Fourth Council of the Lateran

The  Fourth Council of the Lateran  was convoked by Pope Innocent III with the papal bull  Vineam domini Sabaoth  of 19 April 1213, and the Council gathered at Rome’s Lateran Palace beginning 11 November 1215.  [1]  Due to the great length of time between the Council’s convocation and meeting, many bishops had the opportunity to wait. It is considered by the Catholic Church to be the twelfth ecumenical council and is sometimes called the “Great Council” or “General Council of Lateran” due to the presence of seventy-one patriarchsand metropolitan bishops, four hundred and twelve bishops , and nine hundred abbots and priors together with representatives of several monarchs .  [1]

During this council, the teaching on transubstantiation – a Church doctrine which describes the method by which the bread and wine offered in the sacrament of the Eucharist becomes the actual blood and body of Christ infallibly defined.


Lateran IV stands as the high-water mark of the medieval papacy. Its political and ecclesiastical decisions endured to the Council of Trent while modern historiography has deemed it to be the most significant papal assembly of the Later Middle Ages.  [2]  The Fourth Lateran Council was the largest and most representative of the medieval councils to that date.  [3]

In summoning the bishops to a general council, Innocent III emphasized that reforms must be made in the Church and that a new crusade to the Holy Land must be launched. He also reminded them that it was not appropriate that they included birds and hunting dogs.  [4]

The agenda is laid out in  Vineam domini Sabaoth  included reform of the Church, the stamping out of heresy, establishing peace and liberty, and calling for a new crusade.  [4]  During this council, the doctrine of transubstantiation – a Church doctrine which describes the method by which the blood and blood offered in the sacrament of the Eucharist becomes the actual blood and body of Christ infallibly defined.  [5]  The scholarly consensus is that the constitutions were drafted by Innocent III himself.  [3]

In secular matters, the Council confirmed the elevation of Frederick II as Holy Roman Emperor.  [3]

There were violent scenes between the supporters 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 threat of confiscation of their territories; Bishop Fulk and Guy de Montfort (brother of Simon ) argued in favor of the confiscation. All of Raymond VI’s lands were confiscated, save Provence, which was kept in trust to be restored to his son, Raymond VII.  [6]  Pierre-Bermond of Sauve’s claim to Toulouse was rejected, and Toulouse was awarded to Montfort; [6]  The lordship of Melgueil was separated from Toulouse and entrusted to the bishops of Maguelonne .


Canons presented to the Council included:  [1]

Faith and heresy

  • Canon 1: The Creed  Caput Firmer  [7]  -Exposure of the Catholic Faith and the Sacraments. It includes a brief reference to transubstantiation .  [8]
  • Canon 2: Condemnation of the Doctrines of Joachim of Fiore and of Amalric of Bena .
  • Canon 3: Procedure and penalties against heretics and their protectors. If they are suspected of being innocent, they are excommunicated. If they continue in the excommunication for twelve months they are to be condemned as heretics. Princes are to be admonished to swear that they will point to heretics. This can not be avoided if it is pointed out by the Church as to the extent to which it will be excised.
  • Canon 4: Exhortation to the Greeks to reunite with the Roman Church.  [8]

Order and discipline

  • Canon 5: Proclamation of the papal primacy recognized by all antiquity. After the pope, primacy is attributed to the patriarchs in the following order: Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem.
  • Canon 6: Provincial 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.
  • Canon 7: Set down the responsibility of the bishops for the reform of their subjects.
  • Canon 8: Procedure in regard to accusations against ecclesiastics. Until the French Revolution , this canon was of considerable importance in criminal law , not only ecclesiastical but even civil.
  • Canon 9: Celebration of public worship in places where the nations belong to nations following different rites.

Ecclesiastical discipline

  • Canon 10: Ordered the appointment of preachers and penitentiaries to the discharge of the episcopal functions of preaching and penance
  • Canon 11: The Decree of 1179, about a school in each cathedral having been entirely ignored, was re-enacted, and a readership in theology ordered to be founded in every cathedral.
  • Canon 12: Abbots and priors are in their general chapter every three years.
  • Canon 13: A good deal of Innocent III’s time has been spent judging bishops against the religious orders. This canon forbade the establishment of new religious orders . Those who wished to found a new house were to choose an existing approved rule. It is this canon that Saint Dominic to adopt the Rule of St. Augustine .  [8]

Clerical morality

  • Canons 14-17: Against the Irregularities of the clergy – eg, incontinence (wantonness), drunkenness , attendance at farces and histrionic exhibitions .
  • Canon 18: Clerics can not pronounce nor execute a sentence of death. Nor can they act as judges in extreme criminal cases, or take part in matters connected with judicial tests and ordeals. This last prohibition, since it has been removed from the world, was the beginning of the end of the ordeal .  [4]

Religious cult

  • Canon 19: Household goods must not be stored in an emergency. Churches, church vessels, and the like must be kept clean.
  • Canon 21, the famous “Omnis sexus utriusque” commands every Christian qui atteint Who has the years of discretion to confess all his, or her, sins at least once a year to his, or her, own  [9]  priest. This canon can not be used more often than not, but it is sometimes incorrectly quoted as the command of the sacramental confession for the first time. In actuality the confession came into existence over a long period of time.  [10]  However, this was the first time that it took the shape of the Christian confessional as we know it today.  [10]
  • Canon 22: Before Prescribing for the Sickness, The Church’s Disclaimer, to urge their patients to call in a priest , and thus provide for their spiritual welfare.

