· Councils 

The Council of Trent

  Twenty Fifth Session, Eighth Decree  



Cardinals and all Prelates of the churches shall be content with modest furniture and a frugal table: they shall not enrich their relatives or domestics out of the property of the Church.

It is to be wished, that those who undertake the office of a bishop should understand what their portion is; and comprehend that they are called, not to their own convenience, not to riches or luxury, but to labours and cares for the glory of God. For it is not to be doubted, that the rest of the faithful also will be more easily excited to religion and innocence, if they shall see those who are set over them, not fixing their thoughts on the things of this world, but on the salvation of souls, and on their heavenly country. Wherefore the holy Synod, being minded that these things are of the greatest importance towards restoring ecclesiastical discipline, admonishes all bishops, that, often meditating thereon, they show themselves conformable to their office, by their actual deeds, and the actions of their lives; which is a kind of perpetual sermon; but above all that they so order their whole conversation, as that others may thence be able to derive examples of frugality, modesty, continency, and of that holy humility which so much recom mends us to God.

Wherefore, after the example of our fathers in the Council of Carthage, It not only orders that bishops be content with modest furniture, and a frugal table and diet, but that they also give heed that in the rest of their manner of living, and in their whole house, there be nothing seen that is alien from this holy institution, and which does not manifest simplicity, zeal towards God, and a contempt of vanities. Also, It wholly forbids them to strive to enrich their own kindred or domestics out of the revenues of the church: seeing that even the canons of the Apostles forbid them to give to their kindred the property of the church, which belongs to God; but if their kindred be poor, let them distribute to them thereof as poor, but not misapply, or waste, it for their sakes : yea, the holy Synod, with the utmost earnestness, admonishes them completely to lay aside all this human and carnal affection towards brothers, nephews and kindred, which is the seed-plot of many evils in the church. And what has been said of bishops, the same is not only to be observed by all who hold ecclesiastical benefices, whether Secular or Regular, each according to the nature of his rank, but the Synod decrees that it also regards the cardinals of the holy Roman Church ; for whereas, upon their advice to the most holy Roman Pontiff, the administration of the universal Church depends, it would seem to be a shame, if they did not at the same time shine so pre-eminent in virtue and in the discipline of their lives, as deservedly to draw upon themselves the eyes of all men.


By whom individually the Decrees of the Council are to be solemnly received; and by whom a profession of faith is to be made.

The calamitousness of the times, and the malignity of the increasing heresies demand, that nothing be left undone which may seem in any wise capable of tending to the edification of the people, and to the defence of the Catholic faith. Wherefore the holy Synod enjoins on patriarchs, primates, archbishops, bishops, and all others, who, of right or custom, ought to be present at the provincial Council, that, in the very first provincial Synod that shall be held after the close of this Council, they publicly receive all and singular the things that have been defined and ordained by this holy Synod; as also that they promise and profess true obedience to the Sovereign Roman Pontiff; and at the same time publicly express their detestation of and anathematize all the heresies that have been condemned by the sacred canons and general councils, and especially by this same Synod. And henceforth, all those who shall be promoted to be patriarchs, primates, archbishops, and bishops, shall strictly observe the same in the first provincial Synod at which they shall be present. And should any one of all the aforesaid refuse, which God forbid, the bishops of the same province shall be bound, under pain of the divine indignation, at once to give notice thereof to the Sovereign Roman Pontiff, and shall meanwhile abstain from communion with that person. And all others, who now hold, or shall hereafter hold, ecclesiastical benefices, and whose duty it is to be present at the diocesan Synod, shall do and observe the same, as above set down, on the very first occasion that the synod shall be held, otherwise they shall be punished according to the form of the sacred canons. Moreover, all those to whom belong the charge, visitation, and reformation of universities and of (places of) general studies, shall diligently take care that the canons and decrees of this holy Synod be, by the said universities, wholly received ; and that the masters, doctors, and others, in the said universities, interpret and teach those things which are of Catholic faith, in conformity therewith; and that at the beginning of each year they bind themselves by solemn oath to this procedure. And also if there be any other things that need correction and reformation in the universities aforesaid, they shall be reformed and regulated by those whom it regards, for the advancement of religion and of ecclesiastical discipline. But as regards those universities which are immediately under the protection of the Sovereign Pontiff, and are subject to his visitation, his Blessedness will take care that they be, by his delegates, wholesomely visited and reformed in the manner aforesaid, and as shall seem to him most advantageous.


