Council of Constance
1414-1418 A.D.

part two

For document sources noted, see Abbreviations


SESSION 5 - 6 April 1415 continued

Next, that all translations of prelates, or depositions of the same, or of any other beneficed persons, officials and administrators, revocations of commendams and gifts, admonitions, ecclesiastical censures, processes, sentences and whatever has been or will be done or accomplished by the aforesaid lord pope John or his officials or commissaries, since the beginning of this council, to the injury of the said council or its adherents, against the supporters or participants of this sacred council, or to the prejudice of them or of any one of them, in whatever way they may have been or shall be made or done, against the will of the persons concerned, are by this very fact, on the authority of this sacred council, null, quashed, invalid and void, and of no effect or moment, and the council by its authority quashes, invalidates and annuls them.

Next, it declares that the lord pope John XXIII and all the prelates and other persons summoned to this sacred council, and other participants in the same synod, have enjoyed and do now enjoy full freedom, as has been apparent in the said sacred council, and the opposite has not been brought to the notice of the said summoned persons or of the said council. The said sacred council testifies to this before God and people. [21 ]

SESSION 6 - 17 April 1415

[At this session there were, among other minor deliberations, decrees about admitting the office of proctor in the matter of pope John XXIII's renunciation of the papacy and about the citing of Jerome of Prague.]

SESSION 7 - 2 May 1415

[At this session it was decreed that pope John should be publicly summoned and that the summons of Jerome of Prague, now charged with contumacy, should be repeated.]

SESSION 8 - 4 May 1415

This most holy synod of Constance, which is a general council and represents the catholic church and is legitimately assembled in the holy Spirit, for the eradication of the present schism and the elimination of the errors and heresies which are sprouting beneath its shade and for the reform of the church, make this perpetual record of its acts.

[Sentence condemning various articles of John Wyclif]

We learn from the writings and deeds of the holy fathers that the catholic faith without which (as the Apostle says) it is impossible to please God , has often been attacked by false followers of the same faith, or rather by perverse assailants, and by those who, desirous of the world's glory, are led on by proud curiosity to know more than they should; and that it has been defended against such persons by the church's faithful spiritual knights armed with the shield of faith. Indeed these kinds of wars were prefigured in the physical wars of the Israelite people against idolatrous nations. Therefore in these spiritual wars the holy catholic church, illuminated in the truth of faith by the rays of light from above and remaining ever spotless through the Lord's providence and with the help of the patronage of the saints, has triumphed most gloriously over the darkness of error as over profligate enemies. In our times, however, that old and jealous foe has stirred up new conflicts so that the approved ones of this age may be made manifest. Their leader and prince was that pseudo-christian John Wyclif. He stubbornly asserted and taught many articles against the christian religion and the catholic faith while he was alive. We have decided that forty-five of the articles should be set out on this page as follows.

1. The material substance of bread, and similarly the material substance of wine, remain in the sacrament of the altar.

2. The accidents of bread do not remain without their subject in the said sacrament.

3. Christ is not identically and really present in the said sacrament in his own bodily persona.

4. If a bishop or a priest is in mortal sin, he does not ordain or confect or consecrate or baptise.

5. That Christ instituted the mass has no basis in the gospel.

6. God ought to obey the devil.

7. If a person is duly contrite, all exterior confession is superfluous and useless for him.

8. If a pope is foreknown as damned and is evil, and is therefore a limb of the devil, he does not have authority over the faithful given to him by anyone, except perhaps by the emperor.

9. Nobody should be considered as pope after Urban VI. Rather, people should live like the Greeks, under their own laws.

10. It is against sacred scripture for ecclesiastics to have possessions.

11. No prelate should excommunicate anyone unless he first knows that the person has been excommunicated by God; he who does so thereby becomes a heretic and an excommunicated person.

12. A prelate excommunicating a cleric who has appealed to the king or the king's council is thereby a traitor to the king and the kingdom.

13. Those who stop preaching or hearing the word of God on account of an excommunication issued by men are themselves excommunicated and will be regarded as traitors of Christ on the day of judgment.

14. It is lawful for any deacon or priest to preach the word of God without authorisation from the apostolic see or from a catholic bishop.

