Council of Constance
1414-1418 A.D.

part three

For document sources noted, see Abbreviations


[That no priest, under pain of excommunication, may communicate the people under the forms of both bread and wine]

This holy synod also decrees and declares, regarding this matter, that instructions are to be sent to the most reverend fathers and lords in Christ, patriarchs, primates, archbishops, bishops, and their vicars in spirituals, wherever they may be, in which they are to be commissioned and ordered on the authority of this sacred council and under pain of excommunication, to punish effectively those who err against this decree. They may receive back into the church's fold those who have gone astray by communicating the people under the forms of both bread and wine, and have taught this, provided they repent and after a salutary penance, in accordance with the measure of their fault, has been enjoined upon them. They are to repress as heretics, however, by means of the church's censures and even if necessary by calling in the help of the secular arm, those of them whose hearts have become hardened and who are unwilling to return to penance.

From this point on the council becomes a duly convened ecumenical council, all previous sessions being ultra-vires.

SESSION 14 - 4 July 1415

[29 ]

[Uniting of the followers of pope Gregory XII and of the former pope John XXIII, now that both men have abdicated]

In order that the reunion of the church may be possible and that a beginning may be made which is fitting and pleasing to God, since the most important part of any matter is its beginning, and in order that the two obediences--namely the one claiming that the lord John XXIII was formerly pope and the other claiming that the lord Gregory XII is pope--may be united together under Christ as head, this most holy general synod of Constance, legitimately assembled in the holy Spirit and representing the catholic church, accepts in all matters the convoking, authorising, approving and confirming that is now being made in the name of the lord who is called Gregory XII by those obedient to him, insofar as it seems to pertain to him to do this, since the certainty obtained by taking a precaution harms nobody and benefits all, and it decrees and declares that the aforesaid two obediences are joined and united in the one body of our lord Jesus Christ and of this sacred universal general council, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy Spirit.

[Decree stating that the election of the Roman pontiff is to be made in the manner and form to be laid down by the sacred council, and that the council shall not be dissolved until the election of the next Roman pontiff has been made]

The most holy general synod of Constance, etc., enacts, pronounces, ordains and decrees, in order that God's holy church may be provided for better, more genuinely and more securely, that the next election of the future Roman pontiff is to be made in the manner, form, place, time and way that shall be decided upon by the sacred council; that the same council can and may henceforth declare fit, accept and designate, in the manner and form that then seems suitable, any persons for the purposes of this election, whether by active or by passive voice, of whatever state or obedience they are or may have been, and any other ecclesiastical acts and all other suitable things, notwithstanding any proceedings, penalties or sentences; and that the sacred council shall not be dissolved until the said election has been held. The said holy synod therefore exhorts and requires the most victorious prince lord Sigismund, king of the Romans and of Hungary, as the church's devoted advocate and as the sacred council's defender and protector, to direct all his efforts to this end and to promise on his royal word that he wishes to do this and to order letters of his majesty to be made out for this purpose.

[The council approves Gregory XII's resignation]

The most holy general synod of Constance, legitimately assembled in the holy Spirit, representing the universal catholic church, accepts, approves and commends, in the name of the Father, the Son and the holy Spirit, the cession renunciation and resignation made on behalf of the lord who was called Gregory XII in his obedience, by the magnificent and powerful lord Charles Malatesta. here present, his irrevocable procurator for this business, of the right, title and possession that he had, or may have had, in regard to the papacy. [30 ]

SESSION 15 - 6 July 1415

[Sentence condemning 260 articles Wyclif] [31 ]

The books and pamphlets of John Wyclif, of cursed memory, were carefully examined by the doctors and masters of Oxford university. They collected 260 unacceptable articles from these books and pamphlets and condemned them in scholastic form. This most holy general synod of Constance, representing the catholic church, legitimately assembled in the holy Spirit for the purpose of extirpating schism, errors and heresies, has had all these articles examined many times by many most reverend fathers, cardinals of the Roman church, bishops, abbots, masters of theology, doctors of both laws, and very many other notable persons from various universities. It was found that some, indeed many, of the articles thus examined were and are notoriously heretical and have already been condemned by holy fathers, some are offensive to the ears of the devout and some are rash and seditious. This holy synod, therefore, in the name of our lord Jesus Christ, repudiates and condemns, by this perpetual decree, the aforesaid articles and each one of them in particular; and it forbids each and every Catholic henceforth, under pain of anathema, to preach, teach, or hold the said articles or any one of them. The said holy synod orders local ordinaries and inquisitors of heresy to be vigilant in carrying out these things and duly observing them, insofar as each one is responsible, in accordance with the law and canonical sanctions. Let anyone who rashly violates the aforesaid decrees and sentences of this sacred council be punished, after due warning, by the local ordinaries on the authority of this sacred council, notwithstanding any privilege. [32 ]

