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That the Council of Constance met was due in the first place to a widespread desire that it should meet. Without such a desire no summons, however authoritative and peremptory, would have given rise to such an assembly. But public opinion on the matter might have remained ineffective for years had it not been for the initiative of the King of the Romans. One need not look too closely into Sigismund’s motives. No doubt he expected that much political advantage might be gained by an adroit manipulation of a Council’s proceedings. No doubt he thought of the prestige which would be his if a Council, summoned at his instance and sitting under his protection, were to end the Schism and accomplish a serious reform of ecclesiastical abuses. No doubt, too, he was concerned for the good estate of the Christian Church. Judge him as we may, he wanted a Council, and when, early in the summer of 1413, it became evident that the abortive Council of Rome would never re-assemble, he seized the opportunity to secure the meeting of a new one on German soil.

Much inferior to Sigismund in influence, yet not to be passed over as promoters of the Council, were the Italian potentates, Carlo Malatesta of Rimini and Ladislas, King of Naples. Malatesta, a great pillar of the cause of Gregory XII, had been an advocate of the cession of all three Popes, but, convinced that the plan was impracticable, he became an advocate of the Council. As for Ladislas, no one would suspect him of a concern for the good of Christendom or even the unity of the Church, but his services to the conciliar party, though unintentional, were nevertheless great. The reconciliation effected in 1412 between him and Pope John XXIII did not last long. In the early summer of 1413 he invaded the Papal States, and on 7 June his troops entered Rome, whence Pope and Curia departed in confused flight. John took refuge first in Florence, then in Bologna. Even there he felt unsafe, and in his alarm and despondency he turned to Sigismund, who was in North Italy pursuing his designs against Milan. The price of Sigismund’s support, he well knew, was the summons of a General Council; but he counted on holding it in a place where his influence would be strong enough to render it harmless. Unfortunately for himself, he allowed too wide a discretion to the envoys who on his behalf met Sigismund at Como in October 1413. They seem to have been carried away by the vigour and address of the king, who knew exactly what he wanted; and in John’s name they agreed that the Council should meet at the imperial city of Constance on 1 November 1414.

Before the Pope had heard of the agreement, Sigismund published it and addressed invitations to John XXIII’s two rivals and all Christian princes and prelates. Within the next weeks Sigismund and John met more than once on outwardly amicable terms; but the king refused to modify the arrangement, and on 9 December the Pope issued bulls convoking the Council according to its conditions. He also tried to placate the king by giving him a large and much-needed sum of money.

For some time, however, the king’s zeal for the Council remained far more evident than the Pope’s. It was again Ladislas who overcame John’s obduracy. In March 1414 he once more occupied Rome, whence he advanced northward. John XXIII began to make active preparations for his journey to Germany, to take steps to raise the necessary funds, and to urge the French and English to participate in the Council. The Pope’s vigour, however, slackened when Florence made with Ladislas a treaty which halted his march, and ceased altogether when on 6 August he died. Rome soon went back to papal allegiance, and John, there is no doubt, would have liked to return thither. But the death of the King of Naples had come just too late. All over western Europe preparations for the Council were afoot, and the reform party was eager for action. The cardinals recognised that for John to go back on his word would mean ruin for him and perhaps for them. They held him to his undertakings, and on 1 October he reluctantly set out from Bologna to fulfil them. On his journey he met Frederick of Habsburg, Count of Tyrol, and appointed him captain-general of the papal troops at a salary of 6000 florins, while Frederick promised to protect the Pope while he was in Constance, or if he decided to leave it. John made his solemn entry into the city, on 28 October, with the feeling that he was walking into a trap.

It must not be forgotten that there were three rival Popes, and that many people, including Sigismund, were disposed to treat them all alike. At first Gregory XII refused to countenance a gathering summoned by a usurper of the Holy See, though he protested that he would have recognised one convoked by representatives of all three Popes, or even by Sigismund alone. Soon, however, he had to weaken. His chief supporter in Germany, Lewis Count Palatine of the Rhine, wished to take part, and eventually, probably under pressure from Malatesta, Gregory decided to send two envoys.

Benedict XIII, every one knew, would recognise the Council only in the last extremity. Envoys from Sigismund and France went to Spain in the summer of 1414, and at Morelia, near the border of Catalonia and Valencia, took part in a series of conferences with the Pope, numerous clergy of his obedience, members of the royal family of Aragon, and envoys from Castile. But they could gain nothing more than an undertaking by Benedict to meet Sigismund next spring at Villefranche, near Nice, where the question of union might be discussed.

On 5 November 1414 Pope John XXIII officially opened the Council of Constance. On 16 November the first formal General Session was held in the cathedral. John Hus had arrived on the 3rd, but Sigismund did not appear till Christmas Eve. Most of the other members of the Council displayed true medieval unpunctuality, and very little business could be done before the end of the year. Among those present, however, there was much informal discussion, which helped to clear the way for the treatment of hard questions later on.

The Council of Constance proved to be larger in size and longer in duration than any ecclesiastical assembly that had hitherto met. It was as if the medieval Church, powerless to avert decay and disruption, had been granted a last opportunity of displaying in a living pageant the extent of its dominion and the catholicity of its interests. Every country in Europe was concerned in the Council’s proceedings. Every problem of the time, religious or political, attracted its notice or affected its fortunes. The failure of the Council to achieve many parts of its task must not spoil our appreciation of the marvel that such a gathering should have assembled, deliberated for three years and a half, and separated without losing its dignity or self-respect. When at its largest, the Council included three patriarchs, twenty-nine cardinals, thirty-three archbishops, one hundred and fifty bishops, more than a hundred abbots, about fifty provosts and deans, and some three hundred other doctors. While these figures were based on a careful computation, it is wise to be sceptical of contemporary estimates of the total number of strangers in the city, the most modest of which is forty thousand. It cannot, however, be doubted that the concourse was huge, several times greater than the normal population, at most six thousand. For the assemblage was more than a deliberative and legislative Council of the Church. The business of the Curia must be carried on, and its comparative accessibility attracted to it from northern Europe crowds of benefice-hunters and privilege-seekers. Sigismund had announced, too, that he would transact imperial business at Constance, and thus drew thither many who did not even pretend an interest in ecclesiastical affairs. Many of those present, clerical and lay, treated the Council as an occasion for unwonted self-indulgence; and their demands were met by hosts of craftsmen, pedlars, minstrels, and prostitutes. All things considered, it is astonishing that there was so little open disorder in the place, that after the first winter there was no serious apprehension of a dearth of food, and that it was possible to arrange with the civic authorities a tariff of maximum prices for food and lodging, which was not only enforced but seems to have given general satisfaction. There was evidently high organising ability among both the officials of the Council and the magistrates of the city.

The case of John Hus was the only business on which real progress was made before the end of the year. He was arrested on 28 November, and on 4 December a commission was appointed to deal with him. The career, trial, and fate of Hus are treated elsewhere in this volume, and need be touched upon here only in so far as they affected other issues before the Council. It should be remembered, in fact, that while the proceedings against Hus were of supreme interest to the Bohemians and of deep concern to many Germans, and while to Protestant historians of later times they seemed more momentous than any other episodes of the Council, they were hardly of the first importance to the majority of those present. There was at Constance no desire to alter the Faith, and in general estimation Hus was a reckless agitator who must undergo condign punishment, if it were proved that he obstinately denied Catholic doctrine. A criminal case like this, even though the accused might be a man of unusual ability and influence, seemed trivial compared with the problems raised by the Schism and the need of reform.

When the Council began, nine members out of ten were thinking mainly of the restoration of union. The failure of the Council of Pisa had caused widespread fear lest the schism in the West might prove as incurable as that of the Greeks. Desperate remedies were being discussed, and the character and conduct of John XXIII had impaired the loyalty of many of his supporters. Unfortunately for the Pope, the Italians, who were mostly faithful to him, tried to use their temporary majority in the Council to secure him from future attack. They urged that the decrees of Pisa should be confirmed, that measures should be taken for the meeting of a General Council every twenty-five years, and that, having transacted this business, the Council might be dissolved. This hardy suggestion brought into the field the Conciliar Party, headed by Cardinals d’Ailly and Fillastre, who gained the sympathy of Sigismund soon after his arrival. It was urged by them in speech and writing that those who advocated a premature dissolution were under suspicion of heresy, that the Council was superior to the Pope, especially in matters of faith, that the three rival Popes should resign, and that, if John refused, the Council might depose him. During December and January such views met with great and growing approval. John’s apprehension was increased by the Council’s resolve to receive the envoys of Benedict and of Gregory. Those of the former, indeed, simply reiterated their master’s willingness to confer with Sigismund; but an excellent impression was made by Gregory’s representatives, who said that he would resign if his rivals would, and that his supporters consented to deliberate with the Council on reform, union, and other business, though they did not pledge themselves to accept its decrees.

The numbers of the Council were now rapidly increasing. The French were at last able to influence the course of affairs, and late in January there arrived the English deputation. The question of procedure had to be solved. Hitherto there had been but one formal session of the whole Council. In the transaction of such business as had been accomplished a rough division into “nations” seems to have been followed, but the Council was not bound to this arrangement. The papal party, hoping to turn the situation to their advantage, proposed that voting should be by heads and that only bishops and abbots might vote, a suggestion which would have given an assured predominance to the Italians. D’Ailly and Fillastre, while advocating a much wider franchise, agreed that heads should be counted; but the Germans and the English demanded that each “nation” should constitute a voting unit, the French acceded to their views, and the Italians perforce gave way. The scheme was apparently adopted without any formal decree, and each nation seems to have decided who might share and vote in its deliberations. As a rule, it seems, they admitted all prelates and university graduates in theology and law, together with such representatives of secular authorities as were in holy orders. When all four “nations”—Italian, French, German, and English—had made up their minds on an issue, it was laid before the whole Council, and the decision reached was confirmed. This manner of doing business was unfavourable to the cause of John XXIII and also, as the event shewed, to the plans of the reform party.

Defeated on the question of procedure, John began to waver. After an offer to resign on conditions which the Council could not possibly accept, he went so far as to declare, on 2 March, that he would abdicate if in the Councils opinion such action would give union to the Church. Unluckily for him, however, the embassy of the King of France arrived at this juncture, and their expressions of devotion deluded him into believing that they would prove unfaltering supporters. At the same time the Council was sharply divided in opinion as to the powers which should be bestowed on the mission which was to negotiate with Benedict XIII. John thought that it would take little to plunge the Council into chaos. On 20 March he assured Sigismund that he would rather die than desert it, and that night he left Constance disguised as a groom, making his way to Schaffhausen, where, according to plan, he was joined by Frederick of Habsburg.

In messages to the Council John used fair words, pretending that he had left for reasons of health; but it was soon known that in letters to the King and princes of France he was denouncing the Council bitterly. A few days later, indeed, he cast off pretence by fleeing to Laufenburg and retracting all the promises made by him at Constance. He had grievously miscalculated, for the effect of his escape was to make the Council almost unanimous against him. The cardinals tried in vain to moderate its implacability. Whatever may be thought of the principles on which it based its doings, there is no denying that it acted with great dignity and effectiveness. With the enthusiastic concurrence of the French, German, and English “nations”, a series of vital decrees was passed, culminating in those of the Fifth General Session, held on 6 April. The Council of Constance, it was resolved, held its power immediately of Christ, and everyone, even the Pope, must obey it in matters concerning the Faith, the extinction of schism, and the reform of the Church in head and members. Whosoever should refuse to conform to the decrees of this or any other General Council rendered himself liable to punishment. It was also decreed that the Pope was bound to abdicate if and when, in the opinion of the Council, it was in the interest of the Church that he should do so. John XXIII was summoned to return, and threatened, in the event of refusal, with proceedings as a promoter of schism and heresy.

Meanwhile Sigismund had been taking military measures against Frederick of Habsburg. They caused John, now deserted by most of his cardinals, to flee to Freiburg-im-Breisgau, whence he made frantic efforts to cross the Rhine in the hope of gaining protection from the Duke of Burgundy. Frederick, however, lost heart, and constrained the Pope to meet a deputation from the Council at Freiburg, where on 28 April, in terms prescribed by the Council, he appointed plenipotentiaries to resign on his behalf, stipulating nevertheless that he was to retain the title of cardinal, receive the office of papal vicar, and exercise papal authority throughout Italy. Again he had misconstrued the situation. Frederick had already surrendered, and the Council had agreed to take judicial action against the Pope, who on 2 May was summoned to answer charges of heresy, simony, misuse of the Church’s goods, and moral turpitude. Three days later, Frederick publicly and ceremoniously humiliated himself before Sigismund, to whom he handed over all his lands, promising to have John brought back to Constance.

