The accession of Flavius Valerius Constantinus to the dignity of Roman Emperor and his victory over Maxentius at the Milvian Bridge allowed the Church of Rome to leave the darkness of the catacombs and to worship God at the light of the sun. The edict of Milan in 313 recognized her liberty of worshiping in the entire Empire. Its Capital, Rome, would become soon, the Capital of a new Empire: the Capital of the Faith. After his conversion, Constantine gave the Pope the house of the Laterani, his wife’s family. It became the residence of the Bishop of Rome who ordered to build a church. It is only 11 years after the edict of Milan, that Pope Saint Sylvester dedicated the Cathedral of Rome. It was on November 9th 324.
Today we celebrate the anniversary of the Dedication of the mother church of the diocese of Rome that happens to be the Mother Church of all the Churches – omnium Urbis et Orbis ecclesiarum mater et caput. It shelters the Chair (Cathedra) of the successor of Saint Peter, the Seat of truth from where the Vicar of Christ teaches ex-cathedra the dogmas of the Holy Catholic Church. It is for this very special reason that the faithful like to honor the Archbasilica of the Lateran, and, when they have a chance to go to Rome, to visit this venerable church and to pray in it. Today, the Basilica of Saint Peter is certainly more famous in the world, but it is something new, due principally to the fact that the Popes live now in the Vatican since Pius IX. But for centuries, the Lateran was considered as the center of Christendom and even today, it is still the Cathedral of the Pope.
Historically, the Lateran has been the place of many important events. The Palace has been the residence of the Popes from 313 to 1304. Many synods took place there, but also and mainly, 5 ecumenical Councils.
The first Lateran Council that was the 9th ecumenical Council was in 1123. Its purpose was mainly to ratify the Concordat of Worms, which put to an end the investiture quarrel. Many other disciplinary canons concerning the life of the clergy were also issued.
The second Lateran Council took place just a few years later in 1139. Its purpose was to resolve the problems created by the schism of Antipope Anaclet II who passed away in 1138. Then, 30 canons carried on the reforms began with the first Council of Lateran. Usury is especially condemned. In a time of exacerbated Capitalism, it might be something good to remember.
You just have to wait for 40 years before the Third Council of the Lateran. This Council promulgated 27 decrees on the discipline of the Church for the clergy and other issues like the mode of election of the Pope and the Albigensian Crusade. Let us also mention the 24th canon that prohibited supplying weapons to the Saracens. In a time of exacerbated Islamism, it might be something good to remember.
The fourth Lateran Council, which is the 12th ecumenical Council is probably the most famous because more dogmatic. It came to a time that was certainly the height of medieval Christendom. The XIII century is the century of the great Cathedrals and of the scholastic theology with its Saints and lights: Saint Albert the Great, Saint Bonaventure and of course, Saint Thomas Aquinas. In order to fight the Albigensian heresy and the errors of Joachim of Flora, the Council has polished the expression of her doctrine regarding the Blessed Trinity or the Eucharist. The first chapter on the Catholic Faith reminds for example that there is no salvation outside the Church. The teaching of the Council on the Sacrament of the Eucharist is particularly important. It speaks about the transubstantiation, which is a change made by the power of God of the substances of the bread and the wine into the body and the blood of Christ. Many pastorals directives were also given concerning the reception of the Sacraments, especially the obligation of confessing at least once a year and receiving Holy Communion during Easter time. In a time of exacerbated Second Vatican “Councilism”, it might be good to remember that the Church did not wait until 1962 in order to take care of her children.
And finally, the 5th Lateran Council took place 3 centuries later from 1512 to 1517 in a very different context. Pope Jules II della Rovere – the founder of the Swiss Guard – called in for the Council in order to end the Gallican controversy. The Council continued after the death of Jules II with Pope Leo the X who condemned Martin Luther. The Council issued dogmatic and disciplinary documents on different matters such as an approbation of the Concordat of Bologne, the approbation of printing provided that it is done under the authority of the Church, and the declaration that the Pope is above a Council. In a time of exacerbated collegialism, it might be something good to remember.
Let us also mention the Lateran Accords in 1929 between the Holy See and the State of Italy that ended the Roman Question and recognized the sovereignty of the State of Vatican. So, many important events took place in the Lateran Palace as well as in the Archbasilica. Today, the anniversary of the Dedication of this venerable church gives us an occasion to give thanks to God for His Providence that always leads His Church. It is an occasion to give thanks for the Magisterium of the Church that infallibly offers us the true doctrine of Christ. It is an occasion to pray for the present successor of Peter who sits today in the Chair of the Prince of the Apostles so that he can continue to illuminate the world with the divine light that always shines in the Capital of the Faith.