AFTER the death of Pope Clement IV (29 November 1268) almost three years passed before the cardinals were able to elect a new pope, Gregory X (1 September 1271). The political aspect of Europe in those times was undergoing great change. The popes themselves in their struggles with the German emperors had sought help from various states and had placed Charles of Anjou on the throne of Sicily. This long conflict, which the popes fought in order to protect their freedom and immunity, had finally upset the traditional system of government in Christendom. This system depended on two institutions, the papacy and the empire. In the East, moreover, the emperor Michael VIII Palaeologus had captured Constantinople in 1261 and brought the Latin empire there to an end.
Since the state of affairs was undoubtedly complex and difficult, Gregory X had conceived a very broad plan involving the whole christian world. In this plan the eastern question was of the highest importance. The pope sought to conclude a treaty with Michael VIII Palaeologus and to unite the eastern and western churches. For if the churches were united and the strength of all christian peoples were combined, the problem of the holy Land could be resolved and the Roman church could flourish with fresh authority and influence in the western states.
Gregory X, therefore, when he convoked the general council on 31 March 1272, outlined three themes: union with the Greeks, the crusade, and the reform of the church. Regarding the third theme, which was not only traditional in medieval councils but was also required by the actual state of ecclesiastical morals, the pope in March 1273 sought the opinion of all christian people and asked for their help. Some reports sent to him for this purpose are still extant. After long preparatory arrangements the council assembled at Lyons and opened on 7 May 1274. Probably there were present about 300 bishops, 60 abbots and a large number of other clergy, many of whom apparently were theologians (Thomas Aquinas died while on his journey to Lyons), as well as king James of Aragon and the delegates sent by the rulers of France, Germany, England and Sicily. The Greeks arrived late, on 24 June, since they had been shipwrecked. Meanwhile a delegation of Tartars had also arrived. Although the number of participants does not seem to have been especially large, the whole christian world was present either in person or through representatives, and it was evident that the council, as Gregory X had wished, was universal and ecumenical.
The council had six general sessions: on 7 and 18 May, 4 or 7 June, 6, 16 and 17 July. In the fourth session the union of the Greek church with the Latin church was decreed and defined, this union being based on the consent which the Greeks had given to the claims of the Roman church. In the last session the dogmatic constitution concerning the procession of the holy Spirit was approved, this question having been a cause of disagreement between the two churches. The union however appears to have been imposed, on the Greek side by the emperor Michael VIII. He wanted the support of the pope in order to deter Charles of Anjou from an attack on the Byzantine empire, while the majority of the Greek clergy opposed the union. The union was therefore fleeting, either because in the East the clergy steadily resisted it, or because the popes after Gregory X changed their plan of action.
The weakness of the union with the Greeks also rendered a crusade impossible. Gregory X won the approval of the principal states of Europe for the undertaking and was able, in the second session, to impose heavy taxes (a tenth for six years) in order to carry it out (const. Zelus fidei, below pp. 309-314). The council however merely decided to engage in the crusade; no start was made at getting things done and the project came to nothing. Moreover Gregory died soon afterwards (10 January 1276), and he was not sufficiently influential or powerful to bring to a conclusion his plans for church and state.
With regard to the reform of the church, Gregory complained in the council’s last session that discussion had not been sufficient to pass any definite decree. However, he was able to bring about that certain constitutions relating to the parish should be delegated to the curia. For the rest, some constitutions concerning church institutions were approved in various sessions. The most important one prescribed that a pope should be elected by the college of cardinals assembled in conclave (const. 2); constitution 23 attempts to adjust relations between secular clerics and religious; constitutions 26-27 treat of usury; and others treat of particular questions about the reform of morals and of the church.
There are at least two redactions (conciliar and post-conciliar) of the council’s constitutions, as S. Kuttner has shown. In the second session the fathers had approved the decree Zelus fidei, which was rather a collection of constitutions about the holy Land, the crusade, the war against Saracens and pirates, and the order and procedure to be observed in the council (here for the first time the nations appear as ecclesiastical parts of a council). Next, twenty-eight constitutions were approved in the following sessions: const. 3-9, 15, 19, 24, 29-30 in the third, const. 2, 10-12, 16-17, 20-22, 25-28, 31 in the fifth, const. 1, 23 in the sixth session. The pope promulgated a collection of the council’s constitutions on 1 November 1274, sent this to the universities with the bull Cum nuper, and informed all the faithful in the encyclical Infrascriptas. In this collection, however, three of the thirty-one constitutions are post-conciliar (const. 13-14, 18). These concern the parish, on which subject the pope and the council fathers had decided in the last session of the council that some decrees should be made later on. Moreover the constitution Zelus fidei is missing from the collection, perhaps because it contained no juridical statutes of universal validity; and the other constitutions had been subjected to the examination of the curia and emended, notably as far as we know const. 2 on the conclave and const. 26-27 On usury.
The collection of constitutions promulgated by Gregory X was incorporated into Boniface VIII’s Liber Sextus (1298) . It also survives, together with the encyclical Infrascriptas, in Gregory X’s register (=R), on which we have based our text. The conciliar redaction, however, is known only in part. The constitution Zelus fidei was discovered first by H. Finke in an Osnabruck codex (= O), and then by S. Kuttner, without its beginning, in a Washington codex (= W), it is also extant in three English cartularies, which we have not examined; our edition relies on the transcriptions of Finke (= F) and Kuttner (= K). The other constitutions of the conciliar redaction we know only from W and, as regards const. 2, from eight scrolls containing the approval of the council fathers for this constitution (Vatican Archives, AA. arm. I-XVIII, 2187-2194 = V I-8). We therefore give the conciliar redaction on the basis of V and W; but W is very incomplete, having only 20 constitutions (const. 2-8, 9 mutilated, 10-12 16-17, 20, 22-23, 25-27, 31), and is full of errors. As the best solution at this intermediate stage, we therefore give the constitution Zelus fidei (below pp. 309-314) separately from the post-conciliar collection (below pp. 314-331), and we note in the critical apparatus the latter the variant readings of the conciliar redaction. In the main editions of the council’s acts only the collection of constitutions promulgated by Gregory X is to be found; all these editions depend on Rm (4, 95-104), which is taken from R (R was edited later by Guiraud).
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