Constance, Council of
Constance, Council Of We give additional particulars of this important synod, from Landon, Manual of Councils, s.v.
The council was opened on the 5th November, 1414, with solemn prayer, and the first session was held on the 16th, in which pope John presided, and delivered an address, exhorting all present to give themselves entirely to the business of the council. After this the bull of convocation was read, and the officers of the council were appointed, viz. ten notaries, one guardian of the council, the auditors of the rota, four advocates, two promoters, four officers to superintend all matters relating to arrangement and ceremony. Lastly, the canon of the eleventh Council of Toledo, held in 675, was read, which relates to the gravity and decorum to be observed in such assemblies.
In the interval between the first and second session, John Huss, who, upon the strength of the emperor's safe conduct, had ventured to Constance, was treacherously seized and thrown into prison by order of pope John XXIII, and his trial commenced. His accusers, who are said to have been also his personal enemies, drew up a catalogue of his imputed errors, which they presented to the pope and to the council. Among other things, they charged him with having taught publicly that the laity had a right to the communion in both kinds; that in the holy sacrament of the altar the substance of the bread remains unchanged after consecration; that priests living inn mortal sin cannot administer the sacraments; that, on the contrary, any other person, being in a state of grace, can do so; that by "the Church" is not to be understood either the pope or the clergy; that the Church cannot possess any temporalities, and that the laity have a right to deprive her of them. In this interval, moreover, vast numbers of temporal and spiritual dignitaries arrived; among others, the well-known Peter Daille, cardinal of Cambray; also the emperor Sigismund, who, on Christmas day, assisted at mass in the habit of a deacon, and chanted the gospel. In the month of February the deputies of Gregory and Benedict arrived, and now several congregations, were held, and steps taken to persuade John to abdicate, on account of his notoriously immoral conduct. It was resolved to take the opinion of the various nations composing the council, and for that purpose it was divided into four classes, according to their nations, viz. 1, Italy; 2, France: 3, Germany; 4, England. From each class a certain number of deputies were elected, having at their head a president, who was changed every month. The deputies of each nation then mret separately to deliberate upon such measures as they considered best to propose to the council, and when any one class of deputies had agreed upon a measure, it was carried to the general assembly of the four nations; and if the measure, upon consideration, was approved, it was signed and sealed, to be presented at the next session, nil order to receive the sanctions of the whole council.
In one of these congregations a list of heavy accusations against pope John XXIII was presented, and, in consequence, deputies were sent to him to engage him to resign the pontificate. He, in answer, promised to do so. if his two competitors would, on their part, engage to do the same. Nevertheless, he put off from day to day making any clear and formal act, of cession and during that time the deputies of the University of Paris arrived, with Gerson, their chancellor. In the second session (March 22, 1415) John made a formal declaration, accompanied with an oath, to the effect that he would abdicate, if by that means the schism could be healed. But when, in a subsequent congregation, they proceeded to deliberate about a new election to the pontificate, John, disguised in a prostilion's dress, secretly escaped from the city to the castle of Schaffhausen. The council proceeded, nevertheless, to labor to effect the union of the Church, and Gerson made a long discourse tending to establish the superiority of the council over the pope. This discourse was the origin of the question, which was then very warmly argitated, viz. whether the authority of an cecumenical council is greater than that of a pope or not?
In the third session (March 25) the cardinal of Florence read a declaration made in the name of the council, by which it is declared, first, that the council is lawfully assembled; secondly, that the flight of the pope cannot dissolve it, and that it shall not separate, nor be transferred to another place, until the union of the Church shall have been effected, and the Church reformed as to faith and morals: thirdly, that John XXIII shall not withdraw his officers from Constance without the approval and consent of the council, nor shall the prelates leave the council without just cause.
The emperor Sigismund was himself present in the fourth session (March 30), in which the cardinal of Florence read the five articles upon which the fathers of the council had agreed. The most worthy of note is the decree which declares that the aforesaid Council of Constance having been lawfully assembled in the name of the Holy Spirit, and forming an oecumenical council of the whole Church militant, has received its authority immediately from our Lord Jesus Christ; a power which every person whatsoever, of whatever state or dignity he may be, even the pope himself, must obey in all matters relating to the faith, the extirpation of schism, and the reformation of the Church in its head and in its members. It was also decreed that the pope should not transfer the council to any other place, and declared null and void all processes and censurses directed by the pope against those attending the council.
In the fifth session (April 6) the articles which had been read in the last were a second time read and unanimously approved. The departure of John was declared to be unlawful, and that he would justly subject himself to corporal punishment and imprisonment should he refuse to return. The emperor was charged to arrest all persons endeavoring to quit Constance in disguise. Also the decree of the Council of Rome against the writings of Wycliffe was confirmed.
