Archbishop Thomas Arundel’s
Constitutions against the Lollards

The following English version of Arundel’s Constitutiones of 14 January 1408 is a revision of the translation of John Johnson, reprinted in A Collection of the Laws and Canons of the Church of England, from Its First Foundation to the Conquest, and from the Conquest to the Reign of King Henry VIII, Translated into English with Explanatory Notes, in Two Volumes ... A New Edition, vol. 2 (Oxford: Parker, 1851), pp. 457-474. I have revised Johnson’s translation for greater accuracy or clarity at some points, and have altered the paragraphing, in accordance with the Latin text of David Wilkins, Concilia Magnae Britanniae et Hiberniae, ab Anno MCCCL ad Annum MDXLV. Volumen Tertium (London, 1737), pp. 314-19.

Michael Marlowe
February 2012


Thomas, by divine permission archbishop of Canterbury, primate of all England, and legate of the apostolical see, to all and singular our venerable fellow-bishops, brethren and suffragans, abbots and priors, deans of cathedral churches, archdeacons, provosts and canons, rectors, vicars and chaplains of parish churches, all clerics and laymen whatsoever within our province of Canterbury, health, and firm adherence to the doctrine of holy mother Church. He does an injury to the most reverend synod who examines its determinations: and since he who disputes the supreme earthly judgment is liable to the punishment of sacrilege, as the authority of civil law teaches us; much more grievously are they to be punished, and to be cut off as putrid members from the Church militant, who, leaning to their own wisdom, violate, oppose, and despise, by various doctrines, words, and deeds, the laws and canons made by the key-keeper of eternal life and death, (the viceregent not of an earthly man, but of the true God, and to whom God Himself has given the rights of a celestial empire,) when they have been published according to form and canon, and observed by the holy fathers our predecessors, even to the glorious effusion of their blood, and voluntary scattering of their brains. 1 For they ought to consider that in the Old Testament Moses and Aaron were the first amongst the priests; and in the New Testament there was a distinction among the Apostles; and our Lord granted, and the Apostles agreed, that Peter called Cephas, that is, the head, 2 should be the principal one of the Apostles, as being he to whom it was said “When thou art converted strengthen thy brethren:” as if he had said, if there be any doubt among them, do thou confirm them in what is good; which our Lord would not have said if He had not determined that others should obey him.

But we experience to our grief, that the old sophister knowing that sound doctrine, as determined by the fathers, which keeps the people in the unity of the faith under one head, would obstruct his malice, endeavours to extirpate that doctrine, and falsely calls vice virtue, that by separating men by degrees from their universal sacred mother, he may erect to himself a church of malignants: he transforms himself into an angel of light while he traduces the ancient doctrine, and would bring in new ones of his own making, which he falsely pretends would be for the better; but he means nothing but schism, and the weakening of the faith (by contrariety of opinions [taken] from Jews, pagans, and other infidels, and perverse men) and the profanation of mysteries, by which the emblem in the Apocalypse is verified, “One sitting on a black horse held a balance in his hand.” By this heretics are meant, who allure people to them with an appearance of what is right and just under the figure of a balance, but afterwards comes the horse with his black tail scattering poisonous errors, and publishing scandals by persons elected to evil; who (alas) preach before they are sent, and sow before they have winnowed their seed: and by not considering the prohibitive decrees and canons against such sowers they prefer a diabolical sacrifice before obedience to the Church.

We therefore, considering that by not resisting error we might seem to approve it, and that we should cherish the viper by not suppressing it, and desiring to shake the dust off our feet, and consult the honour of holy mother Church, and sow the one holy doctrine in the Church, especially in our province of Canterbury, (so far as we may with God’s assistance,) to the increase of faith and divine worship, and for the rooting up of tares, and whatever evils have sprung up by means of perverse preaching and unsound doctrine, to obviate all peril of souls, and removing all obstacles by which our province may be embarrassed, with the advice and consent of our suffragans, and other prelates present in this convocation of the clergy, and of the proxies of those that are absent, and at the instant petition of the proctors of the whole clergy of our province of Canterbury, and for the strengthening of the common law made in this behalf, we provide the following appropriate penalties. We enact, decree and ordain:

