Council of Vienne
1311-1312 A.D.

part eight

For document sources noted, see Abbreviations



    The following are the practices which we believe are in need of remedy. The friars not only allow themselves to inherit, but even bring this about. They sometimes accept annual revenues so high that the friaries concerned can live completely on them. When their affairs, even of a temporal kind, are debated in the courts, they assist the advocates and procurators; in order to encourage them, they present themselves in person. They accept the office of executor of wills and carry it out. They sometimes meddle with settlements involving usury or unjust acquisition and the restitution to be made. Sometimes they have not only extensive gardens but also large vineyards, from which they collect great quantities of vegetables and wine to sell. At the time of harvest they collect so much corn and wine by begging or buying, storing them in their cellars and granaries, that they can live off them without begging for the rest of the year. They build churches or other edifices, or have them built, of such size, style and costliness that they seem to be the abodes of the wealthy not of the poor. The friars in very many places have so many church ornaments and so obviously precious ones as to surpass in this the great cathedrals. They also accept indiscriminately horses and arms offered to them at funerals.

    Yet the community of friars, and in particular the rulers of the order, asserted that the above abuses, or most of them, did not exist in the order and any friars found guilty in such matters are punished rigorously. Moreover, very strict laws were passed long ago in the order to prevent such abuses. Wishing, therefore, to provide for the consciences of the friars and to remove, as far as we can, all doubt from their hearts, we give the following replies.

    For a way of life to be authentic, outward actions must correspond to the interior attitude of mind. The friars, therefore, who have torn themselves away from temporal possessions by so great a renunciation, must abstain from all that is or may seem to be contrary to that renunciation. Now, heirs acquire not only use of their inheritance but, in time, ownership also, and the friars cannot acquire anything for themselves in particular or for their order in general. We therefore declare that the absoluteness of their vow renders the friars altogether incapable of such inheritance, which of its nature extends both to money and to other movable and immovable goods. Nor may they allow themselves to be left or accept as a legacy the value of such inheritance, or a great part of it, so that it could be presumed that this was done by deceit; indeed, we absolutely forbid this.

    Since annual revenues are considered by law as immovable goods, and are contrary to poverty and mendicancy, there is no doubt that the friars may not accept or have revenues of any kind, given their state of life, just as they may not have possessions or even their use, since this use is not granted to them.

    Further, not only what is known to be evil, but also everything which has the appearance of evil, should be specially avoided by perfect men. Now, to be present in court and urge their case, when the law is concerned with matters of advantage to them, leads people to believe from external appearances that the friars present are seeking something as their own. In no way, therefore, ought the friars who profess this rule and vow, to meddle in legal processes in such courts. By abstention they will be thought well of by outsiders, and they will live up to the purity of their vow and avoid scandal to their neighbour. Indeed, the friars are to be complete strangers not only to the acceptance, possession, ownership or use of money, but even to any handling of it, as our said predecessor has repeatedly and clearly said in his interpretation of the rule. Also, the members of this order cannot go to law for any temporal thing. The friars may therefore not lend themselves to such legal processes, but rather consider them forbidden by the purity of their state, because these activities cannot be concluded without litigation and the management or administration of money. Nevertheless they do not act in a manner contrary to their state if they give advice for the execution of these affairs, since this advice does not confer upon them any jurisdiction or legal authority or administration with regard to temporal goods.

    Certainly it is not only lawful but very reasonable that the friars who devote themselves to the spiritual works of prayer and study should have gardens and open spaces for recollection and recreation, and sometimes in order to provide a bodily distraction after their spiritual labours, as also to cultivate vegetables for their needs. To keep gardens, however, in order to cultivate vegetables and other garden produce for sale, and vines likewise, is inconsistent with the rule and purity of their order. Our said predecessor has declared and also ordained that if, for this kind of use, someone were to leave a field or a vineyard or something of this nature to the friars, they should refrain absolutely from accepting it, since to have such things in order to receive the price of the produce in season is similar to having an income.

    Again, saint Francis has shown, both by the example of his life and by the words of his rule, that he wishes his brothers and sons, relying on divine providence, to cast their burden on the Lord, who feeds the birds of the air, which neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns. It is not likely, then, that he would have wished them to have granaries or wine-cellars, when they hope to live by daily begging. And for that reason they should not lay by provisions from some slight fear, but only when it is very probable from experience that they will not otherwise find the necessities of life. We therefore consider that the decision should be left to the consciences of the ministers and guardians, both as a body and separately in their offices and guardianships, acting with the advice and consent of the guardian and two discreet older priests from a house of the order in the area.

