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Effects of the Fourth Lateran Council on France

When Louis VIII began his reign as King of France after his father Philip Augustus died in 1223, it became clear that he would be a lot more respectful to the church doctrines than his father. Many representatives turned up to represent France at the Fourth Lateran Council, roughly seventy six bishops and archbishops from France, Burgundy and Provence arrived in order to witness the monumental event. The number is over three times the amount that came from England and Germany.1 This is also applicable to the decrees of the Council in France, where the majority of which were taken and accepted immediately.

An intriguing point that must be raised when taking into consideration England and Germany the occurrences of the committal of the act of simony are quite sparsely scattered throughout the Thirteenth Century. In comparison, France has an abundance of recorded instances. The idea of simoniacal entry into a religious house, was considered to be a sin only forgivable by the Pope.

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This could be for many different reason, such as the fact that the church in France was more corrupt than in the other selected nations, or that it was just stricter in regards to sins such as simony, this will be considered in this chapter.

A prime offering of this plenitude of sinful religious is shown by an instruction by Pope Gregory IX in 1236. It is very similar to the instance in Lincoln in 1239, this is because Pope Gregory again adds to the instruction of punishment of simoniac nuns in Amiens ‘if that is possible’2.

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This again shows a lack of conviction to the punishment set by Pope Innocent III and also jeopardises the strength of the implemented canons. The reason this kind of flexibility weakened the decrees of the Fourth Lateran Council is that by allowing leniency on certain occasions it sets a precedent for it to happen again and also if the punishments were less severe than intended any fear by the guilty party will be alleviated and the sin will be committed more often. The reasoning behind this more lenient punishment in France can be seen also in Bec in 1220, where simoniacal entrants were not expelled from their order completely but just placed in a differing house inside of the same order.3

Simony in France also offers a completely original viewpoint on the sin and its punishment, in comparison with any others considered in this investigation. The most prominent example that assists in understanding this is in a nunnery in Fontevrault in the year 1217. The matter at hand was the volume of nuns had reach extremely high levels and the resources of the nunnery were not enough to support them, this meant that the nuns were forced to allow simoniac entrants into their order because they were in desperate need of the financial gains of simony in order to survive. This suggest simony in order to keep the church strong and to stop it from being wiped out in Fontevrault. Honorius III also saw that simony was necessary for the nuns and instead of removing all the guilty nuns from within the order and shipping them elsewhere, he ordered the Bishop of Soissons to spread the nuns more evenly around the order and also for him to pay close attention to the resources available to them.4 This is extremely significant in regards to the implementation of the decrees of the Fourth Lateran Council as it emphasizes that it was not always in the best interest of the church to follow the laws placed before them, and they should be applied with reference to each individual case. This is also significant as it is an action taken only a year after the death of Innocent, because it shows Honorius had his own ideas on the incorporation of the decrees into the church. This strikes a blow against Innocents decrees on simony as it offers a more approachable alternative to the punishments set out. Another point that must be taken into account from the case in Fontevrault is that it was the first sign of simony committed by a nun after the Council. The words of Canon 64 specifically suggest it is nuns who are most susceptible to the sin of simony when it states ‘because the disgrace of simony has infected so many nuns so much that they scarcely receive any sisters without payment, wishing to conceal a crime of this kind under the pretext of poverty, we prohibit this being done any more’5. The reasoning behind this suspicion of nuns is given an excellent explanation by historian Bruce L. Venarde when he states:

‘this emphasis on women as transgressors is wholly new, despite widespread concern about the propriety of all monastic entry gifts whish had grown since the mid-twelfth century…female transgression shows that nuns found their economic situation to be dire, less a pretext than a reality, if the evidence of the charters is admitted, perhaps more so than that of men, who were not subject to the kind of strict claustration envisioned in Cistercian legislation…criticising the nuns might also reflect an increased concern with their regulation and limitation by male clergy.’6

As with the significance of setting a punishment that is suitable for the crime of simony, It cannot be emphasized enough the importance of Canon 21 of the Council on ecclesiastical history. It not only brought about a much needed reform within the Church, but it also cancelled out all the previous attempts in world history to enforce auricular confession that had not been abided by during the previous centuries.

When observing the implementation of Canon 21 on France in the first half of the Thirteenth Century, the most notable event that took place was a synod in 1229 in Toulouse. The reason this synod was so significant to this topic was that it attempted to enforce the decree more rigorously. This feat was achieved by announcing at the synod of Toulouse that failing to attend confession at least once a year could be taken as the behaviour of a heretic. The reasoning behind this ideology is due to the high levels of heretical groups in France during the period. It is also clear that this was an issue that did not relinquish rapidly, because another synod, fifty years after the congregation at Toulouse, in Port Audemer suggested the same idea in 1279.7

Under Philip Augustus the Jews had been expelled from France, his motives appear to be economical, in 1198 however he welcomed the Jewish faith back to his Kingdom. This emphasizes the need for the Jewish faith that is shown in the decrees of the Council. The Lateran Council does not look to destroy the Jewish faith, it does although look to weaken its economic strength at the time. As this had been an issue in France in the years preceding the Council, the integration of these decrees is integral.8

In the year after the Council there was in fact a Jewish synod held at St Gilles. The idea behind the synod was to combat the decrees of the Fourth Lateran Council, this however had very little success. It does give an excellent example of how the Jewish people in France were not happy to accept every discriminate law that was passed in the kingdom.

When looking at the implementation of the four canons relating to Jews and its effect in France an important historical event took place in 1227 at the Synod of Narbonne in the south of France where it was ruled:

‘That Jews may be distinguished from others, we decree and emphatically command that in the centre of the breast (of their garments) they shall wear an oval badge, the measure of one finger in width and one half a palm in height. We forbid them moreover, to work publicly on Sundays and on festivals. And lest they scandalize Christians or be scandalized by Christians, we wish and ordain that during Holy Week they shall not leave their houses at all except in case of urgent necessity, and the prelates shall during that week especially have them guarded from vexation by the Christians.’9

This directly backs canon 68 of the Council and enhances it by selecting a distinct item for the Jews to wear so that they can be defined.

It is clear that there is no mention of Papal legates in this chapter this is accounted for because it has been extremely difficult to find evidence of legates in France at the time of the announcement of the decrees of the Fourth Lateran Council that had been sent there to overlook the implementation. This may have been due to Philip Augustus lack of trust against the Church at the time due to its relationship with England.

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Effects of the Fourth Lateran Council on France. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from

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