15th Council of Vienne, 1311-1312

Condemnation of Beguines

[15]. Considering that where discipline is despised, religion suffers shipwreck, we have thought it especially necessary to provide that such contempt produces nothing discordant in those who have dedicated themselves to Christ by vow, staining the good name of religious life and offending the divine majesty. We therefore, with the approval of this sacred council, have judged it wise to decree that every convent of nuns should be visited each year by their ordinary as follows: exempt convents subject to the apostolic see alone, by the authority of that see; non-exempt convents by the ordinary's authority, and other exempt convents, by the authority to whom they are subject. The visitors are to be very careful that the nuns -- some of whom, to our sorrow, we have heard are transgressors -- do not wear silk, various furs or sandals; do not wear their hair long in a horn-shaped style, nor make use of striped and multicoloured caps, do not attend dances and the banquets of seculars, do not go walking through the streets and towns by day or night; and do not lead a luxurious life in other ways. They shall carefully withdraw the nuns from the excesses and allurements of this world and persuade them to devote themselves in their convents to the cultivation of the virtues which is due to the Lord. We order the visitors to compel the nuns to observe all this by suitable measures, notwithstanding exemptions and privileges of any kind, without prejudice however to these exemptions in other respects. We also decree that anyone chosen for the office of abbess in those convents where it is customary for abbesses to be blessed, should receive that blessing within a year from the time of her confirmation in office. If she does not, unless there be reasonable cause, she has completely lost her right, and provision is to be made canonically for the monastery to be provided with an abbess by those to whom this belongs. We also order, by our apostolic authority, that those women who are commonly called secular canonesses and who lead a life like that of secular canons, making no renunciation of private property and no profession, should be visited by the local ordinaries, who are to visit the non-exempt on their own authority and the exempt on the authority of the apostolic see. By this, however, we are not intending to approve the status, rule or order of secular canonesses. We command the visitors, in making their visitation, to be content with two notaries and two persons from their own church and four other men of undoubted honour and maturity. Those who presume to hinder the visitors in their task or any part of it, unless they repent on being admonished, incur automatic excommunication, notwithstanding any privileges, statutes and customs to the contrary. '

[16]. The women commonly known as
Beguines, since they promise obedience to nobody, nor renounce possessions, nor profess any approved rule are not religious at all, although they wear the special dress of Beguines and attach themselves to certain religious to whom they have a special attraction. We have heard from trustworthy sources that there are some Beguines who seem to be led by a particular insanity. They argue and preach on the holy Trinity and the divine essence, and express opinions contrary to the catholic faith with regard to the articles of faith and the sacraments of the church. These Beguines thus ensnare many simple people, leading them into various errors. They generate numerous other dangers to souls under the cloak of sanctity. We have frequently received unfavourable reports of their teaching and justly regard them with suspicion. With the approval of the sacred council, we perpetually forbid their mode of life and remove it completely from the church of God. We expressly enjoin on these and other women, under pain of excommunication to be incurred automatically, that they no longer follow this way of life under any form, even if they adopted it long ago, or take it up anew. We strictly forbid, under the same penalty, the religious mentioned above, who are said to have favoured these women and persuaded them to adopt the Beguinage way of life, to give in any way counsel, help or favour to women already following this way of life or taking it up anew; no privilege is to avail against the above. Of course we in no way intend by the foregoing to forbid any faithful women, whether they promise chastity or not, from living uprightly in their hospices, wishing to live a life of penance and serving the Lord of hosts in a spirit of humility. This they may do, as the Lord inspires them.


[28]. We entertain in our heart a deep longing that the catholic faith prosper in our time and that the perverseness of heresy be rooted out of christian soil. We have therefore heard with great displeasure that an abominable sect of wicked men, commonly called
Beghards, and of faithless women, commonly called Beguines, has sprung up in the realm of Germany. This sect, planted by the sower of evil deeds, holds and asserts in its sacrilegious and perverse doctrine the following errors.

1. First, that
a person in this present life can acquire a degree of perfection which renders him utterly impeccable and unable to make further progress in grace. For, as they say, if someone could always make further progress, he could become more perfect than Christ.
2. Secondly, that
it is not necessary to fast or pray after gaining this degree of perfection, for then the sensitive appetite has been so perfectly subjected to the spirit and to reason that one may freely grant the body whatever pleases it.
3. Thirdly, that
those who have reached the said degree of perfection and spirit of liberty, are not subject to human obedience nor obliged to any commandments of the church, for, as they say, where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
4. Fourthly, that
a person can gain in this life final beatitude in every degree of perfection that he will obtain in the life of the blessed.
5. Fifthly, that
any intellectual nature in itself is naturally blessed, and that the soul does not need the light of glory to elevate it to see God and enjoy him blissfully.
6. Sixthly, that
the practice of the virtues belongs to the state of imperfection and the perfect soul is free from virtues.
7. Seventhly, that
to kiss a woman is a mortal sin since nature does not incline one to it, but the act of intercourse is not a sin, especially in time of temptation, since it is an inclination of nature.
8. Eighthly, that
at the elevation of the body of Jesus Christ, they ought not to rise or show reverence to it; it would be an imperfection for them to come down from the purity and height of their contemplation so far as to think about the ministry or sacrament of the eucharist, or about the passion of Christ as man.

With the counterfeit appearance of sanctity they say and do other things also that offend the eyes of the divine majesty' and constitute a grave danger to souls. Since the duty of the office committed to us obliges us to exstirpate from the catholic church this detestable sect and the above execrable errors, lest they be further propagated and corrupt the hearts of the faithful, we condemn and utterly reject, with the approval of the sacred council, the sect itself and the errors described above, and we strictly forbid anyone henceforth to hold, approve or defend the errors. We decree that those who act otherwise are to be punished with canonical censure. The diocesans and the inquisitors of heresy for the regions where these Beghards and Beguines live, are to exercise their office with special care concerning them, making inquiries about their life and behaviour and about their beliefs in relation to the articles of faith and the sacraments of the church. They are to impose due punishment on those whom they find guilty, unless there is voluntary abjuration of the above errors and repentance with fitting satisfaction.

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