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

part five

For document sources noted, see Abbreviations


[About those who pledge divine worship]

We abolish also that abuse, so manifestly incompatible with divine worship, whereby some canons of churches, having contracted debts, bind themselves to their creditors in such a way that, if they do not pay their debts by a fixed time there will be a cessation of divine services. We declare this obligation null even if it has been confirmed by oath. We decree that those who make these illicit agreements shall automatically lose for three months their revenues, which shall be applied to their church They shall receive no emoluments from their church until they resume the divine services.

[On holding chapters at the same time as the principal' mass]

This holy synod forbids chapters and other meetings of canons to be held, or chapter business to be transacted, at the same time as the principal mass, especially on solemn feasts, unless an urgent and manifest necessity suddenly occurs. Whoever summons the chapter for that time shall be suspended from receiving his daily stipends for a week, and the canons shall forego their stipends for that hour.

[On not performing spectacles in churches]

In some churches, during certain celebrations of the year, there are carried on various scandalous practices. Some people with mitre, crozier and pontifical vestments give blessings after the manner of bishops. Others are robed like kings and dukes; in some regions this is called the feast of fools or innocents, or of children. Some put on masked and theatrical comedies, others organize dances for men and women, attracting people to amusement and buffoonery. Others prepare meals and banquets there. This holy synod detests these abuses. It forbids ordinaries as well as deans and rectors of churches, under pain of being deprived of all ecclesiastical revenues for three months, to allow these and similar frivolities, or even markets and fairs, in churches, which ought to be houses of prayer, or even in cemeteries. They are to punish transgressors by ecclesiastical censures and other remedies of the law. The holy synod decrees that all customs, statutes and privileges which do not accord with these decrees, unless they add greater penalties, are null.

SESSION 22 15 October 1435

[On the condemnation of the book of friar Augustine of Rome, archbishop of Nazareth]

The holy general synod of Basel, legitimately assembled in the holy Spirit, representing the universal church, for an everlasting record. The main reason, among other pious aims, why this holy synod assembled was to preserve the truth of the catholic faith and to eradicate errors and heresies. Therefore the chief goal of our activity is, as soon as we learn of the spread of something that can harm the purity of the christian faith or in any way obscures the brilliance of the light in the minds of the faithful, to eradicate it completely and carefully to clear the Lord's field of noxious weeds and brambles. This holy synod therefore condemns and censures a certain book by master Augustine, commonly called "of Rome", archbishop of Nazareth. Its first treatise is entitled, "On the sacrament of the unity of Jesus Christ and the church, or on the whole Christ"; the second, "On Christ the head and his glorious sovereignty", another, "On the charity of Christ towards the elect and his infinite love". The holy synod condemns and censures the book as containing teaching that is unsound and erroneous in the faith, as well as its defenders.

The holy synod especially condemns and censures, in the book, the assertion which is scandalous, erroneous in the faith and offensive to the ears of the pious faithful, namely: Christ sins daily and has sinned daily from his very beginning, even though he avers that he does not understand this as of Christ our saviour, head of the church, but as referring to his members, which together with Christ the head form the one Christ, as he asserts. Also, the propositions, and ones similar to them, which the synod declares are contained in the articles condemned at the sacred council of Constance, namely the following. Not all the justified faithful are members of Christ, but only the elect, who finally will reign with Christ for ever. The members of Christ, from whom the church is constituted, are taken according to the ineffable foreknowledge of God; and the church is constituted only from those who are called according to his purpose of election. To be a member of Christ, it is not enough to be united with him in the bond of charity, some other union is needed. Also the following. The human nature in Christ is really Christ. The human nature in Christ is the person of Christ. The intimate cause that determines the human nature in Christ is not really distinguished from the nature that is determined. The human nature in Christ is without doubt the person of the Word; and the Word in Christ, once the nature has been assumed, is really the person who assumes. The human nature assumed by the Word in a personal union is truly God, natural and proper. Christ according to his created will loves the human nature united to the person of the Word as much as he loves the divine nature. Just as two persons in God are equally lovable, so the two natures in Christ, the human and the divine, are equally lovable on account of the common person. The soul of Christ sees God as clearly and intensely as God sees himself.

