Council of Constance (1414-1418)

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CONSTANCE, The Council of, sat from Nov. 5, 1414, to April 22, 1418, and was the second of those three councils, which, during the fifteenth century, were convened for the purpose of reforming the Church, head and members; that of Pisa being the first, that of Basel the last. It was called by Pope John XXIII. and the Emperor Sigismund; and its three great objects were to heal the papal schism, to examine the heresy of Hus and the religious disturbances thereby caused in Bohemia, and to carry through a general reform of the Church. It was attended by twenty-nine cardinals, three patriarchs, thirty-three archibishops, about one hundred and fifty bishops, more than one hundred abbots, more than five hundred monks of different orders, and a similar number of professors and doctors of theology and canon law, besides princes, noblemen, ambassadors, etc. The Pope was also present. lie rode into the city on Oct. 28, with great magnificence, sixteen hundred horses carrying his retinue and luggage. The emperor arrived on Christmas Eve; but he had only one thousand horses in his train. The total number of visitors to the city during the council is computed, at the lowest rate, at fifty thousand; but of these, more than one-third were mountebanks, money-lenders, strolling actors, and prostitutes. The most prominent and most influential members of the council were Pierre d’Ailly and his pupil Gerson.

The Council of Pisa (1409) had attempted to put an end to the schism by deposing both Gregory XII. (Angelo Corraro), who resided in Rome, and Benedict XIII. (Petro de Luna), who resided at Avignon, and electing in their stead Alexander V. But the result was simply, that there now were three popes instead of two; and the confusion continued unabated, when, after the death pf Alexander V. (in 1410), the leaders of the Pisan council elected John XXIII. (Balthasar Cossa). All the three popes were invited to Constance, but only John was present in person. lie was a dissipated and unprincipled rascal, ready at any time for any crime; but he was courageous, shrewd, inexhaustible in shifts and intrigues, and equal to any emergency. He hoped to lord it over the council by means of the very great number of Italian prelates, who, mostly dependent upon him, accompanied him to Constance. But in this he failed. The order of business adopted by the coimcil was that of working and voting by nations; and in the plenary sessions the Italian nation, though ever so heavily represented, had, of course, only one vote beside the four other nations, - the German, French, English, and Spanish. He now endeavored to urge upon the assembly the view that the Council of Constance was nothing but a simple continuation of that of Pisa, which had formally condemned his two rivals, and, indirectly at least, legitimized his own election. But in this, too, he failed; and the party of Pierre d’Ailly finally succeeded in carrying a motion that all the three popes should be compelled to abdicate, and a new papal election take place. John abdicated in the hope of being re-elected; but he soon became aware of his mistake, fled in the disguise of a groom, protested, was caught, and was finally brought to acquiesce in the decisions of the council. Tn its fifth plenary session (April 6, 1415), the assembly agreed that an cecumenical council, legally convened, and fully representative of the Church, has its power directly from Christ, and its decrees are consequently obligatory on all, even on the Pope. May 29, 1415, John XXIII. was deposed; .July 4, 1415, Gregory XII. voluntarily abdicated; July 26, 1417, Benedict XIII. was deposed; and Nov. 11, 1417, Cardinal Odo Colonna was elected Pope, and assumed the name of Martin V., who closed the council April 22, 1418, at its forty-fifth session.

The Bohemian affairs were treated with great thoroughness; for Hus was burnt July 6, 1415, and Jerome of Prague, May 30, 1416. But a final settlement was not arrived at, still less a satisfactory one. It was the school-wisdom of the university which here overwhelnied and tried to crush the free evangelical movement of popular life. Still more conspicuously the council failed in its reform plans. A collegium reformatori urn was formed in August, 1415; but characteristically enough for the whole situation, when Cardinal Zabarella read aloud to the assembly the decree of April 16, 1415, he wilfully left out the passage it contained on the power of the council to undertake reforms in the Church. It was the lower clergy, the monks, the doctors, and professors, led by Pierre d’Ailly and Gerson, and supported by the emperor, who demanded reforms. But the abuses in which reforms were necessary - such as the appeals to the Pope and the papal procedure, the administration of vacant benefices, and the giving in commendam, simony, dispensations, indulgences, etc. - were the very sources from which the Pope, the cardinals, and the huge swarm of ecclesiastical officials in Rome, drew their principal revenues. In fighting against reforms, the cardinals fought pro aris et focis, and they proved unconquerable. The emperor wished the question of reform discussed and decided before the election of a new Pope; but the cardinals declared that the worst ailing of the Church was its lack of a head; and, when Martin V. was elected, he understood how to bury away the whole affair quietly and smoothly, by grave hesitations and cautious procrastinations.

G. Voigt, "CONSTANCE, The 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. pp. 544-545.

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. pp.212.
Book or monograph Louise R. Loomis, John H. Moody & Kennerly M. Woody, translator & eds. The Council of Constance. The Unification of the Church. Records of Civilisation. Sources and Studies, 63. New York: Columbia Unicersity Press, 1961. Hbk. ISBN: 0231021372.

Secondary Sources

Article in Journal or Book C.M.D. Crowder, "Correspondence between England and the Council of Constance, 1414--18," C.W. Dugmore & Charles Duggan, eds., Studies in Church History, Volume 1. Papers read at the first winter and summer meetings of the Ecclesiastical History Society. London: Thomas Nelson and SOns Ltd., 1964. Hbk. pp.184-206.
Sign-up to Perlego and access book instantly Logan: A History of the Church in the Middle AgesF. Donald Logan, A History of the Church in the Middle Ages. London & New York: Routledge, 2002. Pbk. ISBN: 0415132894. pp.336. [Sign-up to Perlego and access book instantly]
On-line Resource Council of Constance (Thomas J. Shehan)
Book or monograph Phillip H. Stump, The Reforms of the Council of Constance (1414-1418). Leiden: Brill, 1994. ISBN: 9004099301. pp.466.
On-line Resource Council of Constance 1414-18 (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.

Related Subjects

Councils & Creeds | Apostle's Creed | Chalcedon | Constantnople I | Ephesus | Nicaea

Constantinople II | Whitby | Constantinople III | Nicea II | Constantinople IV | Worms | Lateran I | Lateran II | Lateran III | Lateran IV | Lyons I | Lyons II | Vienne | Pisa | Constance | Basel | Florence

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