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Pragmatic Sanction

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(pragmatica sanctio, lex, jussio, also pragmatica or pragmaticum)

Pragmatic sanction meant in the latter period of the Roman Empire an edict formally issued by the emperor. They were called pragmatic, from pragma, the affair or matter of sanction. In later times the best known are:

The sanctio pragmatica said to have been issued by St. Louis IX of France in 1269

Its purpose was to oppose the extension of papal power, the demands of tribute made by Rome, and the increase of papal reservations in regard to the filling of offices. The rights of prelates, patrons, and the regular collators of benefices were protected against papal collation of benefices. Free elections, promotions, and collations were guaranteed to the cathedrals and other churches. This was directed against the papal right of reservation and presentation, not against the filling of offices by the king. It was further laid down that all promotions, collations, and bestowals of Church offices must be in accordance with the common law, the early councils and the ancient regulations of the Fathers. Simony was forbidden. Papal taxes and imposts were permitted only in case of necessity, and with the permission of the king and the French Church. The liberties and privileges granted to churches, monasteries, and priests by the kings were guaranteed. The investigations of Thomassy (1844), Gérin (1869), Viollet (1870), and Scheffer-Boichorst (1887), have proved that it is a forgery which appeared between 1438 and 1452.

The Pragmatic Sanction of Bourges

The Council of Basle (1431-7) had issued many useful decrees concerning reform, but finally came into conflict with Eugenius IV and was suspended by him. Both parties, pope and council, now sought the support of the secular powers. It was to the interest of these to prevent a new schism and not to permit the complete failure of the reforms of Basle. The position of France in regard to these questions was to be discussed at a national council that King Charles VII commanded to meet at Bourges in May, 1438. This council declared itself neutral in the dispute between the pope and the synod, but accepted the greater part of the Basle decrees on reform, modifying some on account of the special conditions in France; these changes were made with the expectation that the council would ratify the modifications. On 7 July, 1438, the king issued a decree, the Pragmatic Sanction, in which he accepted the decisions and ordered the observance of them. Essentially it contains the tenets of the supremacy of an ecumenical council over the pope, of the regular holding of general councils, and of the limitation of papal reservations and demands of tribute. The suppression of annates by the Council of Basle was added, but with the modification that a fifth of the former tax was conceded to the papal see.

By this edict the French king issued a law of the secular legislative authority in purely ecclesiastical affairs. The recognition of the authority of the Council of Basle was only formal, for the validity of its decisions in France rested solely upon the edict of the king. As the law was recorded in the Parliaments these, especially the Parliament of Paris, received the right of interfering in the internal affairs of the Church. In addition, no attention had been paid to the pope, consequently every effort was made at Rome to have the law set aside. Pius II (1458-64) declared it an infringement of the rights of the papal see, and called upon the French bishops to aid in its suppression. Charles VII appealed against this to a general council. His successor Louis XI promised the pope to repeal the sanction, but the Parliament of Paris and the university resisted, and the king let the matter drop. In 1499 Louis XII by explicit declaration renewed the enforcement of the sanction. Leo X effected its annulment by means of a Concordat made with Francis I in 1516.

The German Pragmatic Sanction of 1439

At the Diet of Frankfort held in March, 1438, the German ruling princes also declared their neutrality in the struggle between Eugenius IV and the Council of Basle. A new diet was held for further discussion of the matter in March, 1439, at Mainz, and this diet also accepted a series of the Basle decrees of reform with modifications in individual cases. The diet reserved to itself the right to make other changes, and at a convenient time the council was to pass decisions on such points. This is the substance of the "Instrumentum acceptationis" of 26 March, 1439. The designation pragmatic sanction is, however, misleading, for it was not confirmed by the emperor.

The Pragmatic Sanction of the Emperor Charles VI

This edict, issued by the last German male member of the House of Hapsburg regulating the succession to his hereditary lands, was read 19 April, 1713, before the ministers and councillors, but was temporarily kept secret. The law ordained that all the Austrian hereditary lands should always remain united, and that on the failure of male descendants they should pass to the daughters that might be born to the emperor; and not until their descendants died out should the right of succession revert to the daughters of his brother, the Emperor Joseph I (1705-11), and to their male and female descendants. This pragmatic sanction was accepted by the estates of the Austrian lands in 1720-4; then in the course of time it was also recognized and guaranteed by the Powers of Europe, so that after the death of Charles VI his daughter Maria Theresa could succeed.

The Pragmatic Sanction of Charles III of Spain

Charles III was King of Naples and Sicily until he succeeded his brother Ferdinand upon the throne of Spain in 1759. The pragmatic sanction that he issued 6 Oct., 1759, before he left Naples, is also an edict of succession. As earlier treaties forbade the union of Spain and Naples, he transferred Naples and Sicily to his third son Ferdinand. Up to Ferdinand's sixteenth year Naples was to be administered by a regency. The eldest son, Philip, was weak-minded; the second son Charles was to receive Spain. Charles III also provided that in case Ferdinand's line should become extinct his brothers Philip and Louis were to have the succession. The union of Naples and the Two Sicilies was expressly forbidden in the edict.


HERGENRÖTHER, Handbuch der allgemeinen Kirchengesch., ed. KIRSCH, II (4th ed., Freiburg, 1904), 600-01, 931; HEFELE, Konziliengeschichte, VII (Freiburg, 1869), 762-70; KOCH, Sanctio pragmatica Germanorum illustrata (Strasburg, 1789); St. Louis and the Pragmatic Sanction in The Month (London, Oct., 1869), 366.

About this page

APA citation. Löffler, K. (1911). Pragmatic Sanction. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Löffler, Klemens. "Pragmatic Sanction." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 12. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Douglas J. Potter. Dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. June 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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