On 13 May a commission of thirteen was appointed to collect evidence on the charges against the Pope. A long list of accusations was hurriedly made, and even before it was complete the questioning of witnesses began. This initial inquiry was “summary”, its purpose being to establish a prima facie case against John’s official conduct and private life. Next day the Council felt warranted in decreeing his suspension from office.

Feeling against the shifty and obstinate Pope arose yet higher when on 15 May there was read a bull of Gregory XII, in which he declared himself ready to abdicate and to recognise the Council, provided that John XXIII did not attend. Next day there began the detailed investigation of John’s case. Some seventy articles, unsystematically arranged and hastily drafted, were laid to his charge. The Pope, it was alleged, had been a naughty boy. His subsequent advancement was due wholly to corruption. He was guilty —many particulars are given—of simony and fraud of every kind both before and after his election to the Holy See. He had betrayed Rome to Ladislas. His attempts to frustrate the Council had been caused by a desire to prolong the Schism. He was guilty of fornication, adultery, incest, and sodomy, had poisoned Pope Alexander V and his physician, and had denied the immortality of the soul. When medieval man threw mud, he did so generously, and standing by themselves the accusations would not carry much weight. But (though the witnesses were not subject to cross-examination) the report of the evidence gives on the whole a favourable impression of the sincerity and fairness of those who bore testimony. We have altogether reports of the evidence of thirty-nine, of whom six were cardinals and seven bishops—personages of weight and responsibility—while many were officials of the Curia, who ran some risk in telling tales of their master. Some of those examined were obviously reluctant to testify at all. Most of the witnesses state, with reference to each count on which they were questioned, whether they are speaking from personal knowledge or repeating hearsay. Only in one or two cases is there any indication of personal hostility to the Pope. The inquiry was careful and thorough, and took in all more than eight days.

Meanwhile, Frederick of Hohenzollern, at the head of a deputation from the Council, had arrested John XXIII and imprisoned him at Radolfzell. The Pope was lachrymose and submissive, and on hearing of his suspension declared that he bowed to the Council’s judgment. But the Council was unrelenting. At its eleventh General Session, on 25 May, the Cardinal of Viviers (Ostia) presiding and fifteen other cardinals and the King of the Romans being present, a report of the commission of inquiry was read, and fifty-four of the accusations were recited and declared to have been proved. Now that we know something of the evidence on which this judgment was based, no candid historian can apply even the thinnest coat of whitewash to John XXIII. Yet one cannot but feel a little sorry for him. He was a bad man. But his misdoings were notorious when he was elected, and he had grown no worse since. He had a just grievance against the cardinals who failed him in his adversity. Both d’Ailly and Fillastre had accepted the cardinal’s hat at his hands.

On hearing the result of the inquisition, John merely repeated that he submitted himself wholly to the Council. On 29 May, at the twelfth General Session, the Council formally declared that his flight had been prejudicial to the peace and union of the Church, that he was a notorious simoniac, that he had wasted ecclesiastical property, and that by his abominable life he had scandalised the Church of God and proved himself incorrigible. His deposition was solemnly pronounced, and was ratified by him two days later.

John was taken to Gottlieben castle, where he was kept under the surveillance of the Elector Palatine. He was soon removed to Heidelberg. In 1416, on the discovery of a plot for his escape, he was transferred to Mannheim. There he stayed until the close of the Council.

During the month following the Pope’s deposition, John Hus was perhaps the main centre of interest at Constance. But on 15 June there arrived Carlo Malatesta, accredited to Sigismund and empowered to resign the Papacy on behalf of Gregory XII. He behaved with scrupulous correctness, negotiating amicably with the four “nations” but refraining from any recognition of the validity of the Council. All went well; and at the fourteenth General Session, on 4 July, Malatesta and Cardinal Dominici of Ragusa, one of Gregory’s representatives, summoned as a General Council the assembly gathered at Constance at the bidding of Sigismund. Dominici joined the other cardinals, and it was decreed that the election of a new Pope should be made only with the assent of the Council, who should decide how, when, and where it should be conducted, that no one should leave before the new Pope was chosen, that Gregory’s decrees were to be held valid, and that he and his cardinals were to form part of the Sacred College. Malatesta then announced Gregory’s resignation. The Council named him legate of Ancona, and he lived quietly till his death in 1417. The selfish stubbornness which he had long shown was somewhat compensated by the dignity and graciousness with which he finally accepted the inevitable.

Two days after the abdication of Gregory, Hus was burned, and the teaching ascribed to Jean Petit on what was miscalled “tyrannicide” was condemned in general terms. The most pressing business was now the elimination of Benedict XIII. Accordingly, on 18 July, Sigismund, with twelve delegates from the Council, set out for Nice.

So far, from its own standpoint, the Council had not done badly. Substantial progress towards ending the Schism had been made. The execution of Hus, it was believed, was a deadly blow at heresy. And the Council’s work had been done, considering its nature, with singularly little controversy. It was confident and zealous. 

As the event showed, it had really reached the height of its prosperity and success. Sigismund was away for eighteen months. He had asked that nothing of the first consequence should be decided in his absence and his wishes could not be ignored. Even had he returned quickly’ however, the Council’s activities would have been narrowly restricted, for it could do little towards union or reform until the countries in Benedict’s obedience sent representatives to the Council. And that they were slow to do.

Though the Council attempted to prepare the ground for effective reforming measures, the truth is that for many months it hardly had enough proper work to do. In the circumstances, it is not to be greatly blamed for allowing itself to be diverted to business with which it was not fitted to deal. For instance, in its distrust of the cardinals, the Council tried to take the place and perform the functions of the Papacy. It was a task unsuited to a great deliberative body; and the minds of many of the Council’s members were diverted from their lawful concerns It was still more unfortunate that the Council should have entertained highly controversial questions with which it really had no concern; the passions thus generated impaired the unity which at best was maintained with difficulty.

The Council’s task was rendered harder by changes in the political situation of western Europe during Sigismund’s absence. In August 1415 Henry V landed in Normandy. Relations between Armagnacs and Burgundians soon began to deteriorate again after a temporary improvement From the spring of 1416 Sigismund was in Armagnac eyes an unfriendly neutral, who soon became a bitter and dangerous enemy. All the fighting, hatred, and malice among the potentates of Europe had their repercussions at Constance; and only if enthusiasm for its true work had been kept at white heat could the Council have escaped injury from them.

Most of the Council's troubles were due to Benedict XIII. In the negotiations with him—conducted not at Nice but at Perpignan—Sigismund showed no lack of tact or address. But the old man had not bated a jot of his claims or hopes. He still had with him Castile, Aragon, Navarre, the counties of Foix and Armagnac, and Scotland; and he believed that he stood a chance of recovering Naples, nay France itself, and even of winning the Papal States. Now that his rivals were removed, he hoped to bring about the unanimous election of himself. All his old tricks were used with his habitual adroitness. But Sigismund was determined to secure his unconditional surrender, and he won over most of Benedict’s supporters at Perpignan. The Pope was finally urged to resign by the King of Aragon himself. He refused. On 6 November Sigismund broke off the negotiations and withdrew to Narbonne. Next day Benedict retired to the impregnable castle of Peñíscola, in the province of Valencia.

Nevertheless, the King of Aragon and the envoys of others of Benedict’s supporters soon resumed discussions with Sigismund, and on 13 December the Capitulation of Narbonne was sworn to by the delegates of Castile, Aragon, Navarre, and Foix, and approved by Sigismund, the Council’s delegation, and a representative of the King of France. The Council was to summon the kings, princes, and prelates obeying Benedict, and these in their turn were to summon the assembly gathered in Constance to a General Council in that town. If Benedict would not abdicate, the Council might depose him. No new Pope should be chosen until the Council had been joined by Benedict’s supporters and he had been formally deposed.

Benedict remaining obdurate, Ferdinand of Aragon withdrew obedience from him on 6 January 1416. But some of the Aragonese clergy opposed the king’s policy, and his death in the spring caused yet more delay in its execution. Castile’s obedience was officially renounced on 15 January, but the Archbishops of Toledo and Seville used their formidable influence to prevent the Capitulation of Narbonne from taking further effect. It was not until July that Navarre and until August that Foix abandoned Benedict. By the Count of Armagnac and the Regent of Scotland the Capitulation was ignored.

The Council welcomed the agreement, ratified it on 4 February 1416, and issued its invitation to the followers of Benedict. It was not, however, until 5 September 1416 that the embassy of the King of Aragon reached Constance. On 15 October a Spanish “nation,” composed of Aragonese and Portuguese, was added to the four others; on 5 November a commission was appointed to investigate the culpability of Benedict, and its report led the Council, on 28 November, to cite him as a promoter of schism and under suspicion of heresy. Next month the representatives of the Count of Foix and the King of Navarre joined the Council; but the Castilians had not yet appeared when Sigismund returned.

Meanwhile, the one important matter on which the Council had been able to take vigorous and united action was the suppression of heresy. For this the most zealous reformers and the most radical advocates of conciliar sovereignty were even more eager than the conservatives, since they were anxious to show that their views did not diminish their concern for the Faith. Their victim was Jerome of Prague, whose character and career are described elsewhere. Though in September 1415 he presented a written retractation of false doctrine, which was accepted by the commission in charge of his case, he was not released, and in February 1416 a new commission was set up to collect evidence against him. He soon perceived that he was marked down for destruction, and his last speeches were masterpieces of defiant eloquence. He met his end, on 30 May, with a debonair courage which impressed beholders even more than the pious resignation of Hus.

The Council’s other doings had not only been singularly futile but stirred up much bad blood among its members. A great deal of breath and ink had been wasted over Jean Petit. The whole affair was part of the internecine struggle between Armagnacs and Burgundians. In 1414 an ecclesiastical Council at Paris had condemned Petit’s “justification” of the murder of the Duke of Orleans, and John the Fearless had appealed to the Pope. The case was still pending when the General Council opened; and the Armagnacs prepared to agitate for the condemnation of Petit by the Council itself. At the last moment, however, both the royal government and Duke John, being for the moment in outward harmony, forbade their respective representatives to raise the issue at Constance. The truce was broken, it seems, by Gerson, who on this issue had lost all sense of proportion. Sigismund supported him, and the Council, compelled to consider the question, passed on 6 July a decree denouncing “tyrannicide” in general terms, but mentioning no names. Neither side was satisfied, and the struggle continued as fiercely as ever. On 15 January 1416, a judicial commission appointed by John XXIII to consider the appeal from the Duke of Burgundy annulled the sentence of the Paris Council, on the ground that it had acted ultra vires. Acting now under express orders from Charles VI, Gerson and his associates nevertheless continued to clamour, in both speech and writing, for an express condemnation of Petit’s doctrines by the Council. Duke John’s agents resisted stubbornly and adroitly; no agreement could be reached; indeed, few in the Council wanted an official pronouncement. In the summer of 1416 the Council became weary of the topic, and for some time little was heard of it; and small success attended Gerson when he tried to revive it early in 1417. His lack of moderation had irremediably injured his prestige at Constance, a fact of great moment.

Another matter which took up much time and did much harm was the case of William of Diest, Bishop-elect of Strasbourg, who had administered the goods of the see for eighteen years without taking holy orders. Accused of wasting the goods of his church and of intending to sell some of them in order to promote a marriage for himself, he had been imprisoned by the chapter of the cathedral and the magistrates of the city. The scandal was laid before the Council near the end of 1415, and a commission was appointed to investigate the affair. When its decision was rejected by the Strasbourgers, the Council wavered and set up another commission. Urged to decisive action by Sigismund, it proved unable to achieve anything without his forcible intervention; and a further commission was sitting on the question when he returned to Constance. The Council cut no better figure in its attempt to settle a long-standing quarrel between the Bishop of Trent and Pope John’s old protector, Frederick of Habsburg, who, heedless of experience, defied it.

