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

For document sources noted, see Abbreviations


SESSION 11 continued

We warn the friars, in virtue of holy obedience, to revere bishops with fitting honour and due respect, out of the reverence owed to us and the apostolic see, since they act as deputies in place of the holy apostles. As for bishops, we urge and appeal by the tender mercy of our God that, while attending to the friars with well-disposed affection, treating them with kindness and encouraging them, they present themselves to them as in no sense difficult or hard or peevish, but rather as easy, mild, well-disposed and liberal in loving generosity, and that in all the above-mentioned matters they welcome them with ready kindness as co-workers in the Lord's vineyard and as sharers in their labours, and that they guard and defend their rights with all charity, so that both bishops and friars, whose works as burning lamps set on a hilltop ought to provide light to all Christ's faithful, may move forward from strength to strength for the glory of God, the triumph of the catholic faith and the salvation of peoples, and in consequence deserve to obtain from the Lord, the most generous recompenser of all good deeds, the reward of eternal life. Let nobody therefore . . . If anyone however . . .

SESSION 12

16 March 1517

[Against those attacking the houses of cardinals]

Leo, bishop, servant of the servants of God, with the approval of the sacred council, for an everlasting record. Certain audacious persons disdain to show the appropriate deference to the cardinals of the holy Roman church, who are the chief pillars of the catholic church. They do not fear to lay violent hands, with impious boldness, on their possessions and properties. Their uncontrolled desire warns and induces us to strengthen, increase and extend -- in accordance with the character of the times and with what we perceive in the Lord to be soundly in keeping with so distinguished an office in God's church -- those measures which, by wise planning, were established by our predecessors for the safe-guarding of the high office of the said cardinals, in order that the boldness of these people may be restrained before it extends even further. Indeed, there has recently grown up in Rome a damnable abuse and lack of restraint in wrongdoing. Thus, while there is a vacancy in the apostolic see, and the election of a future Roman pontiff is actually being discussed by the cardinals in conclave, if some rumour leaks out, even if false, that one of the cardinals has been elected as pontiff, the mob attacks his house with arms and contends by force with his servant-guards, while he is still in the conclave, over the despoiling of his house . If an entry is forced by breaking down the doors or digging under the wall, the mob rushes in to plunder all the goods that are there, unless a defence is made by armed guards. Sometimes there are some who are so audacious and headstrong that they do not fear even on other occasions to attack the houses of cardinals in a hostile fashion and with arms, under the guise of general brawling, and to strike and wound while they are there, as a result of which there is considerable loss to the honour of the cardinalate, by which the most holy church militant is fully adorned as by a purple garment, contempt for the cardinals is aroused, and occasion is given for murders and other scandals .

We wish to suppress audacious tendencies of this kind by fitting punishments . We therefore renew by this letter, with the approval of the sacred council and by our apostolic authority, the published constitutions of our predecessors as Roman pontiffs, Honorius III and Boniface VIII of happy memory, against those pursuing any cardinal of the said church in a hostile manner, those assisting such persons by their presence, counsel or support, or knowingly harbouring or defending them, and those attacking their houses or dwellings, as said above, and their descendants and property. We decree that these constitutions must be observed everywhere without alteration for all future times. We also extend these same constitutions, with each and every censure and penalty contained in them, to each and every living person of whatever status, condition and distinction, who attacks with an armed band the home of any of the said cardinals, both at the time of the said conclave, even if the cardinal in question has been elected pope, and at other times and for any reasons, and who seizes anything in the house with violence like an enemy or wounds anyone of those dwelling there, and also their associates and those who have given orders for it to be done, or have given personal approval to the deed or have provided counsel and support to the attackers in the above matters and have defended them. This is notwithstanding apostolic constitutions and ordinances and other measures of whatever kind to the contrary. Let nobody therefore . . . If anyone however . . .

[Constitution imposing taxes and closing the council]

Leo, bishop, servant of the servants of God, with the approval of the council, for an everlasting record. We have been set over nations and kingdoms, as the prophet declared, although our merits are unequal to this. We are suitably carrying out the duty of our office when we renew again that reform of the whole church and its affairs which we have accomplished with profit; when we plan to apply suitable remedies for the unchallenged observance of the reform and to make provision for cathedrals and metropolitan churches so that they may no longer be without their pastors; and when we supervise these remedies with ever-present attention and untiring efforts, by means of which we may be able to render the Lord's flock, which has been entrusted to our care, acceptable and submissive in the sight of the divine majesty. Our aim is also to crush the Turks and other infidels standing firm in the eastern and southern regions. They treat the way of true light and salvation with complete contempt and totally unyielding blindness; they attack the life-giving cross on which our Saviour willed to accept death so that by dying he might destroy death, and by the ineffable mystery of his most holy life he might restore life; and they make themselves hateful enemies of God and most bitter persecutors of the christian religion. Strengthened by defences not only spiritual but also temporal, we may be able, under God's guidance and favour, to oppose the bitter and frequent sallies by which, in wild rage, they move savagely amidst christian blood .

