Council of Florence
1431-1445 A.D.

part seven

For document sources noted, see Abbreviations

Therefore, in order that each and all of the aforesaid points might be brought to fruition, with all the solemnity normally employed in this sacred council of Basel in expediting matters of importance, while the fathers are seated in the cathedral of Basel after the mass, this holy synod decrees, wishes, ordains and declares that the future ecumenical council ought to be held at the due and agreed time in the city of Basel or, if that is rejected, in the city of Avignon or otherwise in Savoy, in accordance with the above-mentioned agreement; and that the emperor, the patriarch and other aforesaid Greeks, as detailed in the said terms and decrees, and all other persons of whatever rank, status, dignity or pre-eminence who ought by right or custom to take part in general councils, including those of episcopal rank, are bound and obliged to come to and take part in that ecumenical council, especially so that this salutary work might be completed. This holy synod wishes, declares and decrees this nomination and choice to be firm, fixed and unchangeable. Any modification, ordinance, disposition, nomination or choice to the contrary that may be made by this holy council or by one or more other persons, whatever their authority, even if it be papal, is utterly invalid; and this holy synod from its certain knowledge as from now quashes, revokes and annuls any such measures, and denounces them as quashed, null and of no effect, and it wishes them to be of no effect and holds them so now, in so far as they impede or oppose in whole or in part the said choice. Also this holy synod from its certain knowledge supplies for any defect that may exist in the aforesaid things or in any of them in particular. Furthermore, since this very difficult undertaking, which will bear great fruit in God's church, as well as the transport and maintenance of the aforesaid Greeks, cannot be accomplished without heavy expenses, it is right and fitting that all of Christ's faithful, especially ecclesiastics, should contribute generously from the substance of the patrimony of our lord Jesus Christ entrusted to them, for the conclusion of so happy a venture. This holy synod therefore imposes on each and every ecclesiastical person, both exempt and non-exempt under whatever form or words, even the order of St John of Jerusalem, of whatever status, dignity, rank, order or condition, even if they are cardinals or bishops, a tenth of all their ecclesiastical fruits and revenues -- only daily distributions being excepted -- from their churches, monasteries, dignities, offices and other ecclesiastical benefices. This tenth has already been imposed and agreed upon in a general congregation of this holy synod, and this holy synod now decrees and declares that it is to be imposed, and by this decree it imposes it. Furthermore, the said holy synod decrees, wishes, ordains and declares that the venerable bishops John of Luebeck, Luis of Viseu, Delfino of Parma and Louis of Lausanne, envoys of this holy synod, have full power for bringing the Greeks to the place of the ecumenical council, and for the majority of them then present to choose and nominate the Latin port which is most suitable and nearest to the places chosen and nominated above, and to which the said Greeks ought to direct themselves. The synod concedes this power to them by this present decree in accordance with the form of the other letters granted to them in this affair. Finally the same holy synod wishes, ordains and decrees, for the due and desired execution of the aforesaid points and what follows from them, and for the fuller security of the said envoys and of the council, that, at the request of these envoys or of their agents, any other suitable, useful and necessary letters shall be granted, drawn up and despatched in due and correct form by the synod's chancery under the synod's seal.

The holy general synod of Basel, legitimately assembled in the holy Spirit, representing the universal church, for an everlasting record. This holy synod from its outset, in order that those things might be accomplished which general councils are instituted to achieve with the assistance of the holy Spirit, devoted very great care to promoting union between the western and eastern peoples so that, as the church of God has suffered innumerable disasters from the long-standing dissension, the greatest profit might ensue from fraternal union. Therefore it sent envoys to Constantinople for the promotion of this holy work. They returned with the ambassadors of the most serene emperor of the Romans and of the venerable patriarch of Constantinople. After many meetings and mature deliberation on this subject, certain terms were agreed between this sacred council and those ambassadors and were confirmed by a decree in a public session. By these terms this holy synod bound itself to send envoys with certain sums of money, two large and two smaller galleys and three hundred crossbowmen within a fixed time, and to nominate through these envoys one of the places mentioned in the decree for the ecumenical council, where the emperor and the patriarch with seven hundred persons would meet with us to bring about this holy union.

