· Councils 

The Council of Trent

  Twenty Fourth Session, Decree  



What manner of persons those ought to be who are to be promoted to the dignities and canonries of Cathedral Churches: and what those so promoted are bound to perform.

Whereas dignities, especially in cathedral churches, were established to preserve and increase ecclesiastical discipline, with the view that those who should obtain them, might be pre-eminent in piety, be an example to others, and aid the bishop by their exertions and services; it is but right, that those who are called unto those dignities, should be such as to be able to answer the purposes of their office. Wherefore, no one shall henceforth be promoted to any dignities whatsoever, to which the cure of souls is attached, who has not attained at least to the twenty-fifth year of his age, and, having been exercised for some time in the clerical order, is recommended by the learning necessary for the discharge of his office, and by integrity of morals, conformably to the constitution of Alexander III., promulgated in the Council of Lateran, which begins, Cum in cunctis.

In like manner archdeacons, who are called the eyes of the bishop, shall, in all churches, where it is possible, be masters in theology, or doctors or licentiates in canon law. But, to the other dignities or personates, to which no cure of souls is attached, clerics shall be promoted, who are in other respects qualified, and who are not less than twenty-two years of age. Those also who are promoted to any benefices whatsoever having cure of souls, shall, within two months at the latest from the day of obtaining possession, be bound to make a public profession of their orthodox faith in the presence of the bishop himself, or, if he be hindered, before his Vicar-general, or official; and shall promise and swear, that they will continue in obedience to the Roman Church. But those who are promoted to canonries and dignities in cathedral churches, shall be bound to do this not only before the bishop, or his official, but also in the Chapter; otherwise all those promoted as aforesaid shall not render the fruits theirs; nor shall possession avail them anything. No one shall henceforth be received to a dignity, canonry, or portion, but one who has either already been admitted to that sacred order which that dignity, prebend, or portion requires, or is of such an age as to be capable of being admitted to that order, within the time prescribed by law and by this holy Synod. As regards all cathedral churches, all canonries and portions shall be attached to the order of the priesthood, deaconship, or subdeaconship; and the bishop, with the advice of the Chapter, shall designate and apportion, as he shall judge expedient, to which thereof each of those respective sacred orders is for the future to be annexed; in such wise, however, that one half at least shall be priests, and the rest deacons, or subdeacons: but where the more praiseworthy custom requires, that the greater part, or that all be priests, it shall be by all means retained. Moreover, the holy Synod exhorts that, in provinces where it can conveniently be done, all the dignities, and one half at least of the canonries, in cathedral and eminent collegiate churches, be conferred only on masters, or doctors, or even on licentiates in theology, or canon law. Furthermore, it shall not be lawful, by virtue of any manner of statute or custom whatsoever, for those who possess, in the said cathedral or collegiate churches, any dignities, canonries, prebends, or portions, to be absent from those churches, above three months in each year-saving, however, the constitutions of those churches which require a longer term of service-otherwise every offender shall, for the first year, be deprived of onehalf of the fruits which he has made his own by reason even of his prebend and residence. But, if he be again guilty of the same negligence, he shall be deprived of all the fruits which he may have acquired during that same year: and, the contumacy increasing, they shall be proceeded against according to the constitutions of the sacred canons. As regards the distributions; those who have been present at the stated hours shall receive them; all others shall, all collusion and remission set aside, forfeit them, pursuant to the decree of Boniface VIII., which begins, Consuetudinem, which the holy Synod brings again into use; any statutes, or customs, whatsoever, to the contrary notwithstanding. And all shall be obliged to perform the divine offices in person, and not by substitutes; as also to attend on and serve the bishop when celebrating (mass), or performing any other pontifical functions; and reverently, distinctly, and devoutly to praise the name of God, in hymns and canticles, in the choir appointed for psalmody.

They shall, moreover, at all times wear a becoming dress, both in and out of church; shall abstain from unlawful hunting, hawking, dancing, taverns, and gaines; and be distinguished for such integrity of manners, as that they may with justice be called the senate of the Church. As to other matters, regarding the suitable manner of conducting the divine offices, the proper way of singing or chanting therein, the specific regulations for assembling in choir and for remaining there, as also such things as may be necessary in regard of all those who minister in the church, and any other things of the like kind; the provincial Synod shall prescribe a fixed form on each Head, having regard to the utility and habits of each province. But, in the mean time, the bishop, assisted by not less than two canons, one of whom shall be chosen by the bishop, and the other by the Chapter, shall have power to provide herein as may be judged expedient.


