Council of Florence
(Basle-Ferrara-Florence)
1431-1445 A.D.

part two

For document sources noted, see Abbreviations


Session Four continued

[If the apostolic see becomes vacant while the council is in progress, the election may not be held outside the council]'

The holy general synod of Basel, legitimately assembled in the holy Spirit, representing the universal church, bears in mind that it pertains to the duty of providence to foresee the future with clear-sighted consideration and to take wholesome steps against what could bring harm to the common good. The synod is intent upon the extirpation of heresies, peace among the people of Christ and the reformation of morals, with the grace of the holy Spirit, as is really necessary in view of the present situation. It has summoned the venerable fathers in Christ, the cardinals of the holy Roman church, to this sacred council, convinced that their presence at it is fruitful in many ways in view of their authority, wisdom and knowledge of affairs. If, then, as obedient sons they are coming to the council when the apostolic see falls vacant elsewhere, such a situation would redound to the benefit of the church but the obedient cardinals would be serving the council to their own disadvantage, whereas everyone knows that obedience should bring with it not disadvantage but an increase of benefit and honour. Lest disobedience may seem to be to the advantage of some who fail to come, this holy synod, with purposeful anticipation and for the above and other reasons which can and should motivate a prudent mind establishes, decrees and defines that, in the event of a vacancy of the apostolic see while this sacred council is in progress, the election of the supreme pontiff shall be held in the place of this sacred council, and it forbids it to be held elsewhere. The synod also decrees that any attempt against this by any authority whatsoever, be it even papal, notwithstanding any constitutions issued or to be issued or anything else acting to the contrary, even if there should be special mention in so many words or a confirmation on oath, which the synod rejects with full knowledge, is null and void and of no force or importance by law; and that those who attempt such things shall be disqualified in both active and passive voice with respect to the election of a Roman pontiff and for every other dignity, and deprived perpetually of all dignities which they hold, and shall automatically incur the mark of infamy as well as sentence of excommunication. If any such pretended election should be attempted, then both the one allegedly elected and his supporters as well as those who treat him as elected incur in the same way the above-mentioned penalties. The said synod reserves to itself, except at the moment of death, absolution of everyone who in any way shall incur the said sentences or any one of them. It declares that the present decree shall bind and come into force after forty days following its publication.

SESSION 5 9 August 1432

[In this session there were approved rules about the organization of the council: On cases and the procurator of the faith; Judges are deputed for the general examination of cases; That members of the council may not be brought to trial outside the place of this council; Officials are appointed. ]

SESSION 6 6 September 1432

[This session was devoted to reading: Petition of the promoters of the council against the pope and the cardinals. ]

SESSION 7 6 November 1432 [Interval for a papal election]

The most holy general synod of Basel, legitimately assembled in the holy Spirit, representing the universal church, for an everlasting record. Earlier this holy synod issued a decree about the election of a Roman pontiff if a vacancy of the apostolic see occurs during this sacred council. It is entitled, It pertains to the duty of providence . . . , and is to be found in full in the fourth session. However, a doubt about that decree has occurred to some, namely that the interval of ten days which the constitution of the council of Lyons fixed for the cardinals of the holy Roman church to enter the conclave, might elapse and be too restricted at least by the time that notification of the vacancy reaches this council. For, the interval would seems to be too rigid and too short for many of the cardinals who may be away in localities distant from this council. Moreover this holy synod wishes to eliminate all grounds for doubt and to provide carefully for what is conducive to the peace and unity of God's holy church, and with all modesty and due maturity to proceed with what is known in this matter, as in all things to promote the exaltation of the catholic faith and the general reformation and peace of the christian people, for which the council is legitimately assembled in the holy Spirit. It therefore decrees that in the case of a vacancy of the apostolic see in the lifetime of this present council, nothing shall be done for the election of a Roman pontiff before the expiry of sixty days from the day of the vacancy.

