Council of Constance
1414-1418 A.D.

part five

For document sources noted, see Abbreviations

SESSION 39 - 9 October 1417

[On general councils]

The frequent holding of general councils is a pre-eminent means of cultivating the Lord's patrimony. It roots out the briars, thorns and thistles of heresies, errors and schisms, corrects deviations, reforms what is deformed and produces a richly fertile crop for the Lord's vineyard. Neglect of councils, on the other hand, spreads and fosters the aforesaid evils. This conclusion is brought before our eyes by the memory of past times and reflection on the present situation. For this reason we establish, enact, decree and ordain, by a perpetual edict, that general councils shall be held henceforth in the following way. The first shall follow in five years immediately after the end of this council, the second in seven years immediately after the end of the next council, and thereafter they are to be held every ten years for ever. They are to be held in places which the supreme pontiff is bound to nominate and assign within a month before the end of each preceding council, with the approval and consent of the council, or which, in his default, the council itself is bound to nominate. Thus, by a certain continuity, there will always be either a council in existence or one expected within a given time. If perchance emergencies arise, the time may be shortened by the supreme pontiff, acting on the advice of his brothers, the cardinals of the Roman church, but it may never be prolonged. Moreover, he may not change the place assigned for the next council without evident necessity. If an emergency arises whereby it seems necessary to change the place--for example in the case of a siege, war, disease or the like--then the supreme pontiff may, with the consent and written endorsement of his aforesaid brothers or of two-thirds of them, substitute another place which is suitable and fairly near to the place previously assigned. It must, however, be within the same nation unless the same or a similar impediment exists throughout the nation. In the latter case he may summon the council to another suitable place which is nearby but within another nation, and the prelates and other persons who are customarily summoned to a council will be obliged to come to it as if it had been the place originally assigned. The supreme pontiff is bound to announce and publish the change of place or the shortening of time in a legal and solemn form within a year before the date assigned, so that the aforesaid persons may be able to meet and hold the council at the appointed time.

[Provision to guard against future schisms]

If it happens--though may it not!--that a schism arises in the future in such a way that two or more persons claim to be supreme pontiffs, then the date of the council, if it is more than a year off, is to be brought forward to one year ahead; calculating this from the day on which two or more of them publicly assumed the insignia of their pontificates or on which they began to govern. All prelates and others who are bound to attend a council shall assemble at the council without the need for any summons, under pain of the law's sanctions and of other penalties which may be imposed by the council, and let the emperor and other kings and princes attend either in person or through official deputies, as if they had been besought, through the bowels of the mercy of our lord Jesus Christ, to put out a common fire. Each of those claiming to be the Roman pontiff is bound to announce and proclaim the council as taking place at the end of the year, as mentioned, in the previously assigned place; he is bound to do this within a month after the day on which he came to know that one or more other persons had assumed the insignia of the papacy or was administering the papacy; and this is under pain of eternal damnation, of the automatic loss of any rights that he had acquired in the papacy, and of being disqualified both actively and passively from all dignities. He is also bound to make the council known by letter to his rival claimant or claimants, challenging him or them to a judicial process, as well as to all prelates and princes, insofar as this is possible. He shall go in person to the place of the council at the appointed time, under pain of the aforesaid penalties, and shall not depart until the question of the schism has been fully settled by the council. None of the contenders for the papacy, moreover shall preside as pope at the council. Indeed, in order that the church may rejoice more freely and quickly in one undisputed pastor, all the contenders for the papacy are suspended by law as soon as the council has begun, on the authority of this holy synod, from all administration; and let not obedience be given in any way by anyone to them, or to any one of them until the question has been settled by the council.

If it happens in the future that the election of a Roman pontiff is brought about through fear, which would weigh upon even a steadfast man, or through pressure, then we declare that it is of no effect or moment and cannot be ratified or approved by subsequent consent even if the state of fear ceases. The cardinals, however, may not proceed to another election until a council has reached a decision about the election, unless the person elected resigns or dies. If they do proceed to this second election, then it is null by law and both those making the second election and the person elected, if he embarks upon his reign as pope, are deprived by law of every dignity, honour and rank--even cardinalatial or pontifical--and are thereafter ineligible for the same, even the papacy itself; and nobody may in any way obey as pope the second person elected, under pain of being a fosterer of schism. In such a case the council is to provide for the election of a pope. It is lawful, however, and indeed all the electors are bound, or at least the greater part of them, to move to a safe locality and to make a statement about the said fear. The statement is to be made in a prominent place before public notaries and important persons as well as before a multitude of the people. They are to do this as quickly as they can without danger to their persons, even if there is a threat of danger to all their goods. They shall state in their allegation the nature and extent of the fear and shall solemnly swear that the allegation is true that they believe they can prove it and that they are not making it out of malice or calumny. Such an allegation of fear cannot be delayed in any way until after the next council.

