Fourth Council of Constantinople A.D. 869-870 A.D. part three

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  • Definition
  • Canons


    This holy and great synod has decided that the goods or privileges which belong to the churches of God as a result of long enduring custom and have been granted, whether in writing or not, by emperors of revered memory or by other religious people and possessed by the churches for thirty years, must in no way be removed by force on the part of any secular person, or taken away by him on any pretext whatsoever, from the jurisdiction of the prelate who has them. Whatever is known to have been possessed by the churches for thirty years must remain subject to the control and use of the prelate of the church. Any secular person who acts in a way contrary to this present decree shall be ad judged as one who commits sacrilege and, until he reforms himself and restores or gives back the privileges and goods belonging to the church, let him be anathema.


    Paul, the great apostle, condemns greed as another form of idolatry and wants all who unite under the name of Christian to abstain from every form of shameful love of gain. It is all the more wrong, therefore, for those who have the ministry of the priesthood to burden their fellow-bishops and suffragans in any way whatsoever.

    For this reason this holy and universal synod has decreed that no archbishop or metropolitan should leave his own church and visit other churches under the pretext of an official visitation, nor abuse his authority over other churches and consume the revenues which they have at their disposal and for feeding the poor, and thus, by a form of greed, be a burden to the consciences of our brothers and fellow ministers. An exception is made in the case of hospitality, which may sometimes arise on account of necessary travel. But even then he must accept, with reverence and fear of God, nothing else than what is found prepared from that which is currently at hand. He should quickly continue the journey he has undertaken without asking or demanding any at all of the things which belong to that church or the suffragan bishop. For if the sacred canons decree that every bishop should be sparing in his use of what belongs to his own church, and should no way spend or consume the ecclesiastical revenues in an unfitting or unreasonable way for his own advantage, what kind of impiety do you think he will be found guilty of if he has no scruples about going around and burdening the churches entrusted to other bishops and thereby incurring the charge of sacrilege ?

    Whoever attempts to do such a thing, after this directive of ours, shall incur from the patriarch of the time the punishment commensurate with his unjust and greedy behaviour, and shall be deposed and excommunicated as the sacrilegious person he is or, to put it otherwise, as an idolater, according to the teaching of the great Apostle.


    It has come to the ears of this holy synod that in certain places some, on their own authority and without the agreement of those who are entrusted with such decisions, callously and mercilessly expel people who have received some of their lands by emphyteusis, on the pretext that the contract about the agreed rent has been broken.

    This must not be allowed to happen unless the person who made the emphyteutic contract first listens to the objections through the mediation of some suitable and trustworthy persons. Then, if the leaseholder has not paid for three years the rent due, he may be expelled from his lands. But it is necessary, after the rent has been unpaid for three years, to go to the authorities of the city or region and bring before them a charge against the person who obtained the emphyteutic lease, and to show how he has defaulted. Only then, after the decision and judgment of the officials, may the church take back its property. Nobody may effect the confiscation of the aforesaid lands on his own initiative and authority, since this would be a sign of the worst form of profiteering and greed.

    So, if any bishop or metropolitan, contrary to this directive of ours, confiscates any property from anyone, thinking he is protecting his own church, let him be suspended by his patriarch for a time, having first restored what he took away. If he persists in his disobedience to the decision of this holy universal synod, he must be completely removed from office.


    We believe that the saying of the Lord that Christ addressed to his holy apostles and disciples, Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever despises you despises me, was also addressed to all who were likewise made supreme pontiffs and chief pastors in succession to them in the catholic church. Therefore we declare that no secular powers should treat with disrespect any of those who hold the office of patriarch or seek to move them from their high positions, but rather they should esteem them as worthy of all honour and reverence. This applies in the first place to the most holy pope of old Rome, secondly to the patriarch of Constantinople, and then to the patriarchs of Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem. Furthermore, nobody else should compose or edit writings or tracts against the most holy pope of old Rome, on the pretext of making incriminating charges, as Photius did recently and Dioscorus a long time ago. Whoever shows such great arrogance and audacity, after the manner of Photius and Dioscorus, and makes false accusations in writing or speech against the see of Peter, the chief of the apostles, let him receive a punishment equal to theirs.

    If, then, any ruler or secular authority tries to expel the aforesaid pope of the apostolic see, or any of the other patriarchs, let him be anathema. Furthermore, if a universal synod is held and any question or controversy arises about the holy church of Rome, it should make inquiries with proper reverence and respect about the question raised and should find a profitable solution; it must on no account pronounce sentence rashly against the supreme pontiffs of old Rome.


    This holy and universal synod declares and decrees, in agreement with earlier councils, that the promotion and consecration of bishops should be done by means of an election and decision of the college of bishops. So it promulgates as law that no lay authority or ruler may intervene in the election or promotion of a patriarch, a metropolitan or any bishop, lest there be any irregularity leading to improper confusion or quarrelling, especially since it is wrong for any ruler or other lay person to have any influence in such matters. Rather he should be silent and mind his own business until the election of the future bishop has been completed with due process by the ecclesiastical assembly. But if any lay person is invited by the church to join in the discussion and to help with the election, he is permitted to accept the invitation with respect, if he so wishes. For in this way he may be able to promote a worthy pastor in a regular manner, to the benefit of his church.

    If any secular authority or ruler, or a lay person of any other status, attempts to act against the common, agreed and canonical method of election in the church, let him be anathema- this is to last until he obeys and agrees to what the church shows it wants concerning the election and appointment of its leader.


