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V Lateran Council
IntraText CT - Text
[On how to preach]
Leo, bishop, servant of the servants of God, with the approval of the sacred council, for an everlasting record. Under the protection of the supreme majesty by whose ineffable providence things in heaven and on earth are guided, as we carry out the office of watchman over the Lord's flock committed to us, insofar as this is granted to our weakness, we reflect within ourselves in great depth that, among many other important matters, the office of preaching is also our concern. Preaching is of the first importance, very necessary and of great effect and utility in the church, so long as it is being exercised rightly, from genuine charity towards God and our neighbour, and according to the precepts and examples of the holy fathers, who contributed a great deal to the church by publicly professing such things at the time of the establishment and propagation of the faith . For, our redeemer first did and taught, and by his command and example, the college of twelve apostles -- the heavens alike proclaiming the glory of the true God through all the earth -- led back from darkness the whole human race, which was held by the old bondage under the yoke of sin, and guided it to the light of eternal salvation. The apostles and then their successors propagated far and wide and rooted deeply the word itself through all the earth and unto the ends of the world. Therefore those who are now carrying this burden ought to remember and frequently reflect that they in turn, with respect to this office of preaching, are entering into and maintaining that succession of the author and founder of this office, Jesus Christ our most holy redeemer, of Peter and Paul, and of the other apostles and disciples of the Lord .
We have learnt from trustworthy sources that some preachers in our times (we record this with sorrow) do not attend to the fact that they are carrying out the office of those we have named, of the holy doctors of the church and of others professing sacred theology, who, ever standing by Christians and confronting false prophets striving to overturn the faith, have shown that the church militant remains unimpaired by her very nature; and that they ought to adopt only what the people who flock to their sermons will find useful, by means of reflection and practical application, for rooting out vices, praising virtues and saving the souls of the faithful. Reliable report has it, rather, that they are preaching many and various things contrary to the teachings and examples which we have mentioned, sometimes with scandal to the people. This fact influences our attitude very deeply when we reflect within ourself that these preachers, unmindful of their duty, are striving in their sermons not for the benefit of the hearers but rather for their own self-display. They flatter the idle ears of some people who seem to have already reached a state that would make true the words of the Apostle writing to Timothy: For, a time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching but, having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths . These preachers make no attempt whatever to lead back the deceived and empty minds of such people to the path of right and truth. Indeed, they involve them in even greater errors. Without any reverence for the testimony of canon law, indeed contrary to canonical censures, twisting the sense of scripture in many places, often giving it rash and false interpretations, they preach what is false; they threaten, describe and assert to be present, totally unsupported by legitimate proofs and merely following their own private interpretation, various terrors, menaces and many other evils, which they say are about to arrive and are already growing; they very often introduce to their congregations certain futile and worthless ideas and other matters of this nature; and, what is more appalling, they dare to claim that they possess this information from the light of eternity and by the guidance and grace of the holy Spirit .
When these preachers spread this medley of fraud and error, backed by the false testimony of alleged miracles, the congregations whom they ought to be carefully instructing in the gospel message, and retaining and preserving in the true faith, are withdrawn by their sermons from the teaching and commands of the universal church. When they turn aside from the official sacred teachings, which they ought particularly to follow, they separate and move far from salvation those who listen to them. For, as a result of these and similar activities, the less educated people, as being more exposed to deceit, are very easily led into manifold errors, as they wander from the path of salvation and from obedience to the Roman church. Gregory, therefore, who was outstanding in this task, moved by the warmth of his charity, gave a strong exhortation and warning to preachers that, when about to speak, they approach the people with prudence and caution lest, caught up in the enthusiasm of their oratory, they entangle the hearts of their hearers with verbal errors as if with nooses, and while perhaps they wish to appear wise, in their delusion they foolishly tear asunder the sinews of the hoped-for virtue. For, the meaning of words is often lost when the hearts of the audience are bruised by too urgent and careless forms of speech .
Indeed, in no other way do these preachers cause greater harm and scandal to the less educated than when they preach on what should be left unspoken or when they introduce error by teaching what is false and useless. Since such things are known to be totally opposed to this holy and divinely instituted religion, as being novelties and foreign to it, it is surely just for them to be examined seriously and carefully, lest they cause scandal for the christian people and ruin for the souls of their authors and of others. We therefore desire, in accord with the word of the prophet, Who makes harmony dwell in the house, to restore that uniformity which has lost esteem, and to preserve such as remains, insofar as we can with God's help, in the holy church of God, which by divine providence we preside over and which is indeed one, preaches and worships one God and firmly and sincerely professes one faith. We wish that those who preach the word of God to the people be such that God's church suffers no scandal from their preaching. If they are amenable to correction, let them abstain in future from these matters into which they have recently ventured. For it is clear that, in addition to the points which we have mentioned, a number of them are no longer preaching the way of the Lord in virtue and are not expounding the gospel, as is their duty, but rather invented miracles, new and false prophecies and other frivolities hardly distinguishable from old wives' tales. Such things give rise to great scandal since no account is taken of devotion and authority and of its condemnations and rejections. There are those who make attempts to impress and win support by bawling everywhere, not sparing even those who are honoured with pontifical rank and other prelates of the church, to whom they should rather be showing honour and reverence. They attack their persons and their state of life, boldly and without discrimination, and commit other acts of this kind. Our aim is that so dangerous and contagious an evil and so mortal a disease may be thoroughly wiped out and that its consequences may be so completely swept away that not even its memory remains .
