History 441/541
European Reformations

Decrees of the Council of Constance

Image: Pope John XXIII (1410-1415), who was deposed at the Council of Constance

[Introductory note: This council was summoned by John XXIII with the support of the Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund. It began on 5 November 1414 in the cathedral of Constance, with many bishops from all parts of Europe. Business in the council was transacted in a way that was largely new for an ecumenical council, namely votes were cast not by Individual persons but by nations.  The council, from the very beginning, proposed the following three topics:
1. To bring unity back to the church and to make an end to the schism in the papacy, which had divided the church since 1378 and which the council held at Pisa in 1409 had not healed but rather aggravated when it elected Alexander V as a third pope. When the council of Constance opened, Christians owed obedience to three different popes: some owed obedience to Gregory XII of the Roman party others to Benedict XIII of the Avignon party, and others to John XXIII, who had been elected after the death of Alexander V. John XXIII and Benedict XIII were deposed by the council, Gregory XII voluntarily resigned. Then Martin V was elected pope on 11 November 1417 and he was regarded as the legitimate pontiff by the church as a whole.
2. To eradicate heresies, especially those spread by John Wyclif in Britain and by John Hus and Jerome of Prague in Bohemia.
3. To reform the corrupt morals of the church. This, however, was only partly accomplished in the final sessions of the council.]

Decrees on the Integrity and Authority of the Council, 26 March 1415
Conciliar Decree Haec Sancta, 6 April 1415
Condemnation of John Wyclif, 4 May 1415
Condemnation of Jan Hus, 4 July 1415
Conciliar Decree Frequens, 9 October 1417
Conciliar Decree the Manner and Form of Electing the Pope, 30 October 1417
Reform Decrees of the Council of Constance [excerpts], 23 March 1418

SESSION 1, 16 November 1414

[On the matters to be treated in the council, in which order and by which officials]

John, bishop, servant of the servants of God, for future record. Wishing to carry out those things which were decreed at the council of Pisa by our predecessor of happy memory, pope Alexander V, regarding the summoning of a new general council, we earlier convoked this present council by letters of ours, the contents of which we have ordered to be inserted here:

We have therefore come together with our venerable brothers, cardinals of the holy Roman church, and our court to this city of Constance at the appointed time. Being present here by the grace of God, we now wish, with the advice of this sacred synod, to attend to the peace, exaltation and reform of the church and to the quiet of the Christian people […]
Considering…that a council should specially treat of those matters which concern the catholic faith, according to the praiseworthy practices of the early councils, and aware that such things demand diligence, sufficient time and study, on account of their difficulty, we therefore exhort all those who are well versed in the sacred scriptures to ponder and to treat, both within themselves and with others, about those things which seem to them useful and opportune in this matter. Let them bring such things to our notice and to that of this sacred synod, as soon as they conveniently can, so that at a suitable time there may be decided what things, it seems, should be held and what repudiated for the profit and increase of the same catholic faith.
Let them especially ponder on the various errors which are said to have sprouted in certain places at various times, especially on those which are said to have arisen from a certain John called Wyclif.
 We exhort, moreover, all Catholics assembled here and others who will come to this sacred synod that they should seek to think on, to follow up and to bring to us, and to this same sacred synod, those matters by which the body of Catholics may be led, if God is willing, to a proper reformation and to the desired peace. For it is our intention and will that all who are assembled for this purpose may say, consult about and do, with complete freedom, each and all of the things that they think pertain to the above […].

