Council of Constance
1414-1418 A.D.

part six

For document sources noted, see Abbreviations

[On the manner and form of electing the pope]

For the praise, glory and honour of almighty God and for the peace and unity of the universal church and of the whole christian people. The election of the future Roman and supreme pontiff is soon to be held. We wish that it may be confirmed with greater authority and by the assent of many persons and that, mindful as we are of the state of the church, no doubts or scruples may later remain in people's minds regarding the said election but rather that a secure, true full and perfect union of the faithful may result from it. Therefore this most holy general synod of Constance, mindful of the common good and with the special and express consent and the united wish of the cardinals of the holy Roman church present at the same synod, and of the college of cardinals and of all the nations at this present council, declares, ordains and decrees that, for this time only, at the election of the Roman and supreme pontiff, there shall be added to the cardinals six prelates or other honourable churchmen in holy orders, from each of the nations currently present and named at the same synod, who are to be chosen by each of the said nations within ten days. This same holy synod gives power to all these people, insofar as it is necessary, to elect the Roman pontiff according to the form here laid down. That is to say, the person is to be regarded as the Roman pontiff by the universal church without exception who is elected and admitted by two-thirds of the cardinals present at the conclave and by two-thirds of those from each nation who are to be and have been added to the cardinals. Moreover, the election is not valid nor is the person elected to be regarded as supreme pontiff unless two-thirds of the cardinals present at the conclave, and two-thirds of those from each nation who should be and have been added to the same cardinals, agree to elect him as Roman pontiff. The synod also declares, ordains and decrees that the votes of any persons cast at the election are null unless, as has been said, two-thirds of the cardinals, and two-thirds of those from each nation who should be and have been added to them, agree, directly or by way of addition, upon one person. This must be added, moreover, that the prelates and other persons who should be and have been added to the cardinals for the election, are bound to observe all and singular apostolic constitutions, even penal ones, which have been promulgated regarding the election of the Roman pontiff, just as the cardinals themselves are bound to observe them, and they are bound to their observance. The said electors, both cardinals and others, are also bound to swear, before they proceed to the election, that in attending to the business of the election, they will proceed with pure and sincere minds--since it is a question of creating the vicar Jesus Christ, the successor of the blessed Peter, the governor of the universal church and the leader of the Lord's flock--and that they firmly believe it will benefit the public good of the universal church if they entirely prescind from all affection for persons of any particular nation, or other inordinate affections, as well as from hatred and graces or favours bestowed, in order that by their ministry a beneficial and suitable pastor may be provided for the universal church. This same holy synod, mindful of this notorious vacancy in the Roman church, fixes and assigns the next ten days for all and singular cardinals of the holy Roman church, whether present here or absent, and the other electors mentioned above, to enter into the conclave which is to be held in this city of Constance, in the commune's principal building which has already been allocated for this purpose. The synod ordains, declares and decrees that within these next ten days the aforesaid electors, both cardinals and others mentioned above, must enter into the conclave for the purpose of holding the election and of doing and carrying out all the other matters according as the laws ordain and decree in all things, besides those mentioned above regarding the cardinals and other electors, concerning the election of a Roman pontiff. The same holy synod wishes all these laws to remain in force after the above matters have been observed. For this time, however, it approves, ordains, establishes and decrees this particular form and manner of election. The same holy synod, in order to remove all scruples, makes and declares fit for actively and passively carrying out all legitimate acts at the same synod, insofar as this is necessary, all those who are present at the same synod as well as those who will come and adhere to it, always saving the other decrees of this same sacred council, and it will supply for any defects, if perchance any shall occur in the above, notwithstanding any apostolic constitutions, even those published in general councils, and other constitutions to the contrary.

SESSION 41 - 8 November 1417

[Everything is prepared for the start of the conclave to elect a pope. On 11 November cardinal Oddo Colonna is elected pontiff as Martin V.]

SESSION 42 - 28 December 1417

[In this session a bull of Martin V was approved regarding Baldassare Cossa, formerly pope, who was earlier deprived of his see and imprisoned by the council but who is now to be set free]


[42 ]

- 23 MARCH 1418

[Certain statutes promulgated on the reform of the church]

