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20.08.24, Šmahel, Die Basler Kompaktaten mit den Hussiten (1436)

20.08.24, Šmahel, Die Basler Kompaktaten mit den Hussiten (1436)


By August 1431, efforts of the Latin Church to rein in the recalcitrant Czech Hussites had been spectacularly unsuccessful. The scoreboard read: Heretics: five, Crusaders nil. The grim result of five crusading army defeats forced an unprecedented decision. The papal legate Giuliano Cesarini decided diplomacy would have to be taken seriously. The Latin Church would have to negotiate with dissenters more or less as equals (at least that was the theory). Weary men on both sides desired peace. Two months before the defeat of the Fifth Crusade, representatives from the Council of Basel met with Hussite delegates at Cheb but those negotiations were wrecked by the vitriolic Dominican theologian Jan Stojković (Ragusio). In May 1432 renewed discussions resumed at Cheb. In the place of the irascible Croat the Council placed matters in the hands of Johannes Nider, prior of the Dominican monastery in Basel, and Johannes of Gelnhausen, a Cistercian monk from Maulbronn. Heinrich Toke, former professor at the University of Rostock and later teacher in the cathedral school at Magdeburg, along with three other ecclesiastics--Albrecht Fleischmann and Heinrich of St. Giles, both from Nürnberg, and Heinrich Parsperger from Regensburg--were the main Council representatives. From the Hussite side the most important included Jan Rokycana, Peter Payne, Martin Lupáč, Mikuláš of Pelhřimov, Markolt of Zbraslavice, Matěj Louda and Prokop Holý. On 18 May an agreement was reached: the determining factor at Basel would be the authority of Scripture to which ecclesiastical tradition, papal pronouncements, canon law, and the church fathers would be subordinate. The summit talks established this general parameter for the unusual arrangement. Representatives from the Council of Basel and the Hussite factions agreed. The agreement became known as the "Cheb Judge." This was an historical hapax legomenon. Never before nor since has the Western church agreed to such concession.

What followed was a protracted six-year-long process aimed at ending strife in the war-torn Czech lands, securing ecclesiastical unity in the Bohemian province, and rehabilitating the Hussite heretics. These hearings amounted to high-level negotiations and were carried out in Basel, Prague, Regensburg, and Székesfehérvár. The Hussite "four articles of Prague" (drawn up in 1420) were robustly debated by Hussites before the Council of Basel over a three month period early in 1433. An agreement could not be achieved and the venue shifted to Prague from May to August. Another round occurred at Basel in August and September. Still, no settlement. Back in Prague in October, negotiations continued until December. Despite significant progress, one might even say, agreement, the Hussite Martin Lupáč appeared at Basel in February 1434 seeking clarification. By August, the diplomats had convened in Regensburg. Long delays stalled the process and it was not until July 1435 that the two sides met again, this time in the Moravian city of Brno. Emperor Sigismund now began to play a leading role in the prolonged drama. In late 1435 and early 1436 the indefatigable negotiators met in Hungary, along with Sigismund, at the walled town and royal residence of Székesfehérvár some 40 miles southwest of Budapest. The emperor went against the will of the Basel envoys. It appeared Hussites had seized the upper hand. The negotiations concluded with a sung Mass and bonfires that burned well into the night. The end was near. Heretics and conciliar delegates gathered at the predominately German frontier town of Jihlava, situated between Bohemia and Moravia, in July 1436. Despite a publically proclaimed agreement, fishhooks abounded. Both sides were discontented. This led to a final hearing in Basel which began in August 1437 and lasted until October. By Christmas, following "sharp controversy over the content and character of the decree," (92-93) the so-called Ut lucidius videatur was announced at the thirtieth plenary session on December 23. It was melodramatic and disappointing to many of the Czechs. Nevertheless, the formal saga was over and the negotiations resulting in the so-called Compactata of Basel "which lasted almost six years, were concluded in December 1437 with force majeure." (94)

František Šmahel has once more turned his formidable skills to an important chapter of Hussite history and again leaves scholars and students of Hussitica in his debt. He tells us that the principal aim of his research has been to "analyze the conception, certification and ratification of the concordat between the Hussites of Bohemia and the Council of Basel" (1). What follows are two significant contributions. The first is a lengthy, detailed, but generally cogent articulation of the context and process (1-161) followed by a critical Latin edition assembled "ad usum scholarum" (165-218) setting forth a carefully considered version of the ten documents that make up the precise agreements between the Council of Basel and the state Diet (Landtag or zemský sněm) of the Bohemian Crown. These two major sections of the publication are supported by an up-to-date and international bibliography (xi-xxii) and brief indices (221-226).

