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Foxe's Book of Martyrs -- 101. THE COUNCIL OF CONSTANCE.


Here, by the way, is to be noted and understood, that during all this time of Pope John, there were three popes reigning together, neither was yet the schism ceased, which so long time had continued, the space, as I said, of twenty-nine years; by reason whereof a general council was ordained and holden at Constance in the same year, A. D. 1414, being called by Sigismund the emperor, and Pope John the Twenty-third, for the pacifying of the aforesaid schism, which was then between three popes striving for the popedom; the first whereof was John, whom the Italians set up; the second was Gregory, whom the Frenchmen set up; the third was Benedict, whom the Spaniards placed. In this schismatical ambitious conflict, every one defended his pope, to the great disturbance of Christian nations. This council endured four years long, wherein all their matters were decided mostly by four nations, namely, the English, German, French, and Italian nation; out of which four nations were appointed and chosen four presidents, to judge and determine the matters of the council. The names of which presidents were these: John, the patriarch of Antioch, for France; Anthony, archbishop of Riegen, for Italy; Nicholas, archbishop of Genesuensis, for Germany; and Nicholas, bishop of Bath, for England; by whom many great and profitable things to the glory of God, and public profit, might have been concluded, if the rotten flesh of the churchmen could have abiden the salt of the gospel, and if they had loved the truth. But, as Gregory Nazianzen writeth, "There lightly come few general councils, but they end more with disturbance, than tranquillity," so it happened in this council. For whereas John the Twenty-third, in the first session, exhorteth them by these words taken out of the eighth of Zechariah, Veritatem diligite, that is to say, Love the truth, further monishing them, and especially the divines, every man to do his endeavour for the unity of the church, and to speak their mind freely; how soon this his exhortation was forgotten, it appeared shortly after by the despising of the prophets, and persecuting of Christ in his members, as by the grace of Christ shall appear hereafter in the process of this history.

First, this John did resign his papacy: the emperor, giving him thanks, kissed his feet. Afterwards, the said John, repenting him that he had so done, sought means to flee, whereunto Frederic, duke of Austria, did assist him; for he, changing his garments, fled by night with a small company. And when he was now come unto Schaffhausen, to go into Italy, the emperor pursuing, took him, and proclaimed Frederic traitor, and for that cause took away certain cities from him. At the last the matter was appeased under this condition, that Frederic should require grace of the emperor, and resign all his possessions unto him: whereupon the emperor received him again into favour, and restored him to his dukedom. This pope, being thus deposed, was committed unto the county Palatine, and by him carried to the castle of Manheim, where he was kept prisoner by the space of three years. Afterwards he was again, by Pope Martin, admitted to the number of cardinals.

This Pope John was deposed by the decree of the council, more than three and forty most grievous and heinous crimes being objected and proved against him: as that he had hired Marcilus Parmensis, a physician, to poison Alexander, his predecessor; further, that he was a heretic, a simoniac, a liar, a hypocrite, a murderer, an enchanter, a dice-player, an adulterer; and, finally, what crime is it that he was not infected withal?

And now, to return unto the council: first, we will declare the order of their sessions, with things therein concluded, in general; then we will, Christ willing, adjoin the special tractation of such matters as pertain to the story of the Bohemians, and John Huss, and Jerome of Prague, who, in the same ungodly council, were condemned and burned.

This council, therefore, of Constance, which was summoned by the emperor Sigismund, and Pope John the Twenty-third, about the nativity of our Lord Jesus, A. D. 1414, began the same year to be assembled about the latter end of the year; which first beginning, as the manner is, with a mass of the Holy Ghost, as they were singing according to their custom their hymn, Veni Sancte Spiritus, there was, at the same time, a certain bill set up in the church by some well-disposed man, as it seemed, wherein were contained these words following: "We are otherwise occupied at this time; we cannot attend to come to you." Here is also to be remembered the worthy saying of the emperor Sigismund, when talk was ministered as touching the reformation of the spiritually, and some said, "The reformation ought first to begin at the Minorites;" the emperor answering again, "Not with the Minorites, but with the Majorites;" meaning the reformation ought first to begin with the pope, cardinals, and bishops, and other superior states of the church; and so to descend after to the inferiors. Thus much by the way, and now to the purpose and order of the sessions as we promised. The which council continued, as is aforesaid, by the space of four years, and had in it forty-five sessions, wherein many things were concluded, the which altogether were too long to be recited in this place; as the deposition of three several popes, which were before spoken of, and the hearing of certain legates. Yet I mind to make some brief recapitulation of the most principal matters there done in the sessions orderly ensuing.

"In the first session chiefly was concluded, First, that this council was lawfully congregated.

"In the second session, Item, that the going away of the pope should be no let or stay, but the council might proceed. -- Wherein note, gentle reader, that the authority of the general council is above the pope, contrary to their own doctrine.

"In the third session, Item, this council should not be dissolved before the church were reformed, as well in the superiors as inferiors.

"In the fourth session, amongst other things this was first concluded, That a synod congregated in the Holy Ghost, making a general council, representing the whole catholic church here militant, hath power of Christ immediately, to the which power every person, of what state or dignity soever he be, yea, being the pope himself, ought to be obedient in all such things as concern the general reformation of the church, as well in the heads, as in the subjects. Item, the said pope should not translate the court of Rome, and the officers of the same court, from the city of Constance; and that all his censures, doings, and workings, after the time of his departure, whatsoever he should enterprise to do to the prejudice of this council, should be of no effect.

"In the fifth session, the same articles were repeated and concluded again.

"In the sixth session, procuration and citation was sent out against the pope. Item, commissioners were appointed out of the four nations for the hearing of John Huss, which shall be hereafter mentioned in his story following. Item, the memory of John Wickliff was condemned, and the sentence, given in the council holden at Rome upon the condemnation and burning of Wickliff's books, was there confirmed. Item, in the same session, citation was sent out against Jerome of Prague, the tenor whereof followeth after in the story of the said Jerome. Item, in this session was decreed against libels of infamy.

"In the seventh session, nothing was handled, but that the tenor of the citation against Pope John was recited.

"In the eighth session, the sentence and condemnation of John Wickliff and his forty-five articles was recited, and sentence given against his memory, and bones to be burned. The tenor whereof is rehearsed in the history of John Wickliff before passed.

"In the ninth session, the matter and cause of Pope John was again treated, and commissioners appointed to inquire upon his cause, and judges for the same.

"In the tenth session, suspension was given out and read against the said pope.

"In the eleventh and twelfth sessions, notaries were assigned, and definitive sentence was given against the said pope; where also it was decreed that none of them that intended before for the papacy, should be chosen pope.

"In the thirteenth session was decreed, that no priest, under pain of excommunication, shall communicate unto the people under both kinds of bread and wine.

"In the fourteenth session came in the resignation of Pope Gregory the Twelfth, which was one of the three before mentioned, striving for the papacy, with certain other articles concerning the election of the bishop of Rome, and the ratification of their resigning, which gave over the papacy.

"Then ensueth the fifteenth session, in the which silence was commanded on all parts under pain of excommunication and the great curse; that no person or persons, high or low, of what estate or degree soever he were, emperor, king, cardinal, or other, should disturb the said session with any manner of noise, either by hand, foot, or voice. This being done, the sentence and condemnation against John Huss was read and published, which after in the story of John Huss followeth to be seen more at large.

"In the sixteenth session, ambassadors were assigned by the council to go into Arragon to Benedict the Thirteenth, to treat with him for the resignation of his papacy, as the other two had done before. Item, power was given to judges to cite, under pain of deprivation, all such as privily departed away from the council; in the which session also the sentence against John Huss was confirmed and ratified.

"In the seventeenth session, the emperor took upon him a journey to the king of Arragon, to treat with Pope Benedict. Item, an excommunication denounced against all such as should go about to impeach the emperor's journey about that matter, &c. Item, prayers and processions were determined to be made by the council every Sunday for the same cause, with a hundred days of pardon given to them that would be present thereat; and that all prelates should be present at every of these said masses and processions, in their pontificalibus. Granting besides to every priest that said one mass, for the same a hundred days of pardon: and to all other that once a day should say one Pater Noster, and one Ave, for the safety of the emperor, forty days of pardon.

"In the eighteenth session, certain judges were assigned for the hearing of matters, which the council had no leisure to hear. It was there also decreed, that such letters and bulls as were written in the name of that council, should be received with no less credit and authority than the bulls proceeding from the see apostolical, and that the falsifiers of the same should incur no less penalty than the falsifiers of the other. Legates, also, and ambassadors, were sent into Italy.

"In the nineteenth session, which was the same year, in the month of September, Jerome of Prague, who was cited, as is before said, was accused of heresy, and cast into prison, by the said council, and constrained to abjure; the which his abjuration hereafter followeth to be seen in his history. Item, it was decreed, notwithstanding the safe conduct given by the emperor and kings, &c., inquiry may be made against a man for heresy by a sufficient judge, and process to be made according to the law. Item, the causes of heresies were committed to certain judges and deputies. Item, the chart called Carolina, and divers other charts and constitutions concerning the liberties of the Church of Rome, being brought forth, were approved and confirmed.

"In the twentieth session, letters and instruments were made and set upon church doors, to require and admonish Duke Frederic to restore again unto George, bishop of Austria, such lands, rents, and revenues as he detained and withheld, under pain of interdictment, suspending, and excommunication. During the time of this session, the ambassadors returned out of Arragon from Pope Benedict, and were heard with great audience; where certain articles and conditions between the pope and the council were brought forth and agreed upon, to the number of twelve.

"In the year of our Lord 1416, was the twenty-first session, beginning, after their manner, with a mass of the Holy Ghost, with procession and such other rites; in the time of which mass, James, bishop of Londe, made a sermon, taking for his theme these words, The Lord rebuked their misbelief and hardness, &c. This sermon being ended, Jerome of Prague, which had abjured, as is said, the year before, being present thereat, stood up upon a certain bench or form, replying against the aforesaid James and his sermon, alleging and preaching divers and sundry things; whereupon the patriarch of Constantinople, one of the commissioners, proceeded against him, pronouncing the sentence definitive, which he had in writing against the said Jerome; which sentence being read and approved by the council, (the tenor whereof ensueth in his history,) the said Jerome was delivered unto the secular power, and burned.

"The twenty-second and twenty-third sessions contain no worthy matter, but only the placing of the ambassadors of Alphonsus, king of Arragon, and granting them voices in the council.

"In the twenty-fourth session, citation was given out against Benedict, keeping with Alphonsus, king of Arragon.

"The twenty-fifth session containeth nothing but a certain Commendam given to the church of Olmutz.

"In the twenty-sixth session there was nothing else handled, but the uniting and incorporating of the ambassadors of the king of Navarre into the council; and also concerning the derogation of the priority of voices.

"After this followed the twenty-seventh and twenty-eighth sessions, which were in the year 1417; wherein was treated the relation and declaration concerning the cause betwixt Duke Frederic and the bishop of Trent, and process given out against the said duke, accusing him of sacrilege; and also excommunicating him for not obeying the admonition of the council, concerning the usurpation and detaining of the city of Trent and other possessions from Bishop George, as is before specified.

"In the twenty-ninth and thirtieth sessions, proctors and notaries were given out in the cause against Pope Benedict, and order decreed upon his obstinacy; wherein also the withdrawing of the king of Arragon from the same pope was recited, and approved by the council.

"In the thirty-first session, certain instruments and special letters monitory were directed from the council to a certain earl of Italy, named Comes Virtutum, for laying violent hands upon Albert, bishop of Asce, and for bringing him to prison; requiring the said earl, under pain of interdiction and excommunication, to set the said bishop at liberty. Also another decree was set forth for the restoring again the liberties of the church of Beron.

"In the thirty-second and thirty-third sessions, the accusation of Pope Benedict was renewed, and his obstinacy accused, and witness brought in; at which thing doing the Emperor Sigismund was present.

"In the thirty-fourth session, the cause of the aforesaid pope was heard, and process given out against him.

"In the thirty-fifth session, the ambassadors of the king of Castile were brought in, and united to the council, and instruments thereof made and read. Also, that notwithstanding the oaths made to the aforesaid pope, men might lawfully forsake his obedience.

"In the thirty-sixth session, a certain citation was made and read against the pope, containing his deprivation and the sentence against him, and instruments made upon the same. And whereas this pope had thundered out his curses, deprivations, and excommunications against them, the said synod did annihilate all his doings.

"The thirty-seventh session did renew again the accusation of the aforesaid pope, and the sentence definitive against him was published.

"In the thirty-eighth session, certain decrees were made touching the annihilating of the penalties of the ambassadors of King Henry, son of Alphonsus, king of Arragon. Also, another decree was made touching the revocation of the voices granted to the ambassadors of the king of Arragon.

"Thus Pope Benedict being deposed and excommunicated, as is aforesaid, in the next sessions following they addressed themselves to the election of a new pope, beginning first in the thirty-ninth session, to give out decrees concerning general councils, and provision for the avoiding of such-like schisms hereafter; decreeing every tenth year to have a general council, after the two councils that should follow immediately after this, of the which, the one should he kept within five years then next following, and the second within seven years after that. Item, In the same session was drawn out a form touching such things as the pope should profess and bind himself to observe at the time of his election, of the which form, the order and tenor is this:

"'I, N., elected for pope, profess with heart and mouth unto Almighty God, whose church I take upon me to govern by his help, and to blessed St. Peter, the prince of the apostlcs, so long as I shall endure in this frail and brittle life, firmly to believe and hold the holy catholic faith, after the traditions of the apostles, of general councils, and of other holy fathers, and namely, of the eight general councils: Nice the first, the second of Constantinople, Ephesus the third, Chalcedon the fourth, the fifth and sixth of them in Constantinople, the seventh of Nice, the eighth of Constantinople. And also of the general councils of Lateran, Lyons, and Vienna; willing to observe the same faith inviolate even to the uttermost, and to preach and defend the same, even to the spending of my life and blood; and also, by all means possible, to prosecute and observe the rites of the sacraments canonically delivered to the catholic church. And this my profession and confession, by my commandment being written out by the notary of the arches of the holy Church of Rome, I have subscribed with mine own hand, and sincerely, with a pure mind and devout conscience, I offer it unto the Almighty God upon such an altar, &c. In the presence of such witnesses, &c. Given,' &c.

"It was also decided in this session, that no prelates should be translated against their wills.

"The third of the same month and the same year, followed the fortieth session, wherein certain decrees were constituted and read, as touching reformations to be made through the whole church by the pope that next should be, with the council, before this synod should break up. Item, That they should so proceed to the election of the bishop of Rome, notwithstanding the absence of those cardinals which were with Pope Benedict in Spain. This done, the order and manner was decreed for the election of the pope.

"After these things thus decreed, in the next session, which was forty-one, the constitution of Clement the Sixth was read, concerning the order and diet of the cardinals being then in the conclave about the choosing of the pope; and upon the same, oaths were ministered unto the cardinals and other electors, binding them to observe and keep all such things as they should be bound to, during the time of the election.

"First, That they should enter into the conclave within ten days after the fortieth session, which was this present day, after sunset.

"Secondly, That every cardinal should have but two servitors attending upon him at the most, either of the laity or clergy, as they would themselves.

"Thirdly, That they should remain together in the said conclave, without any wall betwixt them, or any other cover, save only bare curtains, if any were disposed to sleep.

"Fourthly, That the conclave should so be shut up, and the entry to the privy chamber be kept so straitly, that none of them should come in or out, nor any have recourse unto them to talk with them privily or apertly, nor they to admit any man to come to them, except, by the consent of them all, certain should be called about matters concerning the election.

"Fifthly, that no man should send to them either messenger or writings.

"Sixthly, that a competent window should be assigned unto them to receive in their victuals, but that no person might come in thereat.

"Seventhly, That no day after their first ingress into the conclave, beside bread, wine, and water, they should have any more dishes but one of one only kind, either of flesh or fish, eggs, pottage made of fish or flesh, not after the daintiest sort; besides salads, cheese, fruit, and conserves, whereof there shall be no principal mess made, but for sauce and taste.

"Eighthly, That not one should be compelled to go into the conclave; but if they did all refuse to go in, then they should be compelled thereunto.

"Ninthly, That such as would go out, might: but if they would all go out before the pope were elect, they should be compelled to go in again, except such whom infirmity did excuse; but without the excuse of infirmity, if any went out, he should no more be admitted, except they went all out together.

"Tenthly, That such as went out, by reason of infirmity, to be absent, and return before the election be determined, may be admitted again into the conclave in the same state wherein they shall find the election to stand.

"Further and besides, the keepers of the conclave should also be sworn to see all these premises observed and kept without fraud or guile, and that they should not straiten the cardinals and other electors above the order here taken. And if the king be there himself, sitting in his throne of estate, he should receive the same oath of the cardinals. Upon this, such as should be electors, besides the cardinals, were chosen."

Furthermore, forasmuch as the goods and substance of such as were elect, were accustomed to be given and granted unto such as could catch them, (whereupon, under the pretence of the same, many did invade the goods of the cardinals, and others which were in the conclave, falsely feigning them to be elected which were not elected,) to stop the greedy ravening of such, a decree also was published in the same session.

These things thus prepared and set in order, the patriarch of Constantinople, with the cardinals and other archbishops, bishops, abbots, priors, deans, archdeacons, doctors, with other electors, entering into the conclave upon Monday, on Thursday after they had hatched out a pope, being St. Martin's even, whereupon they named him Martin. This Martin being thus elected, was straightway brought in by the emperor and the council into the church of Constance, and there enthroned for pope, not without great solemnity and triumph. The twenty-first day of the said month, this aforesaid Martin, according to their accustomed pomp, was honourably brought in to be crowned with sumptuous procession from the high church of Constance, unto the monastery of St. Austin; the emperor on foot leading his horse by the bridle on the right hand, and the marquis of Brandenburgh, prince elector, likewise leading his horse on the left hand; the pope himself riding in the midst upon his palfrey.

Illustration; Pope Martin riding in procession

And thus being brought into the monastery aforesaid, and so reduced round about again from thence to the high church of Constance, he was there crowned with all magnificence. Notwithstanding all this, yet all the trifling and fond vanity of this council, more great than wise, did not end thus; for "in the next session, which was the forty-second, came out a decree in the name of the pope and the council, discharging the bond of the emperor and the county palatine, touching the safe custody of Pope John, who was by bond committed unto them to be kept in safety.

"In the forty-third session, certain other decrees and statutes were made by Pope Martin in the said synod, annulling and reproving all the acts and proceedings of the other popes before, during the time of the schism from the time of Gregory the Eleventh; as in matters concerning exemptions, unions, fruits, and profits of the church, benefices, simony, dispensations, tithes, and other burdens of the church. Also concerning the apparel of the clergy, and such other things.

"In the forty-fourth session, the sage fathers of this council were occupied about the determining what place the next council should be kept in. The forty-fifth session brake up and dissolved this synod."

Now, to finish our tedious rehearsal of this synod, the Cardinal Umbald, by the commandment of the pope and the council, with a high and loud voice pronounced these words, Domini! ite in pace; which is, "Lords! depart in peace;" whereunto the standers-by answered,"Amen."

Thus the council being dissolved, Friar John, bishop of Catania, by the consent and commandment of the pope and the council, went up into the pulpit to make a sermon, taking for his theme, "You are now in sadness, I will see you again, and then your hearts shall rejoice." The which collation being ended, another cardinal, named Anthony, was sent up by the pope and the council, with this proclamation; first, to dismiss the synod, and to give every man leave to depart home. Also to declare the pope's indulgence unto them, who, by the authority of God Almighty, had granted to them all and every one present at that council, full absolution once in their life; so that every one, within two months after the hearing of this indulgence, should procure the same in form of writing. Also, another indulgence was granted in like manner of plenary remission at the hour of death, and that was understood as well of the household as of the masters themselves; but under this condition, that from the time of notification of the same, they should fast by the space of one whole year every Friday, for the absolution in their life-time; and for the absolution at the hour of death, to fast the same Friday another year, except they had some lawful impediment to the contrary, so that after the second year, they should fast unto their lives' end, or else do some other good work; the which being in this manner proclaimed, the synod brake up, and every man departed home.

The number of the foreigners resorting to this council, both spiritual and temporal, was sixty thousand five hundred, whereof the number of archbishops and bishops was three hundred and forty-six; abbots and doctors, five hundred and sixty-four; princes, dukes, earls, knights, esquires, sixteen thousand; besides common women belonging to the same council four hundred and fifty; barbers, six hundred; minstrels, cooks, and jesters, three hundred and twenty; so that the whole multitude which were viewed to be in the town of Constance, between Easter and Whitsuntide, were numbered to be sixty thousand five hundred strangers and foreigners at that council.

Here is to be noted that in this council of Constance nothing was decreed or enacted worthy of memory, but this only, that the pope's authority is under the council, and that the council ought to judge the pope. And, as touching the communion in both kinds, although the council did not deny, but that it was used by Christ and his apostles, yet, notwithstanding, by the same council it was decreed to the contrary.

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