These ephemeral disputes must be noticed if one is to understand how the Council occupied its time during Sigismund’s absence. Its failure to deal with them promptly and trenchantly weakened its self-confidence and prestige. One must be careful, however, not to judge it unfairly. All the while it was trying to prepare for the subsequent achievement of a genuine reform. Very soon after Sigismund left, a commission of thirty-five—eight from each nation, with three cardinals—was appointed to draw up a programme. It began work immediately, and remained in being for two years. Each proposal formally considered by it was subjected to an elaborate procedure, which necessitated the extensive use of sub-committees. It had also to undergo discussion by each “nation” before it could be submitted to the whole Council. We have no report from this commission, and indeed it is not certain that it ever presented one. It soon became clear that its task was most difficult; while few denied the need of some kind of reform, everyone’s mind was fixed on the sins and shortcomings of all classes but his own. The most vital problems were the Papacy’s pecuniary exactions and its encroachments on the rights of electors and patrons. The Italians were mostly hostile to any drastic measures on these matters. The English, all delegates of the secular authority, took their orders from the king, and knew very well that the Crown was able and willing to limit the Papacy’s dealings with England. The German “ nation” was perhaps more earnestly in favour of a thorough reform than any other. Among the French there were indeed many zealous reformers, but on the most important questions there was much difference of opinion, the universities, especially Paris, being ready to accord to the Papacy the fullest control over ecclesiastical appointments, since it was believed to be more favourable than ordinary patrons to university graduates.

To complicate the work of reform, there had been a revival of controversy respecting the relative authority of a General Council and the Papacy. After the victory of the Conciliar Party in the spring of 1415, the dispute had slumbered, but in October 1416 Leonard Statius, general of the Dominicans, raised his voice for papal supremacy, and initiated a sharp debate which was still lively when Sigismund returned. The papalists were the more formidable since the cardinals—even those who had taken the lead against John XXIII—were openly or covertly with them. The upholders of conciliar authority were largely to blame for this. For some time after Pope John’s deposition the Sacred College had been treated with bare civility. It was not represented on the delegation which accompanied Sigismund to Perpignan. Business was sometimes submitted to the Council for its final approval before many of the cardinals had heard anything about it. Their position improved, however, after Charles VI, in June 1416, appointed d’Ailly and Fillastre his proctors at Constance, and, as in the Council’s early days, the cardinals now sometimes voted as a body at General Sessions or Congregations. There soon grew up a kind of entente between the Sacred College and the French “nation.” D’Ailly, unstable but clever, flung himself into his new role with ardour. From now to the end of the Council his motives seem to have been chiefly political, and his main purpose was to thwart the Germans and the English. He was much aided by the arrival of the envoys from Aragon. They at once began to bargain as to the terms on which they were to join the Council, and were particularly concerned lest the English should have precedence of them in voting and signing documents. D’Ailly had already been criticising the procedure and organisation of the Council, and challenging the right of the English, so few in number, to constitute a separate “nation”; and encouraged by the attitude of the Aragonese, he worked himself into a passionate anglophobia which caused disorder in the Council’s sessions and threatened to lead to armed conflict in the streets. Nor did the arrival of Sigismund, on 27 January 1417, tend to allay the passions excited by this particular dispute. He was now in alliance with Henry V, and at Constance he ostentatiously manifested his friendliness towards the English. Thus to the French he was merely an enemy, and his well-meant efforts to promote the Council’s work were regarded by them with suspicion. Indeed, d’Ailly, some of the other cardinals, and the envoys of Charles VI wanted to wreck the Council. The French believed, no doubt with some truth, that Sigismund expected to derive much political advantage out of its further proceedings and to secure the election of a Pope who would be at his beck and call. The attack on the English “nation” continued; but the Englishmen themselves, supported by Sigismund, the Germans, and the Burgundians of the French “nation,” were able to hold their own. No change was made. To avoid disputes as to precedence it was decreed that when all the “nations” were in favour of a proposal, the president at the General Session should say placet for all. It was also decided that the consent of the cardinals must be secured for every conciliar act.

The dispute about the English “nation” fell into the background owing to the emergence of another question, which seemed to offer an equally good opportunity for annoying Sigismund. When should a new Pope be chosen? When the Council has finished its work, answered the reform party; but the papalists, backed by the cardinals and many of the French, urged that the election should take place at the earliest possible moment. The matter became urgent when on 29 March the envoys of Castile made their tardy appearance. Following their instructions, they at once asked, among other things, how the papal election was to be conducted. They refused to join the Council until they had clear answers to their questions, and announced that they would resist any proposal to exclude the cardinals from a share in the election. Indeed, they and most of the Italians would have had it conducted in the usual way. To this, however, no other “nation” would agree; while Sigismund, the Germans, the English, and some Italians did not want the question to be discussed at all until a reform of the Church had been carried out. But the Castilians stood firm, and were in a strong position, since they might frustrate the completion of union. There followed some weeks of great excitement and obscure intrigue. Towards the end of May d’Ailly produced a treatise, known from its opening words as ad laudem, which was offered by the cardinals as their answer to the Castilian inquiry about the papal election. It suggested that the new Pope should be elected by the cardinals and an equal number of other members of the Council. To be successful, a candidate must have two-thirds of the votes of each section. The Castilians approved the scheme, soon to be followed by the greater part of the French and the Italians. The Aragonese said that they would concur if the Castilians would unite with the Council. This they did on 18 June.

In the next weeks, nevertheless, the Council almost broke up. The cardinals, Italians, French, and Spaniards virtually went on strike, declaring that Sigismund was planning violence against them and demanding from him a new guarantee of security. But Sigismund’s enemies were nearly as suspicious of one another as of him; and in July an agreement was patched up between him and the cardinals. Sigismund gave new undertakings about freedom of speech, while the cardinals declared that they were ready to reform the Papacy and the Curia before making arrangements for a papal election.

After this the proceedings against Benedict XIII were pressed forward, and on 26 July he was solemnly deposed as a heretic and an incorrigible promoter of schism.

To deal with reform, it was considered well to appoint a new commission. Each “nation” contributed five delegates, the four old “nations” each choosing two of those who had represented them on the previous commission. The new body took up the work of its predecessor; it also inherited its difficulties. The old differences at once reappeared; and it was soon seen that the Spaniards cared nothing at all about reform and the Germans had lost some of their zeal for it. Meanwhile the papal party, heedless of the pledge given by the cardinals to Sigismund, were again agitating for an early election, arguing that a commission to decide its mode might work simultaneously with that on reform. Sigismund, the Germans, and the English resisted, and once more there was almost an open breach between the king and the cardinals.

Early in September there occurred the death of Robert Hallam, Bishop of Salisbury, a confidential adviser of Sigismund, a strong advocate of reform, and the man to whose skilful leadership the English at Constance owed their remarkable influence over the Council. Immediately afterwards the English suddenly consented to appoint representatives on a commission to consider arrangements for the papal election. They were apparently obeying instructions from Henry V which happened to reach Constance at this moment; but they would probably have acted less precipitately had Hallam been alive. Another stormy time ensued, though it is hard to see why tempers rose so high at this particular moment. Only the vigour of Sigismund’s measures prevented a general disruption of the Council; tactless and overbearing as he often was, he had a sincere and rare concern for ecclesiastical union and reform, and he little deserved the charge of heresy which was shouted at him in a debate or the insult offered him by the cardinals when they appeared in their red hats in token of their readiness to endure the martyrdom which they were in no danger of incurring.

Though the papal party was gaining ground, there was every likelihood of a long struggle. The situation, however, was unexpectedly changed by the arrival of Henry Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester, uncle of the English king, who was ostensibly breaking his journey on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. There is little doubt that Henry V had instructed him to work for the speedy election of a Pope who would be favourable to the English and Sigismund. Beaufort evidently had much weight with Sigismund, for through his mediation it was quickly agreed that the election should be held as soon as possible, that such reforms as were generally acceptable should forthwith be embodied in decrees, and that the new Pope, with the aid of the Council or a special commission, should reform the Papacy and Curia on the basis of proposals already laid before the commission on reform.

In consequence several decrees were passed at the thirty-ninth session, held on 9 October 1417. In the first and most important, the decree Frequens, it was laid down that General Councils were to be held periodically, the first five years after the termination of the Council of Constance, the second seven years after the end of the first, and the third and following at intervals of ten years. Another decree enacted that if a new schism should occur, a General Council should assemble within a year. On election, it was decided, every Pope should solemnly profess his acceptance of the Catholic Faith, according to the traditions of the Apostles, General Councils, and Fathers, and especially of the eight oecumenical Councils from that of Nicaea to that of Vienne. Bishops were not to be translated, except with the consent of a majority of the cardinals and after having an opportunity of stating objections. The Pope was to renounce the procurations which properly belonged to bishops and other prelates, nor was he to seize their spolia on their decease. These decrees were assuredly not trivial, but they were a poor harvest considering all the labour that had been expended on reform.

A committee was now chosen to determine the mode of electing the Pope. Despite furious disputes among its members, it agreed on a scheme which was approved by the Council on 30 October. All the cardinals were to take part in the election, and also six representatives of each “nation.” To be elected a candidate must have two-thirds of the cardinals’ votes, and, in addition, four votes from each of the “nations.” It was furthermore decreed that before the dissolution of the Council the new Pope, with the Council’s assistance, should reform the Church on eighteen points, the most notable being the number and character of the cardinals, annates and kindred impositions, the collation of benefices, appeals to the Curia, the fees charged there, the grounds and method of correcting or deposing Popes, simony, indulgences, and the levy of papal tenths.

On 8 November the electors entered the conclave. On the first vote Cardinal Oddone Colonna had the support of all the English, four of the Italians, and eight cardinals; and he alone had some support from each nation. Further voting gave him the needful majorities on 11 November, the French being the last to adhere to him. The new Pope, who took the name of Martin V, had been made cardinal by Innocent VII, but had joined the conciliar party and figured at the Council of Pisa. He had studied law, but was of no renown as a scholar. At Constance he had successfully run with the hare and hunted with the hounds. Men believed him to be amiable and somewhat colourless. His election, however, caused wild rejoicing. Many of those at Constance considered their work to be over. Fillastre’s diary, for instance, betrays its compiler’s lack of interest in the business of the next months.

It was thought that Martin V would be willing to consent to effective measures of reform. It is true that on 12 November he laid down for the conduct of the papal chancery rules which not only renewed but increased the claims of his predecessor respecting provisions and reservations. But these regulations were not published for more than three months, and a new reform commission, consisting of six from each “nation” and six cardinals, was confidently appointed to treat with the Pope concerning the eighteen points enumerated in the decree of 30 October. As before, however, it was almost impossible to reach agreement on anything that mattered. So hard was it to make progress that shortly before Christmas the commission suspended business for a month.

It was probably at the request of the Pope that the several “nations” now drew up statements of their views on the eighteen points. The memoranda presented by the French and by the Germans are still extant. On 20 January 1418 Martin laid before the “nations” a number of projected decrees on matters calling for reform, while declaring that in regard to the punishment or deposition of Popes the majority of the “nations’’’ were opposed to enacting anything new. But on few of the Pope’s proposals was there any approach to agreement. Martin pressed for unanimous decisions; even if he did not really want them, it was safe for him to do so, for the diversity of opinions was beyond remedy. On the whole matter of reform, indeed, a spirit of hopelessness came over the Council, and soon led to negotiations between individual “nations” and the Pope for the arrangement of national concordats.

There was still, however, one subject on which the Council was harmonious—the Hussite heresy. On 22 February Martin, with the consent of the Council, published the bull Inter cunctas, which was designed to facilitate the suppression of Hus’ followers. Numerous statements from the works of Wyclif and Hus were denounced as heretical, and there was appended a questionnaire to which those under suspicion of heresy were to answer on oath. They would be asked, for instance, whether every General Council, including that of Constance, represented the Church universal, whether the decrees of this Council touching the Faith and the salvation of souls were to be held by all believers, and whether its proceedings against Wyclif, Hus, and Jerome were lawful and just. These questions must be answered in the affirmative, and their inclusion was later held by many to constitute a recognition by Martin of the doctrine of conciliar sovereignty, though the papal party contended that this had nothing to do with faith or salvation.

