Canons on Property

Canons of the Holy Apostles

Canon XL:

Let the private goods of the bishop, if he have any such, and those of the Lord, be clearly distinguished, that the bishop may have the power of leaving his own goods, when he dies, to whom he will, and how he will, and that the bishop’s own property may not be lost under pretence of its being the property of the Church: for it may be that he has a wife, or children, or relations, or servants; and it is just before God and man, that neither should the Church suffer any loss through ignorance of the bishop’s own property, nor the bishop or his relations be injured under pretext of the Church: nor that those who belong to him should be involved in contests, and cast reproaches upon his death.



Council at Ancyra (314)

Canon 3:

As for those who were fleeing and were caught, or who were delivered up by their own intimates, or who otherwise had their property taken away from them, or who had to undergo tortures, or were cast into a jail, while crying out that they were Christians, and being torn to pieces, or who had anything put in their hands for violence by those employing force against them, or who had to accept some food of necessity, though confessing throughout that they were Christians, and ever exhibiting mournfulness over the occurrence in their whole make-up and their habit, and humbleness of life, they, as being without sin, are not to be excluded from communion. Even if they were excluded by someone as a matter of excessive strictness, or by some even through ignorance, they must immediately be admitted and restored to their rights. This applies likewise both to those who belong to the clergy, and to other members of the laity. A further question examined into was whether laymen can be promoted to orders if they incur the same necessity. It has been deemed but right that these persons too, as not having committed any sin, provided that their previous life has been correct and upright, be advanced to orders by imposition of hands.


Canon 6:

As concerning those who merely in obedience to a threat of being imprisoned and punished, and of having their property taken away, or of being forced to change their abode, have sacrificed, and up to the present time have failed to repent, and have neither been led to return, but have now come to join the Church and have become minded to return at a time coinciding with that of the Council, it has been deemed but right that until the great day they be admitted as listeners, and that after the great day they be obliged to serve three years as kneelers, and after two more years (as co-standers) they are to commune without an offering, and thus to arrive at perfection; so that they shall fulfill the whole period of six years. But if any persons were admitted to repentance before this Council convened, from that time let the term of six years be considered as having commenced. Nevertheless, if there be any danger and expectation of death ensuing from a disease or any other cause, let these persons be admitted conditionally.


Antiochean Council  (341)

Canon 24:

The rules and regulations of the Church must be rightly kept for the Church with all diligence and in all good conscience and faith reposed in God, who is the superintendent and judge of all things, and the affairs of the church should be governed with the judgment and authority of the Bishop entrusted with all the laity and the souls of all the members of the congregation thereof. What belongs to the dominion of the Church is manifest and well known to the Presbyters and Deacons under his jurisdiction, so that these persons ought to be well aware, and not ignorant, of whatever is property of the church, so that nothing should escape their observation to enable them, in case the Bishop should exchange life, in view of the fact that the things belonging to the dominion of the church are manifest, to prevent any of them from being embezzled or made away with and lost, and to see that none of the Bishop’s own things are disturbed on the pretense that they are ecclesiastical property. For it is just and pleasing to both God and man that the Bishop should leave his own property to whomsoever he may will it, but that things belonging to the church should be kept for it; and that neither should the church sustain any loss or damage, nor should property of the Bishop be confiscated on the pretense that it belongs to the church; nor should those persons be involved in any trouble in claims thereto, with the result of defaming him after death.
(Ap. cc. XXXVIII and XL.)

Canon 25:
A Bishop shall have authority over the property and funds of his church, so as to be able to administer it to all needing it with all reverence and fear of God. He too shall partake thereof so far as he may have need thereof (if he should have any need) for his own necessary wants, and for those of the brethren he has under his hospitation, so as not to leave them in any way unprovided for according to the divine Apostle, who says: “having food and raiment, let us be therewith content” (1 Tim. 6:8). But if he should not be content therewith, but should convert property (of the church) to the needs of his own household, and should fail to handle the revenue of the church, of the fruit of the fields, with the consent and approval of the Presbyters and Deacons, but should extend the authority to his own intimates and relatives or brothers or sons, with the consequence of thereby imperceptibly or unobservedly causing the assets of the church to be injured; he shall be held accountable to the Synod of the province. If, on the other hand, the Bishop and the Presbyters serving with him be traduced on the alleged ground that they are appropriating to themselves goods belonging to the church, whether it be from the fields or from any other alleged property of the church, on the alleged ground that the indigent are being oppressed, whereas, in point of fact, calumny and defamation are being inflicted by the words upon those so governing, and they are charged with liability to correction, the holy Synod or Council must determine what ought to be done.
(Ap, cc. XXXVIII and XLI.)



