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History of the Christian Church, Volume V: The Middle Ages. A.D. 1049-1294.
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§ 127. The Councils.


The legislation of the oecumenical and local synods of this age gives the most impressive evidence of the moral ideals of the Church and its effort to introduce moral reforms. The large number of councils, as compared with the period just before 1050, was a healthy sign.19651965    Hergenröther, Kathol. Kirchenrecht, p. 342, speaks of the rarity of synods from 900-1050 as a sign of the laxity of Catholic discpline.h to the empire, and the election of the pope, against simony and clerical marriage, upon heresy and measures for its repression, upon the crusades and the truce of God, on the details of clerical conduct and dress, and upon the rites of worship. The doctrine of transubstantiation, defined at the Fourth Lateran, was the only doctrine which was added by oecumenical authority to the list of the great dogmas handed down from the early Church.

At one period one subject, and at another, another subject, was prominent. The character of the legislation also differed with the locality. The synods in Rome, during the latter half of the eleventh century, discussed clerical celibacy, simony, and investiture by laymen. The synods of Southern France and Spain, from the year 1200, abound in decrees upon the subject of heresy. The synods of England and Germany were more concerned about customs of worship and clerical conduct.

A notable feature is the attendance of popes on synods held outside of Rome. Leo IX. attended synods in France and Germany, as well as in Italy. Urban II. presided at the great synod of Clermont, 1095. Innocent II. attended a number of synods outside of Rome. Alexander III. was present at the important synod of Tours, where Thomas à Becket sat at his right. Lucius III. presided at the council of Verona, 1184. Innocent IV. and Gregory X. were present at the first and second councils of Lyons. Such synods had double weight from the presence of the supreme head of Christendom. The synods may be divided into three classes: —

I. Local Synods, 1050–1122.—The synods held in this, the Hildebrandian period, were a symptom of a new era in Church history. The chief synods were held in Rome and, beginning with 1049, they carried through the reformatory legislation, enforcing clerical celibacy and forbidding simony. The legislation against lay-investiture culminated in the Lenten synods at Rome, 1074 and 1075, presided over by Gregory VII. Local synods, especially in France and England, repeated this legislation. The method of electing a pope was settled by the Roman synod held by Nicolas, and confirmed by the Third Lateran, 1179. The doctrine of the Lord’s Supper, as advocated by Berengar, d. 1088, called forth action at Rome and Vercelli, 1050, and again at Rome, 1059 and 1079. The legislation bearing on the conquest of the Holy Places was inaugurated at Piacenza and more seriously at the synod of Clermont, both held in 1095.

II. The Oecumenical Councils.—Six general councils were held within a period of one hundred and fifty years, 1123–1274, as against eight held between 325–869, or a period of five hundred years. The first four go by the name of the Lateran Councils, from the Lateran in Rome, where they assembled. The last two were held in Lyons. They were called by the popes, and temporal sovereigns had nothing to do in summoning them.19661966    Döllinger-Friedrich, D. Papstthum, p. 88 sqq.uthority of the Apostolic see, we forbid," etc., — auctoritate sedis apostol. prohibemus. It is true that the assent of the assembled prelates was assumed or, if expressly mentioned, the formula ran, "with the assent of the holy synod," or "the holy synod being in session,"—sacro approbante concilio, or sacro praesente concilio. So it was with the Fourth Lateran. The six oecumenical councils are:—

1. The First Lateran, 1123, called by Calixtus II., is listed by the Latins as the Ninth oecumenical council. Its chief business was to ratify the Concordat of Worms. It was the first oecumenical council to forbid the marriage of priests. It renewed Urban II.’s legislation granting indulgences to the Crusaders.

2. The Second Lateran, 1139, opened with an address by Innocent II., consummated the close of the recent papal schism and pronounced against the errors of Arnold of Brescia.

3. The Third Lateran, 1179, under the presidency of Alexander III., celebrated the restoration of peace between the Church and the empire and, falling back on the canon of the Second Lateran, legislated against the Cathari and Patarenes. It ordered separate churches and burial-grounds for lepers. Two hundred and eighty-seven, or, according to other reports, three hundred or three hundred and ninety-six bishops attended.

4. The Fourth Lateran or Twelfth oecumenical, 1215, marks an epoch in the Middle Ages. It established the Inquisition and formulated the doctrine of transubstantiation, the two most far-reaching decrees of the mediaeval Church. Innocent III. dominated the council, and its disciplinary and moral canons are on a high plane and would of themselves have made the assemblage notable. It was here that the matter of Raymund of Toulouse was adjudicated, and here the crusade was appointed for 1217 which afterwards gave Frederick II. and Innocent’s two immediate successors so much trouble. A novel feature was the attendance of a number of Latin patriarchs from the East, possessing meagre authority, but venerable titles. The decisions of the council were quoted as authoritative by Bonaventura and Thomas Aquinas.19671967    Summa, supplem., VIII. 4, Migne, IV. 946, etc.

5. The First council of Lyons, 1245, presided over by Innocent IV., has its fame from the prosecution and deposition of the emperor Frederick II. It also took up the distressed condition of Jerusalem and the menace of the Tartars to Eastern Europe.

6. The Second council of Lyons or the Fourteenth oecumenical, 1274, was summoned by Gregory X., and attended by five hundred bishops and one thousand other ecclesiastics. Gregory opened the sessions with an address as Innocent III. had opened the Fourth Lateran and Innocent IV. the First council of Lyons. The first of its thirty-one canons reaffirmed the doctrine of the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Son. It repeated the legislation of the Fourth Lateran, prohibiting the institution of new monastic orders. The council’s chief significance was the attempt to reunite the churches of the West and the East, the latter being represented by an imposing delegation.

These oecumenical assemblages have their importance from the questions they discussed and the personalities they brought together. They had an important influence in uniting all parts of Western Christendom and in developing the attachment to the Apostolic see, as the norm of Church unity.

III. Local Synods, 1122–1294.—Some of the local synods of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries are of even more importance than some of the oecumenical councils of the same period. If they were to be characterized for a single subject of legislation, it would be the repression of heresy. Some of them had far more than a local significance, as, for example, the synod of Tours, 1163, when Spain, Sicily, Italy, England, Scotland, and Ireland were represented as well as France. Alexander III. and seventeen cardinals were present. The synod legislated against heresy.

The synod of Verona, 1184, passed a lengthy and notable decree concerning the trial and punishment of heretics. It heard the plea of the Waldenses, but declined to grant it.

The synod of Treves, 1227, passed important canons bearing on the administration of the sacraments.

The synod of Toulouse, 1229, presided over by the papal legate, celebrated the close of the Albigensian crusades and perfected the code of the Inquisition. It has an unenviable distinction among the great synods on account of its decree forbidding laymen to have the Bible in their possession.

These synods were great events, enlightening the age and stirring up thought. Unwholesome as were their measures against ecclesiastical dissent and on certain other subjects, their legislation was, upon the whole, in the right direction of purity of morals and the rights of the people.



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