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

For document sources noted, see Abbreviations


Complaints from many persons, however, have reached our ears and those of the apostolic see. In fact, some printers have the boldness to print and sell to the public, in different parts of the world, books -- some translated into Latin from Greek, Hebrew, Arabic and Chaldean as well as some issued directly in Latin or a vernacular language -- containing errors opposed to the faith as well as pernicious views contrary to the christian religion and to the reputation of prominent persons of rank. The readers are not edified. Indeed, they lapse into very great errors not only in the realm of faith but also in that of life and morals . This has often given rise to various scandals, as experience has taught, and there is daily the fear that even greater scandals are developing.

That is why, to prevent what has been a healthy discovery for the glory of God, the advance of the faith, and the propagation of good skills, from being misused for the opposite purposes and becoming an obstacle to the salvation of Christians, we have judged that our care must be exercised over the printing of books, precisely so that thorns do not grow up with the good seed or poisons become mixed with medicines. It is our desire to provide a suitable remedy for this danger, with the approval of this sacred council, so that the business of book-printing may go ahead with greater satisfaction the more that there is employed in the future, with greater zeal and prudence, a more attentive supervision. We therefore establish and ordain that henceforth, for all future time, no one may dare to print or have printed any book or other writing of whatever kind in Rome or in any other cities and dioceses, without the book or writings having first been closely examined, at Rome by our vicar and the master of the sacred palace, in other cities and dioceses by the bishop or some other person who knows about the printing of books and writings of this kind and who has been delegated to this office by the bishop in question, and also by the inquisitor of heresy for the city or diocese where the said printing is to take place, and unless the books or writings have been approved by a warrant signed in their own hand, which must be given, under pain of excommunication, freely and without delay .

In addition to the printed books being seized and publicly burnt, payment of a hundred ducats to the fabric of the basilica of the prince of the apostles in Rome, without hope of relief, and suspension for a whole year from the possibility of engaging in printing, there is to be imposed upon anyone presuming to act otherwise the sentence of excommunication. Finally, if the offender's contumacy increases, he is to be punished with all the sanctions of the law, by his bishop or by our vicar, in such a way that others will have no incentive to try to follow his example. Let nobody therefore ... If anyone however.. .

[On setting a date for those acknowledging the Pragmatic Sanction]

Leo, bishop, servant of the servants of God, with the approval of the sacred council, for an everlasting record. Among other matters to be carried through in this sacred council, we especially desire to make known and proclaim what must be decided and announced concerning the sanction called the Pragmatic, which was issued by a number of leaders of the French nation, both clerics and laymen as well as nobles and others supporting them. This is in accordance with the wishes of our predecessor pope Julius II, of happy memory, who summoned this council. The prelates and other clergy and the aforesaid laity have been summoned on several occasions to appear before both our said predecessor, Julius, and ourself; and their obstinacy has quite often been alleged or been the subject of accusations in the said council. It was subsequently alleged on behalf of the prelates, clerics and laymen, including nobles, and their said supporters, who were legitimately summoned (as just stated) for this purpose, that there was no route which would allow them to travel in safety to the said council. In order that they may not be able to make this excuse, we have taken measures for a comprehensive safe-conduct to be granted and conveyed to them by the Genoans, through whose territory they can travel in safety to the Roman curia, so that they may be able to bring forward the views which they may wish to present in defence of this Pragmatic Sanction .

To prevent them being able to bring up some further point against what has been set out and to claim a legitimate ignorance, and in order that their obstinacy may be overcome, we once again, with the approval of the sacred council, give notice and warning, regarding a final and definitive dead-line, to the clergy and laity, including nobles, prelates and their supporters, and to colleges of clerics and of seculars, that they must lawfully assemble (putting aside every excuse and delaying action) before I October next. We are extending the dead-line, for the aforesaid reasons and in order to remove all excuses, to the said I October, by way of a final postponement; and we grant and assign this anew. Once the dead-line has passed, however, proceedings will go forward at the next session to other matters and to the conclusion of the said business, even by means of a definitive sentence, notwithstanding their obstinacy and refusal to appear. This next eleventh session we summon for these and many other useful matters. with the approval of the sacred council, for 14 December after the next feast day of St Lucy. Let nobody therefore ... If anyone however .. .

SESSION 11

19 December 1516

[On how to preach]

Leo, bishop, servant of the servants of God, with the approval of the sacred council, for an everlasting record. Under the protection of the supreme majesty by whose ineffable providence things in heaven and on earth are guided, as we carry out the office of watchman over the Lord's flock committed to us, insofar as this is granted to our weakness, we reflect within ourselves in great depth that, among many other important matters, the office of preaching is also our concern. Preaching is of the first importance, very necessary and of great effect and utility in the church, so long as it is being exercised rightly, from genuine charity towards God and our neighbour, and according to the precepts and examples of the holy fathers, who contributed a great deal to the church by publicly professing such things at the time of the establishment and propagation of the faith . For, our redeemer first did and taught, and by his command and example, the college of twelve apostles -- the heavens alike proclaiming the glory of the true God through all the earth -- led back from darkness the whole human race, which was held by the old bondage under the yoke of sin, and guided it to the light of eternal salvation. The apostles and then their successors propagated far and wide and rooted deeply the word itself through all the earth and unto the ends of the world. Therefore those who are now carrying this burden ought to remember and frequently reflect that they in turn, with respect to this office of preaching, are entering into and maintaining that succession of the author and founder of this office, Jesus Christ our most holy redeemer, of Peter and Paul, and of the other apostles and disciples of the Lord .

We have learnt from trustworthy sources that some preachers in our times (we record this with sorrow) do not attend to the fact that they are carrying out the office of those we have named, of the holy doctors of the church and of others professing sacred theology, who, ever standing by Christians and confronting false prophets striving to overturn the faith, have shown that the church militant remains unimpaired by her very nature; and that they ought to adopt only what the people who flock to their sermons will find useful, by means of reflection and practical application, for rooting out vices, praising virtues and saving the souls of the faithful. Reliable report has it, rather, that they are preaching many and various things contrary to the teachings and examples which we have mentioned, sometimes with scandal to the people. This fact influences our attitude very deeply when we reflect within ourself that these preachers, unmindful of their duty, are striving in their sermons not for the benefit of the hearers but rather for their own self-display. They flatter the idle ears of some people who seem to have already reached a state that would make true the words of the Apostle writing to Timothy: For, a time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching but, having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths . These preachers make no attempt whatever to lead back the deceived and empty minds of such people to the path of right and truth. Indeed, they involve them in even greater errors. Without any reverence for the testimony of canon law, indeed contrary to canonical censures, twisting the sense of scripture in many places, often giving it rash and false interpretations, they preach what is false; they threaten, describe and assert to be present, totally unsupported by legitimate proofs and merely following their own private interpretation, various terrors, menaces and many other evils, which they say are about to arrive and are already growing; they very often introduce to their congregations certain futile and worthless ideas and other matters of this nature; and, what is more appalling, they dare to claim that they possess this information from the light of eternity and by the guidance and grace of the holy Spirit .

When these preachers spread this medley of fraud and error, backed by the false testimony of alleged miracles, the congregations whom they ought to be carefully instructing in the gospel message, and retaining and preserving in the true faith, are withdrawn by their sermons from the teaching and commands of the universal church. When they turn aside from the official sacred teachings, which they ought particularly to follow, they separate and move far from salvation those who listen to them. For, as a result of these and similar activities, the less educated people, as being more exposed to deceit, are very easily led into manifold errors, as they wander from the path of salvation and from obedience to the Roman church. Gregory, therefore, who was outstanding in this task, moved by the warmth of his charity, gave a strong exhortation and warning to preachers that, when about to speak, they approach the people with prudence and caution lest, caught up in the enthusiasm of their oratory, they entangle the hearts of their hearers with verbal errors as if with nooses, and while perhaps they wish to appear wise, in their delusion they foolishly tear asunder the sinews of the hoped-for virtue. For, the meaning of words is often lost when the hearts of the audience are bruised by too urgent and careless forms of speech .