However, since the time-limit for accomplishing the above is imminent, this holy synod, desirous of fulfilling its promises completely and of bringing to its desired goal this holy endeavour which is the most salutary of all works in these times, came to the following conclusion in its discussions and then in a general congregation: namely, that Florence or Udine in Friuli should be put into the council's hands, or else that there should be chosen for the ecumenical council some other safe place which is mentioned in the decree and is convenient for the pope and the Greeks, that is to say whichever of the aforesaid places shall be quickest to collect and send the galleys, the sums of money and other requisites with the necessary securities. The port would be Venice, Ravenna or Rimini; whichever of them the emperor and the patriarch of Constantinople prefer. Also, so that the clergy are not burdened uselessly, the tenth shall not be decreed or exacted until the Greeks have arrived at one of the above-mentioned ports. Also, that the sacred council should remain in this city during the whole time covered by the decree. Also, that the legates and presidents of the apostolic see, after they have summoned such fathers as shall seem good to them, shall choose the envoys for accompanying the Greeks and for carrying out the aforesaid things; these envoys ought to urge forcibly the choice of this city of Basel. Therefore, in order that each and all of the above may attain due effect, with the assistance of divine grace, in this public and solemn session this holy synod wishes, decrees and declares that the aforesaid decision is definite and valid, to be adhered to and to be implemented. It quashes, voids and annuls, and declares to be quashed, void and null, whatever has been or shall be done, or may be attempted, by any person or persons contrary to the above or its consequences or whatever could in any way impede their execution. And it wishes that the aforesaid apostolic legates and presidents shall compose in due form and under the seal of the council suitable letters for the execution of the above, and shall expedite whatever else may be necessary and appropriate for this holy enterprise.

SESSION 1 8 January 1438

[Declaration of cardinal Nicholas Albergati, president of the council]

We, Nicholas, legate of the apostolic see, announce that we preside on behalf of our most holy lord pope Eugenius IV in this sacred synod which was translated from Basel to the city of Ferrara and is already legitimately assembled, and that the continuation of this translated synod has been effected today 8 January, and that the synod is and ought to be continued from today onwards for all the purposes for which the synod of Basel was convened, including being the ecumenical council at which the union of the western and the eastern church is treated and with God's help achieved.

SESSION 2 10 January 1438 [On the legitimate continuation of the council of Ferrara, against the assembly at Basel]

For the praise of almighty God, the exaltation of the catholic faith and the peace, tranquillity and unity of the whole christian people. This holy universal synod, through the grace of God authorized by the most blessed lord pope Eugenius IV, legitimately assembled in the holy Spirit in this city of Ferrara, represents the universal church. Its president, on behalf and in the name of the said most holy lord Eugenius, is the most reverend father and lord in Christ lord Nicholas, cardinal-priest of the holy Roman church of the title of holy Cross in Jerusalem, legate of the apostolic see. It adheres to the firm foundation of him who said to the prince of the apostles: You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church. It is eager to preserve the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace, so that we might be one body and one spirit, just as we were called in the one hope of our calling. It records that much was done in days past both at the former council of Basel and after its translation by some staying on there without any authority, and also by the said most blessed pope lord Eugenius, especially in respect of the business of the most holy union of the western and the eastern church, namely the following: the decree of the nineteenth session of the former council of Basel beginning As a dutiful mother, to which the most holy lord Eugenius gave his assent by his letter; also an agreed proposal on the choice of a place to which the council of Basel should be translated which was agreed upon and confirmed by all the fathers in common and which led to the decree of the twenty-fifth session of the former council, which begins This holy synod from its outset etc. and which the pope himself, urged on by the envoys of the Greeks, accepted and confirmed by his letter given in a general consistory at Bologna and published in the presence of these envoys, also the letter of the same most blessed Eugenius dated 18 September last, issued in a general consistory at Bologna and solemnly read out at the beginning of the continuation of this synod, by which the pope with the counsel and consent of the most reverend cardinals of the holy Roman church and with the approval of the prelates then in the curia, transferred the council to this city of Ferrara; also the letter of the declaration of the same, dated 30 December, immediately following the said translation; all of which this holy synod has ordered to be registered verbatim in its acts as a permanent record, as is contained in these same acts.

