Middle Ages

Medieval theory holding that supreme authority in the church rests in its general councils.

Conciliarism vested authority in a many-point consensus rather than in one pope

This theory originated in the middle ages when church lawyers pondered the question of what would happen if the pope were a heretic. In the later middle ages the theory gained adherents during the protracted struggles between the pope and princes. Extreme versions of conciliarism held that the pope could be deposed by the people who had elected him and that the authorities of the state were superior in all things to the authorities of the church. Marsiglio of Padua was a prominent advocate of the superiority of the state. The need to reform abuse and reconcile the claims of contending popes later in the middle ages also spurred the development of conciliar theory. Later medieval popes eventually prohibited appeals to councils over the head of the papacy. In spite of this the Protestant reformers, Martin Luther among them, appealed to a general council to legitimate their views.

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