Tag Archives: Gregory XI

The Great Schism

Some years ago, when this blog was young, I wrote about the popes of the fourteenth century and why they were mostly French and based in Avignon rather than Rome. Last week the Great Schism came up in the comments, so I thought I’d write something about it. I’m afraid it turned out to be rather long, so I hope that you can spare the time to read it.

In 1305 Clement V, a French pope under pressure from the French king to stay in France, moved the papacy to Avignon, which wasn’t then in France but most definitely wasn’t Rome, and made lots of French cardinals who, unsurprisingly, elected a French pope when he died. This pattern continued for most of the fourteenth century, with each pope saying that he wanted to move the papacy back to Rome, but now just wasn’t the right time.

The English weren’t happy having French popes. They believed, not without foundation, that the French popes supported France in the Hundred Years War. The popes made many appointments to important clerical posts in England (and other nations) from men who attended the papal court in Avignon. Again, these were mostly French.

This was mostly seen in the appointments to canonries, prebends and archdeaconries of cathedrals. In 1326 the bishop of Salisbury complained that out of fifty posts available within the cathedral administration, twenty-eight had been filled by order of the pope and only three of the office holders had ever been seen in Salisbury. Half the chapter of York and a quarter of that of Lincoln were foreigners around the middle of the century.

In 1376 Gregory XI managed to return the papacy to Rome. When he died two years later the people of Rome didn’t want yet another French pope and a mob stood outside the building in which the cardinals met to choose his successor shouting that they wanted an Italian, preferably Roman, pope. By now the number of non-French cardinals must have been fairly small, so the options for finding a pope of different nationality were reduced. This can be the only reason why the cardinals chose the archbishop of Bari, who became Urban VI. It soon became clear that since his election he had developed a temper which sometimes drove him to physical violence, even during services in church. This was not a desirable attribute in a pope. The cardinals reconsidered their choice and left Rome, all but three of them. In Anagni they said that they had been coerced by the mob and declared the election invalid. They had another election and chose someone who was neither French nor Italian: Clement VII. This was the beginning of the Great Schism.

When the appointment of another pope was announced, Urban VI simply made new cardinals and stayed in Rome. Clement VII went to Avignon and each pope excommunicated the other. It seems that neither man was really someone who should have been pope. They held similar views and ran things in a similar way. Which pope you supported depended on your nationality. Scotland, France and Spain supported Clement VII. England, the Italian states and most of the Holy Roman Empire supported Urban VI.

This wasn’t the first time there had been two popes at the same time. For 75 years between 1059 and 1179 there were always two popes, each one declaring the other an antipope. The issues here were mainly about the relationship between the papacy and the Holy Roman Empire.

This new schism was a real challenge to the unity of the church that previous schisms had not been. There had been disillusionment with the church since the Black Death in the middle of the fourteenth century and the appearance of two popes who were divided by no great theological issues or by different approaches to running the church caused people to question papal authority. No one could work out how to solve the problem and both popes died before it was resolved. Rather shockingly, both popes were replaced. These new popes promised they would resign should it become clear that their resignation would bring about the unity that everyone desired, but neither they nor their own successors, who made the same promise, did so.

You would think that the situation could not get worse, but it did. The one thing everyone agreed on was that the only way to end the schism was to call a general council of the cardinals, but only the pope could do that and there was no agreement as to who that was.

In 1409 all the cardinals, regardless of which pope they supported, called a council themselves, declared both popes invalid and elected another pope. You can probably see where this is going better than they could. Since it wasn’t clear that the council was entirely legal, the two existing popes didn’t see any need to accept its decisions and remained in post. Alexander V (the third pope) took up residence in Pisa. You won’t be surprised to know that when he died a successor was elected.

Since the popes were supported along national lines, mainly decided by who was or wasn’t at war with one another, this made it even harder to obtain agreement about who was really the pope. It was the nations that took the first step, however, with enemies joining together in support of calling a council to resolve the issue. Eventually a pope was forced to call a general council in Constance. After thirty years, though, a divided church had changed greatly. It was no longer as international as it had been and the rulers of Europe were growing used to having more control over their national churches. It was clear that whoever emerged as pope would not have the pre-eminence his predecessors had had.

It was during this time of schism that theologians such as John Wyclif and Jan Hus were teaching against the pope. One of the actions of the council was to declare Hus a heretic and burn him.

Each of the three popes fought hard to remain pope, but all three were deposed. Eventually Odo Colonna was elected and he became Martin V.

One of the remits of the council was to reform the church, but it didn’t. The cardinals didn’t really get to grips with reform until the Council of Trent in 1545. By then it was already far too late. Luther had issued his 95 theses almost thirty years earlier. Having a single pope didn’t really solve any of the issues around the church’s loss of authority, and the abuses that had prompted talk of reform in the fifteenth century were much worse a century later.

