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Antipope John XXIII

The Antipope John XXIII was elected to replace the deceased Antipope Alexander V in 1410. He was the second “pope” to be elected in the city of Pisa. He reigned for five years until the Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund forced him to gather a council in the city of Constance. John XXIII’s reign was hounded with corruption, and he was deposed in the Council of Constance in 1415. The council ended the Great Western Schism (1378-1417) when all three popes were removed from their positions. The new pope, Martin V, was elected in 1417. John XXIII was imprisoned, but he was set free with the help of the powerful Medici family. He died in 1418.  These events are recorded on the Bible Timeline Poster with World History during that time.

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Early Life and Career

Baldassare Cossa was born around 1360 in the Neapolitan island of Ischia or Procida. He was the son of Giovanni Cossa, and rumors that his family engaged in piracy hounded him throughout his career. Even so, the young Baldassare was able to rise up from his humble beginnings. He went to Rome to study theology, and studied civil and canon law in Bologna.

Baldassare Cossa became a canon in Bologna in 1386. Pope Boniface IX elevated him to archdeacon ten years later. In early 1402, he was appointed as cardinal-deacon of the church of Sant’Eustachio in Rome. He became a papal legate in the same year and governed the city of Bologna on behalf of the pope.

Cardinal Cossa was one of the leading figures of the Council of Pisa held in 1409. The council elected Cardinal Pietro Philargi who later took the name Alexander V. He was the first pope elected in the Italian city of Pisa, but his rule was short. Alexander V died in Bologna in 1410, and Cardinal Cossa was elected as pope in Pisa soon after. The new pope adopted the name John XXIII. His election was recognized by the rulers of England, France, and some parts of the Holy Roman Empire. Other European monarchs remained firmly on the side of the Avignon and Roman popes.

The Council of Constance and the End of the Great Western Schism

John XXIII was born Baldassarre Cossa in 1370.

In 1414, the Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund of Luxembourg convinced Pope John XXIII to assemble a council. The emperor’s goal was to end the Western Schism, as well as address the heresies of John Wycliffe and Jan Hus. Pope John XXIII was eager to comply, so he summoned church leaders and scholars to gather in the German city of Constance.

It soon became clear to John XXIII that the council would depose him, so he fled with the assistance of the Duke of Austria. Since he was not there, the council simply announced his deposition. The Holy Roman Emperor, however, was unhappy that the pope fled, so he ordered his lieutenant to pursue the fugitives. Sigismund’s lieutenant caught up with them, and John had no choice but to return to Constance.

John XXIII was put on trial when he arrived in Constance. He was accused of simony, immorality, heresy, and other sins. The former pope was imprisoned in Germany for four years after his conviction. He was freed after his long-time patron, the Medici family, bailed him out in 1418. He returned to Italy where he was reinstated as a cardinal. He died in 1419 and was buried in a lavish tomb commissioned by the Medici family in the Florence Baptistry.


Picture by:, Public Domain, Link

Kirsch, Johann Peter. “John XXIII.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 8. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. 18 Jan. 2017 <>.

Locke, Clinton. The Age of the Great Western Schism. New York: Christian Literature Co., 1896.

O’Malley, John W. A History of the Popes: From Peter to the Present. Lanham, MD: Sheed & Ward, 2010.

Penn, Imma. Dogma Evolution & Papal Fallacies. Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse, 2007.

“The Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church – Biographical Dictionary – Consistory of June 23, 1419.” Accessed January 18, 2017.

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