The Ecumenical Councils
CHAPTER II. THE MEDIEVAL COUNCILS OF THE WESTERN CHURCH
1. The Reformers and Roman Synods 47
2. The Four Councils of the Lateran (1123, 1139, 1179, 1215) and the First Council of Lyons (1245) 51
3. The Abortive Union at the Second Council of Lyons 57
4. The General Council of Vienne and the Suppression of the Templars (1311, 1312) 62
1. THE REFORMISTS AND THE ROMAN SYNODS
The Photianist Council of 879-80 was the last synod held in the East to which the Roman See sent legates. In order to guarantee peace between the Western and Eastern Churches, the same synod voted a canon confirming to each Church her own usages, and this seemed to be favourable ground on which good relations between the two Churches could develop. In reality, the peace between Constantinople and Rome was not disturbed in the following period and the right of appeal to Rome, as the highest tribunal in disciplinary matters, was recognized in Byzantium also in the tenth century. The Emperor Leo Vi’s appeal to the pope on Patriarch Nicholas Mysticus’ refusal to allow his fourth marriage should be interpreted in this sense, and possibly the request of the Emperor Romanus Lecapenus for papal confirmation of the election of his young son Theophylactus to patriarchal dignity.
In spite of this, however, the two Churches were growing further apart. The restoration of the Western Roman Empire by the Saxon King Otto I (962) and his successors, who appointed their own popes, brought to a definite end Byzantine influence in Rome and increased the estrangement. At that time, also, the unwelcome effects of the introduction of Germanic features into Church organization were becoming increasingly apparent in the West. The Germanic tribes had a different
concept of ownership from the Romans and the Greeks, and being unable to conceive of any property being vested in a society or organization, they continued to regard the churches as the property of the founders, who also claimed the prerogative of appointing the priests. This system of proprietary churches extended to abbeys and bishoprics, and the abuses which accompanied this practice—simony, investiture by laymen, married priests—were responsible for the sad decadence of the Western Church in the tenth century.
Moreover, the idea of priest-king found its way from the East to the West and the combination of Germanic ideology and Romano-Byzantine theocracy gave the Western princes almost absolute control over the Churches and the hierarchy in their realms. This also influenced the development of conciliar practice in the West. The synods of the bishops were transformed into national assemblies presided over by the kings. Not only bishops, but also the lords participated, and not only Church affairs, but also measures serving the interests of the State were debated. In the Frankish Kingdom the decisions of the assemblies were published as “orders of the ruler” (capitularia). Besides the Frankish assemblies, the eighteen Spanish synods of Toledo convoked from 589 to 702 by the Visigothic kings who had been converted from Arianism to Catholicism, are the most important.
National interest superseded that of the universal Church, and this explains why neither the pope nor the Emperor succeeded in summoning a general synod.
In order to save Western Christianity from becoming a conglomerate of national Churches ruled by kings and princes, zealous reformers from Lorraine and Burgundy advocated strengthening the power of the papacy and gave the fullest definition to the idea of the Roman primacy. During the reign of Leo IX (1049-54) the reform movement also reached Rome, and it was from among the reformers that the pope chose his envoys to Constantinople in an effort to reach an understanding with the Emperor against their common enemy, the Normans, who had occupied southern Italy.
Unfortunately, instead of achieving a rapprochement between Rome and Constantinople, the negotiations, conducted by the papal legates in Constantinople, ended in a rupture. The responsibility for this should be attributed, not only to the haughty and ambitious Patriarch Michael Cerularius and his dislike of the Latins, but also to political complications with the Normans, and to the impetuous leader of the papal legates, Cardinal Humbertus. In his missives and in the excommunication bull placed on the altar in St Sophia in 1054, the overzealous cardinal disclosed to the Byzantines all the ideas of the reformists. He placed all the bishops directly and immediately under the only supreme head, the pope, accused the Greeks of heresy because they allowed their priests to marry, and also because they left the Filioque out of the Creed, thus showing poor knowledge of Byzantine customs and of Church history. The Easterners were shocked by these accusations that implied the denial of their autonomous position, and so it happened that the action of 1054, although directed only against the person of the patriarch, became a landmark indicating the separation of the Eastern Churches from the Western.