These propositions and others springing from the same root, which are to be found in the said book, this holy synod condemns and censures as erroneous in the faith. Lest it come to pass that any of the faithful fall into error on account of such teaching, the synod strictly forbids anyone to teach, preach, defend or approve the teaching of the said book, especially the aforesaid condemned and censured propositions, and its supporting treatises. It decrees that transgressors shall be punished as heretics and with other canonical penalties. By these measures the synod intends to detract in nothing from the sayings and writings of the holy doctors who discourse on these matters. On the contrary, it accepts and embraces them according to their true understanding as commonly expounded and declared by these doctors and other catholic teachers in the theological schools. Nor does the synod intend by this judgment to prejudice the person of the said author since, though duly summoned, he gave reasons for being absent, and in some of his writings and elsewhere he has submitted his teaching to the church's judgment. Further, this holy synod orders all archbishops, bishops, chancellors of universities and inquisitors of heresy, who are responsible in this matter, to ensure that nobody has the said book and supporting treatises or presumes to keep them with him, rather he shall consign them to these authorities, so that they may deal with them in accordance with the law: otherwise let such persons be proceeded against with canonical censures.

SESSION 23 26 March 1436

[On the election of the supreme pontiff]

The holy general synod of Basel, legitimately assembled in the holy Spirit, representing the universal church, for an everlasting record. Since a good shepherd is the salvation of his flock, it is the duty of this sacred synod to strive, with all the diligence that human law can contrive, that the Roman pontiff, who is first in the Lord's flock and the supreme shepherd, should be and continue to be such as to provide for the salvation of all souls and the benefit of the whole christian world and to fulfil worthily so great an office. Therefore it renews the constitutions about the election of Roman pontiffs which sacred councils and supreme pontiffs have issued and it adds to them some further salutary norms. It decrees that whenever the apostolic see falls vacant, all the cardinals of the holy Roman church who are present in the place where the election of the supreme pontiff is to be held, shall meet together on the tenth day after the see becomes vacant in some chapel or place near the conclave. From there they shall process behind a cross, two by two, devoutly singing the Veni creator Spiritus, and enter the place of the conclave, each taking with him not more than two necessary attendants. In view of the ceremonies, two clerics may also be admitted, at least one of whom shall be a notary. The chamberlain together with the deputies for the custody of the conclave shall ensure that nobody, apart from the aforesaid persons, enters the conclave. After the cardinals have entered and the doors have been closed, the chamberlain shall enter with the deputies and carefully examine the cells of all the cardinals. He shall remove any food and edibles found there, except medicines of the sick and infirm. He shall ensure a careful guard whenever he leaves and closes the door, and each day he shall closely inspect the food being brought in for the cardinals and allow only what seems necessary for moderate refreshment, without prejudice to the decrees passed in the fourth and seventh sessions of this sacred council.

On the next day all the cardinals, in the presence of all those in the conclave, shall hear a mass of the holy Spirit and receive the eucharist. Before the voting begins, they shall swear before the holy gospels in these words: I, N. , cardinal of . . . , swear and promise to almighty God, Father, Son and holy Spirit, and to blessed Peter, prince of the apostles, that I shall elect as pontiff the person who I think will be beneficial to the universal church in both spiritual and temporal matters and suitable for so great a dignity; I shall not give my vote to anyone who I have reason to think is directly or indirectly aiming at getting himself elected, by his promising or giving some temporal thing or by asking in person or through another or in any other way whatsoever; and I shall not make obeisance to anyone elected as pontiff before he takes the oath prescribed by this council of Basel; so help me God, to whom on the day of tremendous judgment I shall have to give an account of this oath and all my deeds After this each cardinal shall submit a ballot-card, on which he shall nominate a maximum of three persons. If he nominates more than one person, the second and third persons shall be from outside the college of cardinals. There shall not be more than one ballot on any day and it shall be held immediately after the mass. When the ballot-cards have been read, they shall be burnt straightaway unless two-thirds of the votes are for the same person. No approach shall be made to anyone until six ballots have been completed. During this time let the cardinals reflect and seriously ponder how much merit or loss to themselves, how much fruit or damage to the christian people, how much good or evil, they will be causing by their choice of a pontiff. There is nothing, indeed, by which they can more merit the grace or the wrath of our lord Jesus Christ than when they are setting his vicar over his sheep, which he loved so much as to suffer the torments of the cross and to die for them.

