Lateran Council (769)

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Pope Stephen III, who convoked the Lateran Council of 769 (fictional portrait at Saint Paul Outside the Walls, c. 1850) StephenIII.jpg
Pope Stephen III, who convoked the Lateran Council of 769 (fictional portrait at Saint Paul Outside the Walls, c. 1850)

The Lateran Council of 769 was a synod held in the Basilica of St. John Lateran to rectify perceived abuses in the papal electoral process which had led to the elevation of the Antipopes Constantine II and Philip. It also condemned the rulings of the Council of Hieria. It is perhaps the most important Roman council held during the 8th century. [1]

Synod council of a church

A synod is a council of a church, usually convened to decide an issue of doctrine, administration or application. The word synod comes from the Greek σύνοδος (sýnodos) meaning "assembly" or "meeting", and it is synonymous with the Latin word concilium meaning "council". Originally, synods were meetings of bishops, and the word is still used in that sense in Catholicism, Oriental Orthodoxy and Eastern Orthodoxy. In modern usage, the word often refers to the governing body of a particular church, whether its members are meeting or not. It is also sometimes used to refer to a church that is governed by a synod.

Antipope Person who holds a significantly accepted claim to be pope, without being recognized as pope

An antipope is a person who, in opposition to the one who is generally seen as the legitimately elected Pope, makes a significantly accepted competing claim to be the Pope, the Bishop of Rome and leader of the Roman Catholic Church. At times between the 3rd and mid-15th centuries, antipopes were supported by a fairly significant faction of religious cardinals and secular or anti-religious monarchs and kingdoms. Persons who claim to be pope, but have few followers, such as the modern sedevacantist antipopes, are not classified with the historical antipopes.

Antipope Constantine II was an antipope for over a year, from 28 June 767 to 6 August 768. He was overthrown through the intervention of the Lombards and tortured before he was condemned and expelled from the Church during the Lateran Council of 769.



The death of Pope Paul I, on 28 June 767, [2] led to the uncanonical election of two antipopes. Constantine II was a layman who was elevated to the Papal See by his brother Toto of Nepi and a group of Tuscan nobles. [3] He was opposed by another antipope, Philip, who was installed by an envoy of the King of the Lombards, Desiderius, and reigned just for one day, 31 July 768. [4] With the election of Pope Stephen III on 1 August 768, [5] and the forcible removal of the antipopes, Stephen III had sent a request to Pepin the Short, asking for bishops well versed in the Scriptures and in canon law to assist at a synod which would seek to prevent any repeat of the events that led to the elevation of the antipopes. [6] [7] By the time the envoys reached Francia, Pepin was dead. However, they appealed to his sons Charlemagne and Carloman, who agreed to send 12 bishops to Rome. [8] Rome was at the time part of the Byzantine Empire.

Pope Paul I pope

Pope Paul I was Pope from 29 May 757 to his death in 767. He first served as a Roman deacon and was frequently employed by his brother, Pope Stephen II, in negotiations with the Lombard kings.

Holy See episcopal jurisdiction of the Catholic Church in Rome, Italy

The Holy See, also called the See of Rome, is the apostolic episcopal see of the bishop of Rome, known as the Pope, ex cathedra the universal ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the worldwide Catholic Church, and a sovereign entity of international law. Founded in the 1st century by Saints Peter and Paul, by virtue of Petrine and Papal primacy according to Catholic tradition, it is the focal point of full communion for Catholic bishops and Catholics around the world organised in polities of the Latin Church, the 23 Eastern Catholic Churches, and their dioceses and religious institutes.

Toto was the self-styled duke of Nepi, the leading magnate of Etruria, who staged a coup d'état in Rome in 767. He became Duke of Rome for a year until his death. The principal sources documenting his takeover are the vita of Pope Stephen III in the Liber Pontificalis and a surviving deposition of the primicerius Christopher from 769, preserved in a ninth-century manuscript of Verona, the Depositio Christophori.

