The Council of Trent
Twenty Fourth Session, Decree
The same sacred and holy Synod, prosecuting the subject of Reformation, ordains that the things following be established in the present Session.
The manner of proceeding to the creation of Bishops and Cardinals.
If, as regards all manner of degrees in the Church, a provident and enlightened care is to be taken, that in the house of the Lord there be nothing disorderly, nothing unseemly; much more ought we to strive that no error be committed in the election of him who is constituted above all those degrees. For the state and order of the whole household of the Lord will totter, if what is required in the body be not found in the head. For which cause, although the holy Synod has elsewhere usefully ordained certain things touching those who are to be promoted to cathedral and superior churches, yet doth it account this office to be of such a nature, as that were it to be pondered upon in proportion to its greatness, there would never seem to have been caution enough taken. Wherefore It ordains, that, as soon as a church shall become vacant, processions, and prayers shall be made in public and private; and such shall be enjoined, by the Chapter, throughout the city and diocese; that thereby both clergy and people may be enabled to obtain from God a good pastor.
And as regards all and each of those who have, in any way, any right from the Apostolic See, or who otherwise have a part, in the promotion of those to be set over the churches; the holy Synod,-without making any change herein, from a consideration of the circumstances of the present time,-exhorts and admonishes them, that they above all things bear in mind that they cannot do anything more conducive to the glory of God, and the salvation of the people, than to study to promote good pastors, and such as are capable of governing a church; and that they sin mortally, becoming partakers in others' sins, unless they carefully endeavour that those be promoted whom they themselves judge the most worthy of, and useful to, the church, not guided by entreaties, or human affection, or the solicitations of pretenders, but by what the merits of the individuals require at their hands; and seeing that they be persons whom they know to have been born in lawful wedlock, and who, by their life, learning, and in all other qualifications, are such as are required by the sacred canons, and by the decrees of this Synod of Trent.
And forasmuch as, by reason of the diversity of nations, peoples, and customs, a uniform system cannot be followed everywhere, in receiving the grave and competent testimony of good and learned men on the subject of the aforesaid qualifications, the holy Synod ordains, that, in a provincial Synod, to be held by the metropolitan, there shall be prescribed for each place and province a proper form of examination, scrutiny, or information, such as shall seem to be most useful and suitable for the said places, which form is to be submitted to the approval of the most holy Roman Pontiff; yet so, however, that, after that this examination, or scrutiny, as regards the persons to be promoted, shall have been completed, it shall, after being reduced into the form of a public document, be necessarily transmitted, as soon as possible, with all the attestations and with the profession of faith made by the individual to be promoted, to the most holy Roman Pontiff, in order that the said Sovereign Pontiff, having a full knowledge of the whole matter and of the persons, may, for the advantage of the Lord's flock, in a most useful manner provide those churches therewith, if they shall have been found, by the examination or scrutiny, suitable persons. And all the scrutinies, informations, attestations, and proofs of whatsoever kind, and by whomsoever made, even though in the Roman court, touching the qualifications of the person to be promoted, shall be carefully examined by a cardinal-who shall report thereon to the consistory-aided therein by three other cardinals; and the said report shall be authenticated by the signature of the cardinal who drew up the report, and of the three other cardinals; and therein each of the four cardinals shall make affirmation that, after giving exact attention thereto, he has found the persons to be promoted, endowed with the qualifications required by law, and by this holy Synod, and that, at the peril of his eternal salvation, he doth certainly think them fit to be placed over the churches: in such wise that, after the report has been made in one consistory, the sentence shall be deferred until another consistory, in order that the said inquiry may be more maturely looked into in the mean time,-unless the most blessed Pontiff shall judge it expedient to act otherwise.
And the Synod ordains, that all and singular the particulars which have been elsewhere ordained, in the same Synod, touching the life, age, learning, and the other qualifications of those who are to be appointed bishops, the same are also to be required in the creation of cardinals-even though they be deacons -of the holy Roman Church; whom the most holy Roman Pontiff shall, as far as it can be conveniently done, select out of all the nations of Christendom, as he shall find persons suitable.
Finally, the same holy Synod, moved by the so many most grievous afflictions of the Church, cannot avoid recording, that nothing is more necessary for the Church of God than that the most blessed Roman Pontiff apply especially here that solicitude, which, by the duty of his office, he owes to the Universal Church,-that he take unto himself, to wit as cardinals, persons the most select only, and that he appoint over each church, above all things, good and fit pastors; and this the more, for that our Lord Jesus Christ will require at his hands the blood of those sheep of Christ which shall perish through the evil government of pastors who are negligent, and forgetful of their office.
A Provincial Synod to be celebrated every third year, a Diocesan Synod every year: who are to convoke, and who to be present thereat.
Provincial councils, wheresoever they have been omitted, shall be renewed, for the regulating of morals, the correcting of excesses, the composing of controversies, and for the other purposes allowed of by the sacred canons. Therefore, the metropolitans in person, or if they be lawfully hindered, the oldest suffragan bishop shall not fail to assemble a Synod, each in his own province, within a year at latest from the termination of the present council, and afterwards, at least every third year, either after the octave of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, or at some other more convenient time, according to the custom of the province; at which council all the bishops and others, who, by right or custom, ought to be present thereat, shall be absolutely bound to assemble, those excepted who would have to cross the sea at their imminent peril. The bishops of the province shall not, for the future, be compelled, under the pretext of any custom whatsoever, to repair against their will to the metropolitan church. Those bishops likewise who are not subject to any archbishop, shall once for all make choice of some neighbouring metropolitan, at whose provincial Synod they shall be bound to be present with the other bishops, and shall observe, and cause to be observed, whatsoever shall be therein ordained. In all other respects, their exemption and privileges shall remain whole and entire.
Diocesan Synods also shall be celebrated every year; to which all those even who are exempted, but who would otherwise, that exemption ceasing, have to attend, and who are not subject to general Chapters, shall be bound to come; understanding however that, on account of parochial, or other Secular churches, even though annexed, those who have charge thereof must needs, whosoever they may be, be present at the said Synod. But if any, whether metropolitans, or bishops, or the others above-named, shall be negligent in these matters, they shall incur the penalties enacted by the sacred canons.
In what manner Prelates are to make their visitation.
Patriarchs, primates, metropolitans, and bishops shall not fail to visit their respective dioceses, either personally, or, if they be lawfully hindered, by their Vicar-general, or visitor; if they shall not be able on account of its extent, to make the visitation of the whole annually, they shall visit at least the greater part thereof, so that the whole shall be completed in two years, either by themselves, or by their visitors. Metropolitans, however, even after having made a complete visitation of their own proper diocese, shall not visit the cathedral churches, or the dioceses of the bishops of their province, except for a cause taken cognizance and approved of in the provincial Council.
But archdeacons, deans, and other inferiors, who have been hitherto accustomed lawfully to exercise (the power of) visitation in certain churches, shall henceforth visit those same places, but by themselves only, with the consent of the bishop, and assisted by a notary. The visitors also who may be deputed by a Chapter, where the Chapter has the right of visitation, shall be first approved of by the bishop; but the bishop, or, if he be hindered, his visitor, shall not thereby be prevented from visiting those same churches apart from those deputies; and the said archdeacons, and other inferiors, shall be bound to give the bishop an account, within a month, of the visitation that has been made, and to show him the depositions of witnesses, and the proceedings in their entire form; any custom, even though immemorial, and any exemptions and privileges whatsoever notwithstanding.
But the principle object of all these visitations shall be to lead to sound and orthodox doctrine, by banishing heresies; to maintain good morals, and to correct such as are evil; to animate the people, by exhortations and admonitions, to religion, peacefulness, and innocence; and to establish such other things as to the prudence of the visitors shall seem for the profit of the faithful, according as time, place and opportunity shall allow. And to the end that all this may have a more easy and prosperous issue, all and each of the aforesaid, to whom the right of visitation belongs, are admonished to treat all persons with fatherly love and Christian zeal; and with this view being content with a modest train of servants and horses, they shall endeavour to complete the said visitation as speedily as possible, though with due carefulness. And during it they shall be careful not to be troublesome or burthensome to any one by any useless expenses; and neither they, nor any of theirs, shall, by way of agency fee for the visitation, or, on account of wills made for pious uses-except that which is of right due to them out of pious bequests-or under any other name whatsoever, receive anything, be it money, or present, of whatsoever kind, or in whatsoever way offered; any custom, even though immemorial, to the contrary notwithstanding; with the exception, however, of food, which shall be furnished frugally and in moderation to them and theirs, only during the time necessary for the visitation, and no longer. It shall, however, be at the option of those who are visited, to pay, if they prefer it, in money, according to a fixed assessment, what they have been accustomed heretofore to disburse, or to furnish the food as aforesaid; saving also the right of ancient conventions entered into with monasteries, or other pious places, or churches not parochial, which right shall remain inviolate. But, in those places or provinces, where it is the custom that neither food, money, nor anything else be received by the visitors, but that all be done gratuitously, the same shall be retained there.
But if any one, which God forbid, shall presume to receive anything more than is prescribed in any of the cases above-named; besides the restitution of double the amount which is to be made within a month, he shall also be subjected, without any hope of pardon, to the other penalties contained in the constitution of the general Councils of Lyons, which begins, Exigit; as also to the other penalties (which shall be enacted) in the provincial Synod, at the discretion of that Synod.
As regards patrons, they shall not presume in any way to interfere in those things which regard the administration of the sacraments; neither shall they meddle with the visitation of the ornaments of the church, or its revenues arising from landed property, or from buildings, excepting so far as they are competent to do this by the institution, or foundation; but the bishops themselves shall attend to these things, and shall take care that the revenues of those buildings be expended upon purposes necessary and useful for the church, as to them shall seem most expedient.
By whom, and when, the office of preaching is to be discharged: the Parish Church to be frequented in order to hear the word of God. No one shall preach in opposition to the will of the Bishop.
The holy Synod, desirous that the office of preaching, which peculiarly belongs to bishops, may be exercised as frequently as possible, for the welfare of the faithful, and accommodating more aptly to the use of the present times, the canons elsewhere set forth on this subject, under Paul III., of happy memory, ordains, that the bishops shall themselves in person, each in his own church, announce the sacred Scriptures and the devine law, or if lawfully hindered, it shall be done by those whom they shall appoint to the office of preaching; and in the other churches by the parish priests, or, if they be hindered, by others to be deputed by the bishop, whether it be in the city, or in any other part whatsoever of the diocese wherein they shall judge such preaching expedient, at the charge of those who are bound, or who are accustomed, to defray it, and this at least on all Lord's Days and solemn festivals; but, during the season of the fasts, of Lent and of the Advent of the Lord, daily, or at least on three days in the week, if the said bishop shall deem it needful; and, at other times, as often as they shall judge that it can be opportunely done. And the bishop shall diligently admonish the people, that each one is bound to be present at his own parish church, where it can be conveniently done, to hear the word of God. But no one, whether Secular or Regular, shall presume to preach, even in churches of his own order, in opposition to the will of the bishop.
The said bishops shall also take care, that, at least on the Lord's Days and other festivals, the children in every parish be carefully taught the rudiments of the faith, and obedience towards God and their parents, by those whose duty it is, and who shall be constrained thereunto by their bishops, if need be, even by ecclesiastical censures; any privileges and customs notwithstanding. In other respects, those things decreed, under the said Paul III., concerning the office of preaching, shall have their full force.
In criminal causes against Bishops, the greater causes shall be taken cognizance of by the Sovereign Pontiff only, the less by the Provincial Council.
The more grave criminal causes against bishops, even of heresy-which may God forfend-which merit deposition or deprivation, shall be taken cognizance of and decided by the Sovereign Roman Pontiff himself only. But if the cause shall be of such a nature that it must necessarily be committed out of the Roman Court, it shall not be committed to any others soever, but metropolitans, or bishops, to be chosen by the most blessed Pope. And this commission shall both be special, and shall be signed by the most holy Pontiff's own hand; nor shall he ever grant more to those commissioners than this,-that they take information only of the fact, and draw up the process, which they shall immediately transmit to the Roman Pontiff; the definitive sentence being reserved to the said most holy Pontiff.
The other things hereupon elsewhere decreed, under Julius III., of happy memory, as also the constitution published in a general Council under Innocent III., which begins, Qualiter et quando, which constitution the holy Synod renews in this present decree, shall be observed by all.
But the less criminal causes of bishops shall be taken cognizance of and decided in the provincial Council only, or by persons deputed thereunto by the provincial Council.
When and how the Bishop may absolve from crime, and dispense in cases of irregularity and suspension.
It shall be lawful for the bishop to dispense in all manner of irregularities and suspensions, arising from a crime that is secret,-except that proceeding from wilful homicide, and those crimes which have been already carried before a legal tribunal; -and (it shall be lawful for them), in their own diocese, either by themselves, or by a vicar to be deputed especially for that purpose, to absolve gratuitously, as far as the tribunal of the conscience is concerned, after imposing a salutary penance, all delinquents whatsoever their subjects, in all cases whatsoever that are secret, even though reserved to the Apostolic See. The same also, as regards the crime of heresy, shall be permitted them in the said court of conscience, but to them only, and not to their vicars.
The virtue of the Sacraments shall, before being administered to the people, be explained by Bishops and Parish Priests; during the solemnization of mass, the sacred oracles shall be explained.
In order that the faithful people may approach to the reception of the sacraments with greater reverence and devotion of mind, the holy Synod enjoins on all bishops, that, not only when they are themselves about to administer them to the people, they shall first explain, in a manner suited to the capacity of those who receive them, the efficacy and use of those sacraments, but shall endeavour that the same be done piously and prudently by every parish priest; and this even in the vernacular tongue, if need be, and it can be conveniently done; and in accordance with the form which will be prescribed for each of the sacraments, by the holy Synod, in a catechism which the bishops shall take care to have faithfully translated into the vulgar tongue, and to have expounded to the people by all parish priests; as also that, during the solemnization of mass, or the celebration of the divine offices, they explain, in the said vulgar tongue, on all festivals, or solemnities, the sacred oracles, and the maxims of salvation; and that, setting aside all unprofitable questions, they endeavour to impress them on the hearts of all, and to instruct them in the law of the Lord.
On public sinners, a public penance shall be imposed, unless the Bishop shall determine otherwise: a Penitentiary to be instituted in Cathedral Churches.
The apostle admonishes that those who sin publicly are to be reproved openly. When, therefore, any one has, publicly and in the sight of many, committed a crime, whereby there is no doubt that others have been offended and scandalized; there must needs be publicly imposed upon him a penance suitable to the measure of his guilt; that so those whom he has allured to evil manners by his example, he may bring back to an upright life by the testimony of his amendment. The bishop, however, may, when he judges it more expedient, commute this kind of public penance into one that is secret. Likewise, in all cathedral churches, where it can be conveniently done, the bishop shall appoint a penitentiary, annexing thereto the prebend that shall next become vacant, which penitentiary shall be a master, or doctor, or licentiate in theology, or in canon law, and forty years of age, or otherwise one who shall be found more suitable considering the character of the place; and, whilst hearing confessions in the church, he shall be meanwhile reputed as present in choir.
By whom Secular Churches, not of any diocese, are to be visited.
Those things which have elsewhere been established by this same Council, under Paul III., of happy memory, and lately under our most blessed lord Pius IV., touching the diligence to be used by the Ordinaries in visiting benefices, even though exempted, the same shall also be observed in regard of those Secular churches which are said to be in no one's diocese; to wit they shall be visited by the bishop-as the delegate of the Apostolic See-whose cathedral church is the nearest, if he be able to do so; otherwise, by him whom the prelate of the said place has once for all selected in the provincial Council;-any privileges and customs whatsoever, even though immemorial, to the contrary notwithstanding.
Where visitation and correction of morals are concerned, no suspension of decrees is allowed.
Bishops, that they may be the better able to keep the people whom they rule in duty and obedience, shall, in all those things which regard visitation and correction of manners, have the right and power, even as delegates of the Apostolic See, of ordaining, regulating, correcting, and executing, in accordance with the enactments of the canons, those things which, in their prudence, shall seem to them necessary for the amendment of their subjects, and for the good of their respective dioceses. Nor herein, when visitation and correction of manners are concerned, shall any exemption, or any inhibition, or appeal, or complaint, even though interposed to the Apostolic See, in any way hinder, or suspend the execution of those things which shall have been by them enjoined, decreed, or adjudged.
Honorary titles, or particular privileges, shall not derogate in any way from the right of bishops.
Forasmuch as the privileges and exemptions which, under various titles, are granted to very many persons, are clearly seen to raise, in these days, confusion in the jurisdiction of bishops, and to give occasion to those exempted to lead a more relaxed life; the holy Synod ordains, that if at any time it be thought proper, for just, weighty, and well nigh compulsory causes, that certain persons be distinguished by the honorary titles of Protonotary, Acolyte, Count Palatine, Royal Chaplain, or other such titles of distinction, whether in the Roman court or elsewhere; as also that others be admitted into monasteries as Oblates, or as attached thereunto in some other way, or under the name of servants to military orders, monasteries, hospitals, colleges, or under any other title whatsoever; nothing is to be understood as being, by these privileges, taken away from the Ordinaries, so as to prevent those persons, unto whom those privileges have already been granted, or to whom they may be hereafter conceded, from being fully subject in all things to the said Ordinaries, as delegates of the Apostolic See, and this as regards Royal Chaplains, in accordance with the constitution of Innocent III., which begins Cum capella: those persons, however, being excepted, who are engaged in actual service in the aforesaid places, or in military orders, and who reside within their enclosures and houses, and live under obedience to them; as also those who have made their profession lawfully and according to the rules of the said military orders, whereof the Ordinary must be certified: notwithstanding any privileges what soever, even those of the order of Saint John of Jerusalem, and of other military orders. But, as regards those privileges which by virtue of the constitution of Eugenius, those are accustomed to enjoy who reside in the Roman Court, or who are in the household of cardinals, such privileges shall in no wise be understood to apply to those who hold ecclesiastical benefices, in so far as those benefices are concerned; but such shall continue subject to the jurisdiction of the Ordinary; any inhibitions to the contrary notwithstanding.