Saturday, April 22

The Council of Constance

The Council of Constance was convened on this day in 1414. For 33 years Christendom had suffered schism. Popes in Rome and popes in Avignon claimed to be the legitimate successors of Peter. As a result, confusion reigned and corruption was unchecked. There seemed to be no hope of resolving the conflicts that created the schism in the first place. An earlier council held at Pisa to end the schism, only worsened the problem. It actually created a third pope.

The Constance conclave got off to an equally rocky start. Jan Hus, the brilliant theology professor from Prague who had stirred the fires of revival by calling for substantive, Biblical reform in the church, voluntarily appeared before the bishops. His purpose was to persuade them to legitimize his burgeoning Bohemian reform movement. Although he arrived under promise of "safe conduct," he was seized and imprisoned by the Bishop of Constance.

Told he must recant, Hus resolutely refused. After a mock trial he was summarily declared a heretic. That same day, they had him burned at the stake. Since his teachings were influenced by the work of John Wycliffe, the council also condemned Wycliffe, ordering his bones dug up and burnt. Both the English and Bohemian representatives left in enraged protest.

Still, the council dragged on. After four more years of contentious deliberations, the convened bishops finally tried to deal with the issue that had brought them together in the first place. Because they were unable to sort through the conflicting claims of the three rival popes, they did the only thing they could—they removed all three and appointed a fourth. The compromise ultimately did little to heal the wounds of the church and the council adjourned amidst fearful talk of worse, perhaps even permanent schisms, yet to come.

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