Conciliarism

Conciliarism

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Conciliarism, or the conciliar movement, was a reform movement in the 14th, 15th and 16th century Roman Catholic Church
Roman Catholic Church
The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the world's largest Christian church, with over a billion members. Led by the Pope, it defines its mission as spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, administering the sacraments and exercising charity...

 which held that final authority in spiritual matters resided with the Roman Church as a corporation of Christians, embodied by a general church council
Ecumenical council
An ecumenical council is a conference of ecclesiastical dignitaries and theological experts convened to discuss and settle matters of Church doctrine and practice....

, not with the pope
Pope
The Pope is the Bishop of Rome, a position that makes him the leader of the worldwide Catholic Church . In the Catholic Church, the Pope is regarded as the successor of Saint Peter, the Apostle...

. The movement emerged in response to the Avignon papacy
Avignon Papacy
The Avignon Papacy was the period from 1309 to 1376 during which seven Popes resided in Avignon, in modern-day France. This arose from the conflict between the Papacy and the French crown....

; the popes were removed from Rome and subjected to pressures from the kings of France
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

— and the ensuing schism
Western Schism
The Western Schism or Papal Schism was a split within the Catholic Church from 1378 to 1417. Two men simultaneously claimed to be the true pope. Driven by politics rather than any theological disagreement, the schism was ended by the Council of Constance . The simultaneous claims to the papal chair...

 that inspired the summoning of the Council of Pisa
Council of Pisa
The Council of Pisa was an unrecognized ecumenical council of the Catholic Church held in 1409 that attempted to end the Western Schism by deposing Benedict XIII and Gregory XII...

 (1409), the Council of Constance
Council of Constance
The Council of Constance is the 15th ecumenical council recognized by the Roman Catholic Church, held from 1414 to 1418. The council ended the Three-Popes Controversy, by deposing or accepting the resignation of the remaining Papal claimants and electing Pope Martin V.The Council also condemned and...

 (1414–1418) and the Council of Basel (1431–1449). The eventual victor in the conflict was the institution of the Papacy, confirmed by the condemnation of conciliarism at the Fifth Lateran Council
Lateran council
The Lateran councils were ecclesiastical councils or synods of the Catholic Church held at Rome in the Lateran Palace next to the Lateran Basilica. Ranking as a papal cathedral, this became a much-favored place of assembly for ecclesiastical councils both in antiquity and more especially during...

, 1512–17. The final gesture however, the doctrine of Papal Infallibility
Papal infallibility
Papal infallibility is a dogma of the Catholic Church which states that, by action of the Holy Spirit, the Pope is preserved from even the possibility of error when in his official capacity he solemnly declares or promulgates to the universal Church a dogmatic teaching on faith or morals...

, was not promulgated until the First Vatican Council
First Vatican Council
The First Vatican Council was convoked by Pope Pius IX on 29 June 1868, after a period of planning and preparation that began on 6 December 1864. This twentieth ecumenical council of the Roman Catholic Church, held three centuries after the Council of Trent, opened on 8 December 1869 and adjourned...

 of 1870.

Background


The 13th and 14th centuries were a period of new challenges to Papal authority in Catholic Europe. These new challenges were marked by disputes between the Papacy and the secular kings of Europe. In particular the quarrel between Philip the Fair
Philip IV of France
Philip the Fair was, as Philip IV, King of France from 1285 until his death. He was the husband of Joan I of Navarre, by virtue of which he was, as Philip I, King of Navarre and Count of Champagne from 1284 to 1305.-Youth:A member of the House of Capet, Philip was born at the Palace of...

 of France and Pope Boniface VIII
Pope Boniface VIII
Pope Boniface VIII , born Benedetto Gaetani, was Pope of the Catholic Church from 1294 to 1303. Today, Boniface VIII is probably best remembered for his feuds with Dante, who placed him in the Eighth circle of Hell in his Divina Commedia, among the Simonists.- Biography :Gaetani was born in 1235 in...

 over the right to tax the clergy in France was especially heated. Philip was excommunicated and Boniface was accused of corruption, sorcery, and sodomy. In his "Unam Sanctam
Unam sanctam
On 18 November 1302, Pope Boniface VIII issued the Papal bull Unam sanctam which historians consider one of the most extreme statements of Papal spiritual supremacy ever made...

"
, Boniface asserted that the papacy held power over both the spiritual and temporal worlds and that only God could judge the pope. Philip responded by sending knights to Italy to arrest Boniface. He died just three weeks after his release because of the trauma of the experience and a high fever.

Conciliarist thought was largely sparked by the move of the Roman papacy to Avignon, France in 1305. Although the move had precedent, the Avignon Papacy
Avignon Papacy
The Avignon Papacy was the period from 1309 to 1376 during which seven Popes resided in Avignon, in modern-day France. This arose from the conflict between the Papacy and the French crown....

's (1305–1377) image was damaged by accusations of corruption, favoritism toward the French, and even heresy. Indeed Pope Clement VI
Pope Clement VI
Pope Clement VI , bornPierre Roger, the fourth of the Avignon Popes, was pope from May 1342 until his death in December of 1352...

 who was criticized for his apparent extravagant lifestyle asserted that his "predecessors did not know how to be Pope." During the span of the Avignon Papacy
Avignon Papacy
The Avignon Papacy was the period from 1309 to 1376 during which seven Popes resided in Avignon, in modern-day France. This arose from the conflict between the Papacy and the French crown....

 all the popes were French as with 80% of the cardinals and 70% of the lower officers. The reputation of the Avignon Papacy
Avignon Papacy
The Avignon Papacy was the period from 1309 to 1376 during which seven Popes resided in Avignon, in modern-day France. This arose from the conflict between the Papacy and the French crown....

 led many to question the absolute authority of the pope in governing the universal Catholic Church.

The Western Schism
Western Schism
The Western Schism or Papal Schism was a split within the Catholic Church from 1378 to 1417. Two men simultaneously claimed to be the true pope. Driven by politics rather than any theological disagreement, the schism was ended by the Council of Constance . The simultaneous claims to the papal chair...

 (1378–1417), was a dispute between the legal elections of Pope Urban VI in Rome and Pope Clement VII in Avignon. The schism became highly politicized as the kings of Europe chose to support whichever pope served their best interests. Both popes chose successors and thus the schism continued even after Urban and Clement's deaths. In this crisis, conciliarism took center stage as the best option for deciding which pope would step down. The cardinals decided to convene the Council of Pisa
Council of Pisa
The Council of Pisa was an unrecognized ecumenical council of the Catholic Church held in 1409 that attempted to end the Western Schism by deposing Benedict XIII and Gregory XII...

 (1409) to decide who would be the one pope of the Catholic Church. The council was a failure and even led to the election of a third pope, antipope John XXIII
Antipope John XXIII
Baldassarre Cossa was Pope John XXIII during the Western Schism. The Catholic Church regards him as an antipope.-Biography:...

. The Council of Constance
Council of Constance
The Council of Constance is the 15th ecumenical council recognized by the Roman Catholic Church, held from 1414 to 1418. The council ended the Three-Popes Controversy, by deposing or accepting the resignation of the remaining Papal claimants and electing Pope Martin V.The Council also condemned and...

 (1414–1418) successfully solved the Schism by deposing both John XXIII and the Avignon Pope Benedict XIII
Antipope Benedict XIII
Benedict XIII, born Pedro Martínez de Luna y Pérez de Gotor , known as in Spanish, was an Aragonese nobleman, who is officially considered by the Catholic Church to be an antipope....

. It also decreed to maintain the council as the primary church body from then on. The Council of Basel (1431–1449) attempted to solidify conciliarism in the Catholic Church, but failed to take a lasting effect on the Church.

The conciliar gains that were accepted at Constance and Basel were short lived. At the convening of the Fifth Lateran Council (1512–1517), Pope Julius II reasserted the supremacy of papal authority over that of the councils. Populated by cardinals opposed to conciliarism, the Lateran Council condemned the authority of conciliary bodies. In fact, the council was an essential copy of the pre-Conciliar councils such as Lateran IV (1215), Lyon (1274), and Vienna (1311).

Conciliar theory


William of Ockham
William of Ockham
William of Ockham was an English Franciscan friar and scholastic philosopher, who is believed to have been born in Ockham, a small village in Surrey. He is considered to be one of the major figures of medieval thought and was at the centre of the major intellectual and political controversies of...

 (d. 1349) wrote some of the earliest documents outlining the basic understanding of conciliarism. His goal in these writing was removal of Pope John XXII
Pope John XXII
Pope John XXII , born Jacques Duèze , was pope from 1316 to 1334. He was the second Pope of the Avignon Papacy , elected by a conclave in Lyon assembled by Philip V of France...