SESSION 8 18 December 1432

[Decree that there ought to be only one council]

The most holy general synod of Basel, legitimately assembled in the holy Spirit, representing the universal church, for an everlasting record. Just as there is only one holy catholic church, as Christ her spouse says, My dove, my perfect one, is only one, and as an article of the faith declares, since unity does not tolerate division, so there can be only one general council representing the holy catholic church. Since, therefore, by decrees of the sacred general councils of Constance and of Siena and by the approval of two Roman pontiffs, namely Martin V and Eugenius IV of happy memory, a general council was instituted and established in this city of Basel and assembled legitimately in the holy Spirit, it is clear that during this council another general council cannot exist elsewhere. Whoever therefore, during the lifetime of this sacred council shall presume to raise and hold another assembly with the title of a general council, is convicted of raising and holding a conventicle of schismatics and not a council of the catholic church. Therefore this holy council warns and exhorts all Christ's faithful, of whatever status or rank they may be, even if papal, imperial or regal, under the adjuration of the divine judgment which holy scripture relates in the case of Korah, Dathan and Abiram, authors of schism, and it strictly commands and forbids them in virtue of holy obedience and under the penalties laid down by the law, not to hold or summon, during this sacred council, another assembly with the title of a general council, which in reality would not be a council, nor to go to or to take part in or in any way to have recourse to it as if it were a general council, even under the pretext of any promise or oath, nor to hold or esteem it to be or even to call it a general council, even if it claims to have been summoned or shall try in the future to be summoned. If any ecclesiastical person, even a cardinal of the holy Roman church, or anyone else of whatever status, rank or condition he may be, shall dare to go to or stay in Bologna or any place with a pretended general council, during this present council, he shall automatically incur sentence of excommunication and deprivation of all benefices, dignities and offices and disqualification from them; and the dignities, offices and benefices of such persons may be freely disposed of by those to whom this pertains by law even if

SESSION 9 22 January 1433

[This session was entirely taken up with the solemn reception of the emperor Sigismund. ]

SESSION 10 19 February 1433

[This session was almost entirely taken up with reading: Accusation of contumacy of the pope. ]

SESSION 11 27 April 1433

[For the permanent validity of the authority of general councils]

The holy general council of Basel, legitimately assembled in the holy Spirit representing the universal church, for an everlasting record. Since the frequent holding of general councils, as a principal means of cultivating the Lord's field affects the universal church, every effort should be made that all obstacles that could impede so holy an institution are removed with great care. Hence this holy synod, obeying the decree of the council of Constance beginning The frequent, and anxious that no scandals such as unhappily have occurred in our day should spring up again in the future, to the detriment of the church, establishes and decrees that the Roman pontiff, who ought to be the first in working in the Lord's vineyard and in drawing others to work by his example, should take part in general councils in person or by a legate or legates a latere who is or are to be chosen in consultation with and with the consent -- which is not to be just by word of mouth -- of two-thirds of the cardinals. Also, all ecclesiastical persons who by law or custom ought to attend general councils are bound henceforward to come in person without further summons to general councils, both by force of the constitution The frequent and by the authority of this sacred council of Basel or of some other future council legitimately assembled, unless they are prevented by a legitimate impediment, in which case they are bound to send suitable persons with a sufficient mandate. If the Roman pontiff or other above-mentioned persons fail to do this, or in any way take means to impede change, prorogue or dissolve the council, and shall not have repented with real satisfaction within four months, thereafter the pope will be automatically suspended from the papal administration and the other persons from the administration of their dignities; the papal administration will devolve by law upon the sacred council. If they persist with hardened hearts under the aforesaid penalties for a further two months after the said four months, then the general council shall proceed against both the Roman pontiff and the above-mentioned persons up to and including the penalty of deprivation.

[That everybody is free to come to the council]

This holy synod decrees that, notwithstanding any prohibition, even from the Roman pontiff, there is freedom for absolutely all persons, of whatsoever status or condition they may be, even if they are cardinals of the Roman church, to go to general councils; and that the Roman pontiff is bound to grant permission to those who wish to go to general councils, especially to the aforesaid cardinals, if they request it.