The sword of excommunication is not to be rashly used: when an execution can be made on property or person, censures are to be abstained from: the civil magistrates shall not interfere herein.

Although the sword of excommunication is the very sinews of ecclesiastical discipline, and very salutary for keeping the people in their duty, yet it is to be used with sobriety and great circumspection; seeing that experience teaches, that if it be rashly or for slight causes wielded, it is more despised than feared, and produces ruin rather than safety. Wherefore, those excommunications, which, after certain admonitions, are wont to be issued with the view as it is termed, of causing a revelation, or on account of things that have been lost or stolen, shall be issued by no one whomsoever, but the bishop; and not then, otherwise than on account of some circumstance of no common kind which moves the mind of the bishop thereunto, after the cause has been by him diligently and very maturely weighed ; nor shall he be induced to grant the said excommunications by the authority of any Secular person whatever, even though a magistrate; but the whole shall be left to his own judgment and conscience, when, considering the circumstances, the place, the person, or the time, he shall himself judge that such are to be resolved on.

As regards judicial causes, it is enjoined on all ecclesiastical judges, of whatsoever dignity they may be, that, both during the proceedings, and in giving judgment, they abstain from ecclesiastical censures, or interdict, as often as an execution on the person or property can, in each stage of the process, be effected by them of their own proper authority ; but in civil causes, which in any way belong to the ecclesiastical court, it shall be lawful for them, if they judge it expedient, to proceed against all persons whatsoever, even laymen, and to terminate suits, by means of pecuniary fines, which, by the very fact of being levied, shall be assigned to the pious places there existing; or by distress upon the goods, or arrest of the person, to be made either by their own, or other officers; or even by deprivation of benefices, and other remedies at law. But if the execution cannot be made in this way, either upon the person, or goods, of the guilty, and there be contumacy towards the judge, he may then, in addition to the other penalties, smite them also with the sword of anathema, if he think fit.

In like manner in criminal causes, wherein an execution can as above be effected upon the person or goods, the judge shall abstain from censures ; but, if that execution cannot easily be made, it shall be lawful for the judge to employ the said spiritual sword against delinquents ; provided however the character of the offence so require, and after two monitions at least, and this by public notice. And it shall not be lawful for any civil magistrate, to prohibit an ecclesiastical judge from excommunicating any individual; or to command that he revoke an excomnunication that has been issued; under pretext that the things contained in the present decree have not been observed; whereas the cognizance hereof does not appertain to Seculars, but to ecclesiastics. And every excommunicated person, who, after the lawful monitions, does not repent, shall not only not be received to the sacraments, and to communion, and intercourse with the faithful, but, if, being bound with censures, he shall, with obdurate heart, remain for a year in the defilement thereof, he may even be proceeded against as suspected of heresy.


Where the number of Masses to be celebrated is excessive, Bishops, Abbots, and Generals, shall make such regulation as shall seem to them expedient.

It frequently happens, in divers churches, either that so great a number of masses is required to be celebrated on account of various legacies from persons deceased, that it is not possible to comply therewith on the particular days prescribed by the testators; or, that the alms left for the celebration thereof is so slight that it is not easy to find any one willing to undertake the duty; whereby the pious intentions of the testators are frustrated, and occasion is given for burthening the consciences of those who are concerned in the aforesaid obligations. The holy Synod, being desirous that these legacies for pious uses be satisfied in the most complete and useful manner possible, empowers bishops in diocesan Synod, and likewise abbots and generals of orders in their general Chapters, to ordain, in regard hereof, whatsoever in their consciences they shall, upon a diligent examination of the circumstances, judge to be most expedient for God's honour and worship, and the good of the churches, in those churches aforesaid which they shall find stand in need of some regulation in this matter, in such wise however that a commemoration be always made of the departed who, for the welfare of their souls, have left the said legacies for pious uses.


