Second Council of Lyons - 1274 A.D.
part one

For document sources noted, see Abbreviations



After the death of Pope Clement IV (29 November 1268) almost three years passed before the cardinals were able to elect a new pope, Gregory X (1 September 1271). The political aspect of Europe in those times was undergoing great change. The popes themselves in their struggles with the German emperors had sought help from various states and had placed Charles of Anjou on the throne of Sicily. This long conflict, which the popes fought in order to protect their freedom and immunity, had finally upset the traditional system of government in Christendom. This system depended on two institutions, the papacy and the empire. In the East, moreover, the emperor Michael VIII Palaeologus had captured Constantinople in 1261 and brought the Latin empire there to an end.

Since the state of affairs was undoubtedly complex and difficult, Gregory X had conceived a very broad plan involving the whole christian world. In this plan the eastern question was of the highest importance. The pope sought to conclude a treaty with Michael VIII Palaeologus and to unite the eastern and western churches. For if the churches were united and the strength of all christian peoples were combined, the problem of the holy Land could be resolved and the Roman church could flourish with fresh authority and influence in the western states.

Gregory X, therefore, when he convoked the general council on 31 March 1272, outlined three themes: union with the Greeks, the crusade, and the reform of the church. Regarding the third theme, which was not only traditional in medieval councils but was also required by the actual state of ecclesiastical morals, the pope in March 1273 sought the opinion of all christian people and asked for their help. Some reports sent to him for this purpose are still extant. After long preparatory arrangements the council assembled at Lyons and opened on 7 May 1274. Probably there were present about 300 bishops, 60 abbots and a large number of other clergy, many of whom apparently were theologians (Thomas Aquinas died while on his journey to Lyons), as well as king James of Aragon and the delegates sent by the rulers of France, Germany, England and Sicily. The Greeks arrived late, on 24 June, since they had been shipwrecked. Meanwhile a delegation of Tartars had also arrived. Although the number of participants does not seem to have been especially large, the whole christian world was present either in person or through representatives, and it was evident that the council, as Gregory X had wished, was universal and ecumenical.

The council had six general sessions: on 7 and 18 May, 4 or 7 June, 6, 16 and 17 July. In the fourth session the union of the Greek church with the Latin church was decreed and defined, this union being based on the consent which the Greeks had given to the claims of the Roman church. In the last session the dogmatic constitution concerning the procession of the holy Spirit was approved, this question having been a cause of disagreement between the two churches. The union however appears to have been imposed, on the Greek side by the emperor Michael VIII. He wanted the support of the pope in order to deter Charles of Anjou from an attack on the Byzantine empire, while the majority of the Greek clergy opposed the union. The union was therefore fleeting, either because in the East the clergy steadily resisted it, or because the popes after Gregory X changed their plan of action.

The weakness of the union with the Greeks also rendered a crusade impossible. Gregory X won the approval of the principal states of Europe for the undertaking and was able, in the second session, to impose heavy taxes (a tenth for six years) in order to carry it out (const. Zelus fidei, below pp. 309-314). The council however merely decided to engage in the crusade; no start was made at getting things done and the project came to nothing. Moreover Gregory died soon afterwards (10 January 1276), and he was not sufficiently influential or powerful to bring to a conclusion his plans for church and state.

With regard to the reform of the church, Gregory complained in the council's last session that discussion had not been sufficient to pass any definite decree. However, he was able to bring about that certain constitutions relating to the parish should be delegated to the curia. For the rest, some constitutions concerning church institutions were approved in various sessions. The most important one prescribed that a pope should be elected by the college of cardinals assembled in conclave (const. 2); constitution 23 attempts to adjust relations between secular clerics and religious; constitutions 26-27 treat of usury; and others treat of particular questions about the reform of morals and of the church.

There are at least two redactions (conciliar and post-conciliar) of the council's constitutions, as S. Kuttner has shown. In the second session the fathers had approved the decree Zelus fidei, which was rather a collection of constitutions about the holy Land, the crusade, the war against Saracens and pirates, and the order and procedure to be observed in the council (here for the first time the nations appear as ecclesiastical parts of a council). Next, twenty-eight constitutions were approved in the following sessions: const. 3-9, 15, 19, 24, 29-30 in the third, const. 2, 10-12, 16-17, 20-22, 25-28, 31 in the fifth, const. 1, 23 in the sixth session. The pope promulgated a collection of the council's constitutions on 1 November 1274, sent this to the universities with the bull Cum nuper, and informed all the faithful in the encyclical Infrascriptas. In this collection, however, three of the thirty-one constitutions are post-conciliar (const. 13-14, 18). These concern the parish, on which subject the pope and the council fathers had decided in the last session of the council that some decrees should be made later on. Moreover the constitution Zelus fidei is missing from the collection, perhaps because it contained no juridical statutes of universal validity; and the other constitutions had been subjected to the examination of the curia and emended, notably as far as we know const. 2 on the conclave and const. 26-27 On usury.

