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

For document sources noted, see Abbreviations


We also ordain that members of churches, monasteries or military orders may not be detached or separated from their head -- which is absurd -- without legitimate and reasonable cause. Perpetual unions, apart from cases permitted by law or on some reasonable grounds, are not permitted at all. Dispensations for more than two incompatible benefices are not to be granted, except for great and pressing reasons or to qualified persons according to the form of common law . We set a limit of two years on persons of whatever rank who obtain more than four parish churches and their perpetual vicarages, or major and principal dignities, even if by way of union or commendam for life. They are bound to release the rest, only four being retained in the meantime. Such benefices, due for release, can be resigned into the hands of the ordinaries so that they may be provided with persons nominated by them; notwithstanding any reservations, even those of a general nature or resulting from the quality of the persons resigning. Once the period of two years is past, all the benefices that have not been disposed of may be reckoned as vacant and may freely be applied for as vacant. Those who hold on to them incur the penalties of the constitution Execrabilis of our memorable predecessor, pope John XXII. We also rule that special reservations of any benefice are in no way to be granted at the urging of anyone .

On cardinals

Since the cardinals of the holy Roman church take precedence in honour and dignity over all the other members of the church after the sovereign pontiff, it is proper and right that they be distinguished beyond all others by the purity of their life and the excellence of their virtues. On that account, we not only exhort and advise them but also decree and order that henceforth each of the cardinals following the teaching of the Apostle, so live a sober, chaste and godly life that he shines out before people as one who abstains not merely from evil but from every appearance of evil . In the first place, let him honour God by his works . Let all of them be vigilant, constant at the divine office and the celebration of masses, and maintain their chapels in a worthy place, as they were wont to do .

Their house and establishment, table and furniture, should not attract blame by display or splendour or superfluous equipment or in any other way, so as to avoid any fostering of sin or excess, but, as is right, let them deserve to be called mirrors of moderation and frugality. Therefore, let them find satisfaction in what contributes to priestly modesty; let them act with kindness and respect both in public and in private, towards prelates and other distinguished persons who come to the Roman curia; and let them undertake with grace and generosity the business committed to them by ourself and our successors .

Moreover, let them not employ bishops or prelates in demeaning tasks in their houses, so that those who have been appointed to give direction to others and who have been clad in a sacred character, will not lower themselves to menial chores and generally bring about a lack of respect for the pastoral office . Consequently, let them treat with honour as brothers, and as befits their state of life, those whom they have or will have in their houses. Since the cardinals assist the Roman pontiff, the common father of all Christians, it is very improper for them to be patrons of or special pleaders for individuals. We have therefore decided, lest they adopt partiality of any kind, that they are not to set up as promoters or defenders of princes or communities or of any other persons against anyone, except to the extent that justice and equity demands and the dignity and rank of such people requires. Rather, separated from all private interest, let them be available and engage with all diligence in calming and settling any disputes. Let them promote with due piety the maintenance of the just business of princes and all other persons, especially the poor and religious, and let them offer help in accordance with their resources and their official responsibility to those who are oppressed and unjustly burdened .

They are to visit at least once a year -- in person if they have been present in the curia, and by a suitable deputy if they have been absent -- the places of their titular basilica. They are, with due care, to keep themselves informed about the clergy and people of the churches subject to their basilica; they are to keep under review the divine worship and the properties of the said churches; above all, let them examine with care the lives of the clergy and their parishioners, and with a father's affection encourage one and all to live an upright and honourable life . For the development of divine worship and the salvation of his own soul, each cardinal should give to his basilica during his lifetime, or bequeath at the time of his death, a sufficient amount for the suitable sustenance there of one priest; or, if the basilica needs repairs or some other form of aid, let him leave or donate as much as he may in conscience decide. It is entirely unfitting to pass over persons related to them by blood or by marriage, especially if they are deserving and need help. To come to their assistance is just and praiseworthy. But we do not consider that it is appropriate to heap on them a great number of benefices or church revenues, with the result that an uncontrolled generosity in these matters may bring wrong to others and may cause scandal. Consequently we have determined that they are not to squander thoughtlessly the goods of the churches, but are to apply them in works of devotion and piety, for which great and rich returns have been assigned and ordained by the holy fathers .