The conditions and obligations imposed on Benefices shall be observed.

Reason requires, that, in regulations which have been well established, no alteration be made by any ordinances to the contrary. Whenever, therefore, by virtue of the erection or foundation of any benefices, or in consequence of other regulations, certain qualifications are required, or certain obligations are attached thereunto, they shall not be derogated from in the collation, or in any other arrangement whatsoever in regard of the said benefices. The same also shall be observed as to prebends assigned to teachers of theology, masters, doctors, priests, deacons, or subdeacons, whenever such prebends have been established in this manner, in such sort that, in no provision whatever shall anything be altered in regard of the said qualifications and orders ; and any provision made otherwise shall be accounted surreptitious.


In what manner the Bishop ought to act in regard of the visitation of exempted Chapters.

The holy Synod ordains that the decree, made under Paul III., of happy memory, beginning Capitula Cathedralium, shall be observed in all cathedral and collegiate churches, not only when the bishop makes his visitation, but also as often as he proceeds ex officio, or at the petition of another, against any one of those who are comprised in the said decree; yet so, however, that whenever he institutes proceedings out of visitation, all the particulars subjoined shall have place: to wit, that the Chapter shall, at the beginning of each year, select two individuals belonging to the Chapter, with whose counsel and consent the bishop, or his vicar, shall be bound to proceed, both in instituting the process, and in all the other acts thereof until the end of the cause inclusively,-in the presence, nevertheless, of the notary of the said bishop, and in the bishop's house, or his ordinary court of justice. The two deputies shall, however, have but one vote ; but either of them may give his vote in unison with that of the bishop. But if, as regards any proceeding, or as regards any interlocutory or definitive sentence, they shall both differ from the bishop, they shall in this case choose, in conjunction with the bishop, a third person, within the term of six days: and should they also not agree in the election of that third person, the choice shall devolve on the nearest bishop ; and the point whereon they differed shall be decided, in accordance with the opinion which that third person sides with ; otherwise, the proceedings, and what follows thereupon, shall be null, and of no effect in law. Nevertheless, in crimes arising from incontinency, whereof mention has been made in the decree concerning concubinaries, as also in the more heinous crimes which require deposition or degradation ; where flight is apprehended, and where, that judgment may not be eluded, it is necessary to secure the person, the bishop may at first proceed singly to a summary information, and to the necessary detention of the person ; observing, however, in the rest of the proceedings, the order named above. But in all cases regard is to be paid to this, that the delinquents be kept in custody in a suitable place, according to the quality of the crime and of the persons. Moreover, there shall everywhere be rendered to bishops that honour which comports with their dignity ; and in choir, in the chapter, in processions, and other public functions, they shall have the first seat, and the place which they shall themselves make choice of, and theirs shall be the chief authority in everything that is to be done.

If the bishops shall propose anything to the canons to be deliberated on, and the matter treated of be not one which regards any benefit to them or theirs, they shall themselves convoke the Chapter, take the votes, and decide according to them. But, in the absence of the bishop, this shall be wholly done by those of the Chapter, to whom of right or custom it appertains, nor shall the bishop's vicar be allowed to do it. But in all other things, the jurisdiction and power of the Chapter, if any there be belonging thereunto, as also the administration of their property, shall be left wholly unimpaired and untouched. As regards those who do not possess any dignities, and are not of the Chapter, they shall all be subject to the bishop in causes ecclesiastical ; notwithstanding, as regards the things aforesaid, any privileges accruing even from any foundation ; as also any customs, even though immemorial ; any sentences, oaths, concordates, which bind the authors thereof only; saving, however, in all things those privileges which have been granted to universities for general studies, or to the persons who belong thereunto. But all and singular these things shall not have effect in those churches wherein the bishops, or their vicars, by virtue of constitutions, privileges, customs, concordates, or by any other right whatsoever, have a power, authority, and jurisdiction greater than that which is included in the present decree; from which (powers) the holy Synod does not intend to derogate.


The Access and Regress in regard of Benefices are done away with ; in what manner, to whom, and for what cause, a Coadjutor is to be granted.

Whereas, as regards ecclesiastical benefices, whatsoever carries with it the appearance of hereditary succession is a thing odious to the sacred constitutions, and contrary to the decrees of the Fathers; no Access or Regress, in regard of any ecclesiastical benefice of whatsoever quality, shall, even though by consent, be henceforth granted to any individual; nor shall those already granted be suspended, extended, or transferred. And this decree shall have effect in regard of all ecclesiastical benefices whatsoever, and even in cathedral churches, and as regards all manner of persons soever, even though distinguished with the honour of the cardinalate.

In like manner, as regards coadjutorships with future succession, the same shall henceforth be observed; (to wit) that they shall not be permitted to any one in regard of any ecclesiastical benefices whatsoever. But if at any time the urgent necessity, or the evident advantage of a cathedral church, or of a monastery, demands that a coajutor be granted to a prelate, such coadjutor with (the right of) future succession shall not otherwise be granted but after the said cause has been first diligently taken cognizance of by the most holy Roman Pontiff; and it is certain, that all those qualifications which, by law, and by the decrees of this holy Synod, are required in bishops and prelates, are reunited in his person; otherwise, the concessions made herein, shall be accounted surreptitious.


What is to be observed in regard to Hospitals. By whom, and in what manner, the negligence of administrators is to be punished.

The holy Synod admonishes all who hold any ecclesiastical benefices, whether Secular or Regular, to accustom themselves, as far as their revenues will allow, to exercise with alacrity and kindliness the office of hospitality, so frequently commended by the holy Fathers; being mindful that those who cherish hospitality receive Christ in (the person of) their guests. But as regards those who hold in commendam, or by way of administration, or under any other title whatsoever, or have even united to their own churches, the places commonly called hospitals, or other pious places instituted especially for the use of pilgrims, of the infirm, the aged or the poor; or, if the parish churches should happen to be united to hospitals, or have been turned into hospitals, and have been granted to the patrons thereof to be by them administered, the Synod strictly commands, that they execute the charge and duty imposed upon them, and that they actually exercise that hospitality, which is due at their hands, out of the fruits devoted to that purpose, pursuant to the constitution of the Council of Vienne, renewed elsewhere by this same holy Synod under Paul III., of happy memory, and which begins, Quia contingit. But if these hospitals were instituted to receive a certain class of pilgrims, or of infirm persons, or of others; and in the place where the said hospitals are situated, there are no such persons, or very few, to be found, It doth further command, that the fruits thereof be converted to some other pious use, the nearest that may be to their original destination, and the most useful for that time and place, as shall seem to be the most expedient to the Ordinary, aided by two of the Chapter, experienced in matters of business, to be chosen by him ; unless it be that the contrary happen to be expressed, to meet even this case, in the foundation, or institution thereof ; in which event, the bishop shall take care that what is ordained be observed, or, if that be not possible, he shall, as above, regulate the matter in a useful manner.

Wherefore, if all and singular the persons aforesaid, of whatsoever order, and religious body, and dignity they may be, be they even laymen, who have the administration of hospitals,-provided, however, they be not subject to Regulars where regular observance is in force,-shall, after having been admonished be the Ordinary, have ceased really to discharge the duty of hospitality, complying with all the necessary conditions to which they are bound, they may be compelled thereunto not only by ecclesiastical censures, and other remedies at law, but may also even be deprived for ever of the administration and care of the hospital itself ; and others shall be substituted in their place, by those to whom this may belong. And the persons aforesaid shall, this notwithstanding, be bound in conscience to make restitution of the fruits which they have received contrary to the institution of the said hospitals; which restitution shall not be pardoned them by any remission or composition: nor shall the administration or government of such places be henceforth entrusted to one and the same person longer than for three years, unless it be otherwise provided in the foundation thereof ; notwithstanding, as regards all the above-named particulars, any union, exemption, and custom, even from time immemorial, to the contrary, or any privileges, or indults of whatever kind.