[The council explains the phrase about prorogation of the council, and annuls attempts to the contrary, including future attempts]

This holy synod also declares that those words "it may never be prorogued", contained in the said decree, are to be understood so prohibitively that it cannot be prorogued even by a pope, and that a council actually assembled cannot be dissolved or moved from place to place by a Roman pontiff without the express consent of the council itself, and it quashes, voids and annuls anything that may be attempted in the future against this or even in disparagement or obstruction of this general council or of the persons, prelates and supporters of it, by deprivation, translation and ecclesiastical censures or in any other way.

[That the council may not be dissolved or moved without the express consent of two-thirds of each deputation, etc. ]

For certain reasonable causes it decrees that the present council of Basel cannot be dissolved or moved from place to place by anybody, even by the pope, unless there is obtained the express consent of two-thirds of each deputation, after a scrutiny of the votes of individual members, and then the approval of two-thirds of the general congregation, after a similar scrutiny of the votes of individual members, and finally a declaration is to be made in a public session. It prays through the tender mercy of Jesus Christ, and by the sprinkling of his precious blood it adjures all members of this sacred council, both present and future, that in no way they give their consent to a dissolution or allow a change of place, except for just and manifest reasons, before the reform in head and members has been completed, in so far as this can reasonably be achieved.

[That the place of the council should be chosen a month before the dissolution, and the phrase "in ten years" is clarified]

In accordance with the ordinance of the council of Constance, it wishes that the place of the future council should be chosen at least a month before the date of the dissolution. It also declares, as a precaution, that the phrase "in ten years" which is used in the said constitution should be understood in this way, namely that the ten years should be completely finished, and when it is fully completed the authorization to hold a general council begins. If it happens for any reason that those who are obliged to attend general councils do not come at the beginning, it declares that the said authorization to hold the council does not thereby cease, but that it should be held as soon as it conveniently can. But so that it cannot be deferred for a long time, this council decrees that for twenty days before the end of the said ten years, or of some other interval if perhaps this should reasonably be determined by the council, the Roman pontiff in person or through his legate or legates, and the archbishop in whose province or diocese the council is to be held and all the prelates who are within four days' journey of the place of the forthcoming council, provided there is no canonical impediment, in person or, if that cannot be, through suitable men constituted as proxies for this purpose, are obliged to present themselves so as to negotiate about the disposition of the place and other preliminaries of the council. On the day appointed for the opening of the council, those present shall celebrate a solemn mass of the holy Spirit, and the council shall be considered constituted and begun from that day. However, on account of the many necessities that can occur for those coming to a council, this holy synod exhorts those who shall be present not to bring difficult questions to a conclusion until after a reasonable wait for those absent and a fitting interval of time, rather, with divine fear as a guide, let everything proceed with due gravity, as the great mass of business of the universal church demands and requires. In those cases in which, according to the decree of Constance, the pope may, with the consent of the cardinals of the holy Roman church, change the place of a future council, it determines that, should the pope fail to do this, the college of cardinals may supply for the defect, on condition however that two-thirds of the cardinals agree, keeping, , nevertheless to the procedure contained in the said decree The frequent. The said cardinals shall swear by God and their consciences that they are making the change of place, if indeed they decide this, for the clear reasons that are mentioned in the decree The frequent.

[That the electors of a pope before entering the conclave shall swear that, if one of them is elected, he will observe the said decrees]'

So that the aforesaid may be put into execution the more easily, the holy synod determines that the electors of a Roman pontiff are bound, before entering the conclave, to swear to God and to promise the church that, should one of them be chosen as pope, he will observe the above decrees, statutes and ordinances, and to the best of his ability will endeavour to fulfil them really and effectively adding that whoever in future years shall be chosen as Roman pontiff must swear, among the other things which he must profess according to the decree of the council of Constance beginning Since the Roman pontiff, effective observance of the present decree. Later, in his first public consistory, he is bound to make again the same profession and let him also profess that, if he violates what is contained in this decree or commits a notorious crime which scandalizes the church, he will subject himself to the judgment of a general council. Both he and the college of cardinals shall insert this profession in the letters which they customarily send throughout the world on the accession of a new pope.

[That this decree should be published in synods]

So that nobody may plead ignorance of this wholesome and necessary decree, the holy synod orders, in virtue of holy obedience, all metropolitan bishops to have this decree read and published in provincial and synodal councils, and superiors of religious to have it read and published in their general chapters. 2

SESSION 12 13 July 1433

[Decree on elections and confirmations of bishops and prelates]

Just as in building a house the architect's chief concern is to lay such a foundation that the edifice built on it will endure immovable, so in the general reformation of the church the principal preoccupation of this holy synod is that the pastors set over the church may be such that, like pillars and bases, they will firmly uphold the church by the strength of their doctrine and merits. The office enjoined on prelates manifestly shows how great care should be taken in their election, for they are appointed for the government of souls for which our lord Jesus Christ died and shed his precious blood. Therefore the sacred canons promulgated under the Spirit of God, providentially established that each church and college or convent should elect a prelate for itself. Adhering to these prescriptions this holy synod, assembled in the same Spirit, establishes and defines that a general reservation of all metropolitan, cathedral, collegiate and monastic churches and elective dignities ought not to be made or used by the Roman pontiff in the future, always with the exception of reservations contained in the body of law and those which may arise in territories mediately or immediately subject to the Roman church by reason of direct or beneficial dominion. Rather, provision should duly be made for the aforesaid metropolitan, cathedral, monastic and collegiate churches and elective dignities, when they are vacant, by canonical elections and confirmations in conformity with the dispositions of the common law, without thereby derogating from statutes, privileges and reasonably customs, all postulations in the disposition of the common law remaining intact. This holy synod also decrees that it will be in conformity with reason and beneficial for the common good that the Roman pontiff should attempt nothing contrary to this salutary decree, except for an important, reasonable and manifest cause, which is to be specified expressly in an apostolic letter. So that this salutary decree may be more strictly adhered to, the same holy synod wishes that, among other things that the Roman pontiff shall profess on assuming office, he shall swear to observe inviolably this decree.

Since prelates should be such as is described above, those with the right of electing them should be very careful that they make a worthy election in the presence of God and of the people, and let them be most solicitous to elect such persons as can fill so great an office. Let them remember that if they act in so important an affair either fraudulently or carelessly or without regard for the fear of God, they will be the authors and cause of evil pastors and will therefore share in the penalties which the evil pastors themselves will suffer in the severe judgment of God. Since the endeavour of human fragility can effect nothing without the help of almighty God, from whom every good endowment and every perfect gift comes down, those in whose hands lies the election of a pontiff or an abbot shall meet in church on the day of the election in order to hear with great devotion a mass of the holy Spirit, whom they will humbly petition to deign to inspire them to elect a worthy pastor. The more devoutly they approach the act of election, the more readily they will merit that grace, so let them confess and reverently receive the sacrament of the eucharist. When they have entered the place of the election of any prelate who is to be chosen through election, they shall swear in the hands of the president of the chapter, and the president in the hands of his immediate subordinate, in these words: I, N. , swear and promise to almighty God and to such and such a saint (according to the dedication of the church) to elect the person who I believe will be the more useful to the church in spiritual and temporal things, and not to give a vote to anyone who I think is procuring the election for himself by the promise or gift of some temporal thing, or by making a request in person or through another, or in any other way directly or indirectly. He who appoints a procurator to elect a certain person shall take the same oath and shall confess and communicate; so also shall a procurator with a general mandate for election in matters in which by common law he can be appointed a procurator in the business of such an election. The oath shall be taken also by those who may have made an agreement about the election of a future prelate, and they too are obliged to confess and to communicate. If they do not do so, for that occasion they shall be deprived by law of the power of electing. Thereupon let them elect to the said prelacy a man of lawful age, of serious character and adequate education, already in sacred orders and suitable in other respects in accordance with canonical regulations.

