Three Angel's Messages shared with the world

Head #5 - Council of Electors (Rev. 17)

Head #5 on the beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit of Revelation 17

Revelation Time Period #5:
1299 AD - 1449 AD

The time during which Head #5 was the dominant ruling power in the realm corresponds to the 5th time period of Revelation, which also corresponds to the 5th Church, the 5th Seal and the 5th Trumpet.


The eastern portion of the Kingdom of the Franks developed into the Kingdom of the Germans, along with a corresponding shift from Frankish to German dominance in the Roman realm. As feudalism had became more widespread, the local rulers became more powerful. The most powerful became known as princes and they would confirm the succession of kings. This confirmation, which began as a mere formality, developed into a college of electors (first mentioned in the twelfth century) and by around 1273, became a small, yet powerful, political body comprised of seven electors.

The Electors (from the 13th to 17th centuries) included:
  • The Archbishop of Mainz (Ecclesiastic)
  • The Archbishop of Trier (Ecclesiastic)
  • The Archbishop of Cologne (Ecclesiastic)
  • The King of Bohemia
  • The Count Palatine of the Rhine (Elector Palatine)
  • The Duke of Saxony (Elector of Saxony)
  • The Margrave of Brandenburg (Elector of Brandenburg)
As the papal power over secular matters made a sharp decline during the reign of Pope Boniface VIII (1294-1303) and King Philip and Albert made a treaty against him in 1299, these electors defied the pope and gained authority and independent control over the election of the emperors (see Head #4 for details on the Electors' take-over of the realm). The monarchy became truly elective, with the electoral council exercising the real power over the crown.

When Albert showed himself too eager for power, the electors refused to elect a Habsburg again for over a century. The electors were successful in controlling the crown because they prevented it from being passed along heriditary lines, which prevented the emperors from strengthening their authority beyond their family domains. The electors were strongly opposed to the taxes and forced military service that would inevitably follow an emperor's increased power.

In 1338, The Diet in Frankfort officially decreed that the emperor could be chosen without Papal participation. The Golden Bull, issued by Charles IV in 1356, officially ended papal involvement in the election of a German king, by simply denying Rome's right to approve or reject the electors' choice. The Princes who, by the early thirteenth century, had established their claim to the title of Electors of the Empire were confirmed and regulated. The Princes became almost sovereign rulers, counterforcing imperial absolutism, ruling as allies instead of subjects.1 "The Golden Bull of 1356 conceded the princes' dominance over the monarchy."2

The influence of the Holy Roman Empire, and thus the Council of Electors, was extensive. At the start of the 14th century, it was comprised of present-day Germany and extended across Prussia, Hungary, Bohemia, Switzerland, and parts of southern and northern Italy. Hundreds of smaller principalities, duchies, and counties composed the empire.3

See a Map of the Holy Roman Empire.

The Kingdom of Bohemia was especially influential and powerful during this time. Charles IV, the King of Bohemia (and thus able to vote in the Council of Electors), became Holy Roman Emperor in 1355. His reign included the peak of Bohemian political power and land area, controlling many diverse lands.

Many Christians had fled to Bohemia to escape Papal persecution in France and Italy. From there, some openly condemned the corruptions in the church, which resulted in Papal persecution being directed at Bohemia. The famous Bohemian reformer, Jan Hus, led out in protesting Papal errors, and was sentenced to death by the Roman church in 1415. This launched intense rebellions against the Roman church known as the Hussite wars. The Hussites, with much smaller numbers, defeated Papal crusaders five consecutive times between 1420 and 1431. Hussite teachings greatly impacted Czech lands as close to ninety percent still followed them a century later.4


The dispute between Philip the Fair and pope Boniface at the end of the 13th century resulted in the Avignon Schism (1309 - 1377). The papacy was moved to France and Philip endeavored to reverse the pope's grand scheme of temporal dominance. During this time, the theological faculty of the University of Paris came to be recognized as an "authentic authority on the meaning of doctrine."5 The schoolmen questioned the claims of the popes and the idea was developed that a pope could indeed be heretical. This necessitated the need for some entity to determine judgment, and that body was a general council.

The significance of a Council of Electors having power over an emperor, was reflected in the church as ecumenical councils tried to gain power over the pope. This movement, called the Conciliar Movement, arose during the fourteenth century. It put forth that supreme authority in the church did not belong to the pope but rather to an ecumenical council. The movement grew rapidly during the Western Schism of 1378 to 1417 when multiple men claimed to be pope simultaneously. This problem was accompanied by corruption and abuses in the church including simony and punishments. "The complaints about these matters had swelled since 1300 into an irrepressible torrent."6 Various Councils tried to reform the church and assert their superiority over the Popes, including the Council of Pisa (1409), the Council of Constance (1414 - 1418), the Council of Siena (1423 - 1424) and the Council of Basle (1431 - 1449).

