Councils of Constance

Councils of Constance

Councils of Constance in Later Medieval Canon Law

Note: for information on the Later Medieval Canon Law, please see here.

This entry covers the following:

  • Council of Constance: Decree Sacrosancta, 1415
  • Council of Constance: Deposition of John XXIII, 1415
  • Council of Constance: Decree Frequens, 1415
  • Council of Constance: List of Abuses, 1417

Council of Constance: Sacrosancta, 1415

By the election of Martin V as Pope (11 Nov 1417), the Council of Constance ended the Great Schism but it did not have time to reform. It did issue two canons which represented the high points of conciliar thought. The first – Sacrosancta – declared that the Council of Constance derives its power directly from Christ and that its authority is superior even to that of the See of Rome. The second – Frequens – called for the frequent convoking of future councils to promote reform. A Third list of abuses to be addressed was also issued. Later popes largely nullified the intended results, perhaps laying the path to the Reformation.

In the name of the Holy and indivisible Trinity; of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen. This holy synod of Constance, forming a general council for the extirpation of the present schism and the union and reformation, in head and members, of the Church of God, legitimately assembled in the Holy Ghost, to the praise of Omnipotent God, in order that it may the more easily, safely, effectively and freely bring about the union and reformation of the church of God, hereby determines, decrees, ordains and declares what follows: – It first declares that this same council, legitimately assembled in the Holy Ghost, forming a general council and representing the Catholic Church militant, has its power immediately from Christ, and every one, whatever his state or position, even if it be the Papal dignity itself, is bound to obey it in all those things which pertain to the faith and the healing of the said schism, and to the general reformation of the Church of God, in bead and members. It further declares that any one, whatever his condition, station or rank, even if it be the Papal, who shall contumaciously refuse to obey the mandates, decrees, ordinances or instructions which have been, or shall be issued by this holy council, or by any other general council, legitimately summoned, which concern, or in any way relate to the above mentioned objects, shall, unless he repudiate his conduct, be subject to condign penance and be suitably punished, having recourse, if necessary, to the other resources of the law. . . .

Source: translation by J. H. Robinson in University of Pennsylvania. Dept. of History: Translations and Reprints from the Original Sources of European history, published for the Dept. of History of the University of Pennsylvania., Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, Series I. Voll III:6 [1912], 31-32

Council of Constance: Frequens, 1417

A frequent celebration of general councils is an especial means for cultivating the field of the Lord and effecting the destruction of briars, thorns, and thistles, to wit, heresies, errors, and schism, and of bringing forth a most abundant harvest. The neglect to summon councils fosters and develops all these evils, as may be plainly seen from a recollection of the past and a consideration of existing conditions. Therefore, by a perpetual edict, we sanction, decree, establish and ordain that general councils shall be celebrated in the following manner, so that the next one shall follow the close of this present council at the end of five years. The second shall follow the close of that, at the end of seven years, and councils shall thereafter be celebrated every ten years in such places as the Pope shall be required to designate and assign, with the consent and approbation of the council, one month before the close of the council in question, or which, in his absence, the council itself shall designate. Thus, with a certain continuity, a council will always be either in session, or be expected at the expiration of a definite time. This term may, however, be shortened on account of emergencies, by the Supreme Pontiff, with the counsel of his brothers, the cardinals of the Holy Roman Church, but it may not be hereafter lengthened. The place, moreover, designated for the future council may not be altered without evident necessity. If, however, some complication shall arise, in view of which such a change shall seem necessary, as, for example, a state of siege, a war, a pest, or other obstacles, it shall be permissible for the Supreme Pontiff, with the consent and subscription of his said brethren or two-thirds of them (duarum partium) to select another appropriate place near one determined upon, which must be within the same country, unless such obstacles, or similar ones, shall exist throughout the whole nation. In that case, the council may be summoned to some appropriate neighboring place, within the bounds of another nation. To this the prelates, and others, who are wont to be summoned to a council, must betake themselves, as if that place had been designated from the first. Such change of place, or shortening of the period, the Supreme Pontiff is required legitimately and solemnly to publish and announce one year before the expiration of the term fixed, that the said persons may be able to come together for the celebration of the council within the term specified. . . .

Source: trans J. H. Robinson in University of Pennsylvania. Dept. of History: Translations and Reprints from the Original Sources of European history, published for the Dept. of History of the University of Pennsylvania., Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, Series I. Voll III:6 [1912], 31-32

Council of Constance: List of Abuses 1417

The Council of Constance was unable to address all ecclesiastical abuses, so it drew up a list of evils the new pope was required to address.

The holy council of Constance decrees and ordains that the supreme pontiff who shall next, by the grace of God, assume supreme office, shall, in conjunction with this holy council or with the deputies of the several nations, reform the Church before this council dissolves, in head and members, as well as the Roman Curia, in accordance with justice and the proper organization of the Church, in all respects enumerated below, which are submitted by the nations as as needing reform :

the number, character and nationality of the lords cardinals
the reservations [of benefices] by the Apostolic See.
annates, both the servitia communia [common] and servia minuta [lesser] services.
appointments to benefices and expectative favours.
what cases are to be brought before the Roman curia and what not..
appeals to the Roman Curia.
the functions of the [papal] chancery and penitentiary.
exemptions and incorporations granted during the Schism.
benifaces in commendam.
confirmations of elections.
income during vacancies.
the non-alienation of the possession of the Roman church or other churches.
for what reasons and in what manner a pope shall be corrected or deposed.
extirpation of heresy
the means of support of pope and cardinals.

From the document translated in J. H. Robinson, Readings in European History, (Boston: Ginn, 1905), pp. 513-514

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