Lutherans can't own property - Decet Romanum Pontificem

Decet Romanum Pontificem, Leo X, third section: Our decrees which follow are passed against Martin and others who follow him in the obstinacy of his depraved and damnable purpose, as also against those who defend and protect him with a military bodyguard, and do not fear to support him with their own resources or in any other way, and have and do presume to offer and afford help, counsel and favour toward him. All their names, surnames and rank—however lofty and dazzling their dignity may be—we wish to be taken as included in these decrees with the same effect as if they were individually listed and could be so listed in their publication, which must be furthered with an energy to match their contents.

On all these we decree the sentences of excommunication, of anathema, of our perpetual condemnation and interdict; of privation of dignities, honours and property on them and their descendants, and of declared unfitness for such possessions; of the confiscation of their goods and of the crime of treason; and these and the other sentences, censures and punishments which are inflicted by canon law on heretics and are set out in our aforesaid missive, we decree to have fallen on all these men to their damnation.

**Then from the end of the bull:**No one whatsoever may infringe this our written decision, declaration, precept, injunction, assignation, will, decree; or rashly contravene it. Should anyone dare to attempt such a thing, let him know that he will incur the wrath of Almighty God and of the blessed Apostles Peter and Paul.

Is this still the teaching/policy of the Roman Church today? That Lutherans (NB “and their descendants”) cannot own property?

Of course it’s no longer in effect. It was meant to stop the spread of heresy in it’s day and time. Bulls are not necessarily infallible statements, but rather are disciplinary–meant to deal with a current situation of concern.

Two questions then.

(1) Doesn’t section X (the bit quoted above) claim that the Bull is irrevocable?
(2) Do you think that the Roman Pontiff has the right de jure divino to deprive people of property?

There is no point in laws unless the community accepts and follows the law. Even if this law has not been abrogated, it in practice has no effects. Who will prevent lutherans from purchasing property? How will property vendors even know the religious affiliation of the purchaser?

I quite agree. But presumably Catholics would be bound by conscience to treat this as law if still in force, coming as it does from the Supreme Pontiff, and clearly addressed as it is to the Catholic Church.

What kind of property was this talking about? Private property?

The first question that needs answering is it still in force? I don’t know the answer to that.

I am inferring from your religious affiliation that you live in England. I live there too. How do you think I’d fare with the civil authorities if I put my house up for sale and said on the for sale sign “No Lutherans”.

Obviously that’s illegal per the civil law. This isn’t a question of practicality. I’d be interested to know, however, whether it is still the position of the Roman Church.

From what I can tell, yes. The rest of the document seems to be clearly discussing Luther’s aristocratic as well as clerical backers, so I think the idea that it could refer only to ecclesiastical property is untenable.

Exactly. OP, I’mnot seeing where the Pope says anytihng about Lutherans not being able to own private property. I don’t think you know what those words in the Bull actually mean. I’m not claiming to know all that well, either, but I believe you are reading sometign into that which isn’t really there.

I don’t know if the law is still technically in force. If I wasn’t feeling so idle on this Friday evening I might see what the commentaries say regarding which laws the Code of Canon Law abrogated. If the Code doesn’t abrogate it I don’t know if anything else has. It’s quite possible that like many ancient English laws it’s still technically in force because no authority has repealed it.

Laws are not made in a vacuum. They are made in response to contemporary circumstances. Even if this law is technically in force I don’t see the Church seeking its enforcement (because there is no longer any need for it) or requiring catholics to be morally bound in conscience to observe it.

I disagree with your summary. I think you are also missing the other implicit point here. WHO was this bull written to that is saying such things? It’s to Catholics…I’m going to guess to Bishops, at that. What I am seeing above is that the Church is henceforth not to have business dealings with Luther and his supporters, in synch with the Scriptures that say that once a brother is rebuked and he does not listen, to treat him as a tax-collector and have nothing further to do with him (Mt 18:15-18).

I fail to see how they could apply to anything other than private property. If you can point me in the direction of anything which would suggest otherwise, please do so.

“of privation of dignities, honours and property on them and their descendants, and of declared unfitness for such possessions; of the confiscation of their goods”

You still think it’s not about taking away the property of heretics?

[Post 12]

No, I don’t. But if you can find a Catholic source that says it is, please point me in the direction.

The Catholic source is Leo X’s own text! It seems addressed to all the faithful, per this clause in section 2: “and we hereby give solemn notice to all faithful Christians that these intervals have and are elapsed…”

I’m not making a contentious interpretative claim. The plain text of the document talks about the property of Lutherans. I don’t understand how you could read it as meaning otherwise.

So, because the text is to all faithful Christians it necessarily translates to a prohibition against the private ownership of property of Lutherans? That does not follow. You have yet to show what Leo X’s words actually mean. I believe you are reading something into it which is simply not there. But if you can find a Catholic source that supports your assertion and explains Leo X’s Bull in the way that YOU understand it, I’d love to see it.

Why would the source need to be Catholic? I can assure you that I’m not some sort of anti-Roman bigot!

No, my point about being addressed to all faithful Christians was a response to your earlier claim that it was probably written just to the bishops.

Could you tell me what you think the references to goods and property, pertaining to Lutherans, might mean if not private property, etc.?

This Bull is effectively still in force but it effect no longer has any force, if that makes sense. It was the second document by which Leo X excommunicated Luther. It won’t ever be lifted as far as I no because Luther is dead and the Church only removes excommunications from the living.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit