Council of Florence
1431-1445 A.D.

part one

For document sources noted, see Abbreviations


Basel had been designated as the place for this ecumenical council by the abortive council of Pavia -- Siena (1423-1424). It was opened on 25 July 1431 by the papal legate, who had been appointed by Pope Martin V in two bulls dated 1 February 1431, Dum onus universalis gregis and Nuper siquidem cupientes shortly before the pope's death on 20 February 1431. A great part of the council's work in the early years was taken up with its quarrel with Pope Eugenius IV, who was accused of wishing to dissolve or transfer the council. The prospect of re-union with the eastern church provided an opportunity to transfer the council to another city. This move was supported by the council fathers loyal to the pope, who however were in a minority, and in the 25th session they voted for the city of Ferrara. There the council was re-opened on 8 January 1438, Pope Eugenius IV later attending in person. Some historians doubt the ecumenicity of the first 25 sessions at Basel. All agree that the sessions held at Basel after the 25th session until the final one on 25 April 1449 cannot be regarded as sessions of an ecumenical council.

The Greek bishops and theologians attended the council of Ferrara from 9 April 1438. The council was transferred to Florence on 10 January 1439. There, in the session on 6 July 1439, the decree of union with the Greek church was approved. Subsequently decrees of union with the Armenian and Coptic churches were approved. Finally the council was transferred to Rome on 24 February 1443. There other decrees of union with the Bosnians, the Syrians and finally with the Chaldeans and Maronites of Cyprus, were approved. The last session of the council was held on 7 August 1445.

The decisions taken at Basel have the form of conciliar decrees. Those taken at Ferrara, Florence and Rome are almost always in the form of bulls, since the pope was presiding in person; in these cases the decree mentions the council's approval and contains the words "in a solemnly celebrated general session of the synod".

Almost all the decrees of re-union were of little effect. Nevertheless it is significant that the church's unity was discussed in a council attended by some eastern bishops and theologians, and that there was agreement on the principal dogmatic and disciplinary questions which had divided the two churches for many centuries.

The acts of the council of Basel were first published by S. Brant in Basel in 1499, with the title Decreta concilii Basileensis (= Dc). This collection was subsequently published by Z. Ferreri at Milan in 1511, and by J. Petit at Paris in 1512. Almost all later conciliar collections included the acts and decrees of the council of Basel, from Merlin to Mansi's Amplissima collectio (= Msi). A brief history of these collections was written in 1906 by H. Herre in his work entitled, Handschriften und Drucke Baseler Konzilsakten, in Deutsche Reichstagsakten unter Kaiser Sigmund, Part IV/1, 1431-1432, 10/1, Goettingen 1957, XCVI-CI. Another edition of the decrees of Basel is contained in John of Segovia's diary, which is to be found in Monumenta conciliorum generalium saeculi XV (= Mxv), II Vienna 1873. Editio Romana, however, omits the council of Basel (see Labbe-Cossart XIII, n. 7; S. Kuttner, L 'Edition romaine des conciles generaux, Rome 1940).

For Basel, we have followed the edition of Msi 29 (1788) 1-227. We have noted the principal variants in Dc and Mxv. We have omitted some decrees pertaining to internal matters of the council, to the quarrel with Eugenius IV and to administration; we have always noted the titles of these decrees in footnotes. The decrees of Ferrara, Florence and Rome were first published by P. Crabbe (1538, 2, 754V-826). H. Justinianus subsequently published a more careful edition, Acta sacri oecumenici concilii Florentini, Rome 1638, which was followed by later collections until Msi 31 supplement (1901) (see V. Laurent L'edition princeps des actes du Concile de Florence, Orient. Christ. Per.21 (1955) 165-189, and J.Gill, ibid. 22 (1956) 223-225). The decrees are also to be found in Monumenta conc. gen. saec. XV, III-IV Vienna 1886-1935. We have followed the critical edition published by the Pontifical Oriental Institute, Concilium Florentinum. Documenta et Scriptores (= CF), Rome 1940-, and we have included the principal variants noted in it.