At the moment, however, few were in a mood for controversy. A deputation from the Orthodox Church, which alleged as its purpose the restoration of union between East and West, was politely received and answered; but the long speeches must have been infuriating to those who heard them. The Pope evaded a renewed demand for a definite decision in the case of Petit and the kindred process against the Pomeranian friar, Falkenberg. On 21 March, at the forty-third General Session, seven reforming decrees were approved. They represented the greatest common measure of the views of the “nations” on reform, and were mainly based on clauses in the Pope’s proposals of 20 January. They concerned exemption from canonical obligations, the union and incorporation of churches, the revenues of vacant benefices, simony, dispensations, papal tenths, and the life and honour of the clergy. Though the Pope renounced his claim to the income of vacant benefices and accepted restrictions on his right to levy tenths, most of the new decrees did little but enjoin the observance of the existing law. It was a miserable climax to all the eager advocacy of reform with which Constance had resounded for over three years. Nevertheless, the Council accepted Martin’s declaration that by these decrees, together with the concordats then under' consideration, the object of the decree of the previous 30 October had been attained.

On 15 April the concordats with the Germans and the Latin “nations” were registered, the two having a strong resemblance. The number of cardinals was to be limited. Reservations and provisions were restricted, concessions being made to both ordinary patrons and the universities, but much discretion in these matters was still left to the Pope. Annates were to be lightened, the encroachments of the papal Curia in the judicial sphere to be checked. But the contents matter little. Each concordat was to be in force for only five years; in France the Armagnac party would not recognise the one that affected it, and in the other countries concerned they were nowhere effectually executed.

The English concordat—not finally concluded till July—had no time limit, but this fact is of no consequence. It promised that the number of cardinals should be reduced, and that new ones should be chosen with the approval of the Sacred College and from all parts of Christendom. There were timid clauses about indulgences, dispensations, and the appropriation of churches. Pontifical insignia were not to be permitted to lesser prelates, and Englishmen were to be appointed to some of the offices of the Curia. Such were the “reforms” with which the once vigorous English “nation” professed itself content. After a little while the concordat fell into total oblivion.

The close of the Council witnessed a revival of animosity which was of ill omen for the future. Martin V decided that the next council should be held after five years at Pavia. Four of the “nations” assented; but the French, objecting to the place, absented themselves from the session at which the announcement was made. The formalities which marked the dissolution of the Council at its forty-fifth session, on 22 April 1418, were interrupted by the advocates of the Poles and the Lithuanians, who tried at the last moment to secure the condemnation of Falkenberg, asserting that the Council had approved of such action. The Pope took occasion to declare that he approved and ratified all that the Council had done “in materiis fidei conciliariter,” words of pregnant ambiguity. The Poles, dissatisfied, appealed to a future Council. Thus the Council of Constance ended with its relations to the Papacy unsettled.

Once the Council was over, Martin V bent his energies to recovering for the Papacy the temporal power and spiritual authority which had been so seriously impaired by recent events. His efforts to restore papal rule in the States of the Church belong rather to the political history of Italy than to the subject of this chapter. It must be remembered, nevertheless, that he was extraordinarily successful. At the close of the Council, the Papal States were partly in a condition of anarchy and partly under the control of condottieri, Rome itself being held by Sforza Attendolo, the general of Queen Joanna of Naples. Martin cautiously moved southward to Florence, which gave him asylum for eighteen months. During that time he played with great skill on the jealousy and treachery which marked the relations of the condottieri of central Italy, and on the dissensions within the Neapolitan kingdom. The upshot was that, having recovered a considerable part of the Papal States, he was able in September 1420 to enter the sorely dilapidated city of Rome.

For the next few years Naples was in confusion, and in 1423 Louis III of Anjou, whose claims to the Neapolitan throne Martin had countenanced, was adopted as heir by the childless queen. For some time the Papacy had nothing to fear from that quarter. In the next year the untimely deaths of the famous generals Sforza and Braccio gave Martin the chance of recovering the whole of the Papal States. A modern Protestant writer has declared that “it is the great merit of Martin V that he won back from confusion and restored to obedience and order, the disorganised States of the Church.”

Nevertheless, these achievements, as a Catholic historian has more recently remarked, “viennent beaucoup après l’obligation à conduire l’Église de Christ a sa perfection.” And for this supreme task Martin was in a most favourable position. He had little to fear from rivals. The erstwhile supporters of Gregory XII and John XXIII had submitted, and the latter, ransomed by Martin himself, had accepted the new Pope in 1419, been recognised as cardinal, and died a few months later. Benedict XIII had indeed remained obdurate in his stronghold of Peñíscola. But, except for the King of Aragon, the Count of Armagnac, and a few scattered individuals, all his followers had abandoned him by the end of 1418; and though after Benedict's death in 1422 or 1423 a successor, called Clement VIII, retained the support of Aragon and Armagnac till his abdication in 1429, he never constituted a serious danger to Martin.

Notwithstanding his opportunities, Martin was not merely lukewarm but actually hostile towards such a reform as alone could have saved the Church from lasting disruption. Attempts to palliate his conduct break down: both at Constance and later he showed plainly that he would make only those changes which he felt unable to avoid. It is, of course, true that to remedy certain crying evils he would have had to surrender claims which the Papacy had long enforced. That, however, he must have known when at Constance he promised to further the work of reform. And there is no doubt that by his attitude he imperilled the very office which he was striving to uphold, and that he was in great measure responsible for the troubles of his successor during the Council of Basle. His judgment was probably affected by the fact that zealous reformers were also, as a rule, upholders of conciliar supremacy. That this was so arose from the widespread suspicion, amply justified by events, that it was only through a General Council that any substantial reform could be accomplished. It is likely, however, that if Martin had put himself at the head of the reformers, they would soon have forgotten their theories about Councils, just as the nationalists in nineteenth-century Germany, when Bismarck made himself their leader, soon forgot their liberalism. But to Martin a desire for reform and a belief in the sovereignty of General Councils were inseparable. And the latter doctrine, rightly or wrongly, he was resolved to defeat.

In his attitude towards Councils it behoved Martin to be wary. After all it was a General Council that had put him where he was. And even if he argued that he had been elected by a sufficient majority of the Sacred College, he was still faced by the disquieting precedent of John XXIII’s fate at the hands of his own followers. Martin, indeed, had early proof of the need for judicious dissimulation. Whether before the Council closed he had recognised its supremacy has been much debated. Probably he meant the Council to think he had, while the ambiguous wording of his utterances on the matter left the way open for a subsequent denial. But he was alarmed by the appeal of the Poles to a future Council, and while still at Constance, on 10 May 1418, he caused to be read in consistory, Sigismund being present, a bull in which he declared it unlawful to appeal from judgments or pronouncements of the Pope, the supreme judge, even in matters of faith. The outcry raised was prompt and great. Some began to talk of heresy, for which few denied that a Pope might be deposed; and Gerson wrote a treatise pointing out that, if Martin’s assertion were accepted, the Councils of Pisa and Constance had met in vain, and either Benedict XIII or John XXIII was the true Pope. Martin bowed before the storm; the bull was never otherwise published or placed officially on record; and he never again raised the issue in express terms.

The Pope did not dare to defy the decree Frequens or go back on his announcement that the next General Council would be held in 1423. But he regretted the choice of Pavia as the meeting-place because of the enmity between himself and the Duke of Milan; and when, on 22 February 1423, he appointed four legates to preside over the Council, he empowered them to transfer it to another city if circumstances demanded. The reform of the clergy, the restoration of unity with the Greeks, the pacification of Europe, the defence of ecclesiastical liberties, and the extirpation of heresy—such, it was officially declared, were the objects of the Council.

The Council was formally opened at Pavia on 23 April, but very few save local clergy were present. It was not long before the transference of the Council elsewhere was mooted, the Pope’s wishes being aided by an outbreak of epidemic disease. The “fathers” could not agree, and the decision was remitted to the legates, who, having their instructions, forthwith decreed a move to Siena. At this point there were present only four of the German “nation” and only six of the French; the English, strange to say, were more numerous, but the only Italians, apart from local ecclesiastics, were the papal legates, and there were no Spaniards at all.

Even had the Pope been friendly to the Council, it could hardly have been successful. It came too soon after the wearisome and expensive Council of Constance. The keenest of reformers had not yet recovered their vigour. There was no serious schism to heal, no fresh heresy to condemn. The nations most likely to be interested—France, Germany, England—were preoccupied by vital political concerns. But it was Martin’s fault that the Council failed as miserably as it did.

The first formal session at Siena was held on 21 July 1423. The second did not take place till 8 November. The length of the interval was caused partly by the Pope’s promise—probably insincere—that he would attend personally, and partly by the difficulty of arranging guarantees of safety which satisfied the members of the Council, who were a little suspicious of the civic authorities and much afraid of the Pope. At the second session there were present two cardinals and twenty-five mitred prelates. The agenda had been discussed beforehand with Martin V, who had already approved the four decrees that were passed. Heresy was denounced, the decrees of Constance against Wyclif and Hus were confirmed, and all the faithful were exhorted and stimulated to aid in the suppression of their disciples. Benedict XIII and his followers were once more condemned. Union with the Greeks having been found impracticable at the moment, the Council, it was announced, would proceed to the work of reform.

The work of reform was soon faced by obstacles. There was at Siena a party which supported the Pope’s view of his relations with the Council. In view of the impossibility of reaching agreement under such conditions, it was decided that each “nation” should draw up its own reform programme, so that it might.be ascertained how much all had in common. The French were ready first. Their programme was for the most part no more drastic than what the more earnest reformers had put forward at Constance. Perhaps their most startling proposals were that the Pope should choose cardinals from lists submitted to him by the various “nations,” and that he should levy no taxes whatever save on the laity of the States of the Church. The “liberties” of the Church of France were demanded, and it was hinted that the measures advocated represented only the beginning of what ought to be done. The legates were much alarmed, and thenceforth it was their chief aim to dissolve the Council. Soon after the beginning of 1424 their intention was known and admitted. The two parties in the Council threatened, and indeed tried, to have recourse to force.

The reform party made a poor fight. The legates soon impaired the unity of the French “nation,” partly by intrigue, partly by introducing a number of French officials of the Curia, some of whom, it was alleged, were not qualified to attend. The other “nations” seemed to despair; members of the Council began to go away. The reformers gained some encouragement by the arrival in February of the delegation of the University of Paris and of the Archbishop of Rouen, who had been sent by the Duke of Bedford, and whom the French promptly elected president of their “nation.” The archbishop, however, played a part very like that of Beaufort at Constance. He was really in favour of an accommodation with the Pope; and it was doubtless due in great measure to his influence that a few days later delegates of the four “nations” designated Basle as the seat of the next Council. It was idle to declare that the Council of Siena was unaffected by this announcement. In vain did the Sienese authorities bar their gates to prevent members of the Council from leaving, in vain did a rump of the French “nation” elect a new president and continue the discussion of reform after the departure of the Archbishop of Rouen. On 7 March the papal legates fled, and when on Florentine territory caused to be affixed to the doors of Siena cathedral a proclamation dissolving the Council. The Abbot of Paisley, who had been conspicuous among the reformers, drew up an angry protest and appeal; but he could get only one member to sign and two members to witness it. The rest of those who had remained at Siena acquiesced in the dissolution. Martin blamed the Sienese for the Council’s failure, and it was only grudgingly that he later restored them to his favour. He had attained his end, and had shown a real gift for low intrigue.

When he dissolved the Council, the Pope set up a committee of three cardinals to investigate and amend the abuses in the Curia and the Church. Their labours bore fruit in a constitution published on 13 April 1425. Cardinals were to do their duty and behave themselves. New rules for the conduct of the officials of the Curia were to be formulated. The clergy in general were to do what they were supposed to do. Various familiar abuses were once again denounced. Provincial councils were to be held at least once every three years. By not one jot was the Pope’s power limited. Ostensible concessions to patrons of benefices really made the Pope’s control of them greater than it had been since the Council of Constance. The bull would thus have achieved nothing wonderful if any attempt had been made to enforce it. Naturally the reform party was unimpressed; indeed, after the Council of Siena it recognised Martin as an enemy.

