The Church, the Councils, and Reform

The Church, the Councils, and Reform: the legacy of the fifteenth century

Gerald Christianson
Thomas M. Izbicki
Christopher M. Bellitto
Copyright Date: 2008
DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt284z6r
Pages: 352
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Church, the Councils, and Reform
    Book Description:

    The Church, the Councils, and Reform brings together leading authorities in the field of church history to reflect on the importance of the late medieval councils. This is the first book in English to consider the lasting significance of the period from Constance to Trent (1414-1563) when several councils met to heal the Great Schism (1378) and reform the church.

    eISBN: 978-0-8132-1844-1
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt284z6r.1
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt284z6r.2
    (pp. ix-xii)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt284z6r.3
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt284z6r.4
  5. Introduction The Conciliar Tradition and Ecumenical Dialogue
    (pp. 1-24)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt284z6r.5

    A recent and intriguing proposal for the advance of ecumenical relations in the twenty-first century suggests that worldwide communions should embark on a comparative study of their ways of decision making. In church history, the term reception is usually applied to acceptance by the faithful of dogmatic or disciplinary decisions of church councils. The stress in the new proposal, however, is not so much on the reception of the modern dialogues among the various partners, Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant, but on the procedures and structures by which they govern themselves. The hope is that a comprehensive study will lead to...

    • Introduction
      (pp. 25-26)
      DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt284z6r.6

      Until the Second Vatican Council met in 1962, the councils of the fifteenth century, First Pisa (1409), Constance (1414–18), and Basel-Ferrara-Florence (1431–49), seemed like historical footnotes. The convocation of Second Vatican, with its efforts at aggiornamento (updating) and its emphasis on collegiality among bishops, made the claims to synodal power put forth at the fifteenth-century councils seem more relevant than previously to the affairs of the Catholic Church. Such claims were not based just on contemporary theologies. Their roots were to be found deep in ecclesiastical history. Much of this history had been documented by Brian Tierney in...

    • 1 Councils of the Catholic Reformation: A Historical Survey
      (pp. 27-59)
      DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt284z6r.7

      The general councils of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries have attracted the attention of scholars interested in questions of ultimate authority and the cause of reform in the church. Those concerned with limiting papal power (e.g., conciliarists, episcopalists, Gallicans, Febronianists, and Protestants) have found support for their ideas in the actions and decrees of the Councils of Pisa (Pisa I, 1409), which deposed two rival popes, Constance (1414–18), which declared a council superior to a pope, Basel-Lausanne (1431–49), which declared conciliar supremacy an article of faith, and Pisa-Milan-Asti-Lyon (Pisa II, 1511–12), which reiterated the declarations of Constance...

    • 2 Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini and the Histories of the Council of Basel
      (pp. 60-81)
      DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt284z6r.8

      “It is a misfortune of mine and a fate by which I am plagued that I cannot steal away from history and use my time more profitably.”¹ Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini puts forward this resigned and rhetorical lament in the preface to the Two Books on the Proceedings of the Council of Basel (De gestis concilii Basiliensis commentariorum libri II, 1439–40), one of his many works of contemporary history. Time would prove that Aeneas was not just an irrepressible historian; he also had particular difficulty steering his pen away from the Council of Basel (1431–49). Over the course of...

    • 3 The Conciliar Heritage and the Politics of Oblivion
      (pp. 82-98)
      DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt284z6r.9

      Murmur; risus; dissensus; Non! Non! Minime!; Hora tarda est!; Haereticus est . . . taceat . . . nolumus audire amplius! et cetera, et cetera. In other words (loosely rendered): sounds of grumbling; rumblings of discontent and disagreement among the serried ranks of bishops seated in the great hall and trying, within the limits imposed by the dismal acoustics and their own varying grasp of the Latin language, to come to terms with what the speaker was saying; bursts of derisive laughter from the bleachers; exasperated exclamations of “No!” “No!” and “Not at all!”; impatient yelling to the speaker that...

    • Introduction
      (pp. 99-100)
      DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt284z6r.10

      The writers of the conciliar age presupposed that the church was a divinely founded institution rooted in scripture and tradition. The polemics of the age employed arguments from reason (frequently buttressed with references to texts) and arguments from authority (often expressed in syllogisms). Jean Gerson, chancellor of the University of Paris and the most prolific theologian present at the Council of Constance, was very concerned with the proper foundations for discourse on church and reform. He was unwilling to rest content with either Aristotle or the legal texts in circulation. Moreover, he criticized those who confused human traditions with evangelical...

