Council of Basle

1431-49. Its claim to being the seventeenth ecumenical council is contested by Roman Catholic theologians on the grounds that papal recognition was not given to its decrees and because they consider it did not truly represent the universal church. The council was called by Martin V on the eve of his death and took place during the papacy of Eugenius IV. Presided over by Julian Cesarini,* it was widely representative, including members of the lower and higher clergy. It was well supported by the universities and the European princes. The council inherited the tasks of the previous council at Constance,* i.e., the extirpation of heresy, reform of the church, and the peace of Christendom. There was conflict from the beginning between council and pope. Eugenius IV, apprehensive because of reports on the council, issued a bull (18 December 1431) dissolving the assembly. In reply, the council, supported by Cesarini and influential men including Nicholas of Cusa,* confirmed the decrees of the Council of Constance on the superiority of the general council over the pope. Eugenius, aware that considerable opinion in the church and in Europe was against him, yielded and recognized the legality of the council (15 December 1433). The council then attempted to carry out reforms including the imposition of restrictions on papal legates, decrees on the nominations of cardinals, and other matters affecting the Curia.

Angered by these interferences in what he regarded as his domain, Eugenius denounced the council in 1436 in a memorandum to all Catholic princes. Dissension grew within the council, caused by a revolutionary spirit of defiance and criticism against the papacy. Eugenius was able to utilize this spirit in his efforts to unite the Latin and Greek wings of the church. He called the council to Ferrara to discuss the proposals of Emperor John VII Palaeologus, and the patriarch of Constantinople. The minority of the council, who supported the pope, came to Ferrara, and on 5 July 1439 the union was proclaimed. Those who had remained at Basle deposed Eugenius IV and appointed Amadeus VIII of Savoy as Felix V (the last of the antipopes). The council dragged on for ten more years, moving to Lausanne in 1448; it dissolved on 25 April 1449. Felix V abdicated, and the council recognized Nicholas V. The church had kept its monarchical form. As a result of the council, the individual states became increasingly independent in ecclesiastical affairs. Princes had exploited the quarrels between popes and council and had restricted the intervention of Rome within their states. The church's authority over the temporal domain had been decreased. In dealing with heresy the council had a measure of success. By negotiation and compromise it reached agreement with the moderate wing of the Hussites (Utraquists*). In 1433 the Compactata of Prague was ratified, conceding Communion in both kinds to the laity.