By an agreement reached at Venice in 1177, the bitter conflict which had arisen about twenty years earlier between Pope Alexander III (1159-1181) and Emperor Frederick I (1152-1190) was brought to an end. For when Pope Hadrian IV had died in 1159, the cardinals elected two popes together, namely Roland of Siena, who took the name of Alexander III, and Octavian of Rome who though he was nominated by fewer cardinals, nevertheless with the support of the emperor Frederick usurped the name of Pope Victor IV. The emperor, wishing to remove everything which stood in the way of his authority in Italy, declared war upon the Italian states and especially the Roman church which after its struggle for ecclesiastical liberty for so many years, was enjoying great authority. The emperor carried on the war for a long time. A serious schism had arisen out of this conflict, and after Victor IV two antipopes were nominated in opposition to Alexander III, namely Paschal III (1164-1168) and Callistus III (1168-1178). At last, when Alexander had gained the victory, he promised the emperor at Venice that he would summon a general council.
The particular object of this council was to put an end to the schism within the church and the quarrel between the emperor and the papacy. It was summoned by Pope Alexander in 1178, "so that according to the custom of the ancient fathers, the good should be sought and confirmed by many, and that with the cooperation of the grace of the holy Spirit, by the efforts of all, there should be carried out what was required for the correction of abuses and the establishment of what was pleasing to God". The council was held at Rome in March 1179. About three hundred fathers assembled from the provinces of Europe and some from the Latin east, and a single legate from the Greek church. It began on 5 March, according to Archbishop William of Tyre, our chief authority. The bishops first heard Rufinus, bishop of Assisi, who in a highly polished address praised the Roman pontiff and the Roman church, "that church to which alone belongs the decision and power to summon a general council, to lay down new canons and cancel the old; indeed, though the fathers had summoned a solemn council many times in the past, yet the obligation and reason to do this was never more expedient than at the present".
We do not have the same reasons for doubting the ecumenical nature of this council as we have for Lateran I and II. For, the way in which the council was summoned and conducted by the pope, and the number of fathers who gathered from the whole Latin world and devoted their efforts to strengthening the unity of the church and condemning heretics, resemble rather the ancient councils than Lateran I and II and exemplify the typical council of the Middle Ages presided over by the Roman pontiff. For this reason it is not surprising that chronicles of the period frequently refer to this council as Lateran I.
Although we do not possess the acts of the council, we have evidence from chronicles and annals and especially from the canons which the fathers laid down in the final session on 19 March. Accordingly, to avoid future schisms it was first laid down that nobody was to be regarded as Roman pontiff unless he had been elected by two thirds of the cardinals (canon 1) ; all appointments by antipopes were deemed invalid (canon 2), heretics called Cathars were excommunicated and likewise were the bands of mercenaries, or rather criminals, which were causing utter destruction in some parts of Europe; it was declared, and this seems an innovation, that arms should be taken up against them (canon 27) ; it was also decided not to pass judgment about the preaching of the Waldensians. All this seems to have been directed to strengthening the unity of the church. In addition, Alexander III and the fathers, renewing the precedent of Lateran I and II, laid down several canons for the reform of the church and some concerning morals and civil affairs.
The canons of this council played a notable part in the future government of the church. They were frequently included in the collections of decretals compiled in the late 12th and early 13th century, and afterwards all were inserted into Pope Gregory IX's Decretals. Walter Holtzmann and other scholars considered that these decretal collections in fact arose from this Lateran council and its canons. Certainly the canons, unlike those of Lateran I and II and many preceding councils, appear to have been worked out by an excellent legal mind so that it is probable they were composed under the authority of Alexander III himself, who was an expert lawyer. The canons, except for those which refer to Lateran II or the council of Rheims in 1148 (see canons 2, 11, 20-22) or to Gratian's Decrees (see canons 1-4, 7, 11, 13-14, 17-18), are new and original.
The tradition of the canons has not yet been adequately examined and remains very uncertain. Many manuscript codices survive for this council (in contrast to Lateran I and II). However, they do not seem to give us the version of the canons which was confirmed by ecclesiastical authority and which Archbishop William of Tyre, with the authority of the fathers, had himself drawn up. Frequently the canons are to be found in chronicles and decretal collections. They are included in four contemporary English chronicles: those of Abbot Benedict of Peterborough, Gervase of Canterbury, William of Newburgh, and Roger of Hoveden. And in the following collections of decretals: the collection called the Appendix of the Lateran council, the collections of Bamberg, Berlin I, Canterbury I-II, Kassel, Cheltenham, Claudian, Cotton, Dertosa, Douai, Durham, Eberbach, Erlangen, Florian, Klosterneuberg, Leipzig, Oriel II, Paris I, Peterhouse, Rochester, Sangerman, and Tanner; and there are a considerable number of collections still to be examined. The canons are also contained in the book called "Rommersdorfer Briefbuch", the Cartulary of Rievaulx, and the codices Florence Ricc. 288 (Day-book), Innsbruck Univ. 90 (Gratian's Decrees), and (which seem to have been unnoticed hitherto) Vatican Regin. lat. 596, 12th century (fos. 6V-8v), and 984, 12th century (fos. 2r-7v). We can say for certain that the canons of the council were spread abroad through the whole Latin church, and were of great weight in its concerns and transactions.
The first printed edition was made by Cr2 (2, 1551, 836-843). He edited, from a manuscript now lost or unknown, the whole collection known as the Appendix of the Lateran council, which is divided into fifty parts; all 27 canons of Lateran III are in the first part. This text was copied by Su (3, 1567, 626-633) and Bn (3, 1606, 1345-1350), though Su introduced some errors. Bn who was the first to give the name "Appendix of the Lateran council" to the collection, added some variant readings and rubrics which he had found in the chronicle of Roger of Hoveden. The Roman editors (Rm 4, 1612, 27-33), using also the manuscript codex of Antonio Augustine of Tarragona, produced a more accurate text and more variant readings. Later editions, all of which we have exarnined, followed the Roman text, narnely:ER27 (1644) 439-463;LC10 (1671) 1507-1523;Hrd 6 (1714) 1673-1684; Cl 13 (1730) 416-432; Msi 22 (1778) 217-233. Boehmer, who published his edition in 1747, before Msi, is an exception. He took the canons from the Kassel collection of decretals, where the order and some readings are different. Finally Herold, in his unpublished Bonn dissertation of 1952, examined thoroughly the whole tradition and established the order of the canons; using 36 sources, he concluded there were 34 different traditions!
As things now stand, it is impossible to use all the known sources for our edition. For, these sources reveal only a limited part of the whole tradition and, what is even more important, we do not yet understand the relations between the individual traditions. Even Herold has not examined these relations sufficiently. We have therefore preferred to publish the text of a single tradition, namely that of the Appendix of the Lateran council, using Cr2 and Rm as the best text of this tradition and including the variant readings listed in Rrn. This "Appendix" is a good text, as even Herold's text (= H) shows. We have given Herold's variant readings in the critical apparatus, and we have noted in footnotes the order in which he places the 23 canons that he includes.
1. Although clear enough decrees have been handed down by our predecessors to avoid dissension in the choice of a sovereign pontiff, nevertheless in spite of these, because through wicked and reckless ambition the church has often suffered serious division, we too, in order to avoid this evil, on the advice of our brethren and with the approval of the sacred council, have decided that some addition must be made. Therefore we decree that if by chance, through some enemy sowing tares, there cannot be full agreement among the cardinals on a successor to the papacy, and though two thirds are in agreement a third party is unwilling to agree with them or presumes to appoint someone else for itself, that person shall be held as Roman pontiff who has been chosen and received by the two thirds. But if anyone trusting to his nomination by the third party assumes the name of bishop, since he cannot take the reality, both he and those who receive him are to incur excommunication and be deprived of all sacred order, so that viaticum be denied them, except at the hour of death, and unless they repent, let them receive the lot of Dathan and Abiron, who were swallowed up alive by the earth. Further, if anyone is chosen to the apostolic office by less than two thirds, unless in the meantime he receives a larger support, let him in no way assume it, and let him be subject to the foresaid penalty if he is unwilling humbly to refrain. However, as a result of this decree, let no prejudice arise to the canons and other ecclesiastical constitutions according to which the decision of the greater and senior part should prevail, because any doubt that can arise in them can be settled by a higher authority; whereas in the Roman church there is a special constitution, since no recourse can be had to a superior.
