THE POPES OF AVIGNON AND THE GREAT SCHISM
The seven Popes from 1305 to 1378 resided, more or less continuously, at Avignon. This prolonged absence from Italy constitutes a fact of the first importance and quite unprecedented in the history of the Church. The explanation of it lies in a combination of events and circumstances most complex in character.
When Bertrand de Got, Archbishop of Bordeaux, became Pope under the name of Clement V (1305-14), the situation in Italy was extremely critical. The cardinals who notified to him his election depicted the country as plunged in anarchy, and the States of the Church as ruined by war. Nevertheless, the new Pope on several occasions manifested his firm intention of going to Italy, so soon as peace should be concluded between England and France and the crusade organised. He fixed oil Vienne, in Dauphiné, for his coronation, in the hope that the Kings of England and France would consent to come there and to discuss the terms of a settlement, without which an expedition to the Holy Land was impossible. Though the meeting he planned did not take place, negotiations were set on foot and soon resulted in a reconciliation. But even so, the Pope was not able to depart for Rome. In July and August 1305 Philip the Fair reminded him of the prosecution instituted against the late Pope Boniface VIII, which had not been terminated. Clement, wishing to avoid its resumption, made a concession pregnant with results: he went to Lyons, where his coronation took place on 14 November 1305, and there negotiations were begun. It was agreed to defer the question of Boniface’s trial to a later interview, and so the Pope had to put off his departure for Italy. At this point he fell ill and all but died. The interview eventually took place at Poitiers in April 1307, but the parties separated without arriving at a decision. On 13 October 1307 came the dramatic stroke—the wholesale arrest of the Templars. This necessitated a further meeting with Philip the Fair, but at Poitiers (May to July 1308) the French King shewed himself so exacting that Clement determined to escape from his clutches. To go to Rome was not to be thought of. It would have been madness to leave Philip master of the situation on the eve of the assembling of the Council of Vienne, where most important issues for the Church were to be decided, and above all the scandalous trial of the Templars was to be debated. The papal court was removed to Avignon.
The town of Avignon, indeed, provided advantages of many kinds. It assured speedy communication with Italy. It was close to, but not dependent upon France. Its overlords were vassals of the Church, and there was nothing to fear from them. Finally, it formed an enclave within the county of Venaissin, which was itself a possession of the Holy See. No other town could offer the Pope such strong guarantees of security and independence.
After the close of the Council of Vienne, which lasted from 16 October 1311 to 6 May 1312, the Pope’s health, always feeble, took a serious turn for the worse, and he finally succumbed on 14 April 1314.
Yet, even if the Pope had enjoyed better health, he would hardly have braved the danger of crossing the Alps in the years 1312 and 1313. The coming of Henry VII, King of the Romans, into Italy had thrown the whole country into confusion. The city of Rome, from 7 May 1312 onwards, was little more than a battlefield for the sanguinary strife of Guelfs and Ghibellines. Henry VII treated the Pope as an enemy, and proclaimed his complete independence of the spiritual power. In concert with Frederick, King of Trinacria (Sicily), he collected a large fleet against the Pope’s vassal, King Robert of Naples. In these circumstances, Clement V judged it prudent to remain in the Venaissin, and his successors followed his example.
In fact, during the whole of John XXII’s pontificate (1316-34), Italy continued to be devastated by war. In 1332, however, the victories won by the Cardinal-legate Bertrand du Pouget over the Ghibellines made possible the crossing of the Alps. John XXII planned to bring about the pacification of Lombardy and Tuscany, and to take up his residence at Bologna. But the distraction of a crusade, the pressure of the King of France, and, above all, the rebellion of the Bolognese put a speedy end to his designs.
At the beginning of Benedict XII’s pontificate (1334-42), it was decided at a consistory held in July 1335 that the papal court should start about 1 October and should establish itself provisionally at Bologna. At a second consistory the cardinals changed their minds and postponed the departure to a later date. There were various urgent matters, including the projects for a crusade, that impelled them to this course. But also, alarming news had arrived from Bologna. The town seemed to be in too disturbed a condition to furnish a secure home for the Holy See.