On exemptions

Martin, bishop and servant of the servants of God. We note that from the time of the death of pope Gregory XI, our predecessor of happy memory, some Roman pontiffs, or those who claimed to be and were reputed as such in their various obediences, either of their own will or on account of the importunity of petitioners, have granted exemption from the jurisdiction of their ordinaries to certain churches, monasteries, chapters, convents, priories, benefices, places and persons, which were in no way exempt in the time of the said Gregory, to the great detriment of the ordinaries in question. We wish to avoid damage of this kind. We therefore revoke, with the approval of this sacred council, all exemptions that were first granted after the said Gregory XI's death, by any persons whomsoever claiming to be Roman pontiffs, even if perchance we ourselves with full knowledge approved or renewed the exemptions, without the party in question being heard, to any cathedral churches, monasteries (even those that were exempt but were later made subject to a monastery of a different order or tradition), chapters, convents, prelacies, benefices, places and persons whatsoever, if they had enjoyed no exemption before they were exempted in this way, but were simply subject to ordinary jurisdiction, and had no beginning before that time. We except, however, exemptions that were made or granted either by way of confirmation, increase or addition, or concerning which the matter was ordained by the competent authority, after the interested parties had presented themselves and been heard, or to which the ordinaries consented, to a whole order or to churches, monasteries, chapters, convents, benefices and places founded after the aforesaid time by way of or on condition of exemption or with a new foundation in mind, or to universities and colleges of scholars. We also revoke, with the approval of this sacred council, all perpetual exemptions granted by the pope through inferior persons. We revoke them even if unresolved suits about them are pending, and we end these suits. We return the churches, monasteries and other aforesaid places to the former jurisdiction of their ordinaries. We do not wish to prejudice by this in any way other exemptions held or granted before the death of the said Gregory. In future, however, we do not intend to grant exemptions unless the case has been examined and the interested parties have been summoned.

On unions and incorporations

Martin, etc. It is not possible to give a certain rule about unions and incorporations made or granted after Gregory XI's death. We shall therefore revoke them, with due regard to justice, even though the authority of the apostolic see may have been involved, on the plea of the interested parties, unless they were made for good and true reasons or unless the interested persons themselves have obtained benefices united in this way.

On intercalary fruits

Martin, etc. Next, we leave the fruits and revenues coming from churches, monasteries and benefices during a vacancy to be disposed of in accordance with the law and customs or privileges. We forbid them to be applied to us or to the apostolic camera.

On simoniacs

Martin, etc. Many constitutions have been issued in the past against the evil of simony, but they have not been able to eradicate the disease. We wish to attend carefully to this matter in the future according as we are able to. We therefore declare, with the approval of this sacred council, that persons ordained in a simoniacal fashion are automatically suspended from exercising their orders. Simoniacal elections, postulations, confirmations and provisions that are henceforth made to or in respect of any churches, monasteries, dignities, parsonages, offices or ecclesiastical benefices are rendered null by the law itself and nobody acquires any rights through them. Those who have been thus promoted, confirmed or provided may not receive their fruits but are bound to restore them as though they had received things that had been unjustly taken. We decree, moreover, that both those who give and those who receive money in this matter of simony automatically incur the sentence of excommunication, even though their rank be pontifical or cardinalatial.

On dispensations

Martin, etc. Since benefices are granted by reason of the duties attached to them, we consider it absurd that those who obtain benefices refuse or neglect to carry out their duties. We therefore revoke, with the approval of this sacred council, all dispensations, granted by any persons whomsoever claiming to be Roman pontiffs, to any persons elected to, confirmed in or provided to churches, monasteries, conventual priories, deaneries, archdeaconries or any other benefices for which a particular order ought to be bestowed, or to which one is attached, whereby the persons in question are dispensed from receiving the episcopal consecration or the abbatial blessing or the other orders that ought to be bestowed or are attached. This does not include, however, the dispensations granted according to the form of Boniface VIII's constitution beginning Cum ex eo We decree that within six months from the publication of this our constitution, for those who are presently holding such appointments, and within the time laid down by the law for those who will hold them in the future, the persons concerned are to have themselves consecrated or blessed or promoted to some other required order. Otherwise they are deprived by the law itself of the said churches, monasteries, dignities, parsonages, offices and benefices. These may then be freely conferred on other persons or provision may be made for them. However, other published constitutions on this matter are to remain in force.

On tithes and other dues

Martin, etc. We command and order the strict observance of the laws which forbid tithes and other dues to be imposed on churches and ecclesiastics by persons lower than the pope. For ourselves, moreover, we shall in no way impose them generally on the whole clergy unless there is a grave and serious reason and an advantage for the universal church in doing so, and then with the advice, consent and written endorsement of our brothers, the cardinals of the holy Roman church, and the prelates whose advice can conveniently be obtained. This should not happen especially in any kingdom or province where the prelates in question, or the majority of them, have not been consulted or have not consented. In this way they may only be levied by ecclesiastics acting on the authority of the apostolic see.

