The New International Encyclopædia/Basel, Council of

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BASEL, Council of. A memorable and important ecclesiastical council, held in the city of Basel from 1431 to 1449. It was summoned by Pope Martin V., by a bull dated February 1, 1431, and constituted after a fashion on February 27, but after the Cardinal legate, Julian Cesarini of Sant' Angelo, who had been charged with the conduct of the Council, arrived, September 9, 1431, more life was put into it. Its chief business being to conciliate the Hussites, it at once opened negotiations with them. But the new Pope, Eugenius IV., disliked the proceedings, and requested Cesarini on November 12 to dissolve the Council and call another a little later at Bologna. Ere the letter came the Council had formally constituted itself (December 14), and when the Pope's letter arrived it flatly refused to dissolve, and reaffirmed the decree of the Council of Constance, asserting the right of a general council to exercise authority over the Pope himself, and on his persevering to issue bulls for its dissolution, caused a formal process to be commenced against him, and cited him to appear at its bar. It assumed the Papal powers, and exercised them in France and Germany, where its authority was acknowledged. It concluded a peace, in the name of the Church, with the Calixtines, the most powerful section of the Hussites, by the so-called Compactata of Prague of November 30, 1433, granting them the use of the cup in the Lord's Supper. By this, the Emperor Sigismund was greatly aided in recovering possession of Bohemia; and he in return sought to reconcile the Council with Eugenius IV., who, being hard pressed by insurrections in the States of the Church, and, afraid of losing his whole influence in France and Germany, came to a temporary agreement with the Council August 1, 1433. Desirous, however, of limiting the Papal prerogatives, the Council restored to the chapters of cathedrals and collegiate churches the free right of election to stalls and benefices, of which the Pope had assumed the right of disposing; and with a view to the reformation of gross abuses, restricted the practice of appeals to Rome, and prohibited annats and other grievous exactions. It left the Pope the right to dispose of those benefices only which belonged to the diocese of Rome, and prohibited the bestowal of reversions to ecclesiastical offices. It also appointed punishments for certain immoralities in the clergy; and prohibited ‘festivals of fools,’ and all the indecencies which had been commonly practiced in churches at Christmas. It adopted decrees concerning the election of Popes, and for the regulation of the College of Cardinals.

Eugenius, exasperated to the utmost, complained loudly to all sovereign princes. At this time the prospect was opened up of the union of the distressed Greeks with the Church of Rome, and both the Pope and the Council endeavored to make use of this for the advancement of their own interests and influence. Both dispatched galleys for the Greek deputies; but through the intrigues of his agents, the Pope was successful and brought the Greek deputies to Ferrara. The Archbishop of Taranto, a Papal legate at Basel, circulated an ordinance in the name of the Council, and scaled with its seal, recommending Udine or Florence as the place of conference. This was a high-handed proceeding, as not the Council, but only a minority of the Council, desired such a transfer, and the use of the seal was unauthorized. The Archbishop of Taranto was arrested, but he escaped. Yet the Pope followed the minority, and issued a bull calling a council at Florence.

This proceeding put an end to forbearance on the part of the Council, which, on July 31, 1437, again summoned the Pope to its bar, and on his failing to appear, not only declared him contumacious (October 11, 1437), but on his transferring the Council to Ferrara, went so far as (on January 24, 1438) to decree his suspension from the functions of the Papacy. His party was, however, so strong that this decree could not be carried into effect; while some of those who had been among the more influential members of the Council, the Cardinal legate Julian himself, and the greater number of the Italians, had shortly before left Basel and gone over to the Pope's side. All the more resolutely did Cardinal Louis d'Allemand, Archbishop of Arles, a man of most superior understanding, courage, and eloquence, now guide the proceedings. On May 16, 1439, the Council declared the Pope a heretic for his obstinate disobedience to its decrees; and on June 25, 1439, formally deposed him for simony, perjury, and other offenses, and elected Amadeus VIII. of Savoy in his stead. He called himself Felix V. (q.v.).

In the latter part of 1443 Felix V. left Basel and went to Lausanne. On May 18, 1448, Frederick III. forbade the city of Basel longer to harbor the Council. So, on June 25, it decreed its transfer to Lausanne; and there, on April 25, 1449, it decreed its dissolution. The Council had shown itself powerless to effect the reforms in the Papal Curia with which it had set out, and was on the whole a failure. Its reforming decrees are held to be invalid by the Roman Catholic canonists; but extreme Galileans, such as Richer, recognize it as ecumenical all through, and the more moderate ones, with Natalis Alexander, up to the prorogation to Ferrara.

Consult: Monumenta Conciliorum Generalium Sæculi XV. (Vienna, 1857-96); Concilium Basiliense, Studien und Quellen zur Geschichte des Konzils von Basel, edited by von Haller (3 vols., Basel, 1896-1900); also C. J. Hefele, Konziliengeschichte, Vol. VII. (Freiburg, 1891).