It is also our wish that they take care, without making any excuse, of the churches entrusted to them in commendam, whether these be cathedrals, abbeys, priories, or any other eeclesiastical benefices that they take measures, with all personal effect, to see that the cathedrals are duly served by the appointment of worthy and competent vicars or suffragans, according to what has been customary, with an appropriate and adequate salary; and that they provide for the other churches and monasteries held by them in commendam with the right number of clerics or chaplains, whether religious or monks, for the adequate and praiseworthy service of God. Let them also maintain in proper condition the buildings, properties and rights of any kind, and repair what has crumbled, in accordance with the duty of good prelates and commendatories . We also judge that the said cardinals are to use great discretion and careful foresight with regard to the number of their personal attendants and horses lest by having a greater number than their resources, situation and dignity permit, they can be accused of the vice of over-display and extravagance. Let them not be accounted greedy and squalid on the grounds that they enjoy great and plentiful revenues and yet offer sustenance to very few; for the house of a cardinal ought to be an open lodging, a harbour and refuge for upright and learned persons, especially men, for nobles who are now poor and for honourable persons. Hence let them be prudent about the manner and quantity of what has to be kept, and carefully check the character of their personal attendants, lest they themselves incur from the vices of others the shameful stain of dishonour and provide real opportunities for contradictions and false accusations .

Since very special provision must be made that our deeds be approved not only before God, whom we ought to please in the first place, but also before peoplel so that we can offer to others an example to be imitated, we ordain that every cardinal show himself an excellent ruler and overseer of his house and personal staff, with regard to both what is open for all to see and what lies hidden within . Therefore let each of them have the priests and deacons clad in respectable garments, and make careful provision that no one in his household who holds a benefice of any type, or is in holy orders, wears multi-coloured clothes or a garment that has little connection with ecclesiastical status. Those in the priesthood, therefore, ought to wear clothes of colours which are not forbidden to clerics by law and are of at least ankle length. Those who hold high office in cathedrals, canons of the said cathedrals those holding the chief posts in colleges, and chaplains of cardinals when celebrating masses, are obliged to wear a head-covering in public. Shield-bearers are permitted garments somewhat shorter than ankle-length. Grooms, because they are generally moving about and perform a somewhat burdensome service, can use shorter and more suitable garments, even if they happen to be clerics, so long as they are not ordained priests; but in such a way that they do not cast aside decency and they so conduct themselves that their behaviour is in keeping with their position in the church . Other clerics are to do everything with due proportion and restraint. Both clerics holding benefices and those in holy orders are not to pay special attention to their hair and beards, nor to possess mules or horses with trappings and ornaments of velvet or silk, but for articles of this kind let them use ordinary cloth or leather .

If anyone of the aforesaid staff acts otherwise, or wears such forbidden garments after three months from the announcement of the present regulations, despite being given a legitimate warning, he incurs excommunication. If he has not corrected himself within a further three months, he is understood to be suspended from receiving the fruits of the benefices which he holds. And if he remains fixed in this obstinacy for another six months, after a similar legal warning, he is to be deprived of all the benefices which he holds, and he is to be considered as so deprived. The benefices thus made vacant may be freely sought from the apostolic see. We wish each and every one of these arrangements to apply to the households of ourself and any future Roman pontiffs, and likewise to all other beneficed clerics or persons in holy orders, even those in the curia . There is one single exception: the said attendants of ourself and future Roman pontiffs may wear red garments, in keeping with what is proper and usual for the papal dignity .

