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Lateran Councils

Ecumenical church councils held in the Church of St. John Lateran, one of the major Roman basilicas. There were five such councils, the first of which was summoned by Callistus II in 1123 to signal the end of the Investiture Controversy,* at which time the Concordat of Worms was confirmed. The council promulgated a number of canons, chiefly restatements of previous decrees dealing with ecclesiastical ordinations and offices, in keeping with the Gregorian Reform, and with crusading indulgences and the Peace and Truce of God.

At the Second Lateran Council, summoned by Innocent II following the death in 1138 of his rival Anacletus II who had challenged his rule from the double election of 1130, Innocent announced the deposition of all supporters of Anacletus, the excommunication of Roger II of Sicily, and the condemnation of the adherents of Pierre de Bruys and Arnold of Brescia. The canons followed the reforming lines of the First Lateran Council, prohibiting payment for such priestly services as extreme unction and burial, the study of civil law or medicine by religious, marriage of the clergy, usury, tournaments, use of the crossbow, and incendiarism, among others. They provided that monks and canons were to be consulted in episcopal elections, and confirmed the Peace and Truce of God.

The Third Lateran Council, like the Second, marked the end of a schism. It met in 1179 at the behest of Alexander III, following the discomfiture of his rivals, whose support from Frederick Barbarossa had ended with the agreement at Venice in 1177. Alexander III* was the first great canonist pope of the period of the revived study of law, and issued at the council a series of important decretals, the first of which stipulated a two-thirds majority of the cardinals for a papal election, and another required majority decisions in ecclesiastical communities. Other reforming decrees set up cathedral schools with free instruction, and attacked simony, pluralism, and clerical vices. There were sanctions against usurers, Cathari, Jews, and Saracens, and against those aiding the latter or pirates. The Truce and Peace of God were reconfirmed.

The Fourth Lateran Council, summoned in 1215 by Innocent III,* marks the pinnacle of the achievements of the most powerful of medieval popes. It confirmed the election of Frederick II; denounced Magna Carta as an affront to the pope and his vassal, King John of England; enunciated the dogma of transubstantiation; made yearly confession and Communion mandatory; confirmed the new Franciscan Order; and required distinctive dress for Jews and Saracens. Condemnations were directed against the Cathari and the Waldensians, though they were not named, and against the teachings of Joachim of Fiore* and Amalric* of Bena. Reforming canons stipulated, among others, that no new orders were to be founded, and that general chapters were to be held in existing orders. The abuses surrounding indulgences were to be curbed. Clerks were enjoined against participating in judicial ordeals. Provisions were made for the forthcoming (Fifth) crusade. The council rejected a proposal that regular payments be collected from the entire church to support the papal administration.

Julius II* responded to the antipapal Council of Pisa (1511- 12) by summoning the Fifth Lateran Council in 1512. No canons were issued, only pontifical constitutions. The chief concern of Julius was to achieve the condemnation of conciliar theory in general, and of the decrees of the councils of Constance* and Basle* and the recent Council of Pisa,* plus the Pragmatic Sanction of Bourges,* in particular. Both Maximilian and Louis XII were persuaded to disavow their previous support of the Council of Pisa. There were futile gestures toward reform of abuses surrounding commendations, pluralism, and clerical immunities, and a recognition of the need for church reform generally. A new crusade was projected, to be supported by a three-year tax on all benefices. The failure of the Fifth Lateran Council to deal decisively with the issues confronting it led directly to Luther's reform.

G.D. Mansi, Sacrorum Conciliorum nova et amplissima collectio (31 vols., 1759-98); K.J. von Hefele, Histoire des conciles d'après les documents originaux (ed. H. Leclercq, 1907ff.); G. Tangl, Die Tielnehmer an den allgemeinen Konzilien des Mittelalters (1922); P. Hughes, The Church in Crisis (1961); R. Foreville, Histoire des counciles oecuméniques, vol. VI (1966); H.J. Margull (ed.), The Councils of the Church: history and analysis (1966).