Council at Sardica (343)

Canon 12:

Since some of the brethren and fellow Bishops in a city in which they are appointed to be Bishops seem to own exceedingly little property there, but in other regions have large possessions of land, from which they can lend succor to the indigent, in such cases we judge it to be allowable, when it comes to their going to their own possessions and gathering in the crops thereof, for them to stay for three consecutive Sundays, that is, for three weeks, upon their own land, and, in order to avoid seeming to be negligent in the matter of coming to church along with others, we deem it allowable for them to visit the nearest church in which a Presbyter is conducting services and celebrate Liturgy:, though not to go continually and too frequently to a city in which there is a Bishop. For in this manner not only will his own affairs suffer no damage or loss or injury in spite of his absence, but the possibility of being charged with conceitedness and inflation will seem to be averted.

(Ap. c. LVIII; cc. XIX, LXXX of the 6th; c. XVI of the lst-&-2nd; cc. V, XX, XXI of Gangra; c. XI of Sard.; cc. LXXIX, LXXXII, LXXXIII, CXXXI, CXXXII, CXXXIII of Carthage; c. VI of Nyssa; c. X of Peter.



Council of Chalcedon (451)

Canon III:

It has come to [the knowledge of] the holy Synod that certain of those who are enrolled among the clergy have, through lust of gain, become hirers of other men’s possessions, and make contracts pertaining to secular affairs, lightly esteeming the service of God, and slip into the houses of secular persons, whose property they undertake through covetousness to manage. Wherefore the great and holy Synod decrees that henceforth no bishop, clergyman, nor monk shall hire possessions, or engage in business, or occupy himself in worldly engagements, unless he shall be called by the law to the guardianship of minors, from which there is no escape; or unless the bishop of the city shall commit to him the care of ecclesiastical business, or of unprovided orphans or widows and of persons who stand especially in need of the Church’s help, through the fear of God. And if any one shall hereafter transgress these decrees, he shall be subjected to ecclesiastical penalties.

Canon XXIV:

Monasteries, which have once been consecrated with the consent of the bishop, shall remain monasteries for ever, and the property belonging to them shall be preserved, and they shall never again become secular dwellings. And they who shall permit this to be done shall be liable to ecclesiastical penalties.



Quinisextum (Trullum 692)

Canon XLIX:

Renewing this sacred Canon too, we decree that Monasteries that have once been consecrated and established in accordance with the consent and approval of a Bishop shall remain Monasteries unto perpetuity, and the property that belongs to them shall be kept safe in the Monastery, and that they can no longer become worldly resorts, nor be let out by anybody whatever to any worldly tenants whatever. Though this has been done up till now, we nevertheless decree that it shall not be continued in any way whatever. Those who attempt to do this hereafter shall be subject to the penances provided by the Canons.

(c. XXIV of the 4th; c. XIII of the 7th.)



Second Nicea (787)

Canon XII:

That a Bishop or Hegumenos ought not to alienate any part of the suburban estate of the church.

If bishop or hegumenos is found alienating any part of the farm lands of the bishoprick or monastery into the hands of secular princes, or surrendering them to any other person, such act is null according to the canon of the holy Apostles, which says: “Let the bishop take care of all the Church’s goods, and let him administer the same according as in the sight of God.” It is not lawful for him to appropriate any part himself, or to confer upon his relations the things which belong to God. If they are poor let them be helped among the poor; but let them not be used as a pretext for smuggling away the Church’s property. And if it be urged that the land is only a loss and yields no profit, the place is not on that account to be given to the secular rulers, who are in the neighbourhood; but let it be given to clergymen or husbandmen. And if they have resorted to dishonest craft, so that the ruler has bought the land from the husbandman or cleric, such transaction shall likewise be null, and the land shall be restored to the bishoprick or monastery. And the bishop or hegumenos doing this shall be turned out, the bishop from his bishoprick and the hegumenos from his monastery, as those who wasted what they did not gather.

Canon XI:

Concerning those who have fallen without compulsion, without the spoiling of their property, without danger or the like, as happened during the tyranny of Licinius, the Synod declares that, though they have deserved no clemency, they shall be dealt with mercifully. As many as were communicants, if they heartily repent, shall pass three years among the hearers; for seven years they shall be prostrators; and for two years they shall communicate with the people in prayers, but without oblation.

Ancient Epitome of Canon XI: As many as fell without necessity, even if therefore undeserving of indulgence, yet some indulgence shall be shown them and they shall be prostrators for twelve years. Zonaras: The prostrators stood within the body of the church behind the ambo and went out with the catechumens.



Constantinople (861)

Canon 1:

The building of monasteries, which is something so seemly and honorable, and rightly excogitated by our blissful and devout fathers of old, is seen to be done wrongly today. For some men, bestowing the name of monastery on their own property and domain, and promising God to sanctify this, have recorded themselves as owners of the consecrated lands and buildings, and have contrived to devise a way in which to devote them to a divine purpose in name only. For they do not blush to assume the same authority over them after the consecration as they could have exercised before this without overstepping their rights. And so much commercialized has the thing become that many of the lands and buildings consecrated are being sold openly by the consecrators themselves, inspiring beholders with amazement and indignation. And not only have they no regret for what they have done in appropriating to themselves authority over what was dedicated to God once, but they even fearlessly confer it upon others. For these reasons, then, the holy Council has decreed that no one shall have a right to build a monastery without the consent and approval of the bishop. With his knowledge and permission, after he has executed the necessary prayer, as was enjoined legislatively by the God-beloved fathers of olden times, they may build a monastery together with all its accessories, recording everything belonging thereto in a breve and depositing the latter in the archives of the bishopric; the consecrator having no right whatever to make himself an abbot, or anyone else in his stead, without the consent of the bishop. For if one is no longer able to exercise ownership over what he has given away to some other human being, how can one be conceded the right to appropriate the ownership of what he has sanctified and dedicated to God?
(cc. IV, XXIV of the 4th; c. XLIX of the 6th; cc. XII, XIII, XVII, XIX of the 7th; c. II of Cyril.)

Canon 6:

Monks ought not to have anything of their own. Everything of theirs ought to be assigned to the monastery. For blissful Luke says concerning those who believe in Christ and conform to the monks’ way of life: “Neither said any of them that aught of the things which he possessed was his own; but, on the contrary, they held everything in common” (Acts 4:32). Wherefore unto those wishing to lead the monastic life permission is given to dispose of their property to whatever persons they may wish, so long, that is to say, as the property may be legally transferred to them. For after their entering upon the monastic life the monastery has the ownership of all they bring with them, and they have nothing of their own to worry about other than what they have been allowed to dispose of beforehand. If anyone be caught appropriating or claiming any possession that has not been made over and conveyed to the monastery, and revealed to be enslaved to the passion of love of property, that possession shall be seized by the abbot or bishop, and shall be sold in the presence of many persons, and the proceeds therefrom shall be distributed to the poor and indigent. As for anyone who shall meditate holding back any such possession, after the fashion of Ananias of old, the holy Council has decreed that he shall be chastened with a suitable discipline. It is to be understood, moreover, that whatever rules the holy Council has made in regard to men who are leading the monastic life of monks, the same rules apply also to women who are leading the monastic life of nuns.

Canon 7:

We see many of the bishoprics falling down and in danger of being relegated to utter destruction, because, we venture to say, the heads of these establishments consume their thought and attention in projecting new monasteries, and exploiting these projects, and in contriving to convert the income thereof to their own use they busy themselves with the development of those. The holy Council has therefore decreed that not one of the bishops shall be permitted to build a new monastery of his own to the detriment of his own bishopric. If anyone be caught daring to do this, he shall be punished with the proper penalty, while the building he has erected shall be assigned to the estate of the bishopric as its own property, on the ground that he has not even so much as had a right to originate a monastery. For nothing that has been unlawfully and irregularly in vogue can be taken as the prejudice of what is canonically consistent.
(Ap. c. XXXVIII; c. XXVI of the 4th; cc. XI, XII of the 7th; cc. XXIV, XXV of Antioch; c. XV of Ancyra; c. 7th of Gangra; cc. XXXIV, XLI of Carthage; c. X of Theophilus; c. II of Cyril.)