The Fourth Lateran Council

The Fourth Lateran Council (1215) was the Twelfth Ecumenical Council of the Catholic Church. It is not clear why it was called by Innocent III (b1160, Pope 1197-1216) because it discussed no really pressing matters but it represents the Western (or Roman) Catholic Church at the zenith of its spiritual and temporal power. In contrast with the early Ecumenical Councils its membership was predominantly Western (the rise and military progress of Islam had swallowed up huge tracts of Eastern Christian territory) but the Eastern Empire, recently (and shamefully) conquered by the West, was represented and so it was nominally at least Ecumenical in a way that other Medieval Western Councils were not. It was attended by the patriarchs of Constantinople and Jerusalem (both Westerners), the Patriarchs of Alexandria and Antioch were represented, 71 Patriarchs and Metropolitans, 412 bishops and some 900 abbots and priors, signifying the importance of monastic orders in the 13th Century church.

In his opening remarks Innocent singled out the defence of the Holy Land and the liberty of the Church as his key themes. The Fourth Crusade (1201-04) which had been supposed to relieve the tottering Latin Kingdom had culminated in the sack of Constantinople (1204) which fatally weakened the Byzantine East and precipitated its fall to Islam (1453) and the fall of the Latin Kingdom itself (1291). In his second theme the Pope was Prescient. No sooner had the Church reached the zenith of its power over temporal monarchs than the on-going fractious relationship with the Holy Roman Emperor over spiritual and temporal jurisdiction was paralleled by the rise of nationalism in England and France so that by the time of the Reformation their monarchs were already accustomed to nominating bishops in their territories.

Of the 70 Canons, the following are most important:

KC viii/07

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