Indeed, pope Julius II, our predecessor of happy memory, acting in union with the holy Spirit, in a laudable and legitimate manner, for sound reasons, with the advice and consent of his venerable brothers, the cardinals of the holy Roman church, of whom we were then one, summoned the sacred Lateran council. He held five sessions and summoned a sixth. He then passed from the human scene. We were then raised to the summit of the highest apostolate by the favour of the divine mercy. We had always had a heartfelt desire, even at lesser meetings, to see a general council being celebrated as a very important development in the Lord's field. We realised that an obligation had been added to our honourable and useful desire as a result of the duty of pastoral care now laid upon us. We therefore undertook this matter with a more burning commitment and a total readiness of mind. We gave approval in the said sixth session, with the advice and consent of our said brother cardinals and with the approval of the same sacred Lateran council, to the postponement of the council to a fixed date, which was then clearly stated, for reasons made clear from the situation and for others affecting our own and the minds of our said brother cardinals. The council was to continue towards the completion of the objectives for which it had been summoned; and especially that, once the terrible conflicts between christian princes and rulers were settled and weapons of war set aside, a universal and lasting peace could be established. Leaving nothing untried, we intended to use all our efforts to bring about this peace and to conclude it, as if it were a good of supreme advantage. We also declared that it is and shall be part of our unchangeable thought and intention that, once the matters concerning the praise of God and the exaltation of the aforesaid church have been completed, the holy and most necessary expedition against the enemies of the catholic faith shall take place and a successful triumph over them be accomplished with the aid of the most High. In order that those under an obligation to attend this most useful council might not be held back in any way from coming to it, and so that they might be unable to proffer any excuse, we provided and granted, with the approval of the said Lateran council, to each and all of those summoned to the celebration of the council by our predecessor Julius, and to their attendants, a safe-conduct while they were travelling to and staying in Rome for the purposes of the said Lateran council. We urged kings and princes, out of reverence for the apostolic see, not to molest those coming here but to permit them to travel in safety .

We summoned the seventh session. We wanted nothing more than that those useful and necessary matters on account of which the said Lateran council had been summoned might be brought to their conclusion. We therefore set up three special committees of cardinals and other prelates to listen to and discuss matters of this kind and other conciliar business, and we ordered them to report to the council on what they had heard and discussed. One of the committees had the special task of establishing a universal peace between christian kings and princes, which was one of the chief reasons for the said council coming together, and of rooting out the schism; the second had the special task of general reform, including the reform of the curia; and the third had the special task of examining and abrogating the Pragmatic Sanction and of dealing with matters concerning the true faith. Each committee carefully examined many useful and necessary topics and accurately reported to us about them. The subjects discussed and investigated by them were completed and concluded by us, with God's favour and the approval of the sacred council, in the remaining five sessions of the council which we held. We then knew beyond all doubt that God himself, the giver of gifts, had favoured our devout desires and those tending to the common good, out of his exceeding goodness and mercy, and that he had granted to us what we had planned in our own mind and for which we had greatly laboured namely that once the matters on account of which the council had been summoned had been concluded in conformity with the council's aims, the council itself could be closed and discharged .

The emperor-elect Maximilian, our dear son in Christ, in the time of our said predecessor Julius, and king Louis of France, of happy memory, in our own time, as well as other kings and princes adhered to the Lateran council, lawfully assembled in the holy Spirit, to the greatest satisfaction of everyone. The quasi-council at Pisa, which had been summoned by certain persons without the necessary authority and had been condemned by the same Julius who preceded us, was treated by them as condemned in accordance with the decision of the said Julius. The schism which had begun to grow from this was ended (although it is c ear that so long as the situation continued, it brought very many injures to prelates and others of Christ's faithful at various times, as well as to other general councils held until this time). There was peace for the whole church and a resulting union. The moral habits of churchmen as well as of secular and other persons were reformed, insofar as this seemed appropriate, and several matters concerning the true faith were defined. Several other matters, after being carefully examined and debated in the three committees of cardinals and prelates mentioned above, were considered with care and skill in the said council and a final decision was reached. Finally, it was reported to us on several occasions, through the cardinals and prelates of the three committees, that no topics remained for debate and discussion by them, and that over several months nothing at all new had been brought before them by anyone. The bishops who had been invited to share with us the responsibility for the support and care of the Lord's flock, as well as other prelates, had remained in Rome rather a long time beyond the normal usage of sacred councils, with inconvenience and loss to themselves and to their churches .

Therefore there seemed to remain, of all the above things which we and the said committees so much desired to be completed in the council, only peace between kings and princes and a harmony of minds. Our attitude in favour of this, and our striving with every effort for its accomplishment, can be made abundantly clear to all who read our letters. God himself, who is the supreme light and truth of all things, knows how we never ceased to beg and implore of him, by many prayers and constant appeals, that he would deign of his mercy to influence the christian flock -- which he has entrusted to our care, despite our lack of merits -- to enter upon a stable and enduring peace, now that this same flock has been roused by the warmth of mutual charity. We have earnestly urged this in the Lord, whose cause is principally in question, upon kings and princes, by means of persuasive reasons, through the nuncios whom we keep at the court of the emperor-elect Maximilian and with the aforesaid kings and princes, and through letters; especially if they wish to provide and take measures, as is right, on behalf of the christian religion and the catholic faith, which have been brought into serious danger and risk by the recently extended power of the ruler of the Turks. We have learnt from the letters of the same nuncios, kings and princes that our appeals have been of such great power and efficacy with the said kings and princes, and have influenced their hearts and minds to such an extent, that the peace so long desired by us for the good of the whole christian state has been almost concluded in intention, and the hope is that if anything remains it will soon be resolved (by God's favour). Our heart exults in our Lord Jesus Christ as we ponder over this in our mind and spirit. We give thanks for this to him, the giver of all graces, because he has guided these persons to the harmony we had longed for. We think that all Christ's faithful should offer to God thanks and those signs of joy which are customary on such occasions, and that God be asked that the peace achieved may endure .

It only remains, therefore, for the holy and very necessary campaign to be undertaken against the fury of the infidels thirsting for christian blood, and for all the measures decided upon as powerful safeguards in the eleven sessions, held partly by us and partly by our predecessor Julius, to be approved and renewed and ordered to be observed unchallenged. Accordingly, after mature deliberation on these matters with our brothers and other prelates, we approve and renew by apostolic authority, with the approval of the sacred council, all and each of the acts and decisions of the said eleven sessions, and the letters published above together with all the clauses contained in them -- apart from certain excepted matters which we judge should be conceded to specified persons for the sake of the peace and unity of the universal church -- as well as the business carried out by the committees. We decree and order that they are to be observed without alteration for ever, and that those carrying them out are to see that they and their contents are observed, namely: in the Roman curia, the current governor of our mother city and our vicar as well as the auditor general of the apostolic camera, who have the power to oblige and compel persons subject to them; and outside the Roman curia, we depute for this purpose each and all local ordinaries. We forbid each and all of Christ's faithful, under penalty of immediate excommunication, to presume to interpret or gloss what has been produced and carried out in the present council without our permission and that of the apostolic see .

We decree, with the approval of the sacred council, that the said campaign against the infidels is to be undertaken and carried through. Zeal for the faith prompts us to this. It has been so often proposed and promised by us and our predecessor Julius in the sessions referred to, when the business of the council was being explained. On several occasions it was communicated to, and discussed with, spokesmen at our court representing kings and princes. Pope Nicholas V, our predecessor of pious memory, summoned a general expedition against the infidels after the disastrous fall of Constantinople in order to crush their fury and to avenge the wounds of Christ. Callistus III and Pius II, of happy memory our predecessors as Roman pontiffs, urged on by zeal for the faith, followed in the same path with skill and energy. During a subsequent period of three years, we imitated them by means of an authorisation from ourselves and our said brothers for imposing and exacting a tithe on the revenues of churches, monasteries and other benefices throughout the world and for doing each and every other thing that is necessary and customary in a campaign of this kind. We continually pour forth holy, humble and earnest prayers to almighty God that the campaign may have a happy outcome. We order the same to be done by all Christ's faithful of either sex. We exhort Maximilian, the emperor-elect, and kings, princes and christian rulers, whose courage God bids us to rouse, beseeching them by the tender mercy of our God, Jesus Christ, and appealing to them by his fearful judgment to remember that they shall have to render an account of their defence and preservation -- even by giving their lives -- of the church itself, which has been redeemed by Christ's blood, and to rise up in strength and power for the defence of the christian faith, as is incumbent on them as a personal and necessary duty, with all mutual hatred being set aside and quarrels and conflicts among themselves being committed to everlasting oblivion. At this time of such great need, let them offer with eagerness their ready assistance in keeping with their resources. We urge with paternal affection and ask them that, at least during the campaign, out of reverence for almighty God and for the apostolic see, they assure the unbroken observance of the peace into which they have entered, so that such an important good, which we hope and desire will be obtained with the help of the Lord's right hand, may not be impeded by some interruption from discord and dissension .

In order that prelates and others at the present council, which has lasted for nearly five years, may not be further wearied by their labours and expenses and so that they may be able to visit and bring encouragement to their churches, and for other reasonable and just causes, we bring the present council to a close and we discharge it with the Lord's blessing. With the approval of the same sacred council, we grant permission to each and all who are present at the council to return to their own countries. In order that they may be able to go back with ever increasing joy and strengthened with spiritual gifts, we impart to them and to all their attendants a plenary remission and indulgence for all their sins, once in their lifetime and again at the hour of death. Let nobody therefore ... If anyone however ...


Translation taken from Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, ed. Norman P. Tanner

For the first section of the Fifth Lateran Council, see Part One of the Fifth Lateran Council

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