    We have also learnt that some bishops, at the request of certain people, have unreasonably made a gift of properties belonging to other churches. Thus they usurp the authority of other bishops, so far as they can. This conduct will clearly bring on them the curse of the prophet who says, Woe to those who add house to house and field to field in order to defraud their neighbour, and it has made them guilty of sacrilege. For this reason, this great and universal synod has decided that no brother of ours in the episcopate or anyone else may transact such a wicked property deal, nor, if asked by someone, dispose of any property belonging to other churches, nor install priests or any other clerics in churches that are not under his jurisdiction, without the permission of the bishop responsible for the church in question. Furthermore, no priests or deacons, who are consecrated for holy functions, should perform, of their own accord and decision, any sacred functions in churches to which they have not been appointed from the beginning. This behaviour is unlawful and utterly alien to the canonical regulations.

    Whoever, after this declaration of ours, shall be seen to do any of these things which have now been forbidden, must be excommunicated for a period of time, and the contractual arrangements, whether written or not, must be completely dissolved and abrogated because they were made in contravention of the canons. Likewise, the priest or deacon is to be suspended until he withdraws from the church to which he does not belong. But if he ignores the suspension, he must be got rid of completely and dispossessed of every sacred office.


    Divine scripture says, Cursed is everyone who does the work of the Lord with slackness Yet some metropolitans have fallen into the depths of negligence and sloth. They summon the bishops subject to their jurisdiction and commit to them the divine offices of their own church as well as litanies and all the sacred ministries which are personal to themselves. The consequence is that they celebrate through the agency of these bishops everything they should readily do themselves. In this way they make those who have merited the dignity of bishop seem like clerics in their service.

    These metropolitans, contrary to church law, give themselves to secular business and administration, failing to persevere in prayers and petitions for their own sins and the ignorance of their people. Some excuse this behaviour even though it is utterly and completely contrary to canonical regulations. What is still more serious, it is said that the bishops are told to complete the above ministries at allotted times each month at their own expense. This is totally alien to all apostolic sanction. All this makes such people worthy of the most severe condemnation possible, for they are shown by their actions to be infected by a form of satanic pride and arrogance.

    Any metropolitan who, after this directive of the holy and universal synod, is consumed by a similar pride, arrogance or contempt and does not carry out with fear, promptitude and a good conscience the necessary ministries in his own city, but seeks to carry them out through his suffragan bishops, must be punished by his patriarch and be either reformed or deposed.


    The holy synod has duly decided that the bishops, priests, deacons and subdeacons of the great church [of Constantinople], who received their consecration from Methodius and Ignatius, the most holy patriarchs, and became hard of heart like the arrogant and unfeeling heart of Pharaoh, and even now are in complete disagreement with this holy and universal synod and, while rejecting harmony with us in the word of truth, have wholeheartedly supported the cause of the usurper Photius, must be deposed and suspended from all sacerdotal functions, just as the most blessed pope Nicholas decreed not long ago. On no account are such men to be readmitted into the ranks of the clergy, even if they wish in future to change their ways. An exception will be made in regard to receiving the means of holiness, and it is only our mercy which makes us think that they are worthy of this. They do not deserve to have the opportunity of being restored by their repentance to their former status, as is illustrated by the case of the odious Esau, though he begged in tears for that favour.


    This holy synod has also decided that any priest or deacon who has been deposed by his bishop for some crime, or who alleges he has suffered some kind of injustice and is not satisfied with the judgment of his bishop, saying that he does not trust him and that he has been wronged, either because of the enmity which the bishop has for him or because of favours the bishop wants to bestow on certain others, such a person has the right to have recourse to the metropolitan of his province and to denounce his deposition from office, which he thinks is unjust, or any other injury. The metropolitan should be willing to take up such cases and to summon the bishop who has deposed the cleric or injured him in any way. He should examine the case himself, with the help of other bishops, so as either to confirm the deposition of the cleric beyond all doubt, or to quash it by means of a general synod and the judgment of many persons.

    In the same way we decree that bishops may have recourse to the patriarch, their head, if they complain that they have suffered similar things from their metropolitan, so that the business in question may receive a just and right decision from their patriarch and the metropolitans under him. No metropolitan bishop may be judged by his neighbouring metropolitan bishops, even though it is alleged that he has committed serious crimes, but he may only be judged by his own patriarch; we decree that this judgment will be just and beyond suspicion because a number of esteemed people will be gathered around the patriarch, and for this reason his judgment will be fully ratified and confirmed. If anyone does not, agree with what we have promulgated, let him be excommunicated.


    We decree that, in ecclesiastical promotions and consecrations, the marks which signify the rank to which each person belongs, should be kept, in accordance with the traditional usages of each province, region and city. Thus bishops who have been permitted to wear the pallium at certain times, may wear it at those times and places but should not abuse so great and honourable a garment through pride, vainglory, human conceit and self-love, by wearing it unnecessarily throughout the divine sacrifice and every other ecclesiastical ceremony. We decree that those who have devoutly embraced the monastic life and merited the dignity of a bishop, should keep the appearance and garments of the monastic habit and that holy way of life. None of them has the right to lay aside that type of dress out of pride and wilful arrogance, lest he is found thereby to violate his personal vows. Just as the continual wearing of the pallium shows the bishop as given to ostentation and vainglory, so the laying aside of the monastic habit exposes him to the same charges.

    Therefore, any bishop who wears the pallium outside the occasions stipulated in writing, or lays aside the monastic dress, must either be corrected or be deposed by his patriarch.


    [1] J. Hardouin, Conciliorum collectio regia maxima adp. Philippi Labbei et p. Gabrielis Cossartii e Societate Jesu labores haud modica accessione facta et emendationibus pluribus additis ..., 12 vols. Paris 1714-1715

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

    See Part One of the Fourth Council of Constantinople

    See Part Two of the Fourth Council of Constantinople

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