Council of Constance

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Council of Constance
November 5, 1414 - April 22, 1418
Accepted by

Roman Catholic Church

Convened by Antipope John XXIII.

King Sigismund , Antipope John XXIII.

Attendees 600 clerics

Occidental schism , teachings of Jan Hus , John Wyclif and Hieronymus of Prague , conciliarism


Most important documents: decrees listing and condemning the “errors” of Jan Hus and John Wyclif, questionnaires for their supporters in the bull Inter cunctas , decree Cum in nonnullis , decree Quilibet tyrannus , decree Haec sancta , decree Frequens

The Council of Constance or Council of Constance (November 5, 1414 to April 22, 1418) was an assembly of the church leadership in Constance , which was initiated by the Roman-German King Sigismund of the antipope Johannes XXIII. was convened. The host was Prince-Bishop Otto III. from Hachberg .

The assembly was supposed to end the Great Occidental Schism , which had lasted since 1378 , and thus restore the unity of the church (causa unionis) . Another point of negotiation, the causa reformationis (church reform), related to necessary reforms of internal church conditions. Finally, in the should causa fidei (Doubt) questions the Church's preaching and sacraments clarified and thus the heresy (heresy) to be tackled effectively.


Popes of the Western Schism
Johannes XXIII. (Gegenpapst) Johannes XXIII. (Gegenpapst) Alexander V. (Gegenpapst) Martin V. Gregor XII. Innozenz VII. Innozenz VII. Bonifatius IX. Urban VI. Gregor XI. Benedikt XIII. (Gegenpapst) Clemens VII. (Gegenpapst)

Dissatisfied with the administration of the Roman Pope Urban VI. In 1378 the cardinals elected their colleague Robert of Geneva in Fondi - near Rome - as Clement VII as antipope. In doing so, they sparked the Western Schism , the split within the Latin Church . This not only meant the religious division of Catholic Christianity. It also resulted in a political polarization of the two camps, which often culminated in armed conflicts. Even the death of a pope in the following years did not lead to reunification, as the cardinals attached to the respective popes chose a successor from their own ranks. In 1409, at the Council of Pisa, the cardinals who had fallen away from "both" popes declared the two competing representatives of Christ deposed and elected another Pope, Alexander V. However, they did not remove the schism. Instead, the “wicked duality” had become a “cursed trinity” (trinitas non benedicta, sed maledicta) .

Territorial situation during the occidental schism 1378–1417

When King Sigismund took office , the three Popes Gregory XII quarreled . (Rome), Benedict (XIII.) (Avignon) and John (XXIII.) (Pisa) for rule in the Church. Since the three were each supported in their claims by different rulers in Europe, these turmoil threatened the empire from inside and outside. The Roman-German King Sigismund, as advocatus et defensor ecclesiae (Vogt and protector of the church), became the driving force behind a church council that was supposed to end the western schism. The Pisan Pope John (XXIII), who had hoped to emerge from this council as the only Pope in the end, suggested his refuge, Bologna , as the venue for the conference . In lengthy negotiations and under Sigismund's pressure, the parties finally agreed on a neutral constancy.


Council meeting in Constance Minster (from the Constance Council chronicle of Ulrich von Richental )
King Sigismund and Queen Barbara on the train to the Münster (also from the Richental Chronicle)
Although King Sigismund had promised him safe conduct , Jan Hus was arrested in 1415 and burned on a stake (depiction with heretic hat , Jena Codex , approx. 1500)

John (XXIII) was the only Pope to come to Constance himself and opened the council on November 5, 1414, initially only those bishops who were on his side were present. At the end of 1414 King Sigismund came to the council and, after consulting some influential theologians of the assembly, issued rules of procedure that stipulated that the Italians would vote according to " nations " and not, as has been the case up to now, head-to-head To prevent bishops. In total there were five nationes in Constance: Italica, Gallicana, Germanica - including the Scandinavians, Poles, Lithuanians, Croats, Hungarians and Bohemia - Anglica and Hispanica .

