First Council of Lyons - 1245 A.D.
part one

For document sources noted, see Abbreviations



Bull Deposing The Emperor Frederick II



  1. On rescripts


The dispute, distinctive of the Middle Ages, between the papacy and the empire became very serious under Pope Innocent IV and Emperor Frederick II. Already in 1240 Pope Gregory IX had tried to define the questions between the two powers by calling a general council, but Frederick II by arms had prevented the council from meeting. When Innocent IV succeeded as pope in 1243 he gave his earnest attention to renewing this policy. He was able to make his way in 1244 to Lyons, which was outside the direct authority of the emperor, and there proclaimed a council. Some letters of summons exist, dated 3 January 1245 and the days following, in which the purpose of the council is stated thus: "That the church, through the salutary counsel of the faithful and their fruitful help, may have the dignity of its proper position; that assistance may speedily be brought to the unhappy crisis in the holy Land and the sufferings of the eastern empire; that a remedy may be found against the Tartars and other enemies of the faith and persecutors of the christian people; further, for the issue between the church and the emperor; for these reasons we think that the kings of the earth, the prelates of the church and other princes of the world should be summoned". The chief purposes for which the council was called -- and from the beginning it was called "general" -- seem to have been political ones.

When the council opened on 26 June 1245, in a meeting which was probably only preparatory, there were present three patriarchs and about 150 bishops besides other religious and secular persons, among whom was the Latin emperor of Constantinople. Emperor Frederick II sent a legation headed by Thaddaeus of Suessa. Many bishops and prelates were unable to attend the council because they had been prevented by the invasions of the Tartars in the east or the attacks of the Saracens in the holy Land, or because Frederick II had intimidated them (especially the Sicilians and Germans). Thus it was that the four chief parties of the council were the French and probably the Spanish, English and Italian. In the three sessions which were held during the council (26 June, 5 and 17 July) the fathers, not without hesitation and dispute, had to treat especially of Frederick II. There seems to have been a bitter conflict between Innocent IV on the one side and Thaddaeus of Suessa on the other. The sources, especially the Brevis nota and Matthew Paris, tell us clearly about the nature of the discussion and the determined attitude of the pope, who induced the council to depose the emperor at the session on 17 July 1245, a matter that appeared unprecedented to the fathers themselves. The council on this question shows us clearly the critical position reached by the medieval theory and practice of ruling a christian state, which rested on a double order of authority.

In the same session of 17 July the council also approved some strictly legal constitutions and others on usury, the Tartars and the Latin east. But the council, unlike the previous councils of the Middle Ages, did not approve canons concerning the reform of the church and the condemnation of heresy. Enthusiasm for the Gregorian reform movement seems to have died down completely. The council, however, concerned itself with promoting and confirming the general canonical legislation for religious life.

The transmission of the text of the constitutions is involved and still partly obscure. Only in recent times has it been realised that the authentic and definitive drawing up of the constitutions, and their promulgation, took place after the council. This collection consists of 22 constitutions, all of which are of a legal nature, and was sent to the universities by Innocent IV on 25 August 1245 (Coll. I). A second collection of 12 decrees was published by Innocent IV on 21 April 1246 (Coll. II). A final collection (Coll. I + II and 8 other decrees) was issued on 9 September 1253 (Coll. III), and was included (except for const. 2) in Liber Sextus in 1298. Coll. I, however, is not identical with the constitutions of the council. For in it can be found neither the condemnation of Frederick II, which seems to have been the chief matter of the council, nor the five constitutions pertaining to the important questions introduced by Innocent IV at the opening of the council, namely those concerned with the Tartars, the Latin east and the crusades.

Stephen Kuttner has shown that the constitutions have been transmitted to us through three versions: the conciliar version (= M), known principally from the chronicle of Matthew of Paris (const. 1-19, and the const. on the crusade corresponding to R 17); the intermediate version ( = R), known from the register of Innocent IV (const. 1-17, of which const. 1-12 correspond to M 1-10); and the definitive version ( = Coll. I), containing two constitutions (18 and 22) which are absent from the other versions, but lacking the constitutions not directly concerned with the law (R 13-17).

Indeed, the origins of the constitutions must be placed before the council, as is shown by an earlier version of constitutions M 13, 15 and 19, antedating the council. Evidently the council fathers were discussing matters which had already been partly worked out, and it was somewhat later that the constitutions acquired their more accurate and definite legal form.

