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

part six

For document sources noted, see Abbreviations


[On the number and qualities of cardinals]

Since the cardinals of the holy Roman church assist the supreme pontiff in directing the christian commonweal, it is essential that such persons be appointed as may be, like their name, real hinges on which the doors of the universal church move and are upheld. The sacred synod therefore decrees that henceforth their number shall be so adjusted that it is not a burden to the church which now, owing to the malice of the times, is afflicted by many serious inconveniences) or cheapened by being too large. They should be chosen from all the regions of Christianity, as far as this is convenient and possible, so that information on new things in the church may be more easily available for mature consideration. They should not exceed twenty-four in number, including the present cardinals. Not more than a third of them at any given time shall be from one nation, not more than one from any city or diocese. None shall be chosen from that nation which now has more than a third of them, until its share has been reduced to a third. They should be men outstanding in knowledge, good conduct and practical experience, at least thirty years old, and masters, doctors or licentiates who have been examined in divine or human law. At least a third or a quarter of them should be masters or licentiates in holy scripture. A very few of them may be sons, brothers or nephews of kings or great princes; for them an appropriate education will suffice, on account of their experience and maturity of behaviour.

Nephews of the Roman pontiff, related to him through his brother or sister, or of any living cardinal shall not be made cardinals; nor shall bastards or the physically handicapped or those stained by a reputation of crime or infamy. There can, however, be added to the aforesaid twenty-four cardinals, on account of some great necessity or benefit for the church, two others who are outstanding in their sanctity of life and excellence of virtues, even if they do not possess the above-mentioned degrees, and some distinguished men from the Greeks, when they are united to the Roman church. The election of cardinals shall not be made by oral votes alone, rather only those shall be chosen who, after a genuine and publicized ballot, obtain the collegial agreement, signed with their own hands, of the majority of the cardinals. For this purpose let an apostolic letter be drawn up with the signatures of the cardinals. The decree of this sacred council beginning Also since the multiplication of cardinals, etc., which was published in the fourth session, is to remain in force. When cardinals receive the insignia of their dignity, whose meaning is readiness to shed their blood if necessary for the good of the church, they shall take the following oath in a public consistory, if they are in the curia, or publicly in the hands of some bishop commissioned for this purpose by an apostolic letter containing the oath, if they are not in the curia.

I,N., recently chosen as a cardinal of the holy Roman church, from this hour henceforward will be faithful to blessed Peter, to the universal and Roman church and to the supreme pontiff and his canonically elected successors. I will labour faithfully for the defence of the catholic faith, the eradication of heresies errors and schisms, the reform of morals and the peace of the christian people. I will not consent to alienations of property or goods of the Roman church or of other churches or of any benefices, except in cases allowed by law, and I will strive to the best of my ability for the restoration of those alienated from the Roman church. I will give neither advice nor my signature to the supreme pontiff except for what is according to God and my conscience. I will faithfully carry out whatever I am commissioned to do by the apostolic see. I will maintain divine worship in the church of my title and will preserve its goods: so help me God.

For the preservation of the titular churches of the cardinals, some of which have sadly deteriorated both in divine worship and in their buildings, to the shame of the apostolic see and of the cardinals themselves, this holy synod decrees that from the revenues and incomes of the territories of the Roman church -- half of which belongs to the cardinals in accordance with the constitution of Pope Nicholas, as was said above -- a tenth of what each cardinal receives shall be applied each year to his titular church. Moreover, each cardinal shall leave to his titular church, either in his lifetime or at his death, enough for the upkeep of one person. If he fails to do so, regarding both this and the said tenth, all his goods shall be sequestrated until due satisfaction has been made. We place the burden of carrying this out on the first cardinal of the order in which he died. Each cardinal present in the curia should make an annual visitation of his titular church in person; each one not present should make it through a suitable deputy. He should also inquire carefully concerning the clergy and the people of his dependent churches, and make useful provision with regard to the divine worship and the goods of these churches as well as the life and conduct of the clergy and parishioners, about whom, since they are his sheep, he will have to render an account at the severe judgment of God. As regards the time of the visitation and other things, let him observe what is laid down in our decree on synodal councils.

