« Prev The Council of Constance. 1414-1418 Next »

§ 16. The Council of Constance. 1414–1418.

At Alexander’s death, seventeen cardinals met in Bologna and elected Balthazar Cossa, who took the name of John XXIII. He was of noble Neapolitan lineage, began his career as a soldier and perhaps as a corsair,284284    Nieheim, in Life of John, in Van der Hardt, II. 339. was graduated in both laws at Bologna and was made cardinal by Boniface IX. He joined in the call of the council of Pisa. A man of ability, he was destitute of every moral virtue, and capable of every vice.

Leaning for support upon Louis of Anjou, John gained entrance to Rome. In the battle of Rocca Secca, May 14, 1411, Louis defeated the troops of Ladislaus. The captured battle-flags were sent to Rome, hung up in St. Peter’s, then torn down in the sight of the people, and dragged in the dust in the triumphant procession through the streets of the city, in which John participated. Ladislaus speedily recovered from his defeat, and John, with his usual faithlessness, made terms with Ladislaus, recognizing him as king, while Ladislaus, on his part, renounced his allegiance to Gregory XII. That pontiff was ordered to quit Neapolitan territory, and embarking in Venetian vessels at Gaeta, fled to Dalmatia, and finally took refuge with Charles Malatesta of Rimini, his last political ally.

The Council of Constance, the second of the Reformatory councils, was called together by the joint act of Pope John XXIII. and Sigismund, king of the Romans. It was not till he was reminded by the University of Paris that John paid heed to the action of the Council of Pisa and called a council to meet at Rome, April, 1412. Its sessions were scantily attended, and scarcely a trace of it is left.285285    Finke: Forschungen, p. 2; Acta conc., p. 108 sqq. After ordering Wyclif’s writings burnt, it adjourned Feb. 10, 1413. John had strengthened the college of cardinals by adding fourteen to its number, among them men of the first rank, as D’Ailly, Zabarella of Florence, Robert Hallum, bishop of Salisbury, and Fillastre, dean of Rheims.

Ladislaus, weary of his treaty with John and ambitious to create a unified Latin kingdom, took Rome, 1413, giving the city over to sack. The king rode into the Lateran and looked down from his horse on the heads of St. Peter and St. Paul, which he ordered the canons to display. The very churches were robbed, and soldiers and their courtesans drank wine out of the sacred chalices. Ladislaus left Rome, struck with a vicious disease, rumored to be due to poison administered by an apothecary’s daughter of Perugia, and died at Naples, August, 1414. He had been one of the most prominent figures in Europe for a quarter of a century and the chief supporter of the Roman line of pontiffs.

Driven from Rome, John was thrown into the hands of Sigismund, who was then in Lombardy. This prince, the grandson of the blind king, John, who was killed at Crécy, had come to the throne of Hungary through marriage with its heiress. At Ruprecht’s death he was elected king of the Romans, 1411. Circumstances and his own energy made him the most prominent sovereign of his age and the chief political figure in the Council of Constance. He lacked high aims and moral purpose, but had some taste for books, and spoke several languages besides his own native German. Many sovereigns have placed themselves above national statutes, but Sigismund went farther and, according to the story, placed himself above the rules of grammar. In his first address at the Council of Constance, so it is said, he treated the Latin word schisma, schism, as if it were feminine.286286    Date operam, the king said, ut ista, nefanda schisma eradicetur. See Wylie, p. 18 When Priscian and other learned grammarians were quoted to him to show it was neuter, he replied, "Yes; but I am emperor and above them, and can make a new grammar." The fact that Sigismund was not yet emperor when the mistake is said to have been made—for he was not crowned till 1433—seems to prejudice the authenticity of the story, but it is quite likely that he made mistakes in Latin and that the bon-mot was humorously invented with reference to it.

Pressed by the growing troubles in Bohemia over John Huss, Sigismund easily became an active participant in the measures looking towards a new council. Men distrusted John XXIII. The only hope of healing the schism seemed to rest with the future emperor. In many documents, and by John himself, he was addressed as "advocate and defender of the Church"287287    See Finke, Forschungen, p. 28. Sigismund gives himself the same title. See his letter to Gregory, Mansi, XXVIII. 3. — advocatus et defensor ecclesiae.288288    Same as fn. above.

Two of John’s cardinals met Sigismund at Como, Oct. 13, 1413, and discussed the time and place of the new synod. John preferred an Italian city, Sigismund the small Swabian town of Kempten; Strassburg, Basel, and other places were mentioned, but Constance, on German territory, was at last fixed upon. On Oct. 30 Sigismund announced the approaching council to all the prelates, princes, and doctors of Christendom, and on Dec. 9 John attached his seal to the call. Sigismund and John met at Lodi the last of November, 1413, and again at Cremona early in January, 1414, the pope being accompanied by thirteen cardinals. Thus the two great luminaries of this mundane sphere were again side by side.289289    Sigismund, in his letter to Charles VI of France, announcing the council, had used the mediaeval figure of the two lights, duo luminaria super terram, majus videlicet minus ut in ipsis universalis ecclesiae consistere firmamentum in quibus pontificalis auctoritas et regalis potentia designantur, unaquae spiritualia et altera qua corporalia regerentur. Mansi, XXVIII. 4. They ascended together the great Torazzo, close to the cathedral of Cremona, accompanied by the lord of the town, who afterwards regretted that he had not seized his opportunity and pitched them both down to the street. Not till the following August was a formal announcement of the impending council sent to the Kaufhaus

Gregory XII., who recognized Sigismund as king of the Romans.290290    There is some evidence that a report was abroad in Italy that Sigismund intended to have all three popes put on trial at Constance, but that a gift of 60,000 gulden from John at Lodi induced him to support that pontiff. Finke: Acta, p. 177 sq. Gregory complained to Archbishop Andrew of Spalato, bearer of the notice, of the lateness of the invitation, and that he had not been consulted in regard to the council. Sigismund promised that, if Gregory should be deposed, he would see to it that he received a good life position.291291    Sigismund’s letters are given by Hardt, VI. 5, 6; Mansi, XXVIII. 2-4. See Finke, Forschungen, p. 23.