15. Nobody is a civil lord or a prelate or a bishop while he is in mortal sin.

16. Secular lords can confiscate temporal goods from the church at their discretion when those who possess them are sinning habitually, that is to say sinning from habit and not just in particular acts.

17. The people can correct sinful lords at their discretion.

18. Tithes are purely alms, and parishioners can withhold them at will on account of their prelates' sins.

19. Special prayers applied by prelates or religious to a particular person avail him or her no more than general prayers, if other things are equal.

20. Whoever gives alms to friars is thereby excommunicated.

21. Whoever enters any religious order whatsoever, whether it be of the possessioners or the mendicants, makes himself less apt and suitable for the observance of God's commands.

22. Saints who have founded religious orders have sinned in so doing.

23. Members of religious orders are not members of the christian religion.

24. Friars are bound to obtain their food by manual work and not by begging. [22 ]

25. All are simoniacs who bind themselves to pray for people who help them in temporal matters.

26. The prayer of someone foreknown as damned profits nobody.

27. All things happen from absolute necessity.

28. Confirming the young, ordaining clerics and consecrating places have been reserved to the pope and bishops because of their greed for temporal gain and honour.

29. Universities, places of study, colleges, degrees and academic exercises in these institutions were introduced by a vain pagan spirit and benefit the church as little as does the devil.

30. Excommunication by a pope or any prelate is not to be feared since it is a censure of antichrist.

31. Those who found religious houses sin, and those who enter them belong to the devil.

32. It is against Christ's command to enrich the clergy.

33. Pope Silvester and the emperor Constantine erred in endowing the church.

34. All the members of mendicant orders are heretics, and those who give them alms are excommunicated.

35. Those who enter a religious or other order thereby become incapable of observing God's commands, and consequently of reaching the kingdom of heaven, unless they leave them.

36. The pope with all his clerics who have property are heretics, for the very reason that they have property; and so are all who abet them, namely all secular lords and other laity.

37. The Roman church is Satan's synagogue; and the pope is not the immediate and proximate vicar of Christ and the apostles.

38. The decretal letters are apocryphal and seduce people from Christ's faith, and clerics who study them are fools.

39. The emperor and secular lords were seduced by the devil to endow the church with temporal goods.

40. The election of a pope by the cardinals was introduced by the devil.

41. It is not necessary for salvation to believe that the Roman church is supreme among the other churches. [23 ]

42. It is ridiculous to believe in the indulgences of popes and bishops.

43. Oaths taken to confirm civil commerce and contracts between people are unlawful.

44. Augustine, Benedict and Bernard are damned, unless they repented of having owned property and of having founded and entered religious orders; and thus they are all heretics from the pope down to the lowest religious.

45. All religious orders alike were introduced by the devil.

[Condemnation of Wyclif's books]

This same John Wyclif wrote books called by him Dialogus and Trialogus and many other treatises, works and pamphlets in which he included and taught the above and many other damnable articles. He issued the books for public reading, in order to publish his perverse doctrine, and from them have followed many scandals, losses and dangers to souls in various regions, especially in the kingdoms of England and Bohemia. Masters and doctors of the universities and houses of study at Oxford and Prague, opposing with God's strength these articles and books, later refuted the above articles in scholastic form. They were condemned, moreover, by the most reverend fathers who were then the archbishops and bishops of Canterbury, York and Prague, legates of the apostolic see in the kingdoms of England and of Bohemia. The said archbishop of Prague, commissary of the apostolic see in this matter, also judicially decreed that the books of the same John Wyclif were to be burnt and he forbade the reading of those that survived.

After these things had again been brought to the notice of the apostolic see and a general council, the Roman pontiff condemned the said books, treatises and pamphlets at the lately held council of Rome [24 ] , ordering them to be publicly burnt and strictly forbidding anyone called a Christian to dare to read, expound, hold or make any use of any one or more of the said books, volumes, treatises and pamphlets, or even to cite them publicly or privately, except in order to refute them. In order that this dangerous and most foul doctrine might be eliminated from the church's midst, he ordered, by his apostolic authority and under pain of ecclesiastical censure, that all such books, treatises, volumes and pamphlets should be diligently sought out by the local ordinaries and should then be publicly burnt; and he added that if necessary those who do not obey should be proceeded against as if they were promoters of heresy.