2. Renewing the decision taken by our predecessor of happy memory, Innocent, we decree that the ordinances made by the heresiarchs Octavian and Guido, and also by John of Struma who followed them, and by those ordained by them, are void; and furthermore that if any have received ecclesiastical dignities or benefices through the foresaid schismatics, they are to be deprived of them. Moreover alienations or seizures of ecclesiastical property, which have been made by these schismatics or by lay persons, are to lack all validity and are to return to the church without any burden to it. If anyone presumes to act against this, let him know that he is excommunicated. We decree that those who of their own accord have taken an oath to remain in schism are suspended from sacred orders and dignities.
3. Since in holy orders and ecclesiastical ministries both maturity of age, a serious character and knowledge of letters should be required, much more should these qualities be required in a bishop, who is appointed for the care of others and ought to show in himself how others should live in the house of the Lord. Therefore, lest what has been done with regard to certain persons through the needs of the time should be taken as a precedent for the future, we declare by the present decree that no one should be chosen bishop unless he has already reached the age of thirty, been born in lawful wedlock and also is shown to be worthy by his life and learning. When he has been elected and his election has been confirmed, and he has the administration of ecclesiastical property, after the time has passed for the consecration of bishops as laid down by the canons let the person to whom the benefices which he held belong, have the free disposition of them. Further,with regard to the inferior ministries, for instance that of dean or archdeacon, and others which have the care of souls annexed, let no one at all receive them, or even the rule of parish churches, unless he has already reached his twenty-fifth year of age, and can be approved for his learning and character. When he has been nominated, if the archdeacon is not ordained deacon, and the deans (and the rest after due warning) are not ordained priests within the time fixed by the canons, let them be removed from that office and let it be conferred on another who is both able and willing to fulfill it properly; and let them not be allowed the evasion of recourse to an appeal, should they wish by an appeal to protect themselves against a transgression of the constitution. We order that this should be observed with regard to both past and future appointments, unless it is contrary to the canons. Certainly if clerics appoint someone contrary to this rule, let them know that they are deprived of the power of election and are suspended from ecclesiastical benefices for three years. For it is right that at least the strictness of ecclesiastical discipline should restrain those who are not recalled from evil by the fear of God. But if any bishop has acted in anyone's interest contrary to this decree, or has consented to such actions, let him lose the power of conferring the foresaid offices, and let these appointments be made by the chapter, or by the metropolitan if the chapter cannot agree.
4. Since the apostle decided that he ought to support himself and those accompanying him by his own hands, so that he might remove the opportunity of preaching from false apostles and might not be burdensome to those to whom he was preaching, it is recognized that it is a very serious matter and calls for correction that some of our brethren and fellow bishops are so burdensome to their subjects in the procurations demanded that sometimes, for this reason, subjects are forced to sell church ornaments and a short hour consumes the food of many days. Therefore we decree that archbishops on their visitations of their dioceses are not to bring with them more than forty or fifty horses or other mounts, according to the differences of dioceses and ecclesiastical resources; cardinals should not exceed twenty or twenty-five, bishops are never to exceed twenty or thirty, archdeacons five or seven, and deans, as their delegates, should be satisfied with two horses. Nor should they set out with hunting dogs and birds, but they should proceed in such a way that they are seen to be seeking not their own but the things of Jesus Christ. Let them not seek rich banquets but let them receive with thanksgiving what is duly and suitably provided. We also forbid bishops to burden their subjects with taxes and impositions. But we allow them, for the many needs which sometimes come upon them, if the cause be clear and reasonable, to ask for assistance moderated by charity. For since the apostle says children ought not to lay up for their parents, but parents for their children, it seems to be far removed from paternal affection if superiors are burdensome to their subjects, when like a shepherd they ought to cherish them in all their needs. Archdeacons or deans should not presume to impose charges or taxes on priests or clerics. Indeed, what has been said above by way of permission about the number of horses may be observed in those places where there are greater resources or revenues, but in poorer places we wish measure so to be observed that the visit of greater personages should not be a burden to the humbler, lest by such a grant those who were accustomed to use fewer horses should think that the widest powers have been granted to them.