After they have moved and have alleged the fear in the above form, they are bound to summon the person elected to a council. If a council is not due for more than a year after their summons, then its date shall be brought forward by the law itself to only a year ahead, in the way explained above. The elected person is bound under pain of the aforesaid penalties, and the cardinals under pain of automatically losing the cardinalate and all their benefices, to announce and proclaim the council within a month after the summons, in the way mentioned above, and to make it known as soon as possible. The cardinals and other electors are bound to come in person to the place of the council, at a suitable time, and to remain there until the end of the affair.

The other prelates are bound to answer the cardinals' summons, as mentioned above, if the person elected fails to issue a summons. The latter will not preside at the council since he will have been suspended by law from all government of the papacy from the time the council begins, and he is not to be obeyed by anyone in any matter under pain of the offender becoming a promoter of schism. If the aforesaid emergencies arise within a year before the beginning of a council-namely that more than one person claim to be pope or that someone has been elected through fear or pressure--then those who claim to be pope, or the one elected through fear or pressure, as well as the cardinals, are deemed by law as having been summoned to the council. They are bound, moreover, to appear in person at the council, to explain their case and to await the council's judgment. But if some emergency happens during the above occurrences whereby it is necessary to change the place of the council--for example a siege or war or disease or some such--then nevertheless all the aforesaid persons, as well as all prelates and others who are obliged to attend a council, are bound to assemble at a neighbouring place suitable for the council, as has been said above. Moreover, the greater part of the prelates who have moved to a particular place within a month may specify it as the place of the council to which they and others are bound to come, just as if it had been the place first assigned. The council, after it has thus been summoned and has assembled and become acquainted with the cause of the schism, shall bring a suit of contumacy against the electors or those claiming to be pope or the cardinals, if perchance they fail to come. It shall then pronounce judgment and shall punish, even beyond the aforesaid penalties and in such a way that the fierceness of the punishment acts as an example to others, those who are to blame--no matter of what state or rank or pre-eminence, whether ecclesiastical or secular, they may be--in starting or fostering the schism, in their administering or obeying, in their supporting those who governed or in making an election against the aforesaid prohibition, or who lied m their allegations of fear.

The disturbance caused by fear or pressure at a papal election corrodes and divides, in a lamentable way, the whole of Christianity. In order that it may be assiduously avoided, we have decided to decree, in addition to what has been said above, that if anyone brings to bear or causes, or procures to be brought about, fear or pressure or violence of this kind upon the electors in a papal election, or upon any one of them, or has the matter ratified after it has been done, or advises or acts in support of it, or knowingly receives or defends someone who has done this, or is negligent in enforcing the penalties mentioned below--no matter of what state or rank or pre-eminence the offender may be, even if it be imperial or regal or pontifical, or any other ecclesiastical or secular dignity he may hold--then he automatically incurs the penalties contained in pope Boniface VIII's constitution which begins Felicis, and he shall be effectively punished by them.

Any city--even if it be Rome itself, though may it not be!--or any other corporation that gives aid, counsel or support to someone who does these things, or that does not have such an offender punished within a month, insofar as the enormity of the crime demands and there exists the possibility of inflicting the punishment, shall automatically be subject to ecclesiastical interdict. Furthermore the city, apart from the one mentioned above, shall be deprived of the episcopal dignity, notwithstanding any privileges to the contrary. We wish, moreover, that this decree be solemnly published at the end of every general council and that it be read out and publicly announced before the start of a conclave, wherever and whenever the election of a Roman pontiff is about to take place.

[On the profession to be made by the pope]

Since the Roman pontiff exercises such great power among mortals, it is right that he be bound all the more by the incontrovertible bonds of the faith and by the rites that are to be observed regarding the church's sacraments. We therefore decree and ordain, in order that the fullness of the faith may shine in a future Roman pontiff with singular splendour from the earliest moments of his becoming pope, that henceforth whoever is to be elected Roman pontiff shall make the following confession and profession in public, in front of his electors, before his election is published.

In the name of the holy and undivided Trinity, Father and Son and holy Spirit. Amen. In the year of our Lord's nativity one thousand etc., I, N., elected pope, with both heart and mouth confess and profess to almighty God, whose church I undertake with his assistance to govern, and to blessed Peter, prince of the apostles, that as long as I am in this fragile life I will firmly believe and hold the catholic faith, according to the traditions of the apostles, of the general councils and of other holy fathers, especially of the eight holy universal councils-namely the first at

Nicaea, the second at

Constantinople, the third at

Ephesus, the fourth at

Chalcedon, the fifth and sixth at

Constantinople, the seventh at

Nicaea and the eighth at

Constantinople--as well as of the general councils at the


Lyons and


and I will preserve this faith unchanged to the last dot and will confirm, defend and preach it to the point of death and the shedding of my blood, and likewise I will follow and observe in every way the rite handed down of the ecclesiastical sacraments of the catholic church. This my profession and confession, written at my orders by a notary of the holy Roman church, I have signed below with my own hand. I sincerely offer it on this altar N. to you, almighty God, with a pure mind and a devout conscience, in the presence of the following. Made etc.