All these facts and many more have been duly pondered and maturely discussed in various meetings. This holy synod declares that the aforesaid translation and declaration were and are legitimate, just and reasonable, and were and are made from urgent necessity so as to remove an obstacle to the most holy union of the western and the eastern church, to prevent a schism already threatening in God's church, and for the manifest benefit of the whole christian commonwealth, and that therefore this holy synod was legitimately assembled and established in the holy Spirit in this city of Ferrara for all the purposes for which the said former council of Basel was instituted at its beginning, and especially to be the future ecumenical council for the aforesaid most holy union; and that it ought to continue and to proceed to all the aforesaid matters. This holy synod therefore praises, accepts and approves the translation and the consequent declaration, as mentioned above. It exhorts in the Lord and requires of each and all of the present and future members of the holy synod to apply themselves to the above things with earnest care and serious study. By the generosity of him who has begun in us a good work, may everything be directed and done for his glory and the salvation of the whole christian people.

This holy synod further declares that, since the well known necessity of the above reasons demanded and impelled the said most holy lord Eugenius to that translation, the matter in no way falls within the decrees of the eighth, the eleventh or any other session of the former council of Basel.

It decrees that the assembly at Basel, and every other assembly which may perchance convene there or elsewhere under the name of a general council, rather is and ought to be considered a spurious gathering and conventicle, and can in no way exist with the authority of a general council.

It quashes, invalidates and annuls, and declares to be invalid, quashed, null and of no force or moment, each and all of the things done in the city of Basel in the name of a general council after the said translation, and whatever may be attempted there or elsewhere in the future in the name of a general council.

But if in the matter of the Bohemians something useful has been achieved by the said people assembled at Basel after the said translation, it intends to approve that and supply for defects.

In order that each and all of the members of the holy synod may be kept safe from every annoyance and may serve God in good works without anxiety, free from all fear, harassment and injury, this holy synod absolves, frees and dispenses, and declares to be absolved and freed, and the oaths to be dispensed from, each and all of those who, under whatsoever plea or cause, bound themselves to the former synod of Basel by oaths, with obligations and commitments, whereby their full and free right to obey this present holy synod and to promote its honour and good might be impeded and they might have scruples of some kind.

This holy synod also ordains and decrees that nobody of whatsoever rank or dignity, by any ordinary or delegated jurisdiction for any cause or occasion, except by the jurisdiction of the apostolic see, shall dare to disturb, harass or molest, in their dignities, offices, administrations, privileges, honours, benefices and other goods, each and all of those, both seculars and religious, including members of mendicant orders, who are or shall be at this present synod, or who follow the Roman curia and will soon be at this synod on account of the move of the most holy lord Eugenius with his curia to this city, which has been announced by the posting up of notices in accordance with the ancient custom of the curia.

But if, under any pretext, directly or indirectly, any should presume to molest any of the said persons in their dignities, offices, administrations, honours, privileges, benefices or other goods, or to prevent them from freely enjoying their jurisdiction, fruits and emoluments as they did before, or to confer on others their dignities, offices, administrations, honours and benefices, on the plea of some deprivation, this holy synod intends that each and all of them, even if they are cardinals, patriarchs, archbishops, bishops or persons with some other dignity, or chapters, colleges, convents or universities, shall incur automatically and without the need for a previous warning sentences of excommunication, suspension and interdict, absolution from which is reserved to the Roman pontiff alone, except at the hour of death.

Moreover the synod decrees that those who do not repent within three days after making these conferrals or placing these obstacles, by fully restoring those whose dignities, offices, administrations, honours and benefices they conferred, or whom they impeded in other ways, as stated above, to all their churches and benefices as they held them before, whether they held them by title, in commendam or in administration; and also each and all of those who presume to accept collation to the aforesaid dignities, offices, administrations, honours and benefices, even if they were made motu proprio, or to take possession of them in person or through others, or to hold such action as valid; all these persons are automatically deprived by law, if they previously had any claim in them, of all their other benefices, whether they held them by title, in commendam or in administration, and they are rendered perpetually disqualified from them and all other benefices, and they can be restored and habilitated only by the Roman pontiff.

