Fifth Council of the Lateran

Fifth Council of the Lateran
Date 1512-1517
Accepted by Roman Catholicism
Previous council
Council of Basel-Ferrara-Florence
Next council
Council of Trent
Convoked by Pope Julius II
President Pope Julius II, Pope Leo X
Attendance about 100 bishops, mostly Italians
Topics church discipline
Documents and statements
five decrees, pawn shops allowed, permission required to print books
Chronological list of Ecumenical councils

The Fifth Council of the Lateran (1512–1517) is the Eighteenth Ecumenical Council to be recognized by the Roman Catholic Church and the last one before the Protestant Reformation.


When elected pope in 1503, Pope Julius II promised under oath to convoke a general council; however, as time passed, his promise was not fulfilled.[1]

The Republic of Venice had encroached papal rights in Venetian territories by filling vacant episcopal sees independent of the pope, subjected clergy to secular tribunals, and disregarded the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of Julius II in other ways. In 1509, Julius II joined the League of Cambrai, a coalition to restore recent continental conquests by Venice to their original owners. Then, also in 1509, Julius II censured Venice with an interdict and deployed Papal States' armies into Venetian occupied Romagna. Venice suffered a complete defeat at the Battle of Agnadello on 14 May 1509, against the combined forces of the League of Cambrai. In 1510, Venice negotiated with Julius II, who withdrew from the League of Cambrai and removed the censure, after Venice agreed to, among other terms: to return disputed towns in Romagna; to renounce their claims to fill vacant benefices; to acknowledge jurisdiction of ecclesiastical tribunals over clergy and immunities of the clergy, including exemption from taxes; to revoke all unauthorized treaties made with towns in the Papal States; to abandon appeal to a future general council against the papal bans; and to concede free navigation of the Adriatic Sea to Papal States subjects.[2][3]

The first stages of conflict between the Papal States and France began in 1510. King Louis XII of France demanded that the Republic of Florence should definitely declare its allegiance. Declaring allegiance to France would expose Florence to an immediate attack and alienate citizens who dreaded a conflict with the head of the Church. Florence was full of antagonistic parties and irreconcilable interests; in order to gain time, it sent Niccolò Machiavelli on a diplomatic mission to France in July 1510, where he found Louis XII eager for war and inclined towards the idea of a general council to depose Julius II.[4]

Julius II was a soldier and his goal was to free the entire Italian Peninsula from subjection by foreign powers.[2] But, only Venice and the Old Swiss Confederacy were ready to field armies against the French. Julius II began hostilities by deposing and excommunicating his vassal, Alfonso I d'Este, Duke of Ferrara, who supported France. Louis XII retaliated by convoking a synod of French bishops, at Tours in September 1510, which judged that the pope had no right to make war upon a foreign prince, and, in case he should undertake such a war, the foreign prince had the right to invade the Papal States and to withdraw his subjects from their obedience to the pope. The synod also threatened Julius II with a general council. Julius II ignored the French synod, and again assumed personal command of the army in Northern Italy. At Bologna he became dangerously ill in August 1510, but recovered. In October he negotiated an anti-French alliance. In the beginning the alliance included only the Papal States, Venice, and Spain, but England joined in November and was soon followed by the emperor and by Switzerland. Papal States marched against Mirandola which was captured on 20 January 1511. On 23 May 1511 contingents of the French army captured Bologna from the papal troops and reinstated Annibale II Bentivoglio.[2]

Under the leadership of Gaston of Foix, Duke of Nemours, the French were at first successful, but after his death they yielded to the superior forces of the League, and, after being defeated in the Battle of Ravenna in 1512, they retreated beyond the Alps. Bologna again submitted to Julius II and the cities of Parma, Reggio, and Piacenza were added to the Papal States.[2]

The Conciliabulum of Pisa

Not to be confused with the Council of Pisa, which elected Antipope Alexander V in 1409, during the Western Schism.

The reforms attempted by the Council of Constance, 1414–1418, and Council of Basel-Ferrara-Florence, 1431–1449, failed. At the synods of Orleans and Tours, in 1510, the French decided to convoke a general council. In view of the Council of Constance decree Frequens and the delay of Julius II to convoke a general council as he had sworn in the papal conclave, the schismatic conciliabulum convened at Pisa in 1511.[5] Florence permitted the conciliabulum to use Pisa as the location;[6] this estranged Julius II, and both Florence and Pisa were placed under an interdict.[6] According to Marco Pellegrini, the Gallican conciliabulum "shows how some members of the Sacred College were ever open to schismatic solutions" [7]

According to Kraus, it was intended to restrain Julius II by French politicians and also intended to recognize by general council of the principles of the 1438 Pragmatic Sanction of Bourges drawn from the articles of the Council of Constance and the Council of Basel-Ferrara-Florence. The schismatic conciliabulum at Pisa was attended by only a few prelates including Cardinals Bernardino López de Carvajal, Guillaume Briçonnet, Francesco Borgia, Federico Sanseverino, and René de Prie.[8][lower-alpha 1] They were encouraged by Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor, and Louis XII.[1] According to Shahan, dissatisfaction with treatment by Julius II, and subserviency to the excommunicate Louis XII, led Carvajal to this rebellious attitude.[10]

Maximilian I, who had planned since 1507 to procure his own election to the papacy after Julius II died, at first gave his protection to the schismatic conciliabulum at Pisa. Afterwards he withdrew it, and the German Bishops also refused to have anything to do with the schismatic tendencies of the French. On 18 July 1511 Julius II summoned a general council, the Fifth Lateran Council, at Rome; it assembled there on 19 April 1512, with a very small attendance composed entirely of Italian prelates.[11]

Julius II deprived the four leading schismatic cardinals of their dignities and deposed them from their offices, and excommunicated the conciliabulum participants.[12]

After the conciliabulum transferred from Pisa to Milan on account of popular opposition,[9] possibly elected Carvajal as Antipope Martin VI.[13]

Soon after, in 1512, fearing the Swiss mercenaries invasion of the French occupied Duchy of Milan, the conciliabulum participants departed to Lyon, France, where they abandoned the conciliabulum later that year.[14]

The schismatic conciliabulum was a political step aimed at Julius II, who was involved in conflict with the Duchy of Ferrara and France. The whole matter was a futile attempt to revive 15th century conciliarism and to employ it for political purposes.[9]

Convocation of the Lateran Council

Bulla monitorii et declarationis

Julius II was quick to oppose the conciliabulum and convoked a general council by a papal bull of 18 July 1511, which was to meet on 19 April 1512 in the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran in Rome. The bull was not only a canonical document but polemical in content. Julius II refuted the allegation by the cardinals for their Pisa conciliabulum. He declared that his promise before his election as pope was sincere; that since he became pope, he had always sought to call a general council; that to prepare the general council he had endeavoured to bring an end to quarrels between rulers; that subsequent wars had made calling the council inopportune. Julius then reproached the participants at Pisa for their lack of respect by calling a council without the pope who was supposed to lead. He also said that the three months of preparation for Pisa was not enough. Finally, he declared that no one should attach any significance to the statements made at Pisa.

A war of polemics was waged about the councils, pitting Thomas Cajetan, the Dominican Master General, on the papal side against the conciliarist arguments of Jacques Almain, the spokesman of the University of Paris.

At the seventh session, in 1513, Carvajal and Sanseverino separated from their French colleagues and formally renounced the schism, and were restored by Leo X to their offices.[10]

Meetings and decisions

Litterae super abrogatione pragmatice sanctionis, 1512

France's victory over the Papal States and the Spanish Empire at the 1512 Battle of Ravenna hindered the opening of the council called by Julius II and it finally met on 3 May at Archbasilica of St. John Lateran. Participants included fifteen cardinals, the Latin patriarchs of Alexandria and Antioch, ten archbishops, fifty-six bishops, some abbots and generals of religious orders, the ambassadors of Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor, and those of Venice and of Florence. After Julius II died, his successor Pope Leo X continued the council, and the last session was held on 16 March 1517. During the council, the ambassador of the Holy Roman Emperor announced that Maximilian had rejected the decisions made by the conciliabulum at Pisa and a similar announcement was made by Louis XII's ambassador.