Since the care of the most important business is the special concern of cardinals, it is for them to use their ability to know which regions have been infected by heresies, errors and superstitions opposed to the true orthodox faith; where the ecclesiastical discipline of the Lord's commandments is lacking; and which kings and princes or peoples are being troubled, or fear to be troubled, by wars. Cardinals shall apply themselves to obtain information on these and similar matters and make a report to us or the current Roman pontiff so that, by earnest effort, opportune and saving remedies for such evils and afflictions can be thought out. Since by frequent, almost daily, experience it is known that many evils quite often occur to provinces and cities on account of the absence of their own officially appointed legates, and various scandals are springing up which are not without disadvantages to the apostolic see, we decree and ordain that cardinals who are in charge of provinces or cities, under the title of legates, may not administer them through lieutenants or officials, but they are obliged to be present in person for the greater part of the time, and to rule and govern them with all vigilance. Those who now hold the title of legate, or will hold it for a time, are obliged to go to their provinces -- within three months from the date of the present proclamation if the provinces are in Italy, and within five months if they are outside Italy -- and to reside there for the greater part of the time, unless, by a command from us or our successors, they are held back in the Roman curia for some business of greater moment or are sent to other places as needs demand. In the latter cases, let them have in the said provinces and cities vice-legates, auditors, lieutenants and the other usual officials with due arrangements and salaries. Anyone who does not observe each and all of the above regulations is to be deprived of all the emoluments of his post as legate. These regulations were formulated and established long ago with this object: that the ready presence of the legates would be beneficial to the peoples; not that, being free from toils and cares, under cover of being the legate, they would fix their attention only on profit .

Since the duty of a cardinal is primarily concerned with regular assistance to the Roman pontiff and the business matters of the apostolic see, we have decided that all cardinals shall reside at the Roman curia, and those who are absent are to return within six months if they are in Italy, or within a year from the day of promulgation of this present constitution if they are outside Italy. If they do not they are to lose the fruits of their benefices and the emoluments of all their offices; and they lose completely, as long as they arc absent, all privileges granted in general and in particular to cardinals. Those cardinals are excepted, however, who happen to be absent by reason of a duty imposed by the apostolic see, or of a command or permission from the Roman pontiff, or from reasonable fear or any other motive which justifiably excuses, or for health reasons . Moreover, the privileges, indults and immunities granted to the said cardinals and contained or declared in our bull under the date of our coronation1{Bull Licat Romani pontificis,9 April 1513; see Regesta Leonis X no. 14} remain in full force. We have also decided that the funeral expenses of cardinals, when all costs are included, ought not to exceed the total of 1,500 florins, unless the previous arrangement of the executors -- after just grounds and reasons have been set out -- has reckoned that more should be spent. The funeral rites and formal mourning are to be on the first and ninth days; within the octave, however, masses may be celebrated as usual .

Out of reverence towards the apostolic see, for the advantage and honour of the pontiff and the cardinals, in order that the possibility of scandals which could come to light may be removed and a greater freedom of votes in the holy senate may exist, and that, as is right, it may be lawful for each cardinal to say freely and without penalty whatever he feels before God and his own conscience, we lay down that no cardinal may reveal in writing or by word or in any other way, under pain of being a perjurer and disobedient, the votes that were given in the consistory, or whatever was done or said there which could result in hatred or scandal or prejudice with regard to anyone, or whenever silence on any point beyond the foregoing has been specially and clearly enjoined by ourself or the Roman pontiff of the time. If anyone acts to the contrary he incurs, as well as the punishments stated, immediate excommunication from which, except in immediate danger of death, he can only be absolved by ourself or the Roman pontiff of the time, and with a declaration of the reason .

Reforms of the curia and of other things

Since every generation inclines to evil from its youth, and for it to grow accustomed from tender years towards good is the result of work and purpose we rule and order that those in charge of schools, and those who teach young children and youths, ought not only to instruct them in grammar, rhetoric and similar subjects but also to teach those matters which concern religion, such as God's commandments, the articles of the faith, sacred hymns and psalms, and the lives of the saints. On feast days they should limit themselves to teaching what has reference to religion and good habits, and they are obliged to instruct, encourage and compel their pupils in these matters insofar as they can. Thus, let them attend churches not only for masses, but also to listen to vespers and the divine offices, and let them encourage the hearing of instructions and sermons . Let them not teach anything to their pupils that is contrary to good morals or may lead to a lack of reverence .