SESSION 2, 2 March 1415

[John XXIII publicly offers to resign the papacy]

SESSION 3, 26 March 1415

[Decrees on the integrity and authority of the council, after the pope’s flight]

For the honor, praise and glory of the most holy Trinity, Father and Son and holy Spirit, and to obtain on earth, for people of good will, the peace that was divinely promised in God’s church, this holy synod, called the sacred general council of Constance, duly assembled here in the holy Spirit for the purpose of bringing union and reform to the said church in its head and members, discerns declares, defines and ordains as follows.
[1] First, that this synod was and is rightly and properly summoned to this city of Constance, and likewise has been rightly and properly begun and held.
[2] Next, that this sacred council has not been dissolved by the departure of our lord pope from Constance, or even by the departure of other prelates or any other persons, but continues in its integrity and authority, even if decrees to the contrary have been made or shall be made in the future.
[3] Next, that this sacred council should not and may not be dissolved until the present schism has been entirely removed and until the church has been reformed in faith and morals, in head and members.
[4] Next, that this sacred council may not be transferred to another place, except for a reasonable cause, which is to be debated and decided on by this sacred council.
[5] Next, that prelates and other persons who should be present at this council may not depart from this place before it has ended, except for a reasonable cause which is to be examined by persons who have been, or will be, deputed by this sacred council. When the reason has been examined and approved, they may depart with the permission of the person or persons in authority. When the individual departs, he is bound to give his power to others who stay, under penalty of the law, as well as to others appointed by this sacred council, and those who act to the contrary are to be prosecuted.


SESSION 5, 6 April 1415

[The decree Haec Sancta, which nullified the doctrines of papal primacy and infallibility]

In the name of the holy and undivided Trinity, Father and Son and holy Spirit. Amen. This holy synod of Constance, which is a general council, for the eradication of the present schism and for bringing unity and reform to God’s church in head and members, legitimately assembled in the holy Spirit to the praise of almighty God, ordains, defines, decrees, discerns and declares as follows, in order that this union and reform of God’s church may be obtained the more easily, securely, fruitfully and freely.
[1] First it declares that, legitimately assembled in the holy Spirit, constituting a general council and representing the catholic church militant, it has power immediately from Christ; and that everyone of whatever state or dignity, even papal, is bound to obey it in those matters which pertain to the faith, the eradication of the said schism and the general reform of the said church of God in head and members.
[2] Next, it declares that anyone of whatever condition, state or dignity, even papal, who contumaciously refuses to obey the past or future mandates, statutes, ordinances or precepts of this sacred council or of any other legitimately assembled general council, regarding the aforesaid things or matters pertaining to them, shall be subjected to well-deserved penance, unless he repents, and shall be duly punished, even by having recourse, if necessary, to other supports of the law.
[3] Next, the said holy synod defines and ordains that the lord pope John XXIII may not move or transfer the Roman curia and its public offices, or its or their officials, from the city of Constance to another place, nor directly or indirectly compel the said officials to follow him, without the deliberation and consent of the same holy synod. If he has acted to the contrary in the past, or shall in the future, or if he has in the past, is now or shall in the future fulminate any processes or mandates or ecclesiastical censures or any other penalties, against the said officials or any other adherents of this sacred council, to the effect that they should follow him, then all is null and void and in no way are the said processes, censures and penalties to be obeyed, inasmuch as they are null and void. The said officials are rather to exercise their offices in the said city of Constance, and to carry them out freely as before, as long as this holy synod h being held in the said City.
[4] Next, that all translations of prelates, or depositions of the same, or of any other beneficed persons, officials and administrators, revocations of commendams and gifts, admonitions, ecclesiastical censures, processes, sentences and whatever has been or will be done or accomplished by the aforesaid lord pope John or his officials or commissaries, since the beginning of this council, to the injury of the said council or its adherents, against the supporters or participants of this sacred council, or to the prejudice of them or of any one of them, in whatever way they may have been or shall be made or done, against the will of the persons concerned, are by this very fact, on the authority of this sacred council, null, quashed, invalid and void, and of no effect or moment, and the council by its authority quashes, invalidates and annuls them.
[5] Next, it declares that the lord pope John XXIII and all the prelates and other persons summoned to this sacred council, and other participants in the same synod, have enjoyed and do now enjoy full freedom, as has been apparent in the said sacred council, and the opposite has not been brought to the notice of the said summoned persons or of the said council. The said sacred council testifies to this before God and people.