If the election is made in another way and of a different kind of person than the above or by the wickedness of simony, the election shall be invalid and null by law. Those electing simoniacally shall be automatically subject to perpetual deprivation of the right of electing, besides other penalties. Others shall be subject to canonical penalties. Those elected simoniacally and those who take part in such a simoniacal election, as well as the electors and those confirmed shall automatically incur the penalty of excommunication in horror of so great a crime. Moreover, those so elected and confirmed cannot be absolved from such guilt and excommunication unless they freely resign the churches and dignities which they had disgracefully obtained, and they are rendered perpetually disqualified from acquiring them again. In order to remove every root of ambition this holy synod implores through the tender mercy of Jesus Christ and most earnestly exhorts kings and princes, communities and others of whatever rank or dignity, ecclesiastical or secular, not to write letters to electors or to provide petitions for someone who will get such petitions or letters for himself or for another, and much less to resort to threats or pressure or anything else whereby the process of election would be rendered less free. Similarly, in virtue of holy obedience, it is enjoined on electors not to elect anyone on the strength of such letters, petitions, threats or pressure.

When the election has been completed and presented to the person who has the right of confirmation, if a co-elected person or an objector to the election shows himself, he should be summoned by name to discuss the matter of the disputed election. Usually a public announcement should be made in the church in which the election was held, in accordance with the constitution of Boniface VIII of happy memory. Whether or not a co-elected person or an objector appears, the confirmer should proceed in virtue of his office, as is done in the business of the inquisition, using diligence in the due examination and discussion of the form of the election, of the merits of the one elected and of all the circumstances. The confirmation or the annulment of the election should be done in a judicial manner. So that the whole process may be clean and without blemish or even a suspicion of it, the confirmer should altogether refrain, personally as well as through others, from presuming to demand anything at all or even to receive free offerings in return for the confirmation or under the pretext of homage, subvention, gratitude or any other excuse of supposed custom or privilege. For notaries and scribes in such cases, let a moderate fee be levied which is proportionate to the work of writing and not to the value of the prelacy. If the said confirmers shall confirm elections in contravention of the above regulations or in respect of unsuitable persons or involving simony, such confirmations are automatically null. This is to be the case for the occasion, for those who confirm persons other than as stated above: but for the stain of simony, if they have incurred it, they automatically incur sentence of excommunication, from which they cannot be absolved except by the Roman pontiff', except at the point of death.

This holy synod exhorts the supreme pontiff, since he should be the mirror and standard of all sanctity and purity, not to demand or accept anything at all for confirming elections referred to him. Otherwise, if he scandalizes the church by notorious and repeated contraventions, he will be delated to a future council. However, for the burdens which he must carry for the government of the universal church, and for the sustenance of the cardinals of the holy Roman church and of other necessary officials, this holy council will make due and suitable provision before its dissolution. If it does not make any provision in this way, then those churches and benefices which hitherto paid a certain tax on the entry into office of a new prelate, shall be obliged thenceforward to pay in parts half of this tax for the year after their peaceful possession; this provision shall continue until the sustenance of the said pope and cardinals is otherwise provided for. By these ordinances the same synod does not intend any prejudice to the holy Roman and universal church or to any other church.

SESSION 13 11 September 1433

[In this session there was read out, Accusation of contumacy of the pope made by the promoters of the sacred council; the time-limit already intimated to Eugenius IV for him to come to Basel and to abrogate his decree dissolving the council was deferred; finally a new Decree for the protection of members was approved. ]

SESSION 14 7 November 1433

[In this session there was made, Another deferral, for ninety days, of the monition to the pope, to which were added two proposals, one regarding the revoking of the suspension of the council. the other regarding Eugenius IV's assent to the council. ]

SESSION 15 26 November 1433

[On provincial and synodal councils]

The holy general council of Basel, legitimately assembled in the holy Spirit, representing the universal church, for an everlasting record. Already this holy synod has promulgated a most salutary decree on the stability and authority of general councils, the frequent holding of which is a principal means of cultivating the Lord's field. Indeed, since there is no doubt that episcopal synods and provincial councils form part of this same cultivation, inasmuch as the ancient canons decreed that they should be frequent, so this holy synod, desiring that ancient and praiseworthy customs should be observed in our age, establishes and commands that an episcopal synod should be held yearly in every diocese after the octave of Easter, or on another day according to diocesan custom, at least once a year where custom does not prescribe two, by the diocesan in person unless he is prevented by a canonical impediment, in which case by a vicar who is fitted for the task. This synod should last at least two or three days, or as the bishops deem to be necessary.


See Part Three of the Council of Florence

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