    • 4 God’s Divine Law: The Scriptural Founts of Conciliar Theory in Jean Gerson
      (pp. 101-121)
      DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt284z6r.11

      One of the issues central to understanding the conciliarist heritage is the question of origins and sources: where, exactly, did the conciliar theory come from? In what could perhaps be called the “traditional view,” the answer was clear. Conciliarism was a heresy that, like all heresies, sprang from a depraved will and a corruption of the central tenets of the Christian faith—in this case, that central tenet was absolute papal monarchy, which would best be expressed in the First Vatican Council’s declaration of papal infallibility.² While such an answer made a great deal of sense from the vantage point...

    • 5 Three Ways to Read the Constance Decree Haec sancta (1415): Francis Zabarella, Jean Gerson, and the Traditional Papal View of General Councils
      (pp. 122-139)
      DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt284z6r.12

      The conciliar epoch produced a multitude of important and innovative texts that, ever since the end of the Middle Ages, have been the subject of intense and often intellectually compelling discussion. One of these often-discussed texts is a decree of the fifth session of the Council of Constance (April 6, 1415), namely, the decree Haec sancta. The first two articles of this decree have especially been studied over and over again. Although many scholars have tried to suggest an adequate interpretation, none has gained general acceptance.¹ Yet there is still more to be said about the decree. The contention of...

    • 6 The Councils and the Holy Spirit: Liturgical Perspectives
      (pp. 140-154)
      DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt284z6r.13

      An anonymous bishop asserted some time ago that a council is “a celebration of believers who put themselves into an attitude of faith, attempting to be open to God’s Spirit.”¹ Can one find a more appropriate setting in which to be open to the Spirit than a community assembled in prayer? The whole tradition demonstrates that a council’s progress goes hand in hand with a full liturgical celebration. The oldest canonical directions related to conciliar sessions are entitled On the Manner of Celebrating a Council (De modo celebrandi concilium).²

      Consequently, from the high Middle Ages the liturgical Ordinals made a...

    • 7 From Conciliar Unity to Mystical Union: The Relationship between Nicholas of Cusa’s Catholic Concordance and On Learned Ignorance
      (pp. 155-174)
      DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt284z6r.14

      Delineating the relationship between the two major early works of Nicholas of Cusa, the Catholic Concordance (De concordantia catholica, 1433; hereafter DCC)¹ and On Learned Ignorance (De docta ignorantia, 1439; hereafter DDI),² is crucial in the writing of the cardinal’s early biography. Joachim Stieber has taken pains to demonstrate the less than altruistic reasons for Cusanus’s change of political alliance in 1437.³ But it would be a red herring to try to find out from these texts the reasons Cusanus had for abandoning the council’s majority and siding with the minority. Cusanus’s reasons might be related to events that happened...

    • Introduction
      (pp. 175-176)
      DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt284z6r.15

      The conciliar movement inspired a strong response. The Great Schism (1378–1417) had put the papacy and its apologists on the defensive. Even at the Council of Constance little was said on behalf of papal primacy, except to defend Rome’s place in the larger scheme of things against the Lollards and the Hussites. The Council of Basel, however, inspired a papalist reaction by attempting to depose a legitimately elected pope, Eugenius IV. Morimichi Watanabe traces the pope’s thorny relations with the Basel assembly. The pope and the council never got along well. Each was convinced of its superiority, and the...

    • 8 Pope Eugenius IV, the Conciliar Movement, and the Primacy of Rome
      (pp. 177-193)
      DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt284z6r.16

      Concluding his book Eugenius IV: Pope of Christian Union (1961), Joseph Gill, the distinguished historian of the Council of Florence, stated:

      Florence had declared that the pope, as successor of St. Peter, is supreme head and authority among men in the Church on earth. Henceforth that is the official, defined doctrine. It will meet with future development and clarification, but the principle was firmly established that the teaching of St. Leo is right and that the Conciliarists were wrong. The Church remained a monarchy. It was not turned into a kind of democracy at a time when democracies were neither...

    • 9 Angelo da Vallombrosa and the Pisan Schism
      (pp. 194-211)
      J. H. BURNS
      DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt284z6r.17

      The Council of Pisa and Milan (1511–12)—small in membership and devoid of significant results—has had what may seem disproportionate scholarly attention. For many at the time it was a mere conciliabulum; for the subject of this essay, it was, still more contemptuously, a conventiculum. Yet eighty years ago Augustin Renaudet published substantial documentation of “the Gallican Council of Pisa-Milan.” Even earlier, Joseph Hergenrother, in his continuation of Hefele’s Konziliengeschichte, had examined this conciliabulum in some detail.¹ Much of the historical interest in the subject concentrated on its diplomatic aspects; and it is indeed clear that the move...

    • 10 A Conciliarist’s Opposition to a Popular Marian Devotion
      (pp. 212-226)
      DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt284z6r.18

      Few ideas are as closely associated with the fourteenth-century English Franciscan William of Ockham (d. 1347) as the notion that “the faith did not remain solely with the Virgin” (Non in sola Virgine tunc remansit fides) or that the true church could subsist in a single person.¹ This view, sometimes referred to as “remnant ecclesiology”² and occasionally seen as a consequence of Ockham’s nominalism,³ occurs repeatedly in the friar’s writings, most notably in his influential Dialogus.⁴ At least two times in that lengthy work, Ockham linked his “remnant ecclesiology” to a specific instance of popular Marian devotion. For example, in...

    • Introduction
      (pp. 227-228)
      DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt284z6r.19

      Conciliar activity did not occur in a vacuum. Local synods met, and cathedral chapters transacted business as corporate bodies. Several kingdoms held assemblies of notables or their representatives. One need only think of the French Estates-General and the English Parliament. The empire was a complex environment, with the election of the emperor, meetings of the imperial diet, and occasional assemblies of princes and electors to discuss such issues as the choice between the Council of Basel and Eugenius IV. In this context, especially the effort of Basel to reclaim local control of ecclesiastical elections, Günter Hägele and Friedrich Pukelsheim examine...

    • 11 The Electoral Systems of Nicholas of Cusa in the Catholic Concordance and Beyond
      (pp. 229-249)
      DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt284z6r.20

      Electoral systems form a recurrent theme throughout the writings of Nicholas of Cusa. They are admittedly just a side theme within his broad scope of interests, yet they appear in his first major work, the Catholic Concordance (De concordantia catholica), as well as in later publications written when he was traveling in Germany as a papal legate in 1451–52. Surprisingly, the electoral systems designed by Cusanus have only recently been rediscovered in political science literature, where the Cusan system is known under the name of Borda.

      In this chapter we review Cusanus’s writings on electoral systems.¹ First we describe...

    • 12 Conciliarism at the Local Level: Florence’s Clerical Corporation in the Early Fifteenth Century
      (pp. 250-270)
      DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt284z6r.21

      Early-fifteenth-century Florence was brimming with creative energy. The innovations of artists like Masaccio, Donatello, Ghiberti, and the architect Brunelleschi, whose cupola crowned the Florentine cathedral, put the city and its churches at the forefront of the early Italian Renaissance. After Florence’s victory over its rival, despotic Milan, in 1402 the city’s “civic humanist” chancellors Coluccio Salutati (1331–1406) and Leonardo Bruni (1369–1444) extolled the Florentines’ creative energies and virtue as the fruit of liberty (libertas) made possible by the city’s system of republican government. In these same years Florence was also involved in the innovations that were taking place...

    • 13 The Conciliar Church
      (pp. 271-290)
      DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt284z6r.22

      The sharp tension between the Council of Basel and Eugenius IV, the legitimate successor of Martin V, imposed a marked check on the reception of the decisions of the Council of Constance. It is quite true that these were the banner of the new council, or at least of its majority; but, in the meantime, a crystallization of a difference that threatened to transform itself into a denial accelerated and deepened. In the new situation recourse to the council had ever less the significance of the one hope of Christendom, and risked assuming instead the opposite appearance of a threat...

    • 14 Councils and Reform: Challenging Misconceptions
      (pp. 291-312)
      DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt284z6r.23

      On October 7, 1964, readers of the New York Times awoke to find Vatican II’s ecumenical steps described as “truly startling”:

      “The Counter-Reformation is over.” Historians of the future can write this after the votes of the last few days at the Second Vatican Council in Rome. It was the Council of Trent, 1545–1563, that set up a fighting defense against the new Protestant movement and the old schismatic Orthodox believers. Vatican II is dismantling that fierce defensive mechanism which has endured for four centuries. . . .

      The Roman Catholic Church has been transformed in the two short...

  10. Afterword Reflections on a Half Century of Conciliar Studies
    (pp. 313-328)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt284z6r.24

    The introduction to this rich collection of essays includes a generous appraisal of my old work Foundations of the Conciliar Theory.¹ The editors suggested that, to provide a sort of coda or epilogue, I might explain how I came to write the book fifty years ago and reflect a little on the later development of conciliar scholarship. So I will first describe the origin of the book and something of its content, and then mention some aspects of conciliar thought that were not treated in the book but that have been taken up by later scholars—including in contributions to...

    (pp. 329-332)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt284z6r.25
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 333-336)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt284z6r.26