In mid-February 1415, under pressure from the council, John (XXIII) signed a declaration that he would resign if Gregory XII. (Roman obedience) and Benedict (XIII.) (Avignon obedience) would do the same. He also had to swear not to leave the city of Konstanz. In order to maintain his power, he fled, contrary to the agreement, on the night of March 20th to 21st with the support of the Habsburg Duke Friedrich IV of Austria disguised as a groom to Schaffhausen and then on to Freiburg im Breisgau . King Sigismund was outraged by the pope's flight. As Roman German king he imposed on Duke Frederick the imperial ban and asked the front Austrian territories under direct imperial sovereignty. Freiburg im Breisgau became a free imperial city in 1415 and remained so until 1425.

Without a pope, the council was not quorate. Therefore, on April 6, 1415, the church assembly passed the decree Haec sancta , which had been drawn up by Guillaume Fillastre , a cardinal appointed by John: According to this, the church assembly in Constance had its authority directly from Christ; everyone of whatever rank or dignity, even if it should be the papal, is bound to obey her.

In Freiburg, Pope John (XXIII) began a subversive activity in order to undermine his deposition by the council. To this end, he also sought political support abroad from the Dukes of Burgundy and Orléans . When Johannes wanted to cross the Rhine near Breisach on April 29, 1415, Sigismund's imperial vicar Ludwig von der Pfalz arrested him . Sigismund ordered that John be held until a new Pope was elected. On May 29th, the council decided to dismiss it by virtue of the decree Haec sancta .

Pope Gregory XII, who resided in Rome. had not recognized the council, but swore an oath before his election as Pope to resign if necessary, if this would help to end the schism. After the removal of his rival Johannes, he sent a messenger to King Sigismund and declared himself ready to resign if cardinals loyal to Rome were to convene a new council. Thereupon Gregory's representative, Cardinal Johann Dominici of Ragusa, formally opened a new council at the beginning of July 1415, with which the authority of the Bishop of Rome (Pope Gregory XII) was satisfied. On July 4th Gregory declared his resignation, which the council confirmed. Gregor did not recognize the decision of the council, however, as he had resigned "voluntarily" as promised.

The Avignon Pope Benedict (XIII) refused to abdicate and fled from Avignon to the Spanish Levant to Peñíscola , where he resided until his death in 1423. In the meantime Sigismund was negotiating with the King of Aragon . Finally, some of Benedict's bishops also came to the council. This deposed Benedict (XIII) on July 26, 1417 and could now proceed to the election of a new Pope.

Preparations for the election of a new joint Pope ( conclave ) proved to be difficult because the cardinals present at the council with voting rights all came from France, Spain and, above all, Italy. That is why the Council Fathers resorted to the tried and tested principle of the nationes to elect a Pope . The five nations each sent six delegates who, together with the 23 cardinals, went to the conclave on November 8, 1417 in the hermetically shielded department store on the lake. In the second ballot on November 11, 1417, Cardinal Colonna received a majority of the nationes' votes and eight of the cardinal's votes . Now the participants in the conclave began with the voting mode known as the process , the addition of votes cast elsewhere on the candidate in the lead. On November 11, shortly before noon, Odo Colonna's election was over. An hour later, Martin V and his constituents went to the cathedral in a solemn procession. Odo Colonna, who was elected on Martin's Day, called himself Martin accordingly and was crowned Pope on November 21st.

The Church had always taught that a public official's unworthiness does not devalue their actions. The deposition of the popes remained controversial by virtue of the decree Haec sancta . In addition, the ecclesiastical dignitaries who ordered the deposition were all appointed by one of the three deposed popes. The fundamental decision of the council on the question of the supremacy of a general council over the pope (question of superiority) was not endorsed by any pope even later, but was defended outside Rome by bishops and theologians in Europe until the 16th century ( conciliarism ).

Among the other subjects of the council, the council condemned the teachings of John Wyclif , Jan Hus and Jerome of Prague . Jan Hus was arrested as a heretic on November 28, 1414, in the absence of King Sigismund, and burned on July 6, 1415. Jerome of Prague, who wanted to help him, was also arrested and burned on May 30, 1416. John Wyclif (1330 to 1384) had been dead for three decades at the time of the council. His bones were excavated after a few years and also burned.

On October 9, 1417, the council passed the Edict Frequens , in which it was stipulated that from now on further councils should take place at regular intervals at least every ten years in order to complete the church reform.

End of the council

On April 22, 1418, Pope Martin ended the Council of Constance with the 45th session (conference session). He gave the blessing on the upper Münsterhof, assisted by King Sigismund with a crown and orb. The Pope left on May 16, 1418. His way led via Geneva to Rome. King Sigismund left on May 21, 1418. To compensate for his debts and those of his followers, he left shawls with gold threads.

Results and consequences

Of the three causae mentioned above , the council resolved only the causa unionis with the removal of three popes and the appointment of Martin V as sole pope . It was the only papal election on German soil. However, it remained schism with the followers of resident in Spain against Pope Benedict (XIII.) ( "Papa Luna") initially made and could also on the (1423) Succession Council of Pavia-Siena are not solved because Alfonso V of Aragon to took the side of the Spanish antipope and advocated the election of a successor to Benedict, who died in May 1423, instead of joining Martin. It was not until 1429 that Martin V reached an agreement with the antipope Clement (VIII) and thus ended the western schism for good.

The Constance decree Haec Sancta was actually supposed to create a collegial relationship between the Pope and the council and thus create a climate for reforms, but resistance to conciliarism remained strong, especially in the camp of the curials who had previously adhered to Roman obedience. The new Pope Martin V also acted skilfully in the following years to maintain his office and its abundance of power in the face of conciliarist aspirations, and the conflict over the question of whether the council had priority over the pope still remained in Siena (1423) unsolved. It escalated a few years later at the Council of Basel and led to the split between the Pope and the Council. The causa reformationis of the Roman Church, which was only rudimentarily discussed in Constance, remained in the background due to these disputes. Martin Luther warned dramatically that, in his opinion, the real reforms of the church to head and members that had been neglected in Constance a hundred years later.

The causa fidei was even aggravated by the breach of the promise of safe conduct and the burning of the Bohemian rebels Jan Hus and Hieronymus of Prague , since the religious dispute now took a national-Czech turn. In Bohemia , the Konstanz judgment on the popular Prague preacher and church reformer and his teachings sparked popular uprisings that led to the Hussite Wars . Even after the suppression of the supporters of Hus and other groups who invoked Hus, the antagonism between Catholics and Hussites in Bohemia persisted. In the course of the 16th century, large parts of the Hussites approached the Protestants, whose teachings were themselves influenced by Hussite ideas. The so-called Bohemian Brothers , who still played a role in the Bohemian class uprising in 1618 , which triggered the Thirty Years' War , became important for this.

In addition, the decree Quilibet tyrannus from Constance denied the unrestricted and unconditional legitimacy of tyrannicide . The starting point was the efforts of Jean Gerson , the theses Jean Petits in which this murder of the Duke of Burgundy John the Fearless at the Duke Louis d'Orléans justified on November 23, 1407 to condemn. The disputes led to the Armagnacs and Bourguignons Civil War , linked to the Hundred Years War between England and France .

Another conflict that preoccupied the council was that between the Teutonic Order and the Polish-Lithuanian Union . While the Teutonic Order continued to raid under the pretext that the Lithuanians had only pretended to accept Christianity , the Lithuanians demanded their rights as a Christian people in the Proposicio Samaytarum . A delegation from the council traveled to Samogitia and founded the diocese of Varniai there on October 24, 1417 .

Constance as a council city

Plaque in memory of the Council of Constance
Memorial plaque in the pedestrian zone of Konstanz

When asked about the location of the council, several locations were discussed. In addition to Strasbourg , Basel and Kempten (Allgäu) , Constance was last option. Because of its proximity to waterways, Konstanz had a good infrastructure and was therefore able to be supplied with food and everyday goods. In addition, Constance was not only an imperial city like the other cities, but also the seat of the (then) diocese.

During the council, Konstanz was the focus of church-political interest in Europe for four years. The king, pope and princes of the church stayed with their respective entourage in Constance and the surrounding towns. There were 33 cardinals, 346 patriarchs, archbishops and bishops, 2148 secular doctors and 546 heads and members of the monastic orders, all with horses and their numerous companions, so that the city was bursting at the seams. The estimated 50,000 to 70,000 council visitors - the historian Ulrich von Richental even spoke of 72,460 visitors - not only gave the city a considerable economic and cultural boom, but also brought it to the limits of its capacity with around 6,000 inhabitants in these four years. Richental's chronicle of the council, which hosted the council's participants in his house near the minster, testifies to the response from the citizens. Richental carried out writing and notarial business in connection with the events of the Council, collected copies of numerous documents (in individual cases with the help of a bribe ) and made them one of the most important still today with reports of the events, lists of participants and coats of arms as well as an extensive cycle of illustrations Sources of the history of the council together.

A small plaque on the southern market square in Konstanz today commemorates the council. In 1993, the Imperia , the figure of a luscious courtesan , was erected in the harbor , reminding of the worldly needs of the Council visitors. To their satisfaction came "open women in the women's shelters and otherwise women who had rented houses and were lying in the stables or wherever there was space, there were around 700 there, without the secret ones".

From 2014 to July 22, 2018, the city of Konstanz celebrated the 600th anniversary of the council. As part of the anniversary of the council, a major state exhibition was held in the council building from April 27 to September 21, 2014, which was put together by the Baden State Museum in Karlsruhe . On November 11, 2017, the 600th anniversary of the council was commemorated with a ceremony in the council building in Konstanz ; with an ecumenical service in Konstanz Cathedral, with the Pope Francis appointed Pontifical special envoy Kurt Cardinal Koch , the apostolic nuncio in Germany, Archbishop Nikola Eterovic , the Freiburg Archbishop Stephan Burger and the Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Baden Jochen Cornelius-Bundschuh to the papal election of Martin V. remembers.

Philatelic and numismatic appreciation

As a philatelic tribute to the historical event 600 years ago, Deutsche Post AG issued a special postage stamp with an issue date of 3 July 2014 with a value of 60 euro cents. The stamp shows details of the council location and important council events in eight motifs. The design comes from the graphic designer Nicole Elsenbach from Hückeswagen .

As a numismatic tribute, the Federal Republic of Germany issued a 10 euro commemorative coin on July 3, 2014.

Important persons of the council

Reception in the 19th century: Johann Hus at the Council of Constance , painting by Carl Friedrich Lessing , 1842

The various detailed lists that have been handed down to the Council in the years 1414–1418 contradict each other in part. The following persons played an important role during the Council of Constance:


  • Andreas von Regensburg : Concilium Constanciense. 1422.
  • Hieronymus von Croaria (ed.): Acta scitu dignissima docteque concinnata Constantiensis concilii celebratissimi. Hagenau 1500. (First print edition of Konstanz Council acts with a dedication letter from Konrad Summenhart dated April 11, 1499 on the back of the title page.)
  • Giovanni Dominicus Mansi: Sacrorum Conciliorum Nova et amplissima collectio. Editio novissima. Part 1–31. Florence, Venice 1759–1798.
  • Heinrich Finke (Ed.): Acta Concilii Constanciensis. Part 1-4. Munster i. W. 1896-1928, 2nd ed. 1976.
  • Ulrich von Richental : Chronicle of the Council of Constance 1414-1418. Introduced and edited by Thomas Martin Buck. Ostfildern 2010, ISBN 978-3-7995-6841-8 .
  • Council town of Constance (ed.): Ulrich Richental: Chronicle of the Council of Constance, 1414-1418. Facsimile of the Konstanz copy with a comment by Jürgen Klöckler. Theiss, Darmstadt 2013, ISBN 978-3-8062-2782-6 .


  • Silvia Volkart (Ed.): Rome on Lake Constance. The time of the Council of Constance. NZZ Libro, Zurich 2014, ISBN 978-3-03823-887-4 .
  • Badisches Landesmuseum Karlsruhe (ed.): The Constance Council. Catalog. 1414-1418. World event of the Middle Ages. Theiss, Darmstadt 2014, ISBN 978-3-8062-0001-0 .
  • Karl-Heinz Braun, Mathias Herweg, Hans W. Hubert, Joachim Schneider, Thomas Zotz (Eds.): The Council of Constance. Essays. 1414-1418. World event of the Middle Ages. Theiss, Stuttgart 2013, ISBN 978-3-8062-2849-6 .
  • Thomas Martin Buck and Herbert Kraume: The Constance Council. Church politics - world events - everyday life. Thorbecke, Ostfildern 2013, ISBN 978-3-7995-0502-4 .
  • Jan Keupp , Jörg Schwarz : Constance 1414-1418. A city and its council. Primus, Darmstadt 2013, ISBN 978-3-86312-038-2 .
  • Klaus Schelle: The Council of Constance. 2nd edition, Stadler, Konstanz 2010, ISBN 978-3-7977-0557-0 .
  • Walter Brandmüller : The Council of Constance 1414-1418. Volume 1: Until Sigismund's departure for Narbonne. Schönigh, Paderborn 1991, ISBN 3-506-74690-1 . Volume 2: Until the end of the council. Schöningh, Paderborn 1998, ISBN 3-506-74691-X .
  • Klaus Schatz: General Councils - Focal Points in Church History. 2nd edition, UTB / Schöningh, Paderborn 2008, ISBN 3-8252-1976-3 (UTB) / ISBN 3-506-99492-1 (Schöningh).
  • Ansgar Frenken: The research of the Council of Constance (1414-1418) in the last 100 years (= Annuarium historiae conciliorum. Volume 25,1 / 2). Schöningh, Paderborn 1993, ISBN 3-506-59462-1 (also dissertation at the University of Cologne 1994).
  • Hubert Jedin (ed.): Handbook of Church History: From the High Middle Ages to the eve of the Reformation. Seven volumes, volume 3, half volume 2nd special edition, Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau 1985, ISBN 3-451-27100-1 .
  • Karl August Fink : The world historical significance of the Constance Council. In: Journal of the Savigny Foundation for Legal History . Canonical Department , Vol. 51 (1965), pp. 1-23.

Web links

Commons : Council of Constance  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wikisource: Council of Constance  - Sources and full texts


  1. Klaus Schatz: General Councils - Focal Points of Church History . Paderborn 1997, p. 133.
  2. Thomas Martin Buck: The salvation of the Holy See . Badische Zeitung, page 1, from April 26, 2014
  3. ^ Rolf Zimmermann: At Lake Constance. Verlag Friedrich Stadler, Konstanz 2004. ISBN 3-7977-0507-7 , p. 9
  4. The house that still exists is now called the council building , although the negotiations of the church assembly took place in the Konstanzer Münster and the other city churches.
  5. ^ Henry Gerlach: The election of Martin V, Competence Center Konstanz Council, 2012
  6. Johannes Hof: What remains for us from the Council of Constance. In: Südkurier , April 20, 2018, pp. 20–21.
  7. Jörg Krummenacher: [1] "Habemus Papam" on the edge of Switzerland from November 11, 2017
  8. ^ K. Walcher: Various things from the time of the Konstanz church assembly . Writings of the Society for the Promotion of History, 1 , 211, Freiburg 1828
  9. ^ Homepage of the council town of Constance
  10. ^ Postage stamps and collector's coins: 600 years of the Council of Constance BMF of July 9, 2014
  11. Commemorative coin program 2014 (silver) On the website of the Federal Ministry of Finance , accessed on July 1, 2018.
  12. ^ Joseph Riegel: The lists of participants in the Council of Constance. In: Journal of the Society for the Advancement of History, Antiquity and Folklore. 31 , 193, 1915
  13. ^ Participants in the conclave ,, accessed on January 4, 2014