Indeed, in no other way do these preachers cause greater harm and scandal to the less educated than when they preach on what should be left unspoken or when they introduce error by teaching what is false and useless. Since such things are known to be totally opposed to this holy and divinely instituted religion, as being novelties and foreign to it, it is surely just for them to be examined seriously and carefully, lest they cause scandal for the christian people and ruin for the souls of their authors and of others. We therefore desire, in accord with the word of the prophet, Who makes harmony dwell in the house, to restore that uniformity which has lost esteem, and to preserve such as remains, insofar as we can with God's help, in the holy church of God, which by divine providence we preside over and which is indeed one, preaches and worships one God and firmly and sincerely professes one faith. We wish that those who preach the word of God to the people be such that God's church suffers no scandal from their preaching. If they are amenable to correction, let them abstain in future from these matters into which they have recently ventured. For it is clear that, in addition to the points which we have mentioned, a number of them are no longer preaching the way of the Lord in virtue and are not expounding the gospel, as is their duty, but rather invented miracles, new and false prophecies and other frivolities hardly distinguishable from old wives' tales. Such things give rise to great scandal since no account is taken of devotion and authority and of its condemnations and rejections. There are those who make attempts to impress and win support by bawling everywhere, not sparing even those who are honoured with pontifical rank and other prelates of the church, to whom they should rather be showing honour and reverence. They attack their persons and their state of life, boldly and without discrimination, and commit other acts of this kind. Our aim is that so dangerous and contagious an evil and so mortal a disease may be thoroughly wiped out and that its consequences may be so completely swept away that not even its memory remains .

We decree and ordain, with the approval of the sacred council, that nobody -whether a secular cleric or a member of any of the mendicant orders or someone with the right to preach by law or custom or privilege or otherwise -- may be admitted to carry out this office unless he has first been examined with due care by his superior, which is a responsibility that we lay on the superior's conscience, and unless he is found to be fit and suitable for the task by his upright behaviour, age, doctrine, honesty, prudence and exemplary life. Wherever he goes to preach, he must provide a guarantee to the bishop and other local ordinaries concerning his examination and competence, by means of the original or other letters from the person who examined and approved him. We command all who undertake this task of preaching, or will later undertake it, to preach and expound the gospel truth and holy scripture in accordance with the exposition, interpretation and commentaries that the church or long use has approved and has accepted for teaching until now, and will accept in the future, without any addition contrary to its true meaning or in conflict with it. They are always to insist on the meanings which are in harmony with the words of sacred scripture and with the interpretations, properly and wisely understood, of the doctors mentioned above. They are in no way to presume to preach or declare a fixed time for future evils, the coming of antichrist or the precise day of judgment; for Truth says, it is not for us to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by his own authority. Let it be known that those who have hitherto dared to declare such things are liars, and that because of them not a little authority has been taken away from those who preach the truth .

We are placing a restriction on each and all of the said clerics, secular and regular and others, of whatever status, rank or order, who undertake this task. In their public sermons they are not to keep on predicting some future events as based on the sacred writings, nor presume to declare that they know them from the holy Spirit or from divine revelation, nor that strange and empty predictions are matters which must be firmly asserted or held in some other way. Rather, at the command of the divine word, let them expound and proclaim the gospel to every creature, rejecting vices and commending virtues. Fostering everywhere the peace and mutual love so much commended by our Redeemer, let them not rend the seamless garment of Christ and let them refrain from any scandalous detraction of bishops, prelates and other superiors and of their state of life. Yet these they rebuke and hurt before people generally, including the laity, not only heedlessly and extravagantly but also by open and plain reproof, with the names of the evildoers sometimes being stated by them .