Although both the dignity itself and the cardinal's own promise urge him to toil at the holy tasks just mentioned, yet results will be greater if the tasks are spread among individuals. Therefore cardinal-bishops shall inquire about what regions are infected with new or old heresies, errors and superstitions; cardinal-priests shall inquire about where conduct, observance of the divine commandments and ecclesiastical discipline are lax; cardinal-deacons shall inquire about which kings, princes and peoples are troubled by actual or possible wars. Like busy bees, both with the supreme pontiff and among themselves, they should promote these holy works with diligence and in detail, striving to provide a remedy where this is needed. The supreme pontiff for his part, as the common father and pastor of all, should have investigations made everywhere not only when requested to do so but also on his own initiative and he should apply salutary medicines, as best he can, for all the illnesses of his children. If the cardinals ever notice that a pope is negligent or remiss or acting in a way unbefitting his state, though may this never happen, with filial reverence and charity they shall beg him as their father to live up to his pastoral office, his good name and his duty. First, let one or some of them warn him that if he does not desist they will delate him to the next general council, and if he does not amend they shall all do this as a college together with some notable prelates. For the well-being of the supreme pontiff and the common good they should not fear the hostility of the supreme pontiff himself or anything else, provided they act with reverence and charity. Much more so, if it comes to the pope's notice that some cardinal is acting wrongly and reprehensibly, he should correct him, always with paternal charity and according to evangelical teaching. Thus, acting in charity towards each other, one to another, a father to his sons and sons to their father, let them direct the church with exemplary and salutary government.

Let the cardinals both publicly and privately treat with kindness and respect prelates and all others, especially distinguished persons who come to the Roman curia, and let them present their business to the supreme pontiff freely and graciously. Since the cardinals assist him who is the common father of all, it is very unseemly for them to become accepters of persons or advocates. Hence this holy synod forbids them to exercise any favouritism as collateral judges, even if they take their origin from a favoured region. Neither should they be biased protectors or defenders of princes or communities or others against anyone, whether paid or unpaid, but putting aside all sentiment let them assist the pope in pacifying quarrels with harmony and justice. The holy synod urges and commends them to promote the just business of princes and anybody else, especially religious and the poor, without charge and without seeking reward, as an act of charity. Let them preserve with readiness and kindness the gravity and modesty that befits their dignity. Let them maintain towards all people godliness which, according to the Apostle, is profitable in every way. Although they should not neglect their kinsfolk, especially if they are deserving and poor, they should not load them with a mass of goods and benefices to the scandal of others. Let them beware of pouring out on flesh and blood, beyond the bounds of necessity, goods coming from the churches. If the pontiff notices such strutting among the great, he should reprimand and object, as is fitting, and he will be blameworthy if he fails to correct, in keeping with his office, whatever needs correction.

The household, table, furniture and horses of both pope and cardinals should not be open to blame as regards quantity, state, display or any other excess. The house and its contents should be on a moderate scale, a model of frugality and not a source of scandal. Both the supreme pontiff and the cardinals, as well as other bishops, should strive to observe the constitution of blessed Gregory which was published at a general synod and which this holy synod now renews the sense of which is as follows: Though the life of a pastor should be an example to disciples, the clergy for the most part do not know the private life-style of their pontiff, even though secular youths know it; we therefore declare by this present decree that certain clerics and even monks should be selected to minister in the pontifical chamber, so that he who is in the seat of government may have witnesses who will observe his true private behaviour and will draw an example of progress from this regular sight.

Let them also pay attention to the words of Pope Paschal: "Let bishops spend their time in reading and prayer and always have with them priests and deacons and other clerics of good reputation, so that, following the Apostle and the instructions of holy fathers, they may be found without blame."3 It does not profit the commonweal for cases other than those concerning elections to cathedral churches or monasteries, or princes or universities or similar matters, to be assigned by the pope or the chancery to cardinals, since they should devote themselves to the greater problems of the universal church. Lesser cases, therefore, should be sent to the court of the Rota, which was instituted for this purpose. Neither the pope nor cardinals should in future send their officials to prelates who have been confirmed or provided, as it were to accept gifts, lest they allow others to do what is unfitting for themselves to do. Something that has happened in the past -- namely a sum of money or something else is subtracted from the goods of a dead cardinal, as a charge for the ring given to him on the assignment of his titular church -- is not to occur in the future, since the labours of cardinals for the commonweal merit rather obsequies from public funds, if they are poor.

[On elections]

Already this holy synod, with its abolition of the general reservation of all elective churches and dignities, has wisely decreed that provision should be made for them by canonical elections and confirmations. It wishes also to forbid special and particular reservations of elective churches and dignities, whereby free elections and confirmations can be prevented; and to ensure that the Roman pontiff will attempt nothing against this decree, except for an important, persuasive and clear reason, which should be expressed in detail in an apostolic letter. However, much has been done against the intention of this decree and without the required reason, resulting in serious scandals already and the likelihood of even more serious ones in the future. This holy synod wishes to prevent this and does not want the purpose of the decree, which was to remove every obstacle to canonical elections and confirmations, to be deprived of its effect. It therefore decrees that elections should assuredly be held in the said churches without any impediment or obstacle and that, after they have been examined in accordance with common law and the dispositions of our decree, they shall be confirmed. However, if perhaps on occasion it should happen that an election is made which in other respects is canonical but which, it is feared, will lead to trouble for the church or the country or the common good, the supreme pontiff, when the election is referred to him for confirmation, if he is convinced that there exists such a most pressing reason, after mature discussion and then with the signed votes of the cardinals of the Roman church or the majority of them declaring that the reason is true and sufficient, may reject the election and refer it back to the chapter or convent for them to institute another election, from which such consequences are not to be feared, within the legal time or otherwise according to the distance of the place.

[On reservations]

The numerous reservations of churches and benefices hitherto made by supreme pontiffs have turned out to be burdensome to churches. Therefore this holy synod abolishes all of them both general and special or particular -- for all churches and benefices whatsoever that were customarily provided for by an election or a collation or some other disposition -- which were introduced either by the additional canons Ad regimen and Execrabilis or by rules of the chancery or by other apostolic constitutions, and it decrees that never again shall they exist, with the exception only of reservations expressly contained in the corpus of law and those which occur in the lands mediately or immediately subject to the Roman church by reason of direct or beneficial dominion.

[On Clementine "Letters"]3

Although apostolic and other letters may state that someone has renounced, or been deprived of, a dignity, benefice or right, or has done something for which a right of his has been taken away, nevertheless letters of this sort should not prejudice him, even though they are based on the status or the intention of the person making the statement, unless proof is forthcoming from witnesses or other legitimate documents.

SESSION 24 14 April 1436

[About business with the Greeks and about indulgences, etc.]

The holy general synod of Basel, legitimately assembled in the holy Spirit, representing the universal church, for an everlasting record. Our ambassadors to the most serene emperor of the Romans and the most reverend lord patriarch of Constantinople, who were sent to Constantinople on behalf and in the name of this holy synod, for various reasons promised to present the terms which were concluded and signed by the two sides on another occasion in this holy synod regarding the manner of holding a universal and ecumenical council of both churches, and to exhibit them with effect, under the customary leaden seal of this holy synod, with the present date and containing the following text word for word. This holy synod, unwilling to omit anything that might help the union of Christ's churches, accepts, approves, ratifies and confirms by this present decree the said promise of its ambassadors and includes in this document the said terms word for word as was promised by the said ambassadors, as follows.

The holy general synod of Basel, legitimately assembled in the holy Spirit, representing the universal church, for an everlasting record. Among the various works necessary for the whole christian people for which this holy council was assembled, the union of the western and eastern churches of Christ is the chief and greatest. Rightly, therefore, from the very start of its proceedings, this holy synod has made every effort to achieve this. For, as quickly as possible it sent its ambassadors with letters to the most serene emperor of the Greeks and the most reverend patriarch of Constantinople, to exhort them with all charity and insistence that they should send some persons with full authority to treat with us on the way to achieve the said holy union. As soon as they were asked, they appointed to this holy synod three outstanding men from those who seem to be of great authority among them -- the first of whom was indeed a blood-relative of the emperor -- with a sufficient commission from the emperor himself signed by his own hand and with a golden seal, and furnished with letters of the patriarch. Both in a general congregation and in the presence of our commissaries they expressed the most fervent desire of the emperor, the patriarch and the whole eastern church for this union. They urge and daily stimulate us in a wonderful way to pursue this holy work, strongly and persistently affirming two things: that union is only possible in a universal synod in which both the western church and the eastern church meet, and that it is to be hoped that this union will follow if matters proceed in that synod in the way that is agreed below. We were filled with joy and gladness when we heard this. Therefore we venerable cardinals of the holy Roman church, presidents of the apostolic see, casting all our thoughts on God, who alone does great wonders, deputed the patriarch of Antioch and a suitable number of archbishops, bishops, abbots, masters and doctors to treat of this question with the ambassadors of the Greeks and to look for a way to reach a solution. After these men had frequently met and discussed among themselves and with the ambassadors, they reached the conclusions given below. These conclusions, in accordance with the custom of this council, were seriously debated by the deputations and ratified by a general congregation. Their contents, together with the chrysobull of the lord emperor, are as follows: The ambassadors of the most serene lord emperor, etc., which is given at length in the council's decree which is included above. But because the period of time mentioned above, within which the aforesaid things should have been fulfilled, has elapsed, not through the fault of either party but because of various intervening negotiations, this holy synod therefore accepts the period of time agreed by the most serene emperor of the Greeks and the most reverend patriarch of Constantinople on the one side, and by the ambassadors of this sacred council on the other, namely the year beginning this coming month of May, so that for the whole of this May until the following year each of the two parties is prepared to carry out the aforesaid points, and each accepts and promises that it will fulfil for its part, within the said time, whatever is included in the above-mentioned terms.

[Safe-conduct for the Greeks given by the sacred council of Basel to the lord emperor of the Greeks and the patriarch of Constantinople]

The holy general synod of Basel, legitimately assembled in the holy Spirit, representing the universal church. In our western region and the obedience of the Roman church, a universal and ecumenical synod is to be held, under God's inspiration, at which both the western church and the eastern church will meet in accordance with the agreement reached at this holy synod and later ratified in Constantinople. In order that the sincerity of our intention towards the eastern church may be manifest to all, and that all possible suspicion as regards the security and freedom of those coming to it may be removed, this holy synod of Basel by this present decree, in the name and on behalf of the entire western church and of all in that church of every status, including those of imperial, regal or pontifical rank or of any lower spiritual or secular dignity, authority or office, decrees, gives and concedes a full and free safe-conduct to the most serene emperor of the Greeks, the most reverend patriarchs of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem, and others up to the number of seven hundred persons, whether of imperial, regal, archiepiscopal or any other rank, dignity or condition, who are coming or shall come to the aforesaid universal and ecumenical council in the west. This holy synod, by this decree, receives and has received into its safe-keeping each and all of the said people, as regards their persons, honours and everything else, in the kingdoms, provinces, lordships, territories, communities, cities, castles, towns, vills and places of our obedience of the western church in which they shall stay or through which they shall pass. It promises and concedes to each and all of them, by this present synodal edict, free and safe permission to approach and enter the city or place in which the said holy universal council will be held; to stay, remain, reside and dwell there with all the immunities, liberties and securities which those of the obedience of the western church dwelling there will have; of debating, arguing and alleging rights and authorities and of saying, doing and treating of, freely and without hindrance from anyone, anything else that may seem to them useful and apt for the union of the churches of Christ.

They may at will go out and return from the said town or place safely, freely and without restraint, once or often or as many times as any of them may wish, singly or together, with or without their goods and money, with every real or personal obstacle ceasing and being put aside, even if the said union does not come about, though may that not be so. In the latter case and in every other outcome, the most serene emperor, the lord patriarchs and other aforesaid persons will be taken back to Constantinople, at our expense and in our galleys, without any delay or obstacle, with the same honours, good will and friendship with which they were brought to the said universal council, whether or not union resulted from the council.

All this is notwithstanding any differences, disagreements or dissensions about the aforesaid matters, or any of them in particular, which exist at present or could arise in the future between the said western and eastern churches, that is, between the Roman church and those subject and attached to it, and the aforesaid most serene emperor and others attached to the church of Constantinople; notwithstanding any judgments, decrees, condemnations, laws or decretals of any kind that have been or shall be made or issued; notwithstanding any crimes, excesses, faults or sins that may be committed by any of the aforesaid persons; and notwithstanding anything else, even if it is something for which a special mention in this decree is necessary. If one or some of ours should harm one or more of them, though may it not happen, or should molest them in their persons, honour, property or anything else, the miscreant shall be sentenced by us or ours to make adequate and reasonable satisfaction to the injured party. And conversely, if any of them harms any of ours, he shall be sentenced by them to make adequate and reasonable satisfaction to the injured party, in accordance with the customs of both parties. As regards other crimes, excesses and faults, each party will institute proceedings and pass judgment on its own members.