    The saint wished to establish his friars in the greatest poverty and humility, both in inclination and in fact, as practically the whole rule proclaims. It is only right, then, that they should in no way build, or allow to be built, churches or edifices of any kind which, in relation to the numbers of friars living there, might be considered excessive in number or in size. We therefore wish that, everywhere in the order, the friars should be satisfied with buildings which are modest and humble, lest outward appearances, which strike the eye, should contradict the great poverty promised by the heart.

    Although church ornaments and vessels are ordained to the honour of God's name, for which purpose God created everything, yet he who discerns what is secret looks chiefly at the heart of those who serve him, not at their hands. He does not wish to be served through things which jar with the professed life-style of his servants. The friars should therefore be content with vessels and church ornaments which are seemly in appearance and sufficient in size and number. Excess, costliness or over-elaboration in these or in anything else does not become the friars' profession or state of life. Everything which smacks of treasure and abundance detracts, in the eyes of people, from the profession of such great poverty. We therefore wish and command the friars to observe what we have said.

    As for the presents of horses and arms, we decree that everywhere and in everything the aforesaid declaration concerning alms of money be observed.

    From the above matters, however, there has arisen among the friars an uneasy question, namely, whether their rule obliges them to a strict and meagre use of things. Some of the friars believe and say that, just as they are vowed to a very strict renunciation of ownership, they are also enjoined the greatest restraint in the use of things. Other friars on the contrary assert that by their profession they are not obliged to any restrained use that is not expressed in the rule; they are however obliged to a temperate use, in the same way as other Christians and even more fittingly. Wishing, then, to give peace to the friars' consciences and to put an end to these disputes, we declare that the friars Minor in professing their rule are obliged specially to the strict and restrained use expressed in the rule. To say, however, as some are said to assert, that it is heretical to hold that a restricted use of things is or is not included in the vow of evangelical poverty, this we judge to be presumptuous and rash.

    Finally, when the rule states by whom and where the minister general should be elected, it makes no mention at all of the election or appointment of provincial ministers. There can arise some uncertainty among the friars on this point. We wish them to be able to go forward with clarity and security in all they do. We therefore declare, decree and ordain in this constitution of perpetual validity, that when a province is to be provided with a minister, his election belongs to the provincial chapter. It shall hold the election the day after assembling. The confirmation of the election belongs to the minister general. If this election is made by ballot, and the votes are divided in such a way that several ballots are made without agreement, then the choice made by the numerical majority of the chapter (leaving aside considerations of zeal or merit), notwithstanding objections of any kind from the other side, is to be confirmed or invalidated by the minister general. Having first given careful consideration to the matter, in accordance with his office, he shall take counsel with discreet members of the order, so that a decision is made which is pleasing to God. If the minister general invalidates the election, the provincial chapter shall vote again. If the chapter does not elect its minister on the day mentioned, the minister general shall freely provide a provincial minister. There are, however, certain provinces -- Ireland, Greece and Rome -- which are said to have had until now, for just reasons, another way of providing the provincial minister. In these cases, if the minister general and the general chapter judge, with good reason, that the provincial minister should be appointed by the minister general, with the advice of good religious of the order, rather than by the election of the provincial chapter, this shall be done without dispute for the provinces of Ireland, Rome and Greece when the previous provincial minister dies or is relieved of office on this side of the sea; there shall be no deceit, partiality or fraud, the burden resting on the consciences of those who decide the appointment. As for the dismissal of provincial ministers, we wish the order to retain the procedure which has been customary up to now. For the rest, if the friars are without a minister general, his duties shall be carried out by the vicar of the order until there is a new minister general. Further, if there be any attempted violation of this decree concerning the provincial minister, such action shall be automatically null and void.

    Let nobody therefore ... If anyone however ...'


    1. 16 May 1312, from Regestum 7952

    2. The introductory address given in Regestum 9983 is omitted here because many other introductory addresses are known of (see Regestum VIII, pp. 416-420). Regestum gives two versions of the letter. The one used here as the base text (Regestum 9983) is addressed to each and all of the bishops. The other is addressed to king Philip of France (= P), see Regestum 8986 (19 Dec. 1312).