To wipe out the curse of blasphemy, which has increased beyond measure towards a supreme contempt for the divine name and for the saints, we rule and ordain that whoever curses God openly and publicly and, by insulting and offensive language, has expressly blasphemed our lord Jesus Christ or the glorious virgin Mary, his mother, if he has held a public office or jurisdiction, he is to lose three months' emoluments of his said office for the first and second offence, and if he has committed the fault a third time, he is automatically deprived of his post. If he is a cleric or a priest, he is to be punished further as follows for being found guilty of such a fault: for the first time he blasphemed, he is to lose the fruits of whatever benefices he held for one year; for the second time he offended and was convicted, he is to be deprived of his benefice if he held only one, and if he held several then he is to be compelled to lose the one that his ordinary decides upon; if he is charged and convicted for a third time, he is automatically deprived of all the benefices and dignities that he holds, he is rendered incapable of holding them any longer, and they can be freely asked for and allotted to others. A lay person who blasphemes, if he is a noble, is to be fined a penalty of twenty-five ducats; for the second offence the fine is fifty ducats, which are to be applied to the fabric of the basilica of the prince of the apostles in Rome; for other offences he is to be punished as set out below; for a third fault, however, he is to lose his noble status. If he is of no rank and a plebian, he is to be cast into prison. If he has been caught committing blasphemy in public more than twice, he is to be compelled to stand for a whole day in front of the entrance of the principal church, wearing a hood signifying his infamy; but if he has fallen several times into the same fault, he is to be condemned to permanent imprisonment or to the galleys, at the decision of the appointed judge. In the forum of conscience, however, nobody guilty of blasphemy can be absolved without a heavy penance imposed by the decision of a strict confessor . We wish those who blaspheme against the other saints to be punished somewhat more lightly, at the decision of a judge who will take account of individuals .

We also decree that secular judges who have not taken action against such convicted blasphemers and have not imposed rightful penalties on them, insofar as they are able to, are to be subjected to the same penalties as if they had been involved in the said crime. But those who have exercised care and severity in their examinations and punishments, will gain for each occasion an indulgence of ten years and may keep a third of the fine imposed. Any persons who have heard the blasphemer are obliged to rebuke him sharply in words, if it should happen that this can be done without danger to themselves, and they are obliged to report the same or bring it to the knowledge of an ecclesiastical or secular judge within three days. But if several persons have at the same time heard the said blasphemer committing the fault, each one is obliged to make an accusation against him, unless perhaps they all agree that one will perform the task for all . We urge and counsel in the Lord all the said persons, in virtue of holy obedience, that they command and ensure, for the reverence and honour of the divine name, that all the foregoing are kept and very exactly carried out in their lordships and lands. Thus they will have from God himself an abundant reward for such a good and pious deed, and they too will obtain from the apostolic see an indulgence of ten years, and a third of the fine by which the blasphemer is punished, as often as they have taken the trouble to have such a crime punished . It is likewise our will that this indulgence and the remaining third of the fine imposed be granted and assigned to the person reporting the name of the blasphemer. Moreover, other penalties set down in the sacred canons against such blasphemers remain in force .

In order that clerics, especially, may live in continence and chastity according to canonical legislation, we rule that offenders be severely punished as the canons lay down. If anyone, lay or cleric, has been found guilty of a charge on account of which the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience, let him be punished by the penalties respectively imposed by the sacred canons or by civil law. Those involved in concubinage, whether they be lay or cleric, are to be punished by the penalties of the same canons. Concubinage is not to be allowed by the tolerance of superiors, or as an evil custom of a great number of sinners, which should rather be called a corruption, or under any other excuse; but let those involved be punished severely in accordance with the judgment of the law .

Moreover, for the good and peaceful government of cities and all places subject to the Roman church, we renew the constitutions published some time ago by Giles, the well-remembered bishop of Sabina, and we enjoin and command that they be kept without alteration .

So that the stain and disease of abominable simony may be driven out for ever not only from the Roman curia but also from all christian rule, we renew the constitutions issued by our predecessors, also in sacred councils, against simoniacs of this kind, and we prescribe that they be observed unaltered. We wish the penalties they contain to be regarded as clearly stated and included herein, and the offenders to be punished by our authority .

