SCHISM [ch.23]


[23.1] Missions And Defeats; [23.2] The Papacy At Its Height And Its Decline
[23.3] The Papacy In Avignon, Criticism. The Schism








   The Reconquest of Spain

THE period between the Crusades and the Reformation was one of gains and losses for Christendom. In Spain the Christian forces struggled with increasing success against the Mohammedans. Gradually, four Christian states dominated the peninsula. Castile conquered Toledo in 1085, defeated the Moslems at Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212, and united with Leon into a strong state in 1230. Little Navarre stretched on both sides of the Pyrenees. Meanwhile Aragon on the east and Portugal on the west were winning their independence, so that by 1250 Mohammedan power on the peninsula was confined to the kingdom of Granada, whence it was to be driven in 1492. The Spanish Christian kingdoms were weak. The real power of Spain was not to be manifest till the joint reign of Ferdinand and Isabella united Castile and Aragon in 1479.

  Missions to China and to Moslems

In the East the great Mongol empire, which began with the conquest of northern China in 1213, stretched across northern Asia, conquering most of what is now European Russia between 1238 and 1241, and reaching the borders of Palestine in 1258. By this devastation the flourishing Nestorian Church in central Asia was almost annihilated. Yet after the first rush of conquest was over, central Asia under Mongol control was accessible as it had never been before and was not to be till the nineteenth century. About 1260 two Venetian merchants, Nicolo and Maffeo Polo, made the long journey by land to Peking, where they were well received by the Mongol Khan, Kublai. Returning in 1269, they started again in 1271, taking Nicolo’s more famous son, Marco, who entered the Khan’s service. It was not till 1295 that the Polos were back in Venice. Even before their return an Italian Franciscan, John of Monte Corvino, had started in 1291 for Peking, where he established a church about 1300. Christianity flourished for a time. Pope Clement V (1305-1314) appointed John an archbishop with six bishops under him. The work came to an end, however, when the Mongols and other foreigners were expelled from China by the victorious native Ming dynasty in 1368.

Efforts were made to reach the Mohammedans, but with little success. Francis of Assisi himself preached to the Sultan in Egypt in 1219. More famous as a missionary was Raimon Lull (1235?-1315), a native of the island of Majorca. From a wholly worldly life he was converted in 1266, and now studied Arabic, as a missionary preparation, writing also his Ars Major, which he intended as an irrefutable demonstration of Christianity. In 1291 he began missionary work in Tunis, only to be expelled at the end of a year. He labored to induce the Pope to establish schools for missionary training. He went once more to Africa and was again driven out. His eloquence persuaded the Council of Vienne in 1311 to order teaching in Greek, Hebrew, Chaldee, and Arabic, in Avignon, Paris, Salamanca, Bologna, and Oxford, though this remained a pious wish. Back to Tunis he went as a missionary in 1314, and met a martyr’s death by stoning the next year. He had little to show of missionary achievement, but much of missionary inspiration.

  Spread of [Ottoman Turkish] Islam  (1361-1921)

The prevailing characteristic of this period was the loss of once Christian territories. The last of the conquests of the Crusaders in Palestine passed out of their hands in 1291. A new Mohammedan force was arising in the Ottoman Turks. Sprung from central Asia, they attained an independent position in Asia Minor in 1300. In 1354 they invaded the European portion of the Eastern empire, capturing Adrianople in 1361, and gradually spreading their rule over the Balkan lands. But a fragment of the empire remained till 1453, when Constantinople fell and the Eastern empire was at an end. The victorious career of the Turks was to carry them, in the Reformation age, nearly half across Europe.

Christians ruled by them were deprived of political rights, though Christian worship and organization continued, under conditions of much oppression. The Greek Church, which had stood higher in culture than the Latin, certainly till the thirteenth century, was now largely robbed of significance. Its daughter in Russia was not conquered, however, and was growing rapidly in strength and importance. With it lay the future of the Eastern Church.

[23.2] THE PAPACY at its HEIGHT and its DECLINE



[23.2] THE PAPACY at its HEIGHT and its DECLINE




The contest between papacy and empire was by no means ended by the Concordat of Worms. The religious interest in the struggle was thereafter far less. Hildebrand’s quarrel had involved a great question of church purification. The later disputes were plain contests for supremacy.