    3. P adds: Indeed our beloved son in Christ, Philip the illustrious king of the Franks, who together with our beloved son in Christ, Louis the illustrious king of Navarre, was present at the council, showed himself to be the most christian of princes. He had the cause of the holy Land very much at heart. He burned with zeal of faith and devotion to rescue the holy Land from the hands of the impious and to right the wrongs there of him who underwent disgrace and shame for the sake of our redemption. He so directed and still directs the desires of his heart, that he undertook in the council the business of the general crusade ordained by us intending therefore to take for a certain time the sign of the life-giving cross, with the deliberate purpose of sailing personally with his forces to the aid of the holy Land.

    4. But actually we . . . holy gospels of God"] And at last, commending in the Lord this purpose of the king, so acceptable to God, we thought it fitting and most proper that we and the church ought to assist such a glorious prince in proceeding with this great enterprise. We observed especially that because the cities and other places once held by the faithful had been laid waste by the wild rage of the enemy, there was no place left to admit the champions of the faith. The enterprise would be more costly than formerly when some of the king's ancestors and other christian princes had sailed to the aid of the holy Land; then the cities and places were prosperous and could produce and admit catholic warriors. We therefore judged that the tithe for six years, namely that on the ecclesiastical revenues and incomes of France, which used to be paid in times past in that kingdom, should be granted to the king to help him in his enterprise, so that he might use it for the aid of the holy Land.
      We therefore ask, admonish and exhort earnestly all our venerable brothers, the archbishops and bishops, our beloved chosen sons, the abbots, priors, deans, provosts, archdeacons, archpriests and other prelates of churches, the chapters, colleges and convents of the Cistercians, Cluniacs, Premonstratensians, of saints Benedict and Augustine, of the Carthusians, Grandmontines and other orders, and other secular and regular ecclesiastical persons, exempt and non-exempt, in the kingdom of France, with the exception only of the persons and places belonging to the Hospital of saint John of Jerusalem and of the other military orders, by our other letters, and also enjoining on them strictly by apostolic ordinance and in virtue of obedience, to pay the tithe, each and all of them, out of reverence for God, the apostolic see and us, for six years, which we wish to be reckoned from the next feast of blessed Mary Magdalen. We enjoin further on each archbishop and bishop to claim and collect from each and all of the abbots, priors, deans, provosts, archdeacons, archpriests and other prelates of churches, the chapters, colleges and convents, and other non-exempt secular and regular ecclesiastical persons, in their cities and dioceses, except for the persons and places of the Hospital of saint John of Jerusalem and of the other military orders. The collection is to be made directly or through other persons appointed by them in each city and diocese, from the ecclesiastical revenues and incomes, in the usual manner for the periods stated below, namely for half of the first year on the next feast of blessed Mary Magdalen and for the remaining half on the coming feast of the purification of the blessed virgin Mary, and so on for the remaining five years. The tithe should be collected without difficulties being made and by our authority. We empower and command, by our aforesaid letters, the persons delegated by the archbishops and bishops to make this collection, to claim and collect this tithe by our authority from the abbots, priors, deans, provosts, archdeacons, archpriests and other prelates of churches, the chapters, colleges and convents, and other exempt secular and regular ecclesiastical persons, with the exception of the persons and places of the Hospital of saint John of Jerusalem and the other military orders. The tithe is to be collected for the years and periods mentioned above. The archbishops and bishops, as also their delegates, are to take care to transfer to you, our deputies, their own tithe and that of others as collected by themselves or their delegates for each of the six years. You are to assign the collection to the king of France or his delegate or delegates for the purpose of the crusade. In order that you may more easily and effectively collect and assign this tithe, we grant you by the present document free and unrestricted power, in virtue of our authority, to compel the archbishops and bishops and their delegates, disregarding any appeal, to the fulfilment and collection of this tithe and its assignation, as prescribed. We also grant you the same full power in imparting absolution to those archbishops and bishops bound by sentences of excommunication, suspension or interdict for not paying the tithe in due time, after they have made satisfaction, and of dispensing with those bound by such sentences who have contracted irregularity by celebrating or taking part in divine worship. P

    5. 31 December; from Regestum 9984

    6. 13 January 1313; from Regestum 8973

    Translation taken from Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, ed. Norman P. Tanner

    To return to the beginning of the Council of Vienne, see FIRST PART OF THE COUNCIL OF VIENNE

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