Several decrees were published, including:

Little was done to put the work of the council into practice. Whether or not the Protestant Reformation could have been avoided if the reforms had been implemented is a matter of debate. Martin Luther's posting of 95 theses occurred just seven months after the close of the Council.


  1. According to Leclercq, four cardinals met at Pisa and proxies representing three others, several bishops and abbots were also present.[1] Ott set the number of cardinals at five.[2] According to Schaff-Herzog, the schismatic conciliabulum was called by nine cardinals under Carvajal, three of whom, however, had not formally given assent, to convene Sept. 1, 1511.[9] The handful of members held three sessions at Pisa.[6]



  • Burns, James H.; Izbicki, Thomas M., eds. (1997). Conciliarism and papalism. Cambridge texts in the history of political thought. Cambridge [u.a.]: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-47089-7. 
  • Constant, Eric A. (2002). "A reinterpretation of the Fifth Lateran Council Decree Apostolici regiminis (1513)". Sixteenth Century Journal. 33 (2): 353–379. ISSN 0361-0160. JSTOR 4143912. 
  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Jackson, Samuel Macauley, ed. (1911). "Pisa, Councils of". New Schaff–Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge. 9 (third ed.). London and New York: Funk and Wagnalls. p. 73. 
  • Catholic Church. Lateran Council V (2007) [Documents promulgated 1512–1517]. Fifth Lateran Council (IntraText ed.). Rome: Èulogos SpA. Retrieved 2014-11-21 via The IntraText Digital Library.  Introduction and translation taken from Tanner, Norman P, ed. (1990). Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils. London: Sheed & Ward. ISBN 0-87840-490-2. 
  • One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a work now in the public domain: Kraus, Franz X. (1907) [1904]. "Medicean Rome". In Ward, Adolphus W.; et al. The Cambridge modern history. 2. New York; London: Macmillan. OCLC 609661773. 
  • One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a work now in the public domain: Leathes, Stanley Mordaunt (1903) [1902]. "Italy and her invaders". In Ward, Adolphus W.; et al. The Cambridge modern history. 1. New York; London: Macmillan. OCLC 609661773. 
  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Leclercq, Henri (1910). "Fifth Lateran Council (1512-17)". In Herbermann, Charles. Catholic Encyclopedia. 9. New York: Robert Appleton. 
  • Minnich, Nelson H. (2007). "Julius II and Leo X as presidents of the Fifth Lateran Council (1512-1517)". In Alazard, Florence; La Branca, Frank. La papauté à la Renaissance. XLVIe Colloque international d'études humanistes, at the Centre d'études supérieures de la Renaissance, in Tours, 30 June to 4 July 2003. Savoir de Mantice. 12. Paris: Honoré Champion Éditeur. pp. 153–166. ISBN 9782745315717. 
  •  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Ott, Michael (1910). "Pope Julius II". In Herbermann, Charles. Catholic Encyclopedia. 8. New York: Robert Appleton. 
  • Pellegrini, Marco (2004) [2002]. "A turning-point in the history of the factional system in the Sacred College : the power of the pope and cardinals in the age of Alexander VI". In Signorotto, Gianvittorio; Visceglia, Maria A. Court and politics in papal Rome, 1492-1700. Cambridge studies in Italian history and culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 16. ISBN 9780521641463. 
  •  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Shahan, Thomas (1908). "Bernardino Lopez de Carvajal". In Herbermann, Charles. Catholic Encyclopedia. 3. New York: Robert Appleton. 
  • Tanner, Norman P. (2001). The councils of the church : a short history. New York: Crossroad. ISBN 978-0-8245-1904-9. 
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