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John Gerson Edit Profile

also known as Jean Charlier de Gerson

clergyman , educator , scholar

John Gerson was the French clergymana, scholar, educator.


John Gerson was born Jean Charlier at Gerson-lès-Barby, Champagne, Kingdom of France on December 13, 1363. His parents, Arnulphe Charlier and Élisabeth de la Chardenière, "a second Monica, " were pious peasants, and seven of their twelve children, four daughters and three sons, devoted themselves to a religious life.


He attended the College of Navarre at the University of Paris, where he was taught by Pierre d'Ailly, who became his close friend.


He became chancellor of the University of Paris in 1395, when d'Ailly resigned the post. Gerson's early actions at the university were not particularly notable, but they reflect the general opinion of the times.

Thus in 1387 he demanded the condemnation of the Dominican monk Jean de Montson, who denied the Immaculate Conception; and he warned students away from "immoral" popular literature. Gerson emerged as a firebrand reformer only when the university took a leading role in ending the Great Schism. Since 1378 the Church had been divided between rival popes, one at Rome and one at Avignon, and by 1409 the initiative in ending this schism was taken by the Conciliarists. They argued that a general council of the Church had the right to choose a new pope, and this was attempted, without success, at the Council of Pisa (1409). The University of Paris was a strong base for the Conciliarists, and Gerson had joined the movement by the time of the Council of Constance (1414 - 1418).

At Constance he led the successful drive to end the schism, in which the Council deposed the rival popes and elected Martin V. But Gerson's influence was fleeting. He alienated much of the Council by his stubborn insistence on the condemnation of Jean Petit (who had written that the assassination of the Duc d'Orléans by Burgundian partisans was justifiable tyrannicide). The Council refused to condemn Jean Petit, and under threats from the Duke of Burgundy, Gerson had to flee to Germany at the end of the Council.

Later he was able to return to France and spent his last days at Lyons, where he taught children and wrote devotional works and hymns. He died there on July 12, 1429.


  • He was a leader of the Conciliar movement. John Gerson ranks as one of the outstanding Conciliar pamphleteers. He is known for his efforts in ending the Great Schism. He was one of the first thinkers to develop what would later come to be called natural rights theory, and was also one of the first individuals to defend Joan of Arc and proclaim her supernatural vocation as authentic. He produced a harmony of the gospels (the Monotesseron), works on the poems of the bible climaxing in a massive collection of twelve treatises on the Magnificat, a commentary on the Song of Songs, as well as an extensive literary correspondence with members of the Carthusian order and others on mysticism and other issues of spiritual life.


He wrote that the authority of the universal Church (as represented by a general council) is greater than that of the pope and that therefore a general council may depose and elect popes. He was also a proponent of Gallicanism and a supporter of a strong monarchy in France. In philosophy he adopted the Ockhamist position, and in theology he was attracted by the mysticism of the Devotio Moderna - in both cases following the late medieval trend against rational investigation of the faith.


He was all his days a man of letters.


Arnulphe Charlier

Élisabeth de la Chardenière

teacher and friend:
Pierre d'Ailly