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The 4 Lateran Councils: The Rules and Decisions

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  • 0:07 The Councils
  • 1:16 First Lateran Council
  • 1:57 Second Lateran Council
  • 2:33 Third Lateran Council
  • 3:30 Fourth Lateran Council
  • 5:09 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

This lesson will discuss the Four Lateran Councils held between the years 1123 and 1215 CE. In doing so, it will explore and highlight the main themes and decisions of each.

The Councils

My sister works for a huge company that spans the nation. In order to keep everyone abreast of all the business dealings and happenings, they have a yearly conference. Sort of like a pow-wow for all the higher ups. This year it was in Hawaii. Poor thing.

Although not all organizations can afford to send everyone to paradise, the idea of conferences is not a new thing. In fact, the Church has been holding conferences of sorts for centuries. They just call them councils. Today we're going to discuss some of the Church's most famous get-together pow-wows, or councils if you will. They are known in history as the Lateran Councils. Their names are derived from the place in which they were held, the Lateran Palace in Rome.

Pope Innocent II condemned Arnold of Brescia during the Second Lateran Council
Second Lateran Council

In order to cement the discussions and decisions of each of these councils, we're going to use the acronym R.A.C.E. In using this, we'll hope to make it easier to remember why the leaders of the medieval church RACED to each of these four councils.

First Lateran Council

Let's start with the First Lateran Council and the letter R. Held in the year 1123, this council was pretty much a review of Church's laws and principle. Since it was really just a big review session, it doesn't get much play or time in the history books. However, we do know things like the handling of church property, the condemnation of simony, which was the selling of church positions, and the fact that high-ranking clergy were forbidden to marry were all discussed. Hence, we give it the letter R. It was a review of Church canons, or laws and principles.

Second Lateran Council

Next, we have the Second Lateran Council. This one was held in the year 1139. It was called by Pope Innocent II in order to accuse and then condemn a guy named Arnold of Brescia. This is where we get our letter A. The Second Lateran Council was called to accuse Arnold of Brescia. In short, Arnold of Brescia dared to question the power of the Pope, and obviously, the Pope wasn't going to put up with it. Therefore, the Second Lateran Council was called to put a stop to Arnold and his troublesome ideas.

Third Lateran Council

This brings us to the Third Lateran Council and the letter C. Held in the year 1179, this council was called into being by Pope Alexander III. This council condemned what they considered a radical group of Christians living in modern-day France known as the Albigenses and Waldenses. The reason for this condemnation is that these radicals actually had the nerve to say the Church had become corrupt and that the Bible should be the rule of law for all Christians!

Pope Alexander III condemned the Albigenses and Waldenses
Third Lateran Council

Along with the condemnation of these radicals, the Third Council also stated the Pope could only be pope if he was elected by a two-thirds majority of the College of Cardinals. How fortuitous. This last point gives us more Cs by which to remember the third Lateran Council. It condemned some radicals and discussed the voting practices of the College of Cardinals!

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