[Articles of John Wyclif selected from the 260]

1. Just as Christ is God and man at the same time, so the consecrated host is at the same time the body of Christ and true bread. For it is Christ's body at least in figure and true bread in nature; or, which comes to the same thing, it is true bread naturally and Christ's body figuratively.

2. Since heretical falsehood about the consecrated host is the most important point in individual heresies, I therefore declare to modern heretics, in order that this falsehood may be eradicated from the church, that they cannot explain or understand an accident without a subject. And therefore all these heretical sects belong to the number of those who ignore the fourth chapter of John: We worship what we know.

3. I boldly foretell to all these sects and their accomplices that even by the time Christ and all the church triumphant come at the final judgment riding at the trumpet blast of the angel Gabriel, they shall still not have proved to the faithful that the sacrament is an accident without a subject.

4. Just as John was Elias in a figurative sense and not in person, so the bread on the altar is Christ's body in a figurative sense. And the words, This is my body, are unambiguously figurative, just like the statement "John is Elias".

5. The fruit of this madness whereby it is pretended that there can be an accident without a subject is to blaspheme against God, to scandalise the saints and to deceive the church by means of false doctrines about accidents.

6. Those who claim that the children of the faithful dying without sacramental baptism will not be saved, are stupid and presumptuous in saying this.

7. The slight and short confirmation by bishops, with whatever extra solemnised rites, was introduced at the devil's suggestion so that the people might be deluded in the church's faith and the solemnity and necessity of bishops might be believed in the more.

8. As for the oil with which bishops anoint boys and the linen cloth which goes around the head, it seems that this is a trivial rite which is unfounded in scripture; and that this confirmation, which was introduced after the apostles, blasphemes against God.

9. Oral confession to a priest, introduced by Innocent [33 ] , is not as necessary to people as he claimed. For if anyone offends his brother in thought, word or deed, then it suffices to repent in thought, word or deed.

10. It is a grave and unsupported practice for a priest to hear the confessions of the people in the way that the Latins use.

11. In these words, You are clean, but not all are, the devil has laid a snare of the unfaithful ones in order to catch the Christian's foot. For he introduced private confession, which cannot be justified, and after the person's malice has been revealed to the confessor, as he decreed in the law, it is not revealed to the people.

12. It is a probable conjecture that a person who lives rightly is a deacon or a priest. For just as I infer that this person is John, so I recognise by a probable conjecture that this person, by his holy life, has been placed by God in such an office or state.

13. The probable evidence for such a state is to be taken from proof provided by the person's deeds and not from the testimony of the person ordaining him. For God can place someone in such a state without the need of an instrument of this kind, no matter whether the instrument is worthy or unworthy. There is no more probable evidence than the person's life. Therefore if there is present a holy life and catholic doctrine, this suffices for the church militant. (Error at the beginning and at the end.)

14. The bad life of a prelate means that his subjects do not receive orders and the other sacraments. They can receive them from such persons, however, when there is urgent need, if they devoutly beseech God to supply on behalf of his diabolical ministers the actions and purpose of the office to which they have bound themselves by oath.

15. People of former times would copulate with each other out of desire for temporal gain or for mutual help or to relieve concupiscence, even when they had no hope of offspring; for they were truly copulating as married persons. [34 ]

16. The words, I will take you as wife, are more suitable for the marriage contract than, I take you as wife. And the first words ought not to be annulled by the second words about the present, when someone contracts with one wife in the words referring to the future and afterwards with another wife in those referring to the present.

