Fourth Council of the Lateran

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Fourth Council of the Lateran (Lateran IV)
Accepted by Catholic Church
Previous council
Third Council of the Lateran
Next council
First Council of Lyon
Convoked by Pope Innocent III
President Pope Innocent III
Topics Crusading, ecclesiastical reform, heresy, Islam, Judaism, laity
Documents and statements
71 papal decrees
Chronological list of ecumenical councils
Matthew Paris' illustration in the Chronica Maiora of the Fourth Lateran Council Matthew Paris Chronica Maiora Fourth Lateran Council.jpg
Matthew Paris' illustration in the Chronica Maiora of the Fourth Lateran Council

The Fourth Council of the Lateran or Lateran IV was convoked by Pope Innocent III in April 1213 and opened at the Lateran Palace in Rome on 11 November 1215. Due to the great length of time between the council's convocation and its meeting, many bishops had the opportunity to attend this council, which is considered by the Catholic Church to be the twelfth ecumenical council. The council addressed a number of issues, including the sacraments, the role of the laity, the treatment of Jews and heretics, and the organization of the church.


In the case of Jews and Muslims, this included compelling them to wear distinctive badges to prevent social contact "through error". The Council is viewed[ by whom? ] as both opening up many reforms, and as formalising and enforcing intolerance in European society, both to heretics and Jews, and thus playing a role in the development of systemic European antisemitism [ citation needed ].


Innocent III first mooted organizing an ecumenical council in November 1199. [1] In his letter titled Vineam Domini, dated 19 April 1213, [2] the Pope writes of the urgent need to recover the Holy Land and reform the Church. [3] The letter, which also served as a summons to an ecumenical council, was included alongside the Pope's papal bull Quia maior . [1] In preparing for the council, the Pope spearheaded the extensive refurbishment of the old St. Peter's Basilica, which he designated as the "centrepiece for display and decoration" during the council. The lunette of the main door leading to the tomb of St. Peter had engravings of Old Testament prophets and twenty-four bishops, alongside the messages, "Feed your Sheep" and "This is the Door of the Sheep". [4]

The measures against the Jews were the culmination of hostility during Innocent's reign as Pope, itself informed by a background of greater hostility to the Jews generated in part by the Crusades[ citation needed ]. Innocent for example waged a novel campaign against the Talmud as part of the campaign against heresy, claiming that the Talmud was an invention of the Rabbis, and the Jews should be restricted to using Biblical texts for their faith. This was the first time that the Catholic church had tried to directly regulate the practice of Judaism. [5]


Innocent III deliberately chose for the Fourth Council to meet in November, during which there were numerous feast days. [6] A preliminary legal session took place on 4 November, [7] while the opening ceremony of the council was held on St. Martin's Day and began with a private morning Mass. [6] Afterwards, at the start of the first plenary session in the Lateran Palace, the Pope led the singing of "Veni Creator Spiritus" [8] and preached about Jesus' words to his disciples at the Last Supper, [9] quoting from Luke 22. [10] In his next two sermons, one on the need to recover the Holy Land and the other on dealing with heretics, [11] the Pope was joined on stage by Raoul of Mérencourt and Thedisius of Agde respectively. [7]

On 14 November, there were violent scenes between the partisans of Simon de Montfort among the French bishops and those of the Count of Toulouse. Raymond VI of Toulouse, his son (afterwards Raymond VII), and Raymond-Roger of Foix attended the council to dispute the threatened confiscation of their territories; Bishop Foulques and Guy de Montfort (brother of Simon de Montfort) argued in favour of the confiscation. All of Raymond VI's lands were confiscated, save Provence, which was kept in trust to be restored to Raymond VII. [12] Pierre-Bermond of Sauve's claim to Toulouse was rejected and Toulouse was awarded to de Montfort, while the lordship of Melgueil was separated from Toulouse and entrusted to the bishops of Maguelonne. [12]