The forebodings of the cardinals were soon justified. Bologna revolted; the local lords in Romagna and the Marches planned to make themselves independent; even in Rome revolt broke out, and lasted from 1347 to 1356. War became inevitable under Clement VI (1342-52) and continued to rage fiercely under Innocent VI (1352-62). It only came to an end when Cardinal Albornoz had reduced to impotence the various nobles who troubled the peace of the peninsula. Urban V (1362-70) thought the time had come to re-establish the Papacy at Rome. The Romans, who had so often clamoured for his return, now devised schemes for his expulsion. They allied against him with Perugia, which was already in revolt, and the Perugians were emboldened to hire the condottiere John Hawkwood and his bands, and to launch an attack on Viterbo, where the Pope was residing. They were forced to submit, but the situation was little improved thereby, for the free-lances in the pay of Bernabò Visconti were overrunning Tuscany and threatening to invade the Patrimony. In alarm for his safety and naturally distrustful of his subjects after their recent behaviour, Urban V was also anxious to intervene to check the hostilities which had broken out again between France and England. On 27 September 1370 he returned to Avignon.
To come back to Italy was the uppermost thought in the mind of Urban’s successor, Gregory XI (1370-78) but for some years circumstances thwarted his good intentions. At last on 17 January 1377, he landed at the port of Rome. The re-establishment of the Papacy in the Eternal City might have provoked the Romans to gratitude. Far from it, however: once more the faction-fights broke out. And, if credit can be given to the testimony of a contemporary, a Roman cardinal even plotted against the life of the sovereign Pontiff. So, if the Popes deserted Italy for about seventy years, Italy was to blame in giving them regularly so inhospitable a reception.
The lack of security afforded by Italy in the fourteenth century is not the only explanation of the sojourn of the Holy See on the banks of the Rhone. The dominant idea with the Avignonese Papacy was a crusade, and the achievement of this splendid task could only be realised if the disastrous war between France and England was brought to an end by a definitive peace. The Curia displayed extraordinary zeal in attempting to reconcile the hostile nations, as is attested in its voluminous diplomatic correspondence. It is at least open to doubt whether it could have pursued this laudable endeavour with as much vigour, had it been far removed from Avignon.
Besides this, the Holy See had a vital interest in preserving the goodwill of the kings of France, who aimed at keeping the Papacy within the sphere of their influence, and who were also its most reliable allies in its bitter struggle with Lewis of Bavaria from 1317 to 13472. As soon as it was freed of all anxiety from the Empire, the Papacy worked unceasingly for the pacification of Italy, in order to make its own residence there possible. When it had achieved this object, the urgent entreaties of Charles V did not prevail to keep it at Avignon.
The camera apostolica : the chancery
Although endowed with very diverse qualities and with temperaments often conflicting, the Avignonese Popes had the same ends in view, and in matters ecclesiastical pursued the same policy. Their work, coherent and characteristic, consisted in organising the administration of the Roman Church on a new basis and in centralising it under their authority, in restoring the papal finances, combating heresy, reforming abuses, preaching and directing the crusading movement, and spreading abroad overseas the knowledge of the Gospel.
Under the Avignonese Papacy the central administration of the Roman Church was distributed among four main departments: the camera apostolica, the chancery, the judicial administration, and the penitentiary.
The camera apostolica was the name given to the aggregation of offices in which the financial business of the Holy See was transacted. At the head were two high officials—the chamberlain and the treasurer. The chamberlain was a real finance minister. Appointed by the Pope and holding episcopal rank, his chief function was to supervise the collectors of papal taxes throughout Christendom in the performance of their duties, and to check the receipts and expenditure of the various departments in the papal court. Having as his prime duty the safeguarding of the rights of the Roman Church, the chamberlain became the most weighty and intimate councillor of the Pope, who consulted him on all political issues. He was a sort of Secretary of State, who drew up the instructions addressed to nuncios, and communicated directly to kings the views of his master. He had under him scribes, known after 1341 as secretarii, who wrote the political correspondence and the confidential letters of the Pope. The chamberlain was, therefore, the most important personage in the papal court, and most of the functionaries of the palace were under his orders. The treasurer and the financial advisers (clerks of the chamber) assisted him in the performance of his duties. The auditor, vice-auditor, and procurator-fiscal dealt with contentious business. From the tribunal of the auditor an appeal lay to that of the chamberlain, whose sentence, whether pronounced by himself or by deputy, was final. Lastly, the coinage was also under the chamberlain’s control. The Mint was situated first at Sorgues, and then from 1354 onwards at Avignon. The management of it lay in the hands of a master of the Mint, a keeper, a provost, an engraver, and an assayer, with a number of workmen under them.