1. That no secular or regular, unless authorized by the written law, or by special privilege, take to himself the office of preaching the word of God, or do in any wise preach to the people or clergy in Latin, or in the vulgar tongue, within a church, or without it, unless he present himself to the diocesan of the place in which he attempts to preach and be examined; and then being found qualified both by manners and learning, let him be sent by the diocesan to preach to some certain parish or parishes, as to the same ordinary shall seem expedient, in respect to the qualifications of the man. And let none of the aforesaid presume to preach, unless assurance be first given in proper form of their being sent and authorized; so as that he who is authorized by written law, do come according to the form therein limited; and that they who say they come by special privilege, do really shew that privilege to the rector or vicar of the place where they preach; and that they who pretend to be sent by the diocesans of the places, do shew the letters of that diocesan drawn for that purpose under his great seal. But we take a perpetual curate to be sent by law to the place and people of his cure. But if any of the aforesaid be under a suspension or prohibition from preaching passed by the diocesan of the place or other superior, for any errors or heresies which he is pretended to have formerly preached, affirmed, or taught, let him not thenceforth preach any where in our province till he has purged that defect according to the determination of him who suspended or prohibited him; and be again restored to preach: to which purpose let him be bound to carry with him the letters testimonial of him that restored him, and shew them in the place where he preaches. But let parish priests and temporary vicars (not perpetual) who are not sent in form aforesaid, only simply preach those things which are expressly contained in the provincial constitution (together with the usual prayers) which was well and piously published by John of good memory our predecessor, as a supply to the “ignorance of priests,” with which words it begins. And we will that this be had in every parish church of our province of Canterbury within three months after the publication of these presents, and that it be effectually published by those priests every year, and every time that [the constitution] itself requires. And lest this wholesome statute should seem to mean some evil on account of any pecuniary exactions, we will and ordain that the examination of the persons aforesaid, and the letters of the diocesan to be drawn for them, be sped with all expedition, gratis, and without any difficulty, by those whose office it is, and to whom it is known to belong. If any one do knowingly violate this our statute (which is only a putting the ancient law in execution) after its publication, by preaching of his own temerity, contrary to the form herein mentioned, let him incur the sentence of greater excommunication 3 ipso facto: and we reserve the absolution of him to ourself and our successors, by the tenor of these presents. But if such preacher despising this statute do a second time preach, teach, affirm, or pertinaciously by word or deed intimate that the Church has not power to make such ordinances by the persons of its prelates, let the sentence of excommunication be duly aggravated against them 4 by the superiors of the places, and let them be forbid all communion with Christian people: and when they are lawfully convicted of it, let them be declared heretics by the ordinary of the place, and from that time be reputed heretics and schismatics by all, to all effects of the law; and let them incur the penalties of heresy and schism, as expressed in the law ipso facto, and especially that their goods be deemed confiscated in law, and seized by those to whom they belong, unless they repent and abjure in the accustomed form of the Church. And if their supporters, receivers, and defenders desist not within a month, after they have lawfully been admonished in this behalf by their superiors, let them have the same punishment inflicted on them in all respects when they have been convicted of it.

2. Farther, let not the clergy or people of any parish or place whatsoever in our province admit any one to preach in churches, churchyards, or any other places, unless full assurance be first given of his being authorized, privileged, or sent, according to the form aforesaid; otherwise, let the church, churchyard, or other place whatever where the preaching was, be ipso facto laid under ecclesiastical interdict, and so remain till they who admitted or permitted him so to preach, have made satisfaction, and have procured a relaxation of the interdict in due form of law to be made by the diocesan or other superior.

3. Moreover, as the good husbandman sows his seed on such ground as is most fit to produce corn, we will and command that the preacher of God’s word coming in form aforesaid, do observe a decorum as to the subject matter in his preaching to the clergy or people, so that the seed be fitted to the auditory under him, by preaching to the clergy chiefly of those vices that are growing up among them; and to the laymen of the sins most rife among them, and not otherwise. Else let him that so preacheth be canonically and sharply punished by the ordinary of the place, according to the quality of the offence.

