Friday, May 3, 2013

Dealing with Pagans

The Council of Constance in 1414 has been mentioned before—or, at least, its outcomes. It was at this, the 16th ecumenical council recognized by the Roman Catholic Church, that Jan Hus and John Wycliffe were both condemned as heretics. There was more to the Council than that, however.

It also dealt with the Three Popes Controversy, forcing the ouster of antipopes John XXIII, Gregory XII, and Benedict XIII; they elected Pope Martin V.

One of the largest debates at the Council took place over the subject of how to deal with pagans. A few years earlier, the Teutonic Knights had fought against Poland and Lithuania; an uneasy and oft-broken peace existed between the players in that conflict, turning into another war in 1414. The Council of Constance was chosen as the place to decide the matter between the groups. The debate blossomed into a larger issue than where the borders should be: did the Teutonic Knights have a right to start the war in 1411? They had done so as a Crusade against the pagan inhabitants of those regions, intending to force them to convert to Christianity.

A doctor of canon law named Paulus Vladimir delivered an essay called Tractatus de potestate papa et imperatoris respect infidelium [Treatise on the power of the pope and emperor respecting infidels], in which he argued that a forced conversion was a violation of the right of free will granted by God. Free will was necessary for a true conversion. He claimed the Teutonic Knights could only wage a war if the enemy had done something to violate natural rights of Christians.

The opposing view said that the pope had every right to condemn pagans simply for being non-Christians. The loudest proponent of this view, John of Falkenburg, was condemned and imprisoned for his views, and for calling the Polish king a "mad dog."

The Council could not come to a conclusion, however. They established a diocese in Poland so that Christianity could be introduced more peacefully. The Polish-Teutonic wars resumed, on and off, for another century.

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