The constitutions taken from Matthew Paris were edited in Bn[1] III/2 (1606) 1482-1489. Those from the register of Innocent IV were edited in Rm IV (1612) 73-78. All later editions followed Rm. However, I. H. Boehmer and Msi[1] 2 (1748) 1073-1098 (afterwards in Msi 23 (1779) 651-674) printed Coll. III. in addition. Coll. I, as such, has never been edited; but there exists both an indirect transmission (Coll. I + II, Coll. III, Liber Sextus) and a direct, single-family transmission through eight manuscript codices: Arras, Bibl. Municipale 541; Bratislava, formerly Cathedral Library, 13; Innsbruck, Universitaetsbibl., 70, fos. 335v-338v (= I); Kassel, Landesbibl., Iur. fol. 32; Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibl., Lat. 8201e, fos. 219v-220r, and Lat. 9654; Trier, Stadtbibl., 864; Vienna, Nationalbibl., 2073, fos. 238v-242v (= W).

Our edition of the constitutions tries to give all the documents truly belonging to the council. Coll. I has been taken as the base, and variants from M and R are set out in the critical apparatus. The text of Coll. I has been established from codices I and W, which we have seen in microfilm. With regard to M, the edition of H.R. Luard has been used. With regard to R, we have examined directly the register of Innocent IV. We think, moreover, that the last five constitutions in R (13-17, 17 is also in M and Annales de Burton) should also be included among the constitutions of the council, even though they were not included in Coil. I. We have printed the text of these five constitutions from the register of Innocent IV;as regards const. 17 we have also compared M and Annales de Burton ( = Bu).

We think that the bull of deposition of the emperor Frederick II must be considered a statute of the council, and we place this in front of the constitutions. The transmission of the text of the bull is involved, and the editions are very faulty. There are three copies of the bull: Vatican Archives, AA. Arm. I-XVIII, 171 (= V); Paris, Archives Nationales, L 245 no. 84 (= P); Lyons, Archives du Rhone, Fonds du chap. primat., Arm. Cham. vol. XXVII no. 2 (= L). Of these only V has been published. Other transcriptions of the bull are given in the register of Innocent IV, in some chronicles (Matthew of Paris, Annals of Plasencia, Annals of Melrose), in collections of decretals, and in some more recent publications (Bzovius). Our edition takes as its base V, P and L.

{The headings are added by the hypertext editor. Endnotes are given in parenthesis {}. They should be noted for variant readings and numberings.}

Bull Deposing The Emperor Frederick II

Innocent {1}, bishop, servant of the servants of God, in the presence of the holy council, for an everlasting record.

Raised, though unworthy, to the highest point of the apostolic dignity, by the will of the divine majesty, we ought to exercise a watchful, diligent and wise care of all Christians, to examine with close attention the merits of individuals and to weigh them in the balance of prudent deliberation, so that we may raise by suitable favours those whom a rigorous and just examination shows to be worthy, and depress the guilty with due penalties, weighing always the merit and the reward in a fair scale, repaying to each the amount of penalty or favour according to the nature of his work. Indeed since the terrible conflict of war has afflicted some countries of the christian world for a long time, as we desired with our whole heart the peace and tranquillity of the holy church of God and of all the christian people in general, we thought that we should send special ambassadors, men of great authority, to {2} the secular prince who was the special cause of this discord and suffering. He was the man whom our predecessor of happy memory, Pope Gregory {3}, had bound by anathema because of his excesses. The ambassadors we sent, men eager for his salvation, were our venerable brethren Peter of Albano {4}, at that time bishop of Rouen, William of Sabina {5}, at that time bishop of Modena, and our beloved son William {6}, cardinal-priest of the basilica of the Twelve Apostles and at that time abbot of Saint Facundus. Through them we proposed to him, because we and our brethren desired to have peace with him and with all people, as far as lay in our power, that we were ready to grant peace and tranquillity to him and also to the rest of the whole world.