The achievement is significant. No one engaged in or knowledgeable about Hussite history would deny the importance of the agreements hammered out between Czech heretics and the Latin church. This underscores the absence of a truly useable edition and study of the Compactata. The documents were mainly "only available in the outdated and confusing edition by František Palacký" which appeared in 1844 (v). Instead of simply preparing an edition of the sources, Šmahel foregrounds that work with a useful prolegomenon. This consists of an overview of the Council of Basel, its role, organization, administration, and its representatives in the Hussite affair. The legal apparatus of the Council was truly impressive producing perhaps 20,000 formal documents (13). There was no shortage of shrewdness. The council carefully considered its delegates in the Hussite matter. Basel understood that the Czech heretics could neither be dismissed nor liquidated. They had to be persuaded, cajoled, perhaps manipulated into union with the Latin church. None of the delegates chosen, Šmahel argues, included "well-known preachers who showed their hatred of Hussites." Conversely, none among their number were known to harbor hidden sympathy for the heretics (23). Important personalities like Philibert of Montjeu, bishop of Coutances, and Juan Palomar, archdeacon of Barcelona, headlined the list of legates. The envoys carefully avoided calling the Czechs "heretics" or "Hussites" preferring instead the benign moniker "Bohemians."

The challenges are explicated: In its dealings with the Hussites, Šmahel claims the council "resorted to less than Christian means, deception on the one hand and bribery on the other" (2). The violations of the Cheb Judge wherein promises of free speech were summarily ignored and the heretics were treated as accused are noted. This exemplifies the value in cultivating antagonistic relationships with the guardians of institutional values. For a while the Hussites resisted these attacks on their ability to speak freely. Witness the parallel covert assaults on the freedom of speech at institutions of higher learning sometimes coming from the highly politicised right or the left. The Hussites should have been scared off by some of the troubling comments made by Palomar about the chalice but they continued to parlay. Matters of theological nuance remained. Repeatedly, the practitioners of, and petitioners for, utraquism (Holy Communion for all the baptized in both kinds of bread and wine) were reminded of the medieval doctrine of concomitance. The Hussites knew very well that both Eucharistic elements contained the entire Christ. That was not the point. Did the legates know this or were they trying to establish a liturgical redundancy? Communion of the chalice was never going to be as universal as the Hussites naïvely thought. The Council was adamant that this concession would be limited to those irregular believers who had become accustomed to the practice during the Hussite uprising (1414-1434). Moreover, the old practice of withholding the cup could continue anywhere not previously penetrated by Hussite Eucharistic innovation. There may have been a rush to draw up a dossier of utraquist churches and parishes. What were the Hussites to do with Sigismund's crisp opinion that under no circumstance would the chalice be approved for children as many Hussites had been practicing?

Several mitigating political issues come into focus. These include the motivations of the frustrated heir to the Bohemian throne, Sigismund, recently crowned holy Roman emperor. The Hussite siege of the Czech town of Plzeň threatened this important west Bohemian Catholic citadel and the Council kept a close eye on developments there. No less significant were the social, political and religious implications of the Hussite agenda codified in the famous "four articles of Prague." The chalice was problematic on both sides. The punishment of serious sins potentially disrupted social order. All agreed the law of God should be normative but when applied to "concrete causae" difficulties arose (48). Could subordinates punish their superiors? Hussites demanded allegiance to this idea but Palomar warned Rokycana he believed Hussites actively violated the law of God. What a predicament. Divesting the church of secular wealth and power could be supported biblically but, truly, the church could not make this concession. There was too much at stake. The outcome of the Battle of Lipany (30 May 1434), resulting in the virtual annihilation of Hussite armies, radically altered the political landscape allowing the power and influence of the barons to increase. Perhaps at this stage, the council overcame its fear of the Hussite factor. At Regensburg and elsewhere, language was at issue. Imagine the frustration of the envoys who collectively could not manage a word of Czech being made to listen to Emperor Sigismund and the chief Hussite spokesman Rokycana addressing each other in Czech without the benefit of a translator. Distrust surely arose when they requested translation only to be told the exchange had been innocuous and irrelevant to questions of faith. (60-61, 66) Rokycana was elected to fill the vacant archiepiscopal see of Prague. Sigismund pledged support. The envoys balked. Fractious bellicosity persisted for decades. Rokycana died in 1471 unconsecrated. Why was Sigismund so keen to keep the negotiations alive? What were the political implications or benefits for the beleaguered king? He pledged undying support for Rokycana. Privately he assumed a different stance. Controversy erupted at the public reading of the agreements in 1436. The Hussites demanded that Bishop Philibert not appear in pontificals and when Rokycana offered the chalice to communicants Palomar unsuccessfully tried to prevent it. The scene of scuffling clerics must have been amusing, at the very least, to the congregated pious. Later, Rokycana relinquished his role as negotiator referring to the fate of Jan Hus two decades earlier. Sigismund's reign in Prague was brief. His exit after a mere fifteen months "was more an escape than an honourable departure" (101).

Šmahel shows that while there would be fierce and ferocious debates between 1433 and the end of 1437 the definitive version of the Compactata remained unchanged after 11 December 1433. "This is extremely important for the assessment of the historical significance of the compact. Since this version...had been approved by the clergy of all Hussite tendencies, the Compactata can be seen as a legitimate agreement of all Hussitism, including the radical communities" (50). But as this book demonstrates, the ambiguous interpretation of the agreements was never overcome. Hussites were convinced that utraquism was divinely mandated but the council made clear the church would never proclaim the practice "useful and beneficial." That said, at the end of the day: "In 1437, at the command of Emperor Sigismund and the Basel envoys, it was announced in Czech, Latin, Hungarian and German in this church that the Bohemians and Moravians, who receive the body of God and his blood in both forms, were faithful Christians and are true sons of the Church" (90). Nevertheless, to the everlasting frustration of the Czechs, the conciliar decree Ut lucidius videatur announced the laity were not obligated to receive the cup. It was permissible but unnecessary (93). Šmahel does not stop with 1437 but considers the role and effect of the Compactata of Basel throughout the sixteenth century.

The edition of the Compactata is a model of careful scholarship. Šmahel takes up the hitherto ignored question of what happened to the original documents noting the actual agreement consists of three texts affirmed by both parties in Prague on 30 November 1433. He examines the originals and their seals, palaeographical matters, and orthographical changes, in some detail. There are precise details. Some documents were "sealed with a lead bull on a silk cord" (litterae gratiosae) while others (litterae executoriae) had lead bulls on hemp cords" (77-78). The edition is based upon a total of 24 manuscripts held by repositories in Prague, Vienna (including three autographs), Leipzig, Brno, Paris, Rome, and Třeboň. Each of the ten documents appears in Latin accompanied by a list of the relevant sigla, codices, printed editions, and explanatory notes. The edition is above reproof.

It is knavish to try and erode the integrity and labor of another. There are few errors and slippages, too few and too minor to be listed. There are a handful of very small inconsistencies in the German, it is the Fifth, not the Fourth, Crusade that shaped discussion at Basel (4), and a bit more about the archiepiscopal controversy surrounding Rokycana would benefit the nonspecialist reader. Sigismund behaved with duplicity and contrary to the promised support remarked he could care less if an ass occupied the see of Prague. Rumors of murder plots circulated and an attempt was made on Rokycana's life. Sigismund believed his "candidate" would fall victim to foul play whereby improving the Bohemian situation.

Consistent with his repudiation of his conciliar past, Aeneas Sylvius (as Pope Pius II) abolished the Compactata in 1462. The Hussite king George of Poděbrady found the agreements "a secret burden, if not a rope around his neck" because his oath of coronation tacitly implied faithfulness to the papacy (105). In 1437, the agreements were placed on the walls in the Corpus Christi Chapel on the cattle market square in Prague's New Town as a perpetual "guarantee or reminder" (146). Ironically, after all the fuss, and the passage of 130 years, the Bohemian Utraquist estates asked Emperor Maximilian II during the 1567 Landstag to strike the agreement from the state privileges. He complied.

The edition and historical introduction are important contributions to late medieval history, knowledge of the Hussites, medieval heresy, the Council of Basel, conciliarism, and political history in fifteenth-century Europe. František Šmahel is a masterful historian whose work for over 60 years has been illuminating, insightful, and important. In Šmahel's capable and experienced hands, the reader can be assured of an expert and reliable guide. This volume only enhances the abundantly fine reputation of the greatest living authority of the important Hussite age.