The next day, in a ceremony attended by many council participants, the Pope consecrated the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere, [6] which had been rebuilt by Callixtus II. [13] Four days later, the anniversary celebration at St. Peter's Basilica brought together such a large gathering that the Pope himself had trouble entering the premises. [13]

The second plenary session was held on 20 November; the Pope was scheduled to preach about church reform, but proceedings were disrupted by bishops who opposed the designation of Frederick II as Holy Roman Emperor. [14] The council concluded on 30 November, Saint Andrew's Day, during which the Pope preached on the Nicene Creed and concluded his remarks by raising up a relic of the True Cross. [14] The archbishop of Mainz attempted to interrupt the speech, although he complied with the Pope's raising of his handa command to stay silent. [15]


Lateran IV had three objectives: crusading, Church reform, and combating heresy. [16] The seventy-one Lateran canons, which were not debated, were only formally adopted on the last day of the council; [17] according to Anne J. Duggan, the "scholarly consensus" is that they were drafted by Innocent III himself. [18] They cover a range of themes including Church reform and elections, taxation, matrimony, tithing, simony, and Judaism. [19] After being recorded in the papal registers, the canons were quickly circulated in law schools. [20] Effective application of the decrees varied according to local conditions and customs. [21]

Machinery of enforcement

While the precise application and levels of conformity to Lateran IV were variable, it is argued that it created a wide range of legal measures with long term repercussions, which were used to persecute minorities and helped usher in a specifically intolerant kind of European society, or as historian R. I. Moore defines it, a "persecuting society". These measures applied with vigour first to heretics, and then increasingly to other minorities, such as Jews and lepers. [22] In the case of Jews, antisemitism had been rising since the Crusades in different parts of Europe, and the measures of Lateran IV gave the legal means to implement active systemic persecution, such as physical separation of Jews and Christians, enforced through Jews being obliged to wear distinctive badges or clothing. [23]

Jewish badges

The Council mandated that Jews separate and distinguish themselves, in order to "protect" Christians from their influence.

In some provinces a difference in dress distinguishes the Jews or Saracens from the Christians, but in certain others such a confusion has grown up that they cannot be distinguished by any difference. Thus it happens at times that through error Christians have relations with the women of Jews or Saracens, and Jews and Saracens with Christian women. Therefore, that they may not, under pretext of error of this sort, excuse themselves in the future for the excesses of such prohibited intercourse, we decree that such Jews and Saracens of both sexes in every Christian province and at all times shall be marked off in the eyes of the public from other peoples through the character of their dress. Particularly, since it may be read in the writings of Moses [Numbers 15:37–41], that this very law has been enjoined upon them. [24]


While the proceedings were not officially recorded, unlike in previous councils, evidence of the events have been found in various manuscripts by observers of the council. [25] The Chronica Majora by Matthew Paris contains a line drawing of one of the sessions at the council which his abbot William of St Albans had personally attended. [26] An extensive eyewitness account by an anonymous German cleric was copied into a manuscript that was published in 1964, in commemoration of the Second Vatican Council, and is now housed at the University of Giessen. [27]


Henry of Segusio likened the council to the "four great councils of antiquity". [28] Lateran IV is sometimes referred to as the "Great Council of the Lateran" due to the presence of 404 or 412 bishops (including 71 cardinals and archbishops) and over 800 abbots and priors representing some eighty ecclesiastical provinces, [18] [29] together with 23 Latin-speaking prelates from the Eastern Orthodox Church [28] and representatives of several monarchs, including Frederick II, Otto IV, the Latin Emperor of Constantinople, John, King of England, Andrew II of Hungary, Philip II of France, and the kings of Aragon, Cyprus, and Jerusalem. [28] This made it the largest ecumenical council between the Council of Chalcedon and the Second Vatican Council; [30] Anne J. Duggan writes that "it was the largest, most representative, and most influential council assembled under papal leadership before the end of the fourteenth century." [31] According to F. Donald Logan, "the Fourth Lateran Council was the most important general council of the church in the Middle Ages", [32] whose effects "were felt for centuries." [33]


Canons of Lateran IV
Canon numberTitleEnglishDescription
Canon 1De fide catholicaOn the catholic faithInfallibly defined the teaching of the Catholic Church on transubstantiation, [34] the doctrine which describes in precise scholastic language the transformation by which the bread and wine offered in the sacrament of the Eucharist becomes the actual blood and body of Christ. [35] [36]
Canon 2De errore abbatis IoachimOn the error of abbot JoachimCondemnation of the doctrines of Joachim of Fiore and Amalric of Bena. [35] [37]
Canon 3De haereticisOn hereticsProcedure and penalties against heretics and their protectors. If those suspected of heresy should neglect to prove themselves innocent, they are excommunicated. If they continue in the excommunication for twelve months they are to be condemned as heretics. Princes are to swear that they will banish all whom the church points out as heretics. [35] [38]
Canon 4De superbia Graecorum contra LatinosOn the pride of Greeks towards LatinsExhortation to the Greeks to reunite with the Roman Church. [35] [39]
Canon 5De dignitate patriarcharumOn the dignity of patriarchsProclamation of the papal primacy recognized by all antiquity. After the pope, primacy is attributed to the patriarchs in the following order: Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem. [35] [40]
Canon 6De conciliis provincialibusOn provincial councilsProvincial councils must be held annually for the reform of morals, especially those of the clergy. This was to ensure that the canons adopted would be implemented. [41] [40]
Canon 7De correctione excessuumOn the conviction of offencesSets down the responsibility of the bishops for the reform of their subjects. [41] [42]
Canon 8De inquisitionibusOn inquestsProcedure in regard to accusations against ecclesiastics. [41] [42]
Canon 9De diversis ritibus in eadem fideOn different rites within the same faithCelebration of public worship in places where the inhabitants belong to nations following different rites. [41] [43]
Canon 10De praedicatoribus instituendisOn appointing preachersOrdered the appointment of preachers and penitentiaries to assist in the discharge of the episcopal functions of preaching and penance. [43]
Canon 11De magistris scholasticisOn schoolmastersThe decree of 1179, about a school in each cathedral having been entirely ignored, was re-enacted, and a lectureship in theology ordered to be founded in every cathedral. [44]
Canon 12De communibus capitulis monachorumOn general chapters of monks Abbots and priors are to hold their general chapter every three years. [41] [44]
Canon 13De novis religionibus prohibitisOn the prohibition against new religious ordersForbade the establishment of new religious orders. [41] [45]
Canon 14De incontinentia clericorum puniendaOn punishing clerical incontinencesSet out guidelines for punishing incontinence.
Canon 15De arcenda ebrietate clericorumOn preventing drunkenness among the clergyProhibited both drunkenness and the hunting of birds and dogs. [46]
Canon 16De indumentis clericorumOn the dress of clericsPrescribed dressing for clergy membersincluding a ban on embroidered or pointed shoes [47] and prohibited gambling and spectating theatrical performances. [46]
Canon 17De comessationibus praelatorum et negligentia eorum super diviniis officiisOn prelates' feasts and their negligence at divine servicesAdmonished clerics who excessively engaged in non-religious activities while infrequently attending mass. [46]
Canon 18De indicio sanguinis et duelli clericis interdictoOn sentences involving either the shedding of blood or a duel being forbidden to clericsClerics may neither pronounce nor execute a sentence of death. Nor may they act as judges in extreme criminal cases, or take part in matters connected with judicial tests and trials by ordeal. [48]
Canon 19Ne ecclesiae mundanis suppellectilibus exponanturThat profane objects may not be introduced into churchesHousehold goods must not be stored in churches unless there be an urgent necessity. Churches, church vessels, and the like must be kept clean. [48]
Canon 20De chrismate et eucharistia sub sera conservandaOn keeping the chrism and the eucharist under lock and keyOrdering that the chrism and the Eucharist to be kept under lock and key, with a three-month suspension for leaving it out carelessly, and worse if "anything unspeakable" were to happen to it. [48]
Canon 21De confessione facienda et non revelanda a sacerdote et saltem in pascha communicandoOn confession being made, and not revealed by the priest, and on communicating at least at EasterIntroduced the mandate "Omnis utriusque sexus", which commands every Christian who has reached the years of discretion to confess all his, or her, sins at least once a year to their own priest. [49] This canon did no more than confirm earlier legislation and custom (of the previous century), although it is sometimes incorrectly quoted as commanding the use of sacramental confession for the first time.
Canon 22Quod infirmi prius provideant animae quam corporiThat the sick should provide for the soul before the bodyBefore prescribing medicine for the sick, physicians shall be bound under pain of exclusion from the church, to exhort their patients to call in a priest, and thus provide for their spiritual welfare. [49]
Canon 23Quod ecclesia cathedralis vel regularis ultra tres menses non vacetThat a cathedral church or a church of the regular clergy is not to remain vacant for more than three monthsMandated that a church is not to be without a prelate for more than three months. [50]
Canon 24De electione facienda per scrutinium vel compromissumOn making an election by ballot or by agreementMandated that pastors are to be either elected or chosen by a committee acting on behalf of the congregation. [51]
Canon 25Quod electio facta per saecularem potestatem non valeatExampleSpecified that spiritual leaders may not be selected by non-Christians. [52]
Canon 26De poema indigue confirmantis electionemOn the penalty for improperly confirming an electionLaid out the punishments for not adhering to electoral guidelines. [52]
Canon 27De instructione ordinandorumOn the instruction of ordinandsStressed the need for bishops to properly guide their disciples and not ordain the "ignorant and unformed". [53]
Canon 28Quod compellantur cedere qui postulaverunt licentiam cedendiThat those who have asked for permission to resign are to be compelled to do soAllowed members of the clergy to resign, with the caveat that their resignations would be irreversible. [53]
Canon 29Quod nullus babeat duo beneficia cum cura annexaThat nobody may hold two benefices with the cure of souls attachedForbade the holding of several ecclesiastical offices at any given time. [53]
Canon 30De idoneitate instituendorum in ecclesiis'On the suitability of those instituted to churchesForbade "unworthy persons" from working in churches. [54]
Canon 31De filiis canonicorum non instituendis cum patribusOn not instituting the sons of canons with their fathersProhibited clergymen from having their sons succeed them. [54]
Canon 32Ut patroni compententem portionem dimittant clericisThat patrons shall leave a suitable portion to clericsRuled that priests are entitled to a "fitting portion from the revenues of the church". [55]
Canon 33De procurationibus non accipiendis sine visitationeOn not receiving procurations without a visitation being madeDictated that bishops may only expect to be reasonably remunerated when visiting churches. [56] [57]
Canon 34De subditis non gravandis sub praetextu servitii alicuiusOn not burdening subjects under the pretext of some serviceForbade prelates from charging for superfluous services. [58]
Canon 35De causa appellationis exprimendaOn stating the grounds for an appealDefendants must not appeal without good cause before sentence is given; if they do, they are to be charged expenses. [58]
Canon 36Quod iudex possit interlocutoriam et comminatoriam sententiam revocareThat a judge can revoke an interlocutory and a comminatory sentenceJudges may revoke comminatory and interlocutory sentences and proceed with the case. [58]
Canon 37De litteris non impetrandis ultra duas diaetas et sine specialis mandatoOn not procuring letters which entail more than two days' journey and are without a special mandateDeclared that plaintiffs may not impede trials by calling on faraway witnesses, unless the defendant agrees to it. [59]
Canon 38De scribendis actis, ut probari possintOn writing acts so that they can be provedStipulated that trial proceedings must be recorded in writing. [59]
Canon 39De restitutione danda contra possessorem, quae non rapuit ipseOn granting restitution against a person in possession who was not the robberRuled that stolen goods have to be returned to their original owner. [59]