4. Because that part which does not agree with its whole is rotten, we decree and ordain that no preacher of the word of God, or other person, do teach, preach, or observe any thing in relation to the sacrament of the altar, matrimony, confession of sins, or any other sacrament of the Church or article of faith, any thing but what hath been determined by holy mother Church, nor call in question any thing that has been decided by her; nor let him knowingly speak scandalously either in public or private concerning these things; nor let him preach up, teach, or observe any sect or sort of heresy contrary to the sound doctrine of the Church. Let him incur the sentence of excommunication ipso facto, who knowingly and pertinaciously attempts the contrary after the publication of these presents; from which let him not be absolved except at the point of death, unless he reform himself (by first abjuring heresy generally or simply in the accustomed form of the Church, at the discretion of the ordinary, in whose territory he is convicted of having committed the offence;) and have received salutary penance for what he has done: and if he undertake to do this a second time, and so relapse, let him be declared a heretic and relapse convict by sentence formally passed, and let his goods be deemed confiscated, and seized by them to whom they belong. And we will that the penance before mentioned be such, that if any man have publicly or privately taught, preached, or affirmed any thing contrary to the determination of the Church, contained in the decrees, decretals, or our constitutions provincial, or any sort of heresy or sect, he shall expressly recant the things so preached, taught, or affirmed in the parish church of the place where he preached, taught, or affirmed them, upon some one or more Lord’s-days, or other solemn days, at the discretion of the ordinary, according as he is convicted to have offended more or less, at high mass, when the greatest number of people is present; and shall effectually and without fraud preach, teach, and recite the determinations of the Church; and shall be otherwise punished in proportion to his demerits, as shall seem most expedient to the ordinary.

5. Because an old vessel retains a relish of what it first contained, we enact and ordain that masters and all who teach boys or others the arts, or grammar, and that instruct men in the first sciences, do by no means undertake to instruct them in the sacrament of the altar, or other sacraments of the Church, or upon any theological point contrary to the determinations of the Church; nor in expounding any text of Scripture otherwise than of old it used to be expounded; and that they do not permit their scholars or disciples publicly or even privately to dispute concerning the Catholic faith, or the sacraments of the Church. Let him that transgresses be severely punished as a supporter of errors and schism by the ordinary of the place.

6. Because a new path oftener misleads men than an old, we will and ordain that no book or treatise composed by John Wicklif, or by any other in his time, or since, or hereafter to be composed, be henceforth read in the schools, halls, inns, or other places whatsoever within our province aforesaid, and that none be taught according to such [book] unless it have been first examined, and upon examination unanimously approved by the university of Oxford or Cambridge, or at least by twelve men chosen by the said universities, or by one of them under the discretion of us, or our successors; and then afterwards [the book be approved] expressly by us, or our successors, and delivered in the name, and by the authority of the universities, to be copied, and sold to such as desire it; after it has been faithfully collated at a just price, the original thenceforth remaining in some chest of the university for ever. And if any one shall read book or treatise of this sort in the schools or elsewhere, contrary to the form above written, or shall teach according to it, let him be punished according as the quality of the fact shall require, as a sower of schism, and a supporter of heresy.

7. The translation of the text of Holy Scripture out of one tongue into another is a dangerous thing; as blessed Jerome testifies, because it is not easy to make the sense in all respects the same; as the same blessed Jerome confesses that he made frequent mistakes in this business, although he was inspired: therefore we enact and ordain that no one henceforth do by his own authority translate any text of Holy Scripture into the English tongue or any other by way of book, pamphlet, or treatise. Nor let any such book, pamphlet, or treatise now lately composed in the time of John Wicklif aforesaid, or since, or hereafter to be composed, be read in whole or in part, in public or in private, under pain of the greater excommunication, till that translation have been approved by the diocesan of the place, or if occasion shall require, by a provincial Council. Let him that do contrary be punished in the same manner as a supporter of heresy and error. 5

8. Further, since by philosophical terms, or other human inventions, the Determiner of all things cannot be fully comprehended, and blessed Augustine does frequently revoke true conclusions which were offensive to pious ears, we ordain, and with invocation of the divine judgment, we specifically forbid any man of what degree, estate, or condition soever he be, to assert or propose any conclusions or propositions that carry a sound contrary to the catholic faith, or good manners, (beyond the necessary teachings of his faculty,) in disputing in the schools, or out of them, or in conversation, with or without a disclaimer; even though they may be defended by subtility of words: for, as blessed Hugo says, concering the sacraments, what is well said is often not well understood. But if any one after the publication of these presents shall be convicted knowingly to have proposed or asserted such conclusions or propositions, unless upon admonition he reform himself, by the authority of this present constitution let him incur the sentence of the greater excommunication ipso facto, and be publicly denounced excommunicate, till he publicly confess his offence in the place where he made such propositions or assertions, and have publicly preached the true catholic meaning of the said conclusion or proposition, at the discretion of the ordinary, in one or divers churches, as shall seem expedient to the ordinary.

9. Let no one presume to dispute of things determined by the Church (as they are contained in the decrees, decretals, or provincial constitutions, and the synodal [constitutions] of places) either publicly, or privately; unless it be in order to get the true meaning of them; nor call in question the authority of the said decrees, decretals, or constitutions, or the authority of him that made them; or preach contrary to their determination, especially concerning the adoration of the glorious cross, the veneration of the images of saints, or pilgrimages to their places and relics; or against making oaths in the usual cases and manner in both courts, viz., ecclesiastical and temporal. But let all henceforth preach up the veneration of the cross, and of the image of the crucifix, and other images of saints in memory and honour of them whom they resemble, and their places, and relics, with processions, genuflexions, bowings, incensings, kissings, oblations, pilgrimages, illuminations, and all other modes and forms whatsoever used in the times of us and our predecessors; and the making of oaths in a lawful manner, by touching God’s holy gospels, and upon the same in cases expressed in the law, and used in both courts by all who are concerned. Let him that asserts, teaches, preaches, or pertinaciously intimates the contrary incur the penalties of heresy, and of a relapse into the consequences of it, and be sentenced to such, as to all effects of the law, unless he do penance in manner and form elsewhere by us appointed, and abjure as it is there provided.

10. We ordain and decree that none be admitted to celebrate as chaplain in any diocese of our province of Canterbury, who was not born or ordained there, unless he bring with him the letters of his orders, and the commendatory letters of his diocesan, and also of other bishops in whose dioceses he has any length of time stayed: which letters we will and command to be cautious and express in regard to the manners and conversation of the person; and whether he have been defamed for and concerning the new opinions which have an ill aspect on the Catholic faith and good manners, or whether he be wholly clear as to these points. Let him that celebrates, and he that permits it without such letters, be sharply punished.

11. New and unusual emergencies require new and mature applications; and the greater the danger the more caution and opposition is necessary. What is less valuable should be discreetly pruned off for the improvement of what is truly noble. Considering and lamenting how our almous university of Oxford, which like a thriving vine used to spread her branches to the honour of God and the advancement and protection of His Church, is in part degenerated and brings forth sour grapes, by eating whereof many of her sons, being too well conceited of their knowledge in the law of God, have set their teeth on edge, and our province is infected with new unprofitable doctrines, and blemished with the new damnable brand of Lollardy, to the great scandal of the university itself, reaching to remote foreign parts, and to the exceeding regret of those who study there; and to the seemingly irreparable damage of the Church of England, (which used to be defended by her virtue and learning, as with an impregnable wall, but whose stones are now squandered,) unless speedy remedy be used: therefore upon the petition of the proctors of the whole clergy of the province of Canterbury, and with the consent and assent of all our brethren and suffragans, and the other prelates that are present in this convocation of the clergy, and of the proxies of the absent, (lest the fountain head being polluted the stream be made impure, even after the cleaning of the river;) we desiring to make wholesome provisions for the honour and utility of holy mother Church, and of the university aforesaid, do enact and ordain that every warden, provost, and rector of a college, and the principal of every hall or inn of the said university, do once at least in every month make enquiry with diligence in the college, hall or inn, over which he presides, whether any scholar or inhabitant thereof have asserted, held, defended, or in any wise proposed any conclusion or proposition that carries a sound contrary to the Catholic faith or good manners, against the determination of the Church, though it were no necessary doctrine of his faculty: and if he find any one suspected or defamed in this respect, let him admonish him effectually to desist; and if he do after this admonition again advance the same, or like [tenets], let him incur the sentence of the greater excommunication ipso facto, beside other punishments appointed by us. And yet, if he who do this be a scholar, let nothing that he does thenceforward in the said university, be taken as done in due form: and if he be a doctor, master or bachelor, let him be thereupon suspended from all scholastic acts, and let him in both cases ipso facto lose all right that he has in the college, hall or inn, and let him be actually expelled by the wardens, rectors, provosts, principals, or others whom it concerns, and let a catholic forthwith be legally substituted in his place. And if the wardens, provosts, rectors of colleges, or principals of halls or inns, where such suspected, detected or defamed persons are, be negligent in their enquiries or execution of the premisses, for ten days next following the real or presumed publication of these presents, let them ipso facto incur the sentence of the greater excommunication; and yet let them be ipso facto deprived of all right which they pretend to have in those colleges, halls or inns; and let the colleges, halls and inns, be effectually void; and after a lawful declaration made thereof by such as are concerned to do it, let new wardens, rectors, provosts or principals be substituted according to the ancient custom of the said university. But if the wardens, rectors, provosts or principals themselves are suspected, defamed or detected, for and concerning such conclusions or propositions, or as defenders, maintainers or supporters of them, if upon an admonition from us, or by our authority, or by the ordinary of the place, they do not desist, let them be deprived in law from that time forward of all scholastic privileges of the university aforesaid, and of the right which they had in the said college, hall or inn, beside other punishments above-mentioned, and farther incur the sentence of the greater excommunication.

