The Early Development of Pierre D'Ailly's Conciliarism

By Bellitto, Christopher M | The Catholic Historical Review, April 1997 | Go to article overview

The Early Development of Pierre D'Ailly's Conciliarism


Bellitto, Christopher M, The Catholic Historical Review


CHRISTOPHER M. BELLITTO*

The theologian and church statesman Pierre d'Ailly (1350-1420) has been the subject of considerable scholarly attention, as befits one of the foremost fathers of the Council of Constance (1414-1418). The prominent role d'Ailly played as a conciliarist at Constance has, however, overshadowed the earlier development of his conciliar thought. This tendency is reflected in modern studies of d'Ailly which have correspondingly overlooked the important early stages of his career.1 D'Ailly's initial service to the University of Paris, the French crown, and the Avignon papacy strongly influenced the evolution of his conciliarism. He seems to have embraced the via concil in three steps from the time he received his master's degree in theology in 1381 to his opposition in 1395 and 1396 to France's attempts to withdraw spiritual and financial obedience from the Avignon papacy.2 He appears at first to have been an enthusiastic supporter of conciliar principles, as seen in his Epistola Diaboli Leviathan and the actions he took as rector of the College de Navarre and university chancellor. Second, dismayed by contentious debates among representatives of university, papacy, and crown at the Councils of Paris about the via cessionis, d'Ailly's backing of the via concil grew cautious. The obstinacy of all involved appears to have moderated his enthusiasm for a full-scale conciliar resolution and moved an older, more circumspect d'Ailly to a third step: an oligarchic conciliarism, more properly characteristic of his ecclesiology, that assigned a mediatory role to the College of Cardinals. Especially illustrative of the latter two steps are his three cedulae of 1395 and 1396 which have not been analyzed in detail though they indicate in important ways how his conciliarism developed.3

The Context

The development of d'Ailly's conciliar views cannot be understood apart from the intertwined relations among the Church, crown, and university he served during the Great Schism.4 D'Ailly began the arts curriculum at the College de Navarre about 1364 and advanced through theology. He came to royal and papal attention in 1379 when he was delegated by the university to advise Charles V (1364-1380) of its support for a general council to resolve the schism. D'Ailly received the master's degree and license in theology in 1381, but his rising career stalled when Charles VI (1380-1422) banned university discussion of the schism. D'Ailly retreated to his Noyon canonry, returning in 1384 as rector of the College de Navarre. By 1389, he was royal chaplain. That year, perhaps to curry the king's support and d'Ailly's friendship, Avignon's Clement VII (1378-1394) nominated d'Ailly as Paris chancellor In late 1394, after the election of Benedict XIII (1394-1417) as Clement's successor, Charles sent d'Ailly and others to convey greetings to Benedict, who was quick to see in d'Ailly a man he preferred as friend rather than as foe. D'Ailly resigned as chancellor when Benedict named him bishop of Puy in 1395; two years later he was made bishop of Cambrai and, in 1411, cardinal.

D'Ailly's career was marked by contentious attempts to resolve the schism. There had been Valois support for the Avignon popes since the schism's beginning in 1378 until 1392.5 When the schism wore on, however, the French royal family did not wish to be labeled as schismatic. As the dukes of Berry and Burgundy won control over the unstable Charles VI, they began to move toward a unified papacy about 1392. The University of Paris, meanwhile, did not formally accept Clement as pope until 1383.6 Despite the royal ban on debating the schism, dissent continued. In 1394, written opinions were gathered, revealing that the university community supported three courses of action to resolve the schism: a general council (via concilii), negotiation (via compromissi), and abdication (via cessionis). These options were delineated in the famous letter of June 6,1394, to Charles. …

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