The Fifth Lateran Council
1512-1517 A.D.
part three

For document sources noted, see Abbreviations


SESSION 9

5 May 1514

[The pope urges christian rulers to make peace among themselves so that an expedition against the enemies of the christian faith may be possible]

Leo, bishop, servant of the servants of God, with the approval of the sacred council, for an everlasting record. After we had been called by divine dispensation to the care and rule of the universal church, even though we are unworthy of so great a responsibility, we began from the highest point of the apostolate, as from the top of Mount Sion, to turn our immediate gaze and direct our mind to the things that seem to be of primary importance for the salvation, peace and extension of the church itself. When we focused all our care, thought and zeal in this direction, like an experienced and watchful shepherd, we found nothing more serious or dangerous to the christian state and more opposed to our holy desire than the fierce madness of armed conflicts. For, as a result of them, Italy has been almost wiped out by internecine slaughter, cities and territories have been disfigured, partly overturned and partly levelled, provinces and kingdoms have been stricken, and people cease not to act with madness and to welter in christian blood. Hence we have judged that nothing should be given more importance, consideration and attention than the quelling of these wars and the re-ordering of ecclesiastical discipline in accordance with resources and circumstances, so that with God appeased by a change of life, after quarrels have been set aside, we may be able to bring together and gather into one the Lord's flock entrusted to our care, and to encourage and arouse this flock more readily, in a union of peace and harmony, as by a very strong binding force, against the common enemies of the christian faith who are now threatening it .

This our intense desire for this campaign against the evil and implacable enemies of the cross of Christ is indeed so implanted in our heart that we determined to continue and follow up the sacred Lateran council -- which was summoned and begun by our predecessor of happy memory, Julius II, and interrupted by his death -- for that special reason, as is clear from all the different sessions held by us in the same council. Thus, with the christian princes or their spokesmen assembled at the same council, and prelates from different parts of the world coming to it, once peace between these christian princes had been settled and (as is right) the noxious brambles of heresies had been first uprooted from the Lord's field, then the things necessary for the campaign against the same enemies, and what concerns the glory and triumph of the orthodox faith, and various other matters, could be happily decided upon by the timely advice and agreement of all.

Although many distinguished men, outstanding in every branch of learning, came from different parts of Europe to this council, which had been solemnly summoned and duly proclaimed, many also, legitimately hindered, sent their instructions in official form. However, because of the difficulties from wars and circumstances as a result of which many territories have been blocked by hostile arms for a long time, the resources and large numbers which we desired could not be assembled. Moreover, that we have not as yet sent the specially appointed legates to kings and princes to promote union and peace between the same rulers -- something that perhaps seems necessary to many and that we too think is especially opportune -- cannot be attributed to us. The reason, of course, why we refrained from doing so is this: nearly all the princes made it known by letters and messages to us, that the sending of legates was not at all necessary or expedient. Nevertheless, we sent men of discretion and proved loyalty, endowed with the rank of bishop, as our envoys to those very princes who were undertaking serious armed activity among themselves and, as far as could be guessed, rather bitter wars. It has come about, especially by the action of these envoys, that truces have been agreed between some of the princes and the rest are thought to be on the point of giving their consent. Therefore we shall not put off sending the special legates, as we decided in the last session, whenever this is necessary and profitable for the setting up of a stable and lasting peace among them, and as we previously proposed. In the meantime, we shall not cease to act and reflect on what is relevant to the situation, with the spokesmen of the same princes who are negotiating with us, and to press on and exhort them and their princes to this action by means of our envoys and letters.

Oh that the almighty and merciful God would assist from on high our plans for peace and our constant thoughts, would regard the faithful people with more benevolent and favourable eyes and, for the sake of common safety and peace and for the suppression of the haughty madness of the wicked enemies of the christian name, would give a propitious hearing to their devout prayers ! By our apostolic authority, we enjoin on each and every primate, patriarch and archbishop, on chapters of cathedral and collegiate churches, both secular and those belonging to any of the religious orders, on colleges and convents, on leaders of peoples, deans, rectors of churches and others who have charge of souls, and on preachers, alms-collectors and those who expound the word of God to the people, and we order in virtue of holy obedience, that within the celebration of masses, during the time that the word of God is being set before the people or outside that time, and in prayers which they will say in chapter or as convents, or at some other time in any kind of gathering, they are to keep the following special collects for the peace of Christians and for the confounding of the infidels respectively: O God, from whom holy desires, and, O God, in whose hands are all power and authority over kingdoms, look to the help of Christians. And they are no less to enjoin on members of their dioceses and on any other persons of either sex, whether ecclesiastical or secular, over whom they have authority by reason of a prelature or any other ecclesiastical position of authority, and to encourage in the Lord those to whom God's word is proposed on their own or another's responsibility, that they should pour forth in private devout prayers to God himself and to his most glorious mother, in the Lord's prayer and the Hail Mary, for the peace of Christians (as mentioned above) and for the complete destruction of the infidels.

Further, whoever of those mentioned above think that, by influence or favour with secular princes of any rank, distinction or dignity, or with their advisers, associates, attendants or officials, or with the magistrates, rectors and lieutenants of cities, towns, universities or any secular institutions, or with other persons of either sex, ecclesiastical or secular, they can take steps towards a universal or particular peace between princes, rulers and christian peoples, and towards the campaign against the infidels, let them use strong encouragement and lead them on to this peace and the campaign. By the tender mercy of our God and the merit of the passion of his only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, we exhort all of them with all possible emotion of our heart, and we counsel them by the authority of the pastoral office which we exercise, to lay aside private and public enmities and to turn to embracing the endeavour for peace and deciding on the aforesaid campaign.

We strictly forbid each and every prelate, prince or individual, whether ecclesiastical or secular, of whatever state, rank, dignity, pre-eminence or condition they may be, under threat of the divine judgment, to presume to introduce in any way, directly or indirectly, openly or secretly, any obstacle to the said peace which is to be negotiated by us or by our agents, whether legates or envoys of the apostolic see endowed (as said before) with the episcopal rank, for the defence of the christian state of the faithful. Those who, in working towards this peace, think that there is involved something of a private or a public nature that is of importance to their princes, cities or states, the care for whom or which pertains to them because of some office or public function should, as far as it will be possible in the Lord, with due moderation and calm take control of the matter inasmuch as it involves support and goodwill towards the coming peace. Indeed, those who wish to rouse the faithful by Christ's spiritual gifts, when these are duly contrite and absolved, and to pour out devout prayers for obtaining peace and for deciding on the expedition, so that the said peace and the campaign against the said enemies of the christian faith may be brought about and be secured from God himself, will devote worthwhile and well-considered efforts as often as they do this. These prayers, offered with devotion, should take place in masses, sermons and other divine services, in collegial, conventual and other public or communal prayers, and among princes, advisers, officials, governors and other persons named above who seem to have some influence in making or arranging the peace and in deciding (as said before) on the campaign against the enemies of the unconquered cross.

Trusting in the mercy of God and the authority of his blessed apostles Peter and Paul, we grant remission of one hundred days of imposed penances to those who, individually and in private, offer prayers to obtain the foregoing from God; seven times each day if they do it so often or, if fewer, as often as they shall do it; until the universal peace -- which is receiving our constant attention -between princes and peoples at present in armed dispute has been established, and the campaign against the infidels has been decreed with our approval. We lay an obligation on our venerable brothers, primates, patriarchs, archbishops and bishops, to whom the present letter or copies of it, accurately printed either in Rome or elsewhere, shall come under official seals, to have it published with all possible speed in their provinces and dioceses, and to give firm instructions for its due execution.