, who had revoked a decree favoring Franciscan ideas about Christ and the apostles owning nothing individually or in common. Some of his arguments include that the election by the faithful, or their representatives, confers the position of pope and further limits the papal authority. The universal church is a congregation of the faithful, not the Roman Church
Roman Catholic Church
The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the world's largest Christian church, with over a billion members. Led by the Pope, it defines its mission as spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, administering the sacraments and exercising charity...

, which was promised to the Apostles by Jesus
Jesus
Jesus of Nazareth , commonly referred to as Jesus Christ or simply as Jesus or Christ, is the central figure of Christianity...

. While the universal Church cannot fall into heresy, it is known that the Pope has fallen into heresy in the past. Should the pope fall into heresy a council can be convened without his permission to judge him. William even stated that because it is a "universal" church, that the councils should include the participation of lay men and even women.

In his Defensor Pacis
Defensor pacis
The tract Defensor pacis laid the foundations of modern doctrines of sovereignty. It was written by Marsilius of Padua , an Italian medieval scholar. It appeared in 1324 and provoked a storm of controversy that lasted through the century...

(1324), Marsilius of Padua
Marsilius of Padua
Marsilius of Padua Marsilius of Padua Marsilius of Padua (Italian Marsilio or Marsiglio da Padova; (circa 1275 – circa 1342) was an Italian scholar, trained in medicine who practiced a variety of professions. He was also an important 14th century political figure...

 agreed with William of Ockham
William of Ockham
William of Ockham was an English Franciscan friar and scholastic philosopher, who is believed to have been born in Ockham, a small village in Surrey. He is considered to be one of the major figures of medieval thought and was at the centre of the major intellectual and political controversies of...

 that the universal Church is a church of the faithful, not the priests. Marsilius focused on the idea that the inequality of the priesthood has no divine basis and that Jesus, not the pope, is the only head of the Catholic Church. Contradicting the idea of Papal infallibility
Papal infallibility
Papal infallibility is a dogma of the Catholic Church which states that, by action of the Holy Spirit, the Pope is preserved from even the possibility of error when in his official capacity he solemnly declares or promulgates to the universal Church a dogmatic teaching on faith or morals...

, Marsilius claimed that only the universal church is infallible, not the pope. Marsilius differed from Ockham in his denial to the clergy of coercive power. Later conciliar theorists like Jacques Almain
Jacques Almain
Jacques Almain was a prominent professor of theology at the University of Paris when he died at an early age. Born in the diocese of Sens, he studied Arts at the Collège de Montaigu of the University of Paris. He served as Rector of the university in 1507.-Life:Beginning in 1508, Jacques Almain...

 rejected Marsilius argument to that effect, preferring more traditional clericalism modified to be more constitutional and democratic in emphasis.

Conciliar theory has its roots and foundations in both history and theology. The precedent had been set by such important councils as the First Council of Nicaea
First Council of Nicaea
The First Council of Nicaea was a council of Christian bishops convened in Nicaea in Bithynia by the Roman Emperor Constantine I in AD 325...

 (325) that had incredible importance to the foundation of the Catholic Church. Indeed, many of the most important decisions of the Catholic Church have been made through conciliar means. The basis for conciliarism can be rooted in the Apostles that acted as the first council that decided on the future of the Christian Church. Conciliarism also drew on corporate theories of the church, which allowed the head to be restrained or judged by the members when his actions threatened the welfare of the whole ecclesial body. The canonists and theologians who advocated conciliar superiority drew on the same sources used by Marsilius and Ockham, but they used them in a more conservative way. They wanted to unify, defend and reform the institution under clerical control, not advance a Franciscan or a lay agenda. Among the theorists of this more clerical conciliarism were Jean Gerson
Jean Gerson
Jean Charlier de Gerson , French scholar, educator, reformer, and poet, Chancellor of the University of Paris, a guiding light of the conciliar movement and one of the most prominent theologians at the Council of Constance, was born at the village of Gerson, in the bishopric of Reims in...

, Pierre d'Ailly
Pierre d'Ailly
Pierre d'Ailly was a French theologian, astrologer, and cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church....

 and Francesco Zabarella
Francesco Zabarella
Francesco Zabarella was an Italian cardinal and canonist.-Appointment as bishop:Born in Padua, he studied jurisprudence at Bologna and at Florence, where he graduated in 1385. He taught Canon law at Florence until 1390 and at Padua until 1410...