5. If a bishop ordains someone as deacon or priest without a definite title from which he may draw the necessities of life, let the bishop provide him with what he needs until he shall assign him the suitable wages of clerical service in some church, unless it happens that the person ordained is in such a position that he can find the support of life from his own or family inheritance.
6. A most reprehensible custom has become established in certain places whereby our brethren and fellow bishops and even archdeacons have passed sentence of excommunication or suspension, without any previous admonition on those who they think will lodge an appeal. Others too, while they fear the sentence and canonical discipline of a superior, lodge an appeal without any real grounds and thus make use of a means ordained for the help of the innocent as a defence of their own wrongdoing. Therefore to prevent prelates burdening their own subjects without reason, or subjects at their will being able to escape the correction of prelates under cover of an appeal, we lay down by this present decree that prelates should not pass sentence of suspension or excommunication without a previous canonical warning, unless the fault is such that by its nature it incurs the penalty of excommunication, and that subjects should not recklessly have recourse to an appeal, contrary to ecclesiastical discipline, before the introduction of their case. But if anyone believes that because of his own need he should make an appeal, let a proper limit be fixed for his making it, and if it happens that he fails to do so within this limit, let the bishop freely use his own authority. If in any business someone makes an appeal, but fails to appear when the defendant has arrived, let him make a proper repayment of the defendant's expenses, if he is in a position to do so; in this way, at least by fear, a person may be deterred from lightly making an appeal to the injury of another. But we wish that in religious houses especially this should be observed, namely that monks or other religious, when they are to be corrected for any fault, should not presume to appeal against the regular discipline of their superior or chapter, but they should humbly and devoutly submit to what is usefully enjoined them for their salvation.
7. Since in the body of the church everything should be treated with a spirit of charity, and what has been freely received should be freely given, it is utterly disgraceful that in certain churches trafficking is said to have a place, so that a charge is made for the enthroning of bishops, abbots or ecclesiastical persons, for the installation of priests in a church, for burials and funerals, for the blessing of weddings or for other sacraments, and that he who needs them cannot gain them unless he first makes an offering to the person who bestows them. Some think that this is permitted in the belief that long standing custom has given it the force of law. Such people, blinded by avarice, are not aware that the longer an unhappy soul is bound by crimes the graver they are. Therefore, so that this may not be done in the future, we severely forbid that anything be demanded for the enthronement of ecclesiastical persons or the institution of priests, for burying the dead as well as for blessing marriages or for any other sacrament. But if anyone presumes to act against this, let him know that he will have his lot with Giezi, whose action he imitates by his demand of a disgraceful present. Moreover we forbid bishops, abbots or other prelates to impose upon churches new dues, increase the old or presume to appropriate to their own use part of the revenues, but let them readily preserve for their subjects those liberties which superiors wish to be preserved for themselves. If anyone acts otherwise, his action is to be held invalid.
8. Let no ecclesiastical ministries or even benefices or churches be assigned or promised to anyone before they are vacant, so that nobody may seem to wish for the death of his neighbour to whose position or benefice he believes himself to be the successor. For since we find this forbidden even in the laws of the pagans themselves, it is utterly disgraceful and calls for the punishment of God's judgment if the hope of future succession should have any place in God's church when even pagans have taken care to condemn it. But whenever ecclesiastical prebends or any offices happen to become vacant in a church, or are even now vacant, let them no longer remain unassigned and let them be conferred within six months on persons who are able to administer them worthily. If the bishop, when it concerns him, delays to make the appointment, let it be done by the chapter; but if the election belongs to the chapter and it does not make the appointment within the prescribed time, let the bishop proceed according to God's will, with the advice of religious men; or if by chance all fail to do so, let the metropolitan dispose of these matters without opposition from them and in accordance with God's will.