Conciliarists put forth the argument that:
"every corporation has the power to take the measures that may be necessary if its survival is endangered by failure in its head. The Church must be able to deal with situations in which the papacy is vacant or uncertain or corrupt; otherwise its existence would be more precarious than the existence of a secular body politic, which can replace its head if necessary. The analogy between the Church and a secular body politic ran through much conciliarist thinking."7
The success of the Council of Electors' dominance over the crown became wrapped up with the success of the Conciliar Movement. The concept of monarchy and pope came to be seen as closely entertwined and a threat to one equaled a threat to the other. Princes not only stood to benefit from power over royalty, but also from power over church money. Some princes wanted Conciliarism to succeed, not because they cared for church reform, but "it merely served as a cry under cover of which the Electors sought to promote their own power and their own interests."8

Popes, on the other hand, "warned secular rulers that conciliarist ideas also threatened the power of kings-they were aware of the analogy between conciliarist views of church government and anti-monarchical views of secular government."9 "The fifteenth century was a time when central monarchical power was again on the rise and was suppressing late medieval constitutionalism. Here we can see a striking parallel between ecclesiastical constitutional development and contemporary political developments."10

It was during the Council of Basle (1431 - 1449) that Conciliarism reached its apex. The rector of the University of Paris, Gerson, was its leader. At the council's beginning (1431), the German princes, France, and Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund all backed the council with their authority.11 It decisively stood up to the pope and set about the business of correcting the problems in church and empire. The pope tried to close the Council, but eventually gave in and sent his plenipotentiaries to sit at the Council in December of 1433.

Yet, the pope continued to try to break up the council, and in January of 1438, was finally able to convene a separate council at Ferrara (later moved to Florence), declared the Council of Basle dissolved, and later excommunicated all those present at the Council of Basle. In response, the Council of Basle declared the Council of Ferrara illegal and continued its work.

The representatives from Byzantine, hoping for a union of the Eastern and Western churches, having been in negotiations with both Councils, eventually joined the pope in Ferrara. This gave the Council in Ferrara increased credibility and the pope gradually gained more adherent's to his cause. After Emperor Sigismund's death in 1437, the imperial court and the Western monarchs appeared more or less neutral in the contest.

In 1438, France declared in favor of the council. The German Electors had an official policy of neutrality, which meant they rejected the pope's authority in the matter. Even so, there was growing division between Frederick, King of the Romans, and the Electors. While the Electors hardened in their backing of the Council of Basle, Frederick increasingly became more favorable to the pope and finally declared strongly for the pope in February of 1446.12 "In Frederick III, the Pope found an important political ally with whose help he was able to counter the conciliar movement."13

With many powerful German princes and the king of France still refusing to submit to the pope, "there was a tendency now to regard papacy and Empire no longer as rivals but as potential allies in the restoration of monarchical authority throughout Christendom."14 The king and the pope had good reason to work together:
"The anarchical doctrines maintained by the council [of Basle] did not threaten the Church alone. In fact, if twenty or thirty prelates, in opposition to the Holy See, are entitled to set themselves up as the representatives of the Catholic world, and as such to control the Pope, to dictate new laws to him, to suspend or depose him at will; with stronger reason, may twenty or thirty deputies style themselves the States-General, the Parliament or national representation of a whole people, and, as such, control, depose, suspend, banish, or put to death kings and emperors. It is evident, then, that these principles threatened the civil governments as well as the spiritual power."15
Emperor Frederick, of the House of Habsburg, was successful in introducing divisions among the Electors.16 He worked with the pope to undermine the Council of Basle. Frederick agreed to the Pope's terms, seeing their alliance "as the only means of checking the electoral oligarchy, and preventing their further connexion with France."17

Thus, the Conciliar Movement was losing its momentum, and its pending demise threatened the power of the Elector Princes over the monarchy. The princes, "whose instincts were to support the councils, lost interest following the endless bickering. They too found Rome willing to make deals which gave them what they wanted, control over their church properties and revenues."18

Pope Eugene IV issued four bulls in 1447 to put an end to the conflict. He died shortly after without seeing the successful end, but his reign is known for "the check it gave to the Conciliar Movement which had reached its climax with regard to theory, determination and action in the Council of Basel."19

In 1448, some princes still resolutely resisted, so Frederick intervened and the Concordat of Vienna was agreed upon by the emperor and the new pope Nicholas V. The agreement's later implementation in Germany, brought about many concessions by territorial princes.

In 1449, the stubborn Council of Basle was in its last moments. The rival pope, Amadeus, appointed by the Council of Basle, abdicated 7 April 1449. Its members voted the dissolution of the Council on 25 April, 1449. After Emperor Frederick forbade the city of Basle to allow the Council within its walls,
"the citizens found it necessary at last to yield, and on July 7 five hundred of them honourably escorted the remnants of the Council on their way to Lausanne, wither they transferred themselves under the protection of the French King [Charles VII, who] undertook the task of bringing the schism to an end, and played the same part in ecclesiastical affairs as Sigismund had done in the previous generation."20
The Council of Florence "counterbalanced and finally outweighed the Council of Basel, and in so doing checked the development of the Conciliar Movement that threatened to change the very constitution of the Church."21

While seen as a positive development from certain perspectives, on the other hand, others have seen the defeat of the Conciliar Movement as "one of the tragedies in the history of western civilization" and "one is nevertheless inclined to view with sadness the neutralization of the nascent democratic aspirations which conciliarism represented."22

The success of Emperor Frederick in joining the pope to dissolve the Council of Basle and defeat Conciliarism, was realized in 1449. Because of his achievements, his family, the House of Habsburg, was able to hold the crown for hundreds of years. They used strategic marriages to build up their own family domain, which would eventually cover half of Europe.
"Frederick can take credit for bringing the conciliarist controversy to a close in Germany. Most of the Electors favored the anti-pope Felix V, who was elected by the Council of Basil. Before he became pope he was Count Amadeus of Savoy-one of their own, as it were. With persistent persuasion, Frederick brought the Electors around and got them to sign the Concordat of Vienna in 1448, recognizing Pope Nicholas V. By this arrangement, in effect throughout the early modern period, first the Emperor and a little later the princes gained the right to nominate bishops, an important point of control... One result of Frederick's negotiations was that it cleared the way for his coronation as Emperor in 1452."23
In the process of allying with Pope, the Emperor brought about a relationship between throne and altar that would launch a new era of absoute monarchy:
"The defeat of the conciliar movement coincided with new developments towards absolute monarchy in several states, notably Aragon, Castile, France and parts of Germany. It marked the beginning of an alliance between throne and altar. In the middle of the fifteenth century the theory of the papacy as a monarchy took its final form in such a way as to give an initial bost to a theory of absolute monarchy for all kings and princes, which could justify their abandoning the constraints of law, counsel and parliament, and finally tilted the medieval mix of king and people away from any 'democratic' interpretation. This new ideological movement drew strength from the restoration of papal authority in the church after the crises of 1378-1450. During the 1430s and 1440s, a new generation of papal monarchsts, their arguments sharpened by combat with constitutionalism in the church, advanced an ambitious theory of monarchy as the necessary underpinning of any social order... Monarchial sovereignty (principatus) is the best, indeed the only correct, form of government for any state. This was stated as a general truth; they argued from cosmic principles to human polity, and from human polity to the church, so that what was claimed for the pope was claimed for all kings... It was by this route that the medieval theory of monarchy, which could and usually did include limits on royal power, was transmuted into a theory of absolute monarchy. It was now unambiguously asserted of princes that they owed their position directly to God himself with no human intermediary."24


The political influence exerted by the council of princes lost its dominant position and the role of the electors became mostly ceremonial. The Holy Roman Empire was an elective monarchy in theory, but the electors went on to basically just formalize the succession of heirs within the Habsburg dynasty. Though the Electors lost control over the seat of power, thus ending the time of Head #5, they still had power and influence in the realm. An example of that influence can be seen during the next century as the elector of Saxony was able to provide protection for the Protestant reformation.

Continue to: Head #6
  • 1. A Survey of European Civilization, page 316.
  • 2. "Holy Roman Empire" and "Electors", Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.,
  • 3. "The End of Europe's Middle Ages", Applied History Research Group,
  • 4.
  • 5. David J. Stagaman, Authority in the Church, page 98.
  • 6. Klaus Schatz, Papal Primacy, (Collegeville, Minnesota: TheLiturgical press, 1996), page 104.
  • 7. Kilcullen, John, "Medieval Political Philosophy", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = , accessed 28 Jan 2016.
  • 8. The History of the Papacy During the Period of the Reformation, Volume II, The Council of Basel - The Papal Restoration, 1418-1464, By Mandell Creighton, page 282.
  • 9. Kilcullen, John, "Medieval Political Philosophy", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = , accessed 28 Jan 2016.
  • 10. Klaus Schatz, Papal Primacy, (Collegeville, Minnesota: TheLiturgical press, 1996), page 105.
  • 11. The History of the Council of Florence, Ivan N. Ostroumov, page 20.
  • 12. The Council of Florence, Gill, page 339.
  • 13.
  • 14. Political Thought in Europe, 1250-1450, Antony Black, page 108,
  • 15. page 588,
  • 16. The Council of Florence, Gill, page 341.
  • 17. The History of the Papacy During the Period of the Reformation, Volume II, The Council of Basel - The Papal Restoration, 1418-1464, By Mandell Creighton, page 285.
  • 18. Andrew Pettegree, The Reformation World, (New York: Rutledge, 2000), page 45.
  • 19. The Council of Florence, Joseph Gill, page 343.
  • 20. The History of the Papacy During the Period of the Reformation, Volume II, The Council of Basel - The Papal Restoration, 1418-1464, By Mandell Creighton, page 285.
  • 21. The Council of Florence, Joseph Gill, page 411.
  • 22. Nicholas of Cusa and the End of the Conciliar Movement: A Humanist Crisis of Identiy, By James E. Biechler, page 5,
  • 23. Dr. E.L. Skip Knox, "Religious Settlement," Boise State University, accessed 26 Aug 2016,
  • 24. Political Thought in Europe, 1250-1450, Antony Black, page 184-185,