In the meantime, with the approval of the sacred council, we have decreed, as we proposed and desired with all our heart, the ecclesiastical reform of our curia and of our venerable brothers, the cardinals of the holy Roman church, and of others dwelling in Rome, and many other necessary things, which will be contained in our other letters due for publication in this same session. It was Julius, our predecessor, who summoned to this council all those who were accustomed to attend councils. He gave them a comprehensive safe-conduct so that they could make the journey and arrive safely and unharmed. However, many prelates who ought to have come have so far not arrived, perhaps because of the obstacles already stated. In our desire to go ahead with the more serious business due in the next session, we appeal to in the Lord, and we ask and counsel by the tender mercy of the same, prelates, kings, dukes, marquises, counts and others who usually come or send someone to a general council, but who have not yet provided spokesmen or legitimate instructions, to decide with all possible speed either to come in person or to send chosen and competent envoys, with valid instructions, to this sacred Lateran council which is so beneficial to the christian state.

With regard to those venerable brethren, patriarchs, archbishops, bishops, abbots and prelates - especially those bound under oath to visit the place of the apostles Peter and Paul at certain fixed times, and to attend in person general councils which have been summoned, including those under that obligation at the time of their promotion -- whose obstinacy as being non-attenders at various sessions became a matter of frequent accusation by the sponsor of the same council, there is to be found in solemn form both a petition for proceedings against them and a statement of the censures and penalties incurred. This is notwithstanding any privileges, concessions and indults that were granted confirmed or renewed by us or our said predecessors in favour of them and their churches, monasteries and benefices. These we annul and invalidate through our certain knowledge and fullness of power, considering them to be fully stated here. We impose in virtue of holy obedience, and we strictly command under the penalties of excommunication and perjury and others derived from law or custom, and in particular from the letter which summoned and proclaimed the said Lateran council and was promulgated by our predecessor, Julius himself that they must attend in person the said Lateran council and remain in Rome until it has reached its conclusion and been terminated by our authority, unless they are prevented by some legitimate excuse. And if (as we said) they have somehow been prevented, they are to send their suitably qualified representatives with a full mandate on the matters that will have to be treated, dealt with and advised upon.

In order to remove completely all excuse and leave no pretext of any impediment to anyone who is obliged to attend, in addition to the public guarantee which was clearly granted at the summoning of this council to all coming to it we give, concede and grant, acting on the advice and power mentioned above with the same council's approval, to each and all who have been accustomed to be present at the meetings of general councils and are coming to the present Lateran council, as well as to members of their personal staff, of whatever status rank, order and condition or nobility they may be, ecclesiastical and secular, a free, safe and secure safe-conduct and, by apostolic authority in the meaning of the present letter, full protection in all its aspects, for themselves and for all their possessions of any kind as they pass through cities, territories and places, by sea and land, which are subject to the said Roman church, for the journey to the Lateran council in Rome, for remaining in the city of freedom, for exchanging views according to their opinions, for departing therefrom as often as they may wish and also after four months from the conclusion and dispersal of the said council; and we promise to give readily other safe-conducts and guarantees to those desiring to have them. Each and all of these visitors we shall deal with and welcome with kindness and charity.

Under the threat of the divine majesty and of our displeasure, and of the penalties against those impeding the holding of councils, particularly the said Lateran council, which are contained and set down in law or in the letter of the aforesaid summons of our predecessor, we are instructing each and all secular princes, of whatever exalted rank they may be, including imperial, royal, queenly, ducal or any other, the governors of cities, and citizens governing or ruling their states, to grant to the prelates and others coming to the said Lateran council a free permission and licence, a safe-conduct for coming and returning, and a free and unharmed transit through the dominions, lands and property of theirs through which the said persons must pass together with their equipment, possessions and horses; all exceptions and excuses being completely set aside and without force.

