. When, therefore, the friars need, for the reasons mentioned above, to have recourse to those who have money, destined for their needs, whether they are their principal benefactors or their envoys, these friars should so behave in the eyes of all as to show that they are completely unconcerned as regards money, as indeed it does not belong to them. Therefore such actions as to order that the money be spent and in what way, to exact an account, to ask for the return of the money in any way, to put it away or have it put away, and to carry a money-box or its key, are unlawful for the friars. These actions belong properly to the owners who gave the money and to their agents.

    When the saint expressed the manner of the friars' poverty in the rule, he said: "The friars should make nothing their own, neither house nor land nor anything, but go confidently to seek alms as pilgrims and strangers serving the Lord in poverty and humility"2. This is also the renunciation defined by certain of our predecessors as Roman pontiffs, to be understood both specifically and in general. These pontiffs have therefore accepted for themselves and for the Roman church the absolute ownership of everything granted, offered or given to the friars, leaving them simply the right of use. Yet we have been asked to examine certain practices that are said to go on in the order and seem repugnant to the vow of poverty and the sincerity of the order.


    See Part Eight of the Council of Vienne

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