· Councils 

The Council of Trent

  Thirteenth Session, Second Decree  



Bishops shall apply themselves with prudence to reform the manners of their subjects: from the correction of those bishops there shall be appeal.

The same sacred and holy Synod,-lawfully assembled in the Holy Ghost, the same legate and nuncios of the Apostolic See presiding therein,-purposing to ordain certain things which relate to the jurisdiction of bishops, in order that they may, in accordance with the decree of the last Session, so much the more willingly reside in the churches committed to them, by how much they shall be able, with greater ease and convenience, to rule and to keep in propriety of life and conversation those subject to them, thinks it meet that the bishops be first of all admonished to bear in mind, that they are pastors and not strikers, and that they ought so to preside over those subject to them, as not to lord it over them, but to love them as sons and brethren; and to strive, by exhortation and admonition, to deter them from what is unlawful, that they may not be obliged, should they transgress, to coerce them by due punishments. Towards whom, however, should they happen to sin in any manner through human frailty, that injunction of the apostle is by bishops to be observed, that they reprove, entreat, rebuke them in all kindness and doctrine; seeing that benevolence towards those to be corrected often effects more than austerity; exhortation more than menace; charity more than power. But if, on account of the grievousness of the transgression, there be need of the rod, then is rigour to be tempered with gentleness, judgment with mercy, severity with lenit; that so discipline, so salutary and necessary for the people, may be preserved without harshness; and they who are chastened may be amended, or, if they will not repent, that others, by the wholesome example of their punishment, may be deterred from vices; since it is the office of a pastor, at once vigilant and kind, to apply first of all gentle fomentations to the disorders of his sheep, and afterwards to proceed to sharper and more violent remedies, when the grievousness of the distempers may require them; but if not even these are effectual in removing those disorders, then is he to free the other sheep at least from the danger of contagion. Whereas, therefore, those guilty of crimes, ordinarily, in order to avoid punishment, and to evade the judgments of their bishops, affect to have subjects of complaint and grievances, and, under the subterfuge of an appeal, impede the process of the judge, (this Synod) in order to prevent a remedy which was instituted for the protection of innocence, from being abused to the defence of wickedness, and that this their craft and tergiversation may be met, hath ordained and decreed that: In causes relative to visitation and correction, or to competency or incompetency, as also in criminal causes, there shall be no appeal, before the definitive sentence, from the bishop or his vicar general in spirituals, against any interlocutory sentence, or other (alleged) grievance, whatsoever; neither shall the bishop, nor his vicar, be bound to defer to any such appeal, as being frivolous; but they may proceed to ulterior measures, that appeal, or any inhibition whatsoever emanating from a judge of appeal, as also every usage and custom even immemorial, to the contrary notwithstanding; except it be that the said grievance cannot be repaired by the definitive sentence, or that there is no appeal from the said definitive sentence; in which cases the statutes of the ancient canons shall remain untouched.


An appeal from the bishop in criminal causes, when to be committed to the Metropolitan, or to one of the nearest bishops.

A case of appeal-where there is room for such appeal-from the sentence of the bishop, or that of his vicar general, shall, if it happen to be a case committed by apostolic authority to judges on the spot, be referred to the metropolitan, or even to his vicar general in spirituals; or if that metropolitan be for some cause suspected, or be distant more than two days' journey as settled by law, or if it be from him that the appeal is made, the case shall be committed to one of the nearest bishops, or to the vicars thereof, but not to inferior judges.


The acts of the first instance shall, within thirty days, be given gratuitously to the accused appellant.

The accused who is in a criminal cause an appellant from the bishop, or from his vicar general in spirituals, shall absolutely produce, before the judge to whom he has appealed, the acts of the first instance; and the judge shall by no means proceed, without having seen them, to the absolution of the accused. And he, from whom the appeal is made, shall furnish on the demand (of the appellant), the said acts gratuitously within thirty days; otherwise the said case of appeal shall be terminated without them, in the way that justice may require.


In what manner clerics are, on account of grievous crimes, to be degraded from sacred Orders.

And whereas crimes so grievous are sometimes committed by ecclesiastics, that, on account of the atrocity thereof, they have to be deposed from sacred orders, and delivered over to a secular court; in which case a certain number of bishops is, according to the Canons, required; and whereas, should there be a difficulty in assembling them all, the due execution of the law would be retarded; whilst, should they on any occasion be able to be present, their residence would be interrupted; therefore hath the Synod resolved and decreed, that it shall be lawful for a bishop, by himself or by his vicar general in spirituals, without the presence even of other bishops, to proceed against a cleric, even against one who is raised to the sacred order of the priesthood, even to his condemnation, as also to his verbal deposition; and he shall be able by himself to proceed even to actual and solemn degradation from the said ecclesiastical orders and degrees, in the cases wherein the presence of other bishops, in a specific number, is required by the Canons; taking, however, to himself, and being assisted therein by, a like number of abbots, who have the right of using the mitre and crosier by apostolic privilege, if so be that they can be found in the city, or diocese, and can conveniently be present; or in their default, (being assisted) by (a like number of) others persons constituted in ecclesiastical dignity, who are of weight by their age and recommended by their knowledge of law.


The bishop shall take summary cognizance of graces whereby a sin, or a punishment, is remitted.

