Council of Constance 1414 – 1418

CONSTANCE; capital of the Seekreis (Circle of the Lake), in the grand-duchy of Baden, on the lake of Constance, or Boden, where the Rhine unites the upper part of the lake with the lower; lat. 47° 36′ 10* N., and long. 9° 8′ E. The city and its two suburbs, connected by a bridge over the Rhine, are partially fortified, and very extensive, considering the small number of inhabitants (4500). The ancient episcopal residence and the cathedral contain beautiful monuments of Gothic architecture. Constance is memorable for the Council of 1414—18. The German emperor, the pope, 26 princes, 140 counts, more than 20 cardinals, 7 patriarchs, 20 archbishops, 91 bishops, 600 other clerical dignitaries and doctors, and about 4000 priests, were present at this ecclesiastical assembly, which was occasioned by the divisions and contests about the affairs of the church. From 1305—77, the popes had resided at Avignon; but, in 1378, Gregory XI removed the papal seat back to Rome. After his death, the French and Italian cardinals could not agree upon a successor, and so each party chose its own candidate. This led to a schism which lasted 40 years. Indeed, when the emperor Sigismund ascended the throne, in 1411 there were three popes, each of whom had anathematised the two others. (See Antipope). To put an end to these disorders, and to stop the diffusion of the doctrines of Huss, Sigismund went in person to Italy, France, Spain, and England, and (as the emperor Maximilian I used to say in jest, performing the part of the beadle of the Roman empire) summoned a general Council. The pretended heresies of Wicklifte and Huss were here condemned, and the latter, notwithstanding the assurances of safety given him by the emperor, was burnt, July 6, 1415 ; and his friend and companion, Jerome of Prague, met the same cruel fate, May 30, 1416. After the ecelesiastieal dignitaries supposed they had sufficiently checked the progress of heresy by these executions, they proceeded to depose the three popes-John XXII (also called XXIII.), Gregory XII and Benedict XIII. John, who was present at the Council, was forced to consent to his own removal. He escaped, indeed, with the aid of Frederic, duke of Austria, who was excommunicated and put under the ban of the empire for rendering him assistance, and also lost a large part of his territory. But Frederic at last yielded, delivered John up to the Council, and allowed him to be imprisoned. The former pope now gladly received the humbler office of a cardinal. Gregory XII experienced a similar loss of dignity. Benedict XIII, in Spain, retained, for some time, the name of pope, but was little noticed. Martin V, on the contrary, was legally chosen to the chair of St Peter. Sigismund now thought a complete reformation might be effected in the affairs of the church; but, the new pope having retired to Italy against the emperor’s will, the assembly was dissolved, and his object was not attained. It was first accomplished at the Council of Basil (q. v.). Travellers are still shown the hall where the Council assembled (now occupied as a market house); the chairs on which sat the emperor and the pope; the house where Huss was apprehended, and where his bust is still to be seen; his dungeon, in the Dominican monastery; his statue which serves as a support to the cathedral; and, in the nave of the church, a brazen plate on the spot where the venerable martyr listened to his sentence of death; also the place, in a garden, where he was burnt.

After the Council had been convinced of the heresy of Huss, the bishop of Concordia read, in the cathedral, the sentence, that his books should first be burnt, and that he as a public and scandalous herede, and an evil and obstinate man, should be disgracefully deprived of his priestly dignity, degraded, and excommunicated. The sentence was immediately executed, and began with the degradation. The bishop of Milan and six other bishops led Huss to a table where lay the garments used in the mass, and the other raiment of the priests: they clothed him with them, and, when he was in full dress, with the cup in his hand, the bishops once more called upon him to save his life and honour, and to abjure his opinions. Huss refused, and spoke to the people from the scaffold. After he had spoken, the bishops cried out to him, “Descend from the scaffold” The bishop of Milan and another bishop now took the cup, saying, “O Huss, we take from titee the cup in which was offered the blood of Christ; thou are not worthy of him.” The other bishops then came forward, and each one took off some pert of the priestly apparel with the same speech. When they had finished with the clothes they scraped his shaven crown (to designate the removal of the oil of consecration). Finally, when the excommunication was evaded, they placed upon his head a paper crown, nearly a yard high, with devils pain ted upon it, and the inscription, “John Huss, arch-heretic.” The bishops now turned to the emperor, and said, “The holy Council of Constance now surrenders to the temporal power and tribunal John Huss, who has no longer office or dignity in the church of God.” The emperor arose, and took Huss, and said to the palatine Louis, “As we, dear cousin and prince, wear the temporal sword, take this John Huss and have him punished as becomes a heretic.” Louis laid down his princely ornamento, and led Huss to the provost of Constance, to whom he said, “Upon the sentence of our gracious lord, the Roman emperor, and our special order, take this master Huss, and burn him as a heretic.” The governor gave him to the executioner and his attendants, and Huss was burnt.

The Popular Encyclopedia, Glasgow 1836.

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