The collection of constitutions promulgated by Gregory X was incorporated into Boniface VIII's Liber Sextus (1298) . It also survives, together with the encyclical Infrascriptas, in Gregory X's register (=R), on which we have based our text. The conciliar redaction, however, is known only in part. The constitution Zelus fidei was discovered first by H. Finke in an Osnabruck codex (= O), and then by S. Kuttner, without its beginning, in a Washington codex (= W), it is also extant in three English cartularies, which we have not examined; our edition relies on the transcriptions of Finke (= F) and Kuttner (= K). The other constitutions of the conciliar redaction we know only from W and, as regards const. 2, from eight scrolls containing the approval of the council fathers for this constitution (Vatican Archives, AA. arm. I-XVIII, 2187-2194 = V I-8). We therefore give the conciliar redaction on the basis of V and W; but W is very incomplete, having only 20 constitutions (const. 2-8, 9 mutilated, 10-12 16-17, 20, 22-23, 25-27, 31), and is full of errors. As the best solution at this intermediate stage, we therefore give the constitution Zelus fidei (below pp. 309-314) separately from the post-conciliar collection (below pp. 314-331), and we note in the critical apparatus the latter the variant readings of the conciliar redaction. In the main editions of the council's acts only the collection of constitutions promulgated by Gregory X is to be found; all these editions depend on Rm (4, 95-104), which is taken from R (R was edited later by Guiraud).


[1a]. Zeal for the faith, fervent devotion and compassionate love ought to rouse the hearts of the faithful, so that all who glory in the name of Christian grieved to the heart by the insult to their redeemer, should rise vigorously and openly in defence of the holy Land and support for God's cause. Who, filled with the light of the true faith and thinking over with filial affection the marvellous favours conferred on the human race by our saviour in the holy Land, would not burn with devotion and charity, and sorrow deeply with that holy Land, portion of the Lord's inheritance ? Whose heart will not soften with compassion for her, from so many proofs of love given in that land by our creator? Alas! the very land in which the Lord deigned to work our salvation and which, in order to redeem humanity by payment of his death, he has consecrated by his own blood, has been boldly attacked and occupied over a long period by the impious enemies of the christian name, the blasphemous and faithless Saracens. They not only rashly retain their conquest, but lay it waste without fear. They slaughter savagely the christian people there to the greater offence of the creator, to the outrage and sorrow of all who profess the catholic faith. "Where is the God of the Christians ?" is the Saracens' constant reproach, as they taunt them. Such scandals, which neither mind can fully conceive nor tongue tell, inflamed our heart and roused our courage so that we who from experience overseas have not only heard of those events but have looked with our eyes and touched with our hands, might rise to avenge, as far as we can, the insult to the crucified one. Our help will come from those afire with zeal of faith and devotion. Because the liberation of the holy Land should concern all who profess the catholic faith, we convoked a council, so that after consultation with prelates, kings, princes and other prudent men, we might decide and ordain in Christ the means for liberating the holy Land. We also proposed to lead back the Greek peoples to the unity of the church; proudly striving to divide in some way the Lord's seamless tunic, they withdrew from devotion and obedience to the apostolic see. We purposed also a reform of morals, which have become corrupt owing to the sins of both clergy and people. In everything we have mentioned he to whom nothing is impossible will direct our acts and counsels; when he wills, he makes what is difficult easy, and levelling by his power the crooked ways, makes straight the rough going. Indeed, in order the more readily to effect our plans, having regard to the risks from wars and dangers of journeys for those whom we judged should be summoned to the council, we did not spare ourself and our brothers but rather sought hardships so that we might arrange rest for others. We came to the city of Lyons with our brothers and curia, believing that in this place those summoned to the council might meet with less exertion and expense. We came undertaking various dangers and troubles, running many risks, to where all those summoned to the council were assembled, either in person or through suitable representatives. We held frequent consultations with them about help for the holy Land, and they, zealous to avenge the insult to the Saviour, thought out the best ways to succour the said Land and gave, as was their duty, advice and insight. [ I b].

