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Constance, Council of

Council of Constance, 1414–18, council of the Roman Catholic Church, some of its sessions being reckoned as the 16th ecumenical council. It was summoned to end the Great Schism (see Schism, Great), in which three men were claiming to be pope—Gregory XII (since recognized as canonical pope), John XXIII (see Cossa, Baldassare), and Benedict XIII (see Luna, Pedro de). Reform of Christian life and extirpation of heresy were also aims of the convocation, which was called by John at the insistence of Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund. Sigismund chose Konstanz (Constance), an imperial city, as the meeting place. Church theologians tend to regard as ecumenical in character only those sessions of the council meeting after the convocation by Gregory XII, or the sessions following the election of Martin V.

During the council enormous crowds visited the city; there was much pageantry. The first session was in Nov., 1414; the 45th and last was on Apr. 22, 1418. The council was dominated by theologians, especially French, who held the conciliar theory (i.e., that councils held supreme power in the church and that even the pope was subject to their edicts) that had appeared at the Council of Pisa (see Pisa, Council of). The conciliarists John Gerson and Pierre d'Ailly were among the figures prominent at the council. Instead of the traditional assembly of bishops, the council was organized as a convention of nations (German, Italian, French, and English; the Spanish entered later), each nation having one vote. The decisions were made in caucuses of the nations between sessions.

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

An elaborate method of electing the new pope was adopted, and the conclave soon agreed on Martin V (Nov. 11, 1417). The council, however, had already provided a plan to perpetuate its rule over the church by calling for frequent councils; furthermore, the modest reforms enacted by the council seemed designed to limit the pope's power of taxation and to protect the interests of the national clergy. Martin agreed to all enactments of the council—except, Catholic theologians argue, the council's extreme claim to supremacy—and signed concordats embodying these reforms with Germany, England, and the Latin countries. John Huss and Jerome of Prague were tried and burned at the stake for heresy. St. Bridget of Sweden was canonized.

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

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Council of Constance

Council of Constance

A church council that took place from 1414 until 1418 in Constance (present-day Baden, Germany), called by the Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund to resolve the schism in the church. Since 1378, the Catholic Church had been divided in two, with separate popes supported by different factions of church leaders and the kings and princes of Europe. When the Council of Constance began, an antipope, John XXIII, was presiding over a rival court in Avignon, France, while Pope Gregory XII was head of the church in Rome and a third pope, Benedict XIII, was also claiming authority over the church.

The Council of Constance took place when the turmoil in the church was prompting an outcry for reform. With Sigismund presiding, the delegates asked all three rival popes to resign their titles, so that a single pope could be elected. In 1415, its delegates passed an important decree known as Haec Sancta. This document stated that a general church council took its authority directly from Christ, and that all members of the church, including the pope, were bound to obey its decisions. The Catholic Church has always considered this decree invalid, as the council had not yet been officially convened by the pope of Rome.

When Gregory XII made it known that he would be willing to resign, the delegates at the Council of Constance agreed to receive his representatives in Constance. After their arrival, the pope's representatives officially convened the council in Gregory's name. They then read out his resignation. The council deposed Benedict XlI, while Gregory XII also gave up his title. Two years later, the council elected Cardinal Oddone Colonna, who took the name of Martin V. Although the council resolved the papal schism, it did not address important issues that were driving a protest movement led by such men as John Wyclif of England and Jan Hus of Bohemia. Instead, the council invited Jan Hus under a promise of safe passage, then arrested him and ordered him burned at the stake. The protest movement would gather force throughout the fifteenth century and bring about the Protestant Reformation.

See Also: Catholicism; Hus, Jan; Reformation, Protestant

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Constance, Council of

Constance, Council of (1414–17). Convened at the insistence of the Emperor Sigismund to end the Great Schism, to reform the Church, and combat heresy. There were three rival popes: the council asserted its superiority to the papal office, the three rivals all resigned or were deposed, and in 1417 Martin V was elected pope. Among measures to promote reform, the council enacted that there should be regular General Councils. In these ways the council was important in the history of conciliarism (see ANTIPOPE).

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Constance, Council of

Constance, Council of (1414–18) Ecumenical council that ended the Great Schism. It was convoked by the anti-pope John XXIII. Martin V was elected in 1417.

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Constance, Council of

Constance, Council of the 16th ecumenical council of the Roman Catholic Church (1414–18), which brought to an end the Great Schism.

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