Frederick “Barbarossa” (1152-1190), of the house of Hohenstaufen, was one of the ablest of the Holy Roman Emperors. His model was Charlemagne, and he aspired to a similar control of churchly affairs. A vigorous ruler at home, no sovereign had been more thoroughly master of Germany than he. In spite of the Concordat of Worms he practically controlled the appointment of German bishops.


On the other hand, his claims met with energetic resistance from the cities of northern Italy, which were growing strong on the commerce induced by the Crusades. This hostility he at first successfully overcame. With Alexander III (1159-1181) Frederick’s most able enemy mounted the papal throne. The cardinals were divided in the choice, and an imperialistic minority elected a rival Pope, who called himself Victor IV, and whom Frederick and the German bishops promptly supported. Alexander’s position was long difficult. In 1176, however, Frederick was defeated at Legnano by the Lombard league of Italian cities, and was forced to recognize Alexander. Frederick’s attempt to control the papacy had been shattered, but his authority over the German bishops was scarcely diminished.[1] Frederick won a further success over, the papacy, in 1186, by the marriage of his son Henry with the heiress of Sicily and southern Italy, thus threatening the papal states from north and south.


   Henry II and Thomas Becket


Alexander III also won at least an apparent success over Henry II (1154-1189), one of the ablest of English Kings. That monarch, in order to strengthen his hold over the English church, secured the election of his apparently complaisant chancellor, Thomas Becket, as archbishop of Canterbury, in 1162.




Once in office, Becket showed himself a determined upholder of ecclesiastical claims. Henry now, in 1164, secured the enactment of the Constitutions of Clarendon[2], limiting the right of appeal to Rome in ecclesiastical cases, restricting the power of excommunication, subjecting the clergy to civil courts, and putting the election of bishops under the control of the King, to whom they must do homage. Becket now openly broke with the King. In 1170 a truce was brought about, but it was of short duration, and a hasty expression of anger on the part of Henry led to Becket’s murder just at the close of the year. Alexander used the deed skilfully. In 1172 Becket was canonized, and continued till the Reformation one of the most popular of English saints. Henry was forced to abandon the Constitutions of Clarendon, and do penance at Becket’s grave. Yet in spite of this apparent papal victory, Henry continued his control of English ecclesiastical affairs much as before.

Frederick “Barbarossa” died in 1190, on the Third Crusade. He was succeeded by his son, Henry VI (1190-1197), who, in 1194, obtained full possession of his wife’s inheritance in Sicily and southern Italy, and developed ambitious plans of greatly extending his imperial sway. The papacy, with both ends of Italy in the possession of the German sovereign, was in great political danger; but the situation was relieved by the early death of Henry VI in 1197, and the accession to the papacy in 1198 of one of its ablest mediæval representatives, Innocent III (1198-1216).

  Innocent III - The Papacy at its Height of Power

Innocent III was unquestionably a man of personal humility and piety, but no Pope ever had higher conceptions of the papal office and under him the papacy reached its highest actual power.



The death of Henry VI saw Germany divided. One party supported the claims of Henry's brother, Philip of Swabia, the other those of Otto of Brunswick, of the rival house of Welf (Guelph). Out of this confused situation Innocent strove with great skill to bring advantage to the papacy. He secured large concessions in Italy and Germany from Otto, yet when Philip gradually gained the upper hand, Innocent secured an agreement that the rival claims should be submitted to the judgment of a court controlled by the Pope. The murder of Philip in 1208 frustrated this plan, and put Otto IV once more to the fore. Innocent now obtained from Otto the desired guarantee of the extent of the papal states, and a promise to abandon control of German episcopal elections, and on the strength of these concessions crowned Otto Emperor in 1209. Otto promptly forgot all his promises.

The angered Pope now put forward Frederick II (1212-1250), the young son of the late Emperor, Henry VI, who was chosen to the German throne by the elements opposed to Otto, in 1212, and renewed all Otto’s broken promises. In 1214 Otto was wholly defeated by the French King, Philip II (1179-1223) on the field of Bouvines, and Frederick was assured of the empire. Thus, Innocent III seemed wholly to have defended papal claims and to have dictated the imperial succession. The world supremacy of the papacy appeared realized.