This holy synod exhorts all Christ's faithful and furthermore commands, by the authority of the universal church and in virtue of the holy Spirit and of holy obedience, all prelates, kings, dukes, princes, officials, communities and other individuals, of whatever status, condition or dignity, who are members of our western church, to observe inviolably each and all of the above things and, far as they can, to have them observed; and to honour and treat with favour and reverence, and to have so honoured and treated, both individually and together, the most serene emperor, the patriarch and each and all of the other aforesaid persons on their way to and from the said council. If any doubt arises about the safe-conduct and its contents, it shall be decided by a declaration of the universal synod which is to be held. This holy synod, for its part, wishes the safe-conduct to remain in force until the most serene emperor, the patriarch and other aforesaid persons with their nobles and suites to the number of seven hundred persons, as was stated, and with their goods and chattels, have returned to Constantinople. If anyone attempts to act in any way contrary to the aforesaid or any part of it, let him know that he will incur the indignation of almighty God and of the said holy synod.

SESSION 25 7 May 1437

[On the places for the future ecumenical council for the Greeks]

The holy general synod of Basel, legitimately assembled in the holy Spirit, representing the universal church, for an everlasting record. Recently this holy synod among the various tasks for which the inscrutable providence of the divine majesty has deigned, by the invocation of the holy Spirit the paraclete, to bring it together and to employ it in the cultivation of the Lord's field, turning its mind like a watchful farmer and clearly perceiving how deplorable and abiding has been the division in God's church over the profession of the same faith by the eastern and western churches, conceived high hope and confidence in the most merciful goodness of him with whom nothing is impossible, and who generously and without restraint gives to all who duly ask him, to bring about the unity of the catholic faith between these churches. It decided, therefore, to apply the resources of its diligence more fully, grudging no labour or expense, because it was convinced that thence would follow the greater praise and glory of almighty God, a more fruitful salvation of souls and a greater increase of the faith. Desirous of undertaking this most salutary project of union, with the help of the grace of the holy Spirit it invited and exhorted to come to the project, through various envoys and letters, the most serene emperor of the Romans, the venerable patriarch of Constantinople, the other prelates and the rest of the Greek people.

The emperor, the patriarch and others of the Greeks received these exhortations with eagerness, their hearts inclined and influenced by the grace of the most High. Sincerely zealous to embark on this project of union, they decided to send to this holy synod their solemn envoys and spokesmen, who were furnished with an adequate mandate with the golden seal and signature of the emperor and the leaden seal of the patriarch, devoutly expressing their most fervent desire for this unity of faith. This holy synod concluded with them, in various preliminary meetings and deliberations about the execution of this salutary task of union, certain mutually agreed decrees and terms highly useful and necessary for this purpose, which were recorded above and were promulgated in a session of this holy synod in the cathedral of Basel. Thereafter this holy synod wished to implement these decrees and terms by all necessary and suitable means, and therefore to proceed to choosing a place for the coming ecumenical council, to which the aforesaid emperor, the patriarch and others of the Greeks could and should come. After many propositions about these and other topics relevant to this holy matter had been considered by the various deputations of this holy synod, and after the votes of their members on these points had been counted, finally in a general congregation summoned for this purpose in the said cathedral, as is customary, in which the votes of the individuals were again counted, it was found that more than two-thirds of them had voted for Basel, Avignon or Savoy. After they had invoked the grace of the holy Spirit and celebrated a mass, they agreed that due and earnest pressure should be exerted on the emperor, the patriarch and other aforesaid Greeks, with the many good reasons being put before them, so that they might agree to Basel as the place for the ecumenical council, and that if they rejected Basel, it should be held at Avignon. If Avignon proved impossible, it should be held in Savoy.


See Part Seven of the Council of Florence