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by Catherine Frakas 19 Jan 2002

Council of Constance QUESTION from Nate December 26, 2000 After the Council of Constance, which reunited the Church after the Great papal schism, it seems that all of the sessions were considered valid, and binding. At some point someone decided that the first 14 sessions were not part of the council, despite their approval by Gregory XII, the resigning pope, and the fact that his bull convoking the council was dated May 15, 1414, before the first session which occurred in November of 1414.
My question is when and by whom were these sessions invalidated? Was there a documentary exercise of the extraordinary Magisterium in declaring these invalid, or is it just the opinion of theologians and canon lawyers. I am aware of the fact that subsequent councils passed canons which SEEM to contradict session 5 of Constance.
ANSWER by Mrs. Suzanne Fortin, B.A. on January 4, 2001 Dear Nate,
I think there is some confusion in your narrative of what happened. I will go over the chronology of events to make sure there is no confusion.
It was the anti-Pope John XXIII who summoned the Council of Constance on December 9, 1413 to meet on November 1st, 1414. An anti-pope, for those who are not familiar with the term, is a pretender to the papal throne. Many people thought that John XXIII was the rightful pope, but they were wrong. The lawful pope was Gregory XII. He had a very small entourage of followers that included only a few cardinals and nobles.
The Council met on November 1st as planned. I'm not sure why you claim May 15, 1414 was the date of convocation, as it was announced long before that. At any rate, the first thirteen sessions are not considered part of the ecumenical council because they had not been convoked by the legitimate pope, and they were not presided by the pope or his legate. There was nothing to invalidate, as these sessions could not bind the universal church to any doctrine.
In the fourteenth session, on July 4, 1415, Pope Gregory XII authorized subsequent acts of the Council, and then resigned. One of the major goals of the council was to get all the pretenders to the Roman see to renounce their claim, so that a papal election recognized by all could take place. Gregory XII went along with this plan. His stamp of authority on the subsequent acts of the Council permitted it to change the rules on papal elections so that a legitimate pope could be elected.
Gregory XII's authorization of subsequent conciliar acts extended to all measures taken by the Council except for doctrinal declarations. When an ecumenical council makes a doctrinal declaration, it is considered an act of the extraordinary Magisterium. Such an act is an extension of the charism of papal infallibility. Papal infallibility is non-transferable. This means only doctrinal declarations made or approved by the pope himself can be infallible; no one can act in his stead. Since Gregory XII resigned, and he had not approved any of the sessions prior to his resignation, none of the doctrinal statements made then by the Council of Constance could be considered infallible since there was no pope to approve them. They could only be binding when personally approved by a duly elected Pope. Pope Martin V was elected unanimously in the 41st session on November 8, 1417. Since he was only a sub-deacon at the time of his election, he had to be ordained a deacon on November 12, ordained a priest on November 13, and then consecrated a bishop on November 21. The Council only became truly ecumenical from the 42nd session to the 46th. Martin V, after the Council was over, condemned the theory of conciliarism, which was the major doctrinal idea advanced at the fifth session. Since this idea was proclaimed before Martin was elected and not approved by the pope, it was not an act of the extraordinary Magisterium. If you're interested in reading the articles of the Council of Constance, you can find them at the EWTN File Library. Thank you for your question. God Bless, Suzanne Fortin
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