In addition we order and command, under pain of our displeasure and of other penalties which can be inflicted at our will, each and all of our people who bear arms, both infantry and cavalry, their commanders and captains, the castellans of our fortresses, the legates, governors, rulers, lieutenants, authorities, officials and vassals of the cities and territories that are subject to the said Roman church, and any others of whatever rank, status, condition or distinction they may be, to give permission, and to be responsible for the giving of permission, to those coming to the Lateran council, to pass through in freedom, safety and security, to stay, and to return, so that such a holy, praiseworthy and very necessary council may not be frustrated for any reason or pretext, and that those coming to it may be able to live in peace and calm and without restraint and to say and develop under the same conditions the things which concern the honour of almighty God and the standing of the whole church. This we enjoin notwithstanding any constitutions, apostolic ordinances, imperial laws or municipal statutes and customs (even those reinforced by oath and apostolic confirmation or by any other authority) which could modify in any respect or impede in any way the said safe-conduct and guarantee, even if the constitutions etc. were of such a kind that an individual, precise, clear and distinct form of speech, or some other clearly stated expression, should be employed regarding them, and not just general clauses which only imply the matter, for we consider the significance of all the above things to be clearly stated by the present letter, as if they had been included word for word. Let nobody therefore . . . If anyone however . . .

[Bull on reform of the curia]

Leo, bishop, servant of the servants of God, with the approval of the sacred council, for an everlasting record. It is eminently fitting for the Roman pontiff to carry out the duty of a provident shepherd, in order to care for and keep safe the Lord's flock entrusted to him by God, since, by the will of the supreme ordinance by which the things of heaven and of earth are arranged by ineffable providence, he acts on the lofty throne of St Peter as vicar on earth of Christ, the only-begotten Son of God. When we notice, out of solicitude for our said pastoral office, that church discipline and the pattern of a sound and upright life are worsening, disappearing and going further astray from the right path throughout almost all the ranks of Christ's faithful, with a disregard for law and with exemption from punishment, as a result of the troubles of the times and the malice of human beings, it must be feared that, unless checked by a well-guided improvement, there will be a daily falling into a variety of faults under the security of sin and soon, with the appearance of public scandals, a complete breakdown. We desire, then, as far as it is permitted to us from on high, to check the evils from becoming too strong, to restore a great many things to their earlier observance of the sacred canons, to create with God's help an improvement in keeping with the established practice of the holy fathers, and to give -- with the approval of the sacred Lateran council initiated for that reason, among others, by our predecessor of happy memory, pope Julius II, and continued by us -healthy guidance to all these matters.

In order to make a start, we take up the points which for the present seem more appropriate and which, having often been neglected during particular generations, have brought great loss to the christian religion and produced very great scandals in the church of God. We have therefore decided to begin with preferment to ecclesiastical dignities. Our predecessor of devout memory, pope Alexander III, also in a Lateran council, decreed that age, a serious character and knowledge of letters are to be carefully examined in the preferment of individuals to bishoprics and abbacies. Moreover, nothing impedes the church of God more than when unworthy prelates are accepted for the government of churches. Therefore, in the preferment of prelates, the Roman pontiffs must give much attention to the matter, especially because they will have to give an account to God at the last judgment about those given preferment by them to churches and monasteries. Consequently, we rule and establish that henceforward, in accordance with the constitution of the aforesaid Alexander III, for vacant churches and monasteries of patriarchal, metropolitan and cathedral status, the person provided is to be of mature age, learning and serious character, as said above, and the provision is not to be made at someone's urging, by means of recommendation, direction or enforcement, or in any other way, unless it has seemed right to act differently on the grounds of advantage to the churches, prudence, nobility, uprightness, experience, lengthy contact with the curia (together with adequate learning), or service to the apostolic see. We wish the same to be observed regarding the persons elected and chosen in elections and choices that have customarily been admitted by the apostolic see. But if the question arises of providing for churches and monasteries of this kind with persons of less than thirty years of age, there can be no dispensation for them to be in charge of churches before their twenty-seventh year of age or of monasteries before their twenty-second year.

Indeed, so that suitable persons may be advanced with greater exactness and care, we rule that the cardinal to whom the reporting on an election, appointment or provision to a church or monastery has been entrusted, ought, before he gives an account in the sacred consistory (as the custom is) of his carrying out of such an examination or report assigned to him, to make his report known to one of the older cardinals of each grade, personally in the actual consistory, or, if there was no consistory on the day appointed for him to give his account, then by means of his secretary or some other member of his personal staff, and the three older cardinals in question are bound to communicate the report as soon as possible to the other cardinals of their grade. The said cardinal making the report shall personally examine the business of the election, administration, appointment or promotion in summary and extra-judicial fashion. If any have spoken against it, he is obliged to call, after the objectors have been summoned, competent, responsible and trustworthy witnesses and, if it should be necessary or appropriate, others by virtue of office. He is bound to bring with him to the consistory, on the day the report has to be made, the stages and decisions of the report together with the statements of the witnesses, and he shall not give his report in any form until the person to be promoted, if he is at the curia, shall have first visited the majority of the cardinals in order that they may be able to learn at first hand, insofar as it is relevant to his character, what they shall soon learn from the report of their colleague. Moreover, the person promoted is obliged, by longstanding practice and laudable custom, to visit as soon as possible the same cardinals who are then in the curia. This practice and praiseworthy custom, indeed, we renew and command to be kept without change.

Since it is right to maintain episcopal dignity unharmed, and for it to be protected from indiscriminate exposure to the attacks of wicked persons and to the false charges of accusers, we decree that no bishop or abbot may be deprived of his rank when anyone urges a charge or presses demands (unless the opportunity for a legitimate defence is afforded to him), even if the charges have been widely known and, after the parties have been attentively heard, the case has been fully proved; nor may any prelate be transferred against his will, except for other just and efficacious reasons and causes, in accordance with the terms and decree of the council of Constance.

Also, as a result of commendams for monasteries, the monasteries themselves (as experience, a practical mistress, has quite often taught) are seriously damaged in spiritual and temporal matters because their buildings fall into decay, partly through the negligence of the commendatories and partly through greed or lack of interest, divine worship is gradually reduced, and matter for contempt is generally offered especially to secular persons, not without a lessening of the standing of the apostolic see, from which commendams of this kind originate. In order that sounder measures may be taken to secure these monasteries from damage, we will and decree that when vacancies occur through the death of the abbot in charge, they cannot be given in commendam to anyone by any agreement unless it seems right to us to decide otherwise, in accordance with the actual circumstances and with the advice of our brothers, so as to protect the authority of the apostolic see and to oppose the evil designs of those attacking it .

But let such monasteries be provided with competent persons, in keeping with the above-mentioned constitution, so that suitable abbots will have charge of them (as is fitting). Such monasteries may be given in commendam, when the original commendam no longer exists on account of the resignation or death of the commendatory, only to cardinals and to qualified and well-deserving persons; and in such a way that the commendatories of the monasteries, whatever their dignity, honour and high rank may be, even if they enjoy the status and dignity of a cardinal, are obliged, if they have meals in private, apart from the common table, to assign a quarter of their board for the renewal of the fabric, or for the purchase or repair of furnishings, clothings and adornment, or for the maintenance or sustenance of the poor, as the greater need demands or suggests . If, however, they share board completely, a third part of all the resources of the said monastery committed to the commendatory must be assigned, after all other imposts have been deducted, to the above-mentioned burdens and to the sustenance of the monks. Moreover, letters which are drawn up regarding such commendams to monasteries ought to contain a clause specifically stating this. If they are drawn up in some other form, they are of no worth or value .

Since it is fitting for such churches to be provided for without any loss of revenues, in such a way that both the honour of those in charge and the need of the churches and buildings are considered, we decree and rule that pensions may never be reserved from the incomes of these churches except on account of a resignation or for some other reason which has been considered credible and honourable in our secret consistory. We also rule that henceforth parochial churches, major and principal dignities and other ecclesiastical benefices whose rents, revenues and produce by ordinary reckoning do not amount to an annual value of two hundred golden ducats of the treasury, and also hospitals, leperhouses and hostels of any importance which have been set up for the use and provisioning of the poor, shall not be given in commendam to cardinals of the holy Roman church, or conferred on them by any other title, unless they have become vacant by the death of a member of their household. In the latter case they can be given in commendam to cardinals, but these are bound to dispose of them within six months for the benefit of such persons as are suitable and in good relations with them. We do not wish, however, to prejudge the cardinals further with respect to benefices to which they may have a reserve claim .


See Part Four of the Fifth Lateran Council

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