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§ 22. Peter d’Ailly, Ecclesiastical Statesman.

One of the most prominent figures in the negotiations for the healing of the papal schism, as well as one of the foremost personages of his age, was Peter d’Ailly, born in Compiegne 1350, died in Avignon 1420. His eloquence, which reminds us of Bossuet and other French orators of the court of Louis XIV., won for him the title of the Eagle of France—aquila Francia.377377    Tschackert, Salembier and Finke consider D’Ailly under the three aspects of theologian, philosopher and ecclesiastical diplomatist. Lenz and Bess emphasize the part he played as an advocate of French policy against England..

In 1372 he entered the College of Navarre as a theological student, prepared a commentary on the Sentences of the Lombard three years later, and in 1380 reached the theological doctorate. He at once became involved in the measures for the healing of the schism, and in 1381 delivered a celebrated address in the name of the university before the French regent, the duke of Anjou, to win the court for the policy of settling the papal controversy through a general council. His appeal not meeting with favor, he retired to Noyon, from which he wrote a letter purporting to come from the devil, a satire based on the continuance of the schism, in which the prince of darkness called upon his friends and vassals, the prelates, to follow his example in promoting division in the Church. He warned them as their overlord that the holding of a council might result in establishing peace and so bring eternal shame upon them. He urged them to continue to make the Church a house of merchandise and to be careful to tithe anise and cummin, to make broad the borders of their garments and in every other way to do as he had given them an example.378378    Epistola diaboli Leviathan. Tschackert gives the text, Appendix, pp. 15-21.

In 1384 D’Ailly was made head of the College of Navarre, where he had Gerson for a pupil, and in 1389 chancellor of the university.

When Benedict XIII. was chosen successor to Clement VII., he was sent by the French king on a confidential mission to Avignon. Benedict won his allegiance and appointed him successively bishop of Puy, 1395, and bishop of Cambray, 1397. D’Ailly was with Benedict at Genoa, 1405, and Savona, 1407, but by that time seems to have come to the conclusion that Benedict was not sincere in his profession of readiness to resign, and returned to Cambray. In his absence Cambray had decided for the subtraction of its allegiance from Avignon. D’Ailly was seized and taken to Paris, but protected by the king, who was his friend. Thenceforth he favored the assemblage of a general council.

At Pisa and at Constance, D’Ailly took the position that a general council is superior to the pope and may depose him. Made a cardinal by John XXIII., 1411, he attended the council held at Rome the following year and in vain tried to have a reform of the calendar put through. At Constance, he took the position that the Pisan council? though it was called by the Spirit and represented the Church universal, might have erred, as did other councils reputed to be general councils. He declared that the three synods of Pisa, Rome and Constance, though not one body, yet were virtually one, even as the stream of the Rhine at different points is one and the same. It was not necessary, so he held, for the Council of Constance to pass acts confirming the Council of Pisa, for the two were on a par.379379    These judgments are expressed in the Capita agendorum, a sort of programme for the guidance of the council prepared by D’Ailly, 1414. Finke, Forschungen, pp. 102-132, has no doubt that they proceeded from D’Ailly’s pen, a view confirmed by MSS. in Vienna and Rome. Finke gives a résumé of the articles, the original of which is given by van der Hardt., II. 201 sqq. and Mansi, XXVII. 547.

In the proceedings against John XXIII., the cardinal took sides against him. He was the head of the commission which tried Huss in matters of faith, June 7, 8, 1415, and was present when the sentence of death was passed upon that Reformer. At the close of the council he appears as one of the three candidates for the office of pope, and his defeat was a disappointment to the French.380380    Tschackert, p. 295. He was appointed legate by Martin V., with his residence at Avignon, and spent his last days there.

D’Ailly followed Ockam as a nominalist. To his writings in the departments of philosophy, theology and Church government he added works on astronomy and geography and a much-read commentary on Aristotle’s meteorology.381381    Tschackert gives an estimate of D’Ailly’s writings, pp. 303-335. His work on geography, The Picture of the World,—imago mundi,—written 1410, was a favorite book with Columbus. A printed copy of it containing marginal notes in the navigator’s own hand is preserved in the biblioteca Colombina, Seville. This copy he probably had with him on his third journey to America, for, in writing from Hayti, 1498, he quoted at length the eighth chapter. Leaning chiefly upon Roger Bacon, the author represented the coast of India or Cathay as stretching far in the direction of Europe, so that, in a favorable wind, a ship sailing westwards would reach it in a few days. This idea was in the air, but it is possible that it was first impressed upon the mind of the discoverer of the New World by the reading of D’Ailly’s work. Humboldt was the first to show its value for the history of discovery.382382    See Fiske, Discovery of America, I. 372.


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