As regards the English translation, the following points should be noted where the original text is given in two languages, namely Latin and another. Where a Greek text is given (pp. 520-528), this is of equal authority with the parallel Latin version, and in the English translation the few significant discrepancies between the two texts have been noted. In the cases of Armenian and Arabic texts (pp. 534-559 and 567-583), these were translations from the Latin, which was the authoritative text, and therefore the English translation is from the Latin alone (the differences from the Latin in the Armenian and Arabic texts are numerous and complex). For these points, see J. Gill, The Council of Florence, Cambridge 1959, pp. 290-296, 308 and 326.

SESSION 1 14 December 1431

The holy synod of Basel, representing the universal church, legitimately assembled in the holy Spirit under the presidency of the most reverend father in Christ lord Julian, cardinal deacon of St Angelo of the holy Roman church, legate of the apostolic see, for the glory of almighty God, the exaltation of the catholic faith and the progress of the christian religion, laying its foundation on the cornerstone Christ Jesus, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord, calls to mind that the holy general synod of Constance, celebrated in the holy Spirit, esteeming it salutary and beneficial that general councils should be frequent in the holy church of God, established this by its decree as follows: The frequent holding of general councils . . . 2 Hence for the execution of that decree, the city of Pavia in Italy was chosen for the general council to be held at the end of the five years immediately following. At the decreed time that council was indeed inaugurated in the said city of Pavia and thence it was translated for certain reasons to the city of Siena. In that general council which was begun in Pavia and was held in the city of Siena, this city of Basel was chosen and duly assigned for the next future general council to be held after the seven-year period from the end of the council of Siena, as is stated in the public instrument then composed about this succession.

[Establishment of the holy council of Basel]

The most reverend lord legate in his desire to fulfil the apostolic commission since at the time when the beginning of the council was imminent he was immersed in the expedition against the pestilential heresy of the Hussites for the sake of the faith, had his vicegerents despatched to this city and thereafter with all possible speed came himself to this city, in order that, with the help of God's grace, he might fulfil in this general council the office of legate laid upon him, as our most holy lord Eugenius IV, pope by divine providence, had by a series of letters of his holiness enjoined on him. In this city, during more than three months, he held several congregations with prelates and others who had arrived in the city for the said general council, and he had discussions about the establishment and holding of the council. Finally it was decreed that the present solemn session should be held, in which, firstly, since from the above it is manifest that this city is the place deputed for the general council and the date for it to be held is already past, and the authority of the most holy apostolic see is not lacking, it decrees, defines and declares that in this city and place the general council is canonically fixed and founded, and that all, both prelates and others who by right or custom are obliged to attend general councils, are bound to come to its celebration.

[Purpose of the council of Basel]

Seeing that all things direct their actions more immediately and intensely the more knowledge they have of their destined purpose, so this holy synod, after intense meditation and thought on the needs of the christian religion and after mature and ordered deliberation, decrees that, with the help of God from whom all good things comet, it will pursue with all its zeal and attention these three ends. First that, with the banishment of the darkness of all heresies from the bounds of the christian people, the light of catholic truth, by the generosity of Christ the true light, may be resplendent. Secondly that, after due thought and with the help of the author of peace, the christian people, freed from the madness of wars by which -- with the sower of weeds doing his work -- it is affected and divided in various parts of the world, may be brought back to a peaceful and tranquil state. Thirdly, as the vine of Christ has already almost run wild on account of the multitude of thistles and thorns of vices crowding in upon it, to cut them back through the endeavour of necessary cultivation, with the work from on high of the evangelical husbandman, so that it may flourish again and produce with happy abundance the fruits of virtue and esteem. Since such great benefits as these cannot be hoped for without a generous flow of heavenly grace, it earnestly exhorts in the Lord all Christ's faithful that for the happy achievement of the aforesaid they should urge the divine majesty with devout prayers, fasts and almsgiving that the good and merciful God, placated by such humble submission, may deign with his accustomed goodness to grant to this sacred council the desired completion of all these things, imposing this on them unto the remission of their sins.

SESSION 2 15 February 1432

The holy general synod of Basel, representing the church militant, for an everlasting record. To the praise of almighty God and the glory and honour of the blessed and undivided Trinity, for the extirpation of heresies and errors, for the reformation of morals in head and members of the church of God, and for the pacification of kings and kingdoms and other Christians in discord among themselves through the instigation of the author of discords, the synod, legitimately assembled in the holy Spirit, decrees, establishes, defines, declares and ordains as follows.

