Council Of Basel, one of the oecumenical councils of the Roman Catholic church. Properly speaking, the councils of Basel, Ferrara, and Florence constitute but one council, of which several sessions were held in each of these cities, and which is usually called the council of Florence, because the most important questions were definitely settled and the council terminated at this latter city. The council during its sessions at Basel, until its transfer to Ferrara in 1437, was acknowledged as o3cumenical by Eugenius IV., and its decrees were confirmed by him, with the exception of those which interfered with the prerogatives of the holy see. The principal reasons for assembling a general council at the period referred to were to effect the reconciliation of the (Jreek church, and to reform ecclesiastical discipline. The council was summoned by Pope Martin V. to meet at Basel, March 3, 1431. Meanwhile he died, and Eugenius IV. was elected to succeed him on the very day of the indicfion of the council, and immediately confirmed the acts of his predecessor convoking it. On the day appointed not a single bishop, and but one abbot, appeared at Basel. The last-mentioned person went through the form of declaring himself assembled in oecumenical council.
Five days afterward four deputies, together with the first-named abbot and a few clergymen of the city, opened the council solemnly a second time. In September Cardinal Julian Cesarini, the papal legate, arrived at Basel, and sent letters to different prelates exhorting them to come to the council. On Sept. 26 he held a session, at which it is said three bishops and seven abbots were present. The cardinal having sent an envoy to Rome to represent the state of things at Basel, Pope Eugenius IV., who desired to convoke the council in a place more convenient to the Greeks, sent a bull to his legate empowering him to dissolve the council and indicate a new one at Bologna. Cardinal Julian, who at first seemed disposed to dissolve the council, had however changed his mind, and was desirous to continue it. His principal reason appears to have been that he thought it would be a favorable opportunity for treating with the Hussites and reconciling them to the church. He himself had been lately in Bohemia on a legation from the holy see, and was more interested in this matter than in the affairs of the Greek church.
This reason, however, made Eugenius still more desirous to transfer the council, as the affair of the Hussites had been once definitely settled at the council of Constance, and he did not wish it to be reopened. His legate, however, was determined if possible to continue the council at Basel; and when he had collected a sufficient number of prelates, the charge of provoking a schism deterred the pope from pressing violently his own wishes. But on Dec. 11, 1431, the pope published a bull dissolving the council of Basel. The cardinal legate obeyed, and declared that he could no longer act as president of the council. Nevertheless he exerted himself in the most energetic manner to induce the pope to revoke the bull, as did also the small number of prelates who were assembled. In these efforts they were supported by several sovereigns. After vainly endeavoring to effect an amicable transfer of the council, Eugenius IV. finally revoked his former bull, and on Feb. 14, 1433, published another, authorizing the continuance of the council at Basel. Meanwhile, however, the prelates had not ceased to continue their sessions, and to style themselves an oecumenical council, although the approbation of the pope was withdrawn from them, and the cardinal legate had ceased to preside.
In this they justified themselves by the act of the council of Constance declaring its supremacy over the pope (1415); an act, however, which canonists regard as only intended to apply to contending claimants of the papacy, and as not synodical because the council was only recognized at the time by a part of the church. During the period of the suspension of the council by Eugenius IV., the prelates, who after a time increased to the number of 30, framed several decrees, declaring the superiority of a general council to the pope, the want of power in the latter to dissolve or transfer it, citing Eugenius to appear within a certain time, etc. After the revocation of the bull of transfer, all these edicts were revoked by the council, and the legitimate sessions recommenced under the presidency of the legate. The declaration of the superiority of a general council to the pope was renewed, however, after the reconciliation, though the legate refused to be present, or sanction the act in any way. A number of decrees of reformation were framed, which are all the acts of the council ever recognized as truly synodical, and as such approved by the holy see. Great efforts were made to enter into negotiations with the Greek emperor, though without success.
Finally, Eugenius IV., finding Cardinal Julian, the principal sovereigns, and the Greek emperor, altogether disposed to enter into his views, on June 19, 1437, dissolved once more the council of Basel, and transferred the sessions to Ferrara. There had been from the outset at Basel but few prelates and bishops of high rank, and a great number of the inferior clergy, all of whom had been admitted to a vote in violation of the canons. The cardinals and the principal portion of the prelates of rank obeyed immediately the mandate of the holy see, and repaired to Ferrara. The patriarch of Aquileia, the archbishops of Aries and Palermo, with a few other prelates, and several hundred priests, remained, and continued the sessions of their so-called council, from this time regarded as a conciliabulum or schismat-ical assembly. They declared several propositions respecting the superiority of general councils to be articles of faith, excommunicated the council of Ferrara, deposed the pope, and in 1439 elected Amadeus VIII., formerly duke of Savoy, who took the name of Felix V., and continued to bear it during 10 years, after which he abdicated it, and submitted himself to Nicholas V., who made him cardinal.
The council of Basel continued its sessions during all this period, and finally the debris of the council, which had adjourned to Lausanne, put an end to itself by electing the reigning pontiff, Nicholas V., pope.