Appointments and elections

  • Canons 23-30 regulate ecclesiastical elections and the collation (assignment) of profits .
  • Canon 26: Ecclesiastical procedure.

Legal procedure

  • Canon 35: Defendants must not be appealing without good cause if they do, they are to be charged.
  • Canon 36: Judges can revoke comminatory and interlocutory sentences and proceed with the case.

Relations with the secular power

  • Canon 43: Clerics should take oaths of fealty to laymen without lawful cause.
  • Canon 44: Lay princes should not usurp the rights of churches.


  • Canon 47: Excommunication may be imposed only after warning in the presence of suitable witnesses and for manifest and reasonable cause.
  • Canon 49: Excommunications to be neither imposed nor lifted for payment.


  • Canons 50-52: There had been a couple of years ago, and they had been repeating their wives and “remarried” with serious public consequences. Marriage, impediments of relationship, publication of banns were addressed in Canon 50.  [11]


  • Canon 53: The council condemned those who had their property cultivated by others (non-Christians) in order to avoid tithes.
  • Canon 54: Tithe payments have priority over all other taxes and dues.

Religious Orders

  • Canon 57: Gave precise instructions on the interpretation of the privilege of celebrating religious services during the year, enjoyed by some orders.


  • Canon 63: No fees are for the consecration of bishops, the blessing of abbots or the ordination of clerics.
  • Canon 64: Monks and nuns may not require payment for entry into the religious life.

Regulations relating to Jews and Muslims

  • Canon 67: Jews can not charge extortionate interest.
  • Canons 68: Jews and Muslims shall wear a special dress to enable them to be distinguished from Christians so that they do not know who they are.  [12]
  • Canon 69: Disclaimed Disqualified from Public Offices, incorporating into ecclesiastical law a decree of the Holy Christian Empire.  [12]
  • Canon 70: Takes measures to prevent the Jews from returning to their belief.  [12]

In addition, it threatens the excommunication of those who supply ships, arms, and other war materials to the Saracens.

Effective application of the decrees varied according to local conditions and customs.  [3]


  1. ^ Jump up to: c   One of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication in the public domain : Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). ” Fourth Lateran Council (1215) “.  Catholic Encyclopedia  . New York: Robert Appleton.
  2. Jump up^  Concilium Lateranense IV
  3. ^ Jump up to: d  Duggan, Anne. “Conciliar Law 1123-1215: The Legislation of the Four Lateran Councils”,  The History of Canon Law in the Classical Period, 1140-1234: From Gratian to the Decretals of Pope Gregory IX  , (Wilfried Hartmann and Kenneth Pennington, eds.) (History of Medieval Canon Law, Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2008) 318-366
  4. ^ Jump up to: c  Pennington, Kenneth. “The Fourth Lateran Council, its Legislation, and the Development of Legal Procedure”, CUA
  5. Jump up^   Walker, Greg (1993-05-01). “Heretical Sects in Pre-Reformation England” .  History Today  . Retrieved 2017-05-30 .   – via HighBeam(subscription required)
  6. ^ Jump up to: b   The Albigensian Crusade and heresy  , Bernard Hamilton,  The New Cambridge Medieval History: Volume 5, C.1198-c.1300  , ed. Rosamond McKitterick, David Abulafia, (Cambridge University Press, 1999), 169.
  7. Jump up^  Beginning Firmer credimus and simpliciter confitemur,  textin Henricius Denzinger and Iohannes Bapt. Umberg, SJ (1937), Enchiridion Symbolorum, Definitionum and Declarationum by Rebus Fidei and Morum ,Freiburg im Breisgau: Herder, Canon 1, # 428-430, pp. 199-200.
  8. ^ Jump up to: c  Jarvis Matthew OP. “Councils of Faith” . Order of Preachers .
  9. Jump up^  At That Time this Referred at least Chiefly to the parish priest. However, it is now called “priest with faculties”, specifically the authority to hear the respective penitent’s confession. This authority is now more broadly distributed among priests.
  10. ^ Jump up to: b  Abercrombie, N., Hill, S., & Turner, BS (1986). Sovereign individuals of capitalism. London: Allen & Unwin.
  11. Jump up^  Fourth Lateran Council, Canon 50
  12. ^ Jump up to: c  Gottheil, Richard and Vogelstein, Hermann. “Church councils”, Jewish Encyclopedia

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