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§ 41. The Fourth Lateran Council, 1215.


Literature.—Works of Innocent, Migne, 217.—Mansi, xxii.—Labbaeus, xi.—Potthast, Regesta, I. 437 sqq., gives a summary of the canons of the council.—Hefele-Knöpfler, V. 872 sqq.—Hurter, II. 538 sqq.—Lea: Hist. of the Inquisition, passim.


The Fourth Lateran, otherwise known as the Twelfth Oecumenical Council, was the closing act of Innocent’s pontificate, and marks the zenith of the papal theocracy. In his letter of convocation,219219    April 19, 1213. and the betterment of the Church. The council was held in the Lateran and had three sittings, Nov. 11, 20, 30, 1215. It was the most largely attended of the synods held up to that time in the west. The attendance included 412 bishops, 800 abbots and priors, and a large number of delegates representing absent prelates. There were also present representatives of the emperor Frederick II., the emperor Henry of Constantinople, and the kings of England, France, Aragon, Hungary, Jerusalem, and other crowned heads.220220    The invitation included the prelates of the East and West, Christian emperors and kings, the grand-masters of the Military Orders, and the heads of monastic establishments.

The sessions were opened with a sermon by the pope on Luke 22:15, "With desire have I desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer." It was a fanciful interpretation of the word "Passover," to which a threefold sense was given: a physical sense referring to the passage of Jerusalem from a state of captivity to a state of liberty, a spiritual sense referring to the passage of the Church from one state to a better one, and a heavenly sense referring to the transition from the present life to the eternal glory. The deliverances are grouped under seventy beads, and a special decree bearing upon the recovery of Jerusalem. The headings concern matters of doctrine and ecclesiastical and moral practice. The council’s two most notable acts were the definition of the dogma of transubstantiation and the establishment of the institution of the Inquisition against heretics.

The doctrinal decisions, contained in the first two chapters, give a comprehensive statement of the orthodox faith as it concerns the nature of God, the Incarnation, the unity of the Church, and the two greater sacraments. Here transubstantiation is defined as the doctrine of the eucharist in the universal Church, "outside of which there is no possibility of salvation."221221    In qua idem ipse sacerdos et sacrificium Jesus Christus, cujus corpus et sanguis in sacramento altaris sub speciebus panis et vini veraciter continentur, transubstantiatis pane in corpus, et vino in sanguinem, etc. Mansi, XXII. 982; Mirbt, Quellen. 133.

The council expressly condemned the doctrine of Joachim of Flore, that the substance of the Father, Son, and Spirit is not a real entity, but a collective entity in the sense that a collection of men is called one people, and a collection of believers one Church. It approved the view of Peter the Lombard whom Joachim had opposed on the ground that his definition would substitute a quaternity for the trinity in the Godhead.222222    The Lombard had defined the substance of the three persons as a real entity, quaedam summa res.

Amaury of Bena, a teacher in Paris accused of pantheistic teachings, was also condemned by name. He had been accused and appeared before the pope at Rome in 1204, and recalled his alleged heresy.223223    See Hauck, art. Amalrich, in Herzog, I. 432 sq. and cannot sin.

The treatment of heretics received elaborate consideration in the important third decree.224224    See chapters on the Inquisition and the Cathari. place.225225    The patriarchs of Jerusalem and Constantinople, of the Latin succession, were conspicuous at the council, and also Antioch by a representative, the Melchisite patriarch of Alexandria, and the Maronite patriarch. monastic rules, the establishment of monastic orders was thenceforth forbidden.226226    Chapter XIII.

The clergy are warned against intemperance and incontinence and forbidden the chase, hunting dogs and falcons, attendance upon theatrical entertainments, and executions, duelling, and frequenting inns. Prescriptions are given for their dress. Confession is made compulsory at least once a year, and imprisonment fixed as the punishment of priests revealing the secrets of the confessional. The tenure of more than one benefice is forbidden except by the pope’s dispensation. New relics are forbidden as objects of worship, except as they might receive the approbation of the pope. Physicians are bidden, upon threat of excommunication, to urge their patients first of all to summon a priest, as the well-being of the soul is of more value than the health of the body. Jews and Saracens are enjoined to wear a different dress from the Christians, lest unawares carnal intercourse be had between them. The Jews are bidden to keep within doors during passion week and excluded from holding civil office.227227    A repetition of the decrees of the synod of Toledo, 681.