Nor was Innocent III less successful in humbling the sovereigns of other lands. He compelled the powerful Philip II of France, by the prohibition of religious services—an interdict —to take back the Queen, Ingeborg, whom Philip had unjustly divorced. He separated King Alfonso IX of Leon from a wife too closely related. King Peter of Aragon received his kingdom as a fief from the Pope. Innocent’s greatest apparent victory was, however, in the case of England. The cruel and unpopular King John (1199-1216), in a divided election tried to secure his candidate as archbishop of Canterbury. The dispute was appealed to Rome. The King’s choice was set aside and Innocent’s friend, Stephen Langton, received the prize. John resisted. Innocent laid England under an interdict. The King drove out his clerical opponents. The Pope now excommunicated him, declared his throne forfeited and proclaimed a crusade against him. The defeated King not merely made a humiliating submission to the Pope, in 1213, but acknowledged his kingdom a fief of the papacy, agreeing to pay a feudal tax to the Pope of a thousand marks annually.[3] Yet when the barons and clergy wrung Magna Charta from John in 1215, Innocent denounced it as an injury to his vassal.

In the internal affairs of the church Innocent’s policy was strongly centralizing. He claimed for the papacy the right of decision in all disputed episcopal elections. He asserted sole authority to sanction the transfer of bishops from one see to another. His crusade against the Cathari has already been noted. The great Fourth Lateran Council of 1215, at which transubstantiation was declared an article of faith, and annual confession and communion required, was also a papal triumph. The conquest of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade , though not approved by Innocent, seemed to promise the subjection of the Greek Church to papal authority.

In Innocent III the papacy reached the summit of its worldly power. The succeeding Popes continued the same struggle, but with decreasing success. The Emperor Frederick II, ruler of Germany, as well as of northern and southern Italy and Sicily, a man of much political ability and of anything but mediæval piety, though put in office largely by Innocent III, soon proved the chief opponent of the world pretensions of the papacy. Under Gregory IX (1227-1241), the organizer of the inquisition and the patron of the Franciscans , and Innocent IV (1243-1254) the papal contest was carried on against Frederick II, with the utmost bitterness and with very worldly weapons. Frederick was excommunicated, and rivals were raised up against him in Germany by papal influence. The papacy seemed convinced that only the destruction of the Hohenstaufen line, to which Frederick belonged, would assure its victory. On Frederick’s death in 1250 it pursued his son, Conrad IV (1250-1254), with the same hostility, and gave his heritage in southern Italy and Sicily to Edmund of England, son of King Henry III. A new influence, that of France, was making itself felt in papal counsels. Urban IV (1261-1264) was a Frenchman and appointed French cardinals. He now gave, in 1263, southern Italy and Sicily to Charles of Anjou, brother of King Louis IX of France (1226-1270). This was a turning- point in papal politics, and with it the dependence of the papacy on France really began.

     New Forces Limiting Papal Power

The next Pope was also a Frenchman, Clement IV (1265-1268). During his papacy Conradin, the young son of Conrad IV, asserted his hereditary claims to southern Italy and Sicily by force of arms. He was excommunicated by Clement IV and defeated by Charles of Anjou, by whose orders he was beheaded in Naples, in 1268. With him ended the line of Hohenstaufen, which the Popes had so strenuously opposed, though there is no reason to think that the Pope was responsible in any way for Conradin’s execution. These long quarrels and the consequent confusion had greatly enfeebled the power of the Holy Roman Empire. Thenceforward, to the Reformation, it was far more a group of feeble states than an effective single sovereignty. It was able to offer little resistance to papal demands.



OTHER FORCES were, however, arising that would inevitably make impossible such a world sovereignty as Innocent III had exercised.

[1] One such force was the new sense of nationality, which caused men to feel that, as Frenchmen or Englishmen, they had common interests against all foreigners, even the Pope himself.

Such a sense of unity had not existed in the earlier Middle Ages. It was rapidly developing, especially in France and England in the latter half of the thirteenth century.

[2] A second cause was the rise in intelligence, wealth, and political influence of the middle class, especially in the cities. These were restive under ecclesiastical interference in temporal affairs.

[3] Closely associated with this development was the growth of a body of lay lawyers and the renewed study of the Roman law. These men were gradually displacing ecclesiastics as royal advisers, and developing the effectiveness of the royal power by precedents from a body of law—the Roman—which knew nothing of mediæval ecclesiastical conditions.