17. The pope, who falsely calls himself the servant of God's servants, has no status in the work of the gospel but only in the work of the world. If he has any rank, it is in the order of demons, of those who serve God rather in a blameworthy way.

18. The pope does not dispense from simony or from a rash vow, since he is the chief simoniac who rashly vows to preserve, to his damnation, his status here on the way. (Error at the end.)

19. That the pope is supreme pontiff is ridiculous. Christ approved such a dignity neither in Peter nor in anyone else.

20. The pope is antichrist made manifest. Not only this particular person but also the multitude of popes, from the time of the endowment of the church, of cardinals, of bishops and of their other accomplices, make up the composite, monstrous person of antichrist. This is not altered by the fact that Gregory and other popes, who did many good and fruitful things in their lives, finally repented.

21. Peter and Clement, together with the other helpers in the faith, were not popes but God's helpers in the work of building up the church of our lord Jesus Christ.

22. To say that papal pre-eminence originated with the faith of the gospel is as false as to say that every error arose from the original truth.

23. There are twelve procurators and disciples of antichrist: the pope, cardinals, patriarchs, archbishops, bishops, archdeacons, officials, deans, monks, canons with their two-peaked hats, the recently introduced pseudo-friars, and pardoners.

24. It is clear that whoever is the humbler, of greater service to the church, and the more fervent in Christ's love towards his church, is the greater in the church militant and to be reckoned the most immediate vicar of Christ.

25. Whoever holds any of God's goods unjustly, is taking the things of others by rapine, theft or robbery.

26. Neither the depositions of witnesses, nor a judge's sentence, nor physical possession, nor inheritance, nor an exchange between persons, nor a gift, nor all such things taken together, confer dominion or a right to anything upon a person without grace. (An error, if it is understood as referring to sanctifying grace.)

27. Unless the interior law of charity is present, nobody has more or less authority or righteousness on account of charters or bulls. We ought not to lend or give anything to a sinner so long as we know that he is such, for thus we would be assisting a traitor of our God.

28. Just as a prince or a lord does not keep the title of his office while he is in mortal sin, except in name and equivocally, so it is with a pope, bishop or priest while he has fallen into mortal sin.

29. Everyone habitually in mortal sin lacks dominion of any kind and the licit use of an action, even if it be good in its kind.

30. It is known from the principles of the faith that a person in mortal sin, sins mortally in every action.

31. In order to have true secular dominion, the lord must be in a state of righteousness. Therefore nobody in mortal sin is lord of anything.

32. All modern religious necessarily become marked as hypocrites. For their profession demands that they fast, act and clothe themselves in a particular way, and thus they observe everything differently from other people.

33. All private religion as such savours of imperfection and sin whereby a person is indisposed to serve God freely.

34. A private religious order or rule savours of a blasphemous and arrogant presumption towards God. And the religious of such orders dare to exalt themselves above the apostles by the hypocrisy of defending their religion.

35. Christ does not teach in scripture about any kind of religious order in antichrist's chapter. Therefore it is not his good pleasure that there should be such orders. The chapter is composed, however, of the following twelve types: the pope, cardinals, patriarchs, archbishops, bishops, archdeacons, officials, deans, monks, canons, friars of the four orders, and pardoners.

36. I infer as evident from the faith and works of the four sects--which are the caesarean clergy, the various monks, the various canons, and the friars-that nobody belonging to them is a member of Christ in the catalogue of the saints, unless he forsakes in the end the sect which he stupidly embraced.

37. Paul was once a pharisee but abandoned the sect for the better sect of Christ, with his permission. This is the reason why cloistered persons, of whatever sect or rule, or by whatever stupid vow they may be bound, ought freely to cast off these chains, at Christ's command, and freely join the sect of Christ.

38. It is sufficient for the laity that at some times they give tithes of their produce to God's servants. In this way they are always giving to the church, even if not always to the caesarean clergy deputed by the pope or by his dependents.

39. The powers that are claimed by the pope and the other four new sects are pretended and were diabolically introduced in order to seduce subjects; such are excommunications by caesarean prelates, citations, imprisoning, and the sale of money rents.

40. Many simple priests surpass prelates in such power. Indeed, it appears to the faithful that greatness of spiritual power belongs more to a son who imitates Christ in his way of life than to a prelate who has been elected by cardinals and similar apostates.

