Networks of Humanists at the Councils of Constance and Basel in the 15th
The vivid interests in the classical works
of Greek and Latin authorities were revived
in the 15th century. In this
period many intellectuals who were called humanists could be seen in Italy. Such
persons were mostly clergies who had a lot of opportunities for learning
classical languages and reading the classics. Consequently they were impressed
by elegant styles and secular world views which the classics involved. So, they
began to write their works imitating styles of the classics and they discussed
humanism of the classical
authorities with those who had the same interests in the classics. As a result
they could acquire new and unprejudiced perspectives to men and nature.
But, we don't know precisely how the intellectuals
in this period obtained the manuscripts of the classics. It has not been
answered by modern scholars accurately how they acquired them. Of course, many
famous works of the Greek classics were already translated from Arabic language
or Greek language to Latin language from the 12th century onward in Spain and Sicily.
Furthermore, at the time of the collapse of Byzantine Empire,
numerous manuscripts of the Greek classics were brought from
there to western Europe.
However, it is not well known for us how
the humanists in this period discovered Latin manuscripts of the classics in Europe. It might be thought that almost all Latin
manuscripts of the classics had been discovered in libraries of Italian churches
and monasteries. But, in fact, only few manuscripts had been discovered in Italy. Rather, the
greater part of ¡¡important
manuscripts were discovered in libraries of churches and monasteries in the north
regions of the Alps.
Especially, at the time of two councils
which were held in the territory
namely, the council of Constance(1414-1418)
and the council of Basel(1431-1449),
Italian humanists who accompanied their
ecclesiastical patrons to take part in the councils gathered many manuscripts
of the classics in libraries of churches and monasteries in the north regions of
the Alps. Further, many humanists who came
from Italy found not only manuscripts of the classics written by church fathers
dealing with dogmas and teachings of church, but also a lot of manuscripts of the
pagan classics treating with secular problems in the libraries of the
monasteries of St.Gall, Reichenau, and Cluny, etc. during these two councils.
Normally they copied them, but sometimes they took away them from churches and
monasteries. What is more, the manuscripts of the classics were sold at markets
in both cities during the openings of the councils. So, ecclesiastics and
masters of universities who came from various regions of Europe
to participate in the councils competed with others in buying manuscripts of the
In this paper, we want to consider the discoveries
of manuscripts of the classics and the diffusion of the ideas of humanism in the15th
century especially in Germany.
The Council of Constance and Humanists
The council of Constance, which was held
in one of the most flourished cities of south Germany in the Middle Ages for four
years from 1414 to 1418, aimed at finding solutions to serious contemporary
problems of catholic church such as great schism, church reform, and heresy. After
the German king, Sigismund, had decided to call an ecumenical council in order to solve
these problems, he negotiated the opening of council with pope Johannes XXIII. who belonged to the obedience of Pisa.
The council began December 1414 in the cathedral
of Constance. And in the sessions of the
council the representatives of secular and ecclesiastical authorities discussed the important problems relating to the present
state of catholic church. Among those problems, the most pressing one was the overcome
of great schism. Ultimately, it came to a settlement by the deposition of three
popes and the election of a new pope called Martinus V. Moreover, the important problem which was
discussed in the council was the treatment of heresy of Hussites. As measures
to meet the problem, the dogmas and the teachings of Jan Hus were condemned in
the sessions and Hus was burned as a heretic in the suburb of Constance
But ,another serious problem was church
reform. The participants in the council tried to place restrictions on the strong
authority of papacy, at the same time to support the independencies of regional
churches. Among the problems relating to church reforms, the rights of papal reservations
to offices of prelates and other ecclesiastics were most criticized .In
consequence the rights of papal reservations were substantially reduced.
The numbers of participants and attendants
in the council of Constance totally amounted
to about fifty thousand people for four years. Several hundreds of prelates
such as pope Johannes XXIII, cardinals, patriarches, archbishops, bishops, abbots
were assembled in the council from various regions of Europe.
