Council of Basel

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Council of Basel
Accepted by

Roman Catholic Church

Convened by Martin V.
Attendees Felix V.

End of the heresies ( Hussites ), peace in Christianity, church reform

Lateran V0

The Council of Basel or the Council of Basel (1431–1449) is one of the most important synods of the 15th century. The council was convened on July 23, 1431 by Pope Martin V in Basel ; it ended on April 19, 1449.

The split between the Pope and the Council Fathers in 1437 led to the simultaneous Council of Basel / Ferrara / Florence . Officially, the same council took place in the three places mentioned; but since the assembly of Basel was carried on independently, it has become established in research to regard the council as two independent assemblies in Basel and in Ferrara / Florence.

Convocation and start of work

The council was convened by Pope Martin V , who had been elected at the Council of Constance in 1417 , but who represented the primacy of the Pope (the Pope is above the council). According to his will, it should devote itself to caring for the faith, the establishment of peace in Christianity and reforms in the Church itself. The planning of the council goes back to the year 1425; the participants were called to Basel for the summer of 1431, where the council was opened on July 29, 1431.

However, since Pope Martin V had already died on February 2, 1431 and there was a strong demand for reforms , the council disregarded the wishes of the new Pope Eugene IV and adopted its own business and agenda. The attitude that prevailed was that a council should take precedence over the Pope ( conciliarism ).

Reserved attitude of the Pope

Pope Eugene IV thought little of the council, especially since it took place outside of his territorial sphere of influence. So he dissolved it with the bull Quoniam alto of November 12, 1431 and, alternatively, called a meeting in Bologna . However, the majority of the church representatives present in Basel did not care much. The bull was not read, the council held its first session on December 14, 1431 and was devoted to its deliberations in the period that followed. In the second session on February 15, 1432, the synodals confirmed the Constance decrees on conciliarism. Eugene gave way in the bull Dudum sacrum on December 15, 1433, withdrew earlier decrees and recognized the legality of the council. The first 25 sessions in Basel are therefore ecumenical from a Roman Catholic point of view.

Until 1437, the council did not always work in the interests of the new Pope Eugene IV, but also not in open contradiction to him. So it is understandable that Nikolaus Cusanus was able to take part in the work during this time and even rise to become one of the leading council scholars. With his first major work De concordantia catholica (German about: the Catholic / comprehensive agreement) he wrote the theoretical basis for the work of the Council, but later changed the fronts. Another theologian who made his mark on the council was the papal legate Ambrogio Traversari . He put the unification negotiations with Byzantium and the Eastern Church at the center of his activities.

In competition with the Pope, the council announced its own indulgence .

The ecumenical character of the council (ecumenicity) is controversial. The majority of Catholic theology affirmed it until September 1437 (relocation to Ferrara ) or until 1445 (end of the Council of Ferrara-Florence-Rome).

Reform decrees

The resolutions passed during this period were also (partly) applied in practice. The decree De conciliis provincialibus et synodalibus (German for example: Provincial and Synodal Councils) of 1433, which demanded the implementation of annual diocesan synods and regulated the position of the bishop at the synod, probably had the greatest effect .

Part of the reform discourse were also discussions about the abolition of celibacy and a calendar reform (incomplete).

Split between council and papal function

The separation from Pope Eugene IV came about because of differences of opinion as to where the reunification with the Greek Church should be negotiated. When it came to a dispute between the Pope and the Basel Council, the Pope moved the council to Ferrara on September 18, 1437 with his doctoris gentium decision , which split the council. The majority of the council participants stayed in Basel . They were therefore excommunicated by the Pope, which they answered on June 24, 1439 with the deposition of Eugen. On November 5, 1439, Amadeus VIII of Savoy was elected the new Pope by the Council in a conclave that lasted only a few days and went down in history as Felix V from 1439 to 1449 as the last antipope to date. A second schism appeared to have taken place through the election of this further head of the church .

In 1447 the council also lost the political support of the German imperial princes. After Friedrich III. had concluded the Vienna Concordat with Pope Eugene IV , the council was moved to Lausanne on July 4, 1448 , where it had met in the last few months as a rump council. On May 5, 1449, the council dissolved itself.

Canon law processes, politics and culture

In addition to internal church issues, acute political problems of the time were brought up to the Basel Council. a. led to a large number of lawsuits . Often the attempt to reach an amicable agreement by mediators appointed by the council was in the foreground before a decision was made on a regular process in Basel with a final judgment. However, both the mediation proposals and the judgments of the council mostly had no concrete impact.

Inner Church

The council dealt in particular with controversial elections of church dignitaries ( bishops and prelates ), which sometimes led to military conflicts between the respective supporters (kings, princes, cities). The processes over the elections in the dioceses of Lausanne , Trier , Utrecht , Gurk , Auxerre , Tournai , Marseille , Albi , Bayeux , Langres , Sisteron , Strasbourg and Freising were particularly important . Even the diocese of Basel had to be negotiated.

In 1436 the council ordered an investigation into the legality of the incorporation of the main and baptismal church of St. Martin in Sottrum to the provost of the Augustinian monastery in Derneburg . Documentary evidence of the incorporation could not be provided because, according to the monastery, the documents were burned. However, the investigation must ultimately have turned out to be in favor of the monastery, since in the 16th century the entire property of the Sottrum church was in the possession of the monastery.

Trials were also carried out on theological topics. B. on the writings of St. Birgitta of Sweden , the sermons of St. Bernardine of Siena and other works and people accused of being heretical . A process for the canonization of Peter of Luxembourg was initiated but not completed . Aspects of Mariology were also discussed . In the 36th session on September 17, 1439, the council declared that through a special act of prevention, Mary was never defiled by original sin.


The Council of Basel was diplomatically active and tried to mediate in several conflicts in Central and Eastern Europe, in which even the Emperor Sigismund took part.

The solution to the Hussite question , which had overshadowed the Council of Constance , can be seen as the greatest achievement . Although the Utraquists were unable to enforce the implementation of the Four Prague Articles , they managed to have the Chalice Communion permitted again in Bohemia. This was also confirmed by resolutions of the state assembly in Iglau . The negotiations of the Basel Council with the Hussites "led to the church's recognition of a dissenting group for the first time".

Also negotiated were peace solutions for the Hundred Years War , the Old Zurich War , the inheritance disputes in the Duchy of Geldern , in the Electorate of Saxony and in Bohemia , military conflicts in Bavaria and between Poland and the Teutonic Order , disputes between the bishop and the city in Bamberg , Magdeburg and Besançon and the occupation of Aquileja by Venice .

Cultural aspects

Many Italian representatives of Renaissance humanism met at the Council of Basel (e.g. Enea Silvio Piccolomini , Giovanni Aurispa , Ambrogio Traversari , Francesco Piccolpasso or Ugolino Pisani ) and found their first interlocutors from Germany and other Nordic countries, such as . B. Nikolaus von Kues .

The council also played an important role in the exchange of new ideas for the visual arts, but it cannot always be reconstructed in detail. One example is the work of Konrad Witz .

As an institution, the Council of Basel did not deal with the emerging doctrine of witches or the persecution of witches in the form of official debates and decrees. However, at the Council of Basel, witch theorists from different parts of Central Europe came into direct contact with each other for the first time, which, through mutual exchange in the years after the Council, led to the spread of these ideas.


The council anticipated some aspects of the Reformation , but remained tied to the medieval world in others. In the opinion of some (church) historians, the destruction of the council contributed to the fact that the renewal of the church was delayed and later turned out to be all the more radical in the context of the Reformation. Others, on the other hand, argue that the idea of ​​reform broke away from the idea of ​​the Council and that reform efforts within the Catholic Church sought new ways and means.


Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ So Johannes Helmrath: Basel. 4) Council . In: Walter Kasper (Ed.): Lexicon for Theology and Church . 3. Edition. tape 2 . Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau 1994, Sp. 53 (56) .
  2. On this conclave cf. Roger Jean Rebmann: Conclave / Pope election 1439 in Basel , website; Retrieved March 29, 2020. There further references.
  3. ^ Johannes Helmrath: Basel. 4) Council . In: Walter Kasper (Ed.): Lexicon for Theology and Church . 3. Edition. tape 2 . Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau 1994, Sp. 53 (56) .
  4. ^ History of St. Andreas in Sottrum on February 22, 2008
  5. ^ Johannes Helmrath: Basel. 4) Council . In: Walter Kasper (Ed.): Lexicon for Theology and Church . 3. Edition. tape 2 . Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau 1994, Sp. 53 (56) .
  6. ^ Rudolf Urbánek: České dějiny, Prague 1915
  7. ^ Johannes Helmrath: Basel. 4) Council . In: Walter Kasper (Ed.): Lexicon for Theology and Church . 3. Edition. tape 2 . Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau 1994, Sp. 53 (55) .
  8. ^ Johannes Helmrath: Diffusion of Humanism and Reception of Antiquity at the Councils of Constance, Basel and Ferrara / Florence . In: Ludger Grenzmann et al. (Ed.), The presence of antiquity in the transition from the Middle Ages to the early modern period. Report on colloquia of the Commission for Research into the Culture of the Late Middle Ages 1999 to 2002. Göttingen 2004, pp. 9–54.
  9. ^ Jana Lucas: Europe in Basel. The Council of Basel 1431–1449 as a laboratory for art . Basel 2017.