The Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church

Guide to documents and events

Fifteenth Century

Council of Constance 1414-1418

October 30, 1417

[That the election of the Roman pontiff may be begun, notwithstanding the absence of Peter de Luna's cardinals]

The most holy general synod of Constance notes what was previously agreed upon at Narbonne concerning the church's unity and the admission to this synod of the cardinals of the obedience of Peter de Luna, called Benedict XIII in his obedience. It notes, too, that after the notorious expulsion of the said Peter de Luna, the aforesaid cardinals who had been summoned before the expulsion according to the terms of the agreement, did not come within three months and more after the aforesaid expulsion. The synod therefore decrees and declares that, notwithstanding their absence, it will proceed to the election of the Roman pontiff on the authority of the said synod and according to what has been decided by the same synod. It declares, however, that if they arrive before the election of the future supreme pontiff has been completed, and if they adhere to the council, they are to be admitted to the aforesaid election together with the other cardinals, according to the directives of the law and what shall be decided by the council.

[On the manner and form of electing the pope]

For the praise, glory and honour of almighty God and for the peace and unity of the universal church and of the whole christian people. The election of the future Roman and supreme pontiff is soon to be held. We wish that it may be confirmed with greater authority and by the assent of many persons and that, mindful as we are of the state of the church, no doubts or scruples may later remain in people's minds regarding the said election but rather that a secure, true full and perfect union of the faithful may result from it. Therefore this most holy general synod of Constance, mindful of the common good and with the special and express consent and the united wish of the cardinals of the holy Roman church present at the same synod, and of the college of cardinals and of all the nations at this present council, declares, ordains and decrees that, for this time only, at the election of the Roman and supreme pontiff, there shall be added to the cardinals six prelates or other honourable churchmen in holy orders, from each of the nations currently present and named at the same synod, who are to be chosen by each of the said nations within ten days. This same holy synod gives power to all these people, insofar as it is necessary, to elect the Roman pontiff according to the form here laid down. That is to say, the person is to be regarded as the Roman pontiff by the universal church without exception who is elected and admitted by two-thirds of the cardinals present at the conclave and by two-thirds of those from each nation who are to be and have been added to the cardinals. Moreover, the election is not valid nor is the person elected to be regarded as supreme pontiff unless two-thirds of the cardinals present at the conclave, and two-thirds of those from each nation who should be and have been added to the same cardinals, agree to elect him as Roman pontiff. The synod also declares, ordains and decrees that the votes of any persons cast at the election are null unless, as has been said, two-thirds of the cardinals, and two-thirds of those from each nation who should be and have been added to them, agree, directly or by way of addition, upon one person. This must be added, moreover, that the prelates and other persons who should be and have been added to the cardinals for the election, are bound to observe all and singular apostolic constitutions, even penal ones, which have been promulgated regarding the election of the Roman pontiff, just as the cardinals themselves are bound to observe them, and they are bound to their observance. The said electors, both cardinals and others, are also bound to swear, before they proceed to the election, that in attending to the business of the election, they will proceed with pure and sincere minds--since it is a question of creating the vicar Jesus Christ, the successor of the blessed Peter, the governor of the universal church and the leader of the Lord's flock--and that they firmly believe it will benefit the public good of the universal church if they entirely prescind from all affection for persons of any particular nation, or other inordinate affections, as well as from hatred and graces or favours bestowed, in order that by their ministry a beneficial and suitable pastor may be provided for the universal church. This same holy synod, mindful of this notorious vacancy in the Roman church, fixes and assigns the next ten days for all and singular cardinals of the holy Roman church, whether present here or absent, and the other electors mentioned above, to enter into the conclave which is to be held in this city of Constance, in the commune's principal building which has already been allocated for this purpose. The synod ordains, declares and decrees that within these next ten days the aforesaid electors, both cardinals and others mentioned above, must enter into the conclave for the purpose of holding the election and of doing and carrying out all the other matters according as the laws ordain and decree in all things, besides those mentioned above regarding the cardinals and other electors, concerning the election of a Roman pontiff. The same holy synod wishes all these laws to remain in force after the above matters have been observed. For this time, however, it approves, ordains, establishes and decrees this particular form and manner of election. The same holy synod, in order to remove all scruples, makes and declares fit for actively and passively carrying out all legitimate acts at the same synod, insofar as this is necessary, all those who are present at the same synod as well as those who will come and adhere to it, always saving the other decrees of this same sacred council, and it will supply for any defects, if perchance any shall occur in the above, notwithstanding any apostolic constitutions, even those published in general councils, and other constitutions to the contrary.

Taken from Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils (

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