« Basel, Confession of Basel, Council of Bashan »

Basel, Council of


Attitude Toward the Pope.

The last of the “reforming councils" of the fifteenth century. By the decree Frequens of the Council of Constance (q.v.), a periodical repetition of ecumenical synods was enjoined. The first synod held accordingly at Pavia and Sienna, 1423-24 (see Pavia, Council of; Sienna, Council of), had passed without accomplishing anything. After the execution of John Huss, his victorious and uncompromising followers (see Huss, John, Hussites) greatly embarrassed the Roman Church and the German empire, and Pope Martin V felt obliged to convene a new ecumenical council to meet in a German city. Basel was selected. The pope died shortly after, but his successor, Eugenius IV, a Venetian, had to confirm the convocation. His legates opened the council at Basel Aug. 27, 1431. But when it became known that the pope thought of dissolving it at once, as he expected nothing good from it, distrust of the pope filled the members of the council. On Feb. 15, 99Attitude Toward the Pope. 1432, the council declared itself to be a continuation of that of Constance and therefore an ecumenical one, representing the Holy Catholic Church, and deriving its authority immediately from God;. therefore it could only dissolve itself of its own free will. In fixing the order of business, that of the Council of Constance, where the members were grouped according to nationality, was discarded; and four committees were formed: (1) on matters of faith, (2) on political affairs, (3) on ecclesiastical reforms, and (4) on general business. These committees met separately, each having its own president. The agreement of three of them was necessary to bring a question before a general session. The council was at first presided over by Cardinal Cesarini, or some other cardinal designated by the pope. But much was lacking to make the work of the council effective; the pope distrusted the Fathers of Basel and these distrusted the pope; both were ruled by party-hatred and passion; the highest aim of the council was the subjection of the pope to it. On Apr. 29, 1432, the pope and 497 his cardinals were invited to come to Basel. As the former did not come, a process was instituted (Sept. 6) against him for contumacy. The council stood at that time in the zenith of its power, since it was recognized by most states, and Eugenius had to yield and expressly recognize the council Aug. 1, 1433.

Relations with the Hussites.

In the mean time the authority of the council had increased through its negotiations with the Hussites. On Jan. 4, 1433, the Hussites Procopius, the terror of Christendom, and John Rokyczana, the learned and fanatic orator, together with a numerous and brilliant 1010Relations with the Hussites. retinue, rode into Basel, not as penitent heretics, but with proud and fierce mien, as guests of the council. The negotiations with them resulted in an agreement in 1434 by which the so-called Compactata of Prague (see Huss, John), embodying their principal demands, among others the use of the cup in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, were granted with modifications.

Church Reform.

Beginning in 1435, the council considered and issued a number of decisions, which concerned the reform of the Church in its head and members and the introduction of a better discipline, 1111Church Reform. but these measures were dictated by hatred to the curia, rather than by enthusiasm for reform. The annates, the pallium-money, the tax on the papal confirmation of ecclesiastical promotion, the judicial authority of the pope, the richest source of the revenues of the curia, were abolished and declared to be simony. Prospects of a compensation were held out, but not fixed. As concerns the spiritual offices the canonical chapter-election was reinstated in its full right, the papal reservations, with a few exceptions, were abolished, and strict provisions were made concerning the moral worthiness of those to be elected. The troublesome appeals to Rome were limited, also the election and number of the car dinals and their prebends. But the restriction of the sources of power of the curia when it needed revenues the most, excited the fierce opposition of the whole army of officials. In the council a small but strong party arose which wished to avoid a breach with the curia, a party of legates, headed by Cardinal Cesarini.

Proposed Union with the Greek Church.