On the other hand, the activity of the reformists had a most salutary effect on the development of Western Christianity. The growth of the prestige of the papacy affected the conciliar idea. From the third century onwards, the popes were accustomed to gather their Roman clergy and Italian bishops in synods whenever there was an important matter to be discussed. The popes were the instigators and masters of these assemblies and the decisions of such synods deeply influenced Church life in the whole of the West. However, when the papacy had concluded its alliance with the Franks, the representatives of the Frankish kings appeared at these synods with the Frankish bishops. The decadence of the Carolingian Empire gave back to the popes their freedom and this is particularly evident in the synods convoked by Nicholas I. The influence of German emperors at the Roman synods was strengthened after the restoration of the Western Roman Empire by Otto I (962), and
was particularly marked during the reign of Henry III, who put an end to the schism in Rome (1046) and installed one of the reformists, Leo IX, in the Roman see. The reformists, although enhancing the importance of the Roman synods in which they proclaimed their ideas on the liberation of the Church from lay interference, were opposed to any influence of the emperors on these synods and on ecclesiastical affairs.
They succeeded in eliminating this interference under Gregory VII (1073-85), who, in his determination to break the dangerous Germanic system of proprietary churches and to end the influence of monarchs and lords on ecclesiastical affairs, entered into a violent conflict with the Emperor Henry IV. Thus started the so-called Investiture contest about the rights of the Church to appoint bishops and abbots and on the feudal claims of the princes who conferred lands and privileges on the appointed hierarchs.
In his Dictatus Papae, Gregory VII set out his programme of reform, claiming the right to depose the emperors and to absolve his subjects from obedience to bad rulers. Among these claims, which amounted to a proclamation of the superiority of spiritual power over the temporal, is the declaration that the pope alone has the right to convoke a General Council. This was directed against Henry IV and his supporters who, basing their claim on the theory of the priestly character of the kingship, reserved to the Emperor the right of convoking a General Council.
Gregory’s zeal for Church reform prompted him to invite to his Roman synods bishops and also abbots, not only from Italy, but from France, Germany, and Spain, from Poland and Bohemia, and other countries. Many of them participated in his synods which were gradually acquiring a more universal character. The invited princes and lords, however, had no influence on synodal decisions, but their presence enhanced the growing prestige of the papacy. No wonder that Gregory was the first pope who planned, for the year 1083, a General Council of all Western Christianity, but the occupation of Rome by Henry IV’s army shattered his plan.
2. THE COUNCILS OF THE LATERAN (1123, 1139, 1179,1215) AND THE FIRST COUNCIL OF LYONS (1245)
During the reign of Gregory’s successors, the papal synods continued to be held outside Rome, as the city was occupied by the imperial anti-pope, Clement VI. This contributed to the popularity of synodal practice in Italy and in France. The most famous of these synods were those of Piacenza and of Clermont, held in 1095. Although the latter is called a general synod, it was really only a synod of Gaul under papal presidency. The response of the French knights to Urban II's call to a Crusade to liberate the Holy Land proved that the reformed papacy was the uncontested leader of Western Christianity. The pope’s invitation to help the Greeks against the Turks makes clear, at the same time, that the idea of reunion with the East was his foremost consideration.
The Lateran synod of 1112, at which Pope Paschal II, at the demand of the bishops, was forced to cancel the privilege of investiture with ring and crozier before the candidates’ consecration, conceded by him to the Emperor Henry V the year before, manifested how much support the popes had gained outside Germany, and especially in France. This was even more apparent at the Lateran synod of 1116, when 427 participants— bishops, abbots and noble laymen—excommunicated Henry V.
This presaged the final victory of the papacy in the Investiture Contest. It was sealed by the conclusion of the Concordat of Worms in 1122, at which the Emperor Henry V renounced his claims to investiture with ring and crozier, contenting himself with the presentation of the sceptre, symbolizing the acceptance by the candidate of feudal obligations connected with the lands and privileges conferred on him by the Emperor. In order to express the relief felt by Western Christianity, now that the long struggle with temporal power was ended, the pope assembled a General Council to confirm the agreement. The Council met in the Lateran in 1123, probably between March 18th and April 6th. Over 300 bishops and many abbots are said to have come to the synod from all parts of the West.
