The Aftermath of the Council of Constance
This section comprises chapters 9 through 12 of Volume II. They are listed below. To go directly to any particular chapter click on the link to that chapter. Otherwise you can scroll down as you read chapter by chapter.
- Chapter 9 – Inefficiency and Tumults of the Council
- Chapter 10 – Benedict Deposed, Progress of Reform
- Chapter 11 – Measures of the Pope and Council Against the Bohemians
- Chapter 12 – Futility of the Council and its Dissolution
Inefficiency and Tumults of the Council Ill Success and Return of the Emperor
The execution of Jerome, amid the clashing schemes and conflicting interests which marked the progress of the council, was passed lightly by. A gallant ship had gone down upon a stormy sea, and the wild waves of passion rolled on as madly and fiercely as if there had been no human victim of their murderous play. No expression of regret or remorse bubbles up visibly to the surface, to speak, in the actors, any bitter memory of the deed. No doubt it was remembered—no doubt, in later years, minds like Gerson’s recurred to it sadly—but the death of Jerome, at the time, produced scarcely a pause in the struggle of conflicting parties and interests.
On the next day after the execution (May 31), a decree of the council was issued, summoning its absent members to return, under penalty, in case of disobedience, of incurring the indignation of Almighty God, and St. Peter and St. Paul, his apostles. The council felt that it was now incumbent upon it to prosecute with energy the matter of the union of the church. This was manifest in the congregations held upon the following days. In spite of a letter of Sigismund, urging upon them the business of reform, the members showed themselves more inclined to remove the difficulties that stood in the way of the deposition of Benedict and the election of a new pope.
The case of the Bohemians, moreover, called for the notice of the council. The execution of Jerome was not calculated to soothe the feelings or repress the indignation of his countrymen. Their letter of remonstrance had reached the council at the close of the previous year. Their citation for their presumption and suspicion of heretical pravity in adhering to Huss had been demanded by the prosecuting officers of the council, in its name, on the twentieth of February, 1416. This citation was issued on the fifth of May, and was publicly affixed to the church doors and gates of Constance. A commission to attend to the process of trial—which was to be summary in the case of those cited—was appointed on the third of June. It was now, upon the non-appearance of the Bohemians summoned to answer before the council, that they were to be declared guilty of contumacy. The number of these is variously stated from four hundred and fifty to five hundred and fifty. They embraced, as we have already seen, some of the most powerful and distinguished members of the Bohemian nobility. To them the threats of the council were a mere brutum fulmen. They treated them with contempt. Secure in their distance from Constance and the consciousness of their own strength, they were driven into a more defiant attitude by the steps taken to awe them into submission. The execution of Jerome, following upon that of Huss, was in their eyes a new outrage, tending to destroy the last vestige of respect which they could ever have entertained for the body by whose order the deed was done.
A different course from theirs was the one pursued by one of their countrymen at Constance, the Knight De Latzembock. He had gradually risen till he stood high in the emperor’s favor. He it was who bore the news of the emperor’s coronation at Aix la Chapelle to Constance, on the opening of the council. Since that time he had been employed in high positions, and had had charge of important matters. But still, in spite of all this, the stain of heretical leprosy clung to him. It was not forgotten that he was one of those whom the Bohemian king had commissioned to escort Huss to Constance. Although he had since had but little to do with him, and showed in his character and life more of the courtier than the friend, he yet fell under suspicion. The council felt that it was at least dangerous that such a man should not be committed with themselves to the guilt of their own deed. There was something ominous in his silence. It could not be tolerated. He must speak out. He must seem at least to endorse the condemnation of his countrymen, or he could not be trusted about the person of the emperor. He was cited—according to a historian hostile to Huss—and required to abjure the doctrine and approve the condemnation of Huss and Jerome. With this requisition he complied. Doubtless his conscience excused him for the crime under the plea of necessity, but the suspicion of his sincerity which was still entertained, while it commends his intellectual convictions, suggests the policy and pliability of the courtier. To this man, this new convert, letters were given by the council to be carried into Bohemia and delivered to his countrymen, but we hear no more of them, and it is doubtful whether he who would abjure his convictions for fear of the council, would be forward to thrust before the eyes of his own countrymen the provocation of his infamy not unattended by danger.
Never was the difference between preaching and practice better illustrated than in the history and proceeding; of the council. We have seen how loud had been the cry of remonstrance and the complaint of corruption. It was notorious that the most simoniacal arts had raised many of the prelates of the council to the position they occupied. The channels of promotion were not through merit, but money. Again and again this crying infamy of the church had been exposed. Except the deposition of John XXIII, no noticeable steps had been taken in the direction of reform. Two men had been put to death, upon whose characters there rested not a stain of corruption or impurity, and who were angels by the side of their judges. At last a victim was found—a poor insignificant copyist—of prelatical and pontifical simony. A scapegoat was wanted, and John Creith of Liege was the one selected. He had, unfortunately for himself, though to his great pecuniary advantage, been one of the minions of John XXIII. Acting as his secretary, be had employed his knowledge and skill to his own emolument, counterfeiting, to this end, apostolic letters and documents. He was accused of having sold thirty benefices, and of having reserved in his own hands others, which were incompatible in the hands of one man. Upon this victim, punishment, therefore, must alight. He, at least, will be made a signal example. But what is his sentence? Suspension from office! No wonder the preacher of two or three days later (June 7), should remark—when speaking on the text, “They were filled with the Holy Ghost”—that instead of the seven graces which were bestowed on the apostles at the day of Pentecost, he feared that the devil had had his Pentecost in the hearts of most of the clergy, and had inspired them with vices directly contrary to the graces of the apostles.
But little, however, was accomplished by the council after Jerome’s death, for several months. They were reluctant to enter upon any measures of reform. The emperor was absent, and private interests and party purposes acknowledged no supreme authority to overawe them. The council assumed the character for the most part of a great debating club, except as party policy mingled with the intrigues of the caucus. The affair of Petit was still warmly controverted, yet little if any progress was made toward its settlement. The Cardinal of Cambray issued his treatise on ecclesiastical power, some portions of which contain sentiments in advance of his age, and strongly savoring of a protestant character. Yet this very treatise gave rise, by the doubts which he threw out in its concluding chapter, to some of the most agitating and angry controversies. Should the English, or the union of Spain with the council, be recognized still as a separate and independent nation composing it? It was a firebrand thrown in among a mass of inflammable materials, and the conflagration at once burst forth. The pride of England, fresh from the glorious field of Agincourt, resented the doubt as an insult. Yet the French could not look with complacency upon the exaltation of their great rival. The Spaniard, who had now arrived with a view to join the council, found their place preoccupied by the English, who had always heretofore been recognized as an integral portion of the German nation in the councils of the church. The controversy kindled to a flame. Fierce passions were indulged, and fierce words spoken. The Cardinal of Cambray was not allowed to touch upon the subject, as he had proposed, in a public discourse. He complained of this restriction upon his liberty. It was but a poor satisfaction to be informed that he must be careful how he appeared in the streets, for armed Englishmen sought his life. More than once the matter threatened to proceed to open violence, but by the intervention of the prince, and a mass of national protests against present privileges being allowed as precedents, passion was cooled and the danger deferred.
The council meanwhile had received new and large accessions to its numbers. England was more numerously represented. Among others came Robert Clifford, bishop of London, the two chancellors of Oxford and Cambridge, and twelve doctors, ostensibly to maintain the rights of the English nation.
The kingdoms of Portugal, Aragon, Castile, Navarre, and Scotland sent delegates to Constance, who were, most of them, successively received with similar formalities to those upon which the representatives of Gregory XII had insisted. Some of them were quite leisurely in making their appearance. Months passed, bringing from them to the council only letters and promises. Nothing could be done, meanwhile, that could be regarded as final and conclusive in regard to Benedict XIII. His trial and deposition, in order to be acknowledged legitimate, must be anticipated in by all the nations.
It was during this period, previous to taking further and more decisive measures against Benedict, that the council presented a most singular scene of turmoil and recrimination. Questions of national precedence and representation; the complaints of the cardinals that they were not notified previously of the subjects of discussion; the affair of John Petit still dragging its slow length along, vain and futile attempts to draw up plans on the subject of reform, which the emperor still urged upon the attention of the council, all conspired to render that body the scene of angry and bitter controversy. It was during this period, also, that Gerson signalized himself, not only by his zeal in controverted matters, but by peculiar manifestations of what at the present day might be regarded as ultra orthodoxy. We have recently seen the doctrine of “The immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary” solemnly adopted by the Roman Catholic church as one of the integral elements of its creed. Gerson, on this subject, was in advance of his times. At Paris he had manfully contended in behalf of the doctrine, and had classed its principal opponent with Huss himself. But now his devotion went still further. He urged publicly upon the council the immaculate conception of St. Joseph, and, opposed as he was to the multiplication of saints’ days, went so far as to insist that to this rule of restriction St. Joseph should be excepted. But the council were not ready to endorse the suggestion. More than four hundred years more were destined to pass away, before the question in regard to the Virgin Mary could be put at rest. Another century may yet honor the logical consistency of Gerson, that ranks Mary and Joseph together as to their claim on this point.
It was near the close of the year (1416) that the council replied to a letter of Sigismund, informing him of the state of affairs at Constance. He had ever a horror for all that tended to civil commotion. His hostility to the doctrines of Petit was aggravated by what he saw in the anarchy and violence of France—results as he regarded them of his incendiary principles. His prejudice against Huss had been skillfully aggravated by the enemies of the reformer, when they imputed to his views and preaching similar tendencies. For this reason, he was urgent that the council should prosecute the Bohemian heresy to its extinction. But this was a task beyond their power. They wrote to the emperor now to implore his aid.
There was good reason for doing so. The council found themselves contemned by heretics. Their threats were despised; their authority was disregarded; their own conduct was arraigned, and the Bohemian nation boldly declared its purpose to persist in the course upon which it had entered. In these circumstances their only hope of help was in the emperor. He must enforce the authority of the council by his imperial power. The letter which the council wrote him is important for the picture which it gives of the state of things in Bohemia, as well as on other accounts. It commences with a statement of the daily complaints made to the council of evils that prevailed in Bohemia; the scandalous dangers and dangerous scandals, through errors, heresies, seditions, and persecutions, which had given disturbance to the clergy, and which were spread over a country inflamed by “more than material fire.” It speaks of the disciples of Wickliffe, Huss, and Jerome as the followers of Belial, and abounding in impiety and perfidy. The two former, condemned by the council, were represented as saints in the churches, were spoken of as such in sermons, were honored in the divine offices, and had masses celebrated for them as martyrs. Their followers sought to disseminate and perpetuate their errors, drawing off to themselves all classes of persons, learned and ignorant, and of both sexes. They are spoken of as treating lightly holy mother church, and holding sentences and censures in contempt. The evil was rising to an alarming height. The intelligence of the council’s proceedings had only urged them to new and more detestable excesses.
The council then sets forth in a more specific form the evils of which they complain; members of the university, and other priests infected by them, continued to preach the errors of Wickliffe and Huss, which the council had condemned. They had been cherished, defended, and protected by certain barons and nobles of the kingdom, who, in letters to the council with their seals affixed, had avowed their acts. The communion of the cup was preached and practiced in the cities and villages, notwithstanding the decision of the council upon the subject, and the threatened penalty of eternal damnation. The clergy were ill treated and abused, and even the Jews enjoyed a greater liberty than was allowed to them. The interdict was still continued in many monasteries and churches, on account of the presence among them of that wretch, John Jessenitz, by which means many hundreds of masses are every day omitted. The metropolitan church had been long unoccupied, both on account of the interdict, and the robbery of its revenues, out of which three hundred ecclesiastics had formerly been sustained. The relics which had been deposited there, which the people had peen accustomed to visit daily, had been plundered for years. Some of the barons were defaming the holy council, and preventing the clergy from complying with its commands. Such as had obeyed had been plundered and expelled from their posts.
The letter then sets forth the sad condition of the university, once foremost in rank among all of the German nation, now almost a deserted habitation, and driving from it those who are unwilling to be polluted by its errors. The nation, too, once submissive to its prelates, and religiously faithful to the divine worship, and to all things required by ecclesiastical obedience, is now disgraced throughout the world by perfidy and error.
Against these evils the council declares that it has done what it could. Convoked to exterminate heresy and reform the world, it has by the grace of God proceeded to the task assigned. One of the leaders of heresy it has given over by sentence to the secular court, the other remains in custody, while processes have been fulminated against their favorers and adherents. Yet, in the need of more ample resources of defense, the council invokes, and pressingly demands, through its venerable and eminent bishops, doctors, masters, and ambassadors, the arm of his imperial majesty. It calls upon him as the defender and advocate of the church, to destroy the perfidious, defend the holy church itself and its faithful members, no less than restrain the enemies of the Christian name. It incites him against the Bohemians as errorists and persecutors of the church of God, urging him to expel the seditious and drive out intruders. It then sets forth the character of Wenzel, king of Bohemia, in language which his brother Sigismund could appreciate. These excesses never disturbed him. He dissembles in everything. He lets everything take its course. The evils which he should resist even to blood, and at the risk of his life, he tolerates in the heart of his kingdom, or even, as was more lamentably reported, cherishes and supports. “Proceed, therefore,” the council say, “with all dispatch; all lingering is dangerous; all delay does mischief. Act for the salvation of all who are like to perish before the eyes of the council, before your own, and the eyes of all beholders. Act at once, while any hope of safety remains. If the disease continues, and the time to arrest it is neglected, there is fear that the evil will become irreparable. Faith and the church, spiritualities and temporalities, souls and bodies, are threatened with a like ruin. Act heartily, glorious in the triumph of virtue, noble worshipper of justice and merit, so as to reign for ever with the Savior of the world, of whom you are the type. Your exalted piety may aspire to such merit.”
It was indeed time to call upon the emperor for aid. To calm the storm it had raised was beyond the power of the council. The letters of the Bohemian nobles already noticed, were not the only ones that reached them of the same tenor. Some less numerously signed, some written by individuals, attested the strength of the indignation excited by the provocations which had been offered. The absence of the emperor in Spain left them for a while to feel the bitterness of that contempt to which they were exposed by their own deeds, while unprotected by the imperial sword.
But the emperor’s method of quieting the insurrectionary spirit was by far the wisest. He sought to reform the clergy, and urged the subject with repeated importunity upon the attention of the council. Successive failures to secure any advance in this direction might have satisfied him that moral suasion is a poor and ineffectual motive to arrest a party like that with which he had to deal, in a course where their own interest is at stake. He employed, however, one of his ministers to draw up for the council a plan of reform, but all the reward of the servant for speaking out his master’s views, as he undoubtedly did, was to be called “a Hussite rather than a Christian.” “There must first,” said these grandees of the council, to put off the evil day and prevent their own exposure, “There must first be a pope to authorize the reform.” There were those who urged Sigismund to take the matter into his own hand, to fix the yearly salary of the popes and bishops, reserving what remained of the treasures of the church to further his darling project of a crusade against the Turks. But from such a step as this even the emperor shrunk. It would be committing the unpardonable sin with which Luther stood charged a century later, of “attacking the monks’ bellies.”
The well-known views of the emperor contributed undoubtedly to secure for those who ventured to express them, freedom of speech in the council. The sermons preached abounded, as we have seen, with most unpalatable statements of the corruption of the clergy. These public discourses were the safety-valve by which the pent-up convictions of the necessity of reform were allowed harmlessly to escape. Yet sometimes the truth must have stung deeply. Just before the emperor’s return, at the beginning of the year 1417, a sermon was preached before the council, which gives a fearful picture of the state of the clergy. Their vices are coolly and philosophically classed. The first of these classifications represents the ostentation and luxury of the clergy grasping at the goods of the poor and the revenues of the church, for selfish indulgence. “In our pride,” says the preacher, “we surpass the princes of the world; scorning the example and command of Jesus Christ, we would set up as kings; we march at the head of armies; we make ourselves terrible and inaccessible, especially to the poor.” Other crimes recounted were the ill-disposal of benefices, by bestowing there on the incapable and vile the mal-administration of the sacrament, extended to the notoriously impure, unjust, and excommunicate, neglect of scripture study and gospel preaching, unjust decisions by ecclesiastical judges, who make them a matter of traffic, and similar charges in abundance. The picture of ecclesiastical manners or morals is too foul for the modern page. Yet it was presented in all its fearful colors in full council, and no one called it a slander. Each one knew only too well that it was drawn to the life.
The time was now drawing near for Sigismund’s return to Constance.. He had promised in one of his letters to the council to hasten his return, if in their judgment his presence should be deemed necessary. But it was a year and a half that his absence had been protracted. He left Constance on the twentieth of July, 1415, and entered its gates, upon his return, on the twenty-seventh of January, 1417. The success of his mission could not have been very flattering to his imperial pride. Benedict XIII had virtually defied him, and still assumed the full exercise of papal prerogative. His attempt to negotiate a peace between France and England would have been utterly futile, had not the policy of Henry V led him to adopt the purpose of leaving France to wear out its strength in intestine conflict. The Duke of Burgundy and the Constable d’Armagnac were sworn foes. Henry favored the duke, and even contracted with him a conditional alliance, while in a seeming compliance with the emperor’s persuasions he entered into a truce with France for the space of a few months.
Yet Sigismund must have solely felt that his influence would have been altogether in vain but fur other causes, more effective than his personal influence. As the vessel that bore him across the channel approached the English coast, several English lords, headed by the Duke of Gloucester, stepped into the water, with their drawn swords in their hands, and stopped the boat. The emperor, surprised at such a reception, asked the reason of it. The duke replied that if he came to challenge any authority in England, he had orders to forbid his landing, but if he came only as a mediator of peace, he should be treated with all the respect due to his imperial dignity. Henry V had the spirit of an independent sovereign. The proceedings of the emperor in France, in his assumption of authority, were not to be repeated on the shores of England. Sigismund showed his regard for the spirit of the English monarch, when, after months of useless negotiation to secure for France a short and worthless truce, he concluded himself, like the Duke of Burgundy, an alliance with Henry V.
The only result of his journey northward seems to have been the strengthening the hands of the ally of the Duke of Burgundy, and increasing the improbability that the doctrines of Petit would be condemned at the council. A slight which he offered to William of Bavaria, while in England, led that prince indignantly to withdraw from the English coast with all his ships. Sigismund was left a sort of state prisoner in London, unable, till he had signed the treaty with England, to reach the continent, and then only in English ships. On one occasion the mob rose against the emperor, and he was obliged to flee for refuge to Canterbury.
All this was humiliating enough. Undoubtedly English manliness, that spurned the perjury of Sigismund in giving up Huss to the flames, had something to do with the threatened violence. But there was still another dreg in his bitter cup. To defray the expenses of his journey he had sold the whole of Brandenburg, together with the electorate, to Frederic of Zollern for 300,000 ducats, and for a smaller sum created the Truchsesses of Waldburg governors of Swabia. Thus he had alienated instead of adding to his dominions, and in some respects his journey was a marked failure. He had indeed induced Spain to withdraw from Benedict, but the obstinate old pope was not to be cajoled or terrified even by an emperor. He still maintained his state, and fulminated his terrors in all the pride of his prerogative.
It was now time for the council to try their hand at a task which the emperor had left incomplete—the removal of Benedict as the lingering obstacle which obstructed the union of the church. At the twenty-third session, November 5, 1416, a commission was appointed to draw up charges and bear testimony against the “schismatic, heretical, and tyrant” pontiff. This commission proceeded to business, and were ready to report at the next session (November 28), when the citation of Benedict was decreed. He was summoned to appear at Constance within one hundred days from the present session, or within seventy days from the issuing of the citation. The citation was decreed by edict, through apprehension that the criminal could not be personally reached. But two monks were found bold enough to bear the summons to Peniscola, and into the presence of Benedict himself. These monks belonged to the Benedictine order, and their names were Lambert Stipiltz and Bernard Plancha. The recital which they gave of their mission, showed that the idea of its danger was scarcely exaggerated.
As they drew near to Peniscola, accompanied by two nobles and several notaries, they were met by a doctor dispatched by Benedict to request. them to defer their entrance till the next day, under the pretext that they might be greeted then by a more honorable reception. With this request they refused to comply. “These devils,” said they, “imagine they have gained everything if they can postpone the union a single hour.” As they entered the town, a nephew of Benedict, escorted by two hundred well-armed soldiers, came to meet them. Their reception had every appearance of a welcome, the value of which, however, they could well appreciate. They amused themselves at the fright which the presence of two unarmed monks had created in Benedict.
The next day they were admitted to an audience. Benedict had with him three cardinals, several bishops and other ecclesiastics, and about three hundred laymen. These monks then read the decree of citation, which Benedict heard with extreme impatience. When they came the passage which spoke of him as schismatic and heretical, he could contain himself no longer. “It is not true,” he cried out at one time, and again, “They slander me.” At length, in a more formal reply, he declared that the matter was one of great importance, and his answer should be given the next day, after deliberation with his cardinals. He improved the occasion, however, to go into a lengthened defense of his own course, more, probably, for the ears of his auditors, than the satisfaction or conviction of the monks. “The church,” said he, “is not at Constance, but at Peniscola. Here,” he exclaimed, striking his hand upon the chair he occupied, “Here is the Noah’s ark, the true church. These people of Constance call me schismatic and heretic, because I will not put the church into their hands; a thing I will take good care not to do. Already there would have been peace for six months but for them. On their heads rests the guilt of heresy and schism.” The monks thought such an answer enough. They demanded a copy of it, which the pope was reluctant to grant. But leaving behind them a notary of the king to take charge of the document after it should be drawn up, they withdrew to Tortosa.
Serious as the business was, it is connected with some amusing incidents. It is said that as the monks approached, dressed in black, according to the statutes of their order, in order to cite Benedict, the latter said to those around him, “Let us hear the ravens of the council.” But monkish repartee was equal to pontifical wit. “There is nothing surprising,” said one of the monks boldly, “that ravens should come near a dead body!” One historian ludicrously represents the monks as dressed in black, the devil’s color, entering into hell to cite Beelzebub, the great devil, to come to judgment. Undoubtedly the sincerity was about equal on both sides. The monks themselves considered the whole affair, notwithstanding their indignation against Benedict, as a good joke.
The letter, in which they gave to the council an account of their expedition, is dated Tortosa, January 22, 1417. Five days later, on the 27th of the month, Sigismund returned to Constance.
The announcement of his approach was enthusiastically received. He was met several miles distant from Constance by an imposing procession of princes, nobles, and ecclesiastical dignitaries. He entered the city amid the discharge of cannon, the ringing of bells, and applauding shouts of welcome. The English saw with exultation that he proudly wore the decoration of the Order of the Garter, which he had received from the hands of Henry V. They were themselves treated with distinguished honor. The Bishop of Sarum greeted the emperor in the name of the council. Sacred comedies, previously acted in the presence of the authorities of the city, were repeated by the English in the presence of Sigismund, and to his great delight and satisfaction. A sermon was preached before him in the highest strain of eulogy. If anything could compensate the emperor for the hardships of his journey, it was the welcome he received, as well as the presence of the Spanish nation joining in the deliberations of the council.
Benedict Deposed Progress of Reform Martin V Elected
The presence of the emperor infused new life and energy into the proceedings of the council. The more arduous matters, which in his absence had been deferred, almost of necessity, might now be disposed of. The first in order of these, if not the most important, was that which concerned the deposition of Benedict. His answer to the citation sent him by the hands of the two monks, was read (March 7, 1417), but only confirmed the impression that he was obstinately resolved not to cede. He had indeed sent the Bishop of Cuenza to Constance, ostensibly to make propositions which should be a basis of negotiation, but only, as his enemies asserted, to sow division in the council. His representative manifested a temper and spirit worthy of his master. An English ambassador disputed with him the question of precedence. The Bishop of Cuenza, preferring to use the most decisive arguments, seized his adversary, who was a small man, about the body, and taking him from his seat, carried him out of the church, and threw him into one of the vaults, which chanced to be open. Resuming his place, he quietly remarked to his colleague, Martin Fernandez of Cordova, “As a priest, I bury the English ambassador; as a man of the sword, and a cavalier by birth, do you perform what remains to be done.”
But no arts or measures that Benedict could now take would enable him to evade the purpose of the council. He had been repeatedly cited, but did not appear. He had deigned no reply, and no one appeared for him. He refused steadfastly and consistently to recognize, in any manner, the authority of the council as more than that of a mere assembly. The charges against him, as finally drawn up, had been read as early as November 5, 1416. They were supported by multitudes of witnesses, most of them of high ecclesiastical or secular rank. Among these witnesses was the emperor himself, as well as some of the bishops of Benedict. He was charged with obstinate perseverance in schism. His various obnoxious acts, regarded as fatally prejudicial to the peace of the church, were attested, and he was again cited to answer. This was the last citation. The period allowed was extended, at the instance of the Spanish nation, and in order that the proceedings of the council might not be open to the charge of harshness or precipitation. The blow was merely suspended.
Meanwhile the council itself was not secure from dangers within its own body. The incongruous elements of which it was composed, and the incongruous interests which it represented, made it repeatedly a scene of the wildest discord. More than once its warmest friends had reason to fear that its only achievement would be to render itself the Babel of Christendom. The English composed by themselves an entire nation in the council. Other nations were jealous of the influence which they were thus enabled to exert. The Spaniards, moreover, who had only of late joined the body, disputed with them the question of precedence. The French seemed to resent the increasing importance of a nation which had given them reason to remember their own lasting disgrace, as well as inferiority, at Agincourt. The dispute waxed warm. All order was at an end. The consultations of the council more than once were characterized by the violent clamors of a mob. The English indeed carried their point at last, conceding to the Spaniards on the question of precedence, a right which they were willing to surrender only for the occasion, and for the sake of peace.
But another matter soon gave occasion for the renewal of similar scenes. The emperor and the German and English nations were earnest in favor of ecclesiastical reform. With them this was the first and most important measure to be initiated. Germany, especially, complained of the simony of the clergy, and the abuses of pontifical and prelatical prerogative. Maurice of Prague preached a sermon at this period (May 9, 1417), in which he exposed the disorders of the clergy to unsparing rebuke. Huss could not have exceeded his former associate, and one of his late judges, in the freedom of invective. Maurice spoke of the prevailing opinion—which he declared, however, that he regarded as a heresy—that Huss had been put to death mainly because he had spoken so energetically upon this very point. His friend and associate, Stephen of Prague, a few days later, did not hesitate to add his testimony. He exposed in like manner “the horrible simony” of the clergy, which had filled the highest posts of the church with incapable and unworthy occupants. “Is it right,” he asks, “that fools should rule, and the wise obey them; that the young should give order, and the old be their servitors; that the ignorant should have charge of what calls for the most discriminating management; that the learned should not dare to open their mouths; and that grooms should be preferred to doctors and to preachers of the word of God?” Nor did he hesitate to declare in his sermon, in language indirectly condemnatory of the council, that this matter of reform was more essential to promote the interests of the Christian faith, than the union of the different obediences. The election of the pope he did not hesitate to pronounce a matter of secondary importance.
He could have said nothing more seriously in conflict with the cherished purposes and avowed policy of the cardinals, and of many prelates of the different nations. These contended that the election of a pope should precede all measures of reform. Their plea was, that in order to be valid these must have the sanction of the pope. The plea was specious, but self-interest was at the bottom of it. The emperor and the German nation were fully aware that the hope of a reform in the abuses of the church was only warranted while the pontificate was vacant. Let it be filled, and the pride of prerogative would deny the right of the council to proceed in the matter, or would restrain and control its action. The event justified this fear. For a while, the emperor, with the English and German nations, stood firm. The others were irritated. The French even complained that their rights of free deliberation were encroached upon by the emperor.
But none were more aggrieved than the college of cardinals. They went so far as to demand of the Elector of Brandenburg safe-conduct, that they might withdraw from the council But the Elector of Brandenburg was not the man to confer such a favor. He shared himself with the German nation their convictions of the paramount and urgent necessity of reform. His long experience of public life had made him fully acquainted with the disorders of the ecclesiastical state. “The clergy,” said he, “push themselves into secular matters; they use their revenues merely for their own selfish purposes. They are ever making new acquisitions, and already they have usurped a large part of the empire.” Such language could serve only as a still greater provocation to the cardinals. But their passports could not be had. The elector not only refused their request, but told them plainly that the dissolution and transfer of the council belonged not to them, but to the emperor, as advocate and defender of the church.
Compelled to remain at Constance, the college of cardinals could speak of nothing, could think of nothing, but the election of a new pope. They had frequent consultations by themselves on the subject. They were apprehensive lest the prerogative of election should be wrested from their hands by the authority of the council. A contest which had arisen between the Castilians and Aragonese in regard to the representation of the Spanish nation, and the union of the former to the council, aided them in their projects. The Cardinal of Cambray, in a public discourse, urged that immediate steps should be taken for an election. He would not allow any measure of reform to take precedence of this. But, firm as the cardinals might be in their purpose, their opponents were not less decided. The contest grew more and more desperate. Fierce passions were excited. Harsh words were spoken. At a congregation held on the 16th of June, there seemed no possible alternative but the dissolution of the council. The position of the Castilians aggravated matters. They were secretly in favor of Benedict, or apprehensive at least of the result, if another pope was not soon elected. They refused to unite with the council—though they held already been long at Constance—till some order should be taken on the subject. It was not without the greatest difficulty that their resolution was overcome, and the storm weathered for the present.
It was, however, soon seen to which side the scale must eventually incline. The Italian, Spanish, and French nations sided already with the cardinals. The English and German nations were in the minority, and only sustained their position by the aid of the emperor. Against Sigismund, therefore, the measures of the cardinals, and three nations, were now directed. “Had he,” they asked, “any right to mix himself up in ecclesiastical matters?” While he favored them, the strength of the imperial arm was a welcome ally. Now that he opposed their measures, he must be rebuked and kept within his own sphere.
It was in these circumstances, and after vainly seeking a decree of the council prescribing the manner of a new election, that tile cardinals adopted a line of policy which did much to promote their plans. They petitioned the emperor to appoint a season of public devotion, to obtain front Heaven an election favorable to the welfare of the church. Sigismund could scarcely refuse the request. He ordered their devotions to be publicly announced for a day of the following week. Why did he not order, first of all, prayers for reform? It was a sad mistake, as he found at last. Popular feeling was now changing in favor of the cardinals. Sigismund had virtually signed the death warrant of his most cherished purpose. The question of all questions, which Germany demanded should be met—which she redemanded in more imperative tones a century later, and before which cardinals and prelates turned pale and trembled—was put by for the time, and, to all practical purposes so far as this council was concerned, finally.
During all this time the case of the Bohemians, though overshadowed by matters of more pressing importance, had not been altogether overlooked. New commissioners to attend to their case were appointed to replace such as had not been able to serve. But there was no danger of their being overburdened with business. None appeared before them in answer to the citation of the council. Huss and Jerome had at Prague a greater power than ever. Living, they were but men. The council had rashly promoted them to that of martyrs. They had canonized them as unhesitatingly as John XXIII did the Swedish Bridget, and, although against their intentions, far more effectually in the esteem of the Bohemian nation. Respect for the memory of these martyrs, and indignation at the injustice that doomed them to the stake, blazed up out of the smoldering grief of their recent loss into flames of fierce defiance.
At this moment, when the national spirit was roused to desperation, when the passions of men were in a ferment, when the violence of antagonistic parties and opinions demanded a sharp eye and a strong arm to control them, Bohemia found itself practically without a ruler. The drunken wretch who occupied the throne was the laughing-stock of the world, and a disgrace to the nation over whom he pretended to reign. None feared him as a king. None respected him as a man. Nothing could show this better than the manner in which the question of deposing him was discussed. Nicholas of Hussinitz, the friend and patron of Huss, was the principal leader of the Hussite party. By his position as well as by his ability—for he was one of the most powerful of the Bohemian barons—he commanded great influence. But his course had excited the apprehensions of the dissolute monarch. Wenzel suspected him of aspiring to the throne, and banished him from Prague. He withdrew to his own district, where his authority was great, and gathered around him a powerful army of near forty thousand men. To these, animated with the enthusiasm of their new faith, and terrible in the desperateness of their resolves to avenge their wrongs, or at least to maintain what they regarded as their rights, he proposed the election of a new king who should be of their own belief. Whether Nicholas himself aspired to the post is not entirely clear, but his proposition was subsequently rejected on the ground that they had now a king who answered their purpose well enough. The priest Coranda, who was a popular and powerful speaker among the Hussites, maintained before the armed assembly, that the specter of a king now occupying the throne—though a mere mockery of royalty—was far better for them than one who, in bearing their name, would only produce division in the nation, or excite prejudice against their cause. Never would Wenzel be anything but a tool, and when so ready at hand, why not use him
Into such contempt had the royal authority fallen. There was no government, except the self-restraint of infuriated parties. The Hussites were stung to vengeance by the mad and imbecile bigotry of the council, who had given back wrong and outrage in answer to their demand for truth and justice. But if they had asked for an egg and had received a scorpion, they were not like to forget the gift or its sting, any more than the giver. The apologists of the council at Prague represented to them the council itself, and thus volunteered to make themselves objects of a vengeance not always restrained within the limits of the law. The absence of a real executive power gave the country over into the hands of the Hussites. Many of their leaders were men of strong passions, and more impelled by party zeal than the spirit of him they reverenced as a martyr. Some joined them more for their own selfish advancement than from notions of sincere anxiety for the public cause.
In these circumstances, scenes of violence were almost a necessary result. Deeds were committed, which the great majority could only view with ill-dissembled regret. Some of the priests, who adhered to the council, and who refused to regard the edict which allmved, or perhaps was construed to require, the administration of the cup, were driven from their parishes. Churches were pillaged. Monasteries were plundered and burned. The stern spirit of John Knox might have smiled to see the rookeries torn down, but Huss himself could never have approved the violence which the vengeance of the council had provoked. And yet the war-cry was in his name. Vive Wickliffe et Huss was answered feebly by the party cry, Vive le Pape.
The withdrawal of Zisca and Nicholas de Hussinitz to their estate, was for Wenzel a fatal policy. Zisca was already the hero of many a hard-fought field. His name alone was a tower of strength. While Nicholas de Hussinitz was gathering his thousands on Mount Tabor—as a scriptural enthusiasm had named the height he had selected for his fortress—Zisca was not less successful in gathering around him bold and daring spirits kindred to his own. Resistance was completely overawed. The communion under both kinds became the common practice throughout Bohemia. The violent opposition of the clergy and the anathemas of the council were laughed to scorn.
The University of Prague, already almost to a man on the side of Huss, could hesitate no longer in its choice of parties. Like the universities of England in the time of Cromwell, it allowed itself to be swept along in the popular current. On the tenth of March (1417), it issued a public declaration in favor of the communion of the cup. John Cardinal, now rector, who had shown himself the secret friend of Huss at Constance, was employed to draw it up. The university first of all protests, that it does not presume to introduce any novelty of custom or doctrine in opposition to the Catholic, Apostolic, and Roman church. Its only aim is to enlighten the faithful upon the subject of the eucharist. It then expresses its greater readiness to decide in favor of the communion under both kinds, as the council of Constance had itself already declared that Christ had so appointed in his institution of the ordinance of the Holy Supper, and for many centuries the church had practiced its observance.
The university then exhorts all the faithful to maintain with religious fidelity the institution of our Savior, notwithstanding opposing customs and constitutions, however venerable. Whether Christ entire was present in each kind, as the council maintained, the university does not decide. This is spoken of merely as a tradition which may or may not be true. And yet the language of the university is by no means harsh toward its opponents. It urges indulgence in behalf of such as through past observances, or ignorance and simplicity, had never adopted their own opinion in regard to the cup.
There is reason to believe that many took this occasion to change their position on the great question before the nation—some through policy doubtless, others through conviction. Peter of Umetzow, a theological professor, who had been one of the most determined opponents of Huss and his doctrines, in a full meeting of the university publicly avowed the change that had taken place in his views. He asked pardon of God and the king for having persecuted so holy a man and so orthodox a teacher as John Huss. He declared that, rejecting the decision of the council of Constance, he could hold no other view in regard to the use of the cup than the one which the university had approved.
Wenzel, at this period, had himself withdrawn from Prague. The absence of the principal Hussite nobles did not reassure him. Either they might return, or others might visit him with complaints that would sadly disturb his easy and drunken indolence. He had taken refuge in a fortress called Tossenicz, where he refused to see anyone. On one occasion, the Bohemian nobility, in large numbers, went to visit him, but he saw them coming, redoubled his guards, and refused them admittance. They consulted together, and resolved to send a deputation who might be more readily received. Two of their number, venerable with their gray hair and long beards, were sent to demand audience. Their request was granted, but they were directed to go to another fortress, where the king promised to meet them. He kept his word, and treated them to a magnificent entertainment. After the repast was finished, one of the nobility addressed the king: “Sire,” said he, “the lords and all the nobility of the Bohemian nation most humbly ask to be informed why you do not, like the king your father, of blessed memory, and like previous kings of Bohemia, reside at Prague, the capital of your kingdom, to the welfare and peace of your subjects. They are surprised at the indifference shown by your majesty, while the kingdom is exposed to violence and desolated by plunderers. They therefore pray you to return to Prague, promising you all fidelity and affection.”
The king, who knew how to use plain language, and who had no pride to be wounded by a frank confession, replied in this manner: “My dear William”—William of Rosenberg was the one who had addressed him—”you say that the grandees of Bohemia are surprised, that instead of remaining at Prague I keep myself here among these rocks; but you must know that I am afraid of Spinca. You must not think it strange that I keep away from you, when I could not be even safe, either in the monastery of Konigsaal, near Beraun, nor in the royal palace. I find myself much more comfortably situated here in Ziebrak, than I could be in the tower of Vienna.”
The nobility at once pledged their honor to Wenzel for his security, if he would return. At last he yielded, and took up his residence once more in the royal palace. But a few days after, the magistrates of the city, accompanied by nobles and barons, visited him with the request that certain churches might be allowed them in which to worship after their own manner, and celebrate the Holy Supper according to Christ’s institution. The request was granted, and from this time the memory of Huss and Jerome was celebrated at each anniversary of the sixth of July.
We have some light on the progress of the reformation at Prague, in a sermon preached in the Bethlehem chapel at some time during this month, and, more than possibly, on this very day (July 6). It is introduced by no Ave Maria, as till then had been the uniform practice, adopted usually even by Huss. The preacher invokes only the aid of Jesus Christ. Scriptural simplicity and usage were evidently gaining ground in other things than the use of the cup. The preacher fitly takes occasion to speak of the “blessedness of those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.” He dwells upon the character of Huss, confidently appealing to the assembly for the truth of what he uttered. He sets forth in language of eulogy—yet not extravagant—the holiness and purity of his life. “God gave him,” he adds, “a tongue discreet to speak, or to be silent. Like a second Elias, his zeal was inflamed against Antichrist, and a simoniacal clergy. His life was spent in preaching or writing, hearing confessions, converting sinners, consoling the afflicted. He was chaste, grave, God-fearing, without avarice, envy, pride, or hypocrisy; listening with equal readiness to rich and poor, and giving counsel to one and aid to the other. After enduring protracted persecution in Bohemia, be was kept near six months in harsh imprisonment at Constance, where be suffered hunger, thirst, and innumerable vexations from his enemies, beside all the sickness and disease produced by his harsh treatment. At last, regardless of his replies, he was condemned, degraded from the priesthood, given over to the secular arm, on the testimony of his enemies and false extracts from his works. As his life ended so piously while he besought God for pardon, and prayed for his enemies, we are constrained to believe that his spirit, like that of Elias, mounted to heaven in a chariot of fire, to be received into the company of the angels.”
The preacher passes hastily over Jerome, briefly reciting the main facts of his trial, imprisonment, and execution. He speaks, however, of five other martyrs to the same cause who had suffered death. Three of these were those who had been decapitated at Prague; two had been burned at Olmutz. He urges his hearers to imitate the patience and unworldliness of these men, and do it in hope to attain like them to a martyr’s crown.
It is easy to see in what light the Hussites regarded their fallen leaders. They did not bestow upon them the honors that Rome paid to her saints. They did not pray in their name. They cherished (pie credimus) the fond hope of their salvation.
We have seen that William of Rosenberg was spokesman for the Bohemian nobility in addressing the king at Ziebrak. He, with all his vassals, joined during this year the party of reform. If the method of conversion which he adopted was not unexceptionable, it was at least decisive. All the clergy belonging to his dependence were assembled in one of his cities, and summoned to the church. A deacon, John Biscupec (or the little bishop, as he was called, and whom we meet again at the council of Basle), mounted the pulpit from which it had been the custom to exhibit the sacred relies, and addressed the assembly. “The Lords of Rosenberg will and ordain,” said he, “that all pastors in their jurisdiction adopt the communion of the cup, and teach and practice all that John Huss preached against the pope. Such as refuse to obey, will be driven from their churches after the space of six weeks.” The announcement was listened to in silence, and silence was favorably construed. Invited to a great dinner, the priests were asked to explain their views. They demanded a month to deliberate. The result was that from two priests only were their parishes taken and given to the Hussites. Undoubtedly numerous instances of a similar kind must have occurred, where the favorite arguments of the papal party were retorted upon themselves, and force was substituted for reason. Such a result was almost inevitable. The rights of the individual conscience were too little understood even by the Hussites. But, as if to show the vanity and fruitlessness of such methods of conversion, we find the Lord of Rosenberg himself, a few months later, returning to the imperio-papal party with as little scruple as he now abandoned it. Doubtless his vassal priests—with the exception of Biscupec—proved as pliant then as they were now. Yet the adherence to the Hussites at the present juncture, of such a man as the Lord of Rosenberg, was significant of the strong current of national feeling. Each day what the council accounted heresy was growing stronger in Bohemia.
Among the measures which the council found it necessary to adopt were some in its own defense. Europe, notwithstanding all that Sigismund had accomplished, was yet in a most lamentable condition of civil anarchy. Scenes of violence, revolution, revolt, and conflict were of daily occurrence. Cities were at war with their bishops or feudal lords. Princes seized the occasion to plunder one another of exposed provinces. Armed banditti, sometimes with strong fortresses as places of refuge, infested the traveled routes, and, reckless alike of law and justice, plundered the unarmed and defenseless. Members of the council, coming to Constance or returning to their homes, were arrested and imprisoned till ransom was exacted.
The emperor, with the princes and lords present at Constance, held frequent consultations with a view to restrain and correct the prevalent disorders. Much was indeed effected toward restoring the amicable relations of cities and provinces, but the council found itself constrained to exercise also its authority. Such as interfered with the liberty of its members, in coming or returning, were threatened with excommunication. Yet instances of violent arrest were repeatedly occurring, and had to be met as they arose.
But the enemies from whom the council had most to fear, were not the banditti, or the temporal lords. Its weakness was in itself in its own corruption. Its own acts had stripped it of its true defense, and exposed it to the shafts of opprobrium and ridicule. It had made itself a subject for satire, and satires were not wanting. The conduct of the council and the condition of the church were freely exposed in anonymous writings extensively circulated, and which the council chose to regard as libels. The evident disinclination of the majority of the body to engage in measures of reform provoked the indignation of many, who found at last that they had built their hopes upon the sand. This indignation found vent in writings which a decree of the council stamped as defamatory. One of these was torn up unread, at the time of the reading of the decree. We cannot fully determine what were its contents, but it is not improbable that it was a paper drawn up under the guise of a petition addressed to the emperor in behalf of reform, and which has been preserved in the pages of Van der Hardt. Its irony is keen and bitter. Its exposure of the abuses and corruptions of the church is unsparing, yet fully warranted by the testimony of many, themselves members of the council.
“Most serene prince”—so it commences—”to secure the welfare of the commonwealth, each faithful and honest man should put forth his exertions;
“For I, Henry Move-About,
Bishop of no diocese,
Vagrant of vagrants,
Although least among the other servants of our congregation,
Deputed for this purpose, legate or special messenger,
Sent into the whole world, to observe all things,
Coming to visit the Portals of Saints Peter and Paul,
Saw there such things as it is indecent for a man to speak, and specially the truth of that—Dum caput ægrotat cætera membra dolent. For I saw there a crowd which no man could number, and, among the rest, the very head of holy mother church, diseased in all her members, even to the sole of the foot; for the whole head was sick.”
The writer then ingeniously carries out this scriptural figure in its application. Various complicated diseases had seized upon the body and affected the brain. The fever of schism, the morbid appetite of simony, the threatened apoplexy from accumulating the life-blood of the church on an oppressed brain, the corruption of the entire body, represented by cardinals, patriarchs, prelates, etc., who were its internal organs, yet all diseased, are vividly and forcibly presented. The gross corruptions of the court of Rome are portrayed in such a manner as still further to carry out the figure. The abuses to be corrected are classified by their reference to the different parts of the body. The writer gives a sketch of what he observed at Rome—”the archbishops and bishops, disorderly in life, setting no good example, promoting the least worthy, making their relatives bishops, performing no spiritual duties canonically, walking as proud worldlings. O holy church, how wilt thou sink away in decline! I saw princes and laymen assuming the care of souls; religious persons deserting their regular life; the physicians themselves destroying and putting to death; Benedictines adhering to worldly things, lurking about at taverns, plays, illegal shows, in slovenly habit; professors of canon law unjustly holding a plurality of benefices, without charity, thanksgiving, or devotion.”
After an extended picture of the prevalent corruption, the writer addresses the emperor. “Now then it belongs to thee to assemble Hippocrates, Avicenna, Galen, and the doctors of every healing art, that they may give energy to the exhausted, heal the sick, and prescribe effectual remedies. And direct them to make ointments to cure the head, pills that may serve to regulate the system, clysters that may be applied. Invincible king, summon with thy holy and sacred council now at Constance, the physicians themselves of the world, but only the just and holy lights of the sacred council, fearing God, and heal and cause to be healed the aforesaid sick one, not only through the whole head, but in hands and feet which are full of ulcers, and send the dogs to lick the sores.”
“I came into the world to look after that which holy mother church long had lost; I found it not, but rather all kinds of iniquity.” He then exhorts the emperor to contend against the evil, and merit thereby eternal praise. For himself the writer expresses his freedom from all apprehension as to being questioned, “Friend, how camest thou in thither?” although he confesses that he had not on the wedding garment.
Each passing day gave new force and appropriateness to the language of this strange petition. The hopes of speedy and prompt reform were fast dying out. The emperor’s purpose, in spite of all his authority and his influence over the council, was destined to defeat, while the latter thereby was aggravating its own infamy. It was policy therefore to shut the mouths and stop the pens of those who assumed to judge its infallibility. This was attempted, but if men wrote with more caution, they were not disposed to think the less boldly. The Hussites had really allies in the council itself, who spoke their sentiments with a force and precision which, in many respects, could not have been exceeded at Prague.
During the summer of this year, the attention of the council had been drawn to the sect of the Flagellants, or Brothers of the Cross. The French Abbé de Boileau, has attempted to trace their history. He ascribes their origin to Peter Damien, an Italian ecclesiastic of the eleventh century, but it is easy to see that the germ of the sect was planted in that principle so long at work in the church of the early centuries, which approved the self-imposed austerities and mortifications of the body, in order to promote the welfare of the soul. The views of the abbé are altogether too scriptural to accord fully with that monkish superstition in which the sect found full patronage for many of its excesses.
It was not, however, till about the year 1260, that the Flagellants began to attract much attention. Italy at that period presented a sad picture of commingled vice, crime, and superstition. It was there that the sect first sprang up, spreading from city to city, and province to province. The general belief that the end of the world was approaching, excited and sustained their enthusiasm. The apprehension of the approaching advent of the Savior, and of the final judgment, took so strong a hold upon the minds of the community, that nobles and peasants, the aged and young, were affected by it. They formed themselves into processions, marching two by two through the streets, exposing their naked limbs and almost naked bodies to the blows of the lash which each bore with him, and employed to lacerate his own flesh. All were deeply affected by the general conviction that their sin must be expiated by self-inflicted torture. Their appearance was at once pitiable and affecting. With groans and tears and undissembled grief, they endured the suffering administered by their own hands, till the blood flowed in streams from their bodies.
Yet it was their spiritual condition, and not their bodily sufferings, which occupied their thoughts. They cried aloud to God for mercy, and prayed for his pardon and grace. It was not enough that these practices were followed by day. By night also, in the cold of winter as well as in summer’s heat, they continued their processions. Priests might often be seen at their head, bearing with them crosses and standards. They went from village to village, and from church to church, bowing down before the altars in deep humility. The excitement became general—almost universal. A great change was wrought in the aspect of society. Instruments of music and songs of gladness were no more heard. Penitential moans, and cries of grief and self-accusation, took their place. Nor was the change merely external. It affected the convictions and conduct of men. Enemies were reconciled. Usurers and extortioners restored what had been unjustly acquired. Criminals confessed their guilty deeds, and gave evidence of reform. Prisoners were enlarged, slaves were set at liberty, exiles were recalled. Deeds of charity and kindness were performed, while the fear of some near approaching and terrible judgment awed all spirits. Men were astonished at the strange phenomenon. Philosophers could not explain it. The pope had not authorized it. It had not been excited by the eloquence of popular orators. It had no acknowledged leader. Shut out from other countries, it was for a long time mostly confined to Italy, and after a short time its fanatical zeal appeared to be on the decline.
But the scenes of the pestilence, about the middle of the fourteenth century, seemed to kindle it anew. It crossed the Alps, and appeared in Germany with renewed vigor. Two hundred of the sect visited Spires, where their evident devotion secured them a welcome entertainment. At Strasbourg and Aix la Chapelle their appearance is recorded. But, with the progress of things, corruptions had begun to spread among them. They were joined by hypocrites and knaves, who would cloak their deeds under the mantle of the Flagellants. The most grievous charges were made against them. It was said that they accounted it no sin to lie, that they indulged in acts of grossest vice and crime. The tide now turned against them. Popes fulminated bulls, and the emperor published edicts denouncing the sect. They were driven out of Bohemia, Bavaria, and Poland, and the University of Paris urged, and not without effect, that they should not be tolerated in France. But in vain were they persecuted. Their numbers continued to increase. The Inquisition was glutted with victims, and in the very year when the council of Constance was opened, many were burnt at Sangerhausen by the authority of the Inquisitor of the Faith.
Undoubtedly they had by this time become, many of them, confirmed fanatics. Their leader, a Conrad Smith, is said to have pretended to be the prophet Enoch, and to have been authorized by God to judge the world. He is reported to have annulled the sacraments, and to have put the self-inflicted flagellation of his followers in their place. Some of the reputed doctrines of the sect were far from complimentary to the church. They maintained that God had deposed the entire clergy, from pope to monk, for their corruption, as Christ of old drove the moneychangers from the temple; that since their own institution, churches, cemeteries, and places and objects reputed holy, were such no longer; the churches were but dens of robbers; holy water was poisonous because mingled with sparks of hell; and the offices of the priest, ministering death to themselves and others, were no more sacred than the howling of dogs. Baptism of blood had taken the place of baptism by water; confirmation was a cheat and a mockery; the real presence was a figment, the sacrament of the altar, a mummery of the priests; and confession to a priest, useless and vain. They rejected the doctrine of indulgences, the worship of the Virgin and the saints, fasts, and purgatory. Some of these doctrines, however, were replaced, according to the charges of their enemies, with others more excessively fanatical and extravagant.
These charges, however, evidently were applicable to but a small portion of the sect. But what to do with them was a question that puzzled the wisdom of the council. Severity had already been employed. The arm of the Inquisition had grown weary in its work. Kings and popes had attempted to crush them, but it was all in vain. The trampled seed sprang up under the feet that bruised its shell and pressed it to the earth. Gerson was now for trying more lenient measures. He urged this policy upon the council. They should pity these poor misguided men. Would he have said this, if the whole sect had been represented by its leader, chained fast, as Huss had been, in a Constance dungeon? It seems doubtful. But one thing may have turned the scale. The celebrated Vincent of Ferrara was reported to favor the sect of the Flagellants. We have no reason to believe that he ever joined them, but they at least claimed the sanction of his name. Vincent was a man not to be lightly dealt with. He wielded a power over the masses at that day, unrivalled by any other man in Europe. With all the peculiarities of his order, the Dominican, that still clung him, he was the great popular preacher of his age. He was the John the Baptist of the European wilderness. It would not do, even for the council, to deal harshly with such a man. It could not afford to alienate him. It would only condemn itself in arraigning him. Gerson endeavored to draw him to Constance. He and D’Ailly both wrote to him, urging him to come. They undoubtedly believed that if he were once with them they could bring him over to their views. But he declined their overture. What his reasons were we may surmise. He deemed, undoubtedly, that his presence elsewhere would be more useful, and Constance evidently had no attraction for one whose life is a sort of oasis in the corruption of his age.
But would Vincent have been safe at Constance? If the question of the Flagellants had come before the council, and he, though not of their number, had defended their conduct in many things, as he had enjoyed a full opportunity of inspecting it, would he have left Constance as he entered it, with a reputation and character untarnished? For the sake of our poor weak nature, we may be thankful that he was spared a trial that might not have spared even him.
Gerson’s treatise on the sect is, on the whole, a most just and sensible examination of the case. He condemns the immodesty and cruelty which it occasioned, while he places penitence of spirit before God far above all self-imposed austerities. He urges upon those who belonged to it, submission to the council, and prescribes as a remedy for the mental hallucinations of the Flagellant, that they should be required to labor, instead of running from place to place.
This was for the most part sound and sensible advice, and the council seems to have acceded to its wisdom. But where was its consistency? If the Hussites were heretics, much more were the Flagellants. Why should Vincent of Ferrara be dealt with so gently, while Huss and Jerome are sent to the funeral pile? Let the assumed infallibility of the council answer.
The fate of Benedict XIII was at length decided. After all necessary formalities of process and citation, he was deposed by the council, in its thirty-seventh session, held July 26, 1417. The Cardinal of St. Mark read the sentence. It declared Benedict perjured, a scandal to the Catholic church, a favorer of schism, a disturber of the peace and union of the church, an obstinate and incorrigible schismatic, a heretic devoid of faith in a word, a man reprobate of God, and unworthy of every dignity, specially of the pontifical. Of such, the council degrades, deposes, and deprives him, and forbids anyone to recognize him as pope under the severest penalties.
Thus at last the council might consider the union of the church restored. After nearly three years of study and effort, the work seemed accomplished. But the deposition of Benedict, though uniting the church, more effectively than ever divided the council. The question as to whether measures for reform or the election of a new pontiff should be allowed precedence, acquired a new and pressing importance. The emperor persisted in his efforts for an immediate reform. The cardinals were equally determined in their purpose to postpone it. The month of August was spent in intrigues by each party to carry its point. The Italians sought to win over the Germans, but these still stood firm by the emperor. Some of the Italian and French prelates also might be reckoned—although in the minority of their nations—the partisans of reform.
The sermons that were preached before the council became pleas in behalf of the one or the other party. Those that urged the importance of reform were startling in their exposures of corruption, and terrible in their invective. One preacher declared—no doubt truly—”that almost the entire clergy were under the dominion of the devil.” He represents the council as an assembly of Pharisees, who play the game of religion and the church, under the mask of devotion. “In the world, falsehood is king; among the clergy, avarice is law. In the prelates are found only malice, iniquity, negligence, ignorance, vanity, pride, avarice, simony, lust, pomp, hypocrisy. At the court of the pope there is no holiness. It is a diabolic court.” Another preacher is scarcely less severe. He declares that the clergy spend their money on buffoons, dancing girls, dogs, and birds, rather than in charity to the poor. They frequent taverns and brothels, and go from their concubines and prostitutes, to mass without any scruple. It has passed, he says, into a proverb, that “the prelates have as many mistresses as domestics.” The convents are not spared. “It is a shame,” he says “to speak of what is done in them; more a shame to do it. In all these abominations, the court of Rome sets the example, even in the place where it is assembled for the reformation of manners.” Other preachers spoke in the same strain.
But the partisans of a new election had their orators. The Cardinal of Cambray preached before the council. He did not attempt to controvert the statements that had already been made—he rather confirmed them—but urged that it was monstrous to think of reforming the body of the church while it was without a head.
The English nation remained as yet firmly attached to the emperor’s project of giving precedence to the matter of reform. The king of England wrote to his bishops, urging unanimity in the matter, for he had heard that some of the English members of the council were inclining to the side of the cardinals. Such persons were to be commanded in his name to desist from their course, and, in case of refusal, were to be sent back to England to answer for their conduct.
The cardinals, however, did not fail to urge their favorite project more and more strenuously. They presented a protest (August 4) against the course of their opponents. Nor was this enough; they endeavored to overwhelm them, or at least weaken their influence, by exciting against them suspicion of heresy. A paper was adroitly drawn up in the form of queries, suggesting the various ways in which they seemed to favor the opinions of Huss. The whole document betrays malice and impudence. The English and Germans had been the most forward in condemning, or securing the condemnation, of Huss. They could not justly be accused of complicity with his cause. But they felt, for all this, only the more deeply the pressing necessity of reform. They would have all the arguments of men like Huss—drawn from the indisputable and gross corruption of the church—taken out of their mouths. This was the extent of their heresy, at least before the council. But the cardinals, and the three nations that held with them, became more bold and daring with each successive day. The former, on the ninth of September, renewed their protest, and now in stronger language.
Sigismund was present when its reading was commenced. It stung him to indignation. He rose at once, ere the reading was finished, and left the assembly. As he went out, accompanied by the Patriarch of Antioch, among others, someone cried out, “Let the heretics go!” This was reported to Sigismund, and did not tend to soothe his irritation. It was reported, probably on good grounds, that he meant to arrest some of the cardinals under pretence that they were engaged in consultations deleterious to the interests of the council. He forbade them the use of the cathedral church and the episcopal palace, in which they had been accustomed to meet. But such measures, failing to overawe, could only irritate. The Germans, meanwhile, were restive under the imputations of heresy which were cast upon them. They drew up their defense, in which they took occasion to argue anew the necessity of reform, and pointed out some of the gross abuses of which they complained.
The condition of the council was one exceedingly critical. It was divided into two great parties—on one side the English and Germans, headed by the emperor, on the other, the Italians, French, and Spaniards, led by the cardinals. What would have been the result had neither party yielded, it is difficult to say; we can scarcely doubt that it would have led to the dissolution of the council.
But at this critical period the emperor lost his fidem Achaten, as the historian calls him. On the fourth of September, Robert Hallam, Bishop of Salisbury, died. He had been from the outset a strenuous supporter of the emperor’s project. Previous to the council of Pisa, Richard Ullerston had written, at his instance, his celebrated work on the necessity and methods of reform. While the bishop lived, the English nation stood firm by the emperor. But now they could no longer be depended on. The solicitations and intrigues of the other party were working wonders. Even the German nation began to waver. The Archbishop of Riga, who cruelly and harshly had taken charge of the imprisonment of Huss, was won over by a bribe. He was promised, in place of his present dignity—which had become unacceptable, through the hostility of the Teutonic order which he had incurred—the diocese of Liege. Another leader of the German nation, John Abundi, Bishop of Coire, was won by the promise of being placed in the vacant See.
The result could no longer remain in doubt. The desertion from the emperor had commenced. Some of the Italian and French bishops, who had resisted hitherto the decisions of their nations, made haste to leave the sinking ship. The question was now only one of time. The emperor could not long hold out. He at length capitulated, on the condition that the council should initiate the measures of reform, by a public decree, before the election should take place. Vain condition! Some of the cardinals even now did not hesitate to say that such a decree could not bind the future pope. Yet the condition was assented to. The cause of reform had made hitherto but slow progress. Difficulty after difficulty had blocked up its way. The council now, however, resolved that on certain points a reform should be perfected. Two months had passed away in party negotiation and intrigue, when at length another (the twenty-ninth) session was held (October 9). The measures which were declared to be settled by public decree related to the frequent and regular convocation of general councils, precautions against the renewal of schism, the profession of faith and duty to be made by the pope on his election, the translation of benefices, and exactions from vacant bishoprics. It is easy to see that all this implied but an external and insufficient reform, while the disease was too deep to be reached by any such appliance. It was equally in vain that it was determined, a few days later, to enlarge the project, and add new measures tending to the check of ecclesiastical abuses. They all had respect merely to that which belonged to the externals of the church, its dignities, offices, revenues. Germany vainly demanded reform now; a century later she would demand it in more emphatic tones. The very point on which nearly all the nations had insisted most strenuously, and in regard to which there seemed most hope of success, that of annates—the first year’s income when a benefice was vacant, and which was claimed for its support by the court of Rome—was the one about which great difficulties were now raised. The emperor and others would have the officers of the court of Rome provided with a fixed annual salary. Doubtful of so uncertain a provision, the cardinals could not relinquish the annates, and the whole question must of necessity be left to the future pope.
Who he would be, was now the question of most engrossing interest. On the thirtieth of October, the council decreed to proceed to his election. The cardinals had at first somewhat humbly dared to put forward their claims to the right of sole electors as their prerogative. Some of their opponents, in view of the manner in which they had previously exercised it, would have excluded them altogether from the conclave. A compromise was at length effected, by which six prelates or persons of distinction from each of the five nations should be joined to the college of cardinals, in order to form the body of the electors. The number of these, including the twenty-three cardinals, way therefore fifty-three. For each of these a chamber was provided in the Merchants’ Exchange, where the sessions of the conclave were to be held. Every precaution was taken to prevent any communication between them and others outside the building. Persons of high state and authority were to guard all the passages, and all were warned by sound of trumpet not to approach within a certain distance of the place where the conclave was in session. Even the food of the electors and their servants—for each was allowed two—was to some extent prescribed, and was passed into the building, not by the door, but by a window, in order that none might have a pretext or opportunity to enter. Even after the food had been passed in, it was to be examined before it was sent to the electors, lest some letter or line should be enclosed in it by which some communication or information should be conveyed to them.
The electors entered the conclave November 2, 1417. For some time there seemed no prospect of their effecting a choice, as two-thirds of the votes must be given to the successful candidate. Each nation would undoubtedly have been glad to have had for pope one of its own countrymen. But the Germans were the first to yield their preference. The Archbishop of Riga, who seems to this time to have acquired the art of seizing upon and improving occasions that could favor his own interests, led the way. At length the other nations, so far consented to yield their claims, that the necessary vote was cast for Otho de Colonna, an Italian cardinal. He had been one of the cardinals of John XXIII and had borne a reputation as free from stain as it was perhaps possible for a member of a college with such a head. He was undoubtedly less able than many of the others. The cardinals of Cambray and St. Mark were by far his superiors, but they had made themselves offensively conspicuous, and their compeer, Zabarella of Florence, had gone out a few days before from one of the assemblies—exhausted by the effort of a speech which he truly said at the time might be called his dying testimony—never to return. He died on the twenty-sixth of September, the most dangerous competitor—had he survived—for the pontifical dignity.
Otho de Colonna took the title of Martin V. Different estimates were formed of his character. But whatever he might have been before his election, he was, after it, but a wheel in the ecclesiastical machine, and was governed by laws that would have overruled his own will had he not chosen to submit. The news of his election spread at once through the city. Through a breach made in the walls of the building where the conclave was assembled, the fact had been first announced, and was received with loud acclamations. The people, gathered by thousands, could not restrain their enthusiasm as they shouted the name of the new pope. The emperor, regardless, as some say, of his dignity, hasted to prostrate himself before him, kissing his feet, and thanking the electors for the excellent choice they had made. The pope replied with a fraternal embrace, and with thanks to the emperor for his zeal for the peace of the church.
The enthroning of the newly elected pope presented a scene of imposing splendor. The emperor, princes and nobility, the clergy of all ranks, beside men of every civil office and station, formed the escort which accompanied him from the conclave to the cathedral. His ordination as deacon took place November 12, his consecration and coronation as pope, November 21. These were marked by scenes of scarcely less splendor and magnificence. As the procession on this last occasion moved through the streets of the city, it was met by the Jews, who assured the new pope of their obedience, and besought of him a confirmation of their privileges, while presenting him at the same time a copy of the Old Testament. The pope paused a moment, received the volume—according to some—but handed it back with the remark, “You have the law, but do not understand it. Behold, old things have passed away, all has become new.”
According to another account, the pope refused to receive the volume. Sigismund took it for a moment, however, remarking as he handed it back, “The laws of Moses are just and good—let no one reject them, but as to you, you keep none of them as you ought.” Upon this the pope, turning toward them, said, “May Almighty God take away the veil from your eyes, and grant that you may behold the light of eternal life,” then adding the apostolic benediction.
The power and intrigue of the cardinals had thus secured their triumph. With a pope to head them, they could do more than they had done already—they could safely defy the emperor. Each party now strove to gain the favor and patronage of the pope. The imperial power occupied but a secondary place. All measures of reform must be such as to be acceptable to the Court of Rome. It was as much as a defeat already of projects for which the best men of the age had toiled, and written, and plead. The work of reformation was in reality postponed. The heart of the emperor was sickened within him. The French urged him to promote their measures of reform. His reply was bitter: “You would have a pope first. You have one now. Go to him. It is his business, not mine.”
Measures of the Pope and Council against the Bohemians
While the council at Constance was rent into factions by intrigues to elect a pope, Bohemia, became more than ever a scene of civil discord. The Hussites were steadily increasing in numbers and in confidence. The course of the council, instead of regaining its lost adherents, alienated many who might otherwise have sustained it. Nothing was done to restore to that body the respect and confidence which had been destroyed by the execution of Huss and Jerome. The action of the university carried with it many who, until that time, had remained wavering and undecided. The clergy who adhered to the council became more thoroughly alarmed. They had exhausted all their energies in attempting to breast the storm, but their very efforts only recoiled upon themselves. They provoked and exasperated where conciliation would have been policy. Justifying, as they did, the execution of Huss, and invoking the interference of the secular power, they forfeited that respect and security which they might have claimed had they quietly attended to their own duties.
They by no means limited their demands to being left unmolested in their own persons and spheres of labor. The storm which they invoked upon the heads of others was thus brought down upon their own. Refusing toleration, it is not strange that the measure which they meted should have been measured to them again. They occupied the position, and were regarded in the light of allies to an invading army designed to oppress, crush, and extirpate the followers of Huss. They were not merely misguided men and teachers of error, but—in the circumstances of the kingdom—revolutionists in principle, and traitors in fact; and so the Hussites, on repeated occasions, felt constrained to deal with them. Stripped of a large part of their revenues, the edge of their orthodoxy was sharpened by the exasperation of their feelings. Some of their churches—we may presume already vacated by them, or perhaps closed by interdict—were given up by Wenzel to the services of the new worship. Amid the civil disorder, it was not surprising that men destitute of principle, and fond of fishing in troubled waters, should abound. Robbers and bandits gladly seized the occasion to commit deeds of violence, which could be charged to the persecuting zeal of the Hussites, but of which the latter were innocent.
The craven and timid monarch, who would sooner see both parties overthrown and his kingdom a desert than have his own indolence or gluttony disturbed, abandoned at this moment the duties of his post. Unwilling to commit himself fully to either party, and fearful on the one side of being accounted a heretic, and on the other of offending the partisans and followers of Huss, who were overwhelmingly in the ascendant, he withdrew from Prague, and left it the spoil and prey of conflicting parties, torn by faction, or private malice and violence, now loosened from restraint. We are only surprised that the party of reform should have exhibited so much self-control. The king, intent only upon his own ease and indulgence, had fled to his castle in the country, leaving his whole kingdom to the mercy of insurrection and anarchy. The presence and authority of the more powerful Bohemian nobles, sometimes perhaps encouraging revolution and violence, were generally the best security for peace and order. Each controlled his own vassals, and the overwhelming majority of this nobility on the side of the reformers, overawed all organized opposition.
The council had good reason for anxiety as to the effect of their own proceedings upon the Bohemian people. They saw themselves virtually defied. Their authority was contemned, and their spiritual claims were openly derided. Not one of the four hundred nobles whom they had summoned before them had shown regard enough for their commands or threatenings to appear before the commissioners appointed to sit in judgment upon their case. In the present state of affairs, it was vain to think of subduing them by violent measures. The forces necessary for such an attempt could not easily be got together. In these circumstances the council did what it should have done first and only—employed the weapons of reason and argument. Gerson was employed to draw up a treatise on the communion of the cup, in order to refute the positions and opinions of the Bohemian heretics. His work is a strange mixture of sound sense and absurd assumption, of indisputable truth and unwarranted inference. He concedes nearly, if not quite, all upon which Jacobel based his argument—the plain command of scripture, the practice of the early church, and the authority of the Christian fathers. He admits the scriptures moreover to be the supreme authority, paramount to all else, whether traditions, or decrees of councils, or papal bulls, or canon law, and, in face of all this, places the authority of the church, and the dangers of desecrating the sacred symbols, over against the clear authority of the word of God. It was the doctrine of transubstantiation that blinded him. His work is a psychological curiosity. The intellectual giant of his age is caught in his own toils; he is the dupe of his own logic.
His treatise was a mere waste of ink and labor. It proved to be perfectly harmless and ineffectual in Bohemia. Jacobel could afford to leave it unanswered, or rather, he had answered it before it was written. Nor could the difficulty of the council have been much relieved, when, at its instance, Maurice of Prague took up the pen against the Calixtines—as the advocates of the communion of the cup now began to be called. His treatise was brought out towards the close of the year (1417).
But more forcible arguments were needed to convert to the views of the council those whose innate sense of justice had been so outraged by the execution of Huss. The emperor exerted himself to check the torrent of innovation that was sweeping over the land. Some of his letters have been preserved, but however they may attest the strength of his feelings, or the energy of his will, they do little credit either to his head or heart. One of them is addressed to the inhabitants of Launa, a city on the Eger, among whom the views of Huss had made such progress before he left Prague for Constance, that he addressed them words of counsel and exhortation. In this letter Sigismund speaks of the urgency with which his brother and some of the Bohemian nobles had prayed him to unite with the council, in order to put an end to the troubles introduced into the kingdom by pernicious innovations; he makes mention of his brother, whom he despised and at this very time was accusing of heresy, in terms of fraternal and affectionate regard—as though he had never robbed him of the imperial crown, or thrust him in prison—and declares the deep anxiety he feels that nothing may occur to the prejudice of him or his kingdom.
After this exordium, in which the hypocrite stands confessed beneath his too transparent mask, he proceeds to picture the state of the country, subject to the violence and rapine which had been reported to him. The council, he says, hard resolved to proceed against Wenzel as a favorer of heresy, and consequently of these disorders, but by his interposition had been dissuaded from their purpose. This state of things had continued now for the space of three years, but how much longer he should be able to hold back the bolts of vengeance which the council were ready to launch against his brother if he refused to change his course, it was impossible to say. He exhorts the Bohemians to resist the innovating opinions, declaring that he who failed to prosecute their defenders, denying them all rest, was guilty of cherishing them. He directs them not only to abstain from what he calls the persecutions of the church and clergy, but diligently to promote the cause of faith, than which no object could be more precious or important. If these his counsels and commands are rejected, the council of Constance will proceed against them, and, if ecclesiastical censures are insufficient, will invoke the aid of the secular.
Why this letter should have been addressed to the citizens of Launa instead of Prague, is somewhat doubtful. Launa might be more easily overawed, or possibly the emperor might have apprehended that the magistrates of Prague would have returned a reply in a tone too bold and defiant.
But his correspondence, both with his brother and with the Bohemians, was of the most indiscreet and haughty kind. The Jesuit historian, Balbinus, who saw the emperor’s letters in the archives of Prague, was at first disposed to regard them as a forgery, devised by the disciples of Huss to cast odium on their reputed author. He could not believe that Sigismund would have written in such a style of bitter and exasperating severity. But the evidence of the manuscripts before him was so thoroughly confirmed by the after-writings and conduct of the emperor, as to leave no room for doubt. If the council had acted an unwise part, the letters of Sigismund betrayed equal folly. The tendency of the whole treatment of the Bohemian nation was to alienate them from all sympathy with the council, and force them to assume the attitude of open rebellion.
One of the emperor’s letters to Wenzel shows the policy employed to overawe the royal imbecile. Sigismund sets before him the hazard which he incurs of provoking the publication of a crusade against him, in which it would be necessary that the German emperor should march against his own brother. Sigismund well knew that the strength of Wenzel’s orthodoxy was to be measured by his terror of an invading army, and, to strengthen his faith, adopted this measure of playing upon his fears.
In another of Sigismund’s letters, written to the Bohemian nobles sometime during the year 1417, he attempts his own vindication, especially in regard to the fate of Huss. He candidly acknowledges that he was overpowered by the council. They threatened him with its dissolution, unless he would accede to their demands. The question was at once reduced this: should he, for the sake of one man’s life, defeat all the hopes of Christendom which centered in the fate and proceedings of the council? Sigismund reproves the Bohemians for presuming to take up the defense of a man whom the council had condemned, and threatens them with a crusade unless they shall desist from their purpose. At the result which must necessarily follow, he professes to shudder, as well he might. He beseeches them to consider the consequences of persisting in what he denominates their leagues and conspiracies; urges them to abide—if one has anything against another—by the decision of his brother, the king of Bohemia; assures them that if his own intervention is necessary to the quieting of the disputes, it shall not be found wanting. He interposes in behalf of the clergy, intimating unwarrantably, so far as the action or authority of the council were concerned, that they would be guided by scripture, the profundity of which he confessed himself too uninstructed to investigate.
In this letter he is not wanting in expressions of affection and regard for the besotted Wenzel. At one time we see him employing terms of respect toward a brother whom he detested—for he is speaking of him to the Bohemians. Anon, he treats him with the contempt he deserves—for he is speaking where there is no need of disguise. He threatens him, as he had just threatened his subjects, with the terrors of a crusade. Truly he attempted to carry out his maxim in regard to dissimulation, a maxim which, translated into plain words, is that no man is fit to rule who cannot play the hypocrite. But the Bohemians were discovering very plainly already the difference between pretense and purpose, the mantle and the man. We shall soon see the emperor, conscious of detection, speaking with an irony in which the sneer was only too transparent.
At the close of the year 1417, safe-conducts had been sent into Bohemia to those who had been cited to appear and answer before the council. But the friends of Huss, warned by his fate, had no desire to involve the council in new perfidy on their account. We have no knowledge of so much as a single Bohemian accepting the safe-conduct sent him, or improving the opportunity which it afforded. Even when the new pontiff subsequently wrote (March, 1418) to the Bohemians, exhorting them to submission, and threatening them with the secular arm if they refused compliance, nothing was effected. That violent measures had not been already resorted to, he attributes, and probably with truth, to the interposition of the emperor, who had already too much on his hands to venture upon a rash conflict with the Bohemian nation. In February, 1418, when those who had been cited did not appear, the council passed a decree, consisting of twenty-four articles, setting forth authentically its demands. These were, in substance, that the king should swear to maintain inviolate the rights and prerogatives of the Roman and other churches, unrestricted by the impositions of the Hussites; that all who hath taught the doctrines of Huss and Wickliffe should abjure them, and approve the sentence of the council pronounced against these men and their writings; that such as refused, in contempt of the keys, to obey this command, should be condignly punished; that the priests and clergy who had been driven from their benefices should be restored, and left unmolested; that the relics and treasures that had been taken from the churches should be replaced; that the university should be reformed, and that the followers of Huss and Wickliffe should be excluded therefrom; that the principal heresiarchs, nine of whom are mentioned by name, should be compelled to appear before the council; that all who had communed under both kinds should abjure the heresy of Jacobel; that the treatises of Wickliffe, Huss, and Jacobel should all of them be surrendered and burned; that the songs sung in derision of the council, and in praise of Huss and Jerome, should be suppressed under the severest penalties; that none should be allowed to preach unless by the authority of the ordinary; that the latter with other prelates should be allowed full liberty in the exercise of their office, and whosoever should interfere to prevent it should thereby incur sentence of excommunication; that all who should favor or promote any measure tending to the spread of the opinions of Huss or Wickliffe should be proceeded against, according to the canons; that every league or compact having this for its object should be dissolved; that the former rites of worship should be all restored, and that all who should be convicted of teaching the doctrines of Huss or Wickliffe, or maintaining the sanctity of these men, should be committed to the flames. The laity were required, under pain of being regarded as favorers of heresy, to aid in the execution of these injunctions.
Such a decree was directly calculated to defeat every purpose for which it was framed. It was the exhibition of senile malice and bare authority, and was conceived in the very spirit that had sent Huss and Jerome to the stake. Its violent tone awed less than it provoked. Its demands, moreover, were exorbitant. Many might have been disinclined to break altogether with the council, who would scorn compliance with terms like these. The circumstances of the case, indeed, rendered compliance impossible. A nation could not be bridled by a word. The convictions of years were not to be mastered by the sentence of a body of men, whose notoriety for intrigue and corruption, according to testimony above impeachment, had scandalized the world, and forfeited for themselves all respect.
Nearly at this same time (February 22, 1418) Martin V issued his bull against the followers and favorers of Wickliffe and Huss. It is addressed to all archbishops, bishops, and inquisitors throughout the world, and is a model from which bigoted intolerance and persecution might copy. It exhausts the odium of language in describing the character of the objects of its vengeance. They are “schismatic, seditious, impelled by Luciferian pride and wolfish rage, duped by devilish tricks, tied together by the tail, however scattered over the world, and thus leagued in favor of Wickliffe, Huss, and Jerome. These pestilent persons had obstinately sown their perverse dogmas, while at first the prelates and ecclesiastical authority had shown themselves to be only dumb dogs, unwilling to bark or to restrain, according to the canons, these deceitful and pestiferous heresiarchs.” The bull then proceeds to describe the widespread of the mischief, lamenting it in the most lugubrious tones. It recites what had been done by the council to check the growing heresy, and ordains that all archbishops, bishops, and ecclesiastical authorities shall hasten to the rescue. They were to try and adjudge as heretics all who should be found “to think or teach otherwise than as the holy Roman and Catholic church thinks or teaches”—all who held the doctrines or defended the character of Huss or Wickliffe—and they were to deliver such over to the secular arm. Such as received or favored these persons were to be exemplarily and severely punished for their “enormous crime,” that others might take warning. All kings, princes, lords, nobles, knights, cities, universities, etc., were to be admonished, and required to banish all such persons as bore this character for heresy from their territories, and all places subject to their dominion. They were not to suffer such persons to preach, dwell, possess property, engage in business, or have anything to do in common with the faithful, in any place subject to their control. If they died heretics, even though the church had not formally declared them such, they were to denied Christian burial. No masses should be said for them. Their property should be confiscated and withheld from those to whom it would otherwise descend, at least until competent ecclesiastical authority had pronounced sentence in the case. Such as were suspected of heresy were to purge themselves under oath. If they refused or neglected to do it, they were to “be struck with the sword of anathema,” and after a year’s lapse condemned as heretic. All lay lords, magistrates, and judges, of what name or dignity soever, were required and commanded, as they prized the Christian name, to afford all necessary aid, whenever they should be called upon for it by the inquisitors or ecclesiastical authorities, for the arrest, restraint, or imprisonment of heretics, or their favorers. These last were to be carefully secured by “iron handcuffs and fetters,” till their case had been carried through the ecclesiastical court, and anyone who should be neglectful in guarding them while under his charge was to be condignly punished. The bull then requires the archbishops, bishops, commissaries, inquisitors, etc., diligently to search out, in all places subject to their jurisdiction, all that are guilty of heresy, or of showing it favor, to pronounce against them sentence of excommunication, suspension, or interdict, as the case may require. All who should refuse or neglect to obey this command, should be deposed and deposed and punished with other and mere severe penalties, according to the enormity of their crime.
But even this was not enough. To aid the slow wit of any less facile persecutor, he was furnished in the bull itself with a full list of the points on which those suspected of heresy were to be examined, and from which they were to purge themselves on oath. These points embraced the forty-five articles of Wickliffe, and the thirty charged against Huss which the council had condemned, beside thirty-nine others, extending to subjects not included in the former. Of these thirty-nine the first eleven pertained to the persons and works of Wickliffe, Huss, and Jerome. The person arraigned was asked whether he had known them, or had conversed with them, knowing them to be excommunicate; whether he had prayed for them, had spoken of them, or accounted them as holy; whether he approved their condemnation, and the acts and authority of the council; whether he possessed any of their works, or knew any that did possess them; and whether he condemned the articles of the heretics aforesaid, in the words of the council.
Of the other points of examination, some had reference to various sects that had arisen in that or the previous age; some represented a peculiar phase of the opinions of Wickliffe or Huss, and some had reference to ecclesiastical authority, the legitimate election of the pontiff, or the infallibility of the council. One had respect to the venial nature of perjury, a subject which the perjured violators of the safe-conduct of Huss had better have let alone. One had reference to the subject of lay preaching, another to the right of a priest to preach out of his own parish.
On these points the suspected heretic was to be examined under oath. He was to appear in person before the bishop or inquisitor, and give answer as he should be asked. No attorney or advocate was to be allowed him. The whole trial was to be conducted in the manner which the judge should deem most expedient. The sentence might extend to excommunication, suspension, or interdict; to deprivation of dignity or office; to fine and confiscation of property; to deposition from rank or professorships in universities; to imprisonment, and such corporeal inflictions as were allowable in the case of heretics. The judgment was to be summary and without appeal, and the delinquent, if it was found necessary, was to be given over to the secular arm. All these processes were made obligatory on the bishops and inquisitors, and their neglect would be accounted a crime.
Such was the document by which the new pontiff signalized his zeal against the Bohemian heresy. Every line and letter of it breathed the spirit that sent Huss to the stake. Nor was it meant to remain a dead letter. The news of Lord Cobham’s death in England followed, in Bohemia, with scarce a day’s interval, the announcement of the bull. That great and noble man, once the bosom friend of the king, had been hung in iron chains and roasted alive as a sacrifice to the bigoted zeal of tile church. His death by fire showed that he died, not as a traitor to the state, but as the victim of ecclesiastical intolerance. Such an event was all that was necessary to fill to overflowing the odious cup which had been put to the lips of the Bohemians by the bull of Martin V. If the council had studied measures of exasperation instead of conciliation, they could not more wisely have calculated on the result. They were continually strengthening the party whom they sought to defeat.
The threat of a crusade, thrown out by the council, as well as the pope and emperor, and employed alike to overawe Wenzel and his subjects, however exasperating it might be, was by no means to be lightly treated. If sincere zealots for the papacy had become more rare than in a former age, their place in the ranks of invasion could be well supplied by the banditti and soldiers of fortune, who stood ready to engage in any feasible work of plunder, none the less prompt that a pontiff lent them the sanction of his authority, and covered their violence with his absolution.
Indeed, at this very juncture the pope published a crusade against the Moors, at the solicitation of the king of Portugal. John XXIII had employed similar measures against his enemy Ladislaus, king of Naples. Europe had not yet forgotten—was not likely soon to forget—the merciless cruelties of the crusade against the Albigenses. Ruthless havoc and indiscriminating massacre had changed the garden of Southern France into an uninhabited desert. The very name of crusade—notwithstanding the schism and decline of the papacy—was still terrible. But even the danger of its fulmination against the Bohemians did not shake their purpose or their steadfast adherence to their convictions. Its only effect was to aggravate their indignation—already glowing with scorn and defiance—against the council.
It was to no purpose that Martin V sent John Dominic, one of his cardinals, as legate into Bohemia. The legate could effect nothing. The bull that had preceded him had done its work. Dominic threw up his mission in despair, and returned to report his ill success. He wrote to Sigismund and the pope that the Bohemians could only be brought back and reduced by force of arms. Tongue and pen were no longer weapons with which to vanquish them. Instead of receding from their position, they had only assumed its responsibilities more boldly. The churches they demanded were granted them by the feeble monarch. It would not have been safe to refuse. His half threatening remark to Nicholas of Hussinitz—who spoke on this occasion in the name of his countrymen—that he was twisting a rope for his own neck, had only served to cause him to withdraw from Prague to his own estates, where he could strengthen himself and his party in all security. Zisca (April 15) soon after appeared before the king, at his summons addressed to the Hussite leaders to meet him unarmed, but he came with a body of men fully equipped for battle. “Here we are, all armed, sire,” said he, “according to your order, to shed the last drop of our blood against your enemies, if we may but know who they are.” Zisca’s boldness secured his impunity. If the king had cherished hostile intentions, they were for the time abandoned. He did not care to confront such resolution and energy as the Hussite leader had shown.
But this course, pursued by the reform party—wise as it was in its very boldness—was induced in part, undoubtedly, by the manner in which Dominic had discharged his mission. Instead of gentle measures, which alone could have succeeded, he showed himself true to the spirit which had dictated the papal bull. At Slany, a few leagues from Prague, he entered one of the churches of the Hussites, and finding upon the altar a box, which probably contained the cups used by them in the celebration of the eucharist, he dashed it to the earth, and ordained that the former methods of worship should all be resumed. Not content with this, he is said, in conjunction with the Archbishop Conrad, to have burned a preacher and a layman at the same place. Nothing more was necessary to drive the Hussites to desperation. Such a premonition of the significance of the bull was not lost upon them. Zisca knew well how to take advantage of it. No personal violence was offered to the legate, but he was everywhere greeted with doggerel songs, reproaches, invectives, ridicule, and insult. Threats were made against his life, unless he withdrew at once from the kingdom. It is more than possible that if he had not taken so plain a hint, they would have been executed. One thing, however, he had learned, that nothing short of the imperial power could bring the Bohemians back to their allegiance to the pope. It remained to be seen whether even this would suffice. Dominic himself returned from Bohemia to accompany the emperor into Hungary, where his efforts against the opinions of the reformers are said to have been more successful.
Futile Issue of the Council Its Dissolution
The council was now approaching the close of its proceedings. With the election of Martin V the interest in its continuance at once began to decline. The prospects of reform were more hopeless than ever, for it was soon seen that the election had only given a head to its enemies.
The new pontiff showed much alacrity in the announcement of his election. He wrote to the universities, and the different states and kingdoms, a circular letter, in which he attributes the choice that had been made to the inspiration of the Holy Ghost. The reception of his letter was not everywhere equally welcome. Pontifical nature had, for more than forty years, excited deep distrust throughout Christendom. Otho de Colonna as cardinal had been highly spoken of, but what would he be as Martin V? His family was a noble one. For centuries it had abounded in great men. Kings, pontiffs, and, as some said, even emperors had sprung from it. Its importance, if nothing more, was attested by the fact that Boniface VIII had excommunicated the whole family, even to the fourth generation. But Boniface VIII had secured his election as pontiff by “terrifying his predecessor at midnight, and threatening him with eternal damnation if he did not immediately resign.” Beside, more than a century had passed away, and the curse of excommunication had well-nigh spent its force. Succeeding pontiffs, moreover, guided by a wisdom equally infallible with that of their predecessor, had cancelled the decree of his pious vengeance.
The Colonnas, moreover, had shown themselves men not lightly to be assailed. Martin V had grown old in the discharge of important ecclesiastical offices connected with the papacy. He was one of the electors of Alexander V, and helped give him a successor in the person of the notorious John XXIII. When the latter fled from Constance, Otho de Colonna accompanied him. Some might have asked what light this fact threw upon his character. He was certainly a learned man—at least in canon law, which he had taught in his youth as a professor at Perusia. Platina praises him as prudent, gentle, temperate, just, and dexterous in the management of affairs. Whatever he may have been as cardinal, as pope he was the author of the bull against the Hussites, and disappointed the hopes of all that earnestly longed for reform. But the office was greater than the man. His position mastered him. He trod in the footsteps of his predecessors, because he did not fancy the thorns he must meet in diverging from the beaten path. “As cardinal,” says Windeck, the emperor’s prime minister, “he was poor and modest, but as pope, Martin V was greedy of gain, and made himself very rich.”
His election as cardinal ranged the greater part of Christendom on his side. Congratulations came in upon him from almost every direction. Some, however, were inclined to hesitate in the declaration of their allegiance. France resented the part which the emperor had taken in his election. Sigismund had leagued himself with England, and was regarded as an enemy. Should France accept as pope the creature of his choice? He had governed the council, and had not left it free to act. Martin V was but a tool of the emperor. The French parliament declined to recognize any one as pope till the deputation at the council had returned safe.
Other matters soon conspired to aggravate the difficulty. The king of Aragon had not entirely recovered from his leanings toward Benedict XIII. If he threw aside his old friend, he demanded some equivalent in return. Money was needed, and he cast a greedy eye on the property of the church. He, as well as his father, had been at considerable expense and trouble to bring about the measures which had ranged Aragon on the side of tile council, and which had resulted in the election of Martin V. This was the ground of his claim. He had demanded the right to dispose of benefices in Sicily and Sardinia, independent of the pontiff, with a share of tithes on ecclesiastical property in Aragon belonging to the Roman See. Martin V thought the 18,000 florins which he could draw yearly from Sicily and Sardinia, too much to surrender for a good-will now no longer necessary, and he refused the terms, offering in their stead others, which the king of Aragon treated with scorn. The result was that Benedict XIII received thenceforth, first the secret, and then the open support of the king. Thus was he enabled to defy the bull of excommunication launched against him by Martin V, on his refusal to lay down the pontifical dignity.
But this was not all. Benedict was not content to act merely on the defensive. When he heard, at Peniscola, of the election of Martin V, he assembled the four cardinals and the few clerks he had with him, and calling his assembly a general council and the Catholic church, he solemnly excommunicated as schismatics all who had shared in the election of Martin V, and all who should acknowledge or obey him. It was in vain that many of the Spanish bishops repaired to Peniscola, and entreated Benedict to yield, and not any longer oppose himself to all Christendom. It was in vain that some of his cardinals seconded the request. To all alike he made the same answer, that Christ had entrusted him, as his vicar on earth, with the care of his church, and he would never betray the trust, or yield the See of St. Peter to a usurper. At last, finding himself almost entirely deserted, he declared that if he must treat, it should be with Martin V alone.
“If Martin is so reasonable a man as you say,” so answered Benedict to the ambassador who announced to him the new election, “I am quite willing to have a conference with him in regard to the means of giving peace to the church.” This was all the submission that could be wrung out of the old hero, calmly defying the world from his fortress of Peniscola, and resolved to live and to die a pope. Even the council of Constance must leave the church to some extent divided by allegiance to two heads.
But it was when measures of reform, so long promised and so long delayed, were at last taken up by Martin V, that the dissatisfaction of the nations began to manifest itself in a marked manner. The grave complaints and urgent demands which issued in the appointment by the council of the reformatory college, could not be altogether ignored. The schemes of this latter body were laid before the pope, and he found that something must be done. But he showed himself equal to the emergency, the needed Fabius of corruption. Although he had sworn to the article of the reformatory college, by which he bound himself to suppress the most crying abuses of the court of Rome, one of his first acts as pope betrayed his real purpose to evade the obligation. The rules of the Roman chancery had been regarded, and to a great extent justly, as the source of simony and papal usurpations. It was necessary, therefore, that these should first of all be set right. The pope examined and corrected them. They were at length published, but only a skilful critic could have discovered any marked difference between these and those that had been issued by John XXIII. Scarce a single abuse was given up. Reservations, vacancies, dispensations, tithes, annates, indulgences—all was in fact retained.
Other abuses were complained of. The five nations demanded of the pope, a few days after his election, that he should fulfil his promise. He told them each to draw up a list of their grievances. He then proposed to treat with each nation by itself, and instead of a general reform, adopt the measure of concordats with each. There was wisdom in this. It was easier to deal with them singly. They were less formidable when thus divided. Beside, from one nation terms could be secured to which another would not consent. England had a terrible statute ofpræmunire, which Martin V would not choose to see thrown in his way as a barrier in dealing with the French or Germans.
Concordats were accordingly arranged. In these the pope managed with great prudence. He gave up only what it was impossible to retain, nor did he yield even this without seeking to secure in return some equivalent. On some points he was met with direct and persistent opposition. England, for eight years, would not receive his cardinal legate. The Archbishop Chichely would not consent to a step that infringed the prerogatives of his primacy, or contemned, as he maintained, the laws of England. France was strengthened in her aversion to the concordat offered her, by her jealousy of papal prerogative threatening to encroach on the liberties of the Gallican church, and by her hatred of England and the emperor.
But in truth the concordats were of small account. They met some of the complaints of the nations, but betrayed throughout an entire aversion to any real or thorough reform. One article limited the cardinals to twenty-four, but of what avail was this, except for the moment? Another was on the subject of the abuse of indulgences; and yet, in less than a single century, this was to be the exciting cause of a revolt that would rend the church in twain. Others still were directed to the subjects of dispensations, plurality of benefices, restrictions upon the monks, and matters of order and ecclesiastical regulation, attempting to remedy the more gross and crying evils, lopping off limbs indeed from the tree of corruption, mutilating its fair proportions, but in fact only pruning it for a more vigorous and luxuriant growth. It needed a Luther to lay the axe at the root of the tree, but no Luther was to be found at Constance after the death of Huss.
There were some regulations adopted by the council generally, with the sanction of the pope, beside the concordats, that were intended to answer the purpose of reform. But the whole movement was regarded by many members of the council as a mere feint to ward off the charge that might be made against that body of neglecting its appropriate work. The pope himself knew what he was about. He conceded just what he might safely yield, or what he could not safely retain. Provincial councils should be held every three years, to last eight or ten days. The pope should decide nothing important without the advice of his cardinals. He should not take the title of Most Holy, unless in his life and conduct he showed himself worthy of it. The cardinals were to be distinguished for their learning, morals, and experience, and none could be elected at an age short of thirty years. The officers of the chancellor’s court were to be of a fixed number, and the charges allowed them were specified. Reservations were to be abolished, dispensations to be granted only with the concurrence of a majority of the college of cardinals. The pope should no longer impede the course of justice. He should not protract suits, or annul them after sentence, unless for legitimate causes. He should not impose tenths unless authorized by a general council. Restrictions were imposed upon exemptions and translations. Simony was to be punished by deprivation in an ecclesiastic, and by excommunication in a layman.
Such were the measures for the reform of the papal court. In matters pertaining to episcopal jurisdiction, the council pronounced on the subject of benefices and the right of patronage, church property, matrimonial suit, dowries, the estates of widows and wards, heresies, schisms, legacies, donations, the conflict of civil and ecclesiastical jurisdiction. The duty of provincial synods was declared. They were to maintain ecclesiastical liberty and union, nor were they to make war, except when commanded by the sovereign, or on the failure of ecclesiastical censures to attain their object.
The priesthood is next looked after. The bishops must exercise a sharp surveillance over it. If one lived with a concubine, he was to lose his benefice unless within a month he sent her away. The children of priests could not be admitted to orders, or allowed to hold a benefice, without a dispensation from Rome. Residence, on curates, was rendered imperative. They were always to wear the ecclesiastical habit. None was to serve in a pariah where he could not speak the language. The age, the revenues, and the mode of electing canons were prescribed. Unjust oaths, imposed as a condition of choice, were null. Bishops were allowed a similar release. On a bishop’s death, the canons were not allowed to despoil his house or property. The monks also were bound more strictly to regard their vows of obedience, charity, and poverty. The nuns were required to conform to certain rules prescribing age and conduct. If a man presented himself to be received into holy orders, he was strictly to be questioned whether his father or grandfather had not treated ecclesiastics with violence, in their persons or goods. Civil interference with ecclesiastical courts, was to be repelled, and punished by interdict. The consecration of chapels, the observance of festivals, the exposure of relics to public view, afforded matter of deliberation for the grave wisdom of the reforming college acting in concert with the pope. The last article can speak for itself. It mildly decrees, in regard to that much-abused people whom Martin V at his coronation had treated with insult, “that when a Jew is converted, and adheres to Christianity, he shall give up only half his property, whether landed or personal, in restitution of usury practiced on Christians, and shall charitably be allowed to retain the other half, for his own support and that of his family.”
Such were in substance the acts of the reformatory college. The church had asked for bread—the council gave her a stone. She asked for an egg—the council gave her a scorpion. The decrees of reform read like a libel on the ecclesiastical order of the age. Could the hierarchy have become so corrupt, we ask, that these prohibitions of gross indecency and injustice could assume the name of an organized reform? There were some who regarded them in their true significance—as a plaster to cover up the sore which they could not heal. In fact, they deceived no one. The pope wished merely to save appearances. In regard to the article proposed by the reformatory college bearing upon the circumstances in which a pope might be deposed by the he avoided giving any answer He would not allow of a decree which might trench oil his own prerogative. What the council had done in declaring its supremacy over the Papal See, he chose to ignore. There was a significance in the fact, that in the questions to be proposed to the Hussites, and enumerated in his bull, there was one on this very point.
Thus, nearly four years had passed away, and nothing of importance had been accomplished in regard to one of the chief objects for which the council had been convoked. The result was ridiculous—humiliating. The nations were dissatisfied. They were loud in their complaints. But Martin V, secure in his seat, met them all with philosophical equanimity. The council had served his purpose, and he wished now to get rid of it. Unless it was speedily dissolved, he feared its activity. It might do mischief. It was only too easy to see whitherward things were tending. The emperor was disappointed, disheartened, disgusted. He had been foiled and beaten at his own game of dissimulation. The pope could do all that he had done, and not blush.
The Spanish nation, especially, was indignant. They wished to carry back from Constance some equivalent for having thrown Benedict XIII overboard. How were they now better off than before, if there was to be no reform worthy of the name? In personal merit, Benedict XIII might claim to be at least equal to Martin V. Why should the former be given up, if the papal court was to continue what it was before?
The indignation of the Spaniards found vent in satire. “A mass against simony”—such was the singular name of the article in which their Scorn for papal corruption was expressed. A man dreams of going as a pilgrim to the Church of the Holy Cross at Rome. As he approaches it, he sees the house of a peasant, Simon by name, rising higher than the church itself; though the house was yet without a roof. While gazing with surprise at its height, a certain person meets him and says, “A truce to your surprise: take a seat here now, and write out a new mass, or a new office touching simony, for the house you see represents the estate of Simon Magus, who is ever at work to raise it above the church.” The pilgrim obeys the direction, and seats himself to write.
“Introduction. We deplore, all of us in the Lord, the sad times in which we live. We groan over the horrible simony that prevails at present. For this, poor human wretches mourn and grieve, according to the saying, My heart utters forth one word, that is, Simony, a word hard to be heard. Gloria Patri.
“O God, who for the sins of men, and by the little care shown to distinguish the good and bad, hast permitted simony to make such great progress, insomuch that, where the more holiness should abound, there the wore simony reigns, so that churches are taxed, benefices are reserved, elections are abolished, sacraments are sold and bought, we pray thee to purify the church from these pollutions, granting to those guilty of simony, converting grace, or, if they refuse to be converted, smiting them as Peter smote Simon Magus, or as Elisha smote Gehazi, those traffickers in sacred things. Per Dominum.
“(Scripture to be read—Revelation of St. John, chapter 17.)
” In those days came one of the seven angels and spake with me, saying, Come, and I will show thee the judgment of the beat whore that sitteth upon many waters, with whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her prostitution. So he carried me away in the spirit into the wilderness; and I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet-covered beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet color, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations, and the filthiness of her fornication.
“Grad. Lord, who shall abide in thy tabernacle; who shall dwell in thy holy mountain?
“Ver. He that hath clean hands and a pure heart, uncontaminated with simony, who does according to the righteousness of God. Hallelujah.
“He hath grown fat, he hath become gross, his heart is lifted up, and he hath forsaken the Lord his Maker, and hath given himself up to the iniquity of simony. Hallelujah.
” Seq. Matthew 10. Jesus said to his disciple, Go ye, and preach, The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, raise the dead, recover the lepers, drive out demons, freely give as ye have freely received. Take neither gold nor silver in your purse.
“Offert. All seek their own, not the things that are Jesus Christ’s.
“Secret. O God, who of the abundance of thy mercy hast commanded to bestow the sacraments and the benefits of the church gratuitously, grant converting grace to those who buy and sell. And if they will not be converted, do to them according to their iniquity, that others better than they may take their bishopric. Per Domimum nostrum.
“Commun. If my children shall not play the master in benefices wickedly acquired, then shall I be without spot, and I shall be pure from the great sin of simony.
“Post Commun. O Lord, who hast freely bestowed thyself upon us, we pray thee that those who sell and those who buy these same gifts of thine, may ever receive the portion of Judas, who sold thee—thee who livest and reignest with God the Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit.
“(This mass to be chanted immediately after the festival of the See of St. Peter.)”
When the mass had thus been written, the one who had dictated it said to the pilgrim, “In the name of the true spouse of the church of Jesus Christ, I command you promptly to inform King Alfonso what is therein written, that, he may present it to the pope, boldly and without delay, praying him, in the name of God, and as pastor and head of the church, that he himself pray, and cause others to pray, that this cursed sin of simony may be removed from the church. For I know that the smoke thereof hath risen up to heaven, and that divine Justice is so provoked, that if this pope does not provide some remedy, he may be assured that he shall soon be smitten by a great plague, so that he shall fall and be reduced to nothing. While, if he shall correct abuses, he shall reign upon the throne of the church, and triumph over his enemies. Yet, let him know that he has not been raised to the See of St. Peter through his own merit, but by God’s permission, to reform the church in all humility and fidelity, while exercising his power against such as refuse to obey its commands.”
Nothing could more plainly manifest the deep discontent that prevailed, than the appearance of such a document in spite of the decree of the council against all defamatory and libelous compositions. Undoubtedly the dissatisfaction of the king of Aragon with Martin V was mainly due to the fact that the latter would not alienate in his favor the possessions of the church. But the utter neglect of the council, through the pope’s management, to initiate any thorough reform, gave, in the eyes of many, a pretext for his course. Nor did those who sided with him fail to impeach the character of the council as legitimate, on the ground that it was not properly convoked, and that the church was not properly represented.
Other nations had complaints to offer. But all were vain. They had to devour their grief in silence. The pope was master of the council, and they who had placed him over them, had to mourn—like the Israelites when a king had been granted at their request—the impolicy and folly of a course that had made them the slaves of another’s will.
In the little that had been now accomplished, more than three months had been spent, and the pope was eager to return to Italy, and recover from the grasp of his enemies the ravaged states of the church. It was in vain that Sigismund urged him to delay. Everything was expedited to secure the speedy dissolution of the council. Even an embassy from the Greek church, which reached Constance at the beginning of the year (1418), and which proposed the important subject of the union of the Greek and Latin churches, could not retard the arrangements of Martin V for closing the council. Something indeed was done to encourage the union, which the Greeks, pressed as they were by the Turks, manifested an unusual readiness to promote. Latin women—some of princely houses—were sent back as brides for Greek husbands, and perhaps this was the best argument for union which the council had to offer.
Meanwhile the emperor was busy with civil as well as ecclesiastical affairs. He was anxious to harmonize his distracted and turbulent provinces and princes. Frederic of Austria had been received back to the imperial favor. The Duke of Milan was constrained to acknowledge his feudal allegiance, and was urged on by the emperor to attack Genoa, thus endangering the peace of Italy, and especially the safety of Florence. But the perfidious wretch, Philippo Maria, stained with blood and crime, fought for the promotion of his own selfish interests, and Sigismund had too many matters on hand to impose upon him—had he been so disposed—any restraint. He was anxious above all to replenish his exhausted treasury. More complaisant to him than to the king of Aragon, Martin V allowed him, in consideration of what he had clone for the church, a share of the ecclesiastical revenues of Germany for the space of a year.
It was in vain that the several dioceses which were affected by this project uttered their complaints, in vain that they appealed to the bull of the pope, which they had regarded as protecting them from such an imposition. The logic of their skilful advocate, Dominic de Geminiano, might expose the papal inconsistency and injustice, but it was powerless against interest armed with imperial patronage, especially when the pope, by express reservation, had secured all pontifical revenues from being touched.
From the Duke of Austria, Sigismund wrung out 50,000 florins, as the condition of peace and a ransom for his states. He was ready enough to accept the money, and recover to his allegiance one of his rebellious subjects, of whom he had too many on his hands already. The Swiss had seized the occasion of the duke’s being put under the ban of the empire, to rob him of several of the cities which he had held of the empire. Sigismund now demanded them back. The Swiss refused compliance with the demand, and the emperor accepted in place of them what he most needed—money. The cities of Mayence, Spires, and Worms, anxious to secure privileges for themselves, found all negotiations vain without money. The emperor’s coffers were replenished—only again to be exhausted. Something of a satisfaction to him it must have been to be recognized as emperor—as he now was in solemn ceremony—by the newly elected pontiff. The golden rose was bestowed upon him, but the still unsettled state of the empire, the futile measures of reform in the council, the growing strength of the Hussites in Bohemia, all tended to provoke and irritate him. He was continually busy, ever anxious, going from and suddenly returning to Constance, none could tell why. The Turk threatened him in Hungary. He anxiously awaited intelligence from the ambassadors sent by the council to restore peace between France and England. He sympathized with Gerson in his disappointment that the writings of Petit and Falkenberg had never been condemned in full council, and when he saw Martin V about to leave the city of Constance, he must have reviewed with saddened heart the labors and anxieties of the last four years.
It was certainly a most significant fact that, in spite of Gerson’s eloquence and logic, the urgency of the French monarch, the deep feeling and anxious effort of the emperor, as well as the letters of the king of Poland and the arguments of his ambassadors, the pope and council could not be induced to touch the books of Petit and Falkenberg. Gerson was indignant. “Why,” he asked—and the council would have been at a loss for an answer—”Why condemn the writings of Huss and Wickliffe, and leave writings far more pernicious unsentenced? Well may the Bohemians accuse the council—and with justice—of a most criminal partiality, in judging with such severity heresies far less criminal than those of Petit and Falkenberg, which it treats with indifference. The authority of the council is made cheap; its acts become null and void; it is made a laughing-stock for schismatics, infidels, and especially Peter de Luna and such as favor him, when they see so little accomplished on the election of a pope from whom so much was expected.”
But the ambassadors of the king of Poland were resolved to make one more effort, full as much characterized by the spirit of humanity and justice, as that of which Gerson was the champion against Petit. Is brutal violence the proper instrument for converting infidels to Christianity? That was the question. Protesting against the violence and carnage of the Teutonic knights, the king of Poland, and Voladimir, his ambassador, plead the cause of reason and truth. Should their plea be heard? It was in advance of the age. It was a gleam of light from a brighter future. Should it be quenched in the darkness of papal bigotry? Should it yield to the prejudices against which it clashed? Let us see.
Otho de Colonna had signed, while yet cardinal, the condemnation of Falkenberg’s as well as Petit’s writings. He now wore the tiara, and presided over the council at this its forty-fifth and last session (April 22, 1418.) At the fitting moment the advocate of the Polish ambassadors arose, and presented to the council the book of Falkenberg. It had been condemned by the commission appointed to examine it, by the nations severally, by the college of cardinals, and all this with perfect unanimity. He therefore submitted humbly that it should also be condemned in full council, otherwise the ambassadors of Poland and Lithuania would protest against this denial of justice, and would appeal to a future council. The statement of the advocate was disputed. The patriarchs of Constantinople and Antioch maintained that the book had not been unanimously condemned. Two notaries pronounced the assertion false. In the midst of the confusion consequent, Paul Voladimir arose and demanded audience. His advocate had omitted some things that should have been spoken. As he reached his hand, however, to take from the advocate the paper which he wished to read, the pope imposed silence, and declared by the mouth of one of his officers, that what had been passed in full council in matters of faith, he regarded as inviolably binding—but nothing more.
This declaration was meant to be final. But Voladimir was not thus to be put off. He went on with his reading. Again the pope silenced him, threatening excommunication unless he should desist. He then presented his protest in the names of the king of Poland and the duke of Lithuania, solemnly appealed to the next general council, and demanded the certification of his protest and appeal. The language employed is bold and manly. The chief purpose for which the council was convoked—the extirpation of heresy—had been neglected. Desiring to obey God rather than man, he declares that if sentence is not pronounced against the book of Falkenberg, and justice done in the premises, he appeals to a future council.
All was in vain. Martin did not wish to provoke the vengeance or risk the allegiance of the Teutonic knights. Strangely enough, moreover, at the close of the council the Duke of Burgundy is his fast friend. Shall he be alienated by the condemnation of his advocate, Petit? Surely Martin V was, as Platina says, “a prudent man.” But before the council’s close, he gave evidence of it. John of Bavaria, Bishop of Liege—the See by which the Archbishop of Riga had been bought over—was merely a worldly prince. He wished to resign his bishopric, and marry a fortune in the person of the widow of the Duke of Brabant, a near relative. For this, a dispensation from the pope was necessary. A thousand crowns bought the dispensation, and Martin V pocketed the fruits of his simony. What a fit commentary on the reforms he had initiated, as well as on his “prudence”! Such conduct confounded the emperor. He went to the pope, and met him with the blunt, but significant question, “Holy Father, why are we here at Constance?” “To reform the church,” replied the pope. “One would not be apt to say so,” rejoined the emperor, “when you allow cousins-german to marry. Pardon sins you may, perhaps, but not grant a permit for them.” The emperor, however, could go no further. His own robes were far from being free of stain. He had already used the pope to perform a similar service for some friends of his own. Thus many seemed to see in Martin V a John XXIII redevivus. The man might die, but the system lived. The name of pope was but the new dial-plate to cover the same mechanism working out the same results.
Futile as the results of the council appeared, there was no hope of mending them, and most of the members were as ready as Martin V to depart. Some would haste away, in order to enjoy at leisure the fruits of their treason or intrigue; some to remedy the mischiefs occasioned by their absence; some, like Gerson, to weep in solitude over the disappointment of their fondest hopes. What must have been the reflections of sincere, enlightened, and earnest men, like Voladimir, as they retraced their steps from the council to their homes? The Polish ambassador saw the cause of sacred and Christian charity trampled under foot. The head of the church himself had silenced the voice of justice—had virtually condemned a just cause unheard. Nay, more, he had taken “prudent” precautions that it never should be heard. He had published a constitution, ad perpetuam rei memoriam, by which he declared that “It is not permissible for anyone to appeal from the sovereign judge (i.e., the supreme pontiff), who is vicar of Jesus Christ, on earth, neither to decline his judgment in matters of faith.” Well might Gerson declare, and Voladimir feel, that “it tended to overthrow the authority not only of the council of Pisa, but of Constance also, and to annul all that they had done, whether in electing a new pope, or deposing such as had intruded into the pontificate.”
The council in fact lay at the mercy of a terrible contradiction that bereft it of all moral power. It had begun by asserting its supremacy, and deposing a pope. It ended by giving itself a master, and bending its neck to his yoke. It was far more independent when it assembled, than when the time of its dissolution approached. Cromwell, dismissing the Long Parliament with a “Get you gone,” could have humbled them, not more than the council was humbled by the assumed authority of the pontiff. They had become his tools merely, and when he had done with them he flung them away. The terrible question had been started, Which is supreme, pope or council?—but the issue at Constance foreboded sadly, to thoughtful minds, that future when popes should rule, independent of councils, summoning, or leaving them unsummoned, at their pleasure. The tyranny of the monarchical principle was already, in fact, enthroned in the church, by the weakness of a council that had presumed to bind it in fetters of iron.
We follow the better minds of the council with a sad sympathy, as they withdraw to their homes or to their places of exile. They feel that they have acted a humiliating part in the great tragedy of the church. The catastrophe has thrown its dark shadow on all their future years, and on the future of Christendom. They have learned what they would have been happier, if not wiser, never to have known. They have fathomed around them depths of depravity that fill them with foreboding and despair. Bohemia had no such ally against the council as the council itself.
But before the final leaves-taking, the pope wished to manifest his generosity. He could do it easily, and, what was more, cheaply. If money was scarce, and piety a thing still more rare, the bank of Papal Indulgences could discount to meet any demand. In the latter part of March (1418), his bounty was signalized by an invitation addressed to the people, by heralds, to assemble at the episcopal palace to receive indulgences. A great multitude was soon collected, in the midst of whom the pope exercised a liberality that cost him nothing. The ceremonies of the occasion occupied most of the afternoon, and closed with a more substantial and expensive tribute to the emperor, princes, and cardinals, of a public dinner; at the close of which, the pontifical humility was manifested in washing the feet of his guests. Day after day the treasury of Indulgence was drawn upon, and the graciousness of the pontiff expressively signalized.
But all this was nothing to what took place on the dissolution of the council. As the pope declared its sessions closed, he “accorded, by the authority of God Almighty, the blessed apostles Peter and Paul, as well as by his own, full absolution to all the members of the council, for all their sins,” and extended his favors to the members of their families, on condition of their “fasting every Friday for the space of a year.” To make the matter more easy, fasting might be dispensed with, in some cases, by the substitution of good works.
The emperor, by the mouth of his advocate, returned thanks to the several members of the council for what they had done, promising, on his part, an inviolable allegiance to the Roman church and the pope, and declaring that in whatever respects the council had come short, it had not been through his fault.
Such language plainly intimated the dissatisfaction of the emperor; nor did he stand alone in this feeling, as we have already seen. But the king of Poland felt most deeply aggrieved. He seems to have shown great zeal, as well as humanity, in seeking the conversion of the infidels bordering upon his states, and his efforts had been eminently successful. The violence and rapine of the Teutonic knights were most odious and reprehensible. The king of Poland now saw them shielded by the action of the pontiff, and himself left exposed to the shafts of Falkenberg’s malice. He wrote to the pope a letter of complaint which seems to have been not without effect, although Falkenberg was still uncondemned. Some of the friends of the king of Poland counseled him, as the wisest and most effectual measure, to select some monk, as violent, virulent, and able as Falkenberg, and set him, with his pen, to maul and demolish his adversary. If such a one could have been found, the counsel might not have been unwise.
The French concordat, on its arrival at Paris, was anything but welcome. The parliament refused to receive it, and even drew up reasons against it, to be presented to the pope. Years passed before France would accept it. The nuncios, whom the pope sent to urge its approval, were driven to maintain the desperate position that a sentence of the pope was to be obeyed, even though it was unjust. Such a maxim roused the spirit of Gerson in his exile, and he met it with a bold and manly refutation.
The Germans felt that they had been cheated by the council. The dioceses, whose revenues had been given over to the emperor, were loud in their complaints. The Archbishop of England, in a spirit worthy of the nation, met the demands of the pope on the privileges of his primacy and the laws of England, in an attitude of defiance. Spain was already almost in open revolt against Martin, and ready to league with Benedict XIII. Bohemia was, for the present, hopelessly lost to the papacy, volcanic in its indignation and resentment at the proceedings of the council. Italy was too much absorbed in the wretched conflicts that tore her into parties and factions, to have any thought left except for her own misery. In the midst of all this widespread dissatisfaction, it is a most significant fact that the only hearty supporters of the pontiff were the Duke of Burgundy and the Teutonic knights—the patrons respectively of Petit and Falkenberg. Well might Gerson, in his sad and lonely meditations over the doings and results of the council, lament that he had toiled anal worn himself out to no to purpose. The bright hopes he had cherished were but dreams. The ideal of his life, the image he had worshipped, had vanished. A Gorgon’s head, that he dared not look upon, had taken its place. Where a temple should have been, he saw a Babel. Rome was not to be reformed. Reform would annihilate her. Her disease was past cure.
And now all were intent upon quitting the scene where so much of good and bad, of learning and power, of eloquence and intrigue, of integrity and corruption, had mingled and fermented together. The pope was in most haste to leave. The emperor begged him, with all earnestness, to stay a few months longer. He represented to him that many things yet remained to claim his attention. But these entreaties were vain. The pope wished to see Rome; he wished to snatch it from the grasp of its invaders. On the sixteenth of May (1418) he left Constance for Geneva. The procession that accompanied him was splendid and imposing. The “servant of servants” went forth as the prince of the kings of the earth. Ten horses, caparisoned in scarlet and led by hand, preceded. Four horsemen, with pikes, each surmounted by a cardinal’s hat, followed them. Then came two priests, one bearing a cross of gold, another the sacrament. The cardinals, in their red caps, with priests, theologians, senators of the city, and canons, bearing wax tapers, made way for the pope, who followed, mounted on a white horse and dressed in pontifical habits. The tiara which he wore shone brilliant with precious stones, while four princes supported the dais above his head that shielded him from the sun. The emperor was on his right, and held the bridle of his horse. The electors and princes of the empire stood near to render their assistance. Then followed the clergy, the nobility, and the various orders, till the procession swelled in number to forty thousand men. In such state the pope passed the gate of the city. The emperor and princes accompanied him to Gottlieben, where he embarked upon the Rhine, to finish, by water, his journey to Geneva. The emperor himself did not long linger at Constance, and in a short time its former glory had departed.