The council, which was appointed for Nov. 1, 1414, lasted nearly four years, and proved to be one of the most imposing gatherings which has ever convened in Western Europe. It was a veritable parliament of nations, a convention of the leading intellects of the age, who pressed together to give vent to the spirit of free discussion which the Avignon scandals and the schism had developed, and to debate the most urgent of questions, the reunion of Christendom under one undisputed head."292292    Funk, Kirchengesch., p. 470, calls it eine der grossartigsten Kirchenversammlungen welche die Geschichte kennt, gewissermassen ein Kongress des ganzen Abenlandes

Following the advice of his cardinals, John, who set his face reluctantly towards the North, reached Constance Oct. 28, 1414. The city then contained 5500 people, and the beauty of its location, its fields, and its vineyards, were praised by Nieheim and other contemporaries. They also spoke of the salubriousness of the air and the justice of the municipal laws for strangers. It seemed to be as a field which the Lord had blessed.293293    Hardt, II. 308. As John approached Constance, coming by way of the Tirol, he is said to have exclaimed, "Ha, this is the place where foxes are trapped." He entered the town in great style, accompanied by nine cardinals and sixteen hundred mounted horsemen. He rode a white horse, its back covered with a red rug. Its bridles were held by the count of Montferrat and an Orsini of Rome. The city council sent to the pope’s lodgings four large barrels of Elsass wine, eight of native wine, and other wines.294294    Richental, Chronik, pp. 25-28, gives a graphic description of John’s entry into the city. This writer, who was a citizen of Constance, the office he filled being unknown, had unusual opportunities for observing what was going on and getting the official documents. He gives copies of several of John’s bulls, and the most detailed accounts of some of the proceedings at which he was present. See p. 129.

The first day of November, John attended a solemn mass at the cathedral. The council met on the 5th, with fifteen cardinals present. The first public session was held Nov. 16. In all, forty-five public sessions were held, the usual hour of assembling being 7 in the morning. Gregory XII. was represented by two delegates, the titular patriarch of Constantinople and Cardinal John Dominici of Ragusa, a man of great sagacity and excellent spirit.

The convention did not get into full swing until the arrival of Sigismund on Christmas Eve, fresh from his coronation, which occurred at Aachen, Nov. 8, and accompanied by his queen, Barbara, and a brilliant suite. After warming themselves, the imperial party proceeded to the cathedral and, at cock-crowing Christmas morning, were received by the pope. Services were held lasting eight, or, according to another authority, eleven hours without interruption. Sigismund, wearing his crown and a dalmatic, exercised the functions of deacon and read the Gospel, and the pope conferred upon him a sword, bidding him use it to protect the Church.

Constance had become the most conspicuous locality in Europe. It attracted people of every rank, from the king to the beggar. A scene of the kind on so great a scale had never been witnessed in the West before. The reports of the number of strangers in the city vary from 50,000 to 100,000. Richental, the indefatigable Boswell of the council, himself a resident of Constance, gives an account of the arrival of every important personage, together with the number of his retainers. One-half of his Chronicle is a directory of names. He went from house to house, taking a census, and to the thousands he mentions by name, he adds 5000 who rode in and out of the town every day. He states that 80,000 witnessed the coronation of Martin V. The lodgings of the more distinguished personages were marked with their coats of arms. Bakers, beadles, grooms, scribes, goldsmiths, merchantmen of every sort, even to traffickers from the Orient, flocked together to serve the dukes and prelates and the learned university masters and doctors. There were in attendance on the council, 33 cardinals, 5 patriarchs, 47 archbishops, 145 bishops, 93 titular bishops, 217 doctors of theology, 361 doctors in both laws, 171 doctors of medicine, besides a great number of masters of arts from the 37 universities represented, 83 kings and princes represented by envoys, 38 dukes, 173 counts, 71 barons, more than 1500 knights, 142 writers of bulls, 1700 buglers, fiddlers, and players on other musical instruments. Seven hundred women of the street practised their trade openly or in rented houses, while the number of those who practised it secretly was a matter of conjecture.295295    Offene Huren in den Hurenhäusern und solche, die selber Häuser gemiethet hatten und in den Ställen lagen und wo sie mochten, doren waren über 700 und die heimlichen, die lass ich belibnen. Richental, p. 215. The numbers above are taken from Richental, whose account, from p. 154 to 215, is taken up with the lists of names. See also Van der Hardt, V. 50-53, who gives 18,000 prelates and priests and 80,000 laymen. A later hand has attached to Richental’s narrative the figures 72,460. There were 36,000 beds for strangers. Five hundred are said to have been drowned in the lake during the progress of the council. Huss wrote, "This council is a scene of foulness, for it is a common saying among the Swiss that a generation will not suffice to cleanse Constance from the sins which the council has committed in this city."296296    Workman: Letters of Huss, p. 263.

The English and Scotch delegation, which numbered less than a dozen persons, was accompanied by 700 or 800 mounted men, splendidly accoutred, and headed by fifers and other musicians, and made a great sensation by their entry into the city. The French delegation was marked by its university men and other men of learning.297297    Usk, p. 304; Rymer, Foeder., IX. 167; Richental, p. 34, speaks of the French as die Schulpfaffen und die gelehrten Leute aus Frankreich

The streets and surroundings presented the spectacle of a merry fair. There were tournaments, dances, acrobatic shows, processions, musical displays. But in spite of the congestion, good order seems to have been maintained. By order of the city council, persons were forbidden to be out after curfew without a light. Chains were to be stretched across some of the streets, and all shouting at night was forbidden. It is said that during the council’s progress only two persons were punished for street brawls. A check was put upon extortionate rates by a strict tariff. The price of a white loaf was fixed at a penny, and a bed for two persons, with sheets and pillows, at a gulden and a half a month, the linen to be washed every two weeks. Fixed prices were put upon grains, meat, eggs, birds, and other articles of food.298298    Richental, p. 39 sqq., gives an elaborate list of these regulations. The bankers present were a great number, among them the young Cosimo de’ Medici of Florence.

Among the notables in attendance, the pope and Sigismund occupied the chief place. The most inordinate praise was heaped upon the king. He was compared to Daniel, who rescued Susanna, and to David. He was fond of pleasure, very popular with women, always in debt and calling for money, but a deadly foe of heretics, so that whenever he roared, it was said, the Wyclifites fled.299299    So de Vrie, the poet-historian of the council, Hardt, I. 193. The following description is from the accomplished pen of Aeneas Sylvius, afterwards Pius II: "He was tall, with bright eyes, broad forehead, pleasantly rosy cheeks, and a long, thick beard. He was witty in conversation, given to wine and women, and thousands of love intrigues are laid to his charge. He had a large mind and formed many plans, but was changeable. He was prone to anger, but ready to forgive. He could not keep his money, but spent lavishly. He made more promises than he kept, and often deceived." There can be no doubt that to Sigismund were due the continuance and success of the council. His queen, Barbara, the daughter of a Styrian count, was tall and fair, but of questionable reputation, and her gallantries became the talk of the town.

The next most eminent persons were Cardinals D’Ailly, Zabarella, Fillastre, John of Ragusa, and Hallum, bishop of Salisbury, who died during the session of the council, and was buried in Constance, the bishop of Winchester, uncle to the English king, and John Gerson, the chief representative of the University of Paris. Zabarella was the most profound authority on civil and canon law in Europe, a professor at Bologna, and in 1410 made bishop of Florence. He died in the midst of the council’s proceedings, Sept. 26, 1417. Fillastre left behind him a valuable daily journal of the council’s proceedings. D’Ailly had been for some time one of the most prominent figures in Europe. Hallum is frequently mentioned in the proceedings of the council. Among the most powerful agencies at work in the assemblies were the tracts thrown off at the time, especially those of Diedrich of Nieheim, one of the most influential pamphleteers of the later Middle Ages.300300    Finke, p. 133, calls him the "greatest journalist of the later Middle Ages." The tracts De modisuniendi, De difficultate reformationis, De necessitate reformationis are now all ascribed to Nieheim by Finke, p. 133, who follows Lenz, and with whom Pastor concurs as against Erler.

The subjects which the council was called together to discuss were the reunion of the Church under one pope, and Church reforms.301301    In hoc generali concilio agendum fait de pace et unione perfecta ecclesiae secundo de reformatione illius, Fillastre’s Journal, in Finke, p. 164. Haec synodus ... pro exstirpatione praesentis schismatis et unione ac reformatione ecclesiae Dei in capite et membris is the councils own declaration, Mansi, XXVII. 585 The action against heresy, including the condemnation of John Huss and Jerome of Prag, is also conspicuous among the proceedings of the council, though not treated by contemporaries as a distinct subject. From the start, John lost support. A sensation was made by a tract, the work of an Italian, describing John’s vices both as man and pope. John of Ragusa and Fillastre recommended the resignation of all three papal claimants, and this idea became more and more popular, and was, after some delay, adopted by Sigismund, and was trenchantly advocated by Nieheim, in his tract on the Necessity of a Reformation in the Church.

From the very beginning great plainness of speech was used, so that John had good reason to be concerned for the tenure of his office. December 7, 1414, the cardinals passed propositions binding him to a faithful performance of his papal duties and abstinence from simony. D’Ailly wrote against the infallibility of councils, and thus furnished the ground for setting aside the papal election at Pisa.

From November to January, 1415, a general disposition was manifested to avoid taking the initiative—the noli me tangere policy, as it was called.302302    Apud aliquos erat morbus "noli me tangere," Fillastre’s Journal, p. 164. The ferment of thought and discussion became more and more active, until the first notable principle was laid down early in February, 1415, namely, the rule requiring the vote to be by nations. The purpose was to overcome the vote of the eighty Italian bishops and doctors who were committed to John’s cause. The action was taken in the face of John’s opposition, and followed the precedent set by the University of Paris in the government of its affairs. By this rule, which no council before or since has followed, except the little Council of Siena, 1423, England, France, Italy, and Germany had each a single vote in the affairs of the council. In 1417, when Aragon, Castile, and Scotland gave in their submission to the council, a fifth vote was accorded to Spain. England had the smallest representation. In the German nation were included Scandinavia, Poland, and Hungary. The request of the cardinals to have accorded to them a distinct vote as a body was denied. They met with the several nations to which they belonged, and were limited to the same rights enjoyed by other individuals. This rule seems to have been pressed from the first with great energy by the English, led by Robert of Salisbury. Strange to say, there is no record that this mode of voting was adopted by any formal conciliar decree.303303    See Finke, Forschungen, p. 31. Richental, pp. 50-53, gives a quaint account of the territorial possessions of the five nations.

The nations met each under its own president in separate places, the English and Germans sitting in different rooms in the convent of the Grey Friars. The vote of the majority of the nations carried in the public sessions of the council. The right to vote in the nations was extended so as to include the doctors of both kinds and princes. D’Ailly advocated this course, and Fillastre argued in favor of including rectors and even clergymen of the lowest rank. Why, reasoned D’Ailly, should a titular bishop have an equal voice with a bishop ruling over an extensive see, say the archbishopric of Mainz, and why should a doctor be denied all right to vote who has given up his time and thought to the questions under discussion? And why, argued Fillastre, should an abbot, having control over only ten monks, have a vote, when a rector with a care of a thousand or ten thousand souls is excluded? An ignorant king or prelate he called a "crowned ass." Doctors were on hand for the very purpose of clearing up ignorance.

When the Italian tract appeared, which teemed with charges against John, matters were brought to a crisis. Then it became evident that the scheme calling for the removal of all three popes would go through, and John, to avoid a worse fate, agreed to resign, making the condition that Gregory XII. and Benedict should also resign. The formal announcement, which was read at the second session, March 2, 1415, ran: "I, John XXIII., pope, promise, agree, and obligate myself, vow and swear before God, the Church, and this holy council, of my own free will and spontaneously, to give peace to the Church by abdication, provided the pretenders, Benedict and Gregory, do the same."304304    Hardt, II. 240, also IV. 44; Mansi, XXVII. 568. Also Richental, p. 56. At the words "vow and swear," John rose from his seat and knelt down at the altar, remaining on his knees till he finished the reading. The reading being over, Sigismund removed his crown, bent before John, and kissed his feet. Five days after, John issued a bull confirming his oath.

Constance was wild with joy. The bells rang out the glad news. In the cathedral, joy expressed itself in tears. The spontaneity of John’s self-deposition may be questioned, in view of the feeling which prevailed among the councillors and the report that he had made an offer to cede the papacy for 30,000 gulden.305305    According to a MS. found at Vienna by Finke, Forschungen, p. 148.

A most annoying, though ridiculous, turn was now given to affairs by John’s flight from Constance, March 20. Rumors had been whispered about that he was contemplating such a move. He talked of transferring the council to Rizza, and complained of the unhealthiness of the air of Constance. He, however, made the solemn declaration that he would not leave the town before the dissolution of the council. To be on the safe side, Sigismund gave orders for the gates to be kept closed and the lake watched. But John had practised dark arts before, and, unmindful of his oath, escaped at high noon on a "little horse," in the disguise of a groom, wrapped in a gray cloak, wearing a gray cap, and having a crossbow tied to his saddle.306306    Richental, pp. 62-72, gives a vivid account of John’s flight and seizure. The flight was made while the gay festivities of a tournament, instituted by Frederick, duke of Austria, were going on, and with two attendants. The pope continued his course without rest till he reached Schaffhausen. This place belonged to the duke, who was in the secret, and on whom John had conferred the office of commander of the papal troops, with a yearly grant of 6000 gulden. John’s act was an act of desperation. He wrote back to the council, giving as the reason of his flight that he had been in fear of Sigismund, and that his freedom of action had been restricted by the king.307307    Fillastre; Finke, Forschungen, p. 169, papa dicebat quod pro timore regis Romanorum recesserat.

So great was the panic produced by the pope’s flight that the council would probably have been brought to a sudden close by a general scattering of its members, had it not been for Sigismund’s prompt action. Cardinals and envoys despatched by the king and council made haste to stop the fleeing pope, who continued on to Laufenburg, Freiburg, and Breisach. John wrote to Sigismund, expressing his regard for him, but with the same pen he was addressing communications to the University of Paris and the duke of Orleans, seeking to awaken sympathy for his cause by playing upon the national feelings of the French. He attempted to make it appear that the French delegation had been disparaged when the council proceeded to business before the arrival of the twenty-two deputies of the University. France and Italy, with two hundred prelates, had each only a single vote, while England, with only three prelates, had a vote. God, he affirmed, dealt with individuals and not with nations. He also raised the objection that married laymen had votes at the side of prelates, and John Huss had not been put on trial, though he had been condemned by the University of Paris.

To the envoys who found John at Breisach, April 23, he gave his promise to return with them to Constance the next morning; but with his usual duplicity, he attempted to escape during the night, and was let down from the castle by a ladder, disguised as a peasant. He was soon seized, and ultimately handed over by Sigismund to Louis III., of the Palatinate, for safe-keeping.

In the meantime the council forbade any of the delegates to leave Constance before the end of the proceedings, on pain of excommunication and the loss of dignities. Its fourth and fifth sessions, beginning April 6, 1415, mark an epoch in the history of ecclesiastical statement. The council declared that, being assembled legitimately in the Holy Spirit, it was an oecumenical council and representing the whole Church, had its authority immediately from Christ, and that to it the pope and persons of every grade owed obedience in things pertaining to the faith and to the reformation of the Church in head and members. It was superior to all other ecclesiastical tribunals.308308    Hardt, IV. 89 sq., and Mansi, XXVII. 585-590. The deliverance runs: haec sancta synodus Constantiensis primo declarat ut ipsa synodus in S. Spiritu legitime congregata, generale concilium faciens, Eccles. catholicam militantem representans, potestatem a Christo immediate habeat, cui quilibet cujusmodi status vel dignitatis, etiamsi papalis existat, obedire tenetur in his quae pertinent ad fidem et exstirpationem praesentis schismatis et reformationem eccles. in capite et membris. This declaration, stated with more precision than the one of Pisa, meant a vast departure from the papal theory of Innocent III. and Boniface VIII.

Gerson, urging this position in his sermon before the council, March 23, 1415, said309309    Hardt, II. 265-273; Du Pin, II. 201 sqq. the gates of hell had prevailed against popes, but not against the Church. Joseph was set to guard his master’s wife, not to debauch her, and when the pope turned aside from his duty, the Church had authority to punish him. A council has the right by reason of the vivifying power of the Holy Spirit to prolong itself, and may, under certain conditions, assemble without call of pope or his consent.

The conciliar declarations reaffirmed the principle laid down by Nieheim on the eve of the council in the tract entitled the Union of the Church and its Reformation, and by other writers.310310    Hardt, vol. I., where it occupies 175 pp. Du Pin, II., 162-201. This tract, formerly ascribed to Gerson, Lenz and Finke give reason for regarding as the work of Nieheim. The Church, Nieheim affirmed, whose head is Christ, cannot err, but the Church as a commonwealth,—respublica,—controlled by pope and hierarchy, may err. And as a prince who does not seek the good of his subjects may be deposed, so may the pope, who is called to preside over the whole Church .... The pope is born of man, born in sin—clay of clay—limus de limo. A few days ago the son of a rustic, and now raised to the papal throne, he is not become an impeccable angel. It is not his office that makes him holy, but the grace of God. He is not infallible; and as Christ, who was without sin, was subject to a tribunal, 80 is the pope. It is absurd to say that a mere man has power in heaven and on earth to bind and loose from sin. For he may be a simoniac, a liar, a fornicator, proud, and worse than the devil—pejor quam diabolus. As for a council, the pope is under obligation to submit to it and, if necessary, to resign for the common good—utilitatem communem. A general council may be called by the prelates and temporal rulers, and is superior to the pope. It may elect, limit, and depose a pope—and from its decision there is no appeal—potest papam eligere, privare et deponere. A tali concilio nullus potest appellare.Its canons are immutable, except as they may be set aside by another oecumenical council.

These views were revolutionary, and show that Marsiglius of Padua, and other tractarians of the fourteenth century, had not spoken in vain.

Having affirmed its superiority over the pope, the council proceeded to try John XXIII. on seventy charges, which included almost every crime known to man. He had been unchaste from his youth, had been given to lying, was disobedient to his parents. He was guilty of simony, bought his way to the cardinalate, sold the same benefices over and over again, sold them to children, disposed of the head of John the Baptist, belonging to the nuns of St. Sylvester, Rome, to Florence, for 50,000 ducats, made merchandise of spurious bulls, committed adultery with his brother’s wife, violated nuns and other virgins, was guilty of sodomy and other nameless vices.311311    Hardt, IV. 196-208; Mansi, XXVIII. 662-673, 715. Adam of Usk, p. 306, says, Our pope, John XXIII., false to his promises of union, and otherwise guilty of perjuries and murders, adulteries, simonies, heresy, and other excesses, and for that he twice fled in secret, and cowardly, in vile raiment, by way of disguise, was delivered to perpetual imprisonment by the council. As for doctrine, he had often denied the future life.

When John received the notice of his deposition, which was pronounced May 29, 1415, he removed the papal cross from his room and declared he regretted ever having been elected pope. He was taken to Gottlieben, a castle belonging to the bishop of Constance, and then removed to the castle at Heidelberg, where two chaplains and two nobles were assigned to serve him. From Heidelberg the count Palatine transferred him to Mannheim, and finally released him on the payment of 30,000 gulden. John submitted to his successor, Martin V., and in 1419 was appointed cardinal bishop of Tusculum, but survived the appointment only six months. John’s accomplice, Frederick of Austria, was deprived of his lands, and was known as Frederick of the empty purse—Friedrich mit der leeren Tasche. A splendid monument was erected to John in the baptistery in Florence by Cosimo de’ Medici, who had managed the pope’s money affairs.

While John’s case was being decided, the trial of John Huss was under way. The proceedings and the tragedy of Huss’ death are related in another place.

John XXIII. was out of the way. Two popes remained, Gregory XII. and Benedict XIII., who were facetiously called in tracts and addresses Errorius, a play on Gregory’s patronymic, Angelo Correr,312312    This name is given to Gregory constantly by Nieheim in his De schismate and Maledictus. Gregory promptly resigned, thus respecting his promise made to the council to resign, provided John and Benedict should be set aside. He also had promised to recognize the council, provided the emperor should preside. The resignation was announced at the fourteenth session, July 4, 1415, by Charles Malatesta and John of Ragusa, representing the Roman pontiff. Gregory’s bull, dated May 15, 1414, which was publicly read, "convoked and authorized the general council so far as Balthazar Cossa, John XXIII., is not present and does not preside." The words of resignation ran, "I resign, in the name of the Lord, the papacy, and all its rights and title and all the privileges conferred upon it by the Lord Jesus Christ in this sacred synod and universal council representing the holy Roman and universal Church."313313    The document is given in Hardt, IV. 380. See, for the various documents, Hardt, IV. 192 sq., 346-381; Mansi, XXVII. 733-745. Gregory’s cardinals now took their seats, and Gregory himself was appointed cardinal-bishop of Porto and papal legate of Ancona. He died at Recanati, near Ancona, Oct. 18, 1417. Much condemnation as Angelo Correr deserves for having temporized about renouncing the papacy, posterity has not withheld from him respect for his honorable dealing at the close of his career. The high standing of his cardinal, John of Ragusa, did much to make men forget Gregory’s faults.