Unfortunately, no Acts of the synod were preserved. Some of
the twenty-five canons prohibited simony and extended privileges and protection to the crusaders and their families. Pope Paschal II had only intended to convoke a major synod of the West, but because this synod marked the beginning of a new era in the relations between Church and State and because of the great number of participants from the West, in later tradition it was given an ecumenical character and is called by Western canonists the Ninth Ecumenical Council.
The end of the schism in Rome resulting from a double election in 1130 gave Pope Innocent II the idea of convoking another “plenary” synod at the Lateran in 1139, after the death of the anti-pope Anacletus II. The great number of prelates from all the West—the chroniclers speak of 500 and even 1,000 participants—shows how popular the practice of General Councils had become. Besides bishops, many abbots and noble laymen were present.
The Council, opened on April 4th, lasted to the end of the month and the Fathers deposed all supporters of the anti-pope. Most of the thirty canons voted by the Council were inspired by the ideas of the Gregorian reform. Canon seven declared that the marriage of a monk or of a clergyman, after reception of the subdiaconate, and hitherto regarded as illicit, was invalid. Canon 28 which confirmed to the members of the cathedral chapters the privilege of episcopal elections, enhanced the importance of these chapters in the medieval Church. For the first time, a Western General Council found it necessary to condemn certain heretical movements. Unfortunately, only the canons voted by the council are preserved.
In spite of the hopes which the confirmation of the Concordat of Worms by the First Lateran Council had evoked, the struggle between the spiritual and temporal power was reopened by the Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa. Frederick revived the tradition of royal theocracy initiated by Charlemagne and defended passionately the divine origin of secular power and its ascendancy over the spiritual. He succeeded in gaining a complete hold over the German Church and in securing his royal rights against the German princes.
His attempts to re-establish imperial authority in Lombardy and the rest of Italy were thwarted by the resistance of the papacy and the expanding Lombard cities. Frederick tried in vain to break the opposition of Pope Alexander III (1159-81) by establishing three successive anti-popes. At last, defeated by the Lombard League, Frederick renounced his imperial pretensions over Italy, abandoned his last anti-pope and returned all confiscated Church property. The peace, concluded at Venice in 1177, was to be confirmed by a new General Council of the Western Church, the Third Lateran, counted as the; Eleventh Ecumenical Council.
For the first time, an incomplete official fist of the bishops present at a Western General Council is preserved. It contains 291 names, mostly from Italy, but also from France, Germany, Spain, England, Scotland, Ireland and the Latin Near East. Besides many abbots, the representatives of many rulers were also present.
Again, no Acts of the three sessions, held from March 5th to 19th, 1179, are preserved. Several of the twenty-seven canons accepted by the Fathers are still valid. In order to avoid another double election, the Council completed the rule decreed by Nicholas II at the Roman synod of 1059, which gave the electoral rights to the college of cardinals, with the stipulation that a two-thirds majority of votes was required for a valid election. Another canon, which declares that no person should be consecrated bishop who had not reached thirty years of age, is also still valid. Besides numerous disciplinary canons, some measures were voted for the protection of the Crusaders. The Albigensian and other heresies were condemned and armed interventions against them were given the character of Crusades.
The Third Lateran Council marks a certain progress in the development of the conciliar idea. It was better prepared and, for the first time, the example of the “Fathers of old” is stressed. The disappearance of the regular Roman synods—their functions having been taken over by the papal consistory—enhanced the importance of general synods convoked by the popes. However, although the three Lateran Councils are called
General Synods in the papal letters of convocation, they represent only the first step towards a true General Council, the Fourth Lateran, convoked by Innocent III in 1215 “according to the ancient custom of the ancient Fathers”.
These words express the intention of the pope to convoke a truly Ecumenical Council of equal rank to the first Eastern Ecumenical Councils. In reality, Innocent III not only ordered all the Western bishops to attend or to send a representative, he addressed himself also to the Latin prelates of the Near East, to the Armenians, Maronites and to the schismatic Greeks. Heads of major Orders were invited and representatives of the Christian laity. The objects of the deliberations were also of general interest to Christianity—the purity of faith and morals and a new Crusade.
The number of the participants at the Council was imposing. Among the 404 bishops were prelates from Bohemia, Poland, Hungary, Livonia and Estonia, countries which had, so far, never been represented at a council. Besides the abbots, about 800 representatives of Chapters were also present, invited for the first time to participate. The Emperor Frederick II, kings and many cities were represented by envoys.