41. The people may withhold tithes, offerings and other private alms from unworthy disciples of Christ, since God's law requires this. The curse or censure imposed by antichrist's disciples is not to be feared but rather is to be received with joy. The lord pope and bishops and all religious or simple clerics, with titles to perpetual possession, ought to renounce them into the hands of the secular arm. If they stubbornly refuse, they ought to be compelled to do so by the secular lords.

42. There is no greater heretic or antichrist than the cleric who teaches that it is lawful for priests and levites of the law of grace to be endowed with temporal possessions. The clerics who teach this are heretics or blasphemers if ever there were any.

43. Temporal lords not only can take away goods of fortune from a church that is habitually sinning, nor is it only lawful for them to do so, but indeed they are obliged to do so under pain of eternal damnation.

44. God does not approve that anyone be judged or condemned by civil law.

45. If an objection is made against those who oppose endowments for the church, by pointing to Benedict, Gregory and Bernard, who possessed few temporal goods in poverty, it may be said in reply that they repented at the end. If you object further that I merely pretend that these saints finally repented of their falling away from God's law in this way, then you may teach that they are saints and I will teach that they repented at the end.

46. If we ought to believe in sacred scripture and in reason, it is clear that Christ's disciples do not have the authority to exact temporal goods by means of censures, and those who attempt this are sons of Eli and of Belial.

47. Each essence has one suppositum, following which another suppositum, equal to the first, is produced. This is the most perfect immanent action possible to nature.

48. Each essence, whether corporeal or incorporeal, is common to three supposita; and the properties, the accidents and the operations inhere in common in all of them.

49. God cannot annihilate anything, nor increase or diminish the world, but he can create souls up to a certain number, and not beyond it.

50. It is impossible for two corporeal substances to be co-extensive, the one continuously at rest in a place and the other continuously penetrating the body of Christ at rest.

51. Any continuous mathematical line is composed of two, three or four contiguous points, or of only a simply finite number of points; and time is, was and will be composed of contiguous instants. It is not possible that time and a line, if they exist, are composed of in this way. (The first part is a philosophical error, the last part is an error with regard to God's power.)

52. It must be supposed that one corporeal substance was formed at its beginning as composed of indivisibles, and that it occupies every possible place.

53. Every person is God.

54. Every creature is God.

55. Every being is everywhere, since every being is God.

56. All things that happen, happen from absolute necessity.

57. A baptised child foreknown as damned will necessarily live long enough to sin in the holy Spirit, wherefore it will merit to be condemned for ever. Thus no fire can burn the child until that time or instant.

58. I assert as a matter of faith that everything that will happen, will happen of necessity. Thus if Paul is foreknown as damned, he cannot truly repent; that is, he cannot cancel the sin of final impenitence by contrition, or be under the obligation not to have the sin.

[Sentence against John Hus]

