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Council of Basel




THE COUNCIL OF BASEL(1431-1443) was the last of the three great reforming councils of the loth century, coming after the councils of Pisa (1409) and Constance (1414-18). In these three councils the aim of the majority was to reform the church by destroying the absolute supremacy of the Pope, and by curbing the rule of the Roman curia; and the acts of these councils were all designed to re-establish the power of the episcopate by asserting the supremacy of oecumenical councils. At Pisa these aims were only indicated ; at Constance they were so far successful that schismatic popes were deposed, and the council practically showed its superiority to the Pope by bestowing the papal chair on Martin "V.; and although the fathers of Constance were compelled to separate before they could do much else in the way of reform, they practically laid the foundation by insisting that councils should be held frequently, and by ordering a new council to be called at the end of five years. The council summoned in obedience to this command was the Council of Basel, but the results of its meeting were simply to show the helpless-ness of the episcopate and the power of the Roman curia. At Basel the labours of Pisa and Constance were undone, and after this council thoughtful men began to see that the church could not be reformed without destroying the Papacy.

The Council of Basel was summoned by Martin V. (1431). He first appointed it to meet at Pa via, then at Siena, but Basel was at last fixed upon. At the very beginning Martin died, but his successor, Eugenius IV., sanctioned all his decrees; and the council accordingly met at Basel on the 23d of July 1431, under the presidency of Cardinal Julian Cesarini. At first all went well. The bishops took care so to arrange the organization of the council and its method of procedure as to make it a true and fair representative of the whole Catholic Church. The members of the council were divided into four equal classes, each consisting of about the same number of cardinals, archbishops, bishops, abbots, ifec, and each completely organized, with its president, secretaries, and other officers. This was done to neutralize the votes and prevent the intrigues of the Italian bishops, who were very numerous, and for the most part under the power of the Roman curia. To each of the four was assigned the investigation of a special class of subjects. Each section met separately in its own hall thrice a week. Each section elected three of its number to form a committee of business. One-third of this committee was changed every month. All the
business had to pass through this committee, and it sent down special subjects to be discussed in each of the sec-tions. When the section had discussed the matter it sent its decision with the reasons of it to each of the other sections, who then discussed the matter and gave their opinion upon it. If three sections were agreed upon it, the subject was brought before the whole council for general discussion and a final decision.

The three subjects which were specially assigned to this council were the reunion of the Greek and Latin Churches, the reconciliation of the Bohemians, and the reform of the church according to the resolutions come to at Constance. Soon after the beginning of the council the Boman curia took alarm at the zeal and determination of the assembled bishops, and by intrigues compelled the Pope, who was really anxious for reform, to do all he could to hinder the work of the fathers at BaseL Eugenius twice tried to dis-solve the council; but it resisted, maintaining that a council being superior to the Pope could not be dissolved, and the Pope yielded. The bishops refused to admit the Pope's legates until they admitted the supremacy of the council and promised to obey its decrees.

The first business to which the members addressed them-selves was to curb the power of the Pope and of the Roman curia. They tried to do this by attempting to stop the flow of money from all parts of Europe to Rome. They abolished the annates ; they declared it illegal in a bishop to send the sum of money commonly presented on his investiture, &c; and they passed many laws to restrain the luxury and vice of the clergy. These proceedings so alarmed Eugenius that he resolved either to bring the council within the reach of his influence or to dissolve it. The occasion for inter-ference arose out of a debate which the subject of reunion with the Greek Church gave rise to. The Emperor John Palaeologus, induced principally by fear of the Turks, had written both to the Pope and to the council on the subject of the reunion of Christendom, and both had entertained his proposals. The majority, however, of the bishops in the council maintained that this subject could not properly be discussed in Italy, and that the deliberations must take place in France, Savoy, or Basel, far from the influence of the Pope. To this Eugenius would not agree; and when the council decided against him, he resolved to assemble another council, which met first at Ferrara and afterwards at Florence.

The rest of the proceedings of the Council of Basel is simply a record of struggles with the Pope. In 1437 the council ordered the Pope to appear before them at Basel. The Pope replied by dissolving the council; the bishops, backed by the emperor and the king of France, continued their deliberations, and pronounced the Pope contumacious for not obeying them. When Eugenius tried to take away the authority of the council by summoning the opposition Council of Florence, the bishops at Basel deposed him. Eugenius replied by a severe bull, in which he excommuni-cated the bishops, and they answered by electing a new Pope, Amadeus, duke of Savoy, who assumed the name of Felix V. The greater part of the church adhered to Eugenius, but most of the universities acknowledged the authority of Felix and the Council of Basel. Notwith-standing the opposition of Eugenius and his adherents, the Council of Basel continued to pass laws and decrees until the year 1443; and when the bishops separated they declared publicly that they would reassemble at Basel, Lyons, or Lausanne. In 1447 Eugenius died and was succeeded by Nicholas V., who tried to bring about a reconciliation between the parties in the church. A compromise was effected, by which Felix resigned the pontificate, and the fathers of Basel having assembled at Lausanne, ratified the abdication of Felix, and directed the church to obey Nicholas, while Nicholas confirmed by his sanction the acts and decrees of the Council of Basel
Hefele's Conciliengeschichte, vol. v. ; Mansi, Concilia, vol. xxix ; JSneas Sylvius, De Concilio Basiliensi, The Acts of the Council are preserved in MS. in Paris and in Basel. (T.M.L.)








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