Skip to main content

Lyons, Councils of


Two ecumenical councils held in Lyons, France. The first was concerned chiefly with Frederick II's struggle with the papacy, and the second, 29 years later, with the reunion of the Eastern and Western Churches.

The First Council. Pope innocent iv summoned a General Council to meet at Lyons in June 1245. Innocent had fled from Emperor frederick ii, who like Barbarossa was bent on asserting imperial supremacy and had seized much papal territory, not to mention 100 prelates who were captured on their way to a Roman council in 1241. The emperor was ordered to appear at Lyons in order to defend himself from the charge of heresy.

The council opened June 26 and had three sessions: June 28, July 5, and July 17, 1245. In the first public session Innocent addressed an assembly of three patriarchs, 140 bishops, and a number of religious and seculars, including Baldwin II, the Latin emperor of Constantinople. The pope spoke on the "five wounds" of the Church: the sins of the clergy, the loss of Jerusalem, the Greek threat to the latin empire of constantinople, the Mongol (Tatar) invasion of Hungary, and especially Frederick's persecution (evident from the fact that few German or Sicilian bishops dared to attend). On July 5, Frederick's ambassador, Thaddeus of Suëssa, ably defended his lord, urging that no one should be condemned for heresy without being heard. Thaddeus could scarcely refute, however, the charge of Frederick's violence toward the bishops. A delay of 12 days (to July 17) was allowed for Thaddeus to consult with the emperor. Innocent spent the interval interviewing the bishops, allowing further time for the emperor's defense. When Frederick did not appear on July 17, the pope reviewed the case, and pronounced sentence of excommunication and deposition; most of the prelates signed the document. matthew of paris states that the electors were left free to choose a successor to Frederick but that the pope would arrange for Sicily (of which he was suzerain).

Plans were made to be ready for the Tatars; taxes were voted to aid the Holy Land as well as the Latin Empire. Some of the 22 constitutions dealt with judicial reform (those against usury and too frequent use of excommunication). The appeal of Thaddeus to a future general council met with a rebuke from Pope Innocent. Indeed the First Council of Lyons has been accepted as general only since the time of bellarmine (15421621).

The Second Council. Pope gregory x called the Second Council of Lyons in 1274. Considerable strife accompanied the extinction of the Hohenstaufen line, when Charles of anjou became king of Sicily. When Pope clement iv died in 1268, the cardinals allowed almost three years to pass before they could agree on the election of Teobaldo Visconti, who was away on a crusade in Acre. He returned to Rome to be ordained and crowned, and manifested great zeal for a crusade, reunion, and reform. Emperor michael viii palaeologus, who had retaken Constantinople in 1261, warmly welcomed legates from Gregory X. Charles of Anjou, however, was bent on a restoration of the Latin Empire in the East. It seemed to Michael that only the pope could control Charles, and that union of the Greeks with Rome was therefore vital to the safety of the Greek Empire. He wrote submissively to Gregory, but at the same time minimized the matter of reunion in dealing with his own churchmen.

On May 7, 1274, Gregory addressed some 200 prelates about the problems of the Holy Land, of union with the Greeks, and of reform, but the Greeks did not arrive until June 24 because of a shipwreck. germanus ii, the former patriarch of Constantinople, the archbishop of Nicaea, the chancellor, and others came in the emperor's name. They brought a letter from him giving his views and purporting to represent those of 50 archbishops and hundreds of bishops. At the fourth session (July 6) reunion was formally effected, the Greek representatives raising no objection to the filioque (defined in the last session), papal primacy, purgatory, and the seven Sacraments (cf. H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum, ed.A. Schönmetzer [32d ed. Freiburg 1963] 85061). Michael's letter read publicly at this session declared his full acceptance of Roman faith, primacy, and the rest, but urged that "the Greek church be permitted to retain its symbol (creed) and its own rites." Gregory's tolerant attitude was appreciated by the emperor, who was convinced that he could gradually overcome the aversion of his clergy and people for Rome. The Franciscan cardinal St. bonaventure, a leader in dealing with the Greeks, died July 15. Some four months earlier thomas aquinas had died en route to the council.

Gregory strove mightily to finance the crusade by a ten percent tax on clerical incomes. Dealing individually with the bishops he avoided a concerted outcry. The problem of clerical reform involved disputes and bickering between the friars and the bishops, and required judicious handling. The prohibition of 1215 against new religious foundations had been neglected, and restrictions were placed on certain orders, with an exception made for the franciscans and dominicans, "known for their great service to the church." Another phase of reform emanating from the council was the famous rule of the conclave, meant to obviate delay of election after the death of the pope. It was decided that ten days after the pope dies, the cardinals must assemble to choose a successor. If after three days they have not reached a decision, their diet was to be curtailed. With some modification, the basic regulations of Gregory X are still followed.

The great khan of the Mongols sent legates to ask for help against Egypt. Efforts were made for the spread of the faith into the Far East through missionaries such as john of monte corvino. Three bishops were deposed for unworthiness. The union of Greeks and Latins proved unpopular in the East, and lasted until the death of Emperor Michael in 1282 (see eastern schism). A change of personnel at Rome and Constantinople effected a change of heart; and crusading efforts proved ineffectual.

The 31 decrees usually attributed to Lyons II were actually published several months later (Nov. 1, 1274).H. Finke discovered (1891) that three decrees (13, 14, and 18) were added by Gregory X after the council had ended. He also found and edited the long-lost constitution, Zelus fidei, a series of decrees relating to Gregory's proposed crusade. The text of the constitution was further emended by the discoveries of S. Kuttner.

Bibliography: c. j. von hefele, Histoire des conciles d'après les documents originaux, tr. and continued by h. leclercq, 10 v. in 19 (Paris 190738) 5.2:163379; 6.1:153209. f. vernet, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., 15 v. (Paris 190350) 9.1:136191. v. grumel, ibid. 13911410. r. bÄumer, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 195765) 6:125152. h. k. mann, The Lives of the Popes in the Early Middle Ages from 590 to 1304, 18 v. (London 190232) 14:6080; 15:361454. d. j. geanakoplos, Emperor Michael Palaeologus and the West, 12581282 (Cambridge, Mass. 1959) 258304. h. jedin, Ecumenical Councils of the Catholic Church, tr. e. graf (New York 1960). f. dvornik, The Ecumenical Councils (New York 1961). h. j. schroeder, Disciplinary Decrees of the General Councils (St. Louis 1937) 297364, 585606. h. denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum, ed. a. schÖnmetzer (32d ed. Freiburg 1963) 83039, 85061. Conciliorum oecumenicorum decreta (Bologna-Freiburg 1962) 249307. r. w. emery, "The Second Council of Lyons and the Mendicant Orders," American Catholic Historical Review 39 (195354) 25771. j. m. powell, "Frederick II and the Church: A Revisionist View," ibid. 48 (196263) 48797. s. kuttner, "Conciliar Law in the Making," Miscellanea Pio Paschini, 2 v. (Rome 194849) 2:3981. d. m. nicol, "The Byzantine Reaction to the Second Council of Lyons, 1274," Councils and Assemblies, ed. g.j. cuming and d. baker (Cambridge 1971) 11346.

[o. mckenna]

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Lyons, Councils of." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . 25 Mar. 2019 <>.

"Lyons, Councils of." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . (March 25, 2019).

"Lyons, Councils of." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Retrieved March 25, 2019 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.