SESSION 8, 4 May 1415

[Sentence condemning various articles of John Wyclif]

We learn from the writings and deeds of the holy fathers that the catholic faith without which (as the Apostle says) it is impossible to please God , has often been attacked by false followers of the same faith, or rather by perverse assailants, and by those who, desirous of the world’s glory, are led on by proud curiosity to know more than they should; and that it has been defended against such persons by the church’s faithful spiritual knights armed with the shield of faith. Indeed these kinds of wars were prefigured in the physical wars of the Israelite people against idolatrous nations. Therefore in these spiritual wars the holy catholic church, illuminated in the truth of faith by the rays of light from above and remaining ever spotless through the Lord’s providence and with the help of the patronage of the saints, has triumphed most gloriously over the darkness of error as over profligate enemies. In our times, however, that old and jealous foe has stirred up new conflicts so that the approved ones of this age may be made manifest. Their leader and prince was that pseudo-Christian John Wyclif. He stubbornly asserted and taught many articles against the Christian religion and the catholic faith while he was alive […].

[The Heresies of John Wyclif]

1. The material substance of bread, and similarly the material substance of wine, remain in the sacrament of the altar.
2. The accidents of bread do not remain without their subject in the said sacrament.
3. Christ is not identically and really present in the said sacrament in his own bodily persona.
4. If a bishop or a priest is in mortal sin, he does not ordain or confect or consecrate or baptise.
5. That Christ instituted the mass has no basis in the gospel.
6. God ought to obey the devil.
7. If a person is duly contrite, all exterior confession is superfluous and useless for him.
8. If a pope is foreknown as damned and is evil, and is therefore a limb of the devil, he does not have authority over the faithful given to him by anyone, except perhaps by the emperor.
9. Nobody should be considered as pope after Urban VI. Rather, people should live like the Greeks, under their own laws.
10. It is against sacred scripture for ecclesiastics to have possessions.
11. No prelate should excommunicate anyone unless he first knows that the person has been excommunicated by God; he who does so thereby becomes a heretic and an excommunicated person.
12. A prelate excommunicating a cleric who has appealed to the king or the king’s council is thereby a traitor to the king and the kingdom.
13. Those who stop preaching or hearing the word of God on account of an excommunication issued by men are themselves excommunicated and will be regarded as traitors of Christ on the day of judgment.
14. It is lawful for any deacon or priest to preach the word of God without authorisation from the apostolic see or from a catholic bishop.
15. Nobody is a civil lord or a prelate or a bishop while he is in mortal sin.
16. Secular lords can confiscate temporal goods from the church at their discretion when those who possess them are sinning habitually, that is to say sinning from habit and not just in particular acts.
17. The people can correct sinful lords at their discretion.
18. Tithes are purely alms, and parishioners can withhold them at will on account of their prelates’ sins.
19. Special prayers applied by prelates or religious to a particular person avail him or her no more than general prayers, if other things are equal.
20. Whoever gives alms to friars is thereby excommunicated.
21. Whoever enters any religious order whatsoever, whether it be of the possessioners or the mendicants, makes himself less apt and suitable for the observance of God’s commands.
22. Saints who have founded religious orders have sinned in so doing.
23. Members of religious orders are not members of the christian religion.
24. Friars are bound to obtain their food by manual work and not by begging.
25. All are simoniacs who bind themselves to pray for people who help them in temporal matters.
26. The prayer of someone foreknown as damned profits nobody.
27. All things happen from absolute necessity.
28. Confirming the young, ordaining clerics and consecrating places have been reserved to the pope and bishops because of their greed for temporal gain and honour.
29. Universities, places of study, colleges, degrees and academic exercises in these institutions were introduced by a vain pagan spirit and benefit the church as little as does the devil.
30. Excommunication by a pope or any prelate is not to be feared since it is a censure of antichrist.
31. Those who found religious houses sin, and those who enter them belong to the devil.
32. It is against Christ’s command to enrich the clergy.
33. Pope Silvester and the emperor Constantine erred in endowing the church.
34. All the members of mendicant orders are heretics, and those who give them alms are excommunicated.
35. Those who enter a religious or other order thereby become incapable of observing God’s commands, and consequently of reaching the kingdom of heaven, unless they leave them.
36. The pope with all his clerics who have property are heretics, for the very reason that they have property; and so are all who abet them, namely all secular lords and other laity.
37. The Roman church is Satan’s synagogue; and the pope is not the immediate and proximate vicar of Christ and the apostles.
38. The decretal letters are apocryphal and seduce people from Christ’s faith, and clerics who study them are fools.
39. The emperor and secular lords were seduced by the devil to endow the church with temporal goods.
40. The election of a pope by the cardinals was introduced by the devil.
41. It is not necessary for salvation to believe that the Roman church is supreme among the other churches.
42. It is ridiculous to believe in the indulgences of popes and bishops.
43. Oaths taken to confirm civil commerce and contracts between people are unlawful.
44. Augustine, Benedict and Bernard are damned, unless they repented of having owned property and of having founded and entered religious orders; and thus they are all heretics from the pope down to the lowest religious.
45. All religious orders alike were introduced by the devil.


