Council of Basel (1431 - 1449)


BASEL, Council of, Aug. 27, 1431 - May 7, 1449. The Pope, Martin V., had succeeded in dissolving the Council of Siena (July 2, 1423 - March 7, 1424) before it had got fairly to work. In spite of this disappointment, the demand for a new council convened outside of Italy became louder and louder, especially at the courts and in the universities; and political troubles finally determined Martin V. to issue a bull convoking an ecumenical council at Basel. He died shortly after: but his successor, Eugene IV., was compelled to confirm the bull; and Aug. 27, 1431, the council was opened by Johannes Palomar and Johannes of Ragusa. So little confidence, however, had people in the sincerity of the papal government, that only a very small number of prelates accepted the invitation; and it was not until Cardinal Cesarini had arrived, accompanied by Nicolaus Cusanus, and the Roman king, Sigismund, sent a protector in the name of the realm, that the interest became serious and general. The order of business on which the assembly agreed Sept. 26, 1431, was good. The old grouping of the members according to nationality was discarded; and four committees were formed, on matters of faith, political affairs, ecclesiastical reforms, and general business. These committees discussed separately; and the agreement of three of them was necessary to bring a question before a general session, over which Cardinal Cesarini presided, and make it a decree of the council. As soon, however, as the assembly was fairly constituted, and began to work, the papal government felt that it was a power, and a hostile power. The Pope was afraid, and Dec. 18, 1431, he sent a bull to Cardinal Cesarini dissolving the assembly. The Council protested, declaring that the Pope had no power to do such a thing. April 29, 1432, the Pope and his cardinals were invited to come to the council. Sept. 6, when they had not come, a process was instituted against them for contumacy; and the deposition of Eugene IV. would probably have followed very quickly, but for the mediation of the Emperor Sigismund, who had arrived at Basel on Oct. 11.

I’he three great questions which the Council had to solve were the Bohemian heresy, the ecclesiastical reform, and the reconciliation between the Greek and the Roman churches. Jan. 1433, Procopius, Rokyczana, etc., rode into Basel; and their proud and fierce mien overawed not only the council, but the city itself. By the unexpected affability and blandness of the cardinals, a kind of reconciliation was brought about. The use of the cup in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper was granted. With respect to the question of ecclesiastical reform, the cardinals were not so ready to make concessions. But it must not be overlooked, that the measures which the Council proposed June, 1435, were dictated by to the curia, rather than by enthusiasm for the church. The concubinate of the priests, the which prevailed in the monasteries, the lion of the frivolous dramatic representations in the churches, and other questions of a purely moral bearing, were evidently not treated with the same zeal as those relating to the financial and political position of the Pope and the curia, - the annates, the pallium-money, the tax on the papal confirmation of ecclesiastical promotion, the judicial authority of the Pope, etc. The Pope, the cardinals, and the whole army of officials which lived in Rome on revenues derived in this way, felt their very existence threatened, and off ered the most determined resistance. Finally the question of the union of the Greek and Roman Church brought about a complete breach. John Palmologus had addressed himself to both the Pope and to the Council, and both wished to treat the ease separately and independently. Political interests of considerable importance were mixed up with the question; and the passions at last grew so hot, that in the session of March 7, 1437, the fathers of the council were prevented from coming to blows only by the interference of the burghers of the city. Cardinal Cesarini and the whole papal party now left the assembly, which from this moment fell under the sway of Cardinal Louis d’Allemand, Archbishop of Aries, - one of Rome’s bitterest enemies, - and became more and more democratic and tumultuous.

In July, 1437, the process against Eugene IV. was re-opened. Jan. 24, 1438, he was suspended, and June 25, 1439, he was deposed. Nov. 5, same year, his successor was elected, Felix V., who took up his residence at Lausanne. The difficulty, however, was to enforce these acts. Eugene IV., who designated the Fathers assembled at Basel as a band belonging to Satan, convened a counter- council at Ferrara, at which the Emperor and the Patriarch of Constantinople were present. In France, the synod of Bourges (1438) incorporated the decrees of the Council of Basel with the laws of the kingdom, the so-called pragmatical sanction; but the King himself, Charles VII., still acknowledged Eugene IV. as the true successor of Peter. Germany followed in the same track, though without binding itself by any formal acknowledgment of either the Council of Basel or Eugene IV. Felix V. was not recognized by any but the Swiss, and the Duke of Bavaria. His overtures to Friedrich III. entirely failed In course of time it became apparent that the contest between the Council and the Pope would be decided by Germany; and Eugene IV. proved to be a better diplomate than the Fathers at Basel. He bribed the chancellor of the empire, Schlick, and the secretary, .Æneas Sylvius, and on Feb. 7, 1447, Germany declared for Eugene. Rome was victorious. Felix V. resigned; and, when Eugene IV. shortly after died, the Council recognized his successor Nicolas V., and decreed its own dissolution, April 25, 1449, thereby making it almost evident that a reform of the church in the way of peaceable development was an impossibility.

G. Voigt, "BASEL, Council of," Philip Schaff, ed., A Religious Encyclopaedia or Dictionary of Biblical, Historical, Doctrinal, and Practical Theology, 3rd edn, Vol. 1. Toronto, New York & London: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1894. p.219.

Primary Sources

Book or monograph C.M.D. Crowder, Unity, Heresy and Reform, 1378-1460. The Conciliar Response to the Great Schism. E. Arnold, 1977. Pbk. ISBN: 0713159421. []

Secondary Sources

Book or monograph Anthony J. Black, Council and Commune: The Conciliar Movement and the Fifteenth Century Heritage: The Conciliar Movement and the Council of Basle. London: Burns & Oates, 1979. Hbk. ISBN: 0860120775. pp.279. {}
Book or monograph Gerald Christianson, Cesarini: The Conciliar Cardinal. The Basel Years, 1431-1438. Kirchengeschichtliche Quellen und Studien, 10. EOS-Verlag, 1979. ISBN: 880960747. pp.214. {}
Article in Journal or Book E.F. Jacob, "The Bohemians at the Council of Basel," R.W. Seton-Watson, ed., Prague Essays. Oxford, 1948. ISBN: 0836900308. pp.81-123. {}
Article in Journal or Book A.N.E.D. Schofield, "The First English Delegation to the Council of Basel," The Journal of Ecclesiastical History 12.2 (1961): 167-196.
Book or monograph Joachim W. Stieber, Pope Eugenius IV, the Council of Basel and the Secular and Ecclesiastical Authorities in the Empire. Studies in the History of Christian Thought, 13. Leiden: Brill, 1978. ISBN: 9004052402. pp.514. {}
On-line Resource Council of Basel 1431-45 A.D. (Norman P. Tanner)
Book or monograph Tanner: The Councils of the Church: A Short HistoryNorman P Tanner, The Councils of the Church: A Short History. The Crossroad Publishing Company, 2001. Pbk. ISBN: 0824519043. pp.144. {}

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