Finally, we decree that the constitution of pope Clement of happy memory beginning Religiosi, which we renew and approve by this present decree, must be observed by preachers without alteration, so that, preaching in these terms for the people's advantage and winning them for the Lord, they may deserve to gain interest on the talent received from him and to win his grace and glory. But if the Lord reveals to certain of them, by some inspiration, some future events in the church of God, as he promises by the prophet Amos and as the apostle Paul, the chief of preachers, says, Do not quench the Spirit, do not despise prophesying, we have no wish for them to be counted with the other group of story-tellers and liars or to be otherwise hindered. For, as Ambrose bears witness, the grace of the Spirit himself is being extinguished if fervour in those beginning to speak is quietened by contradiction. In that case, a wrong is certainly done to the holy Spirit. The matter is important inasmuch as credence must not be easily given to every spirit and, as the Apostle states, the spirits have to be tested to see whether they come from God. It is therefore our will that as from now, by common law, alleged inspirations of this kind, before they are published, or preached to the people, are to be understood as reserved for examination by the apostolic see. If it is impossible to do this without danger of delay, or some pressing need suggests other action, then, keeping the same arrangement, notice is to be given to the local ordinary so that, after he has summoned three or four knowledgeable and serious men and carefully examined the matter with them, they may grant permission if this seems to them to be appropriate. We lay the responsibility for this decision on their consciences .

If any persons dare to carry through anything contrary to any of the above, it is our will that, in addition to the punishments set down against such persons by law, they incur the penalty of excommunication from which, except at the imminent approach of death, they can be absolved only by the Roman pontiff . In order that others may not be urged on by their example to try similar acts, we decree that the office of preaching is forbidden to such persons for ever; notwithstanding constitutions, ordinances, privileges, indults and apostolic letters for religious orders and the aforesaid persons, including those mentioned in Mare magnum, even if perchance they have been approved, renewed or even granted anew by us, none of which in this matter do we wish to support at any point in their favour. Let nobody therefore ... If anyone however.. .

[Bull containing agreements between the pope and the most christian king of France, on the Pragmatic]

Leo, bishop, servant of the servants of God, with the approval of the sacred council, for an everlasting record. In accord with the dispensation of the divine mercy by which kings reign and princes rule, established as we are despite our lack of merit in the lofty watch-tower of the apostolate and set over nations and kingdoms, we ponder how permanent force and effect may be given to the things which have been granted, carried out, established, ordained, decreed and done by our praiseworthy and prudent arrangement, in union with our venerable brothers, the cardinals of the holy Roman church, for the wholesome and peaceful government of kingdoms and for the peace and justice of peoples, especially with regard to rulers who are well-deserving of the catholic faith, the christian state and the apostolic see. Nevertheless, we sometimes add the force of our renewed approval to such things, with the approval of the sacred council, so that these things may persist with greater steadiness in an undamaged state the more often they are strengthened by our authority as well as by the protection of a general council. We readily supply effective care for the preservation of such things in order that the kings and peoples of the kingdoms in question, full of gladness in the Lord because of such concessions, privileges, statutes and regulations, may rest together in the sweetness of peace, quiet and delight and may persevere more fervently in their accustomed devotion to the same see .

Recently, in order that the church, our spouse, might be kept in a holy union and use might be made by Christ's faithful of the sacred canons issued by Roman pontiffs and general councils, we ordained and decreed, with the unanimous advice and consent of our said brothers, the cardinals of the holy Roman church certain constitutions that had been treated with our dearly beloved son in Christ, Francis, the most christian king of France, while we were at Bologna with our curia, and which were to take the place of the Pragmatic Sanction and the things contained in it for the sake of peace and harmony in the kingdom of France and for the general and public advantage of the kingdom. These constitutions were carefully examined by our said brothers, agreed upon with the said king on their advice, and accepted by a legitimate procurator of the king. Their contents are contained rather fully in our letter which follows, Primitiva illa ecclesia . . . {Msi 32, 948-963, Raccolta di concordati su materie ecclesiastiche tra la Santa Sede e le autorita civili, edited by A. Mercati. I Rome. 1954. 233-25}

The letter has been published chiefly in order that continuing charity and unbroken peace may abide in the mystical body, the church, and that any dissenting members may be re-grafted into the body in a convenient way. The letter will be better observed according as it is more clearly established that it has been approved and renewed by us, after mature and healthy consideration, with the approval of the said Lateran council. Although there is no need of another approval for the validity and reality of the same letter, however, to provide an ampler surety so that observance may be firmer and abolition more difficult, greater strength will be given to it by the approval of so many fathers. Therefore, with the approval of the sacred Lateran council, by apostolic authority and fullness of power, we approve and renew, and order to be observed and maintained in their totality and without change, the said letter together with each and every statute, ordinance, decree, explanation, agreement, compact, promise, wish, penalty, restraint and clause contained in it; especially the clause by which it was our will that if the said king of France does not approve and ratify the aforesaid letter, and each and every thing contained in it, within six months from the date of this present letter, and does not arrange for the contents to be read, published, sworn to and registered, like all other royal constitutions in his kingdom and in all other places and lordships of the said kingdom, for all future time without limit, by all the prelates and other ecclesiastical persons and courts of parlements, and if he does not convey to us, within the said six months, letters patent or authentic written documents concerning each and all of the aforesaid matters about the acceptance, reading, publication, oath and registration referred to, or does not deliver them to our nuncio attached to the king, in order to be passed on by him to us, and does not subsequently arrange for the letter to be read each year and effectively observed without alteration exactly as other binding constitutions and ordinances of the king of France have to be observed, then the letter itself and whatever follows from it are null and void and of no force or value .

We decree and declare that the enduring effect only continues in the event of the said ratification and approval, and not otherwise or in any other way, and that all who are included in the said letter, regarding the observance of the actual letter and of each and every thing set down in it, are bound and obliged by the censures and penalties and other things contained in it, in accordance with the meaning and form of the same letter. This is notwithstanding apostolic constitutions and ordinances, all those things which we did not wish to oppose in the and any other things of any kind to the contrary. Let nobody If anyone however.. .

[On the abrogation of the Pragmatic Sanction]

Leo, bishop, servant of the servants of God, with the approval of the sacred council, for an everlasting record. The eternal Father, who will never abandon his flock up to the close of the age, so loved obedience, as the Apostle testifies, that to make expiation for the sin of disobedience of the first parent, he humbled himself and became obedient unto death. Moreover, when he was about to depart from the world to the Father, he established Peter and his successors as his own representatives on the firmness of a rock. It is necessary to obey them as the book of the Kings testifies, so that whoever does not obey, incurs death . As we read in another place, the person who abandons the teaching of the Roman pontiff cannot be within the church; for, on the authority of Augustine and Gregory, obedience alone is the mother and protector of all virtues, it alone possessing the reward of faith. Therefore, on the teaching of the same Peter, we ought to be careful that what has been introduced in due season and for sound reasons by our predecessors the Roman pontiffs, especially in sacred councils, for the defence of obedience of this kind, of ecclesiastical authority and freedom, and of the apostolic see, should be duly discharged by our effort, devotion and diligence and be brought to the desired conclusion. The souls of the simple, of whom we shall have to render an account to God, are to be freed from the deceits and snares of the prince of darkness. Indeed, our predecessor of happy memory, pope Julius II, summoned the sacred Lateran council for lawful reasons which were then made clear, on the advice and with the consent of his venerable brothers, the cardinals of the holy Roman church, among whom we were then numbered. Together with the same sacred Lateran council, he pondered on the fact that the corruption of the kingdom of France at Bourges, which they call the Pragmatic Sanction, had been strong in the past and was still vigorous, resulting in very great danger and scandal to souls, and a loss and cheapening of respect for the apostolic see. He therefore entrusted discussion of the Pragmatic Sanction to specifically named cardinals and to the prelates of a certain congregation.


See Part Seven of the Fifth Lateran Council

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