Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Reform Preaching and Despair at the Council of Pavia-Sena (1423-1424)

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Reform Preaching and Despair at the Council of Pavia-Sena (1423-1424)

Article excerpt



According to the decree Frequens of the Council of Constance, an ecumenical council was to be convoked by the pope five years following the end of the Council of Constance. Thus Pope Martin V in due time summoned a council to meet at Pavia, where a synod was inaugurated April 23, 1423. An outbreak of plague forced the Council to move to Siena, where it lasted from July until its dissolution in March, 1424. Most of these months were filled up with disputes over administrative matters, as well as divisions among the various nations; and the antipathy of Pope Martin to the conciliarist party made it difficult to get anything done. Little or nothing in the way of reform was accomplished.1

Although often not numbered among the synods regarded as ecumenical by the Roman Catholic Church because of its relatively slight attendance, the Council of Pavia-Siena was intended to continue the work of Constance in matters of reform and to take measures against various heretical movements, and those who did attend took their tasks seriously enough. One of those in attendance was a Camaldolese hermit known as John-Jerome of Prague, who preached two sermons at the Council. The first was on the first Sunday of Advent, which fell on November 28,1423.John-Jerome also preached on Septuagesima Sunday, which fell on February 20,1424. This second sermon must have been one of the last to be preached at the Council, which was dissolved soon after.2 Neither of these sermons has been noted by previous historians of the council, a significant oversight in light of the fact that only four other sermons are known to have survived from the council.3

John-Jerome was born ca.1370 in Prague and attended the university there as a contemporary of John Hus. There John-Jerome became a master of arts and also studied law. After becoming a Premonstratensian canon at Strahov near Prague, he went on to serve as a chaplain at the court of the Polish king Wladislaus, where he preached and was a royal confessor for a time. John-Jerome made a missionary journey into Lithuania, and after serving as the first abbot of the new Premonstratensian house of Nowy Sacz outside of Krakow, in 1412 he left Poland and the Premonstratensian Order to take up the eremitical life at Camaldoli.

As a Camaldolese he participated in the monastic reform movement, and was quite critical of the state of the religious houses he visited in the capacity of a visitator for the Venetian province of the Order. The details of his day-to-day activity in this capacity are unknown, but a sermon which he gave as part of his role as visitator has survived. The sermon was probably repeated in each monastery on the visitation tour as a prelude to the investigatory procedure, and it is the most detailed statement on ecclesiastical reform John-Jerome produced before the Council of Pavia-Siena.4

John-Jerome begins the sermon with an assertion of God's continuing benevolent guidance of creation and in particular of the ecclesia fidelium. Making use of the frequently cited mystical work of PseudoDionysius,5 he asserts that people are drawn to God through the threefold scheme of purgation, illumination, and perfection. This task is entrusted by God to prelates and in a special way to those who like the visitatores are required to be directly responsible for the upkeep of moral norms.6 The visitator thus must be given the virga correctionis, with full authority to punish transgressors and dispense justice. If the visitator is negligent in the work of correction, he will be cursed by God and damned.7 At the same time, the humble and obedient must be blessed by the visitator, who must mix mercy with justice. If the prelate does not strike the proper balance, he does not possess the appropriate form of Christ-like visitation (non habet formam visitationis Christi).

Throughout the sermon John-Jerome stresses the mutually beneficial nature of the visitation process for both the monks and the visitator. …

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