(Source: John C. Olin, Catholic Reform: From Cardinal Ximenes to the Council of Trent 1495-1563, Fordham University Press, New York, 1990, pp. 65-79.)
Most Holy Father, we are so far from being able to express in words the great thanks the Christian Commonwealth should render to Almighty God because He has appointed you pope in these times and pastor of His flock and has given you that resolve which you have that we scarcely hope we can do justice in thought to the gratitude we owe God. For that Spirit of God by whom the power of the heavens has been established, as the prophet says, has determined to rebuild through you the Church of Christ, tottering, nay, in fact collapsed, and, as we see, to apply your hand to this ruin, and to raise it up to its original height and restore it to its pristine beauty. We shall hope to make the surest interpretation of this divine purpose we whom your Holiness has called to Rome and ordered to make known to you, without regard for your advantage or for anyone else’s, those abuses, indeed those most serious diseases, which now for a long time afflict God’s Church and especially this Roman Curia and which have now led with these diseases gradually becoming more troublesome and destructive to this great ruin which we see.
And your Holiness, taught by the Spirit of God who (as Augustine says) speaks in hearts without the din of words, had rightly acknowledged that the origin of these evils was due to the fact that some popes, your predecessors, in the words of the Apostle Paul, “having itching ears heaped up to themselves teachers according to their own lusts” [2 Tim. 4:3], not that they might learn from them what they should do, but that they might find through the application and cleverness of these teachers a justification for what it pleased them to do. Thence it came about, besides the fact that flattery follows all dominion as the shadow does the body and that truth’s access to the ears of princes has always been most difficult, that teachers at once appeared who taught that the pope is the lord of all benefices and that therefore, since a lord may sell by right what is his own, it necessarily follows that the pope cannot be guilty of simony. Thus the will of the pope, of whatever kind it may be, is the rule governing his activities and deeds: whence it may be shown without doubt that whatever is pleasing is also permitted.
From this source as from a Trojan horse so many abuses and such grave diseases have rushed in upon the Church of God that we now see her afflicted almost to the despair of salvation and the news of these things spread even to the infidels (let your Holiness believe those who know), who for this reason especially deride the Christian religion, so that through us through us, we say the name of Christ is blasphemed among the heathens.
But you, Most Holy Father, and truly Most Holy, instructed by the Spirit of God, and with more than that former prudence of yours, since you have devoted yourself fully to the task of curing the ills and restoring good health to the Church of Christ committed to your care, you have seen, and you have rightly seen, that the cure must begin where the disease had its origin, and having followed the teaching of the Apostle Paul you wish to be a steward, not a master, and to be found trustworthy by the Lord, having indeed imitated that servant in the Gospel whom the master set over his household to give them their ration of grain in due time [Luke 12:42]; and on that account you have resolved to turn from what is unlawful; nor do you wish to be able to do what you should not. You have therefore summoned us to you, inexperienced indeed and unequal to so great a task, yet not a little disposed both to the honor and glory of your Holiness and especially to the renewal of the Church of Christ; and you have charged us in the gravest language to compile all the abuses and to make them known to you, having solemnly declared that we shall give you an account of this task entrusted to us to Almighty God if we carelessly or unfaithfully execute it. And you have bound us by oath so that we can discuss all these matters more freely and explain them to you, the penalty of excommunication even having been added lest we disclose anything of our office to anyone.
We have therefore made, in obedience to your command and insofar as it can be briefly done, a compilation of those diseases and their remedies, we stress, which we were able to devise given the limitations of our talents. But you indeed according to your goodness and wisdom will restore and bring to completion all matters where we have been remiss in view of our limitations. And in order to set ourselves some fixed boundaries, since your Holiness is both the prince of those provinces which are under ecclesiastical authority and the pope of the universal Church as well as bishop of Rome, we have not ventured to say anything about matters which pertain to this principality of the Church, excellently ruled, we see, by your prudence. We shall touch, however, on those matters which pertain to the office of universal pontiff and to some extent on those which have to do with the bishop of Rome.