The appointment of a new crusade was the council’s last act, and it was set to start in 1217. Christians were commanded to refrain from all commercial dealings with the Saracens for four years. To all contributing to the crusade, as well as to those participating in it, full indulgence was promised, and added eternal bliss.228228    Plenam suorum peccaminum de quibus fuerint corde contriti et ore confessi veniam indulgemus et in retributione justorum salutis eternae pollicemur augmentum., count of Toulouse, for redress from the rapacity of Simon de Montfort, the fierce leader of the crusade against the Albigenses in Southern France.

The doctrinal statements and ecclesiastical rules bear witness to the new conditions upon which the Church had entered, the Latin patriarchs being in possession in the East, and heresy threatening its unity in Southern France and other parts of the West.

Innocent III. survived the great council only a few months and died scarcely fifty-six years old, without having outlived his authority or his fame. He had been fortunate in all his undertakings. The acts of statecraft, which brought Europe to his feet, were crowned in the last scene at the Lateran Council by the pious concern of the priest. To his successors he bequeathed a continent united in allegiance to the Holy See and a Church strengthened in its doctrinal unity. Notwithstanding his great achievements combining mental force and moral purpose, the Church has found no place for Innocent among its canonized saints.

The following are a few testimonies to his greatness:—

Gregorovius declares229229    V: 102 sq. Gibbon, ch. LIX, after acknowledging Innocent’s talents and virtues, has this criticism of two of the most far-reaching acts of his reign: "Innocent may boast of the two most signal triumphs over sense and humanity, the establishment of transubstantiation, and the origin of the Inquisition."


"Not a creative genius like Gregory I. and Gregory VII., he was one of the most important figures of the Middle Ages, a man of earnest, sterling, austere intellect, a consummate ruler, a statesman of penetrating judgment, a high-minded priest filled with religious fervor, and at the same time with an unbounded ambition and appalling force of will, a true idealist on the papal throne, yet an entirely practical monarch and a cool-headed lawyer .... No pope has ever had so lofty and yet so real consciousness of his power as Innocent III., the creator and destroyer of emperors and kings."


Ranke says:230230    Weltgeschichte, viii: 334.

"A superstitious reverence such as Friedrich Hurter renders to him in his remarkable book I am not at all able to accord. Thus much, however, is certain. He stands in the foremost rank of popes, having world-wide significance. The task which he placed before himself he was thoroughly equal to. Leaving out a few dialectic subtleties, one will not find in him anything that is really small. In him was fulfilled the transition of the times."


Baur gives this opinion:231231    Geschichte des Mittelalters, p. 220.

"With Innocent III. the papacy reached its height and in no other period of its long history did it enjoy such an undisturbed peace and such a glorious development of its power and splendor. He was distinguished as no other in this high place not only by all the qualities of the ruler but by personal virtues, by high birth and also by mind, culture, and learning."232232    For judgments of mediaeval authors, see Potthast, Regesta, 461. The contemporaneous author of the Gesta Innocentii, Migne, 214, p. xviii., thus describes Innocent: "Fuit vir perspicacis ingenii et tenacis memoriae, in divinis et humanis litteris eruditus, sermone tam vulgari quam litterali disertus, exercitatus in cantilena et psalmodia, statura mediocris et decorus aspectu, medius inter prodigalitatem et avaritiam, sed in eleemosynis et victualibus magis largus, et in aliis magis parcus, nisi cum necessitatis articulus exigebat severus contra rebelles et contumaces, sed benignus erga humiles et devotos; fortis et stabilis, magnanimus et astutus; fidei defensor, et haeresis expugnator; in justitia rigidus, sed in misericordia pius; humilis in prosperis, et patiens in adversis; naturae tamen aliquantulum indignantis, sed facile ignoscentis."


Hagenbach:233233    Kirchengeschichte des Mittelalters, ch. XIX.

"Measured by the standard of the papacy, Innocent is beyond controversy the greatest of all the popes. Measured by the eternal law of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that which here seems great and mighty in the eyes of the world, seems little in the kingdom of heaven, and amongst those things which call forth wonder and admiration, only that will stand which the Spirit of God, who never wholly withdraws from the Church, wrought in his soul. How far such operation went on, and with what result, who but God can know? He alone is judge."




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