This sacred synod has had the aforesaid forty-five articles examined and frequently considered by many most reverend fathers, cardinals of the Roman church, bishops, abbots, masters of theology, doctors in both laws and many notable persons. After the articles had been examined it was found, as indeed is the case, that some of them, indeed many, were and are notoriously heretical and have already been condemned by holy fathers, others are not catholic but erroneous, others scandalous and blasphemous, some offensive to the ears of the devout and some rash and seditious. It was also found that his books contain many other similar articles and introduce into God's church teaching that is unsound and hostile to faith and morals. This holy synod, therefore, in the name of our lord Jesus Christ, in ratifying and approving the sentences of the aforesaid archbishops and of the council of Rome, repudiates and condemns for ever, by this decree, the aforesaid articles and each one of them in particular, and the books of John Wyclif called by him Dialogus and Trialogus, and the same author's other books, volumes, treatises and pamphlets (no matter what name these may go under, and for which purpose this description is to be regarded as an adequate listing of them). It forbids the reading, teaching, expounding and citing of the said books or of any one of them in particular, unless it is for the purpose of refuting them. It forbids each and every Catholic henceforth, under pain of anathema, to preach, teach or affirm in public the said articles or any one of them in particular, or to teach, approve or hold the said books, or to refer to them in any way, unless this is done, as has been said, for the purpose of refuting them. It orders, moreover, that the aforesaid books, treatises, volumes and pamphlets are to be burnt in public, in accordance with the decree of the synod of Rome, as stated above. This holy synod orders local ordinaries to attend with vigilance to the execution and due observance of these things, insofar as each one is responsible, in accordance with the law and canonical sanctions.

[Condemnation of 260 other articles of Wyclif] [25 ]

When the doctors and masters of the university of Oxford examined the aforesaid written works, they found 260 articles in addition to the 45 articles that have been mentioned. Some of them coincide in meaning with the 45 articles, even if not in the forms of words used. Some of them, as has been said, were and are heretical, some seditious, some erroneous, others rash, some scandalous, others unsound, and almost all of them contrary to good morals and the catholic truth. They were therefore condemned by the said university in correct and scholastic form. This most holy synod, therefore, after deliberating as mentioned above, repudiates and condemns the said articles and each one of them in particular; and it forbids, commands and decrees in the same way as for the other 45 articles. We order the contents of these 260 articles to be included below [26 ] .

[The council pronounces John Wyclif a heretic, condemns his memory and orders his bones to be exhumed]

Furthermore, a process was begun, on the authority or by decree of the Roman council, and at the command of the church and of the apostolic see, after a due interval of time, for the condemnation of the said Wyclif and his memory. Invitations and proclamations were issued summoning those who wished to defend him and his memory, if any still existed. However, nobody appeared who was willing to defend him or his memory. Witnesses were examined by commissaries appointed by the reigning lord pope John and by this sacred council, regarding the said Wyclif's final impenitence and obstinacy. Legal proof was thus provided, in accordance with all due observances, as the order of law demands in a matter of this kind, regarding his impenitence and final obstinacy. This was proved by clear indications from legitimate witnesses. This holy synod, therefore, at the instance of the procurator-fiscal and since a decree was issued to the effect that sentence should be heard on this day, declares, defines and decrees that the said John Wyclif was a notorious and obstinate heretic who died in heresy, and it anathematises him and condemns his memory. It decrees and orders that his body and bones are to be exhumed, if they can be identified among the corpses of the faithful, and to be scattered far from a burial place of the church, in accordance with canonical and lawful sanctions.

SESSION 9 - 13 May 1415

[Pope John is publicly summoned for the second time and an inquiry against him is decreed.]

SESSION 10 - 14 May 1415

[John XXIII is summoned for the third time, he is accused of contumacy and is suspended from the papacy.]

SESSION 11 - 25 May 1415

[Pope John XXIII is publicly charged and forty-four articles against him are produced.]