The Pope’s respite from Councils was not so complete as he wished. There was no chance of the Council of Basle being forgotten. Everyone who wanted for his own ends to put a little pressure on the Pope urged the speedy summons of that assembly. Sigismund did so in 1424, the Duke of Bedford in 1425, perhaps Charles VII in the following year. So in 1429 did the University of Paris, which still had a real concern for ecclesiastical reform and the doctrine of conciliar sovereignty. During the year 1430 there were widespread rumours that the Pope meant to evade summoning the Council, which, according to the decree Frequent ought to meet early in 1431. Pleas and protests poured in, the University of Paris being particularly insistent. Still the Pope gave no sign that he meant to fulfil his obligations. Then, on 8 November 1430, a manifesto was placarded at a number of conspicuous spots in Rome. It announced that, as no one seemed concerned to assist in the suppression of the Hussites (then at the height of their power), two Christian princes wished to submit certain propositions. These asserted that Christian princes were bound to defend the Catholic faith, that, since the ancient heresies had been worsted by means of Councils, it was absolutely necessary to hold one next March because of the Hussites, that if the Pope did not open the Council at the time named those who had assembled to attend it ought to withdraw their obedience from him, and that if he and the cardinals did not promote the Council or appear at it, the Council might depose them. The identity of the two princes is not certain; Frederick of Hohenzollern, Elector of Brandenburg, was probably one. The document made no small stir, and encouraged the conciliar party in Rome to increase its efforts. As before the Council of Constance, some of the cardinals dissuaded the Pope from evading his duty, notwithstanding that he “held the very name of Council in horror.” On 1 February 1431 he named as president of the Council, with the same powers as those enjoyed by the presidents at Pavia and Siena, Julian Cesarini, Cardinal-deacon of Sant’ Angelo, a man thirty-two years old, of noble birth, and held in respect for his chastity (which seemed to contemporaries singular in a cardinal), the elegance and profundity of his learning, the moderation of his judgment, and the charm of his manner. He was already on his way to Germany as papal legate, to direct a crusade against the Hussites. Before Cesarini heard of his new appointment, Martin V, on 20 February, died of apoplexy.

On 3 March the cardinals elected Gabriel Condulmer, commonly called the Cardinal of Siena. He was a Venetian, forty-seven years old, a nephew of Gregory XII, to whom he owed his red hat. Under Martin V he had acquitted himself successfully as governor of Romagna and the Marches. He was not a great scholar; but his private life was respectable, he was believed to be keen on reform, and he had been in favour of the summoning of the Council. His principal defect was said to be obstinacy. It is to be noticed that on entering the conclave the cardinals had agreed that whoever became Pope should reform the Holy See and the Curia with the advice of the Sacred College, that he should accept their recommendations as to the time and place of the Council, and that the reform undertaken by that assembly should concern both clergy and laity but not the Pope or his court.

The new Pope, who took the name of Eugenius IV, confirmed Cesarinfs authority with respect to the Crusade, and asked him for information as to the prospects of the Council. For this Cesarini showed no concern. According to the decree Frequens the Council should have begun by the end of February, but during March only one stranger, the Abbot of Vezelay, appeared at Basle to attend it. The first delegates of the University of Paris arrived early in April. Then no one came for a long time. On 30 May, nevertheless, Eugenius authorised Cesarini to preside if a sufficient number of prelates attended. Cesarini nominated two deputy presidents, who officially opened the Council on 23 July 14311. The attendance was ludicrously small, and Martin V would have jumped at the chance of ending the life of so feeble an infant. But Eugenius, in bad health and engaged in civil war with the Colonna, could not apply his mind to the situation in Basle, and in any case would hardly have shown his hand so soon. And then the Council was saved by the Bohemian heretics.

On 14 August, near Taus (Domazlice), the crusading army, under Frederick of Brandenburg and Cesarini, heard the Hussites coming and fled. On 9 September Cesarini appeared at Basle, convinced that only through a General Council could the Bohemian heresy be stemmed. At his instance letters were sent to all parts urging the clergy to gather in haste. Eugenius was besought to appear in person. On 15 October the Council wrote to the Bohemian leaders inviting them to send to Basle a delegation which should discuss with the Fathers the restoration of unity, the most lavish promises respecting safe-conducts and freedom of speech being given. As advocates of reasonableness and tolerance the sanctity and learning of Hus and Jerome were much inferior to the wagons and hand-guns of Zizka and Procop.

There followed a confusing series of events. Most of the messengers who passed between Basle and Rome seem to have been unwarrantably slow; it often happened, therefore, that by the time a communication from one to the other received its reply, the situation had entirely changed. The first formal session of the Council was held on 14 December3. Business transacted in less solemn gatherings was confirmed; the decree Frequens was renewed; the objects of the Council were declared to be the extirpation of heresy, the re-establishment of peace in Europe, and the reform of the Church. Enthusiasm was now running high at Basle, and one may well understand the dismay aroused by a rumour that the Bishop of Parenzo, papal treasurer, who arrived just before Christmas, had brought a bull dissolving the Council. It was true, though the bishop, taken aback by the size and zeal of the Council, denied it, and left it to a member of his suite to publish the obnoxious instrument after his own flight from the city. It caused immense indignation, soon intensified by the arrival of a second bull of similar effect, dated 18 December1, and dictated largely by the Pope’s anger and alarm at the Council’s invitation to the Hussites. The effect of the two documents was that the Council was declared dissolved, that all prelates were enjoined to assemble at Bologna in eighteen months to hold an extra Council, that the next Council under the decree Frequens was summoned to Avignon in ten years’ time, and that the war against the Czechs was to be carried on.

The Pope had altogether misapprehended the situation. The Council refused to dissolve. It expostulated by letters and envoys, justifying its resistance by the decrees of Constance and hinting that it might withdraw obedience from the Pope. It passed decrees denying the authority of anyone to dissolve or transfer it. Though Cesarini, at the Pope’s command, resigned the presidency, he remained at Basle, defended the Council’s policy towards the Hussites, and warned Eugenius of the perils to which he was exposing the Holy See. The King of the Romans had already taken the Council under his patronage, and had appointed William, Duke of Bavaria, as its protector.

Issue was now fairly joined, and there followed a bewildering struggle which continued till the end of 1433. Few would deny that the honours of this conflict lay with the Council. It is not merely that it won; but it showed a dignity and steadfastness which contrast most favourably with the vacillation and trickery of the Pope. The Hussites were still the Council’s greatest asset. Western Europe believed that only the Council could tame them, and so the Council must go on. But in the Council itself the ruling motive was a desire for reform. It was generally assumed at Basle that no reform could be secured through a Pope. So conciliar supremacy must be upheld, in order that the Pope might legally be overridden. The Council had no wish to go to extremes; but the maladroit hostility of Eugenius stirred men’s tempers, and some advanced views were expressed. While, however, there was an almost unanimous refusal to accept the absolute monarchy claimed by the Pope, there was no agreement on what should be put in its place. To some, while the Pope’s faith and conduct were subject to scrutiny by a General Council, which might reprimand, punish, or even depose him in the interest of the Church Universal, he was nevertheless head of the Church by divine right, and, unless in conflict with those of a General Council, his decrees and ordinances were universally binding. To others, on the contrary, he was no more than the caput ministerial of the Church, his function being merely to execute its decrees, his own being only administrative ordinances. Some, indeed, thought that such a constitutional monarch, for all his lack of independent authority, had been instituted by God; but many held that the Papacy was a human invention and that the Church might entrust its executive power to a Council or Committee. There were in fact not a few who would have ascribed very great authority to the Cardinals. To no small number, furthermore, sovereignty lay with the bishops, whose powers came to them direct from God; the Church, to use modern terminology, was regarded as a federation of bishoprics, federal authority being vested in the Papacy, which, however, might exercise only such functions as had been expressly allotted to it. In the eyes of others, who were strongly represented at Basle, sovereignty belonged to the whole body of clergy. General Councils, through which this sovereignty was exercised, must therefore be constituted on a democratic basis. It is plain that, in face of these theories, some of which were mutually incompatible, the Papacy, with its clear, definite principles and claims, was in a very advantageous position.

During 1432 the Council grew stronger. Its numbers increased steadily though slowly. In April there were over eighty members, including thirty or forty mitred prelates. The King of the Romans promised to stand by them to the death. Charles VII of France, after long hesitation, accepted the advice of a council of the clergy of his obedience, and in July gave French ecclesiastics leave to attend. About the same time the English government reached a similar decision. Castile and Burgundy were also favourable. Meanwhile, negotiations with the Hussites were progressing, and in May, by the convention of Eger, they agreed, on terms which testify to the terror they had inspired, to send representatives to discuss with the Council the possibility of reconciliation.

All this while the Council was increasing its pressure on the Pope. In April it renewed the decrees of the fifth session of Constance, and called upon Eugenius to revoke his bulls of dissolution, and either to appear at Basle, or, if in bad health, to send a representative. At the same time, the cardinals, several of whom were notoriously out of sympathy with the Pope’s policy, were peremptorily cited to join the Council within three months. In May Cesarini again attached himself to the Council and accepted the doctrine of conciliar supremacy. A little later the Council declared that, if the Papacy fell vacant while it was in being, the new Pope must be elected wherever it was sitting, denied the Pope’s right to create cardinals as long as he absented himself, and named a Vicar of the papal territory of the Venaissin in opposition to the nephew of Eugenius.

In the early summer the Pope showed the first sign of being impressed by the Council’s firmness. While refusing any concession on matters of principle, he offered to allow the Council to remain at Basle until the Bohemian problem was solved and then to choose any place it liked in the Papal States as the scene of a new Council, which should not be dissolved until it had extinguished heresy, given peace to Europe, and reformed the Church. But the Council refused to be diverted from the Eugenius threatened with deposition principle at issue, and in its reply asserted in the bluntest language the superiority of a General Council to a Pope, who, even if he might be styled head of the Church, was only caput ministeriale. It also hinted that the case of Cardinal Capranica and all its implications would be investigated.

In 1426 Capranica had been created a cardinal by Martin V, who had kept his act secret until shortly before his death. In consequence Capranica had not completed all the customary formalities when Martin died. Nevertheless, he claimed the right to attend the conclave, but for political reasons a majority of the Sacred College decided to exclude him. Now, of those cardinals who had advocated his admission, the majority had not at first voted for Eugenius, and if Capranica’s claim was just, there was thus some doubt of the validity of the election. With great folly, Eugenius behaved very harshly towards Capranica, who, a ruined man, went to Basle and laid his case before the Council.

Meanwhile, out of twenty-one cardinals fifteen had either appeared at Basle, named proxies, or offered satisfactory excuses. In September Cesarini agreed to resume the presidency. There followed a lull in the conflict, but in December the Council decreed that, if Eugenius did not withdraw the bull of dissolution within sixty days and adhere to the Council without reserve, it would take such measures as the Holy Ghost should inspire.

Before the stern summons of the Council many members of the Curia were beginning to waver. Eugenius himself had already offered to submit to arbitration the question whether the Council should be moved to Italy or to another place in Germany. The latest conciliar decree, backed as it was by an urgent embassy from the German Electors, forced the Pope to admit defeat. On 14 February 1433 he issued a bull authorising the holding of a General Council at Basle. He tried to save his face by alleging that many of his previous objections to Basle had been removed by the march of events, and by announcing that he would send legates to preside. He furthermore wrote letters to the princes, universities, and ecclesiastical authorities of Catholic Europe, calling on them to attend the Council or send representatives.

When the bull became known at Basle it altogether failed to conciliate the Council. What was the Pope’s view of what the Council had already done? On this no light had been shed. Consequently, at its eleventh session, held on 27 April 1433, the Council ignored the change in the Pope’s attitude. It was decreed that, if he failed to attend the Council or send representatives within four months, he would be liable to suspension; if a further two months passed without his submission, the Council might depose him. The Council safeguarded itself by enacting that it might not dissolve itself without the consent of two-thirds of each of the deputations into which it was divided.

To preside over the Council, the Pope named six cardinals, one of whom was Cesarini. He refused to act; the Council rejected the others until the Pope should acknowledge that the Council had been from the beginning a true Council, should adhere to it unconditionally, and should withdraw the bull of dissolution. The Pope’s envoys grievously mishandled their case, and when, abandoning conciliatory talk, they openly advocated papal supremacy, they were easily worsted in argument by Cesarini. The Council was eager for action against Eugenius, and in July a resolution in favour of delay was defeated by 363 votes to 23.