This sacred synod has had the aforesaid forty-five articles examined and frequently considered by many most reverend fathers, cardinals of the Roman church, bishops, abbots, masters of theology, doctors in both laws and many notable persons. After the articles had been examined it was found, as indeed is the case, that some of them, indeed many, were and are notoriously heretical and have already been condemned by holy fathers, others are not catholic but erroneous, others scandalous and blasphemous, some offensive to the ears of the devout and some rash and seditious….This holy synod, therefore, in the name of our lord Jesus Christ, in ratifying and approving the sentences of the aforesaid archbishops and of the council of Rome, repudiates and condemns for ever, by this decree, the aforesaid articles and each one of them in particular…It forbids the reading, teaching, expounding and citing of the said books or of any one of them in particular, unless it is for the purpose of refuting them […]

SESSION 12, 29 May 1415

[Pope John XXIII is deposed; it is also decreed that none of the three claimants of the papacy may be re-elected as pope]

SESSION 14, 4 July 1415

[The council approves Gregory XII’s resignation, and condemns the doctrines of Jan Hus]

The most holy general council of Constance, divinely assembled and representing the catholic church, for an everlasting record. Since a bad tree is wont to bear bad fruit…so it is that John Wyclif, of cursed memory, by his deadly teaching, like a poisonous root, has brought forth many noxious sons…and he has left these sons as successors to his perverse teaching. This holy synod of Constance is compelled to act against these men as against spurious and illegitimate sons, and to cut away their errors from the Lord’s field as if they were harmful briars…lest they spread as a cancer to destroy others. Although, therefore, it was decreed at the sacred general council recently held at Rome that the teaching of John Wyclif, of cursed memory, should be condemned and the books of his containing this teaching should be burnt as heretical…nevertheless a certain Jan Hus…has taught, asserted and preached many errors and heresies of John Wyclif which have been condemned both by God’s church and by other reverend fathers in Christ, lord archbishops and bishops of various kingdoms, and masters in theology at many places of study. […] This most holy synod of Constance therefore declares and defines that the articles listed below, which have been found on examination, by many masters in sacred scripture, to be contained in his books and pamphlets written in his own hand, and which the same Jan Hus at a public hearing, before the fathers and prelates of this sacred council, has confessed to be contained in his books and pamphlets, are not catholic and should not be taught to be such but rather many of them are erroneous, others scandalous, others offensive to the ears of the devout, many of them are rash and seditious, and some of them are notoriously heretical and have long ago been rejected and condemned by holy fathers and by general councils, and it strictly forbids them to be preached, taught or in any way approved. […] In order that this pernicious teaching may be eliminated from the midst of the church, this holy synod also orders that local ordinaries make careful inquiry about treatises and pamphlets of this kind, using the church’s censures and even if necessary the punishment due for supporting heresy, and that they be publicly burnt when they have been found. This same holy synod decrees that local ordinaries and inquisitors of heresy are to proceed against any who violate or defy this sentence and decree as if they were persons suspected of heresy.

