King Philip IV of France was known of as Philip the Fair because of his ability to avoid acne in an age unused to washing more than once a year. Philip faced many problems and he needed money to address them. An immediate problem was the English who persisted in ivading France. He also faced a continuing problem with the French nobility as well as the peasantry. In addition the papacy was objecting to some of his actions including seizing some church land and taxing the clergy. Philip responded by invading Italy and seizing Pope Boniface VIII who he ordered tortured to bring him into line. Boniface was freed and continued to denounce Philip. When Boniface then died, Philip was blamed for it. King Philip decided on a new policy to deal with the troublesome papacy. When the new Pope Clement V was elected by the College of Cardinals, Philip decided against sending another army into Italy to torture him. Instead, Philip decided to present a more charming
side to the Papacy, and made a point of giving a splendid palace in the southern French City of Avignon. This lead to what has come to be called as the Babylonian or Avigon Captivity of the Papacy. Associated with this was the subsequent Great Schism (1378-1409)
King Philip IV of France was known of as Philip the Fair because of his ability to avoid acne in an age unused to washing more than once a year. Philip faced many problems and he needed money to address them. An immediate problem was the English who persisted in ivading France. He also faced a continuing problem with the French nobility as well as the peasantry.
Pope Boniface VIII objected to Philip's actions including seizing some church land and taxing the clergy. Philip responded by invading Italy and seizing Pope Boniface VIII who he ordered tortured to bring him into line. Boniface was freed, but continued to denounce Philip. When Boniface then died, Philip was blamed for it. King Philip as a result decided on a new policy to deal with the troublesome papacy.
When the new Pope Clement V was elected by the College of Cardinals, Philip decided against sending another army into Italy to torture him. Instead, the vKing launched a charm offensive. He built a splendid palace in the southern French City of Avignon. This lead to what has come to be called as the Babylonian or Avignon Captivity of the Papacy. Philip applied great pressure on the Pope, ultimately convincing the Holy Father to take up an official residence in Avignon - which was much more comfortable and better decorated than the drafty old cathedral churches of Rome. By the time of Pope Clement V's death in 1314, Philip had even persuaded him to appoint several French cardinals.
King Philip and Pope Clement V died in the same year (1314). Philip's new approach had proved highly successful. Not only had the pope ensconsed in Avignon proven much more amenable to French entreties, but the College of Cardinals actually chose a French pope. As a result, from 1304-78, the popes ruled the Catholic Church from France -- and often in the best interests of the French monarchy. The period of the Avignon papacy was a scandal in the Middle Ages. Everyone agreed that the popes had the right to live wherever they wanted - but the pope was also the Bishop of Rome and had responsibilities to the Christians in that city as well as the secular ruler of the Papal States in central Italy. And few people believed that the Kings of France were not a party to this "Babylonian Captivity" as the poet Petrarch called it. Worse still, then the Bubonic Plague struck Europe in 1347-1350, killing off 25 million persons, one-third of the Christian population of Europe. This was the greates dusaster in European history. Not one at the time understood what had happened. As so often in European (and now Arab) history, many blamed the Jews. Many people also muttered under their breath that it was all the fault of the Popes for moving their headquarters to France. The Avignon popes did not help matters by living like Renaissance princes. Clement VI declared that his doctor had given him a prescription to fornicate for the good of his health. To be fair to the Avignon popes, they were also patrons of the arts and forbade persecution of the Jews. But they were a challenge to the piety of the age.
The Avignon papacy appeared to come to an end in 1378, when the mystic nun,
Catherine of Sienna wrote letter after letter to the last of the Avignon
popes, Gregory XI, appealing for him to return to his true spiritual home in the
city of Rome. When Pope Gregory took ill, St. Catherine appeared at the foot
of his bed, and advised the Pope to look to heaven as his eternal home and source
of graces and not the favors of the King of France. With his days numbered,
Pope Gregory XI agreed, and returned the papacy to Rome shortly before his
death. But unfortunatenly for the Church this did not solve the problem.