In spite of his efforts, Innocent III did not succeed in persuading the Greeks to attend. Only the Latin patriarchs of the East were represented. However, two of the seventy canons prepared by the pope and accepted by the Council, dealt with Greek affairs. Canon four forbade the rebaptism of Latins by the Greeks and canon five confirmed the decrees of the Second and Fourth Ecumenical Councils which gave second place, after the pope, to the patriarch of Constantinople. From 1204, after the capture of Constantinople by the Latin crusaders, the patriarchal see of that city was in the hands of the Latins. 
Canon 21, obliging every Catholic to yearly confession and
1. However, already canon twenty-one of the Ignatian Council of 869-70 gave precedence to the Patriarch of Constantinople before Eastern Patriarchs, and Hadrian II did not repudiate it. Also some Italian collections of canon law from the tenth and eleventh centuries give to the Patriarch of Constantinople the second rank.
Holy Communion during Easter time, is still valid. Other canons laid down the procedure to be followed during the vacancy of bishoprics, stressed the appointment of preachers and teachers to metropolitan churches and restricted the obstacles to a valid marriage. Decisions regulating the political development of Europe were made, illustrating the height of the prestige the papacy had reached during the reign of Innocent III. Frederick II was confirmed in the imperial dignity, and the Magna Charta, “extorted by force and dread” by the nobles, was condemned at the request of John of England, and Toulouse, infected with Albigenses (Cathars), was made over to Simon de Montfort.
In one way, the Council followed the example of the first ecumenical synods. Its first canon is a profession of faith directed against the heresies of the Albigenses (Cathars) and the Waldenses, emphasizing the Church’s doctrine on the Trinity and the Sacraments, and giving, for the first time, ecclesiastical sanction to the term “transubstantiation” of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. Unfortunately, no Acts of the three meetings, held on November 11th, 20th and 30th, are preserved.
The Crusade directed against Egypt, which was to be financed by a levy of twenty per cent, on the income of the clergy for three years, though well-prepared, ended in disaster.
Frederick II’s father, Henry VI, had planned to rebuild the Mediterranean Empire of ancient Rome, based on Sicily— which he had inherited from the Normans—embracing Italy, Syria, Palestine and even Constantinople. His sudden death gave Innocent III a welcome opportunity as supreme head of Christianity and “Vicar of Christ” to dispose of the imperial crown. The claim that the papacy was supreme over all things, spiritual and temporal, was however soon challenged by Frederick II, who began to follow in the steps of his father.
His attempts to unite Italy with Sicily and Germany and to introduce an absolutist regime in Italy again endangered the existence of the papal state. Pope Gregory X made an alliance with the Lombard cities and, using his spiritual powers, excommunicated Frederick, thus releasing his subjects from
allegiance to the Emperor. The anti-imperial campaign in Germany failed, and only an appeal to Western Christianity made in a General Council seemed to promise success. But the General Council convoked in 1240 was frustrated by the emperor, who forbade the Germans to attend, gave instructions to stop all those on their way to the Council and ordered his fleet to capture the Genoese vessels which were carrying over one hundred bishops to it. The Emperor’s army was standing at the gates of Rome when Gregory IX died in 1241.
Frederick II was the last Western Emperor to come under the spell of the old Roman and Byzantine ideas of kingship. In this spirit he allowed himself to be called “Vicar of Christ,” “image of God,” “saviour,” “divine,” and “holy,” and also claimed the right, once exercised by Byzantine emperors, to convoke an Ecumenical Council. This was the last echo of such claims to sound in the West.
However, it was a General Council convoked by the pope which broke the backbone of Frederick’s pretensions. When the Emperor learned that Innocent IV intended to follow the determined policy of Gregory IX, he kept the pope in isolation, and surrounded his residence with troops. The pope succeeded in escaping to his native city of Genoa and convoked a General Council in Lyons. In spite of the Emperor’s effort to deter the bishops from attending, about 150 of them, mainly from France and Spain, and a few from England, Italy and Germany, gathered in Lyons on June 28th, 1245. In his inaugural address, the pope spoke of the five sorrows which afflicted him, comparing them to the five wounds of our Lord. These were the signs of demoralization amongst the clergy, the growing Mohammedan danger after the loss of Jerusalem (1244), the threat to the Latin Empire by the Greek advance towards Constantinople, the Mongolian invasion which had destroyed Hungary, and the persecutions of the Church by Frederick II, who was accused of heresy and sacrilege.