This point, we believed, most Holy Father, must be established before everything else, as Aristotle says in the Politics, that in this ecclesiastical government of the Church of Christ just as in every body politic this rule must be held supreme, that as far as possible the laws be observed; nor do we think that it is licit for us to dispense from these laws save for a pressing and necessary reason. For no more dangerous custom can be introduced in any commonwealth than this failure to observe the laws, which our ancestors wished to be sacred and whose authority they called venerable and divine. You know all this, excellent Pontiff; you have long ago read this in the philosophers and theologians. Indeed we think that the following precept is not only most germane to this, but a greater and higher ordinance by far, that it cannot be permitted even for the Vicar of Christ to obtain any profit in the use of the power of the keys conferred on him by Christ. For truly this is the command of Christ: ”Freely you have received, freely give” [Matt. 10:8].
These points having been established at the outset, then [it should be remembered] your Holiness takes care of the Church of Christ with the help of a great many servants through whom he exercises this responsibility. These, moreover, are all clerics to whom divine worship has been entrusted, priests especially and particularly parish priests and above all bishops. Therefore, if this government is to proceed properly, care must be taken that these servants are qualified for the office which they must discharge.
The first abuse in this respect is the ordination of clerics and especially of priests in which no care is taken, no diligence employed, so that indiscriminately the most unskilled, men of the vilest stock and of evil morals, adolescents, are admitted to Holy Orders and to the priesthood, to the [indelible] mark, we stress, which above all denotes Christ. From this have come innumerable scandals and a contempt for the ecclesiastical order, and reverence for divine worship not only has been diminished but has almost by now been destroyed. Therefore, we think that it would be an excellent thing if your Holiness first in this city of Rome appointed two or three prelates, learned and upright men, to preside over the ordination of clerics. Your Holiness should also instruct all bishops, even under pain of censure, to give careful attention to this in their own dioceses. Nor should your Holiness allow anyone to be ordained except by his own bishop or with the permission of deputies in Rome or of his own bishop. Moreover, we think that each bishop should have a teacher in his diocese to instruct clerics in minor orders both in letters and in morals, as the laws prescribe.
Another abuse of the greatest consequence is in the bestowing of ecclesiastical benefices, especially parishes and above all bishoprics, in the matter of which the practice has become entrenched that provision is made for the persons on whom the benefices are bestowed, but not for the flock and Church of Christ. Therefore, in bestowing parish benefices, but above all bishoprics, care must be taken that they be given to good and learned men so that they themselves can perform those duties to which they are bound, and, in addition, that they be conferred on those who will in all likelihood reside. A benefice in Spain or in Britain then must not be conferred on an Italian, or vice versa. This must be observed both in appointments to benefices vacated through death and in the case of resignations, where now only the intention of the person resigning is considered and nothing else. In the case of these resignations we think that it would have good effect if one or several upright men were put in charge of the matter.
Another abuse, when benefices are bestowed or turned over to others, has crept in in connection with the arrangement of payments from the income of these benefices. Indeed, the person resigning the benefice often reserves all the income for himself. In such cases care must be taken that payments can be reserved for no other reason and with no other justification than for alms which ought to be given for pious uses and for the needy. For income is joined to the benefice as the body to the soul. By its very nature then it belongs to him who holds the benefice so that he can live from it respectably according to his station and can at the same time support the expenses for divine worship and for the upkeep of the church and other religious buildings, and so that he may expend what remains for pious uses. For this is the nature of the income of these benefices. But just as in the course of natural events some things occur in particular cases which are contrary to the tendency of nature as a whole, so in the instance of the pope, because he is the universal steward of the goods of the Church, if he sees that that portion of the revenues which should be spent for pious uses or a part of it may more usefully be spent for some other pious purpose, he can without a doubt arrange it. He is able, therefore, in all justice to set aside payment to aid a person in need, especially a cleric, so that he can live respectably according to his station. For that reason it is a great abuse when all revenues are reserved and everything is taken away which should be allotted to divine service and to the support of him who holds the benefice. And likewise it is certainly a great abuse to make payments to rich clerics who can live satisfactorily and respectably on the income they have. Both abuses must be abolished.
Still another abuse is in the exchanging of benefices which occur under agreements that are all simoniacal and with no consideration except for the profit.