[4] There was also a growing conviction among thoughtful and religious men that such worldly aims as the recent papacy had followed were inconsistent with the true interests of the church.

[[5]] [Resentment at the authority of the newly-created office of papal nuncio, sent by the Holy See and empowered to act in a foreign nation on behalf of and in the name of the pope.

The weakness of the papacy, from a worldly point of view, was that it had no adequate physical forces at its disposal. It must balance off one competitor against another, and the wreck wrought in Germany left the door open to France without forces which could be matched against her.

Papal interference in Germany continued. Pope Gregory X (1271-1276) ordered the German electors, in 1273, to choose a King, under threat that the Pope himself would make the appointment if they failed. They chose Rudolf I, of Habsburg (1273-1291), who promptly renewed the concessions to the papacy which had been once made by Otto IV and Frederick II.

   Boniface VIII and Philip the Fair

Quite otherwise was it speedily with France. The power of that monarchy had been rapidly growing, and in Philip IV, “the Fair” (1285-1314), France had a King of absolute unscrupulousness, obstinacy, and high conceptions of royal authority.

 PHILIP IV ("the FAIR") and his FAMILY

In Boniface VIII (1294-1303) the papacy was held by a man of as lofty aspirations to world-rule as had ever there been represented. Neither participant in the struggle commands much sympathy.

Kings of England and France Both Summon Parliaments ca. 1300

War had arisen between France, Scotland, and England which compelled the English King, Edward I (1272-1307), to rally the support of all his subjects by inviting the representatives of the Commons to take a place in Parliament, in 1295, thus giving them a permanent share in the English national councils.

The struggle also induced the Kings of France and England to tax their clergy to meet its expenses. The clergy complained to Pope Boniface, who, in 1296 issued the bull Clericis laicos,[4] inflicting excommunication on all who demanded or paid such taxes on clerical property without papal permission. Philip replied by prohibiting the export of money from France, thus striking at the revenues of the Pope and of the Italian bankers. The latter moved Boniface to modify his attitude so that the clergy could make voluntary contributions, and even allowed that, in great necessities, the King could lay a tax. It was a royal victory.

Comparative peace prevailed between Philip and Boniface for a few years. In 1301 the struggle again began. Philip had Bernard Saisset, bishop of Pamiers, whom the Pope had recently sent to him as nuntius, arrested and charged with high treason. The Pope ordered Bernard’s release and cited the French bishops, and ultimately King Philip himself, to Rome.

In reply, Philip summoned the first French States-General, in which clergy, nobles, and commoners were represented. This body, in 1302, sustained the King in his attitude of resistance.


The Pope answered with the famous bull, Unam sanctam,[5] the high-water mark of papal claim to supremacy over civil powers. It affirmed that temporal powers are subject to the spiritual authority, which is judged in the person of the Pope by God alone.


Pope BONIFACE VIII (tomb)  Pope BONIFACE VIII - Consistory

 It declared, following the opinion of Aquinas,

“that it is altogether necessary to salvation for every human being to be subject to the Roman pontiff”

—an affirmation the exact scope of which has led to much subsequent discussion.

Philip answered with a new assembly, where the Pope was charged with an absurd series of crimes, involving heresy and moral depravity, and appeal was issued for a general council of the church before which the Pope might be tried. Philip was determined that this should be no mere threat. He would force the Pope to consent. He therefore sent his able jurist vice-chancellor, William Nogaret, who joined to himself Boniface’s ancient family enemy, Sciarra Colonna. Together they gathered a force and made Boniface a prisoner in Anagni, just as he was about to proclaim Philip’s excommunication, in 1303.



Boniface was courageous. He would make no concessions. His friends soon freed him, but a month later he died.

These events were a staggering blow to the temporal claims of the papacy. It was not primarily that Philip’s representatives had held Boniface for a short time a prisoner. A new force had arisen, that of national sentiment, to which the King had appealed successfully, and against which the spiritual weapons of the papacy had been of little avail. The papal hope of world-rulership in temporal affairs had proved impossible of permanent realization.