Because the restitution of the prelates, clerics and all others whom he kept in captivity, and of all both clerics and laymen whom he had taken in the galleys7, could especially lead the way to peace, we asked and begged him through our said ambassadors to set these prisoners free. This both he and his envoys had promised before we had been called to the apostolic office. Further we informed him that our ambassadors were ready on our behalf to hear and treat of peace, and even of satisfaction, should the emperor be ready to make it with regard to all those things for which he had incurred excommunication; and besides to offer him that if the church had injured him in anything contrary to justice-though it did not believe it had done so -- it was ready to put it to rights and restore the proper position. If he said that he had harmed the church in nothing unjustly, or that we had harmed him contrary to justice, we were ready to call the kings, prelates and princes, both ecclesiastical and lay, to some safe place where either by themselves or by official representatives they might come together, and that the church was ready on the advice of the council to satisfy him if in anything it had harmed him, and to recall the sentence of excommunication if it had been brought unjustly against him, and with all clemency and mercy, in so far as it could be done without offence to God and its own honour, to receive satisfaction from him for the injuries and wrongs done to the church itself and its members through him.

The church also wished to secure peace for his friends and supporters and the enjoyment of full security, so that for this reason they should never incur any danger. But though in our relations with him, for the sake of peace, we have always taken care to rely on paternal admonitions and gentle entreaty, yet he, following the hardness of Pharaoh and blocking his ears like an asp, with proud obstinacy and obstinate pride has despised such prayers and admonitions. Furthermore on the Maundy Thursday previous to that which has just passed, in our presence and that of our brother cardinals, and in the presence of our dear son in Christ, the illustrious emperor of Constantinople {8}, and of a considerable gathering of prelates, before the senate and people of Rome and a very large number of others, who on that day because of its solemnity had come to the apostolic see from different parts of the world, he guaranteed on oath, through the noble count Raymond of Toulouse, and Masters Peter de Vinea and Thaddaeus of Suessa, judges of his court, his envoys and proctors who had in this matter a general commission, that he would keep our commands and those of the church. However afterwards he did not fulfil what he had sworn. Indeed it is likely enough that he took the oath, as can be clearly gathered from his following actions, with the express intention of mocking rather than obeying us and the church, since after more than a year he could not be reconciled to the bosom of the church, nor did he trouble to make satisfaction for the losses and injuries he had caused it, even though he was asked to do this. For this reason, as we are unable without giving offence to Christ to bear any longer his wickedness, we are compelled, urged on by our conscience, justly to punish him.

To say nothing about his other crimes, he has committed four of the greatest gravity, which cannot be hidden by evasion. For, he has often failed to keep his oath; he deliberately broke the peace previously established between the church and the empire; he committed a sacrilege by causing the arrest of cardinals of the holy Roman church and of prelates and clerics of other churches, both religious and secular, who were coming to the council which our predecessor had decided to summon; he is also suspect of heresy, by proofs which are not light or doubtful but clear and inescapable.

It is clear that he has often been guilty of perjury. For, once when he was staying in Sicily, before he had been elected to the dignity of emperor, in the presence of Gregory of happy memory, cardinal deacon of Saint Theodore {9} and legate of the apostolic see, he took an oath of loyalty to our predecessor Pope Innocent10 of happy memory and his successors and the Roman church, in return for the grant of the kingdom of Sicily made to him by this same church. Likewise, as is said, after he had been elected to that same dignity and had come to Rome, in the presence of Innocent and his brother cardinals and before many others, he renewed that oath, making his pledge of hommage in the pope's hands. Then, when he was in Germany he swore to the same Innocent, and on his death to our predecessor Pope Honorius {11} of happy memory and his successors and the Roman church itself, in the presence of the princes and nobles of the empire, to preserve as far as was in his power, the honours, rights and possessions of the Roman church, and loyally to protect them, and without difficulty to see to the restoration of whatever came into his hands, expressly naming the said possessions in the oath: afterwards he confirmed this when he had gained the imperial crown. But he has deliberately broken these three oaths, not without the brand of treachery and the charge of treason. For against our predecessor Gregory and his brother cardinals, he has dared to send threatening letters to these cardinals, and in many ways to slander Gregory before his brother cardinals, as is clear from the letters which he then sent to them, and almost throughout the whole world, as it is said, he has presumed to defame him.

He also personally caused the arrest of our venerable brother Otto {12}, bishop of Porto, at that time cardinal deacon of Saint Nicholas in Carcere Tulliano, and James of happy memory, bishop of Palestrina {13}, legates of the apostolic see, noble and important members of the Roman church. He had them stripped of all their goods, and after more than once being led shamefully through different places, committed to prison. Furthermore this privilege which our lord Jesus Christ handed to Peter and in him to his successors, namely, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven, in which assuredly consists the authority and power of the Roman church, he did his best to diminish or take away from the church itself, writing that he did not fear Pope Gregory's condemnations. For, not only by despising the keys of the church he did not observe the sentence of excommunication pronounced against him, but also by himself and his officials he prevented others from observing that and other sentences of excommunication and interdict, which he altogether set at nought. Also without fear he seized territories of the said Roman church, namely the Marches, the Duchy, Benevento, the walls and towers of which he has caused to be demolished, and others with few exceptions in parts of Tuscany and Lombardy and certain other places which he holds, and he still keeps hold of them. And as if it were not enough that he was clearly going against the aforesaid oaths by such presumption, either by himself or through his officials he has forced the inhabitants of these territories to break their oath, absolving them in fact, since he cannot do it in law, from the oaths of loyalty by which they were bound to the Roman church, and making them nonetheless forswear the said loyalty and take an oath of loyalty to himself.

It is absolutely clear that he is the violator of the peace. For, previously at a time when peace had been restored between himself and the church, he took an oath before the venerable John of Abbeville {14}, bishop of Sabina, and Master Thomas {15}, cardinal priest of the title of Saint Sabina, in the presence of many prelates, princes and barons, that he would observe and obey exactly and without reserve all the commands of the church with regard to those things for which he had incurred excommunication, after the reasons of that excommunication had been set out in order before him. Then, when remitting every sanction and penalty to the Teutonic knights, the inhabitants of the kingdom of Sicily and any others who had supported the church against him, he guaranteed on his soul through Thomas, count of Acerra, that he would never wrong them or cause them to be wronged on the ground that they had supported the church. But he did not keep the peace and violated these oaths without any sense of shame that he was guilty of perjury. For afterwards he caused some of these very men, both nobles and others, to be captured; and after stripping them of all their goods, he had their wives and children imprisoned; and contrary to the promise he had made to bishop John of Sabina and cardinal Thomas, he invaded the lands of the church without hesitation, even though they promulgated in his presence that henceforth he would incur sentence of excommunication if he broke his promise. And when these two ecclesiastics, by their apostolic authority, ordered that neither by himself nor through others should he hinder postulations, elections or confirmations of churches and monasteries in the kingdom of Sicily from being held freely in future according to the statutes of the general council; that henceforth nobody in the same kingdom should impose taxes or collections on ecclesiastical persons or their property; that in the same kingdom no cleric or ecclesiastical person should in future be brought before a lay judge in a civil or criminal case, except for a suit in civil law over feudal rights; and that he should make adequate compensation to the Templars, Hospitallers and other ecclesiastical persons for the loss and injury inflicted upon them; he nevertheless refused to obey these commands.

It is clear that in the kingdom of Sicily eleven or more archiepiscopal and many episcopal sees, abbacies and other churches are at present vacant, and through his agency, as is patent, these have long been deprived of prelates, to their own grave loss and the ruin of souls. And though perhaps in some churches of the kingdom elections have been held by chapters, since however they have elected clerics who are Frederick's dependants, it can be concluded in all probability that they did not have a free power of choice. Not only has he caused the possessions and goods of churches in the kingdom to be seized at his pleasure, but also the crosses, thuribles, chalices and other sacred treasures of theirs, and silk cloth, to be carried off, like one who sets at nought divine worship, and although it is said that they have been restored in part to the churches, yet a price was first exacted for them. Indeed clerics are made to suffer in many ways by collections and taxes, and not only are they dragged before a lay court but also, as it is asserted, they are compelled to submit to duels and are imprisoned, killed and tortured to the disturbance and insult of the clerical order. Satisfaction has not been made to the said Templars, Hospitallers and ecclesiastical persons for the loss and injury done to them.

It is also certain that he is guilty of sacrilege. For when the aforesaid bishops of Porto and Palestrina, and many prelates of churches and clerics, both religious and secular, summoned to the apostolic see to hold the council which Frederick himself had previously asked for, were coming by sea, since the roads had been entirely blocked at his command, he stationed his son Enzo with a large number of galleys and, by means of many others duly placed long beforehand, he laid an ambush against them in the parts of Tuscany on the coast; and so that he might vomit forth in more deadly fashion the poison which had long gathered within him, by an act of sacrilegious daring he caused them to be captured; during their seizure some of the prelates and others were drowned, a number were killed, some were put to flight and pursued, and the rest were stripped of all their possessions, ignominiously led from place to place to the kingdom of Sicily, and there harshly imprisoned. Some of them, overcome by the filth and beset by hunger, perished miserably.

Furthermore, he has deservedly become suspect of heresy. For, after he had incurred the sentence of excommunication pronounced against him by the aforesaid John, bishop of Sabina, and cardinal Thomas, after the said pope Gregory had laid him under anathema, and after the capture of cardinals of the Roman church, prelates, clerics and others coming at different times to the apostolic see; he has despised and continues to despise the keys of the church, causing the sacred rites to be celebrated or rather, as far as in him lies, to be profaned, and he has consistently asserted, as said above, that he does not fear the condemnations of the aforesaid pope Gregory. Besides, he is joined in odious friendship with the Saracens; several times he has sent envoys and gifts to them, and receives the like from them in return with expressions of honour and welcome; he embraces their rites; he openly keeps them with him in his daily services; and, following their customs, he does not blush to appoint as guards, for his wives descended from royal stock, eunuchs whom it is seriously said he has had castrated. And what is more loathsome, when he was in the territory overseas, after he had made an agreement, or rather had come to a wicked understanding with the sultan, he allowed the name of Mahomet to be publicly proclaimed day and night in the Lord's temple. Recently, after the sultan of Babylon and his followers had brought serious loss and untold injury to the holy Land and its christian inhabitants, he caused the envoys of the sultan to be honourably received and lavishly entertained throughout the kingdom of Sicily with, it is said, every mark of honour being paid to the sultan. Using the deadly and hateful service of other unbelievers against the faithful, and securing a bond by friendship and marriage with those who, wickedly making light of the apostolic see, have separated from the unity of the church, he brought about by assassins the death of the famous duke Ludwig of Bavaria {16}, who was specially devoted to the Roman church, with disregard of the christian religion, and he gave his daughter in marriage to Vatatzes {17}, that enemy of God and the church who, together with his counsellors and supporters, was solemnly separated by excommunication from the communion of the faithful.

Rejecting the customs and actions of christian princes and heedless of salvation and reputation, he gives no attention to works of piety. Indeed to say nothing of his wicked acts of destruction, though he has learnt to oppress, he does not care mercifully to relieve the oppressed, and instead of holding out his hand in charity, as befits a prince, he sets about the destruction of churches and crushes religious and other ecclesiastical persons by constant affliction. Nor is he seen to have built churches, monasteries, hospitals or other pious places. Surely these are not light but convincing proofs for suspecting him of heresy? The civil law declares that those are to be regarded as heretics, and ought to be subject to the sentences issued against them, who even on slight evidence are found to have strayed from the judgment and path of the catholic religion. Besides this the kingdom of Sicily, which is the special patrimony of blessed Peter and which Frederick held as a fief from the apostolic see, he has reduced to such a state of utter desolation and servitude, with regard to both clergy and laity, that these have practically nothing at all; and as nearly all upright people have been driven out, he has forced those who remain to live in an almost servile condition and to wrong in many ways and attack the Roman church, of which in the first place they are subjects and vassals. He could also be rightly blamed because for more than nine years he has failed to pay the annual pension of a thousand gold pieces, which he is bound to pay to the Roman church for this kingdom.

We therefore, after careful discussion with our brother cardinals and the sacred council on his wicked transgressions already mentioned and many more besides, since though unworthy we hold on earth the place of Jesus Christ, and to us in the person of the blessed apostle Peter has been said, whatever you bind on earth etc., denounce the said prince, who has made himself so unworthy of the empire and kingdoms and every honour and dignity and who also, because of his crimes, has been cast out by God from kingdom and empire; we mark him out as bound by his sins, an outcast and deprived by our Lord of every honour and dignity; and we deprive him of them by our sentence. We absolve from their oath for ever all those who are bound to him by an oath of loyalty, firmly forbidding by our apostolic authority anyone in the future to obey or heed him as emperor or king, and decreeing that anyone who henceforth offers advice, help or favour to him as to an emperor or king, automatically incurs excommunication. Let those whose task it is to choose an emperor in the same empire, freely choose a successor to him. With regard to the aforesaid kingdom of Sicily, we shall take care to provide, with the counsel of our brother cardinals, as we see to be expedient.

Given at Lyons on 17 July in the third year of our pontificate.



1.On rescripts

Since in many articles of law failure to define their scope is blameworthy, after prudent consideration we decree that by the general clause "certain others" which frequently occurs in papal letters, no more than three or four persons are to be brought to court. The petitioner should state the names in his first citation, lest by chance a place is left for fraud if the names can be freely altered {18}.

See Part Two of the First Council of Lyons

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