Besides, not only ecclesiastics but
also lay persons of high rank such
as German king Sigismund, Bohemian king Wenzel, other princes and nobles came
to join in the council. Moreover, about two hundreds of representatives of cities
and about thirty representatives of universities also participated in the
council. At the same time, a great number of secretaries and servants who
accompanied their patrons participating in the council came to Constance. For example, pope Johannes XXIII was followed
by about 300 attendants of the papal Curia. Besides, a lot of applicants who
wanted to obtain ecclesiastical
benefices gathered in the council. Also in order to support daily life of
gathered people, many bankers and
merchants came to Constance to work. Consequently
the city of Constance
was full of large number of visitors suddenly.
And we can find many humanists among the
people who gathered in Constance, especially
among the prelates and the attendants of
pope and other prelates. First,
some prominent humanists were found
among the cardinals. Namely, those were Pierre D'Ailly who debated in the
sessions of the council from the standpoint of conciliarism, Francesco
Zabarella who was a famous canon lawyer, Guillaume Fillastre who wrote a chronicle
of the council. Also many humanists were found among the persons who came to
the council as attendants of pope and other prelates,such as Leonardo Bruni,
Poggio Bracciolini, Agapito Cenci, Bartolomeo da Montepulciano, Antonio Loschi,
Pietoro Paolo Vergerio, Bendetto da Pirio, Zenbino de Pistoia, Manuel Crysoloras,
who came from Italy, Jean de Montreuil and Nicolas de Clamanges who came from France.
In this period, Latin classics were
willingly read by ecclesiastics and intellectuals especially in Italy. While they
wrote their works imitating the styles and thought of the Latin classics, they
exchanged letters in Latin with each other to cultivate their art of writing in
excellent Latin. They also learned totally new perspectives of the nature and men
from the classics. Therefore they wanted to read the classics as many as possible.
But the number of the classics which they could read then were very limited. In
Italy, from the 14th
century to the beginning of the council of Constance(1414),
the number of newly discovered manuscripts of Latin classics were less than
twenty. Though the gathering of manuscripts of the Latin classics were promoted
by initiatives of a famous Italian
humanist Niccolo Niccoli in this time, the activities of the gathering
did not work out successfully. But in this time, Italian humanists had known
that undiscovered manuscripts of Latin classics were preserved in libraries of churches and monasteries in
the north regions of the Alps and that such
kind of manuscripts were amply remained owing to the activities of copying by scribes
of churches and monasteries.
Therefore, the council of Constance was a favorable opportunity for humanists to search
for undiscovered manuscripts of Latin
classics. On this account, some humanists who participated in the council
traveled often to churches and monasteries around Constance
during the break of sessions in order to find famous undiscovered manuscripts.
Bracciolini and his Travel to search for Manuscripts
Among a lot of humanists who participated in the council
of Constance, the persons who searched eagerly
for manuscripts were Poggio Bracciolini, Bartolomeo da Montepulciano, Agapito
Cenci, Zenovino de Pistoia, Benedetto da Pilio, Antonio Roschi
,etc.. But among these manuscript hunters,
the person who played a leading part was Poggio Bracciolini. He learned Latin literatures
under the tuition of Sallutati, and Niccolo Niccoli. Then, he worked as a
secretary of pope Johannes XXIII and came to Constance
with other members of the papal Curia.
Poggio traveled to Germany and France
four times to seek Latin manuscripts during the stay in Constance.
First, he went to the monastery of Cluny
in the Summer of 1415. In this time,he joined in the delegation of the council for
the duke of Burgogne. Poggio could find five manuscripts of Cicero's
Orations , namely, "Pro murena," "Pro cruentio", "Pro sexton loscio", "Pro miro",
"Pro caelio", in the library of Cluny.
He knowed already the existence of these manuscripts of Cicero's
works in Cluny
by the suggestion of two French humanists, Jean Montrueil, Nicolas de Clamanges.
Among these manuscripts of Cicero's Orations, "Pro
murena" and " Pro sexto loscio" were not known in Italy in those days. After Poggio found
these manuscripts, he sent the copies of them to his master Niccolo Niccoli who
stayed in Florence.Then, these manuscripts were copied immediately in large
quantities in Italy.