Meetings of the Council

On 12 April 769 the Pope opened the synod in the Lateran Basilica. Present were around 52 bishops (or representatives of bishops), [9] including ones from Tuscany and Campania, [10] as well as a large number of priests, deacons, and the laity. [11] The Council met during four sessions, spread over four days, lasting until 15 April. [1] The first sessions of the Council, lasting two days, were dedicated to reviewing the activities of the antipope Constantine II, in which Wilichar of Sens took a leading role. [1] [12]

Tuscany Region of Italy

Tuscany is a region in central Italy with an area of about 23,000 square kilometres and a population of about 3.8 million inhabitants (2013). The regional capital is Florence (Firenze).

Campania Region of Italy

Campania is a region in Southern Italy. As of 2018, the region has a population of around 5,820,000 people, making it the third-most-populous region of Italy; its total area of 13,590 km2 (5,247 sq mi) makes it the most densely populated region in the country. Located on the Italian Peninsula, with the Mediterranean Sea to the west, it includes the small Phlegraean Islands and Capri for administration as part of the region.

Constantine was brought before the synod, and was asked how he justified his own accession as a layman to the Apostolic See. Constantine replied that he had been forced to take on the role, as the Roman people had been looking for someone to fix the problems left behind by Pope Paul I. [13] He then confessed to the charges, and threw himself on the mercy of the synod. [11] On the following day however, he retracted his confession, arguing that his actions had not been any different from other papal elections in the past. He pointed to two episcopal elections, those of Sergius, Archbishop of Ravenna, and Stephanus, Bishop of Naples, where the successful candidates had been laymen. [14] Infuriated by his arguments and the facts that supported them, the Synod ordered Constantine to be beaten, his tongue torn out, and be excommunicated from the Church. [11] Constantine's acts and rulings were then publicly burnt before the entire synod, as Pope Stephen III, the bishops, alongside the Roman laity present, all prostrated themselves, singing the Kyrie eleison, and declaring that they had sinned in receiving Holy Communion from the hands of Constantine. [11] They did not repent their savage behavior toward him.

Catholic Church Christian church led by the Bishop of Rome

The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the largest Christian church, with approximately 1.3 billion baptised Catholics worldwide as of 2017. As the world's "oldest continuously functioning international institution", it has played a prominent role in the history and development of Western civilisation. The church is headed by the Bishop of Rome, known as the Pope. Its central administration, the Holy See, is in the Vatican City, an enclave within the city of Rome in Italy.

The Third Session (14 April) revolved around revising the rules by which papal elections were held. [1] After a review and discussion on the canons of the Church, as well as recent and embarrassing facts, the Council decreed that no layperson could be made Pope, and that only cardinal deacons or priests, who had been consecrated and had moved through the minor orders, could be elected pope. [15] The Council then mandated that from the time of the Council onward, the laity could not participate in the election of a pope. Prohibitions were placed upon the presence of armed men, or of soldiers from Tuscany and the Campania, during the papal election. [16] Once, however, the election had been held by the clergy, and a pope selected, the Roman army and people were to greet and acknowledge the pope-elect before he was escorted to the Lateran Palace. [16]

Canon law is a set of ordinances and regulations made by ecclesiastical authority, for the government of a Christian organization or church and its members. It is the internal ecclesiastical law, or operational policy, governing the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches, and the individual national churches within the Anglican Communion. The way that such church law is legislated, interpreted and at times adjudicated varies widely among these three bodies of churches. In all three traditions, a canon was originally a rule adopted by a church council; these canons formed the foundation of canon law.

Lateran Palace ancient palace of the Roman Empire and the main papal residence in Rome

The Lateran Palace, formally the Apostolic Palace of the Lateran, is an ancient palace of the Roman Empire and later the main papal residence in southeast Rome.

The Lateran Basilica where the Council was held (18th-century facade pictured). Facade San Giovanni in Laterano 2006-09-07.jpg
The Lateran Basilica where the Council was held (18th-century facade pictured).

The third session on that same day saw the issuing of decrees with regards to the ordinations undertaken by the antipope Constantine. [17] The synod decided that the bishops, priests, and deacons whom Constantine had ordained were to once again return to their previous station that they held prior to Constantine's appointment. [16] However, the synod also stated that if those who had been consecrated bishops by Constantine were re-elected via a canonical method, they might be reconciled and restored to the episcopate by the Pope. [16] The Pope could also reinstate priests and deacons; however, any layperson who had been ordained a priest or deacon by Constantine was consigned to spend the rest of his life in a monastery, and none could ever be promoted to a higher religious office. [16]

Deacon ministry in the Christian Church

A deacon is a member of the diaconate, an office in Christian churches that is generally associated with service of some kind, but which varies among theological and denominational traditions. Some Christian churches, such as the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Anglican church, view the diaconate as part of the clerical state; in others, the deacon remains a layperson.

The final session of the Council, held on 15 April, was dedicated to providing a ruling concerning the ongoing Iconoclast controversy. Reviewing the writings of the Church Fathers, the Council decreed that it was permissible and desirable for Christians to venerate icons. [18] It confirmed the rulings of the Council of Rome in 731 concerning the valid use of images. [19] The synod then condemned the Council of Hieria and anathematized its iconoclastic rulings. [18] Finally, it collected additional texts in support of the veneration of icons, including portions of a letter from the three eastern patriarchs to Pope Paul I. [19]

Once the meetings had been concluded, a procession of clergy and people walked barefoot to St. Peter's Basilica. There, the Council's decrees were announced, anathemas were invoked, condemning any who violated the decrees, and both were written up for exposition to the people. [18]

Immediate outcome and long-term effects

The bishops who had been consecrated by Constantine seem to have been on the whole reconciled by the Pope. [18] Pope Stephen III, however, never returned priests or deacons to the rank to which the antipope Constantine had raised them. [18] In general, the sacraments administered by Constantine, apart from Baptism and Confirmation, were repeated under Stephen. [18] The iconoclast portion of the Council was meant to clearly align Rome with Francia, and to signal to the Franks that the Byzantines were heretics. [1] Significantly, the Roman dating of the Council was no longer by the years of the Byzantine Emperors, and thus apparently indicating that the Council was not recognising imperial sovereignty whilst the Church was in schism. [20]

The rulings of this Council concerning the election of the popes were gradually eroded over the course of the decades and centuries. As early as 827, the election of Pope Valentine saw the election of a pope where the nobility and people actively took part in the election. This continued development, and the ignoring of the Council's rulings, saw the Papacy reach its nadir during the 10th century, when the papacy became the plaything of the Roman aristocracy. [18]


Pope Stephen III was the principal prelate at the Council. After him was placed the representative of the Archbishop of Ravenna, indicating his status as the first Metropolitan bishop of the west. [21]

Frankish bishops

Italian bishops


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 Noble (2009) , p. 146.
  2. Cenni (1735) , p. 6.
  3. Mann (1903) , p. 362.
  4. Mann (1903) , p. 367; Duchesne (1886) , p. 470.
  5. Duchesne (1886) , p. 472; Jaffé (1885) , p. 285.
  6. Noble (2009) , p. 145.
  7. Mann (1903) , p. 372.
  8. Mann (1903) , pp. 372–373.
  9. Hefele (1896) , p. 333.
  10. Landon (1909) , p. 98.
  11. 1 2 3 4 Mann (1903) , p. 373.
  12. McKitterick (2008) , p. 300.
  13. Hefele (1896) , p. 336.
  14. Duchesne (1886) , p. 475, l. 23.
  15. Mann (1903) , p. 373–374. The scholar of Canon Law, Stephan Kuttner, points out (p. 149) that this statement of candidacy applied to deacons and priests of the Church of Rome, not priests and deacons generally. This is also the first occasion on which the term cardinal priest is used.
  16. 1 2 3 4 5 Mann (1903) , p. 374.
  17. Hefele (1896) , p. 337.
  18. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Mann (1903) , p. 375.
  19. 1 2 3 Noble (2009) , p. 147.
  20. Hefele (1896) , p. 334.
  21. Hefele (1896) , pp. 334–336.
  22. McKitterick (2008) , p. 302.
  23. Hefele (1896) , p. 335.
  24. His name is given as Radoinus in the Liber Pontificalis: Duchesne (1886) , p. 474, l. 11.
  25. His name is given as Stephanus in the Liber Pontificalis: Duchesne (1886) , p. 474, l. 25.
  26. His name is given as Leoninus in the Liber Pontificalis: Duchesne (1886) , p. 474, l. 29.

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