   The Papacy Removes To Avignon  [1309 -1377]

Worse for the papacy was speedily to follow. After the death of Boniface’s successor, the excellent Benedict XI (1303- 1304), the cardinals chose a Frenchman, Bertrand de Gouth, who took the title of Clement V (1305-1314). A man of weakness of character and grave moral faults, he was fully under the influence of King Philip IV, of France. He declared Philip innocent of the attack on Boniface VIII, and cancelled Boniface’s interdicts and excommunications, modifying the bull Unam sanctam to please the King.


An evidence of French domination that was patent to all the world was the removal of the seat of the papacy, in 1309, to Avignon—on the river Rhone—a town not belonging indeed to the French kingdom, but in popular estimate amounting to the establishment of the papacy in France. Undoubtedly the troubled state of Italian politics had something to do with this removal. At Avignon the papacy was to have its seat till 1377—a period so nearly equal to the traditional exile of the Jews as to earn the name of the Babylonish Captivity. Nor was the cup of Clement’s humiliation yet filled. The cold-blooded King compelled him to join in the cruel destruction of the Templars.

    Canon Law

Clement V’s pontificate is interesting as marking the conclusion, to the present, of the official collections of church or “canon” law. That great body of authority was the product of the history of the church since the early councils, and embraced their decisions, the decrees of synods and of Popes. The Middle Ages had seen many collections, of which the most famous was that gathered, probably in 1148, by Gratian, a teacher of canon law in Bologna. Pope Gregory IX (1227- 1241) caused an official collection to be formed, in 1234, including new decrees up to his time. Pope Boniface VIII (1294- 1303), published a similar addition in 1298, and Clement V (1305-1314) enlarged it in 1314, though his work was not published till 1317, under his successor, John XXII (1316-1334). The great structure, thus laboriously erected through the centuries, is a mass of ecclesiastical jurisprudence embracing all domains of ecclesiastical life. Though official collections ceased from Clement V to the twentieth century, the creation of church law has continued in all ages, and the recent Pope, Pius X (1903-1914), in 1904 ordered the codification and simplification of the whole body of canon law by a special commission.

     Conditions in Avignon

The Popes, while the papacy was in Avignon, were all Frenchmen. It seemed as if the papacy had become a French institution. This association caused greatly increased restlessness in view of papal claims, especially in nations which, like England, were at war with France during much of this period, or Germany on which the still continuing interference of the papacy bore hard.

The ablest of the Avignon Popes was unquestionably John XXII (1316-1334). The double imperial election in Germany, in 1314, had divided that land between supporters of Louis the Bavarian (1314-1347), and Frederick of Austria. John XXII, supported by King Philip V of France (1316-1322, thought the occasion ripe to diminish German influence in Italy for the benefit of the States of the Church. He declined to recognize either claimant, and declared that the Pope had right to administer the empire during vacancies. When Louis interfered in Italian affairs the Pope excommunicated him, and a contest with the papacy ensued which lasted till Louis’s death. In its course the German electors issued the famous declaration of 1338, in Rense, which was confirmed by the Reichstag in Frankfort the same year, that the chosen head of the empire needs no approval from the papacy whatever for full entrance on or continuation in the duties of his office.

   Dante Alighieri

These attacks upon the state aroused literary defenders of considerable significance. One of these was the great Italian poet, Dante Alighieri (1265-1321). His Latin treatise, On Monarchy, is not surely dated, but was composed between 1311 and 1318. Dante holds that peace is the best condition of mankind. It is most effectively secured by an Emperor. The power of empire rightfully came to Rome. It is as necessary for man’s temporal happiness as the papacy is to guide men to eternal blessedness. Each is directly from God, and neither should interfere in the province of the other.


Dante carefully controverts the papal ‘interpretation of the Bible texts and historical instances on which claims to control over the state were based. All this is the more impressive since Dante was no free-thinker but theologically of most impeccable orthodoxy.


  Critics of the Papal Claims


MUCH MORE RADICAL than Dante, and vastly influential on later political theories were several treatises produced in France. The Dominican, John of Paris (1265?-1306), taught that both papal and royal powers are based on the sovereignty of the people, and neither has a right to interfere with the sphere of the other.

