Tarring Conciliarism with the Brush of Heresy: Juan de Torquemada’s Summa de Ecclesia

  • Thomas M. Izbicki
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


Cardinal Juan de Torquemada, a Dominican theologian and the most articulate papal apologist of the fifteenth century, completed his monumental Summa de ecclesia in 1453 and dedicated it to Pope Nicholas V.1 In that work, he addressed challenges to the ecclesiastical order from both Hussite heretics, who rejected the legitimacy of the visible Church, and conciliarists, who thought a general council superior to the pope in ecclesiastical government. The champions of conciliar supremacy agreed with the papal apologists of their time on defending the ecclesiastical institution, but they differed on the locus of ultimate authority in the visible Church. The cardinal was replying to the conciliar challenge in the aftermath of the Council of Basel (1431–49), which had attempted to depose a legitimately elected pope, Eugenius IV. Torquemada strove to refute the arguments of the council’s apologists with appeals to both reason and authority.2 He also made efforts to describe conciliarism as arising from suspect sources, particularly the antipapal writings of Marsilius of Padua and William of Ockham. Torquemada’s ascription of a suspect genealogy to conciliarism was a remarkably successful move, tarring Rome’s foes with the brush of doctrinal error.3 Only in recent decades has the scholarly world accepted a different genealogy for conciliarism, one rooted in tradition, documented in both canon law and theology.4


Political Discourse General Council Temporal Power Opus Omnia Manuscript Copy 
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© Karen Bollermann, Thomas M. Izbicki, and Cary J. Nederman 2014

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  • Thomas M. Izbicki

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