. Nicholas of Cusa
Nicholas of Cusa
Nicholas of Kues , also referred to as Nicolaus Cusanus and Nicholas of Cusa, was a cardinal of the Catholic Church from Germany , a philosopher, theologian, jurist, mathematician, and an astronomer. He is widely considered one of the great geniuses and polymaths of the 15th century...

 synthesized this strain of conciliarism, balancing hierarchy with consent and representation of the faithful.

Opposition to conciliarism


Many members of the Church however, continued to believe that the pope, as the successor of Saint Peter
Saint Peter
Saint Peter or Simon Peter was an early Christian leader, who is featured prominently in the New Testament Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. The son of John or of Jonah and from the village of Bethsaida in the province of Galilee, his brother Andrew was also an apostle...

, retained the sole governing authority in the Church. Juan de Torquemada
Juan de Torquemada (Cardinal)
Juan de Torquemada , or rather Johannes de Turrecremata, Spanish ecclesiastic, was born at Valladolid, and was educated in that city....

 defended papal supremacy in his Summa de ecclesia, completed ca. 1453. A generation later, Thomas Cajetan
Thomas Cajetan
Thomas Cajetan , also known as Gaetanus, commonly Tommaso de Vio , was an Italian cardinal. He is perhaps best known among Protestants for his opposition to the teachings of Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation while he was the Pope's Legate in Wittenberg, and perhaps best known among...

 vigorously defended Papal authority in his "On the comparison of the authority of pope and council". He wrote that "Peter alone had the vicariate of Jesus Christ and only he received the power of jurisdiction immediately from Christ in an ordinary way, so that the others (the Apostles) were to receive it from him in the ordinary course of the law and were subject to him." and that "it must be demonstrated that Christ gave the plenitude of ecclesiastical power not to the community of the Church but to a single person in it." Both writers represent the many cardinals, canon lawyers and theologians who opposed the conciliar movement and supported the supremacy of Peter's successors. Conciliarism did not disappear in the face of these polemics. It survived to endorse the Council of Trent
Council of Trent
The Council of Trent was the 16th-century Ecumenical Council of the Roman Catholic Church. It is considered to be one of the Church's most important councils. It convened in Trent between December 13, 1545, and December 4, 1563 in twenty-five sessions for three periods...

 which launched the Catholic Counter-Reformation in the 1540s and later appeared in the anti-curial polemics of Gallicanism
Gallicanism
Gallicanism is the belief that popular civil authority—often represented by the monarchs' authority or the State's authority—over the Catholic Church is comparable to that of the Pope's...

, Josephinism
Josephinism
Josephinism is the term used to describe the domestic policies of Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor . During the ten years in which Joseph was the sole ruler of the Habsburg Monarchy , he attempted to legislate a series of drastic reforms to remodel Austria in the form of the ideal Enlightened state...

 and Febronianism
Febronianism
Febronianism was a powerful movement within the Roman Catholic Church in Germany, in the latter part of the 18th century, directed towards the nationalizing of Catholicism, the restriction of the power of the papacy in favor of that of the episcopate, and the reunion of the dissident churches with...

.

Modern conciliarism


Although Conciliarist strains of thought remain within the Church, particularly in the United States
Roman Catholicism in the United States
The Catholic Church in the United States is part of the worldwide Catholic Church, the Christian Church in full communion with the Pope. With more than 68.5 registered million members, it is the largest single religious denomination in the United States, comprising about 22 percent of the population...

, Rome and the teaching of the Roman Church maintains that the Pope is the Vicar of Christ on earth, and has the authority to issue infallible statements. This Papal Infallibility
Papal infallibility
Papal infallibility is a dogma of the Catholic Church which states that, by action of the Holy Spirit, the Pope is preserved from even the possibility of error when in his official capacity he solemnly declares or promulgates to the universal Church a dogmatic teaching on faith or morals...

 was invoked in Pope Pius IX
Pope Pius IX
Blessed Pope Pius IX , born Giovanni Maria Mastai-Ferretti, was the longest-reigning elected Pope in the history of the Catholic Church, serving from 16 June 1846 until his death, a period of nearly 32 years. During his pontificate, he convened the First Vatican Council in 1869, which decreed papal...