The emperor was present in the sixth session (April 16), in which pope John XXIII was summoned to present himself at the council, or to issue a bull, declaring that he had vacated the pontificate. A citation was also issued ragraist Jerome of Prague. It is, however, easy to see, by the answer of the latter to the deputies, that his design was only to amuse the council, and thenceforward the fathers resolved to proceed against him as against a notorious heretic and schismatic.
Letters from the University of Paris to its deputies in the council, and others to the emperor, were read, in which both of the parties are exhorted to proceed firmly with. the matter of the union, notwithstanding the pope's absence.
In the interval between the sixth and seventh sessions disputes arose among the theologians as to the form in which the decree condemning the doctrines of Wycliffe should be drawn up; some wishing that this condemnation should be made in the name of the pope, with consent of the council, while others insisted upon the omission of the pope's name altogether. Daille was of the latter opinion, and he composed a treatise in support of his views: he maintained that the position of his adversaries was heretical, viz. that the council had no authority in itself, except through the pope, its head; for in that case, he urged, the Council of Pisa would have possessed no authority, not having been assembled by any pope; and if so, then the election of John himself would be invalid, since he succeeded Alexander V, who had been elected by the Council of Pisa. In the second place, he maintained that this very Council of Pisa was superior to the pope, from the fact that already two popes had been deposed by it; and that any other ecumenical council would possess the same power (Gerson, Op. 2:950).
In the seventh session (May 2) John was cited to appear in person with his adherents in the nine days, in order to justify himself with respect to the charges of heresy, schism, simony, and various other enormous crimes brought against him in case of refusal, they declared that they would proceed against him. It may be observed that John, after many removalls, had at this time settled at Brisac.
In this session the affair of Jerome of Prague was again discussed.
In the eighth session (May 4) the condemnation of Wycliffe's errors was proceeded with. The errors imputed to him were contained in forty-five articles or propositions. He is said in the first three to deny the doctrine of transubstantiation and a real corporal presence. In
4, to assert that a bishop or priest, in mortal sin, cannot perform the proper functions of his office.
6. That God is obliged to obey the devil.
8. That a bad pope has no power over the Church.
13. That they who hinder preaching will be held excommunicated by Christ until the last day.
16. That the temporal powers may, at will, take away the property of the Church.
18. That titles are merely charitable offerings, which may he denied to the bad ministers.
21. That all things happen by all absolute necessity.
28. That confirmation, ordination, and consecration of places have been reserved to the pope and to bishops solely for the sake of gain.
29. That universities, schools, etc., are mere vanities, which help the devil as much as they do the Church.
34. That all of the order of imendicants are heretics.
35. That no one entering into any order of religion can keep the divine precept, and therefore cannot attain to the kingdom of heaven.
37. That the Church of Rome is the synagoge of Satan.
38. That the decretals are apocryphal, and the clergy who study them fools.
39. That the emperor and secular princes who endowed the Church were seduced by the devil.
41. That it is not necessary to salvation to believe that the Roman Church is spread among all other churches.
42. That it is folly to put faith in the indulgences of popes and bishops.
44. That Augustine, Benedict, and Bernard are damned, unless they repented of having had property, and of having entered the religious state.
45. That all religions indifferently have been introduced by the devil. All of these forty-five articles, together with all the books written by him, were condemned, and his bones ordered to be dug up, and cast out of consecrated ground.
In the interval between sessions eight and nine, John XXIII was arrested at Fribourg.
In the ninth session (May 13) a proposition was received from the pope, offerinlg to send three cardinals to the council, to answer the charges brought against him; but the council rejected the offer. Two cardinals and five prelates were nominated to summon the pope thrice at the door of the church, and, as he did not appear, an act declaring this citation was drawn up. After this session the depositions of witnesses against him were taken; among the ten who came forward were bishops, abbots, and doctors.
On the following day, in the tenth session (May 14), the commissioners made their report of the depositions against the pope. After this, having been again cited thrice without appearing, the council proceeded to declare John XXIII convicted of the charges brought against him viz. of having brought scandal upon the Church by his corrupt life, and of having publicly been guilty of simony and as such, suspended from the exercise of any of the functions of the papal office, and from every administration, temporal or spiritual, with a prohibition, at the same time, to every Christian, of whatever rank or condition, against obeying him thenceforth directly or indirectly, under penalty of being punished as an abettor of schism. The accusations were contained under seventy heads, all well proved; but fifty only were read in the in the council (in the following session), relating chiefly to his simony, his worldly life, his vexations conduct, his false oaths, etc.; other things which decency required to be passed over in silence were suppressed. Sentence of suspension having been thus pronounced, messengers were sent to him to notify to him what the council had decreed. He did not in any way deny the justice of his sentence, and recognized the council as holy and infallible, and at the same time delivered up the seal, ring, and book of supplications, which they demanded of him, begging the council to take measures for his subsistence and honor.
