Fourth Lateran Council - 1215 A.D.
part five

For document sources noted, see Abbreviations

C O N S T I T U T I O N S

  1. Religious cannot give surety without permission of his abbot and convent
  2. Abbots not to encroach on episcopal office
  3. Religious may not receive tithes from lay hands
  4. Regarding saint's relics
  5. On simony
  6. Simony with regards to monks and nuns
  7. Simony and extortion
  8. Simony and avarice in clerics
  9. Jews and excessive Usury
  10. Jews appearing in public
  11. Jews not to hold public offices
  12. Jewish converts may not retain their old rite

C O N S T I T U T I O N S

59. Religious cannot give surety without permission of his abbot and convent

We wish and order to be extended to all religious what has already been forbidden by the apostolic see to some of them : namely that no religious, without the permission of his abbot and the majority of his chapter, may stand surety for someone or accept a loan from another beyond a sum fixed by the common opinion. Otherwise the convent shall not be held responsible in any way for his actions, unless perchance the matter has clearly redounded to the benefit of his house. Anyone who presumes to act contrary to this statute shall be severely disciplined.

60. Abbots not to encroach on episcopal office

From the complaints which have reached us from bishops in various parts of the world, we have come to know of serious and great excesses of certain abbots who, not content with the boundaries of their own authority, stretch out their hands to things belonging to the episcopal dignity : hearing matrimonial cases, enjoining public penances, even granting letters of indulgences and like presumptions. It sometimes happens from this that episcopal authority is cheapened in the eyes of many. Wishing therefore to provide for both the dignity of bishops and the well-being of abbots in these matters, we strictly forbid by this present decree any abbot to reach out for such things, if he wishes to avoid danger for himself, unless by chance any of them can defend himself by a special concession or some other legitimate reason in respect of such things.

61. Religious may not receive tithes from lay hands

It was forbidden at the Lateran council, as is known, for any regulars to dare to receive churches or tithes from lay hands without the bishop's consent, or in any way to admit to the divine services those under excommunication or those interdicted by name. We now forbid it even more strongly and will take care to see that offenders are punished with condign penalties. We decree, nevertheless that in churches which do not belong to them by full right the regulars shall, in accordance with the statutes of that council, present to the bishop the priests who are to be instituted, for examination by him about the care of the people; but as for the priests' ability in temporal matters, the regulars shall furnish the proof unto themselves. Let them not dare to remove those who have been instituted without consulting the bishop. We add, indeed, that they should take care to present those who are either noted for their way of life or recommended by prelates on probable grounds.

62. Regarding saint's relics

The christian religion is frequently disparaged because certain people put saints' relics up for sale and display them indiscriminately. In order that it may not be disparaged in the future, we ordain by this present decree that henceforth ancient relics shall not be displayed outside a reliquary or be put up for sale. As for newly discovered relics, let no one presume to venerate them publicly unless they have previously been approved by the authority of the Roman pontiff. Prelates, moreover, should not in future allow those who come to their churches, in order to venerate, to be deceived by lying stories or false documents, as has commonly happened in many places on account of the desire for profit. We also forbid the recognition of alms-collectors, some of whom deceive other people by proposing various errors in their preaching, unless they show authentic letters from the apostolic see or from the diocesan bishop. Even then they shall not be permitted to put before the people anything beyond what is contained in the letters.

We have thought it good to show the form of letter which the apostolic see generally grants to alms-collectors, in order that diocesan bishops may follow it in their own letters. It is this : "Since, as the Apostle says, we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ to receive according to what we have done in the body, whether it be good or bad, it behooves us to prepare for the day of the final harvest with works of mercy and to sow on earth, with a view to eternity, that which, with God returning it with multiplied fruit, we ought to collect in heaven; keeping a firm hope and confidence, since he who sows sparingly reaps sparingly, and he who sows bountifully shall reap bountifully unto eternal life. Since the resources of a hospital may not suffice for the support of the brethren and the needy who flock to it, we admonish and exhort all of you in the Lord, and enjoin upon you for the remission of your sins, to give pious alms and grateful charitable assistance to them, from the goods that God has bestowed upon you; so that their need may be cared for through your help, and you may reach eternal happiness through these and other good things which you may have done under God's inspiration. "

Let those who are sent to seek alms be modest and discreet, and let them not stay in taverns or other unsuitable places or incur useless or excessive expenses, being careful above all not to wear the garb of false religion. Moreover, because the keys of the church are brought into contempt and satisfaction through penance loses its force through indiscriminate and excessive indulgences, which certain prelates of churches do not fear to grant, we therefore decree that when a basilica is dedicated, the indulgence shall not be for more than one year, whether it is dedicated by one bishop or by more than one, and for the anniversary of the dedication the remission of penances imposed is not to exceed forty days. We order that the letters of indulgence, which are granted for various reasons at different times, are to fix this number of days, since the Roman pontiff himself, who possesses the plenitude of power, is accustomed to observe this moderation in such things.

63. On simony

As we have certainly learnt, shameful and wicked exactions and extortions are levied in many places and by many persons, who are like the sellers of doves in the temple, for the consecration of bishops, the blessing of abbots and the ordination of clerics. There is fixed how much is to be paid for this or that and for yet another thing. Some even strive to defend this disgrace and wickedness on the grounds of long-established custom, thereby heaping up for themselves still further damnation. Wishing therefore to abolish so great an abuse, we altogether reject such a custom which should rather be termed a corruption. We firmly decree that nobody shall dare to demand or extort anything under any pretext for the conferring of such things or for their having been conferred. Otherwise both he who receives and he who gives such an absolutely condemned payment shall be condemned with Gehazi and Simon.

64. Simony with regards to monks and nuns

The disease of simony has infected many nuns to such an extent that they admit scarcely any as sisters without a payment, wishing to cover this vice with the pretext of poverty. We utterly forbid this to happen in the future. We decree that whoever commits such wickedness in the future, both the one admitting and the one admitted, whether she be a subject or in authority, shall be expelled from her convent without hope of reinstatement, and be cast into a house of stricter observance to do perpetual penance. As regards those who were admitted in this way before this synodal statute, we have decided to provide that they be moved from the convents which they wrongly entered, and be placed in other houses of the same order. If perchance they are too numerous to be conveniently placed elsewhere, they may be admitted afresh to the same convent, by dispensation, after the prioress and lesser officials have been changed, lest they roam around in the world to the danger of their souls. We order the same to be observed with regard to monks and other religious. Indeed, lest such persons be able to excuse themselves on the grounds of simplicity or ignorance, we order diocesan bishops to have this decree published throughout their dioceses every year.

65. Simony and extortion

We have heard that certain bishops, on the death of rectors of churches, put these churches under an interdict and do not allow anyone to be instituted to them until they have been paid a certain sum of money. Moreover, when a knight or a cleric enters a religious house or chooses to be buried with religious, the bishops raise difficulties and obstacles until they receive something in the way of a present, even when the person has left nothing to the religious house. Since we should abstain not only from evil itself but also from every appearance of evil, as the Apostle says, we altogether forbid exactions of this kind. Any offender shall restore double the amount exacted, and this is to be faithfully used for the benefit of the places harmed by the exactions.

66. Simony and avarice in clerics

It has frequently been reported to the apostolic see that certain clerics demand and extort payments for funeral rites for the dead, the blessing of those marrying, and the like; and if it happens that their greed is not satisfied, they deceitfully set up false impediments. On the other hand some lay people, stirred by a ferment of heretical wickedness, strive to infringe a praiseworthy custom of holy church, introduced by the pious devotion of the faithful, under the pretext of canonical scruples. We therefore both forbid wicked exactions to be made in these matters and order pious customs to be observed, ordaining that the church's sacraments are to be given freely but also that those who maliciously try to change a praiseworthy custom are to be restrained, when the truth is known, by the bishop of the place.

67. Jews and excessive Usury

The more the christian religion is restrained from usurious practices, so much the more does the perfidy of the Jews grow in these matters, so that within a short time they are exhausting the resources of Christians. Wishing therefore to see that Christians are not savagely oppressed by Jews in this matter, we ordain by this synodal decree that if Jews in future, on any pretext, extort oppressive and excessive interest from Christians, then they are to be removed from contact with Christians until they have made adequate satisfaction for the immoderate burden. Christians too, if need be, shall be compelled by ecclesiastical censure, without the possibility of an appeal, to abstain from commerce with them. We enjoin upon princes not to be hostile to Christians on this account, but rather to be zealous in restraining Jews from so great oppression. We decree, under the same penalty, that Jews shall be compelled to make satisfaction to churches for tithes and offerings due to the churches, which the churches were accustomed to receive from Christians for houses and other possessions, before they passed by whatever title to the Jews, so that the churches may thus be preserved from loss.

68. Jews appearing in public

A difference of dress distinguishes Jews or Saracens from Christians in some provinces, but in others a certain confusion has developed so that they are indistinguishable. Whence it sometimes happens that by mistake Christians join with Jewish or Saracen women, and Jews or Saracens with christian women. In order that the offence of such a damnable mixing may not spread further, under the excuse of a mistake of this kind, we decree that such persons of either sex, in every christian province and at all times, are to be distinguished in public from other people by the character of their dress -- seeing moreover that this was enjoined upon them by Moses himself, as we read. They shall not appear in public at all on the days of lamentation and on passion Sunday; because some of them on such days, as we have heard, do not blush to parade in very ornate dress and are not afraid to mock Christians who are presenting a memorial of the most sacred passion and are displaying signs of grief. What we most strictly forbid however, is that they dare in any way to break out in derision of the Redeemer. We order secular princes to restrain with condign punishment those who do so presume, lest they dare to blaspheme in any way him who was crucified for us, since we ought not to ignore insults against him who blotted out our wrongdoings.

69. Jews not to hold public offices

It would be too absurd for a blasphemer of Christ to exercise power over Christians. We therefore renew in this canon, on account of the boldness of the offenders, what the council of Toledo providently decreed in this matter : we forbid Jews to be appointed to public offices, since under cover of them they are very hostile to Christians. If, however, anyone does commit such an office to them let him, after an admonition, be curbed by the provincial council, which we order to be held annually, by means of an appropriate sanction. Any official so appointed shall be denied commerce with Christians in business and in other matters until he has converted to the use of poor Christians, in accordance with the directions of the diocesan bishop, whatever he has obtained from Christians by reason of his office so acquired, and he shall surrender with shame the office which he irreverently assumed. We extend the same thing to pagans.

70. Jewish converts may not retain their old rite

Certain people who have come voluntarily to the waters of sacred baptism, as we learnt, do not wholly cast off the old person in order to put on the new more perfectly. For, in keeping remnants of their former rite, they upset the decorum of the christian religion by such a mixing. Since it is written, cursed is he who enters the land by two paths, and a garment that is woven from linen and wool together should not be put on, we therefore decree that such people shall be wholly prevented by the prelates of churches from observing their old rite, so that those who freely offered themselves to the christian religion may be kept to its observance by a salutary and necessary coercion. For it is a lesser evil not to know the Lord's way than to go back on it after having known it.


See Part Six of the Fourth Lateran Council

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