The long years of the Council of Konstanz

Once upon a time the history of church councils seemed a matter of Christian theology slowly but inevitably reaching new levels of dogmatic intricacy, either led by wise popes or marred by popes who thought more of themselves than of the Catholic church. Things get more interesting when you look at the proceedings not as a distraction to theological matters at stake but as historical events just as important as the canons finally proclaimed. One of the longest councils was the Council of Konstanz (1414-1418). Recently I was alerted to a modern representation of a chronicle showing the daily business of this medieval council. The virtual presence of this council is worth the attention of legal historians. In this post you will find a tour of some of the most important resources. As in my earlier post about the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) I will look also at images of this international meeting in fifteenth-century Switzerland.

Five long years

Logo Konstanz Konzilstadt

Probably the most famous event of the Council of Konstanz was the trial of Jan Hus. In order to avoid too much coverage of modern memorial years I decided not to write about him here. One reason for writing here about this church council was my amusement about the tweets of Ulrich Richental, a modern incarnation of the fifteenth-century author of a chronicle about the Council of Konstanz. The tweets tell you on a day-to-day basis about events during the council, and they are directly linked to the multilingual website Konstanz Konzilstadt.

King Sigismund of the Holy Roman Empire succeeded in conveying a church council at Konstanz in a time when Western Europe had to face the presence of three popes, three because one of them, John XXIII, was a so-called antipope who resided in Bologna. Gregory II was pope in Rome and Benedict XIII reigned from Avignon. One of the problems for this council was the division between those in favour of full power over the church in the hands of a council (conciliarists) and those sticking to papal and curial power (curialists). Imagine the international crowd of ecclesiastical dignitaries and the courtiers of king Sigismund all together in a small town on the lovely Lake Constance, and you get the picture.

Cover facsimile edition of Richtental's chronicle

We can form our own picture of this council in a very literal and pictorial way thanks to the illustrated chronicle of Ulrich Richental (around 1360-1437). The famous illustrated manuscript at the Rosgartenmuseum in Konstanz is available in a modern facsimile edition [Chronik des Konzils zu Konstanz 1414–1418. Die Konstanzer Handschrift der Konzilschronik des Ulrich Richental, Jürgen Klöckler (ed.) (2nd ed., Darmstadt 2015)]. Interestingly, the list of manuscripts given in the German Wikipedia article on Ulrich Richental contains more items than the online database of the Handschriftencensus which omits two manuscripts that went missing. Some manuscripts have been digitized. This chronicle is the well from which the modern successor of Ulrich gets the information for his tweets. The tweets started only in 2016. It is safe to assume the idea for daily tweets was inspired by similar Twitter accounts and blogs for the commemoration of the First World War.

As for scholarly literature concerning the Council of Konstanz I was surprised that the online bibliography of the Regesta Imperii (accessible in German and English) for some reason lists only literature published before 2010 when you use the thesaurus search. You will have to check many titles using the various translations of the city name Konstanz to find relevant publications.

Acts and decrees

A second reason to write here about the Council of Konstanz brings us safely back to the sources legal historians will want foremost to consult, the manuscripts and archival records, and when available critical editions of the sources. Finding out about such editions for medieval councils can be daunting. On my legal history website the first section of the page concerning relevant editions for canon law deals with councils. For sound foundations I could rely here on an article by Joseph Avril, ‘Les décisions des conciles et synodes’, in: Jacques Berlioz et alii (eds.), Identifier sources et citations (Turnhout 1994) 177-189. Lately I checked for the online availability of a number of Early Modern editions of conciliar decrees and decisions, but some modern editions, too, have been digitized, too. The edition of the Acta concilii Constantientis by Heinrich Finke (ed.) (4 vols., Münster 1896-1928) has been digitized at the Internet Archive. Finke gives in the first volume materials from the preparatory phase of the council (1410-1413). It was harder to find a complete set with a single point of reference for other modern editions. The Monumenta conciliorum generalium saeculi decimi quinti, F. Palacky et alii (eds.) (4 vols., Vienna 1857-1935), with sources for the Council of Basel can be found conveniently online in Gallica. The second major edition for the Council of Basel, Concilium Basiliense. Studien und Quellen zur Geschichte des Konzils von Basel, J. Haller (ed.) (8 vols., Basel 1896-1936) has been digitized in its entirety at the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich. In the case of Basel having easy access to the editions is only the start of finding your way in a myriad of documents.

Among the participants at Konstanz were French dignitaries with more than a basic knowledge of canon law, among them cardinal Pierre D’Ailly (1350-1420), Jean Gerson (1363-1429), and cardinal Guillaume Filastre (1348-1428). Finke published a journal held by Filastre in his Forschungen und Quellen zur Geschichte des Konstanzer Konzils (Paderborn 1889; online, Internet Archive). With Francesco de Zabarella (1360-1417) we meet a great canon lawyer. In 1410 he became archbishop of Florence and year later he was created cardinal, hence his nickname Cardinalis. Zabarella died in Konstanz on September 26, 1417. Studies by Dieter Girgensohn and Thomas Morrissey have considerably enlarged our knowledge about him and his views. As a papal legate he was involved with the Council of Konstanz from the moment he was sent in 1413 as a papal legate to king Sigismund to discuss the chances for a church council.

Another canon lawyer wrote a dedicatory letter in the first printed edition of the acts of the Council of Konstanz, the Acta scitu dignissima docteque concinnata Constantiensis concilii celebratissimi (Hagenau: Gran 1500) by Hieronymus de Croaria (ca. 1460/63-1527). The Gesamtkatalog der Wiegendrucke (GW 07287) and the Incunabula Short Title Catalogue (ISTC 00800000) habitually summarize titles of works stemming from institutions and authorities. Searching in the ISTC for Concilium Constantiense yields four results. The GW has a separate page for the incunabula editions of conciliar decrees. Both the GW and the ISTC point to digitized copies of incunabula. Konrad Summenhart (1460-1502) studied in Paris and Heidelberg before becoming a professor of theology and even chancellor of the university of Tübingen. In his work Opus septipartitum de contractibus he looked both at contractual law as administered in courts as on the impact on the forum conscientiae, the personal conscience. He wrote about subjects as usury and tithes. Hieronymus de Croaria had been his colleague in Tübingen as a professor of canon law before he went to Ingolstadt. Later on he worked also as a judge.

Heinrich Finke guided the research of Joseph Riegel who defended a thesis on the wildly varying numbers of participants at the Council of Konstanz [Die Teilnehmerlisten des Konstanzer Konzils. Ein Beitrag zur mittelalterlichen Statistik (Freiburg im Breisgau 1916; online, Internet Archive)], a thing already debated by contemporaries.The Council of Konstanz became during five years a focus of European politics and church reform, a place where many influential people met. The sheer number of participants, their background and views, and the impact on church life merit and warrant a good chance at finding always new perspectives, not to mention resources, to make it worthwhile to look again this event, not in the least with an eye to legal history.

A postscript

In this post I tried to be as concise as possible, but I think it is right to point here also to another old edition concerning the Council of Konstanz, the seven volumes of the edition edited by Hermann von der Hardt, Magnum Oecumenicum Constantiense Concilium (…) (Frankfurt am Main 1697-1700), digitized by the Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek Düsseldorf. I had preferred to give you the exact link to a completely digitised set, but searching in this digital library brings you quickly to the volumes. I found the reference to the digitised set at Düsseldorf in a 2015 blog post by Klaus Graf at Archivalia where he deals with the entrance for this council in the Historisches Lexikon Bayerns. However, Graf mentioned only two volumes of Hardt’s edition.

 

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