A council is a group of people who individually can do nothing, but who, as a group, can meet and decide that nothing can be done – no matter how much they claim to have accomplished!


The Council of Constance – a reference to its location – was called to end the so-called Western Schism, cleanse the Church through a reformation of ecclesiastical government and life, and repress heresy – especially the condemnation of forty-five Wycliffite propositions. There is some controversy over whether it is an actual “council” or not since its constitution was not entirely bishops and its decrees ran counter to the immemorial praxis of the Church, and substituted for its Divine constitution the will of the multitude or at best a kind of theological parliamentarism.

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While the Council did – more through endurance than performance – manage to end the competing claims to the Holy See and produce a single Pope it really lost the battle against the encroaching secularism by which would see the princes ascendant over the bishops and the nations ascendant over the idea of unity. Wyclif may have been found guilty of 260 errors and Hus may have burned as a heretic but no pope since has been able to unite the West in a common theological and cultural vision that has been able to withstand the onslaught of the east which – whatever its failings – has the advantage of functioning as an effective monolith.

Welsh suffers from the usual predispositions to treat Wyclif and Hus as martyrs and to see the diminishment of Rome with the rise of the capitals of the “new” Europe favorably. Unfortunately the book does not adequately cover the causes of the schism that precipitated it or of the fall of Constantinople and the halving of Christendom which followed from that defeat. As a snapshot of a council that was not a Council the book is serviceable and as a detailed account of nearly five years of argument and controversy that accomplished almost nothing it should serve as a warning.

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The battle for Christendom : the Council of Constance, the East-West conflict, and the dawn of modern Europe Frank Welsh Woodstock : Overlook Press, c 2008 Hardcover. 1st ed. and printing. xix, 283 p., [8] p. of plates : ill., maps ; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. [265]-271) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

At the dawn of the fifteenth century, Islam invaded Europe from the East and it seemed that Christendom itself was under threat. In an attempt to save the Christian world Emperor Sigismund called the many nations of Europe together for a conference at Constance, beside the Rhine. The Conference attracted the greatest minds in the western world, as well as innumerable princes and lawyers. And amid the confusion hoped to put Europe’s house in order.

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In The Battle for Christendom, historian Frank Welsh delves into this important moment in history and shows that it is in fact one of the most central moments in European history. Schism had ravaged the Catholic Church and three Popes claimed the seat of St Peter. There were also dangerous stirrings of reform. Over the next months, debate raged while Sigismund attempted to find a solution. The event would be one of the major turning points in European history the last event of the medieval world, heralding the dawn of the renaissance and the rise of humanism. Yet it would also hold a darker truth and with the burning of the Czech divine, Jan Hus, saw first moments of the Reformation. The story rises to a conclusion on the battlements of Constantinople in 1453 where, despite all of Sigismund’s attempts to repel the Ottomans, the East rose up once more.

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