We decree and ordain, with the approval of the sacred council, that nobody -whether a secular cleric or a member of any of the mendicant orders or someone with the right to preach by law or custom or privilege or otherwise -- may be admitted to carry out this office unless he has first been examined with due care by his superior, which is a responsibility that we lay on the superior's conscience, and unless he is found to be fit and suitable for the task by his upright behaviour, age, doctrine, honesty, prudence and exemplary life. Wherever he goes to preach, he must provide a guarantee to the bishop and other local ordinaries concerning his examination and competence, by means of the original or other letters from the person who examined and approved him. We command all who undertake this task of preaching, or will later undertake it, to preach and expound the gospel truth and holy scripture in accordance with the exposition, interpretation and commentaries that the church or long use has approved and has accepted for teaching until now, and will accept in the future, without any addition contrary to its true meaning or in conflict with it. They are always to insist on the meanings which are in harmony with the words of sacred scripture and with the interpretations, properly and wisely understood, of the doctors mentioned above. They are in no way to presume to preach or declare a fixed time for future evils, the coming of antichrist or the precise day of judgment; for Truth says, it is not for us to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by his own authority. Let it be known that those who have hitherto dared to declare such things are liars, and that because of them not a little authority has been taken away from those who preach the truth .
We are placing a restriction on each and all of the said clerics, secular and regular and others, of whatever status, rank or order, who undertake this task. In their public sermons they are not to keep on predicting some future events as based on the sacred writings, nor presume to declare that they know them from the holy Spirit or from divine revelation, nor that strange and empty predictions are matters which must be firmly asserted or held in some other way. Rather, at the command of the divine word, let them expound and proclaim the gospel to every creature, rejecting vices and commending virtues. Fostering everywhere the peace and mutual love so much commended by our Redeemer, let them not rend the seamless garment of Christ and let them refrain from any scandalous detraction of bishops, prelates and other superiors and of their state of life. Yet these they rebuke and hurt before people generally, including the laity, not only heedlessly and extravagantly but also by open and plain reproof, with the names of the evildoers sometimes being stated by them .
Finally, we decree that the constitution of pope Clement of happy memory beginning Religiosi, which we renew and approve by this present decree, must be observed by preachers without alteration, so that, preaching in these terms for the people's advantage and winning them for the Lord, they may deserve to gain interest on the talent received from him and to win his grace and glory. But if the Lord reveals to certain of them, by some inspiration, some future events in the church of God, as he promises by the prophet Amos and as the apostle Paul, the chief of preachers, says, Do not quench the Spirit, do not despise prophesying, we have no wish for them to be counted with the other group of story-tellers and liars or to be otherwise hindered. For, as Ambrose bears witness, the grace of the Spirit himself is being extinguished if fervour in those beginning to speak is quietened by contradiction. In that case, a wrong is certainly done to the holy Spirit. The matter is important inasmuch as credence must not be easily given to every spirit and, as the Apostle states, the spirits have to be tested to see whether they come from God. It is therefore our will that as from now, by common law, alleged inspirations of this kind, before they are published, or preached to the people, are to be understood as reserved for examination by the apostolic see. If it is impossible to do this without danger of delay, or some pressing need suggests other action, then, keeping the same arrangement, notice is to be given to the local ordinary so that, after he has summoned three or four knowledgeable and serious men and carefully examined the matter with them, they may grant permission if this seems to them to be appropriate. We lay the responsibility for this decision on their consciences .
If any persons dare to carry through anything contrary to any of the above, it is our will that, in addition to the punishments set down against such persons by law, they incur the penalty of excommunication from which, except at the imminent approach of death, they can be absolved only by the Roman pontiff . In order that others may not be urged on by their example to try similar acts, we decree that the office of preaching is forbidden to such persons for ever; notwithstanding constitutions, ordinances, privileges, indults and apostolic letters for religious orders and the aforesaid persons, including those mentioned in Mare magnum, even if perchance they have been approved, renewed or even granted anew by us, none of which in this matter do we wish to support at any point in their favour. Let nobody therefore ... If anyone however.. .
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