We don't know well Poggio's activity after
his first travel from 1415 to 1416. But, he decided to travel again to seek
manuscripts for the second time with Agapito Cenci, Bartolomeo da Montpulciano June or July 1416. The place where they
visited was the monastery of St.Gallen near to Constance.
They found an excellent library in a tower of the monastery. The abbot Henry of
Gunderfingen and the monks were not educated well and they could not understand
sufficiently the values of manuscripts which the library had. So, it was very
easy for them to take out as many
manuscripts as possible to Constance.
The most important manuscript which they
found in this time was "Institutiones" of Quintilianus. The work of
Quintilianus was a broadly circulated manual book for learning of Latin language in the ancient
Rome. This work
had been known only fragmentally in the Middle Ages. Before the discovery of the
complete manuscript by Poggio, some parts of "Institutiones" were cited for
teaching of liberal arts in a few medieval works such as " Metalogicon"of John
of Salisbury and "Speculum Maius"of Vincentius of Beauvais.¡¡
Humanists in the 15th century
searched for the manuscript of Quintilianus in earnest. Therefore the discovery
of it by Poggio was regarded an epochmaking event in the history of the revival
of humanism. It was said that it took fifty-three days for Poggio to finish to
copy the complete manuscript of "Institutiones" of Quintilianus. He sent the copy to Leonard Bruni and
Niccolo Niccoli in Florence.
This discovery of the manuscripts of Quintilianus was received in Italy with
great surprise and joy. At this second travel, Poggio also discovered another
important manuscripts such as "Argonautica" of Valerius Flaccus, "De architectura" of Vitruvius,etc..
Poggio made his third trip to seek
manuscripts in the beginning of 1417. At this time, he was accompanied by Bartolmeo
da Montepulciano. They went to the monastery of St,Gallen at first. There they
found two important manuscripts,namely, "De re militia" of Vegetius and a
summary of "De significatione verbi" of Velius Flaccus by Pompeius Festus.
After they visited several monasteries besides St.Gallen, they returned to Constance.
Then, Poggio made his fourth travel for
searching manuscripts in the summer of 1417. At this time, Poggio traveled to France and Germany and two scribes were
accompanied by him for the copying of manuscripts on the spot. First, he
visited Basel and then he went from Basel to Langres in France. In a library of church in
Langres, he discovered a manuscript of one of Cicero's
Oratons,namely, "Pro caecilina," which was not known until then in Europe. And he went to Cologne where he discovered
seven manuscripts of Cicero's Orations,namely,
"Pro commodio Loscio,""Pro Rabilio","Pro Rabilio Posthumo," "Contra pisonem,"and
three orations titled "De lege agri". Because the orations of Cicero had been highly estimated as models of
refined Latin styles, humanists in those days eagerly wanted to find them. Therefore
these discoveries became the most splendid honor for Poggio.
The council of Basel
and the Gathering of Manuscripts
In the council of Constance, it was
determined to hold ecumenical councils regularly by the decree "Frequens" and
according to the decree, a new council was held again in Basel. But, just after the decision of opening
of a council in Basel,
pope Martinus V had died. So,the following pope Eugenius IV held the council of Basel in the year of 1431,
though the pope himself did not attend the
council but gave the authority for acting in behalf of the pope to the papal
Many privileges which the papacy accumulated
until then were substantially limited by the decrees of the council according
to opinions of the leading faction.In the council the independency of the regional churches
from the papacy was advocated more intensely than in the council of Constance. But pope Eugenius IV could not accept the
decisions of church reforms, especially the decisions of reductions of papal
privileges.So, he proclaimed the move of the council to Ferrara on his own judgement. The leading
faction following the idea of conciliarism remained in Basel to continue the sessions for church
reforms and chose Amadeus VIII of Savoia as new pope Felix V. Both sides
opposed each other until 1449.But at last, anti-pope Felix V abdicated the
papacy voluntarily recognizing the legitimacy of pope Eugenius IV. and the council of Basel was dissolved 1449.