[Decree that the council of Basel is legitimately begun]

First, that the same sacred synod of Basel, by the decrees and ordinances of the sacred general councils of Constance and of Siena, and by the action of apostolic authority, was and is duly and legitimately begun and assembled in this place of Basel. And lest anyone should doubt about the power of the same sacred synod of Basel, this same synod in this present session ordains and decrees that two declarations from the decrees of the synod of Constance are to be inserted among its other decrees already issued or to be issued. The text of the first of these declarations is as follows, First it declares . . . 1; that of the other is this, Next it declares . . . I Therefore, presupposing also some other decrees of the council of Constance, especially the one beginning The frequent, which were read out in a former session of this sacred synod of Basel, the said synod of Basel decrees and declares that, legitimately assembled in the holy Spirit, for the extirpation of heresies and a general reformation of morals in the church in head and members, and also for procuring peace among Christians, as is stated above, no one of whatever authority, even if he is distinguished by the dignity of the papacy, could or should have in the past, or can or ought to now or in the future, dissolve or transfer the said synod of Basel to another locality or prorogue it to another date without the deliberation and consent of the same synod of Basel.

SESSION 3 29 April 1432

[Impossibility of the dissolution of the council is decreed]

This holy council, considering that the aforesaid dissolution of the council was enacted contrary to the decrees of the council of Constance, and that it leads to a serious danger of subversion of the faith as well as disturbance and harm for the state of the church and scandal for the whole christian people, decreed that the dissolution could not be made. Since, therefore, the dissolution is no obstacle at all, the prosecution of what has been praiseworthily set in motion for the stability of the faith and the salvation of the christian people should, with the grace of the holy Spirit, be proceeded with. But since the aforesaid bishop of Lausanne and the dean of Utrecht, on their return, did not bring back from the most holy lord pope the desired reply, although the said most holy lord pope had been entreated, appealed to, required, requested and with every insistence very often implored not only by the aforesaid messengers in the name of the council but also by the most serene lord Sigismund, king of the Romans and loyal supporter of the church, so this holy synod, relying on the decrees of the sacred council of Constance, whose words are these, That the holy synod . . . ' decreed in this solemn session to make its demands to the most holy lord pope and also to the most reverend lord cardinals in the way and style as follows.

This holy synod, therefore, legitimately assembled in the holy Spirit, beseeches the aforesaid most blessed lord pope Eugenius with all reverence and insistence and through the tender mercy of Jesus Christ entreats, requires implores and warns him to revoke in fact the alleged dissolution as in fact it was issued, and in the same way as he made the dissolution to send and publish over the different parts of the world the revocation, and completely to desist from every obstacle against the said council: indeed more, to favour and assist the council, as is his duty, and to offer it every support and opportune help, and to come in person within three months -- an interval which it assigns and determines as a peremptory limit -- if his physical state so allows. But if it does not, in his place and stead he should nominate some person or persons and send them with plenary power for each and every question in this council up to its very end through each and all of its acts gradually and successively. Otherwise, if his holiness should fail to do this, which is a thing that in no way is to be expected of the vicar of Christ, the holy synod will see to it that provision is made for the necessities of the church as shall seem just and as the holy Spirit shall dictate, and will proceed in accordance with what befits both divine and human law.

In the same way it beseeches, requires, implores and warns the aforesaid most reverend lord cardinals, who as the chief hinges of the church of God should apply their minds with great fervour to these things, that they should bring earnest pressure to bear on the lord pope about the aforesaid things, and should favour, aid and help this sacred council in every opportune way. And since their presence, in view of their authority, great prudence and practical experience, is highly expedient for this sacred council, it requires and warns and cites the lord cardinals and each of them in particular that, canonical impediment ceasing, they shall come to the said council within three months from the notification by this present decree, which interval it precisely and peremptorily assigns and determines for the triple canonical monition. Otherwise, since failure to come to the sacred general council so as to aid the church in its great necessities will without doubt be judged as contributing to the danger of a serious challenge to the catholic faith and to the harm of the whole church, this holy council at the expiry of the stated interval will take proceedings against those who have failed to come, since their contumacy demands this, according as the order of divine as well as human law shall dictate and allow, and will take steps, with the help of the most High, to provide for the necessities of the church. In the aforesaid however, the said synod has no intention of including the most reverend lord cardinal of holy Cross as long as he is engaged in negotiations for peace between the kingdoms of France and England; but in respect of the most reverend lord cardinals of Plasencia and of Foix, as they are commonly called, and the cardinal of St Eustathius, since they are in nearer localities, it limits the above-mentioned interval to two months.