The most important of these works was the Defensor Pacis of Marsilius of Padua (?-1342?) and John of Jandun (?-1328). It is the most startlingly modern treatise that the age produced. Its principal author, Marsilius, was long a teacher in Paris, where he was rector of the university in 1313, and was regarded as learned in medicine. The Defensor Pacis was written in 1324, in the controversy between Pope John XXII and the Emperor Louis the Bavarian. Its radical views caused its authors to seek protection from the Emperor, which they enjoyed, though with some hesitation, for the rest of their lives. They were excommunicated by John XXII in 1327, and Pope Clement VI declared, in 1343, that he had never read a worse heretical book.

According to Marsilius, who was deeply versed in Aristotle,

the basis of all power is the people;

in the state the whole body of citizens;

in the church the whole body of Christian believers.

They are the legislative power;

by them rulers in church and state are appointed,

and to them these executive officers are responsible.

The only final authority in the church is the New Testament;

but priests have no power of physical force to compel men to obey it. Their sole duty is to teach, warn, and reprove.

The New Testament teaches that bishops and priests are equivalent designations, yet it is well, as a purely human constitution, to appoint some clergy superintendents over others.

This appointment gives no superior spiritual power, nor has one bishop spiritual authority over another, or the Pope over all.

Peter had no higher rank than the other Apostles.

There is no New Testament evidence that he was ever in Rome.

The New Testament gives no countenance to the possession of earthly lordships and estates by clergymen.

No bishop or Pope has authority to define Christian truth as contained in the New Testament, or make binding laws. These acts can be done only by the legislative body of the church—the whole company of Christian believers, represented in a general council.

Such a council is the supreme authority in the church. Since the Christian state and the Christian church are coterminous, the executive of the Christian state, as representing a body of believers, may call councils, appoint bishops, and control church property.[6]

Here were ideas that were to bear fruit in the Reformation, and even in the French Revolution; but they were too radical greatly to impress their age. Their time was later, and something was lacking in Marsilius himself. He was a cool thinker rather than a man who could translate theory into action in such fashion as to create large leadership.

   English Limitation of Papal Powers

Because of a zeal which Marsilius lacked, and of ideas not too much in advance of the age, a greater authority was wielded by William of Occam, whose theological influence and energetic defense of the extremer Franciscan doctrine of the absolute poverty of Christ and the Apostles has been noted. Occam, like Marsilius, found a refuge with Louis the Bavarian. To him, as to Dante, papacy and empire are both founded by God, and neither is superior to the other. Each has its own sphere. The church has purely religious functions. Its final authority is the New Testament.


Voices were raised in defense of papal claims. One of the most celebrated, though typical rather than original, was that of the Italian Augustinian monk, Augustinus Triumphus (1243- 1328). In his Summa de potestate ecclesiastica, written about 1322, he holds that all princes rule as subject to the Pope, who can remove them at pleasure. No civil law is binding if disapproved by him. The Pope can be judged by none; nor can one even appeal from the Pope to God, “since the decision and court of God and the Pope are one.” Yet should the Pope fall into heresy, his office is forfeited.

These opinions of the papal supporters were far from being shared by Germans engaged in a struggle against the papacy for the political autonomy of the empire, or by Englishmen at war with France, who believed the Avignon papacy the tool of the French sovereign. Pope Clement V (1305-1314) had asserted the right of the papacy to appoint to all ecclesiastical office. Such appointees were called “provisors,” and the intrusion of papal favorites in England aroused King and Parliament in 1351 to enact the Statute of Provisors. Elections to bishoprics and other ecclesiastical posts should be free from papal interference. In case appointment was made by the regular authorities, and also by the Pope, the provisor was to be imprisoned till he resigned his claim. This law inevitably led to disputes between papal and royal authority, and a further statute of 1353, known as that of Præmunire forbade appeals outside of the kingdom under penalty of outlawry.[7] In enforcement these statutes were largely dead letters, but they show the growth of a spirit in England which was further illustrated when Parliament, in 1366, refused longer to recognize the right of King John to subject his kingdom, in 1213, to the Pope as a fief.