[That prelates may not be translated without their consent]

When prelates are translated, there is commonly both spiritual and temporal loss and damage of a grave nature for the churches from which they are transferred. The prelates, moreover, sometimes do not maintain the rights and liberties of their churches as carefully as they otherwise might, out of fear of being translated. The importunity of certain people who seek their own good, not that of Jesus Christ, may mean that the Roman pontiff is deceived in such a matter, as one ignorant of the facts, and so is easily led astray. We therefore determine and ordain, by this present decree, that henceforth bishops and superiors ought not to be translated unwillingly without a grave and reasonable cause which, after the person in question has been summoned, is to be inquired into and decided upon with the advice of the cardinals of the holy Roman church, or the greater part of them, and with their written endorsement. Lesser prelates, such as abbots and others with perpetual benefices, ought not to be changed, moved or deposed without a just and reasonable cause that has been inquired into.

We add, moreover, that for abbots to be changed the written endorsement of the cardinals is necessary--just as it is necessary for bishops, as has been said-saving, however, the constitutions and privileges of any churches, monasteries and orders.

[On spoils and procurations]

Papal reservations as well as the exacting and receiving of procurations which are due to ordinaries and other lesser prelates, by reason of a visitation, and of spoils on deceased prelates and other clerics, are seriously detrimental to churches, monasteries and other benefices and to churchmen. We therefore declare, by this present edict, that it is reasonable and in the public interest that reservations made by the pope, as well as exactions and collections of this kind made by collectors and others appointed or to be appointed by apostolic authority, are henceforth in no way to occur or to be attempted. Indeed, procurations of this kind, as well as spoils and the goods of any prelates found at their deaths, even if they are cardinals or members of the papal household or officials or any other clerics whatsoever, in the Roman curia or outside it, no matter where or when they die, are to belong to and to be received by, fully and freely, those persons to whom they would and ought to belong with the ending of the aforesaid reservations, mandates and exactions. We forbid the exaction of such spoils on prelates even inferior ones and others, which are outside and contrary to the form of common law. However, the constitution of pope Boniface VIII of happy memory, beginning Praesenti, which was published with this specially in mind, is to remain in force.

SESSION 40 - 30 OCTOBER 1417

[Reforms to be made by the pope together with the council before it is dissolved]

The most holy synod of Constance [40 ] declares and decrees that the future supreme Roman pontiff, who by God's grace is to be elected very soon, together with this sacred council or those to be deputed by the individual nations, is bound to reform the church in its head and in the Roman curia, according to justice and the good government of the church, before this council is dissolved, under the topics contained in the following articles, which were at various times put forward by the nations by way of reforms.

1. First, the number, quality and nationality of the lord cardinals.

2. Next, reservations of the apostolic see.

3. Next, annates, common services and petty services.

4. Next, collations to benefices and expectative graces.

5. Next, the cases that are, or are not, to be heard at the Roman curia.

6. Next, appeals to the Roman curia.

7. Next, the offices of chancery and penitentiary.

8. Next, exemptions and incorporations made at the time of the schism.

9. Next, commendams.

10. Next, confirmation of elections. [41 ]

11. Next, intercalary fruits.

12. Next, not alienating goods of the Roman church and of other churches.

13. Next, for what reasons and how a pope can be corrected or deposed.

14. Next, the eradication of simony.

15. Next, dispensations.

16. Next, revenues of the pope and the cardinals.

17. Next, indulgences.

18. Next, tithes.

With this addition, that when the nations have deputed their representatives as

mentioned above, the others may freely return to their own countries with the

pope's permission.

[That the election of the Roman pontiff may be begun, notwithstanding the absence of Peter de Luna's cardinals]

The most holy general synod of Constance notes what was previously agreed upon at Narbonne concerning the church's unity and the admission to this synod of the cardinals of the obedience of Peter de Luna, called Benedict XIII in his obedience. It notes, too, that after the notorious expulsion of the said Peter de Luna, the aforesaid cardinals who had been summoned before the expulsion according to the terms of the agreement, did not come within three months and more after the aforesaid expulsion. The synod therefore decrees and declares that, notwithstanding their absence, it will proceed to the election of the Roman pontiff on the authority of the said synod and according to what has been decided by the same synod. It declares, however, that if they arrive before the election of the future supreme pontiff has been completed, and if they adhere to the council, they are to be admitted to the aforesaid election together with the other cardinals, according to the directives of the law and what shall be decided by the council.


  • 40 The most holy general synod of Constance, legitimately assembled in the holy Spirit, representing the universal church Asd.

    41 This article comes fifth in the changed order in Asd.

See Part Six of the Council of Constance

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