Another abuse must be entirely removed which has now become prevalent in this Curia due to a certain cunning on the part of some experienced persons. For, although the law provides that benefices cannot be bequeathed in a will, since they belong not to the testator but to the Church, and this so that these ecclesiastical properties may be kept in common for the benefit of all and not become the private possession of anyone, human diligence but not Christian diligence has discovered a great many ways whereby this law may be mocked. For first the surrender of bishoprics and other benefices are made with the right of regaining them [cum regressu]; the reservation of the income is added, then the reservation of conferring benefices; the reservation of the administration is piled on top of this, and by this stipulation they make him bishop who does not have the rights of a bishop, whereas all the episcopal rights are given to him who is not made bishop. May your Holiness see how far this flattering teaching has advanced, where at length it has led, so that what is pleasing is permitted. What, I pray, is this except appointing an heir for oneself to a benefice? Besides this another trick has been devised, when coadjutors are given to bishops requesting them, men less qualified than they themselves are, so that, unless one wishes to close his eyes, he may clearly see that by this means an heir is appointed.
Also, an ancient law was renewed by Clement [VII] that sons of priests may not have the benefices of their fathers, lest in this way the common property [of the Church] become private property. Nevertheless, dispensations are made (so we hear) in the case of this law which ought to be revered. We have not been willing to be silent in the face of that which any prudent man may judge for himself to be absolutely true, namely, that nothing has stirred up more this ill-will toward the clergy, whence so many quarrels have arisen and others threaten, than this diversion of ecclesiastical revenues and income from the general to private advantage. Formerly everyone was hopeful [that such abuses would be corrected]; now led to despair they sharpen their tongues against this See.
Another abuse is in the matter of expectatives and reservations of benefices, and the occasion is given to desire another’s death and to hear of it with pleasure. Indeed the more worthy are excluded when there are vacancies, and cause is given for litigations. All these abuses, we think, must be abolished.
Another abuse has been devised with the same cunning. For certain benefices are by right “incompatible,” and they are so designated. By virtue of that term our forefathers have wished to remind us that they should not be conferred on one single person. Now dispensations are granted in these cases not only for two [such benefices] but for more, and, what is worse, for bishoprics. We feel that this custom which has become so prevalent because of greed must be abolished, especially in the case of bishoprics. What about the lifelong unions of benefices in one man, so that such a plurality of benefices is no obstacle to holding benefices that are “incompatible”? Is that not a pure betrayal of the law?
Another abuse has also become prevalent, that bishoprics are conferred on the most reverend cardinals or that not one but several are put in their charge, an abuse, most Holy Father, which we think is of great importance in God’s Church. In the first place, because the offices of cardinal and bishop are “incompatible.” For the cardinals are to assist your Holiness in governing the universal Church; the bishop’s duty, however, is to tend his own flock, which he cannot do well and as he should unless he lives with his sheep as a shepherd with his flock.
Furthermore, Holy Father, this practice is especially injurious in the example it sets. For how can this Holy See set straight and correct the abuses of others if abuses are tolerated in its own principal members? Nor do we think that because they are cardinals they have a greater license to transgress the law; on the contrary, they have far less. For the life of these men ought to be a law for others; nor should they imitate the Pharisees who speak and do not act, but Christ our Savior who began to act and afterward to teach. This practice is more harmful in the deliberations of the Church, for this license nurtures greed. Besides, the cardinals solicit bishoprics from kings and princes, on whom they are afterward dependent and about whom they cannot freely pass judgment. Indeed, even if they are able and willing, they are nevertheless led astray, confused in their judgment by their partisanship. Would that this custom be abolished therefore and provision be made that the cardinals can live respectably in accordance with their dignity, each receiving an equal income. We believe that this can easily be done if we wish to abandon the servitude to Mammon and to serve only Christ.
With these abuses corrected which pertain to the appointment of your ministers, through whom as through instruments both the worship of God can be properly directed and the Christian people well instructed and governed in the Christian life, we must now approach those matters which refer to the government of the Christian people. In this regard, most blessed Father, the abuse that first and before all others must be reformed is that bishops above all and then parish priests must not be absent from their churches and parishes except for some grave reason, but must reside, especially bishops, as we have said, because they are the bridegrooms of the church entrusted to their care. For, by the Eternal God, what sight can be more lamentable for the Christian man traveling through the Christian world than this desertion of the churches? Nearly all the shepherds have departed from their flocks; nearly all have been entrusted to hirelings. A heavy penalty, therefore, must be imposed on bishops before the others, and then on parish priests, who are absent from their flocks, not only censures, but also the withholding of the income of absentees, unless the bishops have obtained permission from your Holiness and the parish priests from their bishops to be away for a short period of time. Some laws and the decrees of some Councils may be read in this regard, which provide that the bishop shall not be permitted to be away from his church for more than three Sundays.