     The Papal Taxes

No feature of the Avignon papacy contributed to its criticism so largely as its offensive taxation of church life. The Crusades had been accompanied by a much readier circulation of money, and a great increase in commerce. Europe was passing rapidly from barter to money payments. Money taxes, rather than receipts in kind, were everywhere increasing. It was natural that this change should take place in church administration also; but the extent to which taxation was pushed by the Popes of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries was a scandal, and it was much aggravated when the removal of the papacy to Avignon largely cut off the revenues from the papal estates in Italy without diminishing the luxury or expensiveness of the papal court. This period saw the extensive development, in imitation of secular feudal practice, of the annates, that is a tax of one year’s income, more or less, from each new appointment. Since the reservation of posts to exclusive papal appointment was at the same time immensely extended, this became a large source of revenue. The income of vacant benefices, also, became a significant source of papal receipts. Taxes for bulls and other papal documents, also rose rapidly in amount and productivity. These were but a portion of the papal exactions, and the total effect was the impression that the papal administration was heavily and increasingly burdensome on the clergy, and through them on the people. This feeling was augmented by the ruthless manner in which churchly censures, such as excommunication, were imposed on delinquent taxpayers. The papacy seemed extravagant in expenditure and offensive in taxation, and its repute in both respects was to grow worse till the Reformation.

The collapse of the imperial power in Italy, for which the papacy was largely responsible, and the transfer to Avignon, left Italy to the wildest political confusion. Nowhere was the situation worse than in Rome. In 1347 Cola di Rienzi headed a popular revolution against the nobles and established a parody of the ancient republic. He was soon driven out, but in 1354 was in power again, only to be murdered in the partisan struggles. Innocent VI (1352-1362) sent the Spanish cardinal Albornoz (?-1367) as his legate to Italy.

By Albornoz’s military and diplomatic abilities the papal interests in Rome and Italy generally were much improved, so that Urban V (1362-1370). [influenced by St. Bridget of Sweden]  actually returned [for three years] to the Eternal City in 1367. The death of Albornoz deprived him of his chief support, and in 1370 the papacy was once more in Avignon.


Urban V was succeeded by Gregory XI (1370-1378), whom St. Catherine of Siena (1347-1380) urged in the name of God to return to Rome. The distracted state of the city also counselled his presence if papal interests were to be preserved. Accordingly he transferred the papacy to Rome in 1377, and there died the next year.


   The Schism - Series of Popes and Antipopes    [1378 -1417]


The sudden death of Gregory XI found the cardinals in Rome. A majority were French, and would gladly have returned to Avignon. The Roman people were determined to keep the papacy in Rome, and to that end to have an Italian Pope. Under conditions of tumult the cardinals chose Bartolommeo Prignano the archbishop of Bari, who took the name Urban VI (1378-1389). A tactless man, who desired to terminate French influence over the papacy, and effect some reforms in the papal court, he soon had the hostility of all the cardinals. They now got together, four months after his election, declared their choice void since dictated by mob violence, and elected Cardinal Robert of Geneva as Pope Clement VII (1378-1394). A few months later Clement VII and his cardinals were settled in Avignon. There had been many rival Popes before, but they had been chosen by different elements.


Here were two Popes, each duly elected by the same body of cardinals. The objection that Urban VI had been chosen out of fear had little force, since the cardinals had recognized him without protest for several months; but they had done all they could to undo the choice. Europe saw two Popes, each condemning the other. There was no power that could decide between them, and the several countries followed the one or the other as their political affinities dictated.

The Roman Pope was acknowledged by northern and central Italy, the greater part of Germany, Scandinavia, and England. To the Pope in Avignon, France, Spain, Scotland, Naples, Sicily, and some parts of Germany adhered. It was a fairly equal division. The great schism had begun. Europe was pained and scandalized, while the papal abuses, especially of taxation, were augmented, and two courts must now be maintained. Above all, the profound feeling that the church must be visibly one was offended. The papacy sank enormously in popular regard.

In Rome[:]

Urban VI was succeeded by

Boniface IX (1389-1404), and he by

Innocent VII (1404-1406), who was followed by

Gregory XII (1406-1415).

In Avignon[:]

Clement VII was followed by

Peter de Luna, a Spaniard, who took the name Benedict XIII (1394-1417).






[1] See “Peace of Venice,” Henderson, Select Historical Documents, pp. 425-430.

[2] Gee and Hardy, Documents Illustrative of English Church History, pp. 68-73.

[3] Henderson, pp. 430-432.

[4] Henderson, pp. 433-434; Robinson, 1: 488-490.

[5] Henderson, pp. 435-437; Robinson, 1; 346-348.

[6] See, for some extracts, Robinson, 1; 491-497.

[7] Gee and Hardy, Documents, pp. 103, 104, 113-119.



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