The most holy general council of Constance, divinely assembled and representing the catholic church, for an everlasting record. Since a bad tree is wont to bear bad fruit, as truth itself testifies, so it is that John Wyclif, of cursed memory, by his deadly teaching, like a poisonous root, has brought forth many noxious sons, not in Christ Jesus through the gospel, as once the holy fathers brought forth faithful sons, but rather contrary to the saving faith of Christ, and he has left these sons as successors to his perverse teaching. This holy synod of Constance is compelled to act against these men as against spurious and illegitimate sons, and to cut away their errors from the Lord's field as if they were harmful briars, by means of vigilant care and the knife of ecclesiastical authority, lest they spread as a cancer to destroy others. Although, therefore, it was decreed at the sacred general council recently held at Rome [35 ] that the teaching of John Wyclif, of cursed memory, should be condemned and the books of his containing this teaching should be burnt as heretical; although his teaching was in fact condemned and his books burnt as containing false and dangerous doctrine; and although a decree of this kind was approved by the authority of this present sacred council [36 ] ; nevertheless a certain John Hus, here present in person at this sacred council, who is a disciple not of Christ but rather of the heresiarch John Wyclif, boldly and rashly contravening the condemnation and the decree after their enactment, has taught, asserted and preached many errors and heresies of John Wyclif which have been condemned both by God's church and by other reverend fathers in Christ, lord archbishops and bishops of various kingdoms, and masters in theology at many places of study. He has done this especially by publicly resisting in the schools and in sermons, together with his accomplices, the condemnation in scholastic form of the said articles of John Wyclif which has been made many times at the university of Prague, and he has declared the said John Wyclif to be a catholic man and an evangelical doctor, thus supporting his teaching, before a multitude of clergy and people. He has asserted and published certain articles listed below and many others, which are condemned and which are, as is well known, contained in the books and pamphlets of the said John Hus. Full information has been obtained about the aforesaid matters, and there has been careful deliberation by the most reverend fathers in Christ, lord cardinals of the holy Roman church, patriarchs archbishops, bishops and other prelates and doctors of holy scripture and of both laws, in large numbers. This most holy synod of Constance therefore declares and defines that the articles listed below, which have been found on examination, by many masters in sacred scripture, to be contained in his books and pamphlets written in his own hand, and which the same John Hus at a public hearing, before the fathers and prelates of this sacred council, has confessed to be contained in his books and pamphlets, are not catholic and should not be taught to be such but rather many of them are erroneous, others scandalous, others offensive to the ears of the devout, many of them are rash and seditious, and some of them are notoriously heretical and have long ago been rejected and condemned by holy fathers and by general councils, and it strictly forbids them to be preached, taught or in any way approved. Moreover, since the articles listed below are explicitly contained in his books or treatises, namely in the book entitled De ecclesia and in his other pamphlets, this most holy synod therefore reproves and condemns the aforesaid books and his teaching, as well as the other treatises and pamphlets written by him in Latin or in Czech, or translated by one or more other persons into any other language, and it decrees and determines that they should be publicly and solemnly burnt in the presence of the clergy and people in the city of Constance and elsewhere. On account of the above, moreover, all his teaching is and shall be deservedly suspect regarding the faith and is to be avoided by all of Christ's faithful. In order that this pernicious teaching may be eliminated from the midst of the church, this holy synod also orders that local ordinaries make careful inquiry about treatises and pamphlets of this kind, using the church's censures and even if necessary the punishment due for supporting heresy, and that they be publicly burnt when they have been found. This same holy synod decrees that local ordinaries and inquisitors of heresy are to proceed against any who violate or defy this sentence and decree as if they were persons suspected of heresy.

FOOTNOTES

  • 29 Tanner curiously says "At this session pope Gregory XII, through his legate Charles Malatesta, approved the council of Constance and solemnly renounced the papacy." The actual word used was convoco. See my introduction (2).
  • 30 The following decrees were also promulgated at this session for the purpose of confirming Gregory XII's resignation and of uniting the followers of the two obediences: Legal proceedings in the two obediences, arising from the schism, are declared ended. Decree stating that the process for electing the Roman pontiff, when the see is vacant, may not begin without the council's consent (this decree accords with the decrees promulgated in the earlier session). The council ratifies all that Gregory XII did, canonically and according to reason, within his actual obedience. The decree that Gregory XII may not be re-elected was not made on the grounds of incapacity on the part of the said lord Gregory. The council reserves to itself, and declares that it will indeed see to, the resolution of problems where two or more persons from different obediences hold the same title. The council accepts and admits as cardinals the lord Gregory and his cardinals. That the lord Gregory's officials shall retain their offices. That nobody may depart from the council without the council's permission. That the emperor Sigismund is to attend to the council's safety. Decree stating that the council requires Peter de Luna (Benedict XIII) to resign .
  • 31 The whole of this sentence condemning John Wyclif, together with the articles selected from the 260, is not in Asd; but the articles are published also in H-L 7, 308-313.
  • 32 See above, session 8 (p. 415). In Hardt (4, 400 and 408) this second condemnation of John Wyclif is not clearly distinguished from the condemnation of John Hus which follows immediately in the same session.
  • 33 Innocent III; see Lateran council IV, constitution 21 (see above, p. 245)
  • 34 but they were not copulating as married persons Msi
  • 35 Held in 1412 (Msi 27, 505-508)
  • 36 Session 8 [before the council became ecumenical]


See Part Four of the Council of Constance

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