On the life and probity of clerics

Martin, etc. Among the various faults of clerics and prelates this one has especially taken root, namely that many of them despise an appearance of ecclesiastical decency in their dress and delight in what is unbecoming. They seek to conform to the laity and they exhibit outwardly in their dress whatever they are thinking in their minds. Therefore, with the approval of this sacred council, we renew and order the careful observance of all the laws currently in force regarding the clothing, tonsure and habits of clerics, as to both shape and colour, and their hair-styles and the style and uprightness of their lives. These laws have been heeded far too little by both the secular and the regular clergy. Especially we order to be utterly abolished, with the same council's approval, the abuse whereby in certain regions some clerics and churchmen, both secular and regular, and even (which we deplore still more) prelates of churches, wear long gloves that are unnecessarily large and sumptuous, extending to their elbows, and clothes with slits at the back and sides, with furs covering the edges even of the slit parts. Moreover, they are not afraid to attend the divine offices in churches--even in the churches in which they are beneficed--in such clothes together with their surplices and other garments worn for worship and the church's services. We condemn this unbecoming way of dressing for all churchmen and we forbid the wearing of such garments. Those who do otherwise are to be punished as transgressors of the canons. We decree in particular that if any beneficed person, or any holder of an office in a church, dares to attend the divine office in such clothing, then he shall know that he is suspended from receiving his ecclesiastical incomes for one month for each such occasion, and the fruits of these incomes are to be applied to the fabric of the church in question.

Martin, etc. We decree and declare with the approval of this sacred council, that the demands of this same sacred council. regarding the articles contained in the reform decree promulgated on Saturday 30 October [43 ] of last year, have been and are met by the various decrees, statutes and ordinances, both those which have been read out in this present session and those upon which agreement has been reached with the individual nations of the council. [44 ] We wish these decrees, statutes and ordinances to be deposited in our chancellery and that letters in public form, under the seal of our vice-chancellor, be drawn up and handed over to those who wish to have them.

SESSION 44 - 19 April 1418

[Decree on the place of the next council]

Martin, etc. We wish and desire to put into effect a decree of this general council [45 ] which lays down, among other things, that general councils must always be held in the place which the supreme pontiff, with the consent and approval of the council, is bound to depute and assign, within the month before the end of this council, as the place for the next council after the end of the present one. With the consent and approval of this present council, we therefore, by this present decree, depute and assign the city of Pavia for this purpose, and we ordain and decree that prelates and others who ought to be summoned to general councils are obliged to go to Pavia at the aforesaid time. Let nobody therefore ... If anyone however . . . Given and enacted at Constance, in the place of this public session . . .


[46 ]

- 22 April 1418

[Sentence dissolving the council, and the granting of indulgences]

Martin, etc. We dissolve the council, as the sacred council itself requires, for reasons that are certain, reasonable and just. We give permission, with the council's approval, to each and every person at the council to return home. Furthermore, on the authority of almighty God and of his blessed apostles Peter and Paul and on our authority, we grant to each and every person who has taken part in this sacred council and its business a full absolution of all his sins, once in his life, provided he takes advantage of the absolution in the correct form within two months of his hearing about it. We grant the same at the hour of death. This is to be understood as applying to both lords and members of their households; provided that they fast on each Friday for a year from the day they come to know of this indulgence, in the case of those who seek the absolution for while they are alive, and for another year in the case of those who seek it for the hour of death, unless they are legitimately prevented from doing so, in which case they should perform other pious works. After the second year, they ought to fast on Fridays until the end of their lives or to perform other pious works. Let nobody therefore . . . If anyone however . . . Given and enacted at Constance in the place of this public session. .. FOOTNOTES

  • 42 On 22 February 1418 Martin V's bull Inter cunctas was promulgated against the followers of John Wyclif and John Hus. It was addressed to all archbishops, bishops and inquisitors. Included in it were the 45 articles of Wyclif condemned in the 8th session and the 30 articles of Hus condemned in the 15th session. All suspects were to answer 39 questions, which were enumerated in the bull, on these articles (see Hardt 4, 1518-1531; H-L 7, 507-529; D 657-689).
  • 43 Session 40
  • 44 Those agreed upon in the council by Martin V--with the Spanish, French, German and English nations--have also been published in Raccolta di concordati su matene ecclesiastiche tra la S. Sede e le autorita civili, edited by A. Mercati, I Roma 1954, 144-168 (see H-L 7, 535-565).
  • 45 Session 39
  • 46 At the beginning of this session the Poles petitioned for a solemn confirmation of the condemnation as heretical of John Falckenberg's doctrine on tyrannicide. This doctrine had already been condemned by the individual nations but not by the council. Pope Martin's reply was as follows: The aforesaid lord our pope said, in answer to these proposals, protestations, requests and suggestions, after silence had been imposed on all (since some were saying much and causing a disturbance), and by way of replying to the aforesaid points, that he wished to hold and inviolably observe, and never to contravene in any way, each and every thing that had been determined, concluded and decreed in a conciliar way, in matters of faith, by this present sacred general council of Constance. The pope approves the things done thus in a conciliar way, and he ratifies all things about matters of the faith that were done in the council in a conciliar way and not otherwise or in some other way (Hardt 4, 1557).

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

To return to the First Part of the Council of Constance, see Part One of the Council of Constance

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