Further the holy synod orders all lord patriarchs, archbishops, bishops and other prelates of churches, and clerics, notaries and ecclesiastical personages, as also other faithful of Christ, of every status, dignity, grade and condition, and it requires and requests all princes and lords, even if they possess imperial, regal, ducal or any other authority, who shall have been requested regarding the above, that in virtue of holy obedience, under threat of the divine judgment and under pain of excommunication, they should report, intimate and notify all and each of the aforesaid things to the said most holy lord pope and to the most reverend lord cardinals, and should have them reported, intimated and notified to these people in person, if they have safe and convenient access to them. Where personal access is not possible, this is to be done by affixing notices drawn up by a public notary, if this can be done safely, to their residences and also on the door of the apostolic palace and on the churches of St John Lateran, St Peter's and St Mary Maggiore; or failing that, on the chief churches of the cities of Sutri Viterbo and Siena, or three other neighbouring cities, as it shall seem better. This holy synod decrees that these places are suitable for the execution of all the aforementioned.

Yet this holy synod, desiring to meeting future eventualities and to avoid all waste of time, since delay in these matters is fraught with danger, ordains and decrees that a decree of admonition and citation of this kind, after it has been read out in this solemn session and published, shall be affixed to the doors of the cathedral church of Basel so that, should it happen that its intimation cannot be effected in any of the ways outlined above, in that case, as by a public edict, for four months to be calculated from this day, the publication, monition and citation shall be considered as performed in respect of all its effects, so that all its effects are obtained and it binds those to whom it is directed as if it had been insinuated and presented in person, the above peremptory force and threats being considered here as inserted.

Further, this holy council declares and insists that, despite the aforesaid delays, since a legal summons has already been issued by the decrees of the council of Constance, and since the urgency of the situation suggests the following, as does also the nature of what is to be accomplished in the continuation of the council and of the things to be done in it, it means to proceed in anorderly, due and mature manner, and for that reason not to be remiss in any way in the process. Lastly, this holy synod decrees citations for all prelates and others who are obliged to come to a general council, and each and all generals of orders and also inquisitors of heresy, with the delay of a fixed term or terms as it shall seem good to the deputies, with penalties and censures and suitable conditions.

SESSION 4 20 June 1432

The holy general synod of Basel, legitimately assembled in the holy Spirit, representing the universal church. By this decree we indicate to all that to each and every priest, baron, noble, soldier and citizen and every other man of whatever status, condition or rank from the kingdom of Bohemia and the marquisate of Moravia, from Prague and the cities and other places of the same, and to all other ecclesiastical and secular persons who, male or female, will be sent with them to the general council of Basel and are about to set out, to all these persons under whatever name they are listed or can be called, within however the number of two hundred persons, by the force of this present decree we grant and give our fullest and perfect safe-conduct and we bestow a most genuine security for their coming to this city of Basel and their abiding, staying and resting here, and for their treating with us on affairs suitably committed to them and their arranging, concluding and ending them. We allow them to perform the divine offices in their lodgings without any obstacle on our part; so that also, on account of their presence, neither on their journey nor in any other place of their journey, in coming, remaining or returning, nor in the city itself of Basel, will cessation from divine offices be imposed in any way in the form of an interdict.