This holy synod, moreover, warns and requires each and all of those who are obliged by law or custom to take part in general councils, to come as soon as possible to this present synod at Ferrara, which will continue, as noted above, for the speedy attainment of the aforesaid purposes.

SESSION 31 15 February 1438

[Ecclesiastical penalties against members of the Basel synod]

Eugenius, bishop, servant of the servants of God, for an everlasting record. The duties of the pastoral office over which we preside by divine mercy, despite our lack of merit, demand that we repress by opportune remedies the nefarious excesses of evil-minded persons, especially those who, unless prevented, strive to force the peaceful state of the church into various dangerous storms and disturbances and who endeavour to overturn the barque of Peter, and that we inflict due retribution for their excesses, lest boasting of their malice they give occasion to others to commit mischief. For it is a crime to be slack in punishing crimes that harm many people, as canonical regulations state.

Thus, the former council of Basel debated the choice of a place for the future ecumenical council. Those on whom the power of choosing the place devolved, passed a decree which was accepted by the ambassadors of our most dear son in Christ John, emperor of the Greeks, and of our venerable brother Joseph, patriarch of Constantinople. Some persons chose Avignon or another place, but the said ambassadors protested that most assuredly they did not want to go there, declaring as certain that the said emperor and patriarch would by no means go to the said sacred council unless we attended in person. Those who asked for Avignon, afraid that the Greeks certainly would not come to them, dared to concoct a certain decree or notorious pamphlet, which they call a monition, against us, even though it is null and indeed leads to serious scandal and a split in the church, disrupting this holy work of union with the Greeks.

In order to preserve the unity of the church and to promote the said union with the Greeks, we, for just, necessary and pressing reasons, with the advice and assent of our venerable brothers the cardinals of the holy Roman church, and with the advice and approval of very many of our venerable brothers the archbishops, bishops, beloved chosen sons and abbots who were present at the apostolic see, translated the said council of Basel, by our apostolic authority and in a fixed manner and form, to the city of Ferrara, which is suitable for the Greeks and for us, so that those at Basel might duly recoil from their scandalous actions, as is contained at greater length in the letter composed for the occasion' . But they, spurning every avenue of peace, persevering in their obstinate purpose, scorning the letter of the said translation and everything contained in it, and piling evil upon evil, not only rejected our reasonable translation made for the said most just and urgent reasons, as stated above, but even dared with renewed obstinacy to warn us to withdraw the said translation within a fixed time and under pain of suspension. Yet this would have been nothing less than to force us to abandon the prosecution of such a holy work so much desired by all Christians.

When we realized this, with grief of heart, since we saw that everything tended to the destruction of the holy task of union and to an open split in the church, as was said above, we declared that the translation had been made by us from necessity, that the conditions attached to it had been regularized, and that the council at Ferrara ought to begin and legitimately continue, as is stated more fully in another letter of ours .

To open this council at Ferrara we sent our beloved son Nicholas, cardinal-priest of the holy Roman church of the title of holy Cross, legate of us and the apostolic see.

This council at Ferrara, legitimately assembled and with many prelates, solemnly declared in a public session that the said translation and declaration were and are legitimate, just and reasonable, and were made from urgent necessity so as to remove an obstacle to the said most holy union between the western and the eastern church and to avoid an impending split in God's church for the evident benefit of the whole christian commonwealth, as is crystal clear from the decree made about it.

Meanwhile, informed that the aforesaid emperor, patriarch and Greeks were approaching the shores of Italy, under God's guidance we came to this council at Ferrara with the firm intention and purpose of effectively pursuing, with God's help, not only the work of holy union but also the objectives for which the council of Basel had assembled.