By the way, the council of Basel was the council whose location became again an
imperial city in Germany.
As the council of Constance, the Italian humanists who came to the council searched
for manuscripts of Latin classics in churches and monasteries in the north regions of the Alps. Because the council continued for long years, it
was said that several hundreds of humanists gathered in Basel. They not only collected manuscripts of
Latin classics, but also transmitted the ideas of humanism to German intellectuals.
As the most eminent person who gathered
many manuscripts during the stay in the council of Basel, we can cite Anbrogio Traversari, the
leader of the order of Kamaldoli
in that time. He learned Greek and Latin
in Florence under the guidance of Manuel
Crysorolas who came from Byzantine Empire to Italy. Ambrogio went to Basel in
order to participate in the council of Basel. Then, he was sent
as a mission of the council to the court of German king. During the trip to Germany, he gathered many manuscripts of Latin
classics in the church
of Regensburg. Besides
him, as another famous person who gathered manuscripts during the council of Basel, we can cite
Giovanni Aurispa. He was born in Sicily and he traveled to the Asia
in his youth. Then, he studied law in the university of Bologna
and he joined in the papal Curia of Martinus V. From 1421, he again traveled to
Constantinople. During his stay he worked as a
secretary under the Byzantine Emperor. Then, he returned to Italy. He became
a teacher of Greek in Florence
in 1425. And then he participated in the council of Basel in 1433. During his stay in Basel he traveled various regions of Germany to seek manuscripts. He
found the manuscripts of "commentary on Terentius" of Donatus, "Panegyricus" of
Plinius the younger in a church
of Mainz. He was also
famous as a collector of manuscripts of the classics. During his stay in Constantinople,he gathered many Greek manuscripts such as
the works of Sophocules, Euripides,Tyucidides, Aristoteles, Theofrastos,etc.
And they brought them to Italy.
Moreover, another important person as a
collector of manuscripts in this period was Tommaso Parentucelli who became later
pope Nicolaus V. He worked under cardinal Niccolo Arbergati and joined in the
council of Basel
1433. During his stay in Basel, he found two
manuscripts of Tertullianus somewhere around Basel. After he was enrhroned as pope, he
tried to revive the authority of papacy which suffered bitterly in the time of Eugenius
IV. While he acted as a important patron of arts and sciences, he invited many
humanists such as Poggio Bracciolini, Lorenzo Valla, Vespasiano da Bisticci etc..
to the papal Curia. He also planned the foundation of the Vatican
Besides Italian humanists, we can cite other
humanists who joined in the council of Basel
and at the same time gathered manuscripts of the classics. The most famous humanist
was Nicolaus Cusanus. He joined in the council as a legate of archbishop of Trier and he supported movements
of church reforms in the council as an advocate of conciliarism. At the time of
the council, he gathered manuscripts in some churches and monasteries around Basel. Later, he was
converted from the faction of conciliarism to the side of pope Eugenius IV. He
went to Constantinople as a legate of Eugenius
IV 1437.There he worked as diplomat of the pope, and on the same time he gathered
a lot of manuscripts of Greek classics.
Thus the humanists who participated in the
council of Basel
eagerly gathered many manuscripts. And sometimes the humanists were too
enthusiastically engaged in gathering
of manuscripts to plunder manuscripts from libraries of churches and
monasteries near Basel.
Especially, the monastery of St.Gallen was tremendously damaged by the robbery
of manuscripts. So, the abbot Caspar von Breitenberg closed the doors of library
with three keys. He hold one of three keys. Other two keys were held by monks. Consequently,it
became necessary to obtain approvals of three persons in order to enter in the
Moreover, in the time of the council of Basel,markets for selling
manuscripts were held in the city. Manuscripts of the classics were sold there.
Mainly the persons who came from universities in Germany
and East Europe bought them. Thus, the
manuscripts of the classics and the ideas of humanism were diffused in
the north regions of the Alps.
