ROBERTO DE MATTIE: HAEC SANCTA (1415): A CONCILIAR DOCUMENT CONDEMNED BY THE CHURCH
The following article is taken from the
website, Rorate Caeli.
Haec Sancta (1415): A conciliar document condemned by the
Council of Constance (1414-1418) is numbered among the 21 Councils of the
Church, but one of its decrees,Haec Sanctaof April 6th1415 is considered heretical,
as it asserts the supremacy of the Council over the Roman Pontiff.
At Constance,Haec Sanctawas applied in the decreeFrequens, (October 9th 1417,) which
prescribed a Council for five years later, another after seven years and then
one every ten years. With this, it attributedde factoto the Council the function of
a permanent collegial body which collaborated with the Pope andde factowas superior.
V, elected Pope at Constance in 1417, in the BullInter cunctasof February 22nd 1418,
recognized the ecumenicity of the Council of Constance and all of its
decisions, albeit with the generically restrictive formula:“in favorem fidei et salutem animarum”. We do not
know whether the Pope had shared, at least in part, the conciliarist theories
or perhaps was obliged to take this stance under pressure from the cardinals
who had elected him. De factohe did
not repudiateHaec Sanctaand applied the decree,Frequens, rigorously, by fixing the date of the new general Council,
which was held at Pavia-Siena (1423-1424), and designated the city of Basel as
the venue for the successive assembly. He died however on February 21st1431 and the assembly opened under his successor Gabriele
Condulmer, elected Pope Eugene IV on March 3rd1431.
At the very opening of the Council of Basel a dispute between two
parties erupted: those loyal to the Papacy and the partisans of the concilarist
theories, which made up the majority of the conciliar Fathers. A tug-of-war resulted in
various ups and downs. In the first phase, Eugene IV withdrew his approval from
the rebel Fathers of Basel. Subsequently, giving into political and
ecclesiastical pressures, he backtracked with the Bull,Duduum Dacrumof December 15th 1433, revoked the dissolution of the Council formerly decreed by
him, ratifying the documents that it had emanateduntil that point, and thus alsoHaec Sanctawhich the Basel Fathers
proclaimed as theirmagna carta. When he realized they wouldn’t have stopped with their demands,
the Pope repudiated once again the action of the Council, transferring it
to Ferrara (1438), to Florence (1439) and afterwards to Rome (1443). The
transfer was however rejected by the majority of the conciliar Fathers, who
stayed on at Basel, continuing the works.
At this point the ‘minor’ Schism of the West (1439-1449) commenced
and entered history (to be distinguished from the Great Schism
(1378-1417 that had preceded it). The Council of Basel deposed
Eugene IV as a heretic and elected Duke Amadeus VIII of Savoy as Antipope with
the name of Felix V. From Florence where the Council had been transferred,
Eugene IV excommunicated the Antipope and the schismatic Fathers of Basel.
again, Christendom found itself split, but if the concilarist theologians had
prevailed at the time of the Great Schism, in this phase the Pope was sustained
by a great theologian: the Spanish Dominican, Juan de Torquemada (1388-1468)
(not to be confused with the Inquisitor of the same name). Torquemada decorated
by Eugene IV with the titleDefensor fidei,is author of a Summa de Ecclesia, wherein he affirms with vigour the primacy of the Pope and hisinfallibilitas.
In this work, he dissipates with great precision the ambiguities that had been
created in the 14thcentury starting with the
hypothesis of a heretic Pope. This case, according to the Spanish
theologian, is concretely possible, but the solution to the problem should not
be sought in any way in concilarism, which negates pontifical supremacy. The
possibility of heresy in the Pope, does not compromise the dogma of
infallibility, as even if he wanted to define a heresyex cathedra, his
office would be lost at that very same moment.(Pacifico
Massi,Magistero infallibile del Papa nella teologia di Giovanni de
Torquemada, Marietti, Torino 1957, pp. 117-122).Torquemada’s
theses were developed the following century by one of his Italian confreres,
Council of Florence was very important as, on July 6th1439, it promulgated the decreeLaetentur Coeli et exultet terra, which
brought the Eastern Schism to an end, but principally because it condemned
concilarism definitively, by confirming the doctrine of the Pope’s supreme
authority over the Church. On September 4th1439, Eugene IV, defined solemnly: "We
likewise define that the holy Apostolic See, and the Roman Pontiff, hold the
primacy throughout the entire world; and that the Roman Pontiff himself is the
successor of blessed Peter, the chief of the Apostles, and the true vicar of
Christ, and that he is the head of the entire Church, and the father and
teacher of all Christians; and that full power was given to him in blessed
Peter by our Lord Jesus Christ, to feed, rule, and govern the universal Church,
as is attested also in the acts of ecumenical councils and the holy canons."(Denz-H, n. 1307).
letter,Etsi dubitemus, of April 21st 1441, Eugene IV
condemned the heretics of Basel and the “diabolical founders” of the
‘conciliarism’ doctrine: Marsilius of Padua, Jean of Jandun and William of
Ockham (Epistolae pontificiae ad Concilium Florentinum spectantes,Pontificio Istituto Orientale, Roma 1946, p. 28, 24-35), but
towardsHaec Sanctahe held a hesitant stance,
proposing what in modern terms might be defined as a “hermeneutic of
continuity”. In the decree of September 4th1439, Eugene IV states that the superiority of Councils over the
Pope, asserted by the Basel Fathers on the basis ofHaec Sancta, is“a bad interpretation given by the Basel Fathers themselves, which
de facto is revealed as contrary to the genuine sense of the Sacred
Scriptures, of the Holy Fathers, and of the Council of Constance itself.”(Decreto del 4 settembre 1439, inConciliorum Oecumenicorum Decreta, EDB, Bologna 2002.p. 533). Eugenio
IV himself, ratified the Council of Constance as a whole and in its decrees,
excluded: “any prejudice to the rights, dignity and pre-eminence of the
Apostolic See”as he writes to his legate on July 22nd1446.
The hermeneutic of “continuity” thesis betweenHaec Sanctaand the Tradition of the Church was soon abandoned.Haec Sanctais certainly the authentic act
of a legitimate ecumenical Council, ratified by three Popes, but this is not
enough to render binding on the doctrinal level a Magisterial document which is
posed in contrast with the perennial teaching of the Church. Today we regard that only those documents, which do not damage the
rights of the Papacy and do not contrast with the Tradition of the Church can
be accepted from the Council of Constance. These documents do not includeHaec Sancta, which is a formally heretical
Historians and theologians explain thatHaec Sanctacan be repudiated since it was not a dogmatic definition, inasmuch
as the typical formulas such asanathema sitare missing and verbs like “order, define, establish, decree and
declare”. The real importance of the decree is of a disciplinary and pastoral
nature and does not imply infallibility (cfr. for example the voiceConcile de Constance, of Cardinal Alfred Baudrillart, in theDictionnaire de Théologie Catholique, III, col. 1221 (coll. 1200-1224).
The Schism of Basel ended in 1449 when the Antipope Felix V
reached an agreement with Eugene V’s successor, Pope Nicholas V (1447-1455).
Felix solemnly abdicated and the Pope made him a cardinal and Papal vicar. The
condemnation of conciliarism was repeated by the Fifth Lateran Council, the
Council of Trent and the First Vatican Council.
Those today who are defending the institution of the papacy, need
to accompany the study of these dogmatic definitions with an in-depth analysis
of the works of the great theologians of the First and Second Scholastics, in
order to find all the elements necessary in this doctrinal mine to tackle the
present crisis in the Church.