In view of all this, our beloved son Julian, cardinal-priest of the title of St Sabina, legate of the apostolic see, strongly urged the aforesaid people at Basel to withdraw from such flagrant scandals. But because of their obstinacy of mind he was without effect. Then, seeing them ready to precipitate still worse scandals in God's church, he departed so as not to appear to approve their impiety. They, for their part, paid no attention to this. Ignorant of how to direct their steps in the way of peace and justice, although they were already aware that the Greeks were utterly unwilling to come to them and were approaching the shores of Italy, they persevered in their hardness of heart. Since they could in no other way prevent and disrupt the union with the Greeks, for which they should have been labouring with us with all their strength and mind and assisting us, they added bad to worse and went to such a pitch of rashness and insolence that, even though many of the envoys of kings and princes who were at Basel execrated so wicked a deed and protested against it, they dared to declare with sacrilegious arrogance that we were suspended from the administration of the papacy and to proceed to various other things, albeit everything was null.

So we, conscious that their excesses are so notorious that they cannot be hidden by any subterfuge, and that error that is not resisted appears to be approved and throws wide open to delinquents a door that no longer guards against their intrusions, and unable without grave offence to our lord Jesus Christ and his holy church to tolerate further so many grievous excesses which are seen especially to impede, disrupt and utterly destroy the holy and most desired union with the Greeks, we decree against the aforesaid remnant at Basel, in virtue of the most High and with the approval of this holy council, the steps that should be taken with justice.

Hence we decree and declare, after mature deliberation with this holy synod and with its approval, that each and all of those meeting in Basel, in spite of the aforesaid translation and declaration, under the pretended name of a council which more accurately should be called a conventicle, and daring to perpetrate such scandalous and nefarious deeds, whether they are cardinals, patriarchs archbishops, bishops or abbots or of some other ecclesiastical or secular dignity, have already incurred the penalties instanced in our said letter of translation, namely excommunication, privation of dignities and disqualification from benefices and offices in the future.

We also decree and declare to be null and void and of no force or moment, whatever has been attempted by them in the name of a council or otherwise since the day of the translation made by us, or shall be attempted in the future, in respect of the aforesaid matters or against those who follow our curia or are at this sacred council at Ferrara.

We also command, with the approval of this council, under the same penalties and censures and in virtue of their oath by which they are bound to the holy apostolic see, each and all of the cardinals, patriarchs, archbishops, bishops, elected persons, abbots and all others of whatsoever condition, status or rank who are meeting in the said city of Basel under the pretext of a council, really and effectively to leave the said city within thirty days of the date of this decree. We also order the mayor of the citizens, the councillors and the magistrates ruling the city of Basel and the governors and other officials, whatever name they go under, to expel the aforesaid persons who have not left the city within the said thirty days and really and effectively to eject them.

If they fail to do this within the said thirty days, we decree that each and all of the said rulers and officials automatically incur sentence of excommunication, and the people and the city automatically incur sentence of ecclesiastical interdict; we specially reserve to ourself absolution from the sentences of excommunication, except at the hour of death, and the lifting of the interdict. We order and command, in virtue of holy obedience and under pain of excommunication, each and all of those to whom this notice shall come that, if the aforesaid persons meeting in Basel and the citizens are obstinately disobedient towards us, nobody should approach the city of Basel after the said thirty days and they should deny them all commerce and all articles needed for human use.

Merchants of all kinds, who have gone to Basel on account of the former council, shall depart under the same pain of excommunication. If there are some who ignore these orders of ours, daring perhaps to convey goods after the time-limit to those at Basel persisting in contumacy, since it is written that the righteous plundered the ungodly, such persons may be despoiled without penalty by any of the faithful and their goods shall be ceded to the first takers.

However, because the church never closes its bosom to returning sons, if the said people meeting in Basel, or some of them, repent and depart from the said city within the said interval of thirty days from the date of this present decree, then with the approval of this sacred council we remit and fully cancel the aforesaid penalties as for obedient sons and we wish, decree and order that they and their consequences are to be regarded as without force from the date of their imposition, and we supply with the council's approval for all defects, if perhaps there are any in respect of solemnity of the law or of omission. Let nobody therefore ... If anyone however ...

See Part Eight of the Council of Florence

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