[Jan Hus is sentenced to death at the stake]

This holy synod of Constance, seeing that God’s church has nothing more that it can do, relinquishes Jan Hus to the judgment of the secular authority and decrees that he is to be relinquished to the secular court.

[The Heresies of Jan Hus]

1. There is only one holy universal church, which is the total number of those predestined to salvation. It therefore follows that the universal holy church is only one, inasmuch as there is only one number of all those who are predestined to salvation.
2. Paul was never a member of the devil, even though he did certain acts which are similar to the acts of the church’s enemies.
3. Those foreknown as damned are not parts of the church, for no part of the church can finally fall away from it, since the predestinating love that binds the church together does not fail.
4. The two natures, the divinity and the humanity, are one Christ.
5. A person foreknown to damnation is never part of the holy church, even if he is in a state of grace according to present justice; a person predestined to salvation always remains a member of the church, even though he may fall away for a time from adventitious grace, for he keeps the grace of predestination.
6. The church is an article of faith in the following sense: to regard it as the convocation of those predestined to salvation, whether or not it be in a state of grace according to present justice.
7. Peter neither was nor is the head of the holy catholic church.
8. Priests who live in vice in any way pollute the power of the priesthood, and like unfaithful sons are untrustworthy in their thinking about the church’s seven sacraments, about the keys, offices, censures, customs, ceremonies and sacred things of the church, about the veneration of relics, and about indulgences and orders.
9. The papal dignity originated with the emperor, and the primacy and institution of the pope emanated from imperial power.
10. Nobody would reasonably assert of himself or of another, without revelation, that he was the head of a particular holy church; nor is the Roman pontiff the head of the Roman church.
11. It is not necessary to believe that any particular Roman pontiff is the head of any particular holy church, unless God has predestined him to salvation.
12. Nobody holds the place of Christ or of Peter unless he follows his way of life, since there is no other discipleship that is more appropriate nor is there another way to receive delegated power from God, since there is required for this office of vicar a similar way of life as well as the authority of the one instituting.
13. The pope is not the manifest and true successor of the prince of the apostles, Peter, if he lives in a way contrary to Peter’s. If he seeks avarice, he is the vicar of Judas Iscariot. Likewise, cardinals are not the manifest and true successors of the college of Christ’s other apostles unless they live after the manner of the apostles, keeping the commandments and counsels of our lord Jesus Christ.
14. Doctors who state that anybody subjected to ecclesiastical censure, if he refuses to be corrected, should be handed over to the judgment of the secular authority, are undoubtedly following in this the chief priests, the scribes and the pharisees who handed over to the secular authority Christ himself, since he was unwilling to obey them in all things, saying, It is not lawful for us to put any man to death; these gave him to the civil judge, so that such men are even greater murderers than Pilate.
15. Ecclesiastical obedience was invented by the church’s priests, without the express authority of scripture.
16. The immediate division of human actions is between those that are virtuous and those that are wicked. Therefore, if a man is wicked and does something, he acts wickedly; if he is virtuous and does something, he acts virtuously. For just as wickedness, which is called crime or mortal sin, infects all the acts of a wicked man, so virtue gives life to all the acts of a virtuous man.
17. A priest of Christ who lives according to his law, knows scripture and has a desire to edify the people, ought to preach, notwithstanding a pretended excommunication. And further on: if the pope or any superior orders a priest so disposed not to preach, the subordinate ought not to obey.
18. Whoever enters the priesthood receives a binding duty to preach; and this mandate ought to be carried out, notwithstanding a pretended excommunication.
19. By the church’s censures of excommunication, suspension and interdict the clergy subdue the laity, for the sake of their own exaltation, multiply avarice protect wickedness and prepare the way for antichrist. The clear sign of this is the fact that these censures come from antichrist. In the legal proceedings of the clergy they are called fulminations, which are the principal means whereby the clergy proceed against those who uncover antichrist’s wickedness, which the clergy has for the most part usurped for itself.
20. If the pope is wicked, and especially if he is foreknown to damnation, then he is a devil like Judas the apostle, a thief and a son of perdition and is not the head of the holy church militant since he is not even a member of it.
21. The grace of predestination is the bond whereby the body of the church and each of its members is indissolubly joined with the head.
22. The pope or a prelate who is wicked and foreknown to damnation is a pastor only in an equivocal sense, and truly is a thief and a robber.
23. The pope ought not to be called “most holy” even by reason of his office, for otherwise even a king ought to be called “most holy” by reason of his office and executioners and heralds ought to be called “holy”, indeed even the devil would be called “holy” since he is an official of God.
24. If a pope lives contrary to Christ, even if he has risen through a right and legitimate election according to the established human constitution, he would have risen by a way other than through Christ, even granted that he entered upon office by an election that had been made principally by God. For, Judas Iscariot was rightly and legitimately elected to be an apostle by Jesus Christ who is God, yet he climbed into the sheepfold by another way.
25. The condemnation of the forty-five articles of John Wyclif, decreed by the doctors, is irrational and unjust and badly done and the reason alleged by them is feigned, namely that none of them is catholic but each one is either heretical or erroneous or scandalous.
26. The viva voce agreement upon some person, made according to human custom by the electors or by the greater part of them, does not mean by itself that the person has been legitimately elected or that by this very fact he is the true and manifest successor or vicar of the apostle Peter or of another apostle in an ecclesiastical office. For, it is to the works of the one elected that we should look irrespective of whether the manner of the election was good or bad. For, the more plentifully a person acts meritoriously towards building up the church, the more copiously does he thereby have power from God for this.
27. There is not the least proof that there must be one head ruling the church in spiritual matters who always lives with the church militant.
28. Christ would govern his church better by his true disciples scattered throughout the world, without these monstrous heads.
29. The apostles and faithful priests of the Lord strenuously governed the church in matters necessary for salvation before the office of pope was introduced, and they would continue to do this until the day of judgment if—which is very possible—there is no pope.
30. Nobody is a civil lord, a prelate or a bishop while he is in mortal sin.