Peter de Luna was of a different mind. Every effort was made to bring him into accord with the mind of the councilmen in the Swiss city, but in vain. In order to bring all the influence possible to bear upon him, Sigismund, at the council’s instance, started on the journey to see the last of the Avignon popes face to face. The council, at its sixteenth session, July 11, 1415, appointed doctors to accompany the king, and eight days afterwards he broke away from Constance, accompanied by a troop of 4000 men on horse.

Sigismund and Benedict met at Narbonne, Aug. 15, and at Perpignan, the negotiations lasting till December. The decree of deposition pronounced at Pisa, and France’s withdrawal of allegiance, had not broken the spirit of the old man. His dogged tenacity was worthy of a better cause.314314    Pastor, Hefele, and Hergenröther call it stubbornness, Hartnäckigkeit. Döllinger is more favorable, and does not withhold his admiration from Peter. Among the propositions the pope had the temerity to make was that he would resign provided that he, as the only surviving cardinal from the times before the schism, should have liberty to follow his abdication by himself electing the new pontiff. Who knows but that one who was 80 thoroughly assured of his own infallibility would have chosen himself. Benedict persisted in calling the Council of Constance the "congregation," or assembly. On Nov. 14 he fled to Peñiscola, a rocky promontory near Valencia, again condemned the Swiss synod, and summoned a legitimate one to meet in his isolated Spanish retreat. His own cardinals were weary of the conflict, and Dec. 13, 1415, declared him deposed. His long-time supporter, Vincent Ferrer, called him a perjurer. The following month the kingdom of Aragon, which had been Benedict’s chief support, withdrew from his obedience and was followed by Castile and Scotland.

Peter de Luna was now as thoroughly isolated as any mortal could well be. The council demanded his unconditional abdication, and was strengthened by the admission of his old supporters, the Spanish delegates. At the thirty-seventh session, 1417, he was deposed. By Sigismund’s command the decision was announced on the streets of Constance by trumpeters. But the indomitable Spaniard continued to defy the synod’s sentence till his death, nine years later, and from the lonely citadel of Peñiscola to sit as sovereign of Christendom. Cardinal Hergenröther concludes his description of these events by saying that Benedict "was a pope without a church and a shepherd without sheep. This very fact proves the emptiness of his claims." Benedict died, 1423,315315    Valois, IV. 450 454, gives strong reasons for this date as against 1424. leaving behind him four cardinals. Three of these elected the canon, Gil Sauduz de Munoz of Barcelona, who took the name of Clement VIII. Five years later Gil resigned, and was appointed by Martin V. bishop of Majorca, on which island he was a pope with insular jurisdiction.316316    Mansi, XXVIII. 1117 sqq., gives Clement’s letter of abdication. For an account of Benedict’s two successors and their election, see Valois, IV. 455-478. The fourth cardinal, Jean Carrier, elected himself pope, and took the name of Benedict XIV. He died in prison, 1433.

It remained for the council to terminate the schism of years by electing a new pontiff and to proceed to the discussions of Church reforms. At the fortieth session, Oct. 30, 1417, it was decided to postpone the second item until after the election of the new pope. In fixing this order of business, the cardinals had a large influence. There was a time in the history of the council when they were disparaged. Tracts were written against them, and the king at one time, so it was rumored, proposed to seize them all.317317    Fillastre’s Journal, p. 224. For the tracts hostile to the cardinals, see Finke, Forschungen, p. 81 sq. But that time was past; they had kept united, and their influence had steadily grown.

The papal vacancy was filled, Nov. 11, 1417, by the election of Cardinal Oddo Colonna, who took the name of Martin V. The election was consummated in the Kaufhaus, the central commercial building of Constance, which is still standing. Fifty-three electors participated, 6 deputies from each of the 5 nations, and 23 cardinals. The building was walled up with boards and divided into cells for the electors. Entrance was had by a single door, and the three keys were given, one to the king, one to the chapter of Constance, and one to the council. When it became apparent that an election was likely to be greatly delayed, the Germans determined to join the Italians in voting for an Italian to avoid suspicion that advantage was taken of the synod’s location on German soil. The Germans then secured the co-operation of the English, and finally the French and Spaniards also yielded.318318    Richental, p. 116 sqq., gives a detailed account of the walling up of the Kaufhaus and the election, and of the ceremonies attending Martin’s coronation. He also, p. 123, tells the pretty story that, before the electors met, ravens, jackdaws, and other birds of the sort gathered in great numbers on the roof of the Kaufhaus, but that as soon as Martin was elected, thousands of greenfinches and other little birds took their places and chattered and sang and hopped about as if approving what had been done. The pope-elect was thus the creature of the council.