We rule and order that anyone who holds a benefice with or without the care of souls, if he has not recited the divine office after six months from the date of his obtaining the benefice, and any legitimate impediment has come to an end may not receive the revenues of his benefices, on account of his omission and the length of time, but he is bound to spend them, as being unjustly received, on the fabric of the benefices or on alms to the poor. If he obstinately remains in such negligence beyond the said period, after a legitimate warning has been given, let him be deprived of the benefice, since it is for the sake of the office that the benefice is granted. He is to be understood as neglecting the office, so that he can be deprived of his benefice, if he fails to recite it at least twice during fifteen days . However, in addition to what has just been said, he will be obliged to offer to God an explanation for the said omission. The penalty on those holding several benefices may be repeated as often as they are proved to act contrary to these obligations .

The full disposal and administration of the revenues of cathedral and metropolitan churches, monasteries and any other ecclesiastical benefices belong exclusively to us and the Roman pontiff of the time, and to those who legally and canonically hold churches, monasteries and benefices of this kind. Secular princes ought in no way to interpose themselves in the said churches, monasteries and benefices, since all divine law also forbids it. For these reasons we rule and command that the fruits and revenues of churches, monasteries and benefices ought not to be sequestrated, held or detained in any way by any secular rulers, even if they be the emperor, kings, queens, republics or other powers, or by their officials, or by judges, even ecclesiastical ones, or by any other persons public or private, acting at the command of the said emperor, kings, queens princes, republics or powers. Those who hold such churches, monasteries and benefices ought not to be impeded -- under the pretext of the restoration of the fabric (unless permission is expressly given by the Roman pontiff of the time) or of alms-giving or under any other guise or pretence -- so that they cannot freely and without restriction, as before, dispose of the fruits and revenues. If there have been sequestrations, seizures or retentions, then restoration of the fruits and revenues must be made totally, freely, and without exception or delay, to the prelates to whom they pertain by right and by law. If they have been scattered and can nowhere be found, it is our will, supported by the penalty of excommunication or ecclesiastical interdict to be automatically incurred by the lands and domain of the ruler, that, after a just estimate has been made about them, the said prelates receive satisfaction through those who carried out the said sequestrations, applications or dispersals or who gave orders for them to be carried out; and further, that their goods and the goods of those subject to them, wherever these may be found, may be seized and held if, after being warned, they refuse to obey. Those who act in a contrary manner do so under pain of both the penalties mentioned above and those of deprivation of the fiefs and privileges which they have obtained for a time from us and from the Roman or other churches, and of those issued against violators and oppressors of ecclesiastical liberties, including those in extraordinary and other constitutions, even if they are unknown and perhaps not now in actual use. We renew all these penalties as stated and included herein, we decree and declare that they have perpetual force- and we will and order that sentence, judgment and interpretation are to be given according to them by all judges, even cardinals of the holy Roman church, with all power of judging and declaring otherwise being removed and taken away from them .

Since no power over ecclesiastical persons is granted to lay people by either divine or human law, we renew the constitution of pope Boniface VIII, our predecessor of happy memory, which begins Felicis, and that of pope Clement V which begins Si quis suadente, and also any other apostolic ordinance, however issued, in favour of ecclesiastical freedom and against its violators . Moreover, the penalties against those who dare to do such things, contained in the bull In coena Domini3, are to remain in force. It has similarly been forbidden in the Lateran and general councils, under penalty of excommunication, for kings, princes, dukes, counts, barons, republics and any other authorities exercising control over kingdoms, provinces, cities and territories, to impose and exact money contributions, tithes and other similar imposts on or from clerics, prelates and any other persons of the church, or even to receive them from those who freely offer them and give their consent. Those who openly or covertly provide help, favour or advice in the aforesaid matters automatically incur the penalty of immediate excommunication; and states, communities and universities which are at fault in any way on this point are by this very fact to be subject to ecclesiastical interdict. Prelates also, who have given consent to the foregoing without the clear permission of the Roman pontiff, automatically incur the penalty of excommunication and removal from office. For these reasons we decree and ordain that henceforth those who attempt such things, even if (as mentioned) they are qualified, in addition to the aforesaid penalties which we renew and wish them to incur by the very fact of their contravention, are to be regarded as incapable of all legal acts and as intestable .


See Part Five of the Fifth Lateran Council

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