It is also an abuse that so many of the most reverend cardinals are absent from this Curia and perform none of the duties incumbent on them as cardinals. Although perhaps not all should reside here, for we think it advantageous that some should live in their provinces for through them as through some roots spread out into the whole Christian world the peoples are bound together under this Roman See yet your Holiness therefore should call most to the Curia that they might reside here. For in this way, aside from the fact that the cardinals would be performing their office, provision would also be made for the dignity of the Curia and the gap repaired, if any should occur by the withdrawal of many bishops returning to their own churches.
Another great abuse and one that must by no means be tolerated, whereby the whole Christian people is scandalized, arises from the obstacles the bishops face in the government of their flocks, especially in punishing and correcting evildoers. For in the first place wicked men, chiefly clerics, free themselves in many ways from the jurisdiction of their ordinary. Then, if they have not arranged this exemption, they at once have recourse to the Penitentiary or to the Datary, where they immediately find a way to escape punishment, and, what is worse, they find this in consideration of the payment of money. This scandal, most blessed Father, so greatly disturbs the Christian people that words cannot express it. Let these abuses be abolished, we implore your Holiness by the Blood of Christ, by which He has redeemed for Himself His Church and in which He has bathed her. Let these stains be removed, by which, if any access were given to them in any commonwealth of men or any kingdom, it would at once or very soon fall headlong into ruin; nor could it in any way longer survive. Yet we think that we are at liberty to introduce these monstrosities into the Christian Commonwealth.
Another abuse must be corrected with regard to the religious orders, for many have become so deformed that they are a great scandal to the laity and do grave harm by their example. We think that all conventual orders ought to be done away with, not however that injury be done to anyone, but by prohibiting the admission of novices. Thus they might be quickly abolished without wronging anyone, and good religious could be substituted for them. In fact, we now think that it would be best if all boys who have not been professed were removed from their monasteries.
We believe that the appointment of preachers and confessors from among the friars must also be given attention and corrected, first that their superiors take great care that they are qualified and then that they are presented to the bishops, to whom above all others the care of the Church has been entrusted, by whom they may be examined either directly or through capable men. Nor should they be permitted to carry out these tasks without the consent of the bishops.
We have said, most blessed Father, that it is not lawful in any way in the matter of the use of the keys for him exercising this power to obtain any profit. Concerning this there is the firm word of Christ: “Freely you have received, freely give.” This pertains not only to your Holiness, but to all who share your power. Therefore we would wish that this same injunction be observed by the legates and nuncios. For just as custom which has now become prevalent dishonors this See and disturbs the people, so, if the contrary were done, this See would win the highest honor and the people would be wonderfully edified.
Another abuse troubles the Christian people with regard to nuns under the care of conventual friars, where in very many convents public sacrilege occurs with the greatest scandal to all. Therefore, let your Holiness take this entire responsibility away from the conventuals and give it either to the ordinaries or to others, whatever will be deemed better.
There is a great and dangerous abuse in the public schools, especially in Italy, where many professors of philosophy teach ungodly things. Indeed, the most ungodly disputations take place in the churches, and, if they are of a religious nature, what pertains to the divine in them is treated before the people with great irreverence. We believe, therefore, that the bishops must be instructed, where there are public schools, to admonish those who lecture that they not teach the young ungodly things, but that they show the weakness of the natural light [of reason] in questions relating to God, to the newness or the eternity of the world, and the like, and guide these youths to what is godly. Likewise, that public disputations on questions of this kind should not be permitted, nor on theological matters either, which disputations certainly destroy much respect among the common people, but that disputations on these matters be held privately and on other questions in the realm of natural science publicly. And the same charge must be imposed on all other bishops, especially of important cities, where disputations of this kind are wont to be held.
The same care must also be employed in the printing of books, and all princes should be instructed by letter to be on their guard lest any books be printed indiscriminately under their authority. Responsibility in this matter should be given to the ordinaries. And because boys in elementary school are now accustomed to read the Colloquies of Erasmus, in which there is much to educate unformed minds to ungodly things, the reading of this book and others of this type then must be prohibited in grammar school.
Following these matters which pertain to the instruction of your ministers in the care of the universal Church and in its administration, it must be noted that with regard to privileges granted by your Holiness besides the former abuses other abuses have also been introduced.
The first concerns renegade friars or religious who after a solemn vow withdraw from their order and obtain permission not to wear the habit of their order or even the trace of a habit, but only dignified clerical dress. Let us omit for the moment any reference to gain. For we have already said in the beginning that it is not lawful to make a profit for oneself from the use of the keys and of the power given by Christ, but that one must abstain from this indulgence. For the habit is the sign of profession, whence a dispensation cannot be given even by the bishop to whom these renegades are subject. Therefore this privilege ought not to be granted them; nor should those, when they depart from a vow which binds them to God, be allowed to hold benefices or administrative posts.
Another abuse concerns the pardoners [of the hospital] of the Holy Spirit, [of the hospital] of St. Anthony, and others of this type, who deceive the peasants and simple people and ensnare them with innumerable superstitions. It is our opinion that these pardoners should be abolished.
Another abuse is in connection with dispensing a person established in Holy Orders so that he can take a wife. This dispensation should not be given anyone except for the preservation of a people or a nation, where there is a most serious public reason, especially in these times when the Lutherans lay such great stress on this matter.
There is an abuse in dispensing in the case of marriages between those related by blood or by marriage. Indeed we do not think that this should be done within the second degree [of consanguinity] except for a serious public reason and in other degrees except for a good reason and without any payment of money, as we have already said, unless the parties previously have been united in marriage. In that case it may be permitted in view of the absolution of a sin already committed to impose a money fine after absolution and to allot it to the pious causes to which your Holiness contributes. For just as no money can be demanded when the use of the keys is without sin, so a money fine can be imposed and allotted to pious usage when absolution from sin is sought.
Another abuse concerns the absolution of those guilty of simony. Alas, how this destructive vice holds sway in the Church of God, so that some have no fear of committing simony and then immediately seek absolution from punishment. Indeed they purchase that absolution, and thus they retain the benefice which they have purchased. We do not say that your Holiness is not able to absolve them of that punishment which has been ordained by positive law, but that he ought by no means to do so, so that opposition might be offered to a crime so great that there is none more dangerous or more scandalous.
Also permission should not be given to clerics to bequeath ecclesiastical property except for an urgent reason, lest the possessions of the poor be converted to private pleasure and the enlarging of a person’s own estate.
Moreover confessional letters as well as the use of portable altars should not be readily allowed, for this cheapens the devotions of the Church and the most important sacrament of all. Nor should indulgences be granted except once a year in each of the principal cities. And the commutation of vows ought not to be so easily made, except in view of an equivalent good.
It has also been the custom to alter the last wills of testators who bequeath a sum of money for pious causes, which amount is transferred by the authority of your Holiness to an heir or legatee because of alleged poverty, etc., but actually because of greed. Indeed, unless there has been a great change in the household affairs of an heir because of the death of the testator, so that it is likely that the testator would have altered his will in view of that situation, it is wicked to alter the wills of testators. We have already spoken often about greed, wherefore we think that this practice should be entirely avoided.
Having set forth in brief all those matters which pertain to the pontiff of the universal Church as far as we could comprehend them, we shall in conclusion say something about that which pertains to the bishop of Rome. This city and church of Rome is the mother and teacher of the other churches. Therefore in her especially divine worship and integrity of morals ought to flourish. Accordingly, most blessed Father, all strangers are scandalized when they enter the basilica of St. Peter where priests, some of whom are vile, ignorant, and clothed in robes and vestments which they cannot decently wear in poor churches, celebrate mass. This is a great scandal to everyone. Therefore the most reverend archpriest or the most reverend penitentiary must be ordered to attend to this matter and remove this scandal. And the same must be done in other churches.
Also in this city harlots walk about like matrons or ride on mules, attended in broad daylight by noble members of the cardinals’ households and by clerics. In no city do we see this corruption except in this model for all cities. Indeed they even dwell in fine houses. This foul abuse must also be corrected.
There are also in this city the hatreds and animosities of private citizens which it is especially the concern of the bishop to compose and conciliate. Therefore, all these animosities must be resolved and the passions of the citizens composed by some cardinals, Romans especially, who are more qualified.
There are in this city hospitals, orphans, widows. Their care especially is the concern of the bishop and the prince. Therefore your Holiness could properly take care of all of these through cardinals who are upright men.
These are the abuses, most blessed Father, which for the present, according to the limitations of our talents, we thought should be compiled, and which seemed to us ought to be corrected. You indeed, in accord with your goodness and wisdom, will direct all these matters. We certainly, if we have not done justice to the magnitude of the task which is far beyond our powers, have nevertheless satisfied our consciences, and we are not without the greatest hope that under your leadership we may see the Church of God cleansed, beautiful as a dove, at peace with herself, agreeing in one body, to the eternal memory of your name. You have taken the name of Paul; you will imitate, we hope, the charity of Paul. He was chosen as the vessel to carry the name of Christ among the nations [Acts 9:15]. Indeed, we hope that you have been chosen to restore in our hearts and in our works the name of Christ now forgotten by the nations and by us clerics, to heal the ills, to lead back the sheep of Christ into one fold, to turn away from us the wrath of God and that vengeance which we deserve, already prepared and looming over our heads.
Gasparo, Cardinal Contarini
Gian Pietro [Carafa], Cardinal of Chieti
Jacopo, Cardinal Sadoleto
Reginald [Pole], Cardinal of England
Federigo [Fregoso], Archbishop of Salerno
Jerome [Aleander], Archbishop of Brindisi
Gian Matteo [Giberti], Bishop of Verona
Gregorio [Cortese], Abbot of San Giorgio, Venice
Friar Tommaso [Badia], Master of the Sacred Palace
- Regarding this important question see Adrian VI’s concluding remarks in his Instruction to Chieregati, in CR, chap. 9. ↑
- Luther’s gloss on this particular passage, which is characteristic of his remarks in general on the Consilium, reads as follows: “This Romish trick was invented by the popes and cardinals themselves, and it is doubtful that they will be reformed therein.” See Luther’s Works, edd. Helmuth Lehmann, Jaroslav Pelikan, et al., 56 vols. (St. Louis: Concordia, 1955), XXXIV 248. ↑
- An expectative is the assignment of a benefice before it has become vacant. A reservation of a benefice is the retention of the right to assign it. ↑
- “The calamity of our age,” says Contarini, with reference to such widespread absenteeism and neglect, in his De officio episcopi; see CR, chap. 7. ↑
- The Consilium quite clearly is not recommending “the abolition of monasticism,” as H. R. Trevor-Roper states it is in his Historical Essays (New York: Harper & Row, 1966), p. 50. It is simply a matter of doing away with the relaxed or less strict branches of the mendicant orders, notably the Franciscan Conventuals. In fact, the reform of monasticism and the establishment of new orders the Theatines, the Capuchins, and later the Jesuits had major support among the authors of the Consilium. ↑
- Erasmus’ Colloquies was first published in 1518 and saw numerous editions and enlargements in subsequent years. Originally intended as a school text, it became one of Erasmus’ most popular works. Because of its ridicule and criticism of many common practices and notably of the monks and friars. it came under frequent attack. Its censure by the Sorbonne in 1526 elicited a defense of it by Erasmus, which may be read in The Colloquies of Erasmus, trans. Craig R. Thompson (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1965), Appendix I. In view of other condemnations, the above prohibition, limited as it is to grammar schools, is rather mild. ↑
- The pardoners mentioned were attached to two hospitals in Rome. There were many complaints about the kind of indulgence-preaching these and similar pardoners conducted. See Concilium Tridentinum, XII 142nl.” ↑
- The question of who actually wrote the Consilium has often been discussed, and various attributions have been made (see ibid., 132-33). Given the state of the problem, however, it seems best to attribute it to the nine signatories as a collective work, though perhaps Contarini and Carafa may be viewed as the principal authors. A strong case can be made especially for the latter, in view of his energetic personality and of several important points of similarity between the Consilium and a reform memorial he sent to Clement VII in 1532. This latter document may be found in ibid., 67-77, and is discussed in G. M. Monti, Ricerche su Papa Paolo IV Carafa I (Benevento: Cooperativi Typographi, 1923), where (pp. 41-47) its correspondence with the Consilium is stressed. ↑