SESSION 39, 9 October 1417

[The decree Frequens, by which the Council of Constance sought to establish the permanence and regular meeting of general councils as the supreme legislative organ of the church].

The frequent holding of general councils is a pre-eminent means of cultivating the Lord’s patrimony. It roots out the briars, thorns and thistles of heresies, errors and schisms, corrects deviations, reforms what is deformed and produces a richly fertile crop for the Lord’s vineyard. Neglect of councils, on the other hand, spreads and fosters the aforesaid evils. This conclusion is brought before our eyes by the memory of past times and reflection on the present situation. For this reason we establish, enact, decree and ordain, by a perpetual edict, that general councils shall be held henceforth in the following way. The first shall follow in five years immediately after the end of this council, the second in seven years immediately after the end of the next council, and thereafter they are to be held every ten years for ever. They are to be held in places which the supreme pontiff is bound to nominate and assign within a month before the end of each preceding council, with the approval and consent of the council, or which, in his default, the council itself is bound to nominate. Thus, by a certain continuity, there will always be either a council in existence or one expected within a given time. If perchance emergencies arise, the time may be shortened by the supreme pontiff, acting on the advice of his brothers, the cardinals of the Roman church, but it may never be prolonged. Moreover, he may not change the place assigned for the next council without evident necessity. If an emergency arises whereby it seems necessary to change the place—for example in the case of a siege, war, disease or the like—then the supreme pontiff may, with the consent and written endorsement of his aforesaid brothers or of two-thirds of them, substitute another place which is suitable and fairly near to the place previously assigned. It must, however, be within the same nation unless the same or a similar impediment exists throughout the nation. In the latter case he may summon the council to another suitable place which is nearby but within another nation, and the prelates and other persons who are customarily summoned to a council will be obliged to come to it as if it had been the place originally assigned. The supreme pontiff is bound to announce and publish the change of place or the shortening of time in a legal and solemn form within a year before the date assigned, so that the aforesaid persons may be able to meet and hold the council at the appointed time.



