Is conciliarism a heresy?

There doesnt seem to be a section on this site for ecclesiology or theology, unless I’m missing it, so I just threw this into philosophy since conciliarism is often discussed in political philosophy in reference to Okham and Marsilius of Padua. Three questions:

  1. Is conciliarism a heresy (or wrong) according to the magisterium?

  2. If so, when was it declared to be a heresy (or wrong)?

  3. If conciliarism is true, and a pope declares it a heresy, does that mean it’s a heresy?

References much appreciated. Thanks!

Define Conciliarism
Is this your homework?

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As I recall it, concilliarism was condemned at the First Vatican Council.

Others can correct any misunderstandings here. But from my understanding, conciliarism is something that was advocated in past ecumenical & general councils, such as Basil/Constance/Pisa, etc. but was later overturned at the Fifth Lateran Council. So, it seems it was something advocated in the past, including ecumenical councils, but reversed in later ones like the FLC & reaffirmed at Vatican I.

It was a theological trend around the late Middle Ages which taught that ecumenical councils have general authority over the Pope.

(1) Yes.

(2) Fifth Lateran Council, see session 11. In particular the following excerpt:

In Alexandrina enim synodo Athanasio ibidem existente, Felici Romano pontifici ab eadem synodo scriptum suisse legimus, Nicaenam synodum statuiste non debere absque Romani pontificis auctoritate concilia celebrari (Sacrosancta Concilia, vol. 20, col. 967).

(We thus read that in the synod of Alexandria at which Athanasius was present, he wrote to Felix, Bishop of Rome, that the (ecumenical) council of Nicaea had determined that (ecumenical) councils ought not be celebrated without the authority of the Roman pontiff.)

More (lengthy) arguments are presented after that.

(3) See (2).

Edit: I should say that the question of the relationship of powers between the Pope and ecumenical councils is rather more complicated than my answers might imply (I wrote briefly for simplicity!). For example, Pope Honorius was excommunicated posthumously by three ecumenical councils.

I think where conciliarism differed is that it taught that councils could be summoned willy-nilly by any bishop and so such bishops could, ostensibly, go about their “business as usual” outside the purview of the Bishop of Rome.


Really??? Was he a recognized pope before he died, or was he an antipope? And which Pope Honorius? There were 4. Very interesting.

There are some good papers on jstor if this is homework :slightly_smiling_face:

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Hi! Thanks so much for your reply. I’m reading session 11 of V Lateran and am not seeing where it’s defining conciliarism as a heresy. There are a few places I’ve read V Lateran did this (in addition to what’s you’re claiming here), so I’m totally expecting to find it — I’m just not seeing it yet, and haven’t been able to find exact references via google searches.

In particular the paragraph you quote from seems to be surmising a history of councils seeking papal approval, but at the end of the paragraph calls this a “laudable custom.” I can’t read Latin so I don’t know how good the translation is here, but I’m assuming there’s a large space between “custom” and “heresy.” Of course, I’m not confident I’m reading this well, and the text is making references to things I’m not familiar with like the pragmatic sanction.

In the following paragraph the text seems to clearly condemn the Pragmatic Sanction (of Bourges, I’m assuming), but since this is a very specific legislation with several requirements exceeding simple conciliarism, I’m not sure I’d read this as condemning conciliarism.

I’ve also read that the Vatican I defined it as a heresy, but I also haven’t been able to find the document that does this or information determining that Vatican I succeeded in doing this infallibly or at all.

Huh, I hadn’t considered under what conditions a council could be called being an issue for conciliarism, but that make sense! If you have any references about this I’d be really interested to read.

semblades do you have access Jstor?

@OurLadyofSorrows Yes I do

OK, jump on Jstor and google your topic, there are some good papers on it.

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Yes, if you have access to an academic library, that ought to be your first port of call. The contributors on this forum are largely laypeople - such as myself - and so a niche subject such as late medieval ecclesiology is unlikely to garner much input.

That being said, I’ll try and answer your questions:

How explicit of a definition are you seeking? Ecumenical councils (especially earlier in time) typically do not follow an explicit formula of “we define _____ as a heresy”.

Generally the most explicit identification of heresy occurs when specific practices and/or beliefs are noted with a corresponding canonical penalty (excommunication, anathema, etc.).

If you look at the section prior to the excerpt I provided, there is given (probably) the most transparent condemnation of conciliarism:

cum etiam solum Romanum pontificem prio tempore existentem, tamquam auctoritatem super omnia concilia habentem, tam conciliorum indicendorum, transferendorum, ac dissolvendorum plenum ius et potestatem habere, nedum ex sacrae scripturae testimonio, dictis sanctorum patrum, ac aliorum Romanorum pontificum etiam praedecessorum nostrorum, sacrorumque canonum decretis, sed propria etiam eorumdem conciliorum consessione maniseste constet.

[It is clearly undisputed that only the current bishop of Rome, has the full right and power to convoke, transfer and dissolve councils, as he holds authority over all councils. This is established in the testimony of the sacred scriptures, the statements of the holy fathers and the other bishops of Rome who are our predecessors, and the decrees of the sacred canons, and indeed also in the declarations of the same councils.]*

*Note, I cited the wrong volume of Sacrosancta Concilia, it should be 19 (not 20).

The noun consuetudo is often translated very literally as “custom” or “tradition”, but in Latin discourse it typically had a strong judicial tone to it, suggesting something as “customary by right/law (ius)”.

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Thanks for the Latin help! I suspected somehow that ‘custom’ was a false cognate but obviously couldnt be sure. Thanks for the other details as well!

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