Another matter, however, brought about a complete breach. The Greek emperor John Palæologus had addressed himself to both the pope and the council with a view of obtaining help against the menacing Turks through a union of the Greek and Roman Churches. The pope would 1212Proposed Union with the Greek Church. not concede that the glory of having brought about a union with the Greeks should belong to the members of the council; he and the minority at Basel wished the negotiations with the Greeks to be carried on in a city of Italy, whereas the antipapal majority at Basel wished the negotiations to be carried on there. The party of the legates left the council in 1437 and outwardly also sided with the pope. Of the cardinals only Louis d’Allemand (q.v.) remained and the vacant seats of the bishops were filled by clerics of lower order. The council became more and more democratic. All regard for the pope now ceased; the council opened the process against him and the cardinals and on Jan. 24, 1438, he was suspended. The pope declared the council to be a company of Satan, excommunicated its members, and convened a countercouncil at Ferrara, which he soon removed to Florence, where he met the Greek emperor and his spiritual and secular retinue (see Ferrara-Florence, Council of). He brought about the so-called Florentine union, which in itself was delusive and unreal, but greatly enhanced the fame of the pope in the eyes of his contemporaries, while the council at Basel deposed him June 25 as a backsliding heretic.

Decline and End of the Council.

The governments took advantage of the differences of both parties. In France, the Synod of Bourges (1438) incorporated the decrees of the Council of Basel with the laws of the kingdom, the so-called pragmatic sanction of Bourges (see Pragmatic Sanction). Germany declared in 1439 that it would keep neutral, and observed the neutrality for some time to the great detriment of the curia. Ultimately, however, almost all European governments sided with Eugenius. The council at 1313Decline and End of the Council. Basel persisted in its opposition under the direction of Allemand. On Nov. 5, 1439, it elected an antipope in the person of the Duke Amadeus of Savoy, who took the name of Felix V (q.v.) and was crowned at Basel with great pageantry. He did not satisfy the expectations of the Fathers at Basel and was not recognized by the princes and nations. The German king, Frederick III, was especially averse to him, and the cunning secretary of the king, Æneas Sylvius Piccolomini (see Pius II, Pope) secretly influenced the German church policy in favor of Eugenius, who lived to know, though dying, that the German king and most of the German princes had declared for him Feb. 7, 1447. Great concessions had indeed been wrung from the pope; they were afterward modified or not regarded at all. The tolling of bells and bonfires announced the victory of Rome. The German king withdrew his support of the council, and it decreed June 25, 1448, to meet at Lausanne, where Pope Felix V had his residence. Ten months later the king of France induced the pope to resign, and the council, tired of the unending conflict, made Nicolas V his successor, whom the cardinals at Rome had appointed after the death of Eugenius. In this way it meant to preserve at least a semblance of authority, and in its last session, Apr. 25, 1449, it decreed its own dissolution. In spite of the failure of the council the belief that the Church needed reformation persisted.

Paul Tschackert.

Bibliography: The sources for a history are in the Acts of the Council, to be found in Mansi, Concilia, vols. xxix-xxxi, and Harduin, Concilia vols. viii-ix; also in Æneas Sylvius, Commentarius de rebus Basileæ gestia, used in C. Fea, Pius II. a calumniis vindicatus, Rome, 1823; Monumenta conciliorum generalium seculi xv, Concilium Basiliense, Scriptorum, i, ii, iii, Vienna, 1857-94; and Concilium Basiliense; Studien und Quellen zur Geschichte des Concils von Basel, ed. J. Haller, G. Beckmann, R. Wackernagel, G. Coggiola, Basel, 1896-1904 (reports on the MSS. still preserved in Basel and Paris, and criticism of Æneas498 Sylvius, Ragusa, and Segovia). Consult J. Lenfant, Histoire de la guerre des Hussites et du Concile de Basle, Amsterdam, 1731; I. H. von Wessenberg, Die grossen Kirchenversammlungen des fünfzehnten und sechszehnten Jahrhunderts, vol. ii, 4 vols., Constance, 1840; J. Aschbach, Geschichte des Kaiser Sigmunds, vol. iv, Hamburg, 1845; G. Voigt, Enea Sylvio Piccolomini als Papst Paul II, vol. i, Basel, 1856; O. Richter, Organisation und Geschäftsordnung des Basler Concils, Leipsic, 1877; A. Bachmann, Die deutsche Könige und die kurfürstliche Neutralität, Vienna, 1888; P. Joachimsohn, Gregor Heimburg, Munich, 1891; J. F. Hurst, History of the Christian Church, i, 785-786, ii, 69, 93, 341, New York, 1897-1900; Hefele, Conciliengeschichte, vol. vii; KL, i, 2085-2110; Pastor, Popes, i, 280-338; Creighton, Papacy, iii, 1-45.

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