Frederick II sent the Sicilian Thaddaeus of Suessa to the Council, who defended his lord against the papal accusations, but was unable to find an excuse for the Emperor’s high-handed
action against the bishops on their way to the Council in 1240. The case against the Emperor was continued on July 5th and Frederick’s advocate secured a delay of twelve days in order to collect evidence in favour of his client.
In the following session, the Fathers deliberated on purely ecclesiastical matters. They confirmed the reform of the ecclesiastical lawsuit in which the pope, himself an experienced canonist, was particularly interested. Other canons contained recommendations for better defence against further Mongol invasions, for the recapture of the Holy Places, aid to the Latin Empire, and certain disciplinary statutes against current abuses.
At the third session of July 17th, the Council sanctioned all the measures proposed in the twenty-two canons or “chapters” and continued the case against the Emperor. Frederick was accused of perjury, suspicion of heresy, sacrilege, and cruelty towards both clergy and laymen alike. The pope proposed to excommunicate him afresh and to depose him. The majority of the bishops signed the decree of deposition. Frederick’s subjects were released from their allegiance to him and the Prince-Electors were invited to choose a new king and Emperor. This severe measure inaugurated the final downfall of the Hohenstaufen dynasty. It is one of the greatest triumphs of the medieval papacy.
The First Council of Lyons, the Thirteenth Ecumenical Council on the conciliar list of Western canonists, also has a certain importance in the history of Western canon law. Innocent IV, a former professor of canon law at Bologna, recommended the canons of this council to the professors of canon law at the universities. He added eleven of his own decrees and incorporated them all into his collection of canon law, published in 1253.
3. THE ABORTIVE UNION AT THE SECOND COUNCIL OF LYONS (1274)
The decadence of the Hohenstaufen dynasty enabled the Church to pass through a dangerous crisis without great harm. The long vacancy of the Roman See lasted from November 29th,
1268, the death of Pope Clement IV, to September, 1271, when the quarrelling cardinals, forced by public opinion, had at last elected Tedaldo Visconti. The new pope, Gregory X, was well acquainted with the situation in the Near East. The news of his elevation reached him in Akkon, the last fortress in Palestine still in Latin hands. It was to be expected that the intelligent, zealous and pious pope would direct his efforts to the improvement of Church interests in the East.
The union of Churches had always been one of the foremost preoccupations of the papacy. This was intimately connected in Urban II's mind with the idea of a Crusade, which he initiated. Unfortunately, the regrettable incidents which took place during this and other Crusades further alienated the Greeks from the Latins. The Fourth Crusade ended with the conquest of Constantinople (1204) and the foundation of the Latin Empire. The atrocities perpetrated by the Latins in the conquered city and the desecration of Greek sanctuaries further widened the gap between Latins and Greeks.
It was in 1204 that the schism—so far latent—was definitely consummated, which explains why all the attempts at reunion previously made by Innocent III and his successors had failed. Gregory X, undismayed by these failures, was determined to make a new attempt and the political situation seemed more favourable. The Greeks, having recovered from the blow, started an offensive against the Latins from their base at Nicaea in Asia Minor, and in 1261 Emperor Michael VIII Palaeologus reconquered Constantinople. Although successful in the extension of his empire, he was well aware of the dangers threatening him from the new ruler of Sicily and Southern Italy, Charles of Anjou, brother of the French king, St Louis IX. In order to frustrate Charles’ plans for a reconquest of Constantinople, he began to negotiate with Rome, promising union and help in the recapture of the Holy Places, two of the main preoccupations of the papacy.
But not content with promises, Gregory X made it clear to the Emperor that he could not restrain Charles and his allies in their hostile policy towards the Greeks, unless the Emperor
made a decisive step towards reunion. Faced with no alternative, Michael Paleologus promised to send a delegation to the Council and was able to persuade some of his hierarchy to accept the union.