The Western Church was again unified under one head. But for the deep-seated conviction of centuries, the office of the universal papacy would scarcely have survived the strain of the schism.319319    Catholic historians regard the survival of the papacy as a proof of its divine origin. Salembier, p. 395, says, "The history of the great Schism would have dealt a mortal blow to the papacy if Christ’s promises had not made it immortal." Oddo Colonna, the only member of his distinguished house who has worn the tiara, was a subdeacon at the time of his election. Even more hastily than Photius, patriarch of Constantinople, was he rushed through the ordination of deacon, Nov. 12, of priest, Nov. 13, and bishop, Nov. 14. He was consecrated pope a week later, Nov. 21, Sigismund kissing his toe. In the procession, the bridles of Martin’s horse were held by Sigismund and Frederick the Hohenzollern, lately created margrave of Brandenburg. The margrave had paid Sigismund 250,000 marks as the price of his elevation, a sum which the king used to defray the expenses of his visit to Benedict.

Martin at once assumed the presidency of the council which since John’s flight had been filled by Cardinal Viviers. Measures of reform were now the order of the day and some headway was made. The papal right of granting indulgences was curtailed. The college of cardinals was limited to 24, with the stipulation that the different parts of the church should have a proportionate representation, that no monastic order should have more than a single member in the college, and that no cardinal’s brother or nephew should be raised to the curia so long as the cardinal was living. Schedules and programmes enough were made, but the question of reform involved abuses of such long standing and so deeply intrenched that it was found impossible to reconcile the differences of opinion prevailing in the council and bring it to promptness of action. After sitting for more than three years, the delegates were impatient to get away.

As a substitute for further legislation, the so-called concordats were arranged. These agreements were intended to regulate the relations of the papacy and the nations one with the other. There were four of these distinct compacts, one with the French, and one with the German nations, each to be valid for five years, one with the English to be perpetual, dated July 21, 1418, and one with the Spanish nation, dated May 13, 1418.320320    See Mirbt, art. Konkordat, in Herzog, X. 705 sqq. Hardt gives the concordats with Germany and England, I. 1056-1083, and France, IV. 155 sqq. Mansi, XXVII. 1189 sqq., 1193 sqq. These concordats set forth rules for the appointment of the cardinals and the restriction of their number, limited the right of papal reservations and the collection of annates and direct taxes, determined what causes might be appealed to Rome, and took up other questions. They were the foundation of the system of secret or open treaties by which the papacy has since regulated its relations with the nations of Europe. Gregory VII. was the first pope to extend the system of papal legates, but he and his successors had dealt with nations on the arbitrary principle of papal supremacy and infallibility.

The action of the Council of Constance lifted the state to some measure of equality with the papacy in the administration of Church affairs. It remained for Louis XIV., 16431715, to assert more fully the Gallican theory of the authority of the state to manage the affairs of the Church within its territory, so far as matters of doctrine were not touched. The first decisive step in the assertion of Gallican liberties was the synodal action of 1407, when France withdrew from the obedience of Benedict XIII. By this action the chapters were to elect their own bishops, and the pope was restrained from levying taxes on their sees. Then followed the compact of the Council of Constance, the Pragmatic Sanction adopted at Bourges, 1438, and the concordat agreed upon between Francis I. and Leo X. at the time of the Reformation. In 1682 the French prelates adopted four propositions, restricting the pope’s authority to spirituals, a power which is limited by the decision of the Council of Constance, and by the precedents of the Gallican Church, and declaring that even in matters of faith the pope is not infallible. Although Louis, who gave his authority to these articles, afterwards revoked them, they remain a platform of Gallicanism as against the ultramontane theory of the infallibility and supreme authority of the pope, and may furnish in the future the basis of a settlement of the papal question in the Catholic communion.321321    See art. Gallikanismus, in Herzog, and Der Ursprung der gallikan. Freiheiten, in Hist. Zeitschrift, 1903, pp. 194-215.

In the deliverance known as Frequens, passed Oct. 9, 1417, the council decreed that a general council should meet in five years, then in seven years, and thereafter perpetually every ten years.322322    Creighton, I. 393, after giving the proper citation from Hardt, IV. 1432, makes the mistake of saying that the next council was appointed for seven years, and the succeeding councils every five years thereafter. This action was prompted by Martin in the bull Frequens, Oct. 9, 1417. On completing its forty-fifth session it was adjourned by Martin, April 22, 1418. The Basel-Ferrara and the Tridentine councils sat a longer time, as did also the Protestant Westminster Assembly, 1643–1648. Before breaking away from Constance, the pope granted Sigismund a tenth for one year to reimburse him for the expense he had been to on account of the synod.

The Council of Constance was the most important synod of the Middle Ages, and more fairly represented the sentiments of Western Christendom than any other council which has ever sat. It furnished an arena of free debate upon interests whose importance was felt by all the nations of Western Europe, and which united them. It was not restricted by a programme prepared by a pope, as the Vatican council of 1870 was. It had freedom and exercised it. While the dogma of transubstantiation enacted by the 4th Lateran, 1215, and the dogma of papal infallibility passed by the Vatican council injected elements of permanent division into the Church, the Council of Constance unified Latin Christendom and ended the schism which had been a cause of scandal for forty years. The validity of its decree putting an oecumenical council above the pope, after being disputed for centuries, was officially set aside by the conciliar vote of 1870. For Protestants the decision at Constance is an onward step towards a right definition of the final seat of religious authority. It remained for Luther, forced to the wall by Eck at Leipzig, and on the ground of the error committed by the Council of Constance, in condemning the godly man, John Huss, to deny the infallibility of councils and to place the seat of infallible authority in the Scriptures, as interpreted by conscience.