[On the profession of the supreme pontiff]

The holy synod decrees that the person elected as pope is obliged to express his consent to the election in the manner stated below. It is fitting that this consent should be made to the cardinals, if the person elected is present in the curia, or to one of the cardinals or someone mandated by them if he is not present there, in the presence of a notary and at least ten persons. After he has been informed of the election, he is bound to act within a day of the demand. If he does not do so, his election is annulled and the cardinals must proceed in the Lord's name to another election. But if he expresses his consent, as stated above, the cardinals shall straightaway make due obeisance to him as supreme pontiff. Once the obeisance has been made by the cardinals, nobody has any right to challenge his pontificate.

[Form of consent]

In the name of the holy and undivided Trinity, Father, Son and holy Spirit. 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 tradition of the apostles, of 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 which was the first 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 Lateran, Lyons, Vienne, Constance and Basel, and to preserve intact this faith unchanged to the last dot, and to defend and preach it to the point of death and the shedding of my blood, and likewise to follow and observe in every way the rite handed down of the ecclesiastical sacraments of the church. I promise also to labour faithfully for the defence of the catholic faith, the extirpation of heresies and errors, the reform of morals and the peace of the christian people. I swear also to continue with the holding of general councils and the confirmation of elections in accordance with the decrees of the holy council of Basel. I have signed this profession with my own hand; I offer it on the altar with a sincere mind to you almighty God, to whom on the day of tremendous judgment I shall have to give an account of this and all my deeds; and I will repeat it at the first public consistory.

'So that this salutary institution may not fade from the supreme pontiff's memory with the passage of time, every year on the anniversary of his election or of his coronation, the first cardinal present shall, during mass, publicly and in a loud voice address the supreme pontiff thus: Most holy father, may your holiness heed and carefully ponder the promise which you made to God on the day of your election. He shall then read out the promise and shall continue as follows: May your holiness, therefore, for the honour of God, for the salvation of your soul and for the good of the universal church, strive to observe to your utmost all these things in good faith and without guile or fraud. Recall whose place it is that you hold on earth, namely of him who laid down his life for his sheep, who thrice asked the blessed Peter if he loved him, before he entrusted his sheep to him', and who, as the just judge whom nothing secret escapes, will exact from you an account of everything to the very last farthing. Remember what blessed Peter and his successors as pontiffs did: they thought only of the honour of God, the spread of the faith, the public good of the church and the salvation and benefit of the faithful; finally, imitating their master and Lord they did not hesitate to lay down their lives for the sheep entrusted to them. Do not lay up for yourself or your kinsfolk treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves and robbers break in, but lay up for yourself treasure in heaven. Do not be an accepter of persons or of blood-ties or of homeland or of nation. All people are children of God and have been equally entrusted to your care and safe-keeping. Say after the example of Christ: Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven, he is my brother and sister and mother. In distributing dignities and benefices put before yourself neither the flesh nor gifts nor anything temporal at all, but solely God and the virtues and merits of people. Exercise ecclesiastical discipline in correcting faults, mindful of what grace Phinehas merited and what punishment Eli, the one for avenging injuries to God, the other for pretending not to know them. Defend, help and support the poor and needy. Show a fatherly charity to all.

After the solemnities of his coronation, and each year after the anniversary of his election, the supreme pontiff shall carefully discuss with his brethren, for at least eight consecutive days, how he shall carry out his solemn promises to God. In the first place, therefore, he should examine where in the world the christian religion is being persecuted by Turks, Saracens, Tartars and other infidels; where heresy or schism or any form of superstition flourishes, in which provinces there has been a decline in morals and observance of the divine precepts and in the right way of living, in both ecclesiastical and secular matters, where ecclesiastical liberty is infringed; among which kings, princes and peoples enmity, wars and fears of war are rife; and like a dutiful father he should strive with his brethren carefully to provide remedies.