[Reforms to be made by the pope together with the council before it is dissolved]

The most holy synod of Constance declares and decrees that the future supreme Roman pontiff, who by God’s grace is to be elected very soon, together with this sacred council or those to be deputed by the individual nations, is bound to reform the church in its head and in the Roman curia, according to justice and the good government of the church, before this council is dissolved, under the topics contained in the following articles, which were at various times put forward by the nations by way of reforms.
1. First, the number, quality and nationality of the lord cardinals.
2. Next, reservations of the apostolic see.
3. Next, annates, common services and petty services.
4. Next, collations to benefices and expectative graces.
5. Next, the cases that are, or are not, to be heard at the Roman curia.
6. Next, appeals to the Roman curia.
7. Next, the offices of chancery and penitentiary.
8. Next, exemptions and incorporations made at the time of the schism.
9. Next, commendams.
10. Next, confirmation of elections.
11. Next, intercalary fruits.
12. Next, not alienating goods of the Roman church and of other churches.
13. Next, for what reasons and how a pope can be corrected or deposed.
14. Next, the eradication of simony.
15. Next, dispensations.
16. Next, revenues of the pope and the cardinals.
17. Next, indulgences.
18. Next, tithes.
With this addition, that when the nations have deputed their representatives as mentioned above, the others may freely return to their own countries with the pope’s permission.

[On the manner and form of electing the pope]

For the praise, glory and honor of almighty God and for the peace and unity of the universal church and of the whole Christian people. The election of the future Roman and supreme pontiff is soon to be held. We wish that it may be confirmed with greater authority and by the assent of many persons and that, mindful as we are of the state of the church, no doubts or scruples may later remain in people’s minds regarding the said election but rather that a secure, true full and perfect union of the faithful may result from it.
    Therefore this most holy general synod of Constance, mindful of the common good and with the special and express consent and the united wish of the cardinals of the holy Roman church present at the same synod, and of the college of cardinals and of all the nations at this present council, declares, ordains and decrees that, for this time only, at the election of the Roman and supreme pontiff, there shall be added to the cardinals six prelates or other honourable churchmen in holy orders, from each of the nations currently present and named at the same synod, who are to be chosen by each of the said nations within ten days.
    This same holy synod gives power to all these people, insofar as it is necessary, to elect the Roman pontiff according to the form here laid down. That is to say, the person is to be regarded as the Roman pontiff by the universal church without exception who is elected and admitted by two-thirds of the cardinals present at the conclave and by two-thirds of those from each nation who are to be and have been added to the cardinals. Moreover, the election is not valid nor is the person elected to be regarded as supreme pontiff unless two-thirds of the cardinals present at the conclave, and two-thirds of those from each nation who should be and have been added to the same cardinals, agree to elect him as Roman pontiff.
    The synod also declares, ordains and decrees that the votes of any persons cast at the election are null unless, as has been said, two-thirds of the cardinals, and two-thirds of those from each nation who should be and have been added to them, agree, directly or by way of addition, upon one person. This must be added, moreover, that the prelates and other persons who should be and have been added to the cardinals for the election, are bound to observe all and singular apostolic constitutions, even penal ones, which have been promulgated regarding the election of the Roman pontiff, just as the cardinals themselves are bound to observe them, and they are bound to their observance. The said electors, both cardinals and others, are also bound to swear, before they proceed to the election, that in attending to the business of the election, they will proceed with pure and sincere minds—since it is a question of creating the vicar Jesus Christ, the successor of the blessed Peter, the governor of the universal church and the leader of the Lord’s flock—and that they firmly believe it will benefit the public good of the universal church if they entirely prescind from all affection for persons of any particular nation, or other inordinate affections, as well as from hatred and graces or favours bestowed, in order that by their ministry a beneficial and suitable pastor may be provided for the universal church.
    This same holy synod, mindful of this notorious vacancy in the Roman church, fixes and assigns the next ten days for all and singular cardinals of the holy Roman church, whether present here or absent, and the other electors mentioned above, to enter into the conclave which is to be held in this city of Constance, in the commune’s principal building which has already been allocated for this purpose.
    The synod ordains, declares and decrees that within these next ten days the aforesaid electors, both cardinals and others mentioned above, must enter into the conclave for the purpose of holding the election and of doing and carrying out all the other matters according as the laws ordain and decree in all things, besides those mentioned above regarding the cardinals and other electors, concerning the election of a Roman pontiff. The same holy synod wishes all these laws to remain in force after the above matters have been observed. For this time, however, it approves, ordains, establishes and decrees this particular form and manner of election.
    The same holy synod, in order to remove all scruples, makes and declares fit for actively and passively carrying out all legitimate acts at the same synod, insofar as this is necessary, all those who are present at the same synod as well as those who will come and adhere to it, always saving the other decrees of this same sacred council, and it will supply for any defects, if perchance any shall occur in the above, notwithstanding any apostolic constitutions, even those published in general councils, and other constitutions to the contrary.

