Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent/Session VI/Reformation

Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent  (1851) 
by the Council of Trent, translated by Theodore Alois Buckley
Session VI. Decree touching Reformation



It is fitting that Prelates reside in their own Churches; if they shall do otherwise, the Penalties of the Ancient Law are renewed against them, and new ones decreed.

The same sacred and holy synod,—the same legates of the Apostolic See presiding, wishing to gird itself unto the restoring of ecclesiastical discipline, which is exceedingly relaxed, and to amending the depraved manners of the Christian clergy and people, has thought fit to begin with those who preside over the greater churches; for the integrity of those in authority is the safety of those in subjection. Trusting, therefore, that through the mercy of our Lord and God, and the provident care of His own vicar upon earth, it will surely come to pass that those who are most worthy, and whose previous life and whole career from their early infancy to their riper years, having been laudably passed in the exercises of ecclesiastical discipline, bears testimony in their favour, will be taken unto the government of churches, according to the venerable ordinances of the fathers, since it is a burden to be dreaded even by angels; [the synod] admonishes all those who, under whatsoever name and title, are set over any patriarchal, primatial, metropolitan, and cathedral churches, and accounts all such admonished,[1] that, taking heed to themselves, and to the whole flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath placed them to rule the Church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood,[2] they watch, as the Apostle enjoins, that they labour in all things, and fulfil their ministry.[3] But let them know, that they cannot fulfil it, if, after the manner of hirelings,[4] they abandon the flocks committed to them, and apply not to the keeping of their own sheep, whose blood will be required at their hands,[5] by the Supreme Judge; since it is most certain that, if the wolf have devoured the sheep, and the shepherd knew not thereof, the shepherd's excuse will not be admitted.

And nevertheless, whereas some are to be found at this time, who, as is earnestly to be lamented, forgetful even of their own salvation, and preferring earthly things to heavenly and human things to divine, wander about in various court or, their fold forsaken, and the care of the sheep committed to them neglected, keep themselves busied with the cares of temporal affairs; it hath seemed fit to this sacred and holy synod to renew, as by virtue of the present decree it doth renew, the ancient canons promulgated against non-residents, which [canons] have, through the disorders of the times and of men, almost fallen into desuetude; and furthermore, in order to the more fixed residence of the same, and for the reforming of manners in the church, it hath seemed good to ordain and sanction in the manner following:—

If any one, by what dignity, degree, and pre-eminence soever he may be distinguished, shall, by remaining six consecutive months out of his own diocese, all lawful impediment, or just and reasonable causes being wanting, be absent from a patriarchal, primatial, metropolitan, or cathedral church, under whatsoever title, cause, name, or right committed to him, he shall, by virtue of his conduct,[6] incur the penalty of the forfeiture of a fourth part of one year's fruits, to be applied, by an ecclesiastical superior, to the fabric of the church and to the poor of the place. But if he continue in such like absence during six other months, he shall, by virtue of such conduct,[7] forfeit another fourth part of the fruits, to be applied in like manner. But if the contumacy increase,—to the end that he may be subjected to a severer censure of the sacred canons, the metropolitan shall be obliged to denounce his absent suffragan bishops, and the oldest resident suffragan bishop to denounce his absent metropolitan, to the Roman pontiff, either by letters or by messenger, within the space of three months, under the penalty, to be by such conduct[8] incurred, of being interdicted from entering into the church; who,[9] by the authority of his own supreme see, may animadvert upon the said absentees, according as the greater or less contumacy of each may require, and provide the said churches with more useful pastors, as he shall know in the Lord to be salutarily expedient.


It is not lawful for any one holding a Benefice requiring personal residence to be absent, save for a just cause to he approved of by the Bishop, who even then shall, for the cure of souls, substitute a Vicar in his stead, withdrawing a portion of the fruits.

Those inferior to bishops, who hold by title, or in commendam,[10] any ecclesiastical benefices requiring personal residence whether by law or custom, shall be compelled, by their ordinaries, by suitable legal remedies, to reside as shall seem expedient to them for the good government of the churches and the advancement of divine worship, considering the character of the places and persons; and to no one shall any perpetual privileges, or indults, in favour of not residing, or of receiving the fruits during absence, be of avail: temporary indulgences, however, and dispensations, granted solely for true and reasonable causes, and which are to be legitimately proved before the ordinary, remaining in force: in which cases, nevertheless, it shall be the office of bishops, as delegated in this matter by the Apostolic See, to provide that, by the deputing of competent vicars, and the assigning to them of a suitable portion of the fruits, the cure of souls be in nowise neglected; no privilege in this respect, or exemption whatever, being of avail to any.


The Excesses of Secular Clerks and of Regulars who live out of their Monasteries shall be corrected by the Ordinary of the place.

The prelates of the churches shall apply themselves prudently and diligently to correct the excesses of those in subjection; and no secular clerk, under pretext of a personal [privilege], or any regular, living out of his monastery, shall, under pretext of a privilege of his order, be accounted, if he transgress, exempt from being visited, punished, and corrected, according to the canonical ordinances, by the ordinary of the place, as delegated hereunto by the Apostolic See.


Bishops and other greater Prelates shall visit any Churches soever, as often as there shall be need; everything which might hinder this decree being removed.

The chapters of cathedral, and other greater churches, and the members thereof, shall, by no exemptions, customs, judgments, oaths, concordates, which only bind the authors thereof—not also their successors,—be able to protect themselves from being capable and liable to be, according to the canonical ordinances, visited, corrected, and amended as often as shall be needful, even with apostolical authority, by their own bishops, and other greater prelates, by themselves alone, or with those whom it shall seem fit to them to have joined with them.


Bishops shall neither exercise Pontifical Functions nor Ordain in another Diocese.

It shall not be lawful for any bishop, under the plea of any privilege soever, to exercise pontifical functions in the diocese of another, save only by the express permission of the ordinary of the place, and in regard of those persons only who are subject to that same ordinary. If the contrary shall have been done, the bishop [shall be suspended] from the exercise of pontifical functions, and those so ordained by the very fact[11], shall be similarly suspended from the exercise of their orders.

  1. Monitos esse vult.
  2. Acts xx. 28.
  3. See 2 Tim. iv. 5.
  4. Se eJohn x. 12.
  5. Ezek. xxxiii. 6.
  6. Ipso jure, by the state of the case, by the very fact itself, irrespective of other considerations.
  7. Eo ipso
  8. Ipso facto.
  9. I. e. the Roman pontiff.
  10. I. e. in their own care, until such benefice be provided with a regular incumbent. Commenda is thus defined by Spelman: "custodia ecclesiastici beneficii, quæ ad certum tempus alicui conceditur."—Glossar. p. 144.
  11. Ipso jure.