Home > Uncategorized > August 9, 2015

August 9, 2015

The Spirit of Lateran IV

In the year 1215 the ecumenical Council Lateran IV promulgated the dogma of Transubstantiation: so it’s a very important Council indeed.  But what’s not so well known is that it also required Jews and Moslems always to wear distinctive dress.

And that during the Sacred Triduum, they must not be allowed to go out of doors.  It’s there in Canon 68, which says, among other things:

Moreover, during the last three days before Easter and especially on Good Friday, they shall not go forth in public at all, for the reason that some of them on these very days, as we hear, do not blush to go forth better dressed and are not afraid to mock the Christians who maintain the memory of the most holy Passion by wearing signs of mourning.

We Catholics believe—do we not?—that we are obliged to accept all ecumenical councils, and do our best to obey their decrees?  That is why the Society of St Pius X have been told that if they wish to be reconciled to the Church, they must sign up to all the decrees of Vatican II.

Well, if they are obliged to accept the whole of Vatican II, then surely they must also accept without equivocation all the decrees of Lateran IV as well? Yet how many of us now believe Jews and Moslems should be made to wear the yarmulka or the hijab? Or that they must be forced to say indoors during Holy Week?

Ah, you will say, Canon 68 was conditioned by its time; it had to be obeyed in the 13th century,  but now it’s obsolete.

Right. Well, isn’t it also true that we in the 21st century are living in a very different era to the 1960s? Let me quote the inimitable Fr Hunwicke:

My view on Councils, prescinding from those Conciliar decrees (with attached anathemas) which strictly define dogma, is that their teachings and edicts, even if appropriate to the time of the Council itself, gradually merge into the quiet background noise of the life of the Church. I have no doubt that this applies to Lateran Canon 68 as much as it does to Vatican II Dignitatis humanae. But both of these were completely ‘valid’ Ecumenical Councils; a truth which, I believe, no Catholic is allowed question. I also believe that no Catholic should read the non-dogmatic texts of any Council, or of any Roman Pontiff, without applying a contextualising nuance. Catholics are not fundamentalists. Councils, and popes, when not defining dogma, can, quite simply, be wrong. Especially fifty or more years after their time.




  1. David Manly
    12 August, 2015 at 4:51 pm
    Nick, it is a case of apples and oranges. The decree about transsubstantiation at the Lateran Council was aimed to refute the teaching of Berengar and concerned the mystery of the Eucharist, something at the heart of the Church. The decree about the dress of Muslims and Jews had little to do with doctrine, although I am ignorant of why the bishops felt it was needed at that time. Whatever the reasons, it was a disciplinary decree, and, if the conditions that required it no longer exist today—is there any doubt?—it no longer places any obligation of obedience on believers. On the contrary, the decree against the errors of Berengar remains most needed in this era.

  2. Of course David is right; and that’s really the point I was trying to make. I was questioning whether it is really fair to require the SSPX to sign up to every jot and tittle of Vatican II, which was a pastoral council, not a dogmatic one.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *