Later Medieval Canon Law

Later Medieval Canon Law

The Fourth Lateran Council

The Fourth Lateran Council, called by Innocent III, was the most important of the Western Medieval general councils. It addressed a wide range of issues in a series of canons.

One of the important canons for law was CANON 42, which reads:

“SUMMARY No cleric may so extend his jurisdiction as to become detrimental to secular justice.

Text. As desirous as we are that laymen do not usurp the rights of clerics, we are no less desirous that clerics abstain from arrogating to themselves the rights of laymen. Wherefore we forbid all clerics so to extend in the future their jurisdiction under the pretext of ecclesiastical liberty as to prove detrimental to secular justice; but let them be content with the laws and customs thus far approved, that the things that are Caesar’s may be rendered to Caesar, and those that are God’s may by a just division be rendered to God.”

The full text of the Lateran canons is available on the internet.

Boniface VIII (r.1294-1303): Bull Clericis Laicos, 1296

The text reads:

Bishop Boniface, servant of the servants of God , in perpetual memory of this matter. Antiquity teaches us that laymen are in a high degree hostile to the clergy, a fact which is also made clear by the experiences of the present times; in as much as, not content within their own bounds, they strive after what is forbidden and loose the reins in pursuit of what is unlawful. Nor have they the prudence to consider that all jurisdiction is denied to them over the clergy – over both the persons and goods of ecclesiastics. On the prelates of the churches and on ecclesiastical persons, monastic and secular, they impose heavy burdens, tax them and declare levies upon them. They exact and extort from them the half, the tenth or twentieth or some other portion or quota of their revenues or of their goods; and they attempt in many ways to subject them to slavery and reduce them to their goods; and they attempt in many ways to subject them to slavery and reduce them to their sway. And with grief do we mention it, some prelates of the churches and ecclesiastical persons, fearing where they ought not to fear, seeking a transitory peace, dreading more to offend the temporal than the eternal majesty, without obtaining the authority or permission the Apostolic chair, do acquiesce, not so much rashly as improvidently, in the abuses of such persons. We, therefore, wishing to put a stop to such iniquitous acts, by the counsel of our brothers, of the apostolic authority, have decreed: that whatever prelates, or ecclesiastical persons, monastic or secular, of whatever grade, condition or standing, shall pay, or promise, or agree to pay as levies or talliages to laymen the tenth, twentieth or hundredth part of their own and their churches’ revenues or goods – or any other quantity, portion or quota of those same revenues or goods, of their estimated or of their real value-under the name of an aid, loan, subvention, subsidy or gift, or under any other name, manner or clever pretense, without the authority of that same chair.

Likewise emperors, kings, or princes, dukes, counts or barons, podestas, captains or officials or rectors – by whatever name they are called, whether of cities, castles, or any places whatever, wherever situated; and any other persons, of whatever pre-eminence, condition or standing who shall impose, exact or receive such payments, or shall any where arrest, seize or presume to take possession of the belongings of churches or ecclesiastical persons which are deposited in the sacred buildings, oi shall order them to be arrested, seized or taken possession of, or shall receive them when taken possession of, seized or arrested-also all who shall knowingly give aid, counsel or favour in the aforesaid things, whether publicly or secretly:-shall incur, by the act itself the sentence of excommunication. Corporations, moreover, which shall be guilty in these matters, we place under the ecclesiastical interdict.

The prelates and above. mentioned ecclesiastical persons we strictly command, by virtue of their obedience and under penalty of deposition, that they by no means acquiesce in such demands, with. out express permission of the aforesaid chair; and that they pay nothing under pretext of any obligation, promise and confession made hitherto, or to be made hereafter before such constitution, notice or decree shall come to their notice; nor shall the aforesaid secular persons in any way receive anything. And if they shall-pay, or if the aforesaid persons shall receive, they shall be, by the act itself, under sentence of excommunication. From the aforesaid sentences of excommunication and interdict. moreover, no one shall be able to be absolved, except in the throes of death, without the authority and special permission of the apostolic chair; since it is our intention by no means to pass over with dissimulation so horrid an abuse of the secular powers. Notwithstanding any privileges whatever – under whatever tenor, form, or manner or conception of wordsthat have been granted to emperors, kings, and other persons mentioned above; as to which privileges we will that, against what we have here laid down, they in no wise avail any person or persons. Let no man at all, then, infringe this page of our constitution, prohibition or decree, or, with rash daring, act counter to it; but if any one shall presume to act shall know that he is about to incur the indignation of Almighty God and of His blessed apostles Peter and Paul.

Given at Rome at St. Peter’s on the sixth day before the Calends of March (Feb 25), in the second year of our pontificate.

Source: from Rymer’s “Foedera”, ed. 1816, Vol. i. Pt. ii. p. 836., translated in Ernest F. Henderson, , Select Historical Documents of the Middle Ages , (London: George Bell, 1910), pp. 432-434

See, in this Encyclopedia, information about Boniface VIII.

Boniface VIII (r.1294-1303): Unam Sanctam, 1302

The Bull ‘Unam Sanctam’, in which Pope Boniface VIII asserted his rights against King Phillip the Fair of France, is a landmark in the history of the doctrine of Papal Primacy. See the Unam Sanctam in that entry.

The 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia says: “The Bull lays down dogmatic propositions on the unity of the Church, the necessity of belonging to it for the attainment of eternal salvation, the position of the Pope as supreme head of the Church, and the duty thence arising of submission to the Pope in order to belong to the Church and thus to attain salvation. – in the writings of non-Catholic authors against the definition of Papal Infallibility, the Bull … was used against Boniface VIII as well as against the papal primacy in a manner not justified by its content. The statements concerning the relations between the spiritual and the secular power are of a purely historical character, so far as they do not refer to the nature of the spiritual power, and are based on the actual conditions of medieval Europe. ‘Unam’ is frequently quoted, and misquoted, by anti-Catholics trying to prove that Boniface VIII, and Popes in general, are arrogant and evil men, intent on extending their own power.”

The Great Schism: The Council of Pisa Declares itself Competent to Judge Popes, 1409

In 1393 the king of France asked the University of Paris to devise a way of ending the schism. In response to this request, each member of the faculty was asked to propose in writing the way which seemed best to him, and to advance -all the possible arguments in its favor. A commission of fifty-four professors, masters, and doctors was then appointed to examine all the proposed ways and means. After mature deliberation this commission proposed three possible ways of ending the schism and drew them up in writing and forwarded them to the king. They discussed at some length the relative advantages and disadvantages of each way. Their letter to the king is a long one.

Some brief extracts from it, showing the three ways which they proposed, are provided:

  • The first way. Now the first way to end the schism is that both parties should entirely renounce and resign all rights which they may have or claim to have to the papal office. . . .
  • The second way. But if both cling tenaciously to their rights and refuse to resign, as they have done up to now, we would propose the way of arbitration. That is, that they should together choose worthy and suitable men, or permit such to be chosen in a regular and canonical way, and these shall have the full power and authority to discuss the case and decide it, and if necessary and expedient, and approved by those who according, to the canon law have the authority [that is, the cardinals] they may also have the right to proceed to the election of a pope.
  • The third way. If the rival popes, after being urged in a brotherly and friendly manners will not accept either of the above ways, there is a third way which we propose as an excellent remedy for this sacrilegious schism. We mean that the matter shall be left to a general council. This general council might be composed, according to canon law, only of prelates, or, since many of them are very illiterate, and many of them are bitter partisans of one or the other pope, there might be joined with the prelates an equal number of masters and doctors of theology and law from the faculties of approved universities. Or if this does not seem sufficient – anyone, there might be added besides one or more representatives from cathedral chapters and the chief monastic orders, in order that all decisions might be rendered only after most careful examination and mature deliberation.

Source: trans in Oliver J. Thatcher, and Edgar Holmes McNeal, eds., A Source Book for Medieval History, (New York: Scribners, 1905), pp. 326-327

Councils of Constance

This issue is examined in this entry, which 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

Pius II (r.1458-1464): Bull Execrabilis 1459

See also, in this Encyclopedia, information about Pope Martin V.

By this decree Pope Pius II (1458-1464) struck at the Concilar movement, and lablled as “erroneous and detestable” one of the central ideas of the Conciliarists-the right of appeal from pope to general council.

“The execrable and hitherto unknown abuse has grown up in our day, that certain persons, imbued with the spirit of rebellion and not from a desire to secure a better judgment, but to escape the punishment of some offence which they have committed, presume to appeal from the pope to a future council, in spite of the fact that the pope is the vicar of Jesus Christ and to him, in the person Peter, the following was said: “Feed my sheep” [John 21:16] and “Whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven” [Matt. 16:18]. Wishing therefore to expel this pestiferous poison from the church of Christ and to care for the salvation of the fold entrusted to us, and to remove every cause of offence from the fold of our Saviour, with the advice and consent of our brothers, the cardinals of the holy Roman church, and of all the prelates, and of those who have been trained in the canon and civil law, who are at our court, and with our own sure knowledge, we condemn all such appeals and prohibit them as erroneous and detestable.”

From “Excecrabilis,” in O.J. Thatcher and E. H. McNeal, trans., A Source Book for Mediaeval History (New York: Charles Scribner’s, 1905), p. 332.

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