9. Since we ought both to plant holy religion and in every way to cherish it when planted, we shall never fulfil this better than if we take care to nourish what is right and to correct what stands in the way of the progress of truth by means of the authority entrusted to us. Now we have learnt from the strongly worded complaints of our brethren and fellow bishops that the Templars and Hospitallers, and other professed religious, exceeding the privileges granted them by the apostolic see have often disregarded episcopal authority, causing scandal to the people of God and grave danger to souls. We are told that they receive churches from the hands of lay persons; that they admit those under excommunication and interdict to the sacraments of the church and to burial; that in their churches they appoint and remove priests without the knowledge of the bishop; that when the brothers go to seek alms, and it is granted that the churches should be open on their arrival once a year and the divine services should be celebrated in them, several of them from one or more houses often go to a place under interdict and abuse the privileges granted to them by holding divine service, and then presume to bury the dead in the said churches. On the occasion also of the brotherhoods which they establish in many places, they weaken the bishops' authority, for contrary to their decision and under cover of some privileges they seek to defend all who wish to approach and join their brotherhood. In these matters, because the faults arise not so much with the knowledge or advice of the superiors as from the indiscretion of some of the subjects, we have decreed that abuses should be removed and doubtful points settled. We absolutely forbid that these orders and all other religious should receive churches and tithes from the hands of lay persons, and we even order them to put away what they have recently received contrary to this decree. We declare that those who are excommunicated, or interdicted by name, must be avoided by them and all others according to the sentence of the bishop. In churches which do not belong to them by full right, let them present to the bishops the priests to be instituted, so that while they are answerable to the bishops for the care of the people, they may give to their own members a proper account of temporal matters. Let them not presume to remove those priests who have been appointed without first consulting the bishops. If the Templars or Hospitallers come to a church which is under an interdict, let them be allowed to hold the services of the church only once a year and let them not bury there the bodies of the dead. With regard to the brotherhoods we declare as follows: if any do not give themselves entirely to the said brothers but decide to keep their possessions, they are in no way on this account exempt from the sentence of the bishops, but the bishops may exercise their power over them as over other parishioners whenever they are to be corrected for their faults. What has been said about the said brothers, we declare shall be observed with regard to other religious who presume to claim for themselves the rights of bishops and dare to violate their canonical decisions and the tenor of our privileges. If they do not observe this decree, let the churches in which they dare so to act be placed under an interdict, and let what they do be considered void.
10. Monks are not to be received in a monastery for money nor are they allowed money of their own. They are not to be stationed individually in towns or cities or parish churches, but they are to remain in larger communities or with some of their brethren, nor are they to await alone among people of the world the attack of their spiritual foes, since Solomon says, Woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up. If anyone when demanded gives something for his reception, let him not proceed to sacred orders and let the one who has received him be punished by loss of his office. If he has money in his possession, unless it has been granted him by the abbot for a specific purpose, let him be removed from the communion of the altar, and any one who is found at his death with money in his possession is not to receive burial among his brethren and mass is not to be offered for him. We order that this is also to be observed with regard to other religious. Let the abbot who does not exercise care in such matters know that he will incur the loss of his office. Neither priories nor obediences are to be handed over to anyone for a sum of money; otherwise both giver and receiver are to be deprived of ministry in the church. Priors, when they have been appointed to conventual churches, are not to be changed except for a clear and reasonable cause, for instance if they are wastrels or live immoral lives or have committed an offence for which they clearly should be removed, or if on account of the demands of higher office they should be transferred on the advice of their brethren.
11. Clerics in holy orders, who in open concubinage keep their mistresses in their houses, should either cast them out and live continently or be deprived of ecclesiastical office and benefice. Let all who are found guilty of that unnatural vice for which the wrath of God came down upon the sons of disobedience and destroyed the five cities with fire, if they are clerics be expelled from the clergy or confined in monasteries to do penance; if they are laymen they are to incur excommunication and be completely separated from the society of the faithful. If any cleric without clear and necessary cause presumes to frequent convents of nuns, let the bishop keep him away; and if he does not stop, let him be ineligible for an ecclesiastical benefice.
12. Clerics in the subdiaconate and above and also those in minor orders, if they are supported by ecclesiastical revenues, should not presume to become advocates in legal matters before a secular judge, unless they happen to be defending their own case or that of their church, or acting on behalf of the helpless who cannot conduct their own cases. Let clerics not presume to take upon themselves the management of towns or even secular jurisdiction under princes or seculars so as to become their ministers of justice. If anyone dares to act contrary to this decree, and so contrary to the teaching of the Apostle who says, No soldier of God gets entangled in secular affairs, and acts as a man of this world, let him be deprived of ecclesiastical ministry, on the grounds that neglecting his duty as a cleric he plunges into the waves of this world to please its princes. We decree in the strictest terms that any religious who presumes to attempt any of the above-mentioned things should be punished.