12. If any man rashly and pertinaciously presume to violate these our statutes in any case mentioned in this constitution, in the last, or in any other above expressed, although some other punishment be there expressly assigned, let him thereupon be made wholly incapable from that time forward of obtaining any ecclesiastical benefice in our province of Canterbury for three years, without any hope of pardon; and yet be canonically punished at the discretion of his superior, in proportion to his demerits, and according to the quality of his excess.

13. Further, lest we should leave any thing at uncertainties, we observe that in several laws some parity between the crime of heresy and lese-majesty is mentioned, and yet that the guilt is unequal; and the offending the Divine majesty requires a severer punishment than offending human majesty; since therefore he who is guilty of lese-majesty may be convicted by informations, and be proceeded against in a summary unformal manner, (because of the danger of delay,) and by first sending a citation by letters, by a messenger, by edict, and without a litis contestatio, to the hearing of witness, and to a definitive sentence: we will, ordain and declare, that for the more easy punishment of offenders in the premisses, and for the making up the breach of the Church, that hath been injured by this means, such as are defamed, detected, denounced or vehemently suspected in any of the aforesaid cases, or in any other article that carries a sound contrary to Catholic faith or good manners, be personally cited by authority of the ordinary of the place or other superior, by letters, or by a sworn messenger, if they can be caught; but if not, then by an edict at the place where the offender hath an house in which he commonly dwells, and published in the parish church, if he have a place of habitation, if not, in the cathedral church of the place of his birth, and in the parish church of the place where he so preached and taught; and when a lawful certificate is received of the summons having been executed, let them proceed against the party thus cited, though he be absent and neglect to appear, (without noise and forms of judicature, or a contestatio litis, upon the hearing of evidence and other canonical proofs,) as a punishment for his contumacy. Let the same ordinary, upon lawful information received, without delay, sentence, declare and punish him according to the quality of his offence, in manner and form before expressed, and further do justice upon the contumacious notwithstanding his absence.


1. An allusion to the murder of Becket.

2. An incorrect interpretation of the name Cephas, which in Aramaic means “stone.” Apparently the author thinks it is derived from the Greek word for head, κεφαλη.

3. Under the “greater excommunication” a man was excluded from all Church meetings and ceremonies, and Christians were instructed to have no commerce or fellowship with him. Under the “lesser excommunication” a man was only prohibited from receiving the sacraments.

4. The sentence of excommunication was aggrevatur “aggravated” by ordering that anyone who continued to have contact with the excommunicated party should also be excommunicated.

5. The Latin text of §7, according to Wilkins, reads as follows: “Periculosa quoque res est, testante beato Jeronymo, textum sacrae scripturae de uno in aliud idioma transferre, eo quod in ipsis translationibus non de facili idem in omnibus sensus retinetur, prout idem beatus Jeronymus, etsi inspiratus fuisset, se in hoc saepius fatetur errasse; statuimus igitur et ordinamus, ut nemo deinceps aliquem textum sacrae scripturae auctoritate sua in linguam Anglicanam, vel aliam transferat, per viam libri, libelli, aut tractatus, nec legatur aliquis hujusmodi liber, libellus, aut tractatus jam noviter tempore dicti Johannis Wycliff, sive citra, compositus, aut inposterum componendus, in parte vel in toto, publice, vel occulte, sub majoris excommunicationis poena, quousque per loci dioecesanum, seu si res exegerit, per concilium provinciale ipsa translatio fuerit approbata : qui contra fecerit, ut fautor haeresis et erroris similiter puniatur.”