's 1854 definition
Ineffabilis Deus
Ineffabilis Deus is the name of a Papal bull by Pope Pius IX. It defines ex cathedra the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary...

 of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception
Immaculate Conception
The Immaculate Conception of Mary is a dogma of the Roman Catholic Church, according to which the Virgin Mary was conceived without any stain of original sin. It is one of the four dogmata in Roman Catholic Mariology...

 of Mary, and Pope Pius XII
Pope Pius XII
The Venerable Pope Pius XII , born Eugenio Maria Giuseppe Giovanni Pacelli , reigned as Pope, head of the Catholic Church and sovereign of Vatican City State, from 2 March 1939 until his death in 1958....

's 1950 definition
Munificentissimus Deus
Munificentissimus Deus is the name of an Apostolic constitution written by Pope Pius XII. It defines ex cathedra the dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It was the first ex-cathedra infallible statement since the official ruling on papal infallibility was made at the First Vatican...

 of the dogma of the Assumption of Mary
Assumption of Mary
According to the belief of Christians of the Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy, and parts of the Anglican Communion and Continuing Anglicanism, the Assumption of Mary was the bodily taking up of the Virgin Mary into Heaven at the end of her life...

. The teaching of the Second Vatican Council
Second Vatican Council
The Second Vatican Council addressed relations between the Roman Catholic Church and the modern world. It was the twenty-first Ecumenical Council of the Catholic Church and the second to be held at St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican. It opened under Pope John XXIII on 11 October 1962 and closed...

 on the College of Bishops
College of Bishops
The term "College of Bishops" is used in Catholic theology to denote the bishops in communion with the Pope as a body, not as individuals...

 contained within the decree Lumen Gentium
Lumen Gentium
Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, is one of the principal documents of the Second Vatican Council. This dogmatic constitution was promulgated by Pope Paul VI on November 21, 1964, following approval by the assembled bishops by a vote of 2,151 to 5...

 has sometimes been interpreted as conciliarism, or a least conducive to it, by liberal and conservative Catholics alike. However, the text of the document as well as an explanatory note (Nota Praevia) by Paul VI makes the distinction clear. There are Christians, especially of the Anglo-Catholic, Old Catholic and Eastern Orthodox communions, who maintain the absolute supremacy of an ecumenical council. See conciliarity
Conciliarity
Conciliarity refers to the adherence of various Christian communities to the authority of ecumenical councils and to synodal church government. It is not to be confused with conciliarism, which refers to a particular historical movement within the Catholic Church...

. However, this belief, from the Orthodox view, has no historical connection with the above events in the history of the Western Church.

A new interest in conciliarism was awakened in Roman Catholic circles with the convocation of the Second Vatican Council
Second Vatican Council
The Second Vatican Council addressed relations between the Roman Catholic Church and the modern world. It was the twenty-first Ecumenical Council of the Catholic Church and the second to be held at St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican. It opened under Pope John XXIII on 11 October 1962 and closed...

. Writers like Hans Küng
Hans Küng
Hans Küng is a Swiss Catholic priest, theologian, and prolific author. Since 1995 he has been President of the Foundation for a Global Ethic . Küng is "a Catholic priest in good standing", but the Vatican has rescinded his authority to teach Catholic theology...

 and Francis Christopher Oakley
Francis Christopher Oakley
Francis Christopher Oakley, L.H.D., Litt.D., LL.D., is a scholar and professor of medieval history, who additionally served as president of Williams College from 1985-1993. Born in Liverpool, England in October, 1931 to Irish immigrants, he remained in Liverpool during the German bomb raids of...

 have argued that the decrees of the Council of Constance remain valid, limiting papal power. The label "Conciliar Church" is used by many traditionalist Catholic
Traditionalist Catholic
Traditionalist Catholics are Roman Catholics who believe that there should be a restoration of many or all of the liturgical forms, public and private devotions and presentations of Catholic teachings which prevailed in the Catholic Church before the Second Vatican Council...

s as a derogatory description of the Roman Church since the changes of the Second Vatican Council.

Sources

  • Burns, J.H. and Thomas M. Izbicki. Conciliarism and Papalism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997
  • C. M. D. Crowder, Unity, Heresy, and Reform, 1378–1460: the Conciliar Response to the Great Schism, New York : St. Martin's Press, 1977.
  • Nicholas of Cusa. "The Catholic Concordance". Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Oakley, Francis. "Conciliarism at the Fifth Lateran Council?". Church History, Vol. 41, No. 4 (Dec., 1972)
  • Oakley, Francis. Council over Pope?. New York: Herder and Herder, 1969.
  • Oakley, Francis. The Conciliarist Tradition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.
  • Tierney, Brian. Foundations of the Conciliar Theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1955.