The Council of Florence (originally Council of Basel) was an Ecumenical Council of bishops and other ecclesiastics of the Roman Catholic Church. It began in 1431 in Basel, Switzerland, and became known as the Council of Ferrara after its transfer to Ferrara was decreed by Pope Eugene IV, to convene in 1438. The council transferred to Florence in 1439 because of the danger of plague at Ferrara, and because the city of Florence had agreed, against future payment, to finance the Council. The initial location at Basel reflected the desire among parties seeking reform to meet outside the territories of the Papacy, the Holy Roman Empire, or the kings of Aragon and France, whose influences the council hoped to avoid. Ambrogio Traversari attended the Council of Basel as legate of Pope Eugene IV.
The council was convened at a period when the Conciliar movement was strong and the authority of the papacy weak. Under pressure for ecclesiastical reform Pope Martin V sanctioned a decree of the Council of Constance (9 October 1417) obliging the papacy to summon general councils periodically. At the expiration of the first term fixed by this decree, Pope Martin V complied by calling a council at Pavia. Due to an epidemic the location transferred almost at once to Siena (see Council of Siena) and disbanded —owing to circumstances still imperfectly known— just as it had begun to discuss the subject of reform (1424).
The next council fell due at the expiration of seven years in 1431; Martin V duly convoked it for this date to the town of Basel, and selected to preside over it the cardinal Julian Cesarini, a well-respected prelate. Martin himself, however, died before the opening of the synod.
The council at Basel opened with only a few bishops and abbots attending, but it grew rapidly and to make its numbers greater gave the lower orders a majority over the bishops. It adopted an anti-papal attitude, proclaimed the superiority of the Council over the Pope and prescribed an oath to be taken by every Pope on his election. When the Council was moved from Basel to Ferrara in 1438, some remained at Basel, claiming to be the Council. They elected Amadeus VIII, Duke of Savoy, as Antipope. Driven out of Basel in 1448, they moved to Lausanne, where Felix V, the Pope they had elected and the only claimant to the papal throne who ever took the oath that they had prescribed, resigned. Next year, they decreed the closure of what for them was still the Council of Basel.
The Council, transferred to Ferrara in 1438 and to Florence in 1439, had meanwhile successfully negotiated reunification with several Eastern Churches, reaching agreements on such matters as papal primacy, purgatory, and the word "Filioque" added in the West to the Nicene Creed. The most important of these unions, that with the Eastern Orthodox Church, though accepted by all but one of the Greek bishops at the Council, was rejected by popular sentiment and came to a complete end with the fall of Constantinople in 1453. The Council also declared the Basel group heretics and excommunicated them; and the superiority of the Pope over the Councils was affirmed in the bull Etsi non dubitemus of 20 April 1441.
Full article ▸