Having listened to their advice, we rightly commend their resolutions and praiseworthy enthusiasm for the liberation of that Land. Lest, however, we seem to lay on others' shoulders heavy burdens, hard to bear, which we are unwilling to move with our finger, we begin with ourself; declaring that we hold all we have from God's only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, by whose gift we live, by whose favour we are sustained, by whose blood even we have been redeemed. We and our brothers, the cardinals of the holy Roman church, shall pay fully for six successive years a tenth of all our ecclesiastical revenues, fruits and incomes for the aid of the holy Land. With the approval of this sacred council, we decree and ordain that for the said six years, beginning from the next feast of the birthday of blessed John the Baptist, all ecclesiastical persons of whatever rank or pre-eminence, condition, order, or religious state or order-and we wish none to invoke for themselves and their churches any privileges or indults, in whatever form of words or expression these were granted, rather we recall completely those we have granted till now--shall pay wholly and without any reduction a tenth of all ecclesiastical revenues, fruits and incomes of each year in the following way: that is, half on the feast of the Lord's birth and the other half on the feast of blessed John the Baptist. In order to observe more carefully the reverence due to him whose undertaking this is, in himself and in his saints and especially in the glorious Virgin whose intercession we ask in this and in our other needs, and in order that there may be a fuller subsidy for the holy Land, we order that the constitution of Pope Gregory our predecessor of happy memory against blasphemers be inviolably observed. The fines prescribed in this constitution are to be exacted in full through the authorities of the place where blasphemy is committed, and through others who exercise temporal jurisdiction there. Coercive measures, if necessary, are to be taken through diocesan and other local ordinaries. The money is to be assigned to the collectors for the subsidy. Moreover, we strictly command confessors who hear confessions by ordinary jurisdiction or by privilege to prompt and enjoin on their penitents to give the said money to the holy Land in full satisfaction for their sins; and they should persuade those making wills to leave, in proportion to their means, some of their goods for aid to the holy Land. We direct also that in each church there should be placed a box fitted with three keys, the first to be kept in the possession of the bishop, the second in that of the priest of the church, the third in that of some conscientious lay person. The faithful are to be instructed to place their alms, as the Lord inspires them, in this box for the remission of their sins. Mass is to be sung publicly in the churches once a week, on a certain day to be announced by the priest, for the remission of such sins and especially of those offering alms. Besides these measures, to provide more assistance for the holy Land, we exhort and urge kings and princes, marquises, counts and barons, magistrates, governors and other secular leaders to arrange that in the lands subject to their jurisdiction each of the faithful pays a coin to the value of a tournois or of one sterling in accordance with the customs or circumstances of the region, and they should order a further small tax of no burden to anyone for the remission of sins; these contributions are to be made each year in aid of the holy Land, so that just as nobody may excuse himself from compassion for the wretched state of the holy Land, nobody may be dismissed from contributing or shut out from meriting. Also, lest these prudent arrangements concerning the subsidy to the holy Land be hindered by anyone's fraud or malice or craft, we excommunicate and anathematise one and all who knowingly offer hindrance, directly or indirectly, publicly or secretly, to the payment, as described above, of the tithes in aid of the holy Land.

Furthermore, since corsairs and pirates greatly impede those travelling to and from that Land, by capturing and plundering them, we bind with the bond of excommunication them and their principal helpers and supporters. We forbid anyone, under threat of anathema, knowingly to communicate with them by contracting to buy or sell. We also order rulers of cities and their territories to restrain and curb such persons from this iniquity; otherwise it is our wish that prelates of churches exercise ecclesiastical severity in their land. We excommunicate and anathematise, moreover, those false and impious Christians who, in opposition to Christ and the christian people, convey to the Saracens arms and iron, which they use to attack Christians and timber for their galleys and other ships; and we decree that those who sell them galleys or ships, and those who act as pilots in pirate Saracen ships, or give them any help or advice by way of machines or anything else to the detriment of Christians and especially of the holy Land, are to be punished with deprivation of their possessions and are to become the slaves of those who capture them. We order this sentence to be renewed publicly on Sundays and feast-days in all maritime towns; and the bosom of the church is not to be opened to such persons unless they send in aid of the holy Land all that they received from this damnable commerce and the same amount of their own, so that they are punished in proportion to their sins. If perchance they do not pay, they are to be punished in other ways in order that through their punishment others may be deterred from venturing upon similar rash actions. In addition, we prohibit and on pain of anathema forbid all Christians, for six years, to send or take their ships across to the lands of the Saracens who dwell in the east, so that by this a greater supply of shipping may be made ready for those wanting to cross over to help the holy Land, and so that the aforesaid Saracens may be deprived of the considerable help which they have been accustomed to receiving from this. Because it is of the utmost necessity for the carrying out of this business that rulers and christian peoples keep peace with each other, we therefore ordain, with the approval of this holy and general synod, that peace be generally kept in the whole world among Christians, so that those in conflict shall be led by the prelates of churches to observe inviolably for six years a definitive agreement or peace or a firm truce. Those who refuse to comply shall be most strictly compelled to do so by a sentence of excommunication against their persons and an interdict on their lands, unless the malice of the wrongdoers is so great that they ought not to enjoy peace. If it happens that they make light of the church's censure, they may deservedly fear that the secular power will be invoked by ecclesiastical authority against them as disturbers of the business of him who was crucified. We therefore, trusting in the mercy of almighty God and in the authority of the blessed apostles Peter and Paul, do grant, by the power of binding and loosing that God has conferred upon us, albeit unworthy, unto all those who undertake this work of crossing the sea to aid the holy Land, in person and at their own expense, full pardon for their sins about which they are truly and heartily contrite and have spoken in confession, and we promise them an increase of eternal life at the recompensing of the just. To those who do not go there in person but send suitable men at their own expense, according to their means and status, and likewise to those who go in person but at others' expense, we grant full pardon for their sins. We wish to grant to share in this remission, according to the nature of their help and the intensity of their devotion, all who shall contribute suitably from their goods to the aid of the said Land, or who give useful advice and help regarding the above, and all who make available their own ships for the help of the holy Land or who undertake to build ships for this purpose. Finally, this dutiful and holy general synod imparts the benefit of its prayers and blessings to all who piously set out on this enterprise in order that it may contribute to their salvation. ' [Id].