In what manner provision is to be made for the more slightly endowed Cathedral and Parish Churches: Parishes are to be distinguished by certain boundaries.

Forasmuch as very many cathedral churches have so slight a revenue, and are so small, that they by no means correspond with the episcopal dignity, nor suffice for the necessities of the churches; the provincial Council, having summoned those whose interests are concerned, shall examine and weigh with care, what churches it may be expedient, on account of their small extent, and their poverty, to unite to others in the neighbourhood, or to augment with fresh revenues; and shall send the documents prepared in regard thereof to the Sovereign Roman Pontiff; who, being thereby made acquainted with the matter, shall, of his own prudence, as he may judge expedient, either unite together the slightly provided churches, or improve them by some augmentation derived from the fruits. But in the meantime, until the things aforesaid are carried into effect, the Sovereign Pontiff may provide, out of certain benefices, for those bishops who, on account of the poverty of their dioceses, stand in need of being aided by certain fruits; provided however those benefices be not cures, nor dignities, canonries, prebends, nor monasteries wherein regular observance is in force, or which are subject to general Chapters, or to certain visitors.

In parish churches also, the fruits of which are in like manner so slight that they are not sufficient to meet the necessary charges, the bishop,-if unable to provide for the exigency by a union of benefices, not however those belonging to Regulars,-shall make it his care, that, by the assignment of first fruits, or tithes, or by the contributions and collections of the parishioners, or in some other way that shall seem to him more suitable, as much be amassed as may decently suffice for the necessities of the rector and of the parish.

But in whatsoever unions may have to be made, whether for the causes aforesaid, or for others, parish churches shall not be united to any monasteries whatever, or abbeys, or dignities, or prebends of a cathedral or collegiate church, or to any other simple benefices, hospitals, or military orders; and those so united shall be again taken cognizance of by the Ordinaries, pursuant to the decree already made in this same Synod, under Paul III., of happy memory, which shall also be equally observed in regard of those unions that have been made from that time forth to the present; notwithstanding whatsoever form of words may have been used therein, which shall be accounted as being sufficiently expressed here.

Furthermore, all those cathedral churches, the revenue of which, in real annual value, does not exceed the sum of one thousand ducats, and those parish churches where it does not exceed the sum of one hundred ducats, shall not for the future be burthened with any manner of pensions, or reservations of fruits. Also, in those cities and places where the parish churches have not any certain boundaries, neither have the rectors thereof their own proper people to govern, but administer the sacraments to all indiscriminately who desire them, the holy Synod enjoins on bishops, that for the greater security of the salvation of the souls committed to their charge, having divided the people into fixed and proper parishes, they shall assign to each parish its own perpetual and peculiar parish priest who may know his own parishioners, and from whom alone they may licitly receive the sacraments; or the bishops shall make such other provision as may be more beneficial, according as the character of the place may require. They shall also take care, that the same be done, as soon as possible, in those cities and places where there are no parish churches: any privileges aind customs, even though immemorial, to the contrary notwithstanding.


In promotions to benefices, or in admissions into possession of the same, any deductions from the fruits, not applied to pious uses, are prohibited.

In many churches, as well cathedral as collegiate and parochial, it is understood to be the practice, derived either from the constitutions thereof, or from an evil custom, that upon any election, presentation, institution, confirmation, collation, or other provision, or upon admission to the possession of any cathedral church, benefice, canonries, or prebends, or to a participation in the revenues, or the daily distributions, there are introduced certain conditions, or deductions from the fruits, certain payments, promises, unlawful compensations, as also the profits which are in some churches called Turnorum lucra; and whereas the holy Synod detests these practices, It enjoins on bishops, that they suffer not anything of the kind to be done, unless the proceeds be converted to pious uses, nor permit any of those modes of entering (on benefices) which carry with them a suspicion of a simoniacal taint, or of sordid avarice; and they shall themselves carefully take cognizance of their constitutions, or customs in the above regards; and, those only being retained which they shall approve of as laudable, the rest they shall reject and abolish as corrupt and scandalous. And It decrees that those, who act in any way contrary to the things comprised in this present decree, incur the penalties set forth against simoniacs by the sacred canons, and divers constitutions of the Sovereign Pontiffs, all of which this Synod renews; any statutes, constitutions, customs, even though immemorial, even though confirmed by apostolic authority, to the contrary notwithstanding; the bishop, as the delegate of the Apostolic See, having power to take cognizance of any surreption, obreption, or defect of intention, in regard thereof.


Method of increasing the slight prebends of Cathedral, and of eminent Collegiate Churches.

In cathedral, and eminent collegiate, churches, where the prebends are numerous, and so small, that, even with the daily distributions, they are not sufficient for the decent maintenance of the rank of the canons, according to the character of the place, and of the persons, it shall be lawful for the bishop, with the consent of the Chapter, either to unite thereunto certain simple benefices, not however such as belong to Regulars, or, if a provision cannot be made in this way, they may reduce those prebends to a less number, by suppressing some of them,-with the consent of the patron, if the right of patronage belong to laymen,-the fruits and proceeds of which shall be applied towards the daily distributions of the remaining prebends; yet so, however, that such a number shall be left as may conveniently serve for the celebration of divine worship, and be suitable to the dignity of the church; any constitutions and privileges whatsoever, or any reservation whether general or special, or any application whatever, to the contrary notwithstanding: nor shall the aforesaid unions or suppressions be set aside or hindered by any manner of provision whatsoever, not even by virtue of any resignation, or by any other derogations, or suspensions whatever.


What duty devolves on the Chapter during the vacancy of a See.

When a See is vacant, the Chapter, in those places where the duty of receiving the fruits devolves upon it, shall appoint one or more faithful and diligent stewards to take care of the property and revenues of the church, of which they shall afterwards give an account to him whom it may regard. It shall also be absolutely bound, within eight days after the decease of the bishop, to appoint an official, or vicar, or to confirm the one who fills that office; who shall at least be a doctor, or a licentiate, of canon law, or otherwise as competent a person as can be procured: if anything be done contrary hereto, the appointment aforesaid shall devolve on the metropolitan. And if the church be itself the metropolitan, or exempted, and the Chapter shall be, as has been said above, negligent, then shall the oldest of the suffragan bishops in that metropolitan church, and the nearest bishop in regard of that church that is exempted, have power to appoint a competent steward and vicar. And the bishop, who is promoted to the said vacant church, shall demand, from the said steward, vicar, and all other officers and administrators, who, during the vacancy of the See, were, by the Chapter, or others, appointed in his room,-even though they should belong to the Chapter itself,-an account of those things which concern him, of their functions, jurisdiction, administration, or of any other their charge whatsoever; and shall have power to punish those who have been guilty of any delinquency in their office or administration, even though the officers aforesaid, having given in their accounts, may have obtained a quittance or discharge from the Chapter, or those deputed thereby. The Chapter shall also be bound to render an account to the said bishop of any papers belonging to the church, if any such have come into the possession thereof.


In what case it is lawful to confer more than one benefice upon one individual; and for him to retain the same.

Whereas ecclesiastical order is perverted when one cleric fills the offices of several, the sacred canons have holily provided that no one ought to be enrolled in two churches. But, seeing that many, through the passion of ungodly covetousness deceiving themselves, not God, are not ashamed to elude, by various artifices, what has been so excellently ordained, and to hold several benefices at the same time; the holy Synod, desiring to restore the discipline required for the government of the church, doth by this present decree,-which It orders to be observed in regard of all persons whatsoever, by whatsoever title distinguished, even though it be by the dignity of the Cardinalate,-ordain, that, for the future, one ecclesiastical benefice only shall be conferred on one and the same person. If indeed that benefice be not sufficient to afford a decent livelihood to the person on whom it is conferred, it shall then be lawful to bestow on him some other simple benefice that may be sufficient; provided that both do not require personal residence. And the above shall apply not only to cathedral churches, but also to all other benefices whatsoever, whether Secular or Regular, even to those held in commendam, of whatsoever title and quality they may be. But they who at present hold several parochial churches, or one cathedral and one parochial church, shall be absolutely obliged,-all dispensations and unions for life whatsoever to the contrary notwithstanding,-retaining one parochial church only, or the cathedral church alone, to resign the other parochial churches within the space of six months; otherwise as well the parish churches, as also all the benefices which they hold, shall be accounted ipso jure void, and as void shall be freely conferred on other competent persons; nor shall they who previously held them be able to retain the fruits thereof, with a safe conscience, after the said time. But the holy Synod desires that a provision be made in some suitable manner, as may seem fit to the Sovereign Pontiff, for the necessities of those who resign.