SESSION 12 - 29 May 1415

[Decree stating that the process for electing a pope, if the see happens to be vacant, may not begin without the council's express consent [27 ] ]

This most holy general synod of Constance, representing the catholic church, legitimately assembled in the holy Spirit, for the eradication of the present schism and errors, for bringing about the reform of the church in head and members, and in order that the unity of the church may be obtained more easily, quickly and freely, pronounces, determines, decrees and ordains that if it happens that the apostolic see becomes vacant, by whatever means this may happen, then the process of electing the next supreme pontiff may not begin without the deliberation and consent of this sacred general council. If the contrary is done then it is by this very fact, by the authority of the said sacred council, null and void. Nobody may accept anyone elected to the papacy in defiance of this decree, nor in any way adhere to or obey him as pope, under pain of eternal damnation and of becoming a supporter of the said schism. Those who make the election in such a case, as well as the person elected, if he consents, and those who adhere to him, are to be punished in the forms prescribed by this sacred council. The said holy synod, moreover, for the good of the church's unity, suspends all positive laws, even those promulgated in general councils, and their statutes, ordinances, customs and privileges, by whomsoever they may have been granted, and penalties promulgated against any persons, insofar as these may in any way impede the effect of this decree.

[Sentence deposing pope John XXIII]

In the name of the holy and undivided Trinity, Father and Son and holy Spirit Amen. This most holy general synod of Constance, legitimately assembled in the holy Spirit, having invoked Christ's name and holding God alone before its eyes, having seen the articles drawn up and presented in this case against the lord pope John XXIII, the proofs brought forward, his spontaneous submission and the whole process of the case, and having deliberated maturely on them, pronounces, decrees and declares by this definitive sentence which it commits to writing: that the departure of the aforesaid lord pope John XXIII from this city of Constance and from this sacred general council, secretly and at a suspicious hour of the night, in disguised and indecent dress, was and is unlawful, notoriously scandalous to God's church and to this council, disturbing and damaging for the church's peace and unity, supportive of this long-standing schism, and at variance with the vow, promise and oath made by the said lord pope John to God, to the church and to this sacred council; that the said lord pope John has been and is a notorious simoniac, a notorious destroyer of the goods and rights not only of the Roman church but also of other churches and of many pious places, and an evil administrator and dispenser of the church's spiritualities and temporalities; that he has notoriously scandalised God's church and the christian people by his detestable and dishonest life and morals, both before his promotion to the papacy and afterwards until the present time, that by the above he has scandalised and is scandalising in a notorious fashion God's church and the christian people; that after due and charitable warnings, frequently reiterated to him, he obstinately persevered in the aforesaid evils and thereby rendered himself notoriously incorrigible; and that on account of the above and other crimes drawn from and contained in the said process against him, he should be deprived of and deposed from, as an unworthy, useless and damnable person, the papacy and all its spiritual and temporal administration. The said holy synod does now remove, deprive and depose him. It declares each and every Christian, of whatever state, dignity or condition, to be absolved from obedience, fidelity and oaths to him. It forbids all Christians henceforth to recognise him as pope, now that as mentioned he has been deposed from the papacy, or to call him pope, or to adhere to or in any way to obey him as pope. The said holy synod, moreover, from certain knowledge and its fullness of power, supplies for all and singular defects that may have occurred in the above-mentioned procedures or in any one of them. It condemns the said person, by this same sentence, to stay and remain in a good and suitable place, in the name of this sacred general council, in the safe custody of the most serene prince lord Sigismund, king of the Romans and of Hungary, etc., and most devoted advocate and defender of the universal church, as long as it seems to the said general council to be for the good of the unity of God's church that he should be so condemned. The said council reserves the right to declare and inflict other punishments that should be imposed for the said crimes and faults in accordance with canonical sanctions, according as the rigour of justice or the counsel of mercy may advise.