In the eleventh session (May 25) the various heads of the accusation against John XXIII were read Jerome of Prague, who had endeavored to escape, was arrested, and thrown into prison. In the twelfth session (May 29) the sentence of deposition against John XXIII having been read, and unanimously approved, was definitively passed; at the same time, all the three competitors of the papacy were declared incapable of being elected again.
In the thirteenth session (June 15) a decree was made, in reply to a petition presented by the Hussites, upon the subject of the communion in both kinds, to this effect, that, although Jesus Christ instituted the holy sacrament of the eucharist after supper, under the two kinds of bread and wine, nevertheless, the use sanctioned by the Church is not to celebrate that sacrament after supper, nor even to permit the faithful to receive it otherwise than fasting, except in cases of sickness or other necessity; and that, secondly, although in the primitive Church this sacrament was received by the faithful in both kinds, yet, in after ages, the laity had been permitted to receive in one kind only, viz. the bread, and for this reason, because it ought to be most surely believed that the whole body and the whole blood of Jesus Christ is truly contained under the species of bread; that, therefore, the custom introduced by the Church must be regarded as a law, which may not be rejected or altered at the will of individuals, without the sanction of the Church; and that to maintain that this custom is sacrilegious or unlawful is an error, such that the obstinate perseverance in it deserves to be punished as heresy, and even with the secular arm, if necessary.
In the fourteenth session (July 4) several decrees were read: the first of which forbade to proceed to the election of a new pope, without the consent of the council; also the abdication of Gregory XII was received, being made in his name by Charles de Malatesta and cardinal Dominic. Pedro de Luna was called upon to do the same; but he steadily refused to the day of his death, which happened in 1424.
In the fifteenth session (July 6) the trial of Huss, who was brought before the council, was terminated. The promoters of the council demanded that the articles preached and taught by John Huss, in Bohemian and elsewhere, being heretical, seditious, deceitful, and offensive to pious ears, should be condemned by the council, and that the books from which they were extracted should be burned. Huss not being willing to retract, was condemned to be degraded and given over to the secular arm, and in the end was cruelly burned alive, on the 6th of July, 1415.
In the same session, the opinion of John Petit, a doctor of Paris, was condemned as heretical, scandalous, and reditious; he maintained that any individual had a right to take away the life of a tyrant, and that the deed was even meritorious; no sentence, however, was passed upon the author of this opinion, who was protected by the duke of Burgundy and other powerful friends. In the sixteenth and seventeenth sessions (July 11, 15) preparations were made for the departure of king Sigismund, who proposed to go in person to the king of Aragon, to induce him to renounce then cause of Pedro de Lunla.
In the eighteenth session (August 17) various decrees were made, one declaring the same credit and obedience to be due towards the bulls of the council as to those of the holy see.
In the nineteenth session (September 23) Jerome of Prague, terrified by the horrible end of Huss, was induced to make a recantation of the errors imputed to him. A declaration was also made, in which it was stated that, notwithstanding the safe conduct of kings, inquisition might always be made into the conduct of heretics. In the twentieth session (November 21) the differences between the bishop of Trent and duke Frederick of Austria were discussed. The twelve chapters of Narbonne, agreed upon between king Sigismund and the deputies of the council and the deputies of Benedict, were approved.
After the session, an assembly was held to consider the reformation of the Church, and the repression of simony. Also, in the interval between the twentieth and twenty-first sessions, several congregations were held. In one, the affair of John Petit was further discussed; in another, Jerome of Prague, whose retraction was suspected, being brought forward, boldly declared that he had not sincerely retracted, spoke of Huss as a saint, and proclaimed his entire adherence to his doctrine, and to that of Wycliffe.
In the twenty-first session (May 30, 1416) Jerome was again brought before the council, and revoking his forced retraction, spoke boldly in favor of his original opinions; sentence was then passed upon him, he was declared to be a relapsed heretic, was excommunicated and anathematized, a lastly, was handed over to the secular arm, and burned.
Measures were taken in the twenty-second session (October 15) to unite the Aragonese to the council, they having acknowledged Benedict XIII.
In the twenty-third session (November 5) the proceedings against Benedict XIII (Pedro de Luna) commenced, and he was definitively condemned in the thirty-seventh, when he was deposed, and declared to be a perjurer, and to have brought scandal upon the whole Church, etc.; and, as such, the council degraded and deposed him, deprived him of his dignities and offices, forbidding him thenceforward to consider himself as pope, and all Christian people to obey him, under pain of being dealt with as abettors of schism and heresy.
In the thirty-eighth session (July 28, 1417), the decree of the council, annulling all sentences and censures uttered by Benedict XIII against the ambassadors or allies of the king of Castile, was read.