The pope again chose Lyons as the most appropriate place, as he could expect the much needed help for the reconquest of Jerusalem only from lands on the western side of the Alps. Letters of invitation were sent to the Western hierarchy in April 1273, to chapters, abbots and princes. Besides the Emperor Michael and his patriarch, the leader (Catholicos) of the Armenians and the Mongolian Khan were invited.
Over two hundred bishops responded to the invitation, and the number present, including abbots and procurators, is evaluated by contemporary chronicles at over one thousand. It was the most imposing assembly since that of the Fourth Lateran Council. Unfortunately, St Thomas Aquinas, asked by the pope to bring with him his treatise in which he rejected the errors of the Greeks, died on his way to Lyons.
In his opening address on May 7th, 1274, the pope disclosed that the main objects of conciliar deliberations would be the organization of a new Crusade, reunion with the Greeks, and the reform of the Church. The pope presided, but he entrusted the moderatorship of the debates to St Bonaventure of the Friars Minor, recently made a cardinal. He, however, died in Lyons on July 15th. The first and second sessions were devoted to the planning of a new Crusade. The pope succeeded in obtaining the consent of the prelates to contribute a tenth of their income to the enterprise for six years.
On June 24th the representatives of the Byzantine Emperor arrived—the former patriarch Germ anus, Theophanes, metropolitan of Nicaea, the chancellor George Acropolites and two other dignitaries. On the feast of SS. Peter and Paul, during the Mass celebrated by the pope, the Nicene Creed was sung 'with the Filioque in Latin and in Greek. In this way, the Greeks accepted the Filioque, but were permitted to continue using their own text of the Creed without this addition. The union was proclaimed rather hastily, without long discussions, at the fourth
session, on July 6th. The imperial representatives signed a creed expressing recognition of the primacy, the Filioque, belief in purgatory, and in seven Sacraments. The pope intoned the Te Deum in thanksgiving to God and in a discourse stressed the importance of this achievement.
The fifth and sixth sessions on July 16th and 17th were devoted to debates on Church reform. One of the most important canons is the second, regulating the procedure concerning papal elections. In order to prevent long vacancies, such as happened before the election of Gregory X, it was stated that within ten days of the death of the pope, the cardinals must convene and proceed to the election in strict isolation from outside (conclave). If the election was not made in three days, their food supply should be curtailed and five days after that, they should be given only bread and water. During the conclave, the electors should not touch any income from ecclesiastical benefices. These regulations, with some modification, are still observed in papal elections.
Gregory X, a saintly man who has been beatified, took the problem of Church reform very seriously. Before convoking the Council, he asked the bishops for their recommendations in this respect. Only three of these proposals are preserved, one by the famous General of the Dominicans, Humbert de Romanis, another by the Bishop of Olomouc (Olmiitz) in Moravia, and a third by an unknown author. Thirty-one disciplinary canons were voted to prevent current abuses. Canon 23 touched on a delicate problem, namely, the jealousy in cities between the Mendicant Orders and the secular clergy.
As at the Fourth Lateran Council, some political problems were solved at Lyons, illustrating once more the prestige of the papacy in the thirteenth century. The pope again intervened in the struggle for the imperial crown, proclaiming himself as a supporter of Rudolf of Habsburg thus inducing his rival, Alfonso of Castile, to abandon his claim. The King of Aragon, James I, the only monarch present at the Council, was not given the honour of being crowned by the pope, as he refused to become a vassal of the Holy See, a condition required of him
by the pope. Among other political affairs, the proposal of the Mongol Khan to form an alliance against the Egyptian Mamluks who were on good terms with the Byzantine Emperor, was rejected, although the pope was eager to keep up his friendly relationship with the Khan, as he was believed to be favourable to the Christians. It should be stressed that the canons voted by the Council were approved by the pope only after he made some additions and changes.
It was not Gregory’s responsibility that the achievements of the Council, regarded as gigantic by his contemporaries, did not last. The Crusade, so well prepared by him, could not be organized in time. Before help could come, Akkon, in 1291, the last place in Christian hands in the Near East, fell into the hands of the Turks.
