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DD14 History Paper: Papal Schism

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DD asked me to post her history paper for feedback (sorry, it's kind of long and I have to cut it into two parts.).

I want to clarify up front that this is not meant as an attack on Catholicism, but merely a discussion of a historical situation in medieval Europe.

The assignment was to give an overview over the topic; she was not required to write it as a research paper and quote sources.

Thank you.




The Papal Schism




The Papal Schism of 1378 was one of the major events of medieval history, both for the Catholic Church itself and for the development of the countries controlled by it. Though it was an indirect consequence of the Hundred Years’ War between England and France, the far-reaching results would stretch centuries after that conflict was resolved. The Papal Schism, or Western Schism, would drastically change the widely held opinion of the Church, and lead the already declining middle ages into the modern times.

The early 1300’s of medieval Europe were fraught with turmoil, caused by the struggle between the established papacy and the secular monarchy of the most powerful European countries. During Pope Boniface VII’s time in office, from 1294 to 1303, the kings of England and France saw an opportunity to gain ground in their struggle for power against the Church, and against each other. While England and France were at war, both Edward I of England and Philip IV of France took the chance to impose new taxes on the Church, each in hope of gaining an advantage in their conflict. The pope responded with a papal bull, or order, that maintained the authority of the Church over its own taxation. Boniface insisted that no new taxes could be applied to the Church without the explicit consent of the pope. Edward and Philip threatened to cut all ties to the Church in Rome, eliminating one of the papacy’s key sources of revenue. Though Boniface retreated, it was not long before he engaged in another struggle with Philip IV. Though they fought over the problem of courts for trying clergymen, which was a relatively minor issue for the pope, Boniface overreacted. He ordered France and the French people to subject themselves to papal rule immediately. An outraged Philip captured Boniface with relative ease, and the pope was killed in captivity.

The absence of a pope gave Philip IV the chance he needed to strengthen his position against England. The Hundred Years’ War was still draining resources from both England and France, and he saw an opportunity to capitalize on his position by arranging for a Frenchman to be instated as pope. He realized, however, that the Italian Papal States, which were controlled by Rome, would not welcome a French pope. Due to this, the new pope took up residency in Avignon, a city firmly within French borders, in 1309. Seven popes resided in Avignon until 1377, all French. They were heavily influenced by the French crown, as Philip IV had planned. The papacy officially acquired Avignon as a papal territory in 1348, when they bought it from the countess of Provence, Queen Joanna of Sicily, and made it their official seat. They entrenched themselves thoroughly in their new position, building walls and fortresses that last to the present day.

The English were still engaged in the Hundred Years’ War with the French during the 67 years of the Avignon papacy, and used the situation to reduce papal control of English ecclesiastical affairs. Germany was equally un-cooperative with new popes, its emperors and princes unwilling to accept the authority of a French religious leader. Many Christians of the time were troubled by the fact that the authority of the Pope was traditionally rooted in his position as a bishop of Rome; the papal rein in Avignon undermined this authority and called the legitimacy of the papacy into question. Despite this, the Avignon popes worked hard under the control of the French crown to organize the ecclesiastical affairs of medieval Europe and to conceive a stronger system of Church organization. Despite their many efforts, apathy toward religious offices reigned supreme among the officers they instituted, and it ultimately harmed the reputation of the Church as an office free of corruption. Edward III of England exploited the waning opinion of the Church by speaking publicly about his dislike of the Avignon popes, speaking of the greed that he claimed exemplified them. Though the popes were not directly responsible for the laziness and corruption of their appointed officers, they never intervened drastically enough to win back the favor of the European people.

In 1377, Pope Gregory XI officially moved the papacy back to Rome, ending the Babylonian Captivity and the reign of the popes at Avignon. It was a bold move, one not guaranteed to please the French people, who had been proud of their position as the home of the papacy for the last 67 years. However, Gregory XI did not live to see the consequences of his decision. He died shortly afterward, leaving a tricky situation in the hands of his successors. A conclave of cardinals formed to elect his successor, an Italian who became Urban VI. The election of an Italian pope dissatisfied French citizens, who had grown used to having the pope elected from one of their own during the last 67 years. A breakdown in relations between the papacy and the French cardinals of the time, coupled with the growing dissatisfaction of France, led the small subset of the College of Cardinals to strike out on their own. They started another concave, dedicated to electing a French pope from among themselves, who would continue ruling in Avignon. This began the Papal Schism in 1378.

During the forty years that the schism lasted, the catholic institution was plagued by interminable disorder. Both popes directed separate administrations, separate systems of taxation, and separate courts. The moral infallibility of the Church was called into question as all of Europe struggled with the great problem: which pope was the right pope? Eventually, over the period that the Schism lasted, the states of Europe fell into two sides. France supported the pope in Avignon automatically, pleased that one of her own was again in a position to rule the Catholic Church. Sicily, which owned French lands; Scotland, which was fighting for its independence against England; and the kingdoms of Castile, Aragon, and Portugal sided with France in supporting the Avignon Pope. England fell into place supporting the Pope in Rome, as did Flanders, Poland, Hungary, and Germany. Both papacies were engaged in a never-ending power game, fueled by slander and manipulated by the secular powers of the time to their own ends. The unquestionable authority of the Church was fading, replaced by the squabbling of two popes who might as well have been secular princes. They grasped at power and money greedily, failing to solve the problem of the corruption that was facilitated by constant chaos.

Over time, the influence of the papacy over religious decisions decreased. Few took seriously any attempts by the popes to convince the people that they were each the correct spiritual leader of Europe. The people that the Church was meant to guide were disgusted by how easily the Church could encourage the division of Christendom, and were disillusioned by both popes’ strong involvement in worldly matters. This questioning of the ultimate papal authority led to several ideas that were meant to resolve the Schism. The growing mindset was that a council should be elected, one that could solve the dispute over the true papacy once and for all. This idea seemed revolutionary in the Late Middle Ages, since it threatened the holy concept of papal supremacy.

From 1409 to 1449, four councils were held that attempted to solve the problem and instate one pope in his place in Rome. The first, the Council of Pisa, was held over several months in 1409. It was intended to depose both popes and instate a new one, as the cardinals participating in it were of the opinion that the health and sanctity of the Church was a more valuable and powerful cause than the will of any individual pope. They argued that both existing popes, Benedict XII and Clement VII should be pronounced illegitimate, and that an entirely new pope should be appointed. Neither Benedict nor Clement were willing to give up their power, even neglecting to send representatives to the council. Instead of eliminating the extraneous popes and instating only one, the council ended with three semi-legitimate popes in office.

...part 2 in separate post

Edited by regentrude
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