PISA, COUNCIL OF (1409) The great schism of the west had already lasted thirty years, and the efforts which had been made to restore unity within the Church by the simultaneous resignation of the two rival pontiffs had been in vain, when in the spring of 1408, the state of affairs being desperate, the idea arose of assembling a council to effect a union without the co-operation of the popes. The initiative came from those cardinals who had one after the other seceded either from Gregory XII. or Benedict XIII. They were forestalled by the popes, who each summoned a council, the former to Cividale (in Friuli), the latter to Perpignan, so the dissident cardinals sent out antedated letters inviting Christendom to assemble at Pisa on the 25th of March 1409. Their appeal met with a response in a great part of Italy, France, Navarre, Portugal and England, and in Germany in the states subject to Wenceslas king of the Romans, the electors of Cologne and Mainz, the margrave of Brandenburg, &c. For a time the number of the fathers exceeded five hundred.
The day after the opening of the council, proceedings were started against the two popes, who, it was agreed, were to be eliminated. An act of accusation, containing in 37 articles the chief complaints against them, was read out to the people; not only their policy, but their orthodoxy was attacked, and there was even an insinuation of sorcery. The reason is, that in order to depose them with some show of legality, it was necessary, as a preliminary, to convict them of heresy, and it began to be seen that their tenacity of power, and the ruses by which they evaded the necessity of abdicating, however harmful might be their consequences, did not in themselves constitute a clearly-defined heresy. On the 5th of June 1409 was read the definitive sentence: that as heretics, and therefore separated from the Church, Pedro de Luna (Benedict XIII.) and Angelo Corrario (Gregory XII.) were ipso facto deposed from any office; they must not be obeyed, nor assisted, nor harboured. In the course of the rejoicings which followed this sentence among the populace of Pisa, occurred the somewhat scandalous event of the burning of two images crowned with parchment mitres, representing Gregory XII. and Benedict XIII. It was in vain that the ambassadors of Benedict XIII. presented themselves at Pisa. The crowd greeted their arrival with mockery and derision, and being treated as the envoys of heretics they escaped without having obtained a hearing.
In order to complete their task the cardinals present at Pisa, authorized by delegation of the council, shut themselves up in conclave, and elected one of their number, Peter Philarges, cardinal of Milan, as the new pope, who assumed the name of Alexander V. They had hoped to save the Church, but unfortunately the result of their efforts, generous as they were, was that the schism increased in bitterness, and that instead of the unity for which the Church craved, three popes continued to flourish. Both the deposed pontiffs protested against the legality of the council of Pisa; each had numerous partisans, and the thesis, constructed rather to meet the exigencies of the case, which attributed to a synod assembled by the cardinals the right of constituting itself judge of a sovereign pontiff, was far from being established.
Originally the council of Pisa was to have occupied itself not only with effecting the union, but also with the reform of the Church. As a matter of fact, it confined itself to expressing certain desiderata in a “libellus supplicatorius” which it submitted to the new pope. Alexander V. only partially acceded to these demands, many of which constituted serious encroachments on the prerogative of the Holy See; he then declared the work of reform suspended, and dissolved the council (August 7, 1409).
See Jacques Lenfant, Histoire du concile de Pise (Utrecht, 1731); Mansi, Concil., xxvii., F. Stuhr, Die Organisation und Geschäftsordnung des Pisaner und Konstanzer Konzils (Schwerin, 1891); N. Valois, La France et le grand schisme d'occident, iv. 3–107, 175 seq. (Paris, 1902). (N. V.)