The term chancery was applied to a group of departments occupied, each with its own particular share, in the business of preparing the papal letters relating to the administration of the Church. These departments were seven in number, and were concerned respectively with petitions (supplicationes), with the examination (examen) of candidates for benefices, with preparing the draft (minuta, nota) of the letter, with writing it out in full (grossa) on parchment, with inspecting it with a view to correction (correctoria), with affixing the seal (bulla), and finally with entering a copy in the register (registrum). The head of all this complicated organisation was the vice-chancellor, but he had not the same liberty of action as the chamberlain. He could only act on the Pope’s mandate.
In the region of judicial administration, the number of cases which came to the Holy See, whether of first instance or of appeal, had grown by the fourteenth century to such proportions that a subdivision of judicial powers became necessary. Up till then judges-delegate had only acted as examining magistrates; at any rate the sovereign Pontiff had, with very few exceptions, reserved to himself the right of pronouncing sentence. From the time of Clement V regular courts of justice were established, and against the decisions of some of these there was no appeal. They were the Consistory, the tribunals of the cardinals, the audientia sacri palatii, and the audientia litterarum contradictarum.
The Consistory, the assembly of Pope and cardinals, heard complaints, informations, accusations, and pleas of all kinds. It was in fact a court of appeal. The business that came before it was either referred to local judges who were appointed delegates to investigate or decide cases, or after enquiry to the Consistory itself when the parties concerned agreed to a compromise, or to one of the two following tribunals. The tribunals of the cardinals were only occasional tribunals. Before the cardinals heard a case, it had to be specially referred to them by the Pope, who notified to them in detail their exact powers. As a rule they did not give final judgments. For the most part they drew up a precis of the facts of the case, and then reported on it to the Pope, who passed sentence. Usually they handed over their duties to a deputy, known as auditor, who listened to the pleadings and to the parties concerned. Notaries, or clerks of the court, an usher, and a keeper of the seal, completed the personnel of the court. The audientia sacri palatii became known after 1336 as the tribunal of the Rota. The constitution Ratio iuris (16 November 1331) defined its functions. The auditores, whose exact number is unknown, gave final judgments. They were distinguished jurisconsults, graduates, and were classed in three ranks according to seniority. However, this classification, adopted in 1331 by John XXII, fell rapidly into disuse; by about 1341 it was no longer current. When the auditores who were trying a case had concluded the hearing, they were obliged to communicate their conclusions to their colleagues of the same rank in 1331, or after 1341 of the same group. When they were in possession of the views of their colleagues, they pronounced judgment, which, if there was a difference of opinion, had to express the views of the majority. Their competence extended to all cases referred to them by the Pope or the vice-chancellor. Their usual business was to decide actions to which the collation of benefices, resulting from papal reservations, gave rise. Litigants employed all sorts of expedients to delay the normal procedure. It was the audientia litterarum contradictarum that decided all pleas in bar of action. This court also heard the arguments upon the documentary evidence, investigated the documents, arranged for copies to be made, and decided on their validity. It also heard the various legal points arising out of the execution of sentences.
The duties of the Apostolic Penitentiary were to put an end to the effects of an ecclesiastical censure (excommunication, suspension, or interdict), to remove an irregularity, that is to say a canonical bar to the exercise of ecclesiastical functions, to grant dispensations for marriage, to give absolution in reserved cases. The head of this administration, to which Benedict XII on 8 April 1338 gave an important body of rules, was the Grand Penitentiary, a cardinal-bishop or cardinal-priest in every case. A numerous personnel assisted him in his work. From twelve to eighteen penitentiarii minores heard the confessions of the faithful, between the hours of prime and tierce, in the cathedral or principal church of the town where the Pope had his residence. In cases easy to decide, they granted absolutions or dispensations; other cases were referred to the Pope himself or to the Grand Penitentiary.