And because it sometimes happens that, under false pleas, which notwithstanding seem probable enough, certain persons fraudulently obtain graces, whereby the punishments inflicted on them by the just severity of their bishops are either wholly remitted, or are mitigated; and whereas it is a thing not to be borne, that a lie, which is so exceedingly displeasing to God, should not only itself go unpunished, but even obtain for him that tells it, the pardon of another crime; the Synod hath for this cause ordained and decreed as follows: That a bishop, resident in his own church, shall of himself, as the delegate of the Apostolic See, take cognizance even summarily of the surreption or obreption of any grace, obtained under false pretences, for the absolution of any public crime or delinquency, into which he himself had instituted an inquiry; or for the remission of a punishment to which he has himself condemned the criminal; and he shall not admit the said grace, after that it shall have been lawfully ascertained, that it was obtained by the statement of what is false, or by the suppression of the truth.


A bishop shall not be personally cited, save in a case involving deposition, or deprivation.

And whereas the subjects of a bishop, even though they have been justly chastened, do often nevertheless bear him a violent hatred, and, as if they had suffered some wrong at his hands, object false accusations against him, in order that they may annoy him by whatsoever means lie in their power,-the fear which annoyance doth for the most part render the bishop more backward in inquiring into and punishing delinquencies; therefore, that a bishop may not be compelled-both to his own great inconvenience and that of his Church-to abandon the flock entrusted to him, and that he may not be forced-not without the diminution of the episcopal dignity-to wander from place to place, (the Synod) hath thus ordained and decreed: That a bishop, even though he be proceeded against ex officio, or by way of inquiry, or denunciation, or accusation, or in any other way whatsoever, shall not be cited or warned to appear in person, except for a cause for which he might have to be deposed from, or deprived of, his office.


The qualifications of witnesses against a bishop are described.

In a criminal cause, witnesses shall not be received against a bishop, whether as to the information, or proofs, or other process affecting the principal point of the case, unless their testimony agree, and they be of a good life, in good esteem and reputation; and if they shall have made any deposition through hatred, rashness, or interest, they shall be subjected to grievous punishments.


Important episcopal causes shall be taken cognizance of by the Supreme Pontiff.

The causes of bishops, when, on account of the quality of the crime objected, they have to appear (in person), shall be carried before the Sovereign Pontiff, and be by him decided.


The same holy Synod,-desiring to pluck out of the field of the Lord all the errors which like thorns have sprung up again on the subject of this most holy sacrament, and wishing to provide for the salvation of all the faithful, her daily prayers being devoutly offered up to Almighty God for this end,-amongst the other articles, relative to this sacrament, which have been treated of with the most diligent inquiry into Catholic truth; very many and most accurate conferences, according to the importance of the matters, having been held, and the sentiments also of the most eminent theologians having been ascertained; has likewise treated of these following: whether it be necessary to salvation, and be prescribed of divine right, that all the faithful of Christ receive the said venerable sacrament under both species. And; whether he who communicates under either species receive less than he who communicates under both. And; whether holy Mother Church hath erred, by communicating, under the species of bread only, the laity, and priests when not celebrating. And; whether little children also are to be communicated. But whereas those, of the most noble province of Germany, who call themselves Protestants, desire to be heard by the holy Synod upon these said articles before they are defined, and for this end have asked for the public faith from the Synod, that they may be allowed to come hither in safety, dwell in this city, speak freely and set forth their sentiments before the Synod, and afterwards depart when they please; this holy Synod,-although It has looked forward with great earnestness for many months past for their coming, nevertheless, as an affectionate mother that groaneth and travaileth, most ardently desiring and labouring after this, that, amongst those who bear the Christian name, there may be no schisms, but that, even as all acknowledge the same God and Redeemer, so may all say the same thing, believe the same, think the same,-trusting in the mercy of God, and hoping that the result will be that they may be brought back to the most holy and salutary concord of one faith, hope, and charity, (and) yielding to them herein, hath, as far as the said Synod is concerned, given and granted, according to their request; a public assurance and faith, which they call a safe-conduct, of the tenor which will be set down below; and for their sakes It hath postponed the definition of those articles to the second next Session, which, that they may conveniently be present thereat, It hath indicted for the festival of the conversion of Saint Paul, which will be on the twenty-fifth day of the month of January of the ensuing year. And It furthermore ordains, that the sacrifice of the mass, on account of the close connexion between the two subjects, shall be treated of in the same Session; and that meanwhile It will treat of the sacraments of Penance and Extreme Unction in the next Session, which It hath decreed is to be held on the festival of Saint Catharine, virgin and martyr, which will be the twenty-fifth of November; and that at the same time, in both Sessions, the matter of reformation shall be proceeded with.


The sacred and holy, general Synod of Trent,-lawfully assembled in the Holy Ghost, the same Legate and Nuncios of the holy Apostolic See presiding therein,-grants, as far as regards the holy Synod itself, to all and each one throughout the whole of Germany, whether ecclesiastics or Seculars, of whatsoever degree, estate, condition, quality they be, who may wish to repair to this oecumenical and general Council, the public faith and full security, which they call a safe-conduct, with all and each of the necessary and suitable clauses and decrees, even though they ought to be expressed specifically and not in general terms, and which it is Its wish shall be considered as expressed, so as that they may and shall have it in their power in all liberty to confer, make proposals, and treat on those things which are to be treated of in the said Synod; to come freely and safely to the said oecumenical Council, and there remain and abide, and propose therein, as well in writing as by word of mouth, as many articles as to them shall seem good, and to confer and dispute, without any abuse or contumely, with the Fathers, or with those who may have been selected by the said holy Synod; as also to withdraw whensoever they shall think fit. It hath furthermore seemed good to the holy Synod, that if, for their greater liberty and security, they desire that certain judges be deputed on their behalf, in regard of crimes whether committed, or that may be committed, by them, they shall themselves nominate those who are favourable towards them, even though the said crimes should be ever so enormous and should savour of heresy.