When these affairs of an universal character have been settled, let him deal with those nearer at hand. Let him begin by reforming and ordering in an exemplary way his house, his household and the Roman curia, where and in so far as this is necessary, so that from the visible reform of the church which is the head of all others, lesser churches may draw purity of morals and no occasion may be given for calumny and malicious talk. Making diligent inquiry in person and through others about both important and lesser persons, he should allow no delay or pretence in correcting whatever is found in need of reform, remembering that the sin is twofold, the one being committed, the other and far more serious being its consequences. For whatever is done there is easily made into an example. That is why, if the head is sick, disease enters into the rest of the body. The papal household and court should be a kind of clear mirror, so that all who look at it form themselves and live according to its example. Thereafter let him banish and eradicate any traces of simony, filthy concubinage or whatever may offend God or scandalize people. He should take care that officials do not exercise their offices badly or oppress anybody or extort anything by threats or illegal means, and that those in charge of the officials do not let their excesses go unpunished. They should not tolerate clothes and colours which are forbidden by the sacred canons. Let him instruct the Roman clergy, who are chiefly and immediately subject to him, in all ecclesiastical decorum, admonishing them that God's approval depends not on the parade and splendour of clothes but on humility, docility, purity of mind, simplicity of heart, holiness of behaviour and the other virtues which commend their possessor to God and to people. Let him enact reforms especially so that the divine services may be observed in the churches of Rome with all seemly devotion and discipline. He should also instruct the people of Rome, which is his own parish, and direct them in the way of salvation. He should bid the cardinals to visit and reform their titular churches and parishes as befits their office. He should appoint some prelate of great learning and of proven and exemplary life as his vicar in the city, to take his place in the episcopal care of the clergy and people, and he should often inquire about whether he is fulfilling his task.

Next, let him reflect carefully with the same brethren on the good and wholesome administration of the temporalities of the Roman church and let him ensure that the provinces, cities, towns, castles and lands subject to the Roman church are justly and peacefully ruled with such moderation that the difference between government by ecclesiastics and by secular princes is like that between a father and a master. He should not aim at gain, but cherishing all with paternal charity he should esteem them not as subjects but as sons and daughters. Since he has charge of their spiritual and temporal well-being, he must watch to get rid of all factions and seditious groups -- especially of Guelphs and Ghibellines and other similar parties -- which breed destruction to both souls and bodies. He must strive, employing spiritual and temporal penalties of all possible kinds, to remove all causes of dissension and to keep people united for the defence of the church. To govern the provinces and chief cities, he should appoint cardinals or prelates of untarnished reputation who will seek not financial gain but justice and peace for their subjects. Their legation shall last for two, or at most three, years. When their legation has ended, since it is right that each one should give an account of his stewardship, one or more outstanding men shall be appointed to review their administration and to hear the complaints and petitions of the inhabitants and to render justice; these shall refer what they cannot easily effect to the pope, and he shall strive to find out what the former have done and to punish any illegal actions, so that their successors may learn from their example to avoid illegalities. Officials should be allotted a suitable salary on which they can live honestly, to prevent them turning their hand to what is illicit.

The supreme pontiff should often inquire how his legates, governors and commissars, as well as deputies and feudatories of the Roman church, rule their subjects and whether they oppress them with new taxes and exactions. He should not tolerate any austere measure or unjust burden being laid on his subjects' necks. For it would be wicked to allow those whom the pope should rule as a father to be treated tyranically by others. He should ensure that statutes and ancient constitutions by which provinces and districts have been well governed in the past are kept intact. But if any have subsequently been issued unreasonably or from envy or partiality, they should be cancelled or altered when the reasons for doing so have been understood. Within a year from the day of his election, the Roman pontiff shall summon spokesmen and proctors of the provinces and chief cities of the Roman church and shall question them closely, with fatherly affection, about the following: the state and condition of their territories, how they were governed in the time of his predecessor, whether they are being oppressed by any unjust burden, and what should be done for their good government. Then let him apply to them as to sons remedies which will provide for their benefit and security and for the common good. He should not shrink from repeating this at least every two years. Among the other things that feudatories, captains, governors, senators, castellans and other high officials of Rome and of the lands of the church customarily swear to, there should be added at the time of their installation an oath that, when the papacy is vacant, they will hold their cities, lands, places, citadels, castles and peoples at the command of the cardinals, in the name of the Roman church, and that they will freely and without opposition hand them over to the same. Lest the supreme pontiff may seem to be influenced by carnal affection rather than by right reason, and to avoid the scandals that sad experience shows often arise, in future he shall not make or allow to be made anyone related to him by blood or affinity to the third degree inclusive a duke, marquis, count, feudatory, emphyteutic tenant, deputy, governor, official or castellan of any province, city, town, castle, fortress or place of the Roman church, nor give them any jurisdiction or power over them, nor appoint them captains or leaders of men under arms. The cardinals must never agree with a supreme pontiff attempting to act otherwise, and his successor as pontiff shall withdraw and revoke anything done in this way.

