Select Historical Documents of the Middle Ages/Book III/Decree of the Lateran Council



(Doeberl, iv. p. 253.)

Concerning the election of the supreme pontiff. Although, for the sake of avoiding discord at the election of a supreme pontiff, clear enough decrees have emanated from our predecessors,—nevertheless, since often, after their promulgation, the church has suffered grave disunion through the audacity of wicked ambition: we, also, by the counsel of our brothers and the approbation of the holy council, have decided to add something to avert this evil. We decree, therefore, that if, by chance, some hostile man sowing discord among the cardinals, full concord cannot be attained with regard to constituting a pope; and, with the two thirds which agree, the other third be unwilling to agree, or presume of itself to ordain some one else: he shall be considered Roman pontiif who shall be elected and received by two thirds. But if any one, trusting in the nomination of one third, shall usurp for himself the name—the real authority he can not—of a bishop: he himself, as well as those who shall have received him, shall be subject to excommunication, and shall be punished by the privation of all their holy orders; so that the holy Eucharist, except on their death-beds, shall be denied them, and, unless, they come to their senses, their lot shall be with Dathan and Abiron whom the earth swallowed up alive. Moreover if any one be elected to the office of pope by fewer than two thirds,—unless greater concord is attained, he shall by no means be accepted, and shall be subject to the aforesaid penalty if he be unwilling to humbly abstain. From this, however, let no prejudice to the canonical and other ecclesiastical decrees arise, with regard to which the opinion of the greater and the sounder part should prevail; for when a doubt arises with regard to them, it can be defined by the judgment of a higher power. But, in the Roman church, special decrees are made, because recourse cannot be had to a higher power.