In the thirty-ninth session (October 9) the question of Church reform was entered upon, and several decrees made, one of which declares the necessity of frequently holding councils, in order to check the progress of heresy and schism; and directs that another oecumenical council shall be held five years after the dissolution of the present; a third, seven years after the second; and after that, one every ten years, in a place appointed by the pope at the close of each council, with the approbation annelid consent of the council; in case of war or pestilence, the pope, with the concurrence of the cardinals, to have power to appoint, any other place, and to hasten, but not to retard, the time for assembling. Another decree provides for cases of schism, and orders that, when there shall be two claimants of the papal chair, a council shall be held in the very next year, and that both claimants shall suspend every administration until the council shall have commenced its sittings. The third decree relates to the profession of faith which the newly elected pope was to make in the presence of his electors; in it eight ecumenical councils are recognized, besides the general councils of Lateran, Lyons, and Vienne. A fourth decree is directed; against the translation of bishops.
In the fortieth session (October 30) a decree containing eighteen well- matured articles of reformation was proposed. It was there provided that the new pope, whom they were about speedily to elect, should labor to reform the Church, in its head and in its members, as well as the court of Rome, in concert with the council, or the national deputies. Its principal articles relate to the annals, the reserves of the apostolic see, the collations to benefices, land the expectatives; what clauses may or may not be carried to Rome; in what cases it is lawful to depose a pope, and how it can be done in the extirpation of simony, to dispensations, to indulgences, and to tithes.
The article upon the annals or first fruits was very warmly discussed by the cardinals and national deputies, but the latter finally declared that it was unnecessary to suppress them altogether, and chiefly for this reason, that whereas they had originally been but a voluntary offering to the Roman see, they had subsequently been made, under pretext of custom, an obligatory payment. In fact, we find no mention of anunates before the time of Clement V, who for three years imposed them upon England, but was opposed by the parliament. Boniface IX was the first who pretended to claim then as a right attached to the dignity of sovereign pontiff. Moreover, the taxing of benefices was pronounced a simoniacal exaction.
In the forty-first session (November 8) it was decreed, that, for this time alone, six prelates of different nations should be chosen within the space of tell days, in order to proceed to the election of the pope with the college of ordinals. Accordingly the electors held a conclave, and on November 11 after, cardinal Colonna was elected pope, and took the style of Martin V. After his coronation, the national deputies having required of him that he would labor to effect a reformation of the Church, he renewed his promise to do so.
In the forty-second session (December 28) the new pope presided, and the emperor was present. A bull was read, releasing the emperor from the custody of Balthasar, and ordering him to be delivered over to the pope. The national deputies presented to the pope a memorial on the subject of reform. Martin, troubled by their importunity, gave in a scheme of reformation, based upon the eighteen articles proposed in session — forty. Between this and the forty-third session the pope issued a bull confirming the acts, etc., of the Council of Constance. In the edition of liaguenau, A.D. 1500, this bull is regarded as the act of the council itself, whereas in other editions it appears to be the pope who approves and confirms the council. However this may be, the first article of this bull is worthy of remark, for in it Martin desires that any one suspected in the faith shall swear that he receives all the oecumenical councils, and especially that of Constance: which proves that the pope considered this council lawful and oecumenical, and as he desired that all the acts of this council should be received by all persons, he thereby approves that passed in the fifth session, which declares the superiority of the council to the pope.
In the forty-third session (March 21, 1418) decrees were published restraining the abuse of exemptions and dispensations, and condemning simony. The cannons relating to modesty of dress in ecclesiastics were renewed, but no other objects of reform were proposed besides those contained in the decree of the fortieth session, and of them six only were drawn up in this forty-third session. The reformation of the college of cardinals and of the court of Rome, which had been decreed by the council, was passed over without notice.
In the forty-fourth session (April 19) the pope, in order to satisfy the decree made in the thirty-ninth session, appointed Pavia for the meeting of the next council.
On April 22, 1418, the last session was held. After the celebration of high mass, the pope read a discourse to the council, which being ended, one of the cardinals, by order of the pope and council, dismissed the assembly with the words, "Go in peace." This council lasted three years and a half. See Labbe, Concil. 12:1-294.
Besides this most celebrated council, there are notices of other synods held at Constance, of which we give a brief account from Richard et Giraud, Bibliotheque Sacree, 8:118:
I. Held in 1044, at which Henry IV of Germany proclaimed a general peace (Labbe, 9; Hardouin, 6).
II. Convened in 1094, by Gebhard of Hirschau, bishop of Constance and legate of pope Urban II, on points of Church discipline, especially the incontinence of priests, simony, and fasting (Labbe, 10; Hardouin, 6).