Further, they will be allowed freely to propose and explain in the general council or synod of Basel, by word of mouth or in writing, the four articles on whose clarity they insist; to prove, support and recommend them with quotations from the sacred scriptures and the blessed doctors and, if need be, to reply to the objections of the general synod or to argue about them with one or several from the council or to discuss them in a charitable way without any impediment; with reproach, abuse and taunt being totally excluded, observing the form and the ways specified and mutually agreed between our envoys and the messengers of the aforesaid kingdom and marquisate in the city of Eger; and specifically that in the case of the four articles proposed by them, the divine law, the apostolic practice of Christ and of the primitive church, and the councils and doctors truly founding themselves on the same, will be accepted in the council of Basel as the most true and impartial judge. Whether these discussions are or are not brought to a conclusion, whenever by the order or permission of their superiors they, or any one of them, shall choose to return home, then straightaway, without any refusal, condition or delay, they may return freely and safely at their pleasure, with their goods, honour and persons intact, but with the knowledge of the deputies of the council so that suitable provision may be made, without guile or fraud, for their safety.

Moreover, in this safe-conduct of theirs we wish all clauses to be included and contained, and to be held as included, which are necessary and opportune for full, efficacious and sufficient safety in coming, staying and returning; we express these things clearly in order to secure and keep the good of peace. If any one or several of them, whether coming on their journey to us in Basel or while staying here or on their return, shall commit (may it not be so) some heinous crime by which the benefit of security conceded to them could be annulled and quashed, we wish, admit and concede that those arrested in a deed of such sort shall straightaway be punished only by their own people, not by others, by an adequate censure and a sufficient penalty to be approved and praised by us, with the form, conditions and ways of their security remaining completely unimpaired. Similarly if any of ours, whether on their way to us in Basel or while staying here or returning, shall commit (may it not be so) some heinous crime through which the benefit of the security conceded to them could be annulled or quashed, we wish that those arrested in a crime of this sort shall straightaway be punished only by us and our people, not by others, by an adequate censure and a sufficient penalty to be approved and praised by the lord ambassadors and envoys, with the present form, conditions and ways of the security remaining completely unimpaired.

We wish also that it be allowed to each and every ambassador as often as it is opportune or necessary, to leave the city of Basel in order to take the air and to return to it, and freely to send and despatch their messengers to any place for the arrangement of necessary affairs and to receive a messenger or messengers as often as it suits them, in such a way that they are accompanied by the deputies of the council who will provide for their safety. Further, neither in discussions, public sermons or other conferences can or may our side, in prejudice, derogation or depreciation of the case of the four articles, employ or procure in the locality of the city of Basel any terms that tend to disorder. These safe-conducts and assurances are to remain in force from the moment when, and for as long as, they are received into the care of our protection, to be brought to Basel, and in all the period of their staying here: and again on the conclusion of a sufficient hearing, an interval of twenty days having been set in advance, when they shall request it, or after the hearing the council shall decide, we shall, with God's help and without any guile or fraud, let them return from Basel to Tuschkau, Tachov or Engelsberg, to whichever of these places they prefer to go.

Also for all of Christ's faithful, especially for the most holy lord the Roman pontiff, the most serene prince the lord Sigismund, king of the Romans etc. , the venerable lord cardinals, archbishops and bishops and lord abbots, prelates and clerics as well as for the most illustrious princes, kings, dukes, marquises, counts, barons and noble soldiers, universities, and communities of cities, castles and towns, and their councillors, magistrates, officials and others of whatever condition and status, whether ecclesiastical or secular, under whatever name they go, and for the subjects of all the aforesaid and every part of them, we promise in good faith and guarantee that all of us and every one of the aforesaid persons will observe and guard the prescribed security and the form of their safe-conduct in all its conditions, points and clauses elaborated above, inviolably and unbroken in good faith and with pure heart. Further, we promise that we neither wish nor ought on any alleged occasion, covertly or overtly, to employ any authority, power, law, statute or privilege of laws or canons or of any councils whatever, especially of Constance and Siena, in whatever form of words they may be expressed, to any prejudice of the safe-conduct or assurance and the public hearing which we have granted to them. But if we or anyone of us, of whatever condition or status or pre-eminence, shall violate in any detail or clause the form and way of the above assurance and safe-conduct (which, however, may the Almighty deign to avert), and a suitable penalty shall not have followed straightaway, to be fittingly approved and praised by their judgment, let them hold us, as indeed they can, to have incurred all penalties which by divine and human law or by custom violators of such safe-conducts incur, without any excuse or any challenge from this side .

See Part Two of the Council of Florence

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