[On 11 November 1417, the Council of Constance elects cardinal Oddo Colonna as pope Martin V]

SESSION 43, 23 MARCH 1418

[Reform Decrees of the Council of Constance]


On simoniacs
Martin, etc. Many constitutions have been issued in the past against the evil of simony, but they have not been able to eradicate the disease. We wish to attend carefully to this matter in the future according as we are able to. We therefore declare, with the approval of this sacred council, that persons ordained in a simoniacal fashion are automatically suspended from exercising their orders. Simoniacal elections, postulations, confirmations and provisions that are henceforth made to or in respect of any churches, monasteries, dignities, parsonages, offices or ecclesiastical benefices are rendered null by the law itself and nobody acquires any rights through them. Those who have been thus promoted, confirmed or provided may not receive their fruits but are bound to restore them as though they had received things that had been unjustly taken. We decree, moreover, that both those who give and those who receive money in this matter of simony automatically incur the sentence of excommunication, even though their rank be pontifical or cardinalatial.

On tithes and other dues
Martin, etc. We command and order the strict observance of the laws which forbid tithes and other dues to be imposed on churches and ecclesiastics by persons lower than the pope. For ourselves, moreover, we shall in no way impose them generally on the whole clergy unless there is a grave and serious reason and an advantage for the universal church in doing so, and then with the advice, consent and written endorsement of our brothers, the cardinals of the holy Roman church, and the prelates whose advice can conveniently be obtained. This should not happen especially in any kingdom or province where the prelates in question, or the majority of them, have not been consulted or have not consented. In this way they may only be levied by ecclesiastics acting on the authority of the apostolic see.

On the life and probity of clerics
Martin, etc. Among the various faults of clerics and prelates this one has especially taken root, namely that many of them despise an appearance of ecclesiastical decency in their dress and delight in what is unbecoming. They seek to conform to the laity and they exhibit outwardly in their dress whatever they are thinking in their minds. Therefore, with the approval of this sacred council, we renew and order the careful observance of all the laws currently in force regarding the clothing, tonsure and habits of clerics, as to both shape and colour, and their hair-styles and the style and uprightness of their lives. These laws have been heeded far too little by both the secular and the regular clergy. Especially we order to be utterly abolished, with the same council’s approval, the abuse whereby in certain regions some clerics and churchmen, both secular and regular, and even (which we deplore still more) prelates of churches, wear long gloves that are unnecessarily large and sumptuous, extending to their elbows, and clothes with slits at the back and sides, with furs covering the edges even of the slit parts. Moreover, they are not afraid to attend the divine offices in churches—even in the churches in which they are beneficed—in such clothes together with their surplices and other garments worn for worship and the church’s services. We condemn this unbecoming way of dressing for all churchmen and we forbid the wearing of such garments. Those who do otherwise are to be punished as transgressors of the canons. We decree in particular that if any beneficed person, or any holder of an office in a church, dares to attend the divine office in such clothing, then he shall know that he is suspended from receiving his ecclesiastical incomes for one month for each such occasion, and the fruits of these incomes are to be applied to the fabric of the church in question.

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