The union with the Greeks, concluded for political reasons, was accepted by only a minority of the Greek clergy. Nevertheless, it had some chance of survival for it found staunch supporters in the new patriarch John Yeccos and his followers. Unfortunately, memories of the Latin occupation were still too fresh in Greek minds, and the Emperor himself compromised the union by his harshness towards its adversaries. Moreover, the intemperate demands of Gregory X’s successors injured Greek national feeling. Martin IV (1281-5) completely abandoned Gregory’s policy and supported the plans for the conquest of Byzantium prepared by Charles of Anjou and his allies, broke with Michael VIII, declared him schismatic and deposed him. Michael VIII thwarted the disaster which menaced him by inducing Peter III of Aragon to invade Sicily, and raised a revolt which ended in the bloodbath of Charles’ supporters in the famous Sicilian Vespers.
The reaction in Greece against Michael VIII’s religious policy was so violent that he was denied a decent burial. His successor, Andronicus II (1282-1328), in order to curry favour with his subjects, became the leader of the anti-Latin movement, and was excommunicated in 1307 by Clement V.
The Council of Lyons failed also to win back to Rome the Serbians and the Bulgarians. Their rulers had asked Innocent III
for royal crowns and both countries, in spite of some reverses, continued to maintain relations with Rome. But as these countries were supporting Charles of Anjou, the astute Michael VIII proposed to suppress the patriarchate of Bulgaria and the autonomous archbishopric of Serbia, and their submission to the patriarchate of Constantinople. He argued shrewdly that both were created without the pope’s consent. The erection of these autonomous bodies curtailed the rights of Ochrida, heir of Justiniana Prima, founded by the Emperor Justinian with the consent of Pope Vigilius. The Latins were completely deceived by this astute move and the pope lost any possibility of a renewal of the union with Serbia and Bulgaria.
4. THE GENERAL COUNCIL OF VIENNE AND THE SUPPRESSION OF THE TEMPLARS (1311, 1312)
The downfall of the Hohenstaufen dynasty in Germany and in Sicily, followed by a long interregnum, made the lofty imperial title almost meaningless. It seemed that only the papacy was capable of realizing the idea of political universality which had been so intimately connected with the Roman Empire. Very soon, however, papal theocratic claims were challenged by another secular ruler, the king of France. During the struggles of the papacy with the emperors, the French kings had consolidated their monarchy and laid a solid basis for a well-organized state. Thus, France reached its medieval golden age under St Louis IX (1226-70), whose brother Charles, after accepting the crown of Sicily from the pope, was bold enough to conceive the grandiose plan of a revival of the Latin Empire in the East.
France’s leading position in the West became manifest under Philip IV the Fair (1285-1314). The latter had the highest conception of his royal power. His ideas on the absolute authority of a ruler and on an autonomous state, independent of spiritual power, were elaborated by his legists on the basis of Roman law and successfully propagated in France. So it happened that when Philip IV defied Boniface VIII’s prohibition
against taxation of the clergy, he found support in French public opinion. When, however, Boniface published his famous Bull Unam Sanctam (1302) in which he set out, quite uncompromisingly, his claim to superiority over all national states and rulers, Philip protested vehemently, launched the most absurd accusations against the pope, ordered his arrest, and threatened him with judgement by a council in France. Death saved Boniface from further humiliations.
Not satisfied with the concessions granted by Boniface’s successor, Benedict XI (1303-4), Philip obtained, after the latter’s death, the election of a Frenchman, Clement V (1305-14), but he continued to threaten the pope with the opening of a process against the memory of Boniface VIII. As the new pope preferred to stay in France, finally choosing Avignon for his residence, he and his successors were strongly influenced by the French kings, during this so-called Babylonian captivity (up to the year 1376).
The threat of opening a process against Boniface prompted Clement V to grant the king a very costly concession, namely, the suppression of the Knights Templars, a most important military Order. Philip probably saw in the Templars a possible danger to his position in France, where the Order disposed of great wealth and could muster fifteen thousand knights in case of emergency. During the king’s controversy with Boniface VIII, the Templars appeared to be on the side of the pope. Moreover, the confiscation of the Order’s property seemed to be the most satisfactory answer to Philip’s constant need of money.