Many French prelates were made cardinals during the Avigonian Papacy. When the then largely French College of Cardinals met in Rome (1378) to select
the new pope, they found an angry and unruly mob of Italian Romans waiting for
them. The shopkeepers of Rome resented the lack of business they had endured
during the Babylonian Captivity, when pilgrims and diplomats no longer
frequented their abandoned city. When the Cardinals met inside the Latern
Palace to elect a new pope, the Romans rioted and demanded that the cardinals choose an Italian pope. Terrified by the hostile mobs, the fearful cardinals wisely selected an Italian prelate, the Archbishop of Milan, to be the new Pope, who took the name Urban VI. But the election of Pope Urban VI was a disaster. Urban hated the French King and the new French cardinals. As a result he quareled violently with his curia. At once point he was so frustrated with the French cardinals that he physically attacked a French prelate. Furious with what they perceived to be hostility, the French cardinals abandoned Rome, fled back to Avignon, and declared the election of Pope Urban VI to be invalid. They charged that they had voted under duress, and actions taken under duress were not legally binding. The French cardinals declared Pope Urban's election to be invalid, and elected a new French Pope in Avignon, who duly took the name of Clement VII. Urban VI responded to this election by excommunicating Pope Clement VII, who in turn responded by excommunication Urban VI. Europe then had two popes. But who was the real one? Today, of course, there is an official Vatican list of who are the recognized popes. But from 1378 to 1417 no one knew who was the real pope at all. The King of France and the French clergy recognized Clement VII, but the
English and the Italians recognized Urban VI in Rome. In other countries the reaction was more varied and had much to do with international diplomacy. The Scots elected to support Clement VII, although more because they wanted to rile the English than out of piety. The Spanish kings or Castile and Aragon could not agree either.
The obvious solution was to get both hostile parties to sit down with one another and talk the matter out. This was attempted at the Council of Pisa (1409). Supporters of both parties in Avignon and Rome met, agreed to depose
both "popes" and elect someone they could all agree on. They selected a new pope, who took the title of John XXIII - not to be confused with the other John XXIII in the 20th century, who ruled from 1958-1963. But this compromise pleased no one and in effect left the Church with three popes. The new Pope in Pisa won excommunication from both Rome and Avignon.
Matters were not helped when it was lated discovered that "John XXIII" had a few dismal blots on his past and a
sullied reputation. Alas - the Pisa pope had begun his days before he entered the clergy, as of all things a pirate on high seas! This was obviously not not a good situation for the Church. And to further stir the pot, the Council put forward the idea that councils are superior to the popes. The idea was again put forward st the Councils of Basel and Constance.
This Great Schism was finally ended iby the Council. The work of the Council was made easier when one of the three popes died, one resigned, and John XXIII was simply arrested. The Council was promoted by both the clergy and the monarchs of Europe. The Council met at the Italian city of Constance (1417). There a new pope was elected by the cardinals, who took the name of Martin V, and was recognized by all parties. John XXIII fled to Germany, but quietly returned to Florence, where his tomb in the baptistery of the Duomo, the Cathedral of Florence, remains to this day. Pope Martin V promised to rule the Church with the advice of the bishops, and to root out heresy at every opportunity. The Council of Constance even celebrated restoration of Church unity by the burning of the well known Bohemian heretic, Jan Hus, who had had advocated people reading the Bible in the vernacular languages rather than the official Latin of the Church. The key factor here was this would allow many more people to read the Bible. The Church thought it dangerous to incourage people to read the Bible. In 1417, the leaders of the Church could breath a great sign of relief, that their troubles were over at last; Philip of France, the Avignon Popes, the great Schism, were all
a thing of the past, and they could be about their business in peace, or so they
thought. The election of Pope Martin V was, however, exactly 100 years before
Martin Luther would challenge the whole structure of the papacy.
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