Constance, Council of

Constance, Council of,

1414–18, council of the Roman Catholic Church, some of its sessions being reckoned as the 16th ecumenical council. It was summoned to end the Great Schism (see Schism, GreatSchism, Great,
or Schism of the West,
division in the Roman Catholic Church from 1378 to 1417. There was no question of faith or practice involved; the schism was a matter of persons and politics.
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), in which three men were claiming to be pope—Gregory XIIGregory XII,
c.1327–1417, pope (1406–15), a Venetian named Angelo Correr; successor of Innocent VII. As a condition of election, Gregory promised to do everything possible to end the Great Schism, including the relinquishing of his office.
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 (since recognized as canonical pope), John XXIII (see Cossa, BaldassareCossa, Baldassare
, c.1370–1419, Neapolitan churchman, antipope (1410–15; see Schism, Great) with the name John XXIII. He had a military career before entering the service of the church.
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), and Benedict XIII (see Luna, Pedro deLuna, Pedro de
, 1328?–1423?, Aragonese churchman, antipope (1394–1417) with the name Benedict XIII. He was a doctor of canon law and as cardinal (1375) became an outstanding member of the Curia Romana.
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). Reform of Christian life and extirpation of heresy were also aims of the convocation, which was called by John at the insistence of Holy Roman Emperor SigismundSigismund
, 1368–1437, Holy Roman emperor (1433–37), German king (1410–37), king of Hungary (1387–1437) and of Bohemia (1419–37), elector of Brandenburg (1376–1415), son of Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV.
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. Sigismund chose Konstanz (Constance), an imperial city, as the meeting place. Church theologians tend to regard as ecumenical in character only those sessions of the council meeting after the convocation by Gregory XII, or the sessions following the election of Martin V.

During the council enormous crowds visited the city; there was much pageantry. The first session was in Nov., 1414; the 45th and last was on Apr. 22, 1418. The council was dominated by theologians, especially French, who held the conciliar theory (i.e., that councils held supreme power in the church and that even the pope was subject to their edicts) that had appeared at the Council of Pisa (see Pisa, Council ofPisa, Council of,
1409, unrecognized council of the Roman Catholic Church. It was summoned to end the Great Schism (see Schism, Great) by members of the colleges of cardinals of the two rivals, Gregory XII (in Rome) and Benedict XIII (Pedro de Luna, in Avignon).
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). The conciliarists John GersonGerson, John
(Jean Charlier de Gerson) , 1363–1429, French ecclesiastical statesman and writer. He studied (1377–94) under Pierre d'Ailly at the Univ. of Paris, where he took his doctorate in theology and succeeded Ailly as chancellor (1395).
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 and Pierre d'AillyAilly, Pierre d'
, 1350–1420, French theologian and writer, cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church. He was the teacher of John Gerson and was Gerson's predecessor as chancellor of the Univ. of Paris (1385–95).
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 were among the figures prominent at the council. Instead of the traditional assembly of bishops, the council was organized as a convention of nations (German, Italian, French, and English; the Spanish entered later), each nation having one vote. The decisions were made in caucuses of the nations between sessions.

The convention declared in the Articles of Constance (Apr. 6, 1415) that it was an ecumenical council and supreme in the church. Next it declared John deposed (May 29, 1415). Gregory XII, meanwhile, sent legates with a formal decree to convene a council; this was accepted by the convention, which then ceremonially declared the council convened; at the same time Gregory resigned the papacy (July 4, 1415). Benedict provided a hard problem; he would abdicate only if allowed to name his successor. At last, after a trial held in his absence, he was deposed (July 26, 1417). This ended the schism.

An elaborate method of electing the new pope was adopted, and the conclave soon agreed on Martin VMartin V,
1368–1431, pope (1417–31), a Roman named Oddone Colonna; successor of Gregory XII. He was created cardinal by Innocent VII, and in the schism (see Schism, Great) he attended and supported the decisions of the Council of Pisa (see Pisa, Council of).
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 (Nov. 11, 1417). The council, however, had already provided a plan to perpetuate its rule over the church by calling for frequent councils; furthermore, the modest reforms enacted by the council seemed designed to limit the pope's power of taxation and to protect the interests of the national clergy. Martin agreed to all enactments of the council—except, Catholic theologians argue, the council's extreme claim to supremacy—and signed concordats embodying these reforms with Germany, England, and the Latin countries. John HussHuss, John
, Czech Jan Hus , 1369?–1415, Czech religious reformer. Early Life

Of peasant origin, he was born in Husinec, Bohemia (from which his name is derived). He studied theology at the Univ. of Prague, was ordained a priest c.
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 and Jerome of PragueJerome of Prague,
c.1370–1416, Bohemian religious reformer. During his studies at Prague and at Oxford, Jerome was influenced by the doctrinal views of John Wyclif. He continued to study and travel widely abroad, in constant conflict with the authorities.
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 were tried and burned at the stake for heresy. St. Bridget of Sweden was canonized.


See E. F. Jacob, Essays in the Conciliar Epoch (rev. ed. 1963); L. R. Loomis, The Council of Constance (1961).

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Constance, Council of


a world council of the Catholic Church that lasted from 1414 to 1418 in the city of Constance, Germany.

The council was called by Pope John XXIII (under pressure from the Emperor Sigismund I and high church circles) to liquidate the Great Schism and reform the church. Besides the clergy, the council was attended by secular feudal lords, including the Emperor Sigismund. The council put an end to the schism—the three claimants to the papal throne were all ousted (Gregory XII abdicated and John XXIII and Benedict XIII were deposed), and a new pope, Martin V, was elected. The council proclaimed the necessity of convening church councils regularly and enunciated the principle of the supremacy of a council over the pope, but these decisions were not subsequently realized. The council condemned the teachings of J. Wycliffe and J. Hus. Although he had been given a charter of immunity by the Emperor Sigismund, Hus was burned in Constance on July 6, 1415. A year later, the same fate befell Hus’ associate, Jerome of Prague, who was condemned by the same council.

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