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Council of Constance

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Council of Constance
Date 1414-1418
Accepted by Catholicism
Previous CouncilCouncil of Vienne
Next Council Council of Basel-Ferrara-Florence (the Council of Siena is generally not considered ecumenical by Catholics)
Convoked bySchismatic Pope John XXIII , confirmed by Pope Gregory XII
Presided bySigismund, Holy Roman Emperor
Attendance600
Topics of discussionWestern Schism
Documents and statementsSchismatic Pope John XXIII deposed, resignation of Pope Gregory XII accepted, Avignon Pope Benedict XIII deposed, condemnation of Jan Hus, election of Pope Martin V
chronological list of Ecumenical councils

The Council of Constance was an ecumenical council of the Catholic Church, called by the Emperor Sigismund, a supporter of Antipope John XXIII, the pope recently elected at Pisa. The council was held from November 16, 1414 to April 22, 1418 in Constance. Its main purpose was to end the Papal schism which had resulted from the Avignon Papacy, or as it is sometimes known, the "Babylonian Captivity of the Church." The Council of Constance marked the high point of the Conciliar movement to reform the Church.

At the time the council was called, there were three popes, all of whom claimed legitimacy. A few years earlier, in one of the first blows of the Conciliar movement, the bishops at the Council of Pisa had deposed both of the two claimant popes and elected a third pope, claiming that in such a situation, a council of bishops had greater authority than just one bishop, even if he be the bishop of Rome. This had only furthered the schism.

An innovation at the Council was that instead of voting as individuals, the bishops voted in national blocs, explicitly confirming the national pressures that had fueled the schism since 1378.

The famous Haec sancta decree contradicting Vatican I on papal primacy/infallibility was promulgated in the sixth session, April 6, 1415. Its declaration that

legitimately assembled in the holy Spirit, constituting a general council and representing the catholic church militant, it has power immediately from Christ; and that everyone of whatever state or dignity, even papal, is bound to obey it in those matters which pertain to the faith, the eradication of the said schism and the general reform of the said church of God in head and members.

marks the high water mark of the Consiliar movement of reform [1] (http://www.piar.hu/councils/ecum16.htm).

With the support of the Sigismund, Holy Roman Emperor, enthroned before the high altar of the cathedral of Constance, the Council of Constance recommended that all three popes abdicate, and that another be chosen. In part because of the constant presence of the emperor, other rulers demanded that they have a say in who would be pope. Much of the Council's time was therefore occupied with trying to placate secular rulers rather than in actual reform of the Church and its hierarchy. Members of the council also delayed electing a pope for fear that a new pope would restrict further discussion of pressing issues in the Church.

A second goal of the council was to continue the reforms begun at the Council of Pisa. These reforms were largely directed against John Wyclif, mentioned in the opening session, and condemned in the eighth, May 4, 1415 and Jan Hus, and their followers. Jan Hus, summoned to Constance under a letter of indemnity, was condemned by council and burned at the stake notwithstanding on July 6, 1415.

The council also attempted to direct ecclesiastical reforms. However, once two popes, Baldassare Cossa (John XXIII), who fled from Constance on March 20, 1415, and Peter de Luna (Benedict XIII) had been eliminated, the successor to Urban VI was induced to resign, with great care to protect the legitimacy of the succession, ratifying all his acts, a new pontiff was chosen. As feared, the new pope, Martin V, elected November 1417, soon asserted the absolute authority of the papal office, and the claim that a council might be superior to a single pope was set aside when it was later declared that a council of Bishops has no greater authority than the Pope.

During the council there were also political topics discussed, such as the accusation by the Teutonic_Knights that Poland was defending pagans. Pawel Wlodkowic, rector of the Jagiellonian University in Cracow, Poland, presented there the theory that all nations, including pagan ones, have the right to self-govern and to live in peace and possess their land, which is one of the earliest ideas of international law. The creation of a book on how to die was ordered by the council, and thus written in 1415 called Ars moriendi.

The upshot was that reforms were stymied by sheer inertia of the establishment, conflicting national interests and the full assertion of papal supremacy once more. The acts of the Council were not made public until 1442, at the behest of the Council of Basel; they were printed in 1500.

Sources

cs:Kostnick koncil de:Konzil von Konstanz es:Concilio de Constanza fr:Concile de Constance nl:Concilie van Konstanz ja:コンスタンツ公会議 pl:Sobr w Konstancji pt:Conclio de Constana

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