Canon 40De vera possessioneOn true possessionRuled that plaintiffs still have rightful ownership of goods withheld from them for more than a year. [60]
Canon 41De continuatione bonae fidei in omni praescriptioneOn continuing good faith in every prescriptionDeclared that all prescriptions have to be made in good faith. [60]
Canon 42De saeculari iustitiaOn secular justiceStressed that religious law should not interfere with secular law, and vice versa. [60]
Canon 43Ne sine causa clericus fidelitatem laico faciatOn a cleric not doing fealty to a layman without good reasonClerics should not take oaths of fealty to laymen without lawful cause. [60]
Canon 44Quod constitutiones principum non praeiudicent ecclesiisThat the ordinances of princes should not be prejudicial to churchesLay princes should not usurp the rights of churches. [61]
Canon 45Patronus qui clericum ecclesiae occiderit vel mutilaverit, ius patronatus omittitA patron who kills or mutilates a cleric of a church loses his right of patronageForbade patrons of churches from killing clergymen. [61]
Canon 46De talliis a clericis non exigendisOn not exacting taxes from clericsLaid out exceptions to a Lateran III canon exempting clergymen from taxation. [62]
Canon 47De forma excommunicandiOn the form of an excommunicationDecreed that excommunication may be imposed only after warning in the presence of suitable witnesses and for manifest and reasonable cause. [62]
Canon 48De more recusandi iudicemOn how to challenge a judgeLaid out the guidelines to challenging a judge. [63]
Canon 49De poena excommunicantis iniusteOn the punishment for excommunicating someone unjustlyStipulated that excommunication is to be neither imposed nor lifted for payment. [64]
Canons 50–52There had been kings of France and Castile who had repudiated their wives and "remarried" with serious public consequences. Marriage, impediments of relationship, publication of banns were addressed in Canon 50. [65]
Canon 53De bis qui praedia sua in fraudem decimarum dant aliis excolendaOn those who give their fields to others to be cultivated so as to avoid paying tithesThe council condemned those who had their property cultivated by others (non-Christians) in order to avoid tithes. [66]
Canon 54Ut decimae ante tributa solvanturThat tithes should be paid before taxesRuled that tithe payments have priority over all other taxes and dues. [67]
Canon 57De interpretandis privilegiorum verbisOn interpreting the words of privilegesGave precise instructions on the interpretation of the privilege of celebrating religious services during interdict, enjoyed by some orders. [68]
Canon 63De simoniaOn simonyProhibited simony, in that no fees are to be exacted for the consecration of bishops, the blessing of abbots or the ordination of clerics. [69]
Canon 64De eadem circa monachos et sanctimonialesOn the same with regard to monks and nunsRuled that monks and nuns may not require payment for their entry into the religious life. [69]
Canon 67De usuris IudaeorumOn the usury of JewsPrevented Jews from charging "extortionate and excessive interest". [70]
Canon 68Ut Iudaei discernantur a christianis in habituThat Jews should be distinguished from Christians in their dressMandated a special dress code for Jews and Saracens to distinguish them from Christians so that no Christian shall come to marry them ignorant of who they are. [71]
Canon 69Ne Iudaei publicis officiis praeficianturThat Jews are not to hold public officesDisqualified Jews from holding public offices, [71] incorporating into ecclesiastical law a decree of the Holy Christian Empire. [72]
Canon 70Ne conversi ad fidem de Iudaeis veterem ritum Iudaeorum retineantThat converts to the faith among the Jews may not retain their old ritePrescribed measures to prevent converted Jews from returning to their former belief. [73]
Canon 71Expeditio pro recuperanda Terra sanctaExpedition for the recovery of the holy LandDesignated 1 June 1217 as the start of the Fifth Crusade. [73] This canon was disregarded by canonists like Johannes Teutonicus Zemeke, who omitted it from his collection of Lateran IV canons, Compilatio quarta, and Damasus Hungarus, who wrote, "This constitution is temporary, and I do not care to gloss it." [74]

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