[Decree to the effect that none of the three contenders for the papacy may be re-elected as pope]

The said holy synod decrees, determines and ordains for the good of unity in God's church that neither the lord Baldassare de Cossa, recently John XXIII, nor Angelo Correr nor Peter de Luna, called Gregory XII and Benedict XIII by their respective obediences, shall ever be re-elected as pope. If the contrary happens, it is by this very fact null and void. Nobody, of whatever dignity or pre-eminence even if he be emperor, king, cardinal or pontiff, may ever adhere to or obey them or any one of them, contrary to this decree, under pain of eternal damnation and of being a supporter of the said schism. Let those who presume to the contrary, if there are any in the future, also be firmly proceeded against in other ways, even by invoking the secular arm. [28 ]

SESSION 13 - 15 June 1415

[Condemnation of communion under both kinds, recently revived among the Bohemians by Jakoubek of Stribro]

In the name of the holy and undivided Trinity, Father and Son and holy Spirit, Amen. Certain people, in some parts of the world, have rashly dared to assert that the christian people ought to receive the holy sacrament of the eucharist under the forms of both bread and wine. They communicate the laity everywhere not only under the form of bread but also under that of wine, and they stubbornly assert that they should communicate even after a meal, or else without the need of a fast, contrary to the church's custom which has been laudably and sensibly approved, from the church's head downwards, but which they damnably try to repudiate as sacrilegious. Therefore this present general council of Constance, legitimately assembled in the holy Spirit, wishing to provide for the safety of the faithful against this error, after long deliberation by many persons learned in divine and human law, declares, decrees and defines that, although Christ instituted this venerable sacrament after a meal and ministered it to his apostles under the forms of both bread and wine, nevertheless and notwithstanding this, the praiseworthy authority of the sacred canons and the approved custom of the church have and do retain that this sacrament ought not to be celebrated after a meal nor received by the faithful without fasting, except in cases of sickness or some other necessity as permitted by law or by the church. Moreover, just as this custom was sensibly introduced in order to avoid various dangers and scandals, so with similar or even greater reason was it possible to introduce and sensibly observe the custom that, although this sacrament was received by the faithful under both kinds in the early church, nevertheless later it was received under both kinds only by those confecting it, and by the laity only under the form of bread. For it should be very firmly believed, and in no way doubted, that the whole body and blood of Christ are truly contained under both the form of bread and the form of wine. Therefore, since this custom was introduced for good reasons by the church and holy fathers, and has been observed for a very long time, it should be held as a law which nobody may repudiate or alter at will without the church's permission. To say that the observance of this custom or law is sacrilegious or illicit must be regarded as erroneous. Those who stubbornly assert the opposite of the aforesaid are to be confined as heretics and severely punished by the local bishops or their officials or the inquisitors of heresy in the kingdoms or provinces in which anything is attempted or presumed against this decree, according to the canonical and legitimate sanctions that have been wisely established in favour of the catholic faith against heretics and their supporters.


FOOTNOTES

  • 21 The following were also approved at this session : a proposition concerning matters about Hus and Wyclif to be treated at the next session; a decree about writing letters to kings and princes in the name of the council, about the pope's flight and about the continuing integrity of the council; a decree to the effect that pope John should be brought back by the emperor to the council of Constance.
  • 22 Regarding this article, the reasons for the condemnation are included in the acts as follows: The first part is scandalous and presumptuous inasmuch as it speaks in general terms and without distinctions; the second part is errorneous inasmuch as it asserts that beggin is not permitted to friars.
  • 23 Regarding this article, the acts include the following reasons for the condemnation: It is an error if one understands by the Roman church the universal church or a general council, or inasmuch as it would deny the primacy of the supreme pontiff over the other individual churches.
  • 24 In 1412 (Msi, 27, 505-508)
  • 25 This condemnation is not in Asd
  • 26 These 260 articles condemned by the university of Oxford in 1411 (see J. A. Robson, Wyclif and the Oxford Schools, Cambridge 1961, 244-246) are not to be found in any versions of the council's acts. Indeed, the French nation said that it knew nothing about them, and for this reason the same topic was taken up again in the 15th session (see Hardt 4, 156 and 191; Finke II 34, 40 and 362. H-L wrongly affirms [7, 226] that this decree was passsed in the 9th session. See the 15th session below.
  • 27 In Hardt this decree follows the sentencing of pope John to be removed and deposed; H-L (7, 248 n.), on the other hand, correctly affirms that it preceded the sentence, as the heading of the decree shows.
  • 28 There follows a separate decree on electing four judges for summoning absent prelates.


See Part Three of the Council of Constance

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