Enea Silvio Piccolomini and the Transmission of Humanism to Germany
The council of Basel contributed to the discovery of unknown
manuscripts of the classics greatly. At the same time, it helped to implant the
ideas of humanism in the north of the Alps. Now
we want to consider the activity of Enea Silvio Piccolomini(later,Pope Pius II),
who worked for the transmission of the ideas of humanism in Germany as a humanist in the time of the council
Enea was born in the family of nobility
called "Piccolomini" near Siena.
After he studied liberal arts and law in Siena, Pavia, and Florence,
he worked under various prelates, and he gradually made his career. Then, he participated
in the council of Basel as a secretary of
cardinal Domenico Capuranica.During the council, he traveled to Scotland and Germany as a member of legates of
the council. 1436 he was appointed chancellor of the council and he played
important role in the sessions. He visited the Diet in Frankfurt 1442 as a
deputy of the council of Basel.
There he met the German king Frederick III. The king was impressed by Enea's
learning of humanism.The king
invited Enea to the court of Wien to make
Enea a member of the king's court. While he
stayed more than 10 years in the court, he
played an important role in the politics of Frederick III. For the German side,
Enea was a very important person who could not only negociate with the papacy
but also transmit the ideas of humanism in Germany.
While Enea had acquaintance with many German
intellectuals in Wien, he transmitted the educational methods
of humanism to masters and students
in the university
of Wien. Also at the same
time, clerks in the chancellery of the king, began to imitate the Latin style which
Enea instruct them for writing Latin documents. In the circle of the court, he educated
humanism to nobles and prelates who
gathered in the court. They made a circle of exchanging Latin letters with each
other around Enea and they discussed refined Latin styles and humanism of the
While Enea educated the personel of the
royal court to write official documents in excellent Latin during his stay, he diffused
the ideas of humanism also by his own writings. For example, he wrote "De
meseris curialis" which treated the misery of courtiers and described the necessities
of education of humanism for the soundness of the court. He also wrote "Pentalogus"
in which he expressed his ideas of political organizations taking the form of
the discussions by five politically important persons,namely, emperor,chancellor, bishop of Freising, bishop
of Chiemsee. In this
work, he especially described the ideal
state of the Christendom.It was said in the work that the catholic church should
be firmly united and the power of emperor should be strenghthed much more in
order to realize the ideal political state. And also he said there that the emperor
must preside over the council of magnates as the supreme govornor of the world because
the papacy did not function as universal authority well. And more in this
writing, he said that the education of humanism was needed urgently in Germany. Moreover,
Enea described the history of Germany
in his another work titled "Germania". This work
treated the history of Germany
as a coherent history of one nation. As this work was the excellent description
in Latin, many contemporary German writers imitated this as a model for describing
the historiography of Germany.
Anyway, Enea's activities as a humanist in Germany contributed to the
implantation of humanisim and the education of the classics. After Enea left
the court of the German king, he was elected pope Pius II 1458 and he spread
the ideas of humanism now in the papal Curia.
The reassessment of the classics and the
revival of humanism had begun first in Italy
and then in the regions of the north Alps in the 15th century. In this process, the
most important events for humanists were discoveries of many lost classics. As
we said here, the councils of Constance and Basel
were the best opportunities to find manuscripts of the classics in libraries of
church and monasteries which were located in the regions of the north of the Alps.
While humanists searched for manuscripts during
these two councils, many manuscripts were brought out to sell in markets in both
cities. Therefore manuscripts of the classics were spread rapidly in this time
to various parts of Europe. Consequently the
ideas and the education of humanism were penetrated into almost every corner of
Europe in the 15th century.
Also, as an important background of discoveries
of manuscripts in libraries of churches and monasteries, we must value the
medieval tradition of copying manuscrits of the classics. In the Middle Ages scribes
copied a lot of classical
manuscripts in scriptoriums of
churches and monasteries, because they thought that copying manuscripts was an
important sacred work to praise God. The bloom of humanism in the Renaissance
would not come about without the work of copying manuscripts by medieval scribes.
Anyway, the councils of Constance and Basel were not only political assemblies to solve pressing
problems relating to the papacy and
the Western Church,
but also favorable opportunities to spread the ideas and education of humanism into
various parts of Europe.