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A History of Germany by Bayard Taylor

In the autumn of the year 1414



The first consequence of the preaching of Huss was a division between the Bohemians and Germans, in the University of Prague. The Germans took the part of Rome, but the Bohemians secured the support of king Wenzel through his queen, who was a follower of Huss, and maintained their ascendency. Thereupon the German professors and students, numbering 5,000, left Prague in a body, in 1409, and migrated to Leipzig, where they founded a new University. These matters were reported to the Roman Pope, who immediately excommunicated Huss and his followers. Soon afterwards, the Pope (John XXIII.), desiring to subdue the king of Naples, offered pardons and indulgences for crimes to all who would take up arms on his side. Huss and Jerome preached against this as an abomination, and the latter publicly burned the Pope's bull in the streets of Prague. The conflict now became so fierce that Wenzel banished both from the city, many of Huss's friends among the clergy fell away from him, and he offered to submit his doctrines to a general Council of the Church.

Such a Council, in fact, was then demanded by all Christendom. The intelligent classes in all countries felt that the demoralization caused by the corruption of the clergy and the scandalous quarrels of three rival Popes could no longer be endured. The Council at Pisa, in 1409, had only made matters worse by adding another Pope to the two at Rome and Avignon; for,

although it claimed the highest spiritual authority on earth, it was not obeyed. The Chancellor of the University of Paris called upon the Emperor Sigismund to move in favor of a new Council; all the Christian powers of Europe promised their support, and finally one of the Popes, John XXIII., being driven from Rome, was persuaded to agree, so that a grand OEcumenical Council, with authority over the Papacy, was summoned to meet in the city of Constance, in the autumn of the year 1414.


It was one of the most imposing assemblies ever held in Europe. Pope John XXIII. personally appeared, accompanied by 600 Italians; the other two Popes sent ambassadors to represent their interests. The patriarchs of Jerusalem, Constantinople and Aquileia, the Grand-Masters of the knightly Orders, thirty-three Cardinals, twenty Archbishops, two hundred Bishops and many thousand priests and monks, were present. Then came the Emperor Sigismund, the representatives of all Christian powers, including the Byzantine Emperor, and even an envoy from the Turkish Sultan, with sixteen hundred princes and their followers. The entire concourse of strangers at Constance was computed at 150,000, and thirty different languages were heard at the same time. A writer of the day thus describes the characteristics of the four principal races: "The Germans are impetuous, but have much endurance, the French are boastful and arrogant, the English prompt and sagacious, and the Italians subtle and intriguing." Gamblers, mountebanks and dramatic performers were also on hand; great tournaments, races and banquets were constantly held; yet, although the Council lasted four years, there was no disturbance of the public order, no increase in the cost of living, and no epidemic diseases in the crowded camps.

The professed objects of the Council were: a reformation of the Church, its reorganization under a single head, and the suppression of heresy. The members were divided into four "Nations"--the _German_, including the Bohemians, Hungarians, Poles, Russians and Greeks; the _French_, including Normans, Spaniards and Portuguese; the _English_, including Irish, Scotch, Danes, Norwegians and Swedes; and the _Italian_, embracing all the different States from the Alps to Sicily. Each of these nations held its own separate convention, and cast a single vote, so that no measure could be carried, unless _three_ of the four nations were in favor of it. Germany and England advocated the reformation of the Church, as the first and most important question; France and Italy cared only to have the quarrel of the Popes settled, and finally persuaded England to join them. Thus the reformation was postponed, and that was practically the end of it.

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