The Council, as these figures indicate, had been growing fast. In the spring of this year seven cardinals, five archbishops, and forty-three bishops were present. The embassies of temporal potentates continued to arrive. Those of England and Burgundy appeared in March; the French delegation, present in part since the previous November, was complete in May. In size and representative character the Council remained inferior to that of Constance, but it could now claim without absurdity that it spoke with the voice of the Church Universal.

Most of the lay rulers represented at Basle, while not in sympathy with the Pope’s theories, dreaded a new schism and wished the Council to move slowly while they tried to arrange an amicable settlement. But the majority of the Fathers were disinclined to listen, and the urgent remonstrances of Sigismund only secured, on 13 July, a sixty days’ extension of the term within which Eugenius must comply with the Council’s demands. The Council’s confidence in itself may be measured by the fact that the German Electors, England, and Burgundy were all sympathetic towards Sigismund’s efforts.

At the moment, as it happened, relations were particularly intimate between Eugenius and Sigismund, whom the Pope had crowned Emperor on 31 May 1433. Believing him to have been won over to the papal cause, Eugenius was encouraged to greater boldness than he had shown for some time. On 1 July he forbade the Council to attempt anything beyond its three tasks of suppressing heresy, restoring peace, and reforming the Church. On 29 July, in the bull Inscrutabilis, he annulled everything it had done outside its proper field, including all its acts against himself the Holy See, and the Curia. This he followed three days later by the bull Dudum sacrum. There he recognised that the Council had been valid from the first, though in terms which implied that he was granting a favour, not acknowledging a fact; he also withdrew the bull of dissolution and declared his adherence to the Council. The bull Dudum sacrum was prepared in two texts, one of which contained certain provisos—not shown to Sigismund—the most notable being that the presidents named by the Pope should be accepted by the Council and that everything done against the Papacy and its supporters should be annulled. If the Council would accept the Pope’s terms, he would revoke everything he had done against its members.

Very soon afterwards Eugenius heard of the Council’s refusal to suspend for more than a few weeks its proceedings against him. Without waiting to ascertain the effect of the bull Dudum sacrum, he denounced the Council’s behaviour in a circular letter to a number of kings and princes, and on 11 September the bull In arcano annulled the decrees passed by the Council on 13 July and declared that anyone accepting benefices taken away from his supporters would be for ever incapacitated for holding any. A further bull, Deus novit, dated 13 September, was quite uncompromising. It contains an outspoken statement of the Pope’s case, declares that the conduct of the members of the Council approximates to heresy, expressly refuses approval to many of their acts, and denies that the Council has had a continuous existence since its beginning. The Pope agrees that the assembly in Basle may henceforth be called a General Council, on condition that it withdraws all its decrees against himself and admits his presidents. All conciliar decrees must be confirmed by the Pope, for he has authority over all Councils, save in matters which concern the Faith or the peace of the whole Church. The assertion that a General Council is above the Pope is heretical. If the Council will not change its policy, it is the duty of Christian princes to resist it.

This document has occasioned much controversy. According to the Council it was known far and wide; and it seems certain that it was published and discussed at places so remote from Rome as Vannes and Angers. The Pope, however, denied its authenticity, and modern historians have usually regarded it as a mere draft, which, whether through accident or through malice, was circulated without his knowledge. The truth of the matter will probably never be ascertained; but we have seen Martin V trying the effect of a bull unfavourable to conciliar authority and dropping it when it provoked strong opposition, and Eugenius IV had played strange tricks with the bulls dissolving the Council of Basle and quite lately had drawn up two versions of Dudum sacrum. It may well be that the bull was a ballon d'essai, which Eugenius repudiated when he found that few people liked it.

During the autumn of 1433 the Council’s truculence was so far mitigated by political pressure that its anti-papal proceedings were suspended. The position of Eugenius, however, grew worse. The bull Deus novit made a bad impression on all sides. Sigismund, France, Burgundy, even his own Venice, urged him to accept the demands of the Council. What perhaps influenced him still more, the condottieri Sforza and Fortebraccio, probably at the instance of the Duke of Milan, entered the Papal States and occupied a great part of them. At all events, on 15 December 1438 Eugenius accepted one of the formulas proposed to him by the Council and issued a second bull Dudum sacrum. In this he recognises that the Council has been canonical since its opening, that its dissolution was invalid, and that it should continue in order to deal with its oft-mentioned three tasks. He declares that he will loyally promote the Council, and revokes the bulls Inscrutabilis, In arcano and Deus novit (though, he protests, the last was published without his knowledge), together with everything he had done to the Council’s prejudice.

On 5 February 1434, at the sixteenth General Session, the Council accepted the Pope’s bull and declared that he had given full satisfaction. It is true that there soon followed a little dispute over the terms on which the presidents named by the Pope were to be admitted. On 24 April, however, they agreed to a form of oath acceptable to the Council, whereby they undertook to observe and defend its decrees1. After this there ensued some fifteen months in which the relations of the Pope and the Council were outwardly amicable.

The Council was at the height of its prestige and power. Its conflict with the Papacy, however, had not aroused popular enthusiasm, and its hold on public esteem was due mainly to its dealings with the Hussites. Most of the negotiations, it is true, were conducted on Bohemian or Moravian soil, and are best treated as part of the history of Bohemia. But what arrested the attention of Europe was the appearance at Basle in January 1433 of fifteen Bohemian envoys, including Jan Rokycana, the leading preacher of the Hussites, Peter Payne, an English disciple of Wyclif, their most formidable dialectician, and the great Prokop himself, who had caused the mood of sweet reasonableness which the Council, with obvious difficulty, maintained. Not only did the Fathers condescend to debate with condemned heretics, but, in deference to Hussite prejudices, harlots were banished from the Basle streets and members of the Council were ordered to keep sober and abstain from dancing and gambling. In accordance with the prearranged programme, the debates turned almost entirely on the famous Four Articles of Prague, in which the Hussites demanded communion under both kinds, freedom of preaching, the reduction of the clergy to apostolic poverty, and the punishment of public sins. Thanks largely to the suavity and tact of Cesarini, the heretics were allowed to state their views fully and treated with a politeness which rarely lapsed and sometimes verged on cordiality. As controversialists their leading speakers were well equipped. Their weakness was that the delegation contained representatives of every shade of Hussite opinion. Nevertheless, though the Council tried to play upon the divisions among the envoys, they were skilful enough to maintain a united front against the common enemy. Convinced, after some weeks, that their hopes of winning the Council to their views were vain, they declared that they had not been authorised to join it or make any compromise, and that, if negotiations were to go farther, the Council must send a mission to Bohemia to confer with the Diet.

When in April 1433 the Hussites left Basle, a deputation from the Council consequently went with them. Its real task was to spy out the land. Its debates with the Diet led to no agreement, but on their return to Basle the envoys could report with truth that the Hussites were utterly disunited and that the grant of the cup to the laity in the Eucharist would win over the Utraquist or Calixtin party, which was supported by most of the Bohemian nobles. The Council resolved to make this concession, but to keep its decision secret until there had been further discussion on the other matters raised by the Articles of Prague. A second mission, which reached Prague in the autumn of 1433, found the Hussites even more at variance than before and their army in a state of mutiny. The party for reconciliation was stronger; the Council's envoys displayed great skill and address; and in November, notwithstanding the opposition of a powerful minority, the Diet accepted an agreement, commonly known as The Compacts of Prague, whereby Bohemia and Moravia were to make peace with all men, and any in those lands who had been wont to communicate under both kinds might continue to do so, merely verbal concessions being made on other points of the Four Articles. Almost immediately, however, there arose disputes as to the interpretation of this treaty, and nothing was really settled when, in February 1434, the Council’s delegation got back to Basle. There were indeed some sharp passages between the Council and a Bohemian envoy, and there might even now have been a total breach but for the solicitous intervention of Sigismund.

Reaction, however, was spreading apace in Bohemia. The Catholics and the Utraquists arrayed themselves in arms against the Orphans and the Taborites. On 30 May 1434 Prokop was defeated and killed at Lipany. The commander of the victorious army had been an officer of Zizka, and he had under him many of the soldiery who had made the Hussite name terrible throughout Europe. But men estimated rightly that with the overthrow of Prokop the aggressive force of the Hussite cause had departed. The reconciliation of Bohemia to the Church seemed to require only a little face-saving talk. And, in the eyes of Europe, it was the Council that was chiefly to be thanked for this happy result.

Commanding widespread respect, the Council apparently stood a good chance of succeeding in its task of reform. It now had about five hundred members. It had nothing to fear from external hostility. Despite complaints of the high cost of food and lodging, it is evident that men of modest means managed to stay in Basle fairly comfortably for years. Nevertheless, the Council laboured under certain grave disadvantages. Though almost unanimous in resisting Eugenius, it was, as we have seen, irreconcilably divided in opinion as to the Pope’s rightful position. It was, moreover, rent by national animosities. This fact needs emphasis, having often been overlooked by historians, since at Basle the division into “nations” was not formally adopted for the transaction of business. Instead, the members were grouped into four committees or “deputations,” which dealt respectively with the suppression of heresy, the pacification of Europe, the reform of the Church, and what was called “common and necessary business.” The clergy of each grade were as far as possible distributed equally among the deputations, and so were the representatives of each “nation. ” When one deputation had finished with a topic, its report was communicated to the others, and if two were in favour of a proposal, it was laid before a General Congregation. Before it could be promulgated as a conciliar decree, however, a resolution had to be passed at a General Session, a very magnificent and solemn ceremony, to which the public were admitted, but in which only formalities were transacted. Nevertheless, while these arrangements seem to have worked fairly well, “nations” formed themselves unofficially very soon after the beginning of the Council and came to have a great influence on its proceedings. They debated severally, appointed committees, and sometimes conferred with one another. It was not to be expected that members of the Council, when sitting in a General Congregation or a deputation, would ignore what they had been doing and saying in their “nations,” and the existence of these was soon recognised when appointments had to be made to the deputations and to certain conciliar offices. The Italian, French, German, and Spanish “nations” received semi-official countenance, but the English failed to establish their claim to form a separate group. Each “nation” had its president and a number of officials. At first the most influential “nations” were the Italian and the German (which included Scandinavians, Poles, and Hungarians); but after the conclusion of the Treaty of Arras in 1435, the French, previously divided, became very formidable, having in their ranks most of the distinguished men attending the Council. The Spaniards, on the other hand, were never very numerous, and it was only after 1436 that their “nation” had any influence. The doings of each of these bodies were swayed largely by political considerations or by the particular interests of the regions whence their members came. They gave instructions to their representatives on the delegations, and sometimes, it seems, voted as solid blocks in General Congregations. It is probable, indeed, that national and political rivalries had as much weight at Basle as formerly at Constance.  .

It has often been asserted that the efficiency and prestige of the Council were seriously damaged by the character of many of its members. In its early days, when its numbers were small and its fate was uncertain, almost any would-be member seems to have been admitted. Later, rules concerning qualifications for membership were repeatedly made, and after 1435 the composition of the Council was theoretically little if at all more democratic than that of the Council of Constance. But the Committee charged with the application of the rules seems to have paid small regard to them, and though references to cooks and grooms as figuring among the Fathers may have been rhetorical flights, there is no doubt that the Council comprised many who were clergy in no more than title, and some who were not even that.

In the heyday of its triumph over Papacy and heresy, this body’s judgment failed it. Some members of the Council were moved by personal hatred of Eugenius. It tickled the vanity of the less responsible to feel that they were lording it over the Church and humiliating the Pope. And Eugenius, it must be admitted, was constantly giving ground for suspicion that his surrender had been insincere. Whatever its motives, the Council behaved as though the papal office were in suspension. As early as 1432 it had set up a whole judicial apparatus to take the place of the papal court. It attempted to divert to itself money which had been raised by papal collectors, and claimed the right of levying taxes on the clergy of the whole Church. At the same time, it meddled in all sorts of matters, ecclesiastical and political, for which machinery already existed ox which did not concern it at all. Such conduct was trebly foolish. It wasted time which the Council should have bestowed on its proper tasks; it alienated public opinion, which had no wish to see the Pope superseded by the Council and disliked its interfering fussiness; and it stiffened the hostility of Eugenius, who came to the conclusion that conciliation only encouraged radicalism.

Many modern writers have maintained that the Council’s folly was due to its democratic organisation. It is true that the inferior clergy greatly outnumbered the prelates, that voting was by heads, and that the humblest members of a deputation might sway the course of its debates. But, while an assembly of prelates would doubtless have behaved very differently, there is no reason to believe that it would have acted more wisely. For that matter, the most extravagant views found spokesmen at Basle in bishops and even cardinals. The truth is that the Fathers, with a few striking exceptions, were not of high moral or intellectual calibre. They could endure adversity but not success. One may well doubt whether there was in the Church at that time enough devotion to principle to render possible the successful achievement of any of the tasks which the Council of Basle was striving to accomplish.

Nevertheless, from 1434 to 1436 things seemed to be going fairly well for the Council. The negotiations with the Bohemians dragged on unexpectedly, for even the mildest Hussites struggled to secure recognition of communion in both kinds as the normal practice in Bohemia and Moravia and to obtain guarantees for the future autonomy of the Church in those lands. Eventually, the Compacts of Prague were signed at Iglau (Jihlava) on 5 July 1436, and the Bohemians reconciled with the Church—a hollow formality and due in any case to Sigismund rather than to the Council. The Council’s envoys, however, had been conspicuous at the various conferences which led to this result, and most people supposed that their part had been decisive.

The Council also concerned itself with the work of reform. Though so drafted as almost to invite evasion, a decree of July 1433, doing away with the general papal reservation of electoral benefices, dignities, and offices, had testified to the widespread determination to curtail the Pope’s absolutism. But it was temptingly easy to reform the absent and the few. Thus, in November 1433 there had been passed a decree prescribing the regular and frequent holding of provincial and diocesan synods and defining their procedure and functions, its purpose being to subject metropolitans and bishops to a control like that to which the Pope was to be subjected by General Councils. In the summer of 1434 there was issued a reaffirmation of the decree of the Council of Vienne enjoining on all universities the appointment of professors of oriental languages. Such measures were naturally criticised as inadequate, nor could much be said in favour of four decrees of January 1435, against clerical concubinage, the abuse of excommunication and the interdict, and unreasonable appeals in ecclesiastical causes—the topics touched upon being either of minor consequence or adequately covered by existing legislation. At length, however, at its twenty-first General Session, in June 1435, the Council, along with ten decrees of no particular account, issued one which was equivalent to a revolution. No payment, it laid down, was to be demanded at any stage of an appointment to an ecclesiastical benefice or office, or for ordination, or for the sealing of bulls, or under the name of annates, first-fruits, or any similar designation. Officials of the papal or other chanceries were to receive appropriate salaries, with which they must be content. If the Pope resisted this decree, he would be dealt with by the Council.

The application of this measure would, of course, have turned upside down the government of the Catholic Church as it had been constituted since the days of Hildebrand. The Papacy, in the sense attached to the term for more than three centuries, would have ceased to exist. It is true that when communicating the decree to Eugenius the Council declared its readiness to give to him and the others adversely affected adequate compensation, and that Cesarini, who was the principal author of the measure, urged insistently that this should be the next subject to be taken up. Nevertheless, the Pope’s legates at Basle were warranted in protesting against the decree.

Eugenius himself took the blow with apparent coolness, and his envoys, while instructed to maintain the Pope’s supremacy and his right to annates, were told to hint that, if arrangements for compensation were immediately made and if one or two points of detail could be amicably settled, the Pope would confirm the decree. Cesarini, however, upheld the action of the Council when it refused to bargain. It had already ordered that all sums of money due to the Pope should be sent to Basle. Eugenius for a while adopted a non-committal attitude. Really, however, he was much more confident than he had been for some time. Forced by the populace to flee ignominiously from Rome, he had been an exile in Florence since June 1434, but the political situation in Italy had lately become much more favourable to him. His agents at Basle, moreover, reported that many distinguished members of the Council thought that the majority had been going too far. What gave him most hope, however, was his position in relation to the Greeks.




The question of union with the Greeks had been brought to the fore by Eugenius. The Eastern Emperor and the leading prelates of the Greek Church were particularly anxious at the moment for the healing of the Schism, since only if this were achieved could they hope for substantial help from the West against the Turks. The accessibility of Italy to the Greeks had been one of the arguments whereby Eugenius sought to justify the summons of a Council to Bologna. The Council of Basle was therefore compelled to interest itself in the matter, and it was naturally anxious that the conference between Catholics and Orthodox should be held at Basle itself. For some three years both Council and Pope had been trying to convince the Greeks that no practical results could come from dealings with the other. The Greeks refused to go to Basle, and insisted that the Pope should be present in person at the conference. On the other hand, the Council succeeded in defeating a project, to which the Pope was willing to agree, for holding a Council at Constantinople. After much tortuous negotiation, it was settled between the Council and the Greeks, in the autumn of 1435, that the conference should be held in some town on the coast, that the Council of Basle should bear the expenses of the Greeks, and that the Pope must be present in person. The situation was developing very agreeably for Eugenius.

The Council was the more determined to show the Greeks that the Pope was really of small consequence; and, in view of its financial commitments, it was well for it to make good its claim to control the pecuniary resources of the Catholic Church. It had already complained, on good grounds, that the Pope had ignored some of the reforming decrees which it had passed, and that he had countenanced vexatious and frivolous proceedings in the Curia against members of the Council. To the scandal of many of its erstwhile supporters, it had discussed the issue of an indulgence to raise funds for the expenses of the Greeks. The more hot-headed of its members now led a new offensive against the Pope. In January 1436 he was called upon to withdraw everything he had done against the Council and to confirm all its decrees. He was held up to obloquy in a circular which the Council addressed to all Christian princes, praising its own conduct. In March more reforms were decreed. New rules about the Pope’s conduct, personal and official, were laid down. Every new Pope was to swear that he would maintain the Faith as proclaimed by General Councils, notably those of Constance and Basle, and that he would continue to hold such gatherings. There were fresh and minute regulations about the qualifications and behaviour of cardinals. Certain previous decrees very obnoxious to the Papacy were confirmed or strengthened. In April, at a thinly attended session, the Council voted the grant of a plenary indulgence to all who should contribute towards the Council of union with the Greeks. To the Pope’s overtures on annates and the Greek question, uncompromising and aggressive answers were returned.

Meanwhile Eugenius had continued to treat the Council politely, gaining time and conceding nothing. In the summer of 1436, however, he evidently thought that he need no longer dissemble. In a memorandum to the princes of Catholic Europe he reviewed the proceedings of the Council in a hostile spirit, accusing it of a factious temper, of interfering in matters beyond its competence, of sterility even within its usurped sphere, and of a desire to destroy the authority of the Pope and to make the government of the Church a democracy.

The renewal of open strife between Council and Pope alarmed the Greeks, who had no wish to unite with a disunited Church. They were also perturbed by the policy of the Council respecting the place of meeting. Although they had bargained for a town on the coast and their Emperor had declared that he would not go to Basle, the Council most foolishly resolved, on 5 December 1436, that the conference should take place either there, at Avignon, or somewhere in Savoy. Cesarini refused to put the motion, and a strong minority shared his views.

A Greek envoy insisted that the meeting must take place in one of the places already approved. Though Avignon was not one of these, the Council continued to favour it, even when it had acquiesced in the rejection of Basle. Avignon delayed beyond the prescribed term in complying with the conditions which the Council sought to impose upon it as the price of the honour and profit which it was to receive; but the majority of the Council refused to change their minds, and, under the leadership of Louis d’Aleman, known as the Cardinal of Arles, bitterly denounced Cesarini, who, with some fifty followers—mainly prelates—asserted that another place, preferably in Italy, should be chosen. It was in vain that the twenty-fifth session was postponed to avert violence, for when on 7 May 1437 it was at last held, each party tried to seize the high altar and the presidents chair, swords were drawn and blows were struck. Eventually two bishops started simultaneously to read rival decrees. The minority, whose decree was the shorter, sang Te Deum when its recital was finished, the majority beginning the hymn as soon as they could and going steadily through it a few lines in the wake of their competitors. The majority decree stated that the Council of Union was to be at Basle, or, if the Greeks were immovably opposed to that, at Avignon or somewhere in Savoy. The minority had chosen Florence or any other town already designated which should be agreeable to the Pope and the Greeks. Some of those belonging to it, at the instance or with the connivance of the Archbishop of Taranto, a papal legate, stole the conciliar seal to authenticate their decree.

After this the Council would have done well to dissolve. It was irremediably split, and both parties had lost their dignity and sense of proportion. They acted together a little longer, however, and one party still had years of futile life before it. But there is no need to linger over the details of the sequel.

Not being ready to surrender to Eugenius, the Council, with sound tactical judgment, continued its attack on him. At the twenty-sixth General Session, on 31 July 1437, he was cited to answer charges of having refused to introduce reform, raised new scandals in the Church, and caused schism by refusing to obey the decrees of the Council. Cesarini refused to preside at this session. Eugenius making no response, the Council, on 1 October, pronounced him guilty of contumacy.

Meanwhile the Pope had issued the bull Doctorls gentium, dated 18 September 14378. If the Council persisted in its action against the Pope, it was to be transferred to Ferrara after 30 days (allowed for the completion of business with the Bohemians). Even if it gave up its anti-papal proceedings, it must go there as soon as the Greeks reached Italy. At Ferrara the Pope would appear with a full vindication of his conduct. On 12 October the Council defiantly answered the Pope point by point, announcing that, unless he yielded, he would be suspended at the end of four months and deposed at the end of six after the issue of his last bull.

At these threats, however, the Pope could laugh, for he had decisively worsted the Council in the rivalry for the confidence of the Greeks. After the breach in the Council in the spring, he had confirmed the minority decree of the twenty-fifth session and the Greeks declared that they recognised only the minority as the true Council. In August, a deputation chosen partly by Eugenius, partly by the minority at Basle, sailed from Venice, and in September arrived in Constantinople with 300 archers for the defence of the city. They were soon followed by ships from the majority at Basle, but the envoys on these made no impression on the Greeks, who in November embarked on the vessels sent by Eugenius. On hearing this news, Cesarini tried to induce the Council at Basle to meet the Greeks in Italy and to effect a reconciliation with the Pope. It was prudent advice, but it is not astonishing that the majority rejected it. A few days later Eugenius announced that the Council had now been transferred to Ferrara, but before this could have been known at Basle, Cesarini left the city with his supporters, to be warmly welcomed in Italy.

For the next eighteen months the attempt to unify Eastern and Western Christendom interested Europe more than what was happening at Basle. It is hard to say, nevertheless, which of the two Councils was the more futile. At Ferrara the principal motive of nearly all the Greeks was political, while the Pope was thinking mainly of enhancing the prestige of the Holy See and scoring points off his enemies at Basle. It is no injustice to say that very few of those concerned were thinking first of the welfare of Christendom.

The Emperor John Palaeologus, the Patriarch of Constantinople, and twenty-two Orthodox bishops, with a train of priests, officials, and others, numbering in all seven hundred persons, landed at Venice in February 1438. The Council of Ferrara had been opened on 5 January; the Pope was already there; and it had appropriately denounced the Fathers of Basle. Owing to discussion on points of etiquette and procedure, it was not until 9 April that the Greeks were present at a formal session.

The Emperor hoped to secure military aid from Western Europe without risking a defeat of his Church in theological discussion. The Greeks therefore deliberately wasted time, and it was only when the indifference of the princes of the West became manifest that serious debate started. Preliminary skirmishes showed that neither side was inclined to make concessions, and the prospect of agreement seemed dark when in October the Council at last approached the crucial question—the doctrine of the procession of the Holy Ghost. Was it ever lawful for a section of the Church to make an addition to the Creed? And if it were, did the Holy Ghost proceed from the Son as well as from the Father? The debate was leisurely and verbose, both sides showing much dialectical acumen, and comporting themselves on the whole with dignity and good temper. Soon, however, the Pope, pleading the presence of plague in Ferrara, the disturbed state of the neighbourhood, and his lack of money, persuaded the Greeks to move to Florence, where the inhabitants had promised a loan. The transference of the Council was formally decreed on 10 January 1439, but it was not for nearly two months that the debates were resumed. There was still no agreement about the procession of the Holy Ghost, but the Emperor and many of his advisers had become more accommodating, inasmuch as they did not wish to go home without accomplishing anything whatever. Ultimately in June the Greeks accepted a formula which alleged that the addition to the Creed was warranted by the Fathers and that the Holy Ghost proceeded from the Father and the Son as from one origin and cause. A few points, deemed of minor importance, were next settled without trouble; but at the last moment there was nearly a complete breach over papal supremacy. Most of the Greeks were willing to acknowledge the primacy of the See of Rome, and the Patriarch of Constantinople, who had just died, had left behind a timely paper recognising it; but all the Greeks wished their Church to retain a considerable measure of autonomy. Eugenius was for some time intransigent, but finally both sides adopted an inconclusive and indeed meaningless formula. In consequence the decree of Union was signed on 5 July by 115 Catholic prelates and all the Greek prelates at Florence save one, Mark, Archbishop of Ephesus, an honest and unbending zealot. Though the Pope wanted to discuss other subjects, the Greeks hurried home as soon as they could.

The Pope, as he had promised, sent three hundred soldiers and two galleys to aid the defence of Constantinople. But, once the terms of the Union were known, the Greeks who had signed them became the targets of a furious outburst of popular indignation. Mark of Ephesus was the hero and leader of the opposition. The Emperor, while personally upholding what had been done, did not venture on the official promulgation of the decree of Union. Bessarion of Nicaea and Isidore of Kiev identified themselves with the Western Church and accepted cardinals’ hats; and the archbishopric of Kiev, and a few Russian bishoprics, recognised the decree; but otherwise the Orthodox Church scarcely noticed the work of the Council of Ferrara and Florence. To the Pope the Council brought a temporary increase of prestige, very welcome at the moment, and reinforced by the formal and fruitless “reconciliation” of the Armenians, Jacobites, Maronites, and what not during the next few years.

The Council of Florence did not end with the departure of the Greeks. On 4 September 1439, in the important decree Moyses, it denied the assertions, lately reiterated at Basle, that a General Council was superior to the Pope, and that a Pope might not dissolve, adjourn, or transfer a General Council. It was kept officially alive for six more years, perhaps longer, though after the Pope’s return to Rome in 1443 it was transferred to the Lateran. Its sole function was to pass decrees of union with Eastern sects, but the Pope found it convenient to say that he was in consultation with a General Council. How and when it ended is not known.

Meanwhile, the depleted Council of Basle kept up its fight with more success than might have been anticipated. On 24 January 1438 it decreed the suspension of the Pope from the exercise of his functions, spiritual and temporal. The deposition of Eugenius, which, according to the Council’s plans, should have followed two months later, was, however, deferred owing to the reluctance of the princes of western Europe to see a fresh schism. The Council, indeed, had lost the countenance of England and the greater part of Italy; but it still had something to gain by humouring Germany and France.

The Emperor Sigismund died in December 1437. In March 1438 the Electors chose Albert of Austria to succeed him, and declared their neutrality as between Eugenius and the Council of Basle. This attitude they officially upheld for nearly eight years. Their object was to derive from the situation whatever advantage they could for themselves and, secondly, for the German Church; and in pursuit of such a policy their conduct naturally exhibited much inconsistency. For a while they seemed to be inclining towards the Council; and in March 1439, at a Diet at Mayence, they drew up a manifesto declaring that they accepted the Basle decrees respecting the supremacy of General Councils, reservations and provisions, the freedom of ecclesiastical elections, annates, and other matters. In acting thus the Electors were copying the French. At a Council held at Bourges in the summer of 1438 there was promulgated the celebrated Pragmatic Sanction, which favoured the Council’s views on ecclesiastical sovereignty and applied to the Church in France the most notable of the reforming decrees enacted at Basle.

Emboldened by the happenings in France and Germany, the Council again became very active. On 16 May 1439 the theory of conciliar supremacy, as stated at Constance, was declared to be a dogma3. On 17 September a like decree was passed regarding the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. In the meantime, on 23 June, Eugenius was formally pronounced a heretic for opposing the doctrines that a General Council had authority over all Christians and that a Pope might not dissolve, prorogue, or transfer it. Two days later, in the presence of 39 prelates and about 300 other clergy, he was solemnly deposed.




The election of a new Pope was deferred for some months, but on 5 November 1439 an electoral commission, specially chosen by the Council, gave the necessary majority to Amadeus VIII, Duke of Savoy, who took the name of Felix V. Amadeus, a widower with several children, had ruled Savoy successfully for forty years, but since 1431 he had withdrawn with seven companions to Ripaille, where he led a secluded though hardly austere life. He had shewn special interest in the Council, and in its final dispute with Eugenius had been more sympathetic towards it than any other European prince. His election as Pope was not unexpected by either the Council or himself.

The sequel was disappointing to both. Between Felix and the Council, to begin with, relations were never satisfactory. Felix was not content with the position and dignity which the radicals of the Council were willing to accord him. It was not until July 1440 that preliminary difficulties were sufficiently adjusted to admit of his coronation. He had been chosen largely because he was a rich man, who would cost the Church little or nothing; but he had no intention of dissipating his private resources in the interests of the Council, and he insisted on being allotted a proper revenue for himself and the cardinals whom the Council had allowed him to appoint. The Council was forced to transgress some of its own decrees about the taxation of benefices. But even after this Felix complained that insufficient regard was shown for his needs, while the Council criticised him for inactivity and his officers for rapacity. The truth was that both Felix and the Council were disappointed at his reception in Europe. Many universities and a few German princes accepted him. So did Elizabeth of Hungary, widow of the lately deceased King Albert of the Romans. Aragon and Milan wavered deliberately. But France, Castile, England, and most of Italy recognised Eugenius as true Pope, even though they might not always be willing to support him as against the Council of Basle. It was the ambiguous attitude of Germany that really kept the Council in existence and Felix on his throne for several more years. But late in the autumn of 1442, tired of the bickering of the Council, Felix left Basle and went to live at Lausanne.

Meanwhile there were many signs that the Council was growing weary. In numbers, indeed, it remained astonishingly strong; about the time of the election of Felix it still had over 300 members. But thereafter its interest in reform evaporated and it became more and more immersed in petty business concerning individuals1. The attendance at meetings of committees and at General Congregations became bad.

On 16 May 1443 the Council of Basle held its forty-fifth General Session. It was decreed that in three years’ time a new General Council should be held at Lyons; until then the present Council should continue to sit at Basle, or, if Basle should become unsuitable, at Lausanne. It was the last General Session held at Basle. Henceforth, with dwindling numbers, the Council busied itself with little save petty litigation, mostly about disputed benefices.

As long, however, as the policy of Germany remained unsettled the Council had some reason for remaining in being. The intrigues which ultimately led to an agreement between the Emperor, the princes, and the Papacy belong really to German history, and demand notice here only in so far as they are indispensable to an understanding of the fate of the Council of Basle. From 1440 to 1445 relations between Germany and Eugenius changed little. For a while both the Electors and Frederick III, Albert II’s successor as King of the Romans, favoured the summons of a new General Council, but as no one outside Germany shewed any enthusiasm for the plan, it was dropped. Gradually Frederick and the Electors drifted apart. The former inclined towards Eugenius, the latter towards Basle; but there was no departure from the neutrality officially upheld.

In 1445, however, political exigencies in Hungary made friendship with Eugenius particularly desirable to Frederick. Thanks largely to the unscrupulous skill of his envoy, Aeneas Sylvius (a rat from the sinking Council), a treaty between him and the Pope was concluded early in 1446. In return for recognition Eugenius allowed Frederick the right of nomination to various sees and benefices in his territories and paid him a substantial sum of money.

The Electors regarded the treaty as a breach of a recent agreement between them and Frederick. The Pope, moreover, deposed the Elector Archbishops of Cologne and Treves, who were conspicuous for their friendliness towards the Council. Six of the Electors consequently agreed to demand of Eugenius that he should confirm the decrees of Constance about General Councils, accept the reforms embodied in the declaration issued at Mayence in 1439, and summon a mew General Council; if he refused they would adhere to the Council of Basle on easy terms. It looked like a formidable move. But the plans of the Electors were betrayed to the Pope by Frederick III, and at the Diet of Frankfort, in September 1446, the agents of the Pope and the king, Aeneas Sylvius conspicuous among them, used bribery, cajolery, and argument in a resolute effort to break up the unity of the opposition. Two Electors and many lesser princes were won over; and a modified form of the Electors’ demands was presented at Rome by a deputation. The morale of the national or reform party in Germany was ruined; nearly everyone in the country was eager for some settlement, and few seemed to care about its terms.

Eugenius IV, who was at the point of death, issued a series of instruments which the Germans accepted. Their terms fell short even of the diluted demands that had been made. He gave a personal promise to convoke a General Council after more than two years. He accepted, vaguely, the decree Frequent but avoided giving countenance to any other specific decree of the Council of Constance. He recognised the “eminence” of General Councils, but not their “pre-eminence,” which he had been asked to acknowledge. There is, however, little purpose in enumerating the details of these so-called concessions, for they never had any practical consequences. It was characteristic that Eugenius drew up a secret protest, in which he said that sickness had prevented him from giving full attention to everything that had been laid before him, but if anything granted was contrary to the teaching of the Fathers or prejudicial to the Holy See, it was to be void. On 23 February 1447 the Holy See was relieved of him.

Against the new Pope, Nicholas V, few felt any personal animosity, such as Eugenius had excited far and wide. He at once devoted himself, with the assistance of Aeneas Sylvius, to completing the conquest of Germany. Though there were still recalcitrant elements, a very large number of princes obeyed Frederick’s summons to an assembly at Aschaffenburg in July 1447, in order to sanction the proclamation of Nicholas throughout Germany as lawful Pope. Nicholas was to confirm the concessions made by Eugenius, and a Diet was to be held shortly to settle outstanding questions, unless in the meantime a special Concordat should be concluded with the papal legate.

That astute diplomatist, John Carvajal, at once began to bargain with Frederick III, and a Concordat was signed at Vienna in February 1448. Formally it was concluded between the Pope and the king only, though the consent of several Electors was claimed and a good many princes must have been consulted. This pitiable agreement was concerned solely with reservations and provisions of benefices and with ecclesiastical elections. It was to last for ever, but otherwise bore a close resemblance to the Concordat of 1418 between the German Church and Martin V, such changes as were made being on the whole in favour of the Papacy. The meagre concessions of Eugenius IV were, it is true, confirmed, “so far as they are not contrary to the present agreement”; but most of them were incompatible with it, and the promise of a new General Council was quietly ignored. The German princes and German Church acquiesced with singular meekness in this ignominious surrender; but seventy years later Germany took the lead in the rebellion which the failure of the reform movement rendered inevitable.

The outlook of the Council of Basle was now utterly dark. In the summer of 1447 Frederick III had ordered the civic authorities to expel its members; but he had to repeat his command more than once and threaten the city with the ban of the Empire before the Fathers were asked to depart. On 7 July 1448 they were escorted to Lausanne, whither, they declared, the Council was transferred. They soon held a formal session, in which they proclaimed themselves ready to do all they could to restore peace and unity to the Church. Just as things were becoming comic, however, the mediation of Charles VII of France, backed by Henry VI of England, brought them to a dignified end. Nicholas V was prepared to be conciliatory, and Felix asserted his willingness to abdicate. After amicable negotiations, Felix, on 7 April 1449, in the second General Session of the Council of Lausanne, solemnly announced his resignation. On 19 April the Council elected as Pope Thomas of Sarzana, called in his obedience Nicholas V, having been assured of his belief that a General Council holds its authority immediately of Christ and that all Christians must obey it in things which concern the Faith, the extirpation of schism, and the reform of the Church in head and members. On 25 April 1449, at its fifth session, having been assured of the concurrence of Nicholas, it bestowed various offices and honours upon Felix, who had been made a cardinal by his victorious rival. Then the Council voted its own dissolution. Had it always considered facts and its dignity as it did in its last days, it would have achieved more and left a better name behind it. Yet, though modem historians of all beliefs have found plenty of reason for deriding it, one should not forget that in its best days it showed a steadfastness in face of the Pope, a restraint in face of the Bohemians, and an earnestness in face of the evil prevalent throughout the Church which deserve the applause of men of all creeds. And as the instrument of the last attempt of the medieval Church to reform itself, the Council, in its folly and wisdom alike, should command at least an unprejudiced interest.