Not to us but to the Lord we give glory and honour; let us also thank him that to so sacred a council a very great number of patriarchs, primates, archbishops, bishops, abbots, priors provosts, deans, archdeacons and other prelates of churches, both personally and by suitable procurators, and the procurators of chapters, colleges and convents, have assembled at our call. However, although for the happy pursuit of so great an enterprise their advice would be useful, and their presence as beloved sons is so delightful, filling us in a certain way with spiritual joy, there are difficulties for some as to staying on. Various inconveniences result from their great number; we do not wish them to suffer any longer the squeezing of the enormous crowd; and their absence may be harmful to them and their churches. A certain prudent love moves us to decide with our brothers' advice how to lighten the burden of these representatives, while pursuing our object no less ardently or zealously. We therefore have decided that all patriarchs, primates, archbishops, bishops, abbots and priors whom we summoned specially and by name are to remain, they are not to depart without our special leave before the council ends. The other non-mitred abbots and priors and the other {1} abbots and priors, who were not summoned by us specially and by name, and the provosts, deans, archdeacons and other prelates of churches, and the procurators of any prelates, chapters, colleges and convents, have our gracious leave to depart with the blessing of God and our own. We commission all who so depart to leave enough procurators, as described below, to receive our commands and both the decrees of our present council and any other decrees that may, with God's inspiration, be issued in the future. Thus, all so departing are to leave behind the following adequate number of procurators: namely, four from the realm of France, four from the realm of Germany, four from the realms of the Spains, four from the realm of England one from the realm of Scotland {2} , two from the realm of Sicily, two from Lombardy, one from Tuscany, one from the states of the church, one from the realm of Norway, one from the realm of Sweden, one from the realm of Hungary {3} , one from the realm of Dacia, one from the realm of Bohemia, one from the duchy of Poland. Furthermore {4} , it has come to our ears that some archbishops, bishops and other prelates, when they were summoned by us to the council, asked an excessive contribution from their subjects and committed great extortion, imposing heavy taxes on them. Some of these prelates, although they made great exactions, did not come to the council. Since it neither was nor is our intention that prelates in coming to the council should associate the virtue of obedience with the oppression of their subjects, we admonish prelates one and all with great firmness, that none may presume to use the council as a pretext for burdening his subjects with taxes or exactions. If in fact some prelates have not come to the council and have made demands on the pretext of coming, it is our will and precise command that they make restitution without delay. Those however who have oppressed their subjects, demanding excessive contributions, should take care to make amends to them without creating difficulties, and so fulfil our commands that we do not have to apply a remedy by our authority.

  • {1} non-mitred ... other omitted in W
  • {2} one from the realm of Scotland omitted in W
  • {3} tow from the realm of Sicily ... Hungary omitted in o.
  • {4} Furthermore ... by our authority omitted in O.


1. On the supreme Trinity and the Catholic Faith{5}

1. We profess faithfully and devotedly that the holy Spirit proceeds eternally from the Father and the Son, not as from two principles, but as from one principle; not by two spirations, but by one single spiration. This the holy Roman church, mother and mistress of all the faithful, has till now professed, preached and taught; this she firmly holds, preaches, professes and teaches; this is the unchangeable and true belief of the orthodox fathers and doctors, Latin and Greek alike. But because some, on account of ignorance of the said indisputable truth, have fallen into various errors, we, wishing to close the way to such errors, with the approval of the sacred council, condemn and reprove all who presume to deny that the holy Spirit proceeds eternally from the Father and the Son, or rashly to assert that the holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son as from two principles and not as from one.

See Part Two of the Second Council of Lyons

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