Note on the Oecumenical Character of the Council of Constance.

Modern Roman Catholic historians deny the oecumenical character and authority of the Council of Constance, except its four last, 42d-45th sessions, which were presided over by Pope Martin V., or at least all of it till the moment of Gregory XII.’s bull giving to the council his approval, that is, after John had fled and ceased to preside. Hergenröther-Kirsch, II. 862, says that before Gregory’s authorization the council was without a head, did not represent the Roman Church, and sat against the will of the cardinals, by whom he meant Gregory’s cardinals. Salembier, p. 317, says, Il n’est devenu oecuménique qu’après la trente-cinquième session, lorsque Grégoire III. eut donné sa démission, etc. Pastor, I. 198 sq., warmly advocates the same view, and declares that when the council in its 4th and 6th sessions announced its superiority over the pope, it was not yet an oecumenical gathering. This dogma, he says, was intended to set up a new principle which revolutionized the old Catholic doctrine of the Church. Philip Hergenröther, in Katholisches Kirchenrecht, p. 344 sq., expresses the same judgment. The council was not a legitimate council till after Gregory’s resignation.

The wisdom of the council in securing the resignation of Gregory and deposing John and Benedict is not questioned. The validity of its act in electing Martin V., though the papal regulation limiting the right of voting to the cardinals was set aside, is also acknowledged on the ground that the council at the time of Martin’s election was sitting by Gregory’s sanction, and Gregory was true pope until he abdicated.

A serious objection to the view, setting aside this action of the 4th and 5th sessions, is offered by the formal statement made by Martin V. At the final meeting of the council and after its adjournment had been pronounced, a tumultuous discussion was precipitated over the tract concerning the affairs of Poland and Lithuania by the Dominican, Falkenberg, which was written in defence of the Teutonic Knights, and justified the killing of the Polish king and all his subjects. It had been the subject of discussion in the nations, and its heresies were declared to be so glaring that, if they remained uncondemned by the council, that body would go down to posterity as defective in its testimony for orthodoxy. It was during the tumultuous debate, and after Martin had adjourned the council, that he uttered the words which, on their face, sanction whatever was done in council in a conciliar way. Putting an end to the tumult, he announced he would maintain all the decrees passed by the council in matters of faith in a conciliar way—omnia et singula determinata et conclusa et decreta in materiis fidei per praesens sacrum concilium generale Constantiense conciliariter tenere et inviolabiliter observare volebat et nunquam contravenire quoquomodo. Moreover, he announced that he sanctioned and ratified acts made in a "conciliar way and not made otherwise or in any other way." Ipsaque sic conciliariter facta approbat papa et ratificat et non aliter nec alio modo. Funk, Martin V. und das Konzil zu Konstanz in Abhandlungen, I. 489 sqq., Hefele, Conciliengesch., I. 62, and Küpper, in Wetzer-Welte, VII. 1004 sqq., restrict the application of these words to the Falkenberg incident. Funk, however, by a narrow interpretation of the words "in matter of faith," excludes the acts of the 4th and 6th sessions from the pope’s approval. Döllinger (p. 464), contends that the expression conciliariter, "in a conciliar way," is opposed to nationaliter, "in the nations." The expression is to be taken in its simple meaning, and refers to what was done by the council as a council.

The only other statement made by Martin bearing upon the question occurs in his bull Frequens, of Feb. 22, 1418, in which he recognized the council as oecumenical, and declared its decrees binding which pertained to faith and the salvation of souls—quod sacrum concilium Constant., universalem ecclesiam representans approbavit et approbat in favorem fidei et salutem animarum, quod hoc est ab universis Christi fidelibus approbandum et tenendum. Hefele and Funk show that this declaration was not meant to exclude matters which were not of faith, for Martin expressly approved other matters, such as those passed upon in the 39th session. There is no record that Martin at any time said anything to throw light upon his meaning in these two utterances.

In the latter part of the fifteenth century, as Raynaldus, an. 1418, shows, the view came to expression that Martin expressly intended to except the action of the 4th and 6th sessions from his papal approval.

Martin V.’s successor, Eugenius IV., in 1446, thirty years after the synod, asserted that its decrees were to be accepted so far as they did not prejudice the law, dignity, and pre-eminence of the Apostolic See — absque tamen praejudicio juris et dignitatis et praeeminentiae Apost. sedis. The papacy had at that time recovered its prestige, and the supreme pontiff felt himself strong enough to openly reassert the superiority of the Apostolic See over oecumenical councils. But before that time, in a bull issued Dec. 13, 1443, he formally accepted the acts of the Council of Basel, the most explicit of which was the reaffirmation of the acts of the Council of Constance in its 4th and 5th sessions.

It occurs to a Protestant that the Council of Constance would hardly have elected Oddo Colonna pope if he had been suspected of being opposed to the council’s action concerning its own superiority. The council would have stultified itself in appointing a man to undo what it had solemnly done. And for him to have denied its authority would have been, as Döllinger says (p. 159), like a son denying his parentage. The emphasis which recent Catholic historians lay upon Gregory’s authorization of the synod as giving it for the first time an oecumenical character is an easy way out of the difficulty, and this view forces the recognition of the Roman line of popes as the legitimate successors of St. Peter during the years of the schism.


« Prev The Council of Constance. 1414-1418 Next »
Please login or register to save highlights and make annotations
Corrections disabled for this book
Proofing disabled for this book
Printer-friendly version





Advertisements



| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |