Chapter 26

CHAPTER XXVI: COUNCILS OF BASEL AND FLORENCE (AD 1431-9)

It had been settled at the council of Constance that regularly
from time to time there should be held a general council, by which
name was then meant a council gathered from the whole of the Western
Church, but without any representatives of the Eastern Churches; and
according to this decree a council was to meet at Basel on the
Rhine, in the year 1431. It was just before the time of its opening
that Cardinal Cesarini was defeated by the Hussites of Bohemia, as
we have seen. Being convinced that some gentler means ought to be
tried with them, he begged the pope to allow them a hearing; and he
invited them to send deputies to the council of Basel, of which he
was president.

The Bohemians did as they were asked to do, and thirty of them
appeared before the council,--rough, wild-looking men for the most
part, headed by Procopius, who was at once a priest and a warrior,
and was called the great, in order to distinguish him from another
of the same name. A dispute, which lasted many weeks, was carried on
between the leaders of these Bohemians and some members of the
council; and, at length, four points were agreed on. The chief of
these was, that the chalice at the Holy Communion should not be
confined to the priest alone, but might be given to such grown-up
persons as should desire it. This was one of the things which had
been most desired by the Bohemian reformers. We need not go further
into the history of the Hussites and of the parties into which they
were divided; but it is worth while to remember that the use of the
sacramental cup was allowed in Bohemia for two hundred years, while
in all other churches under the Roman authority it was forbidden.

Soon after the meeting of the council of Basel, the pope, whose name
was Eugenius IV, grew jealous lest it should get too much power, and
sent orders that it should break up. But the members were not
disposed to bear this. They declared that the council was the
highest authority in the Church, and superior to the pope; and they
asked Eugenius to join them at Basel, and threatened him in case of
his refusal. Just at that time Eugenius was driven from Rome by his
people, and therefore he found it convenient to try to smooth over
differences, and to keep good terms with the council; but after a
while the disagreement broke out again. The pope had called a
council to meet at Ferrara, in Italy, in order to consult with some
Greeks (at the head of whom were the emperor and the patriarch of
Constantinople) as to the union of the Greek and Latin Churches; and
he desired the members of the Basel council to remove to Ferrara,
that they might take part in the new assembly. But only a few
obeyed; and those who remained at Basel were resolved to carry on
their quarrel to the uttermost. First, they allowed Eugenius a
certain time, within which they required him either to appear at
Basel or to send some one in his stead; then, they lengthened out
this time somewhat; and as he still did not appear, they first
suspended him from his office, then declared him to be deposed, and
at length went on to choose another pope in his stead (Nov. 17,
1439).

The person thus chosen was Amadeus, who for nearly thirty years had
been duke of Savoy, but had lately given over his dukedom to his
son, and had put himself at the head of twelve old knights, who had
formed themselves into an order of hermits at Ripaille, near the
lake of Geneva. The new pope bargained that he should not be
required to part with the long white beard which he had worn as a
hermit; but after a while, finding that it looked strange among the
smooth chins of those around him, he, of his own accord, allowed it
to be shaved off. But this attempt to set up an antipope came to
very little. Felix V (as the old duke called himself on being
elected) was obliged to submit to Eugenius; and the council of
Basel, after dwindling away by degrees, and being removed from one
place to another, died out so obscurely that its end was unnoticed
by any one.

Eugenius held his council at Ferrara, and afterwards removed it to
Florence (AD 1438-9); and it seemed as if by his management the
Greeks, who were very poor, and were greatly in need of help against
the Turks, were brought to an agreement with the Latins as to the
questions which had been so long disputed between the Churches. The
union of the Churches was celebrated by a grand service in the
cathedral of Florence. But, as in former times (p 232), the Greeks
found, on their return home, that their countrymen would not agree
to what had been done; and thus the breach between the two Churches
continued, until a few years later Constantinople was taken by the
Turks, and so the Greek Empire came to an end.