It is true that most of the institutions, the working of which has been briefly indicated, existed before the fourteenth century. But the Popes of Avignon put upon them a special imprint; they developed them systematically. They laid down the rights and duties of the officials so meticulously, and with such care to avoid fraud and to prevent abuses, that some of their regulations were to remain in force for several generations, while others were to serve as the basis for improvements in detail which Popes of later ages adjudged necessary. Their work, in short, was a lasting one.
The Avignonese Popes were not content with reorganising the administration of the Church. They accelerated the movement of centralisation which had been developing since the eleventh century. It can even be said that in the fourteenth century this movement in some respects attained its apogee. Appeals to the court at Avignon became very numerous. The Curia directly conferred university degrees, to an unusual extent. It intervened more frequently in the affairs of the religious Orders, suppressing some, such as the Templars, reforming others against their will, such as the Order of Grandmont and the Knights of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem, appointing in others the head and subordinate officials. From 1305 to 1378 only one Ecumenical Council was celebrated, at Vienne (1311—12). There Clement V peremptorily affirmed his sovereign authority. To those fathers of the Council who would not assent to his project of uniting the possessions of the Templars with those of the Hospitallers, he replied: “If you agree to the conferring of these possessions on the Hospital, I will gladly pronounce my assent; if not, I will do it all the same, whether you like it or no”. As this did not silence the opposition, Clement overruled it. Contemporaries had no doubt as to the real implications of the attitude taken by the Pope. An English chronicler affirmed, with a little exaggeration, that the Council of Vienne “did not deserve to be called a council, because the lord Pope did everything on his own (ex capite propria)”.
There is nothing that manifests so clearly the progress of centralisation in the Church as the way in which the Popes assumed an ever increasing share in the collation to benefices. They made use of the right of reservation, by which the Pope took upon himself, in virtue of his primacy of jurisdiction, to confer benefices, whether for an actual or a future vacancy, to the exclusion of all those, ecclesiastics or laymen, who had the right of election, nomination, or presentation thereto. Previous Popes, indeed, had set the example. The Popes of Avignon did not make an innovation; they were content to multiply reservations and to extend them more and more widely. The final stage was reached under Urban V, when the elective principle was in the last phase of decline, and the collation to benefices not subject to election had almost everywhere passed out of the hands of the ordinary collators. In no period of history did the Holy See exercise its powers of jurisdiction in so extreme a form.
It can be easily realised that a policy so destructive of private liberties and privileges aroused violent opposition. Discontent was rife throughout Europe. Everywhere there were bitter criticisms of “the unbridled multitude of provisions apostolic” in favour of clergy who were strangers to the dioceses in which the benefices lay, and especially of cardinals. From all sides came the same story of the disastrous consequences resulting from the direct nomination to benefices by the Holy See: the absence from their benefices of those who “have never seen the crucifix of the churches of which they eat the bread of sorrow”, the exodus of capital from the national territories, the decay of piety among the people, the decrease of divine worship, the wretched state of the sacred edifices which were falling into ruins for lack of repair, the neglect of almsgiving, the cessation of hospitality to the needy, the manifest breach of the express intentions of pious founders, the collapse of discipline in the monasteries, the accumulation of benefices. The chroniclers echo the complaints continually uttered by the cathedral chapters who were deprived of their right of election. They claim that the apostolic provisions are tainted with simony. Their grievances are to be found in the writings of bishops, and even of a cardinal. According to Cardinal Napoleon Orsini, almost all the episcopal sees and even the smallest prebends in Italy were the object of barter and family intrigues during the pontificate of Clement V.
The denunciation pronounced everywhere against the papal policy with regard to benefices was nowhere more bitter than in England. Edward III was bold enough to remind Clement VI that “the successor of the Apostles was commissioned to lead the Lord’s sheep to the pasture, not to fleece them”. The numerous Parliaments in the fourteenth century, from that of Carlisle in January 1307 to that in 1376, did not cease from breaking out into invective against the actions of the Holy See. The continual complaints of the representatives of the English nