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III Lateran Council
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By an agreement reached at Venice in 1177, the bitter conflict which had arisen about twenty years earlier between Pope Alexander III (1159-1181) and Emperor Frederick I (1152-1190) was brought to an end. For when Pope Hadrian IV had died in 1159, the cardinals elected two popes together, namely Roland of Siena, who took the name of Alexander III, and Octavian of Rome who though he was nominated by fewer cardinals, nevertheless with the support of the emperor Frederick usurped the name of Pope Victor IV. The emperor, wishing to remove everything which stood in the way of his authority in Italy, declared war upon the Italian states and especially the Roman church which after its struggle for ecclesiastical liberty for so many years, was enjoying great authority. The emperor carried on the war for a long time. A serious schism had arisen out of this conflict, and after Victor IV two antipopes were nominated in opposition to Alexander III, namely Paschal III (1164-1168) and Callistus III (1168-1178). At last, when Alexander had gained the victory, he promised the emperor at Venice that he would summon a general council.
The particular object of this council was to put an end to the schism within the church and the quarrel between the emperor and the papacy. It was summoned by Pope Alexander in 1178, "so that according to the custom of the ancient fathers, the good should be sought and confirmed by many, and that with the cooperation of the grace of the holy Spirit, by the efforts of all, there should be carried out what was required for the correction of abuses and the establishment of what was pleasing to God". The council was held at Rome in March 1179. About three hundred fathers assembled from the provinces of Europe and some from the Latin east, and a single legate from the Greek church. It began on 5 March, according to Archbishop William of Tyre, our chief authority. The bishops first heard Rufinus, bishop of Assisi, who in a highly polished address praised the Roman pontiff and the Roman church, "that church to which alone belongs the decision and power to summon a general council, to lay down new canons and cancel the old; indeed, though the fathers had summoned a solemn council many times in the past, yet the obligation and reason to do this was never more expedient than at the present".
We do not have the same reasons for doubting the ecumenical nature of this council as we have for Lateran I and II. For, the way in which the council was summoned and conducted by the pope, and the number of fathers who gathered from the whole Latin world and devoted their efforts to strengthening the unity of the church and condemning heretics, resemble rather the ancient councils than Lateran I and II and exemplify the typical council of the Middle Ages presided over by the Roman pontiff. For this reason it is not surprising that chronicles of the period frequently refer to this council as Lateran I.
Although we do not possess the acts of the council, we have evidence from chronicles and annals and especially from the canons which the fathers laid down in the final session on 19 March. Accordingly, to avoid future schisms it was first laid down that nobody was to be regarded as Roman pontiff unless he had been elected by two thirds of the cardinals (canon 1) ; all appointments by antipopes were deemed invalid (canon 2), heretics called Cathars were excommunicated and likewise were the bands of mercenaries, or rather criminals, which were causing utter destruction in some parts of Europe; it was declared, and this seems an innovation, that arms should be taken up against them (canon 27) ; it was also decided not to pass judgment about the preaching of the Waldensians. All this seems to have been directed to strengthening the unity of the church. In addition, Alexander III and the fathers, renewing the precedent of Lateran I and II, laid down several canons for the reform of the church and some concerning morals and civil affairs.
The canons of this council played a notable part in the future government of the church. They were frequently included in the collections of decretals compiled in the late 12th and early 13th century, and afterwards all were inserted into Pope Gregory IX's Decretals. Walter Holtzmann and other scholars considered that these decretal collections in fact arose from this Lateran council and its canons. Certainly the canons, unlike those of Lateran I and II and many preceding councils, appear to have been worked out by an excellent legal mind so that it is probable they were composed under the authority of Alexander III himself, who was an expert lawyer. The canons, except for those which refer to Lateran II or the council of Rheims in 1148 (see canons 2, 11, 20-22) or to Gratian's Decrees (see canons 1-4, 7, 11, 13-14, 17-18), are new and original.
The tradition of the canons has not yet been adequately examined and remains very uncertain. Many manuscript codices survive for this council (in contrast to Lateran I and II). However, they do not seem to give us the version of the canons which was confirmed by ecclesiastical authority and which Archbishop William of Tyre, with the authority of the fathers, had himself drawn up. Frequently the canons are to be found in chronicles and decretal collections. They are included in four contemporary English chronicles: those of Abbot Benedict of Peterborough, Gervase of Canterbury, William of Newburgh, and Roger of Hoveden. And in the following collections of decretals: the collection called the Appendix of the Lateran council, the collections of Bamberg, Berlin I, Canterbury I-II, Kassel, Cheltenham, Claudian, Cotton, Dertosa, Douai, Durham, Eberbach, Erlangen, Florian, Klosterneuberg, Leipzig, Oriel II, Paris I, Peterhouse, Rochester, Sangerman, and Tanner; and there are a considerable number of collections still to be examined. The canons are also contained in the book called "Rommersdorfer Briefbuch", the Cartulary of Rievaulx, and the codices Florence Ricc. 288 (Day-book), Innsbruck Univ. 90 (Gratian's Decrees), and (which seem to have been unnoticed hitherto) Vatican Regin. lat. 596, 12th century (fos. 6V-8v), and 984, 12th century (fos. 2r-7v). We can say for certain that the canons of the council were spread abroad through the whole Latin church, and were of great weight in its concerns and transactions.
The first printed edition was made by Cr2 (2, 1551, 836-843). He edited, from a manuscript now lost or unknown, the whole collection known as the Appendix of the Lateran council, which is divided into fifty parts; all 27 canons of Lateran III are in the first part. This text was copied by Su (3, 1567, 626-633) and Bn (3, 1606, 1345-1350), though Su introduced some errors. Bn who was the first to give the name "Appendix of the Lateran council" to the collection, added some variant readings and rubrics which he had found in the chronicle of Roger of Hoveden. The Roman editors (Rm 4, 1612, 27-33), using also the manuscript codex of Antonio Augustine of Tarragona, produced a more accurate text and more variant readings. Later editions, all of which we have exarnined, followed the Roman text, narnely:ER27 (1644) 439-463;LC10 (1671) 1507-1523;Hrd 6 (1714) 1673-1684; Cl 13 (1730) 416-432; Msi 22 (1778) 217-233. Boehmer, who published his edition in 1747, before Msi, is an exception. He took the canons from the Kassel collection of decretals, where the order and some readings are different. Finally Herold, in his unpublished Bonn dissertation of 1952, examined thoroughly the whole tradition and established the order of the canons; using 36 sources, he concluded there were 34 different traditions!
As things now stand, it is impossible to use all the known sources for our edition. For, these sources reveal only a limited part of the whole tradition and, what is even more important, we do not yet understand the relations between the individual traditions. Even Herold has not examined these relations sufficiently. We have therefore preferred to publish the text of a single tradition, namely that of the Appendix of the Lateran council, using Cr2 and Rm as the best text of this tradition and including the variant readings listed in Rrn. This "Appendix" is a good text, as even Herold's text (= H) shows. We have given Herold's variant readings in the critical apparatus, and we have noted in footnotes the order in which he places the 23 canons that he includes.
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