As a pretext for his action against the Templars Philip used the rumours common among the people, of pagan and immoral practices in the Order, probably caused by the extreme secrecy observed by the Templars in their meetings and proceedings. The rumours were mostly untrue, though some members may have given grounds for suspicion because of their immoral behaviour. Philip allowed his informers to disclose the accusations to the inquisitor and, on the latter’s demand, he gave the order to arrest all French Templars. He then presented to the
pope their confessions, extorted by torture, requesting the suppression of the Order. The pope, placed in jeopardy, decreed the arrest of all Templars, and appointed a special tribunal to examine the accusations. At last, in order to avert the threat of a process against the memory of Boniface VIII, he consented to the convocation of a council at Vienne, after having heard the confessions of some of the Templars at Poitiers, where he had met the king in 1308.
Because of the procrastination of the investigations inaugurated by the tribunal, the pope postponed the council till October 1st, 1311. Among the 132 bishops, mostly French and Italian, were prelates from Spain, England, Ireland and Germany, which gave the council an ecumenical character. Besides the 38 abbots present, many bishops and abbots sent their procurators as representatives.
The pope announced as the main objects of the discussions the affair of the Knights Templars, dogmatic questions, Church reform and the reconquest of Palestine. Adopting a new procedure, he created several committees which were ordered to prepare material for the plenary sessions in which the final decisions would be made. The examination of the affair of the Templars met with difficulties. In the December session, the majority of the bishops voted against the abolition as they found the evidence of the Order’s guilt insufficient. Under pressure from the king, Clement V chose a middle way, issuing a Bull in which he declared the suppression of the Order, not by penal sentence, but as a “provision”, ordered by the Supreme Pontiff, solicitous for the general good of the Church. The Bull was read and officially accepted by the Council during the second session on April 3rd, 1312. The rich properties of the Order were to be transferred to the Order of St John or other military Orders still to be founded. In spite of this decision, the king kept a great part of the property for himself.
The organization of a new Crusade was confined to the private negotiations of the pope with secular rulers. Although certain rulers had made vague promises, and although a tithe for six years was imposed on all churches, it was evident that the idea
of a Crusade had lost its attraction. No practical result was achieved.
Among the questions concerning Church reform, the most important was the ending of the bitter controversy dividing the Order of Friars Minor into two hostile camps. The radical minority of the Friars, called Spirituals (later Fraticelli), was giving the strictest interpretation to their vow of poverty, accusing the majority of having abandoned the ideals of St Francis. The controversy was longstanding and called for immediate consideration, the more so as certain ideas in the writings of John Peter Oh vis, one of the leaders of the Spirituals, were regarded as heretical by their opponents.
The pope entrusted the examination of the controversy to a special committee, and confirmed its decision, which was read at the third and last session, on May 6th. The interpretation of the vow of poverty, given in the decision, coincided with that of the majority. However, a more rigorous observation of the rule was recommended in practice. Three doctrines attributed to Olivis were condemned without mentioning his name.
In the same session, other disciplinary canons were approved. Following the example of Gregory X, Clement V, when convoking the council, had invited the bishops to send him their observations. In their replies and in some of the canons prepared by the committee and read during the third session, one already observes a criticism of the abuses which were later to become the chief causes of the decadence of the Church. This was caused by the growing self-consciousness of the national states—denial of clerical immunity, restriction of other privileges —and by the papal policy of centralization. Already at the First Council of Lyons, the English barons had protested against the appointment of Italian prelates to English benefices. This practice of the papal curia in appointing to ecclesiastical offices continued in spite of complaints.
Of special interest is the eleventh canon directing that chairs for teaching Hebrew, Greek, Arabic and Chaldean should be created at the main universities. The suggestion was Raymond Lull’s, who advocated learning Arabic as the best means for the conversion of the Arabs.
Although the canon remained almost without effect as there were few teachers of Oriental languages, its acceptance indicates the growth of the missionary idea in the West. Gregory X had already hoped for the conversion of the Mongols, and Franciscan friars had penetrated into the depths of Asia in their missionary zeal. Although these hopes were not fulfilled, the missionary spirit continued to develop.
It is impossible to say with precision how many canons were accepted at the Council, as several measures proposed by the pope or by the committees were not finally drafted. Therefore, the pope established a special commission for post-conciliar work on them, reserving to himself the right to give to them definite form. The work was unfinished at Clement’s death, and Pope John XXII, probably after further revision, published them in 1317 under the name of Clementines. They were sent to the universities and became an integral part of ecclesiastical legislation.
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