Sources:
The Time-Traveller’s Guide to the Fourteenth Century by Ian Mortimer
The Fourteenth Century by May McKisack
Western Society and the Church in the Middle Ages by R. W. Southern
The Pelican History of Medieval Europe by Maurice Keen

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

Available now:

Amazon

20 Comments

Filed under Fourteenth Century, The Medieval Church

Popes, Antipopes and Avignon: Part Eight

Gregory XI

palais_papes

Our final Avignon pope is Gregory XI and it’s safe to say that he left the papacy in a bit of a mess. He was born Pierre Roger de Beaufort and you will recall that he was said to be the son of Clement VI, but acknowledged as his nephew. A little over 40 when he became pope, he had benefitted a great deal from his uncle’s nepotism. He was made a cardinal deacon when he was only 18. Despite this he became a respected theologian and was known for his humility. His election to the papacy was unanimous. Although a cardinal, he was not a priest and had to be ordained before he could be crowned.

He was another pope who considered returning to Rome, but he had made himself so unpopular in Italy that he did not receive much of a welcome there and, had he not died there in 1378, he would have returned to Avignon.

Gregory XI is one of those people whose deaths have more impact than their lives. On his death the Romans were so desperate not to have another French pope that a Neapolitan was elected. He became Urban VI. This decision was soon regretted and some of the cardinals who had elected him elected another pope, Clement VII, who set up a rival papacy in Avignon. This was the first time that a pope and his antipope had been elected by the same group of cardinals. Since both popes had some degree of legitimacy, different parts of Christendom chose which pope they followed. England, of course, and the majority, followed Rome. France, Scotland and the Iberian Peninsula followed Avignon. The rifts caused by the Great Schism, as it was called, were not resolved until 1417 and at one point there were three popes.

Avignon was finally abandoned in 1403. For almost a hundred years constant wars in Italy had made it impossible for the popes to live in Rome. Despite this, the Avignon papacy was seen as a disaster in the fourteenth century, except in France. At the beginning of the fourteenth century the popes were trying to extend their secular power, but by the end of it they were beginning to lose their spiritual power. This was being challenged by Wycliffe and the Lollards in England and Jan Hus in Bohemia at the end of the fourteenth century. This continued through the fifteenth century until it resulted in the Reformation in the sixteenth century. There were other factors that contributed to this, of course, but the Avignon papacy had neither started nor ended well and the ground that had been lost was not easily made up.

Leave a comment

Filed under Fourteenth Century

Popes, Antipopes and Avignon: Part Five

PopeClementVICameo

Clement VI

If you’ve come across any of the Avignon popes before it would probably have been Clement VI. He was the only one I’d heard of before I started this series. He was the pope who sat between two fires in the attempt to keep the Black Death at bay. He also put an end to the Flagellants when he saw that what they were doing was getting out of hand.

He was born Pierre Roger in 1291 in Corrèze and became pope in 1342. He finished building the Palais des Papes and the palace reflected his efforts more than those of any other pope. This can still be seen today. The extravagance of his papal court was said to rival that of any European monarch.

Pierre Roger studied theology and was made Archbishop of Sens at 28. At 29 he was Archbishop of Rouen. Not long after this he became Philip VI’s chancellor.

When the time came to elect a new pope after the death of Benedict XII, Philip wanted Roger to take the position. Since the cardinals also wanted this, he was elected. The new pope was known for his oratory and preaching. His intelligence also made him a good choice.

Most of the 25 cardinals he created during his papacy were French and, of these, twelve were related to him. It was said that Gregory XI, last of the Avignon popes and made a cardinal by Clement, was his son. Gregory is recorded as being Clement’s nephew, but his birth name was Pierre Roger de Beaufort, which might be considered a clue to his parentage.

In 1348 Clement bought Avignon and the surrounding area, clearly signaling that he had no intention of returning the papacy to Rome. This was also the year in which the Black Death reached the town. Avignon suffered dreadfully. Clement’s extravagance and outrageous nepotism could lead an observer to think that there wasn’t much to him, but his actions during the Black Death showed the kind of man he really was. Many senior clerics fled their posts to sit out the plague in the country, but Clement stayed in Avignon, leaving only for a short period in the summer when it was too hot to remain in the palace between his burning braziers. He returned to Avignon in the cooler weather. He was a charitable man, concerned for those in his care and he created new cemeteries for the dead and arranged for gravediggers to bury them.

Initially he supported the Flagellants, even joining their processions when they came to Avignon, but he soon realised that these processions were helping to spread the plague, not stopping it.  In 1349 he declared the Flagellants heretics, thus effectively making them unwelcome wherever they travelled. When the Jews were blamed for causing the plague and massacres began, he published bulls against the perpetrators and said he would excommunicate those who killed Jews. More than two hundred Jewish communities were wiped out at that time.

Clement was frequently in dispute with Edward III as the king tried to retrieve some of the rights in clerical appointments that previous popes had taken for themselves. The king also complained about the extravagance of the papal court. The biggest problem for Edward was that Clement was French and an open supporter of the French king with whom Edward was engaged in a war. When Edward tried to get back some of the rights over appointments, it was partly out of fears that the money going from those dioceses into the papal coffers was going straight out again to those of the King of France, thus enabling him to continue in the war. This was Edward’s constant fear during the period of the Avignon papacy and it was not without justification.

Clement VI died at the end of 1352.

3 Comments

Filed under Black Death, Fourteenth Century