In accordance with the constitution of Pope Nicholas IV, the holy synod decrees that half of all fruits, revenues, proceeds, fines, penalties and taxes deriving from all the lands and places subject to the Roman church belongs to the cardinals of the holy Roman church, and that the institution and dismissal of all rulers and governors and guardians, howsoever they may be called, who are in charge of the aforesaid lands and places, and also of the collectors of the said fruits, should be made with the advice and agreement of the cardinals. The holy synod therefore admonishes the cardinals to protect the lands and subjects of the Roman church from harm and oppression and, mindful of their peace, safety and good government, to recommend them, if need be, to the supreme pontiff. While it is true that the supreme pontiff and the cardinals should give careful attention to all the territories of the Roman church, nevertheless the city of Rome should be at the centre of their concern. For there the holy bodies of blessed Peter and Paul and of innumerable martyrs and saints of Christ repose; there is the seat of the Roman pontiff, from which he and the Roman empire take their name; thither all Christians flock for the sake of devotion. They should feel for it a special love and affection, as being peculiarly their daughter and principal parish, so that it should be governed in peace, tranquillity and justice and should suffer no damage to its churches, walls and roads and the security of its streets. Hence this holy synod decrees that from the sum total of the income and proceeds of the city, an adequate portion shall be set aside for the preservation of the churches, walls, roads and bridges and the security of the streets in the city itself and the district; this money is to be administered by men of proven reputation who are to be chosen on the advice of the cardinals.

The supreme pontiff calls himself the servant of the servants of God; let him prove it in deeds. As long as people from all parts have recourse to him as to a common father, he should give them all easy access. Let him set aside at least one day in the week for a public audience, when he shall listen with patience and kindness to all, especially the poor and oppressed, and shall grant their prayers as much as he can with God's help, and shall assist all with kind advice and help as each one has need and as a father does for his children. If he is prevented by some bodily need, he shall entrust this task to some cardinal or other noteworthy person who will report everything to him, and he shall order all officials of the curia, especially the vice-chancellor, the penitentiary and the chamberlain, to expedite business for the poor with speed and free of charge, bearing in mind the apostolic charity of Peter and Paul, who pledged themselves to remember the poor . He should attend a public mass on Sundays and feast-days, and after it for a while he should give audience to the needy. He should hold a public consistory each week, or at least twice a month, to treat of the business of cathedral churches, monasteries, princes and universities and other important affairs. But he should refer lawsuits and lesser matters to the vice-chancellor. He should keep himself free of lawsuits and lesser business as far as he can, so as to be freer to attend to major issues. Since the cardinals of the holy Roman church are considered to be part of the body of the Roman pontiff, it is extremely expedient for the common good that, following ancient custom, serious and difficult questions should hereafter be settled on their advice and direction after mature deliberation, especially the following: decisions on matters of faith; canonizations of saints, erections, suppressions, divisions, subjections or unions of cathedral churches and monasteries; promotions of cardinals; confirmations and provisions relating to cathedral churches and monasteries; deprivations and translations of abbots, bishops and superiors; laws and constitutions; legations a latere or commissions or envoys and nuncios functioning with the authority of legates a latere; foundations of new religious orders; new exemptions for churches, monasteries and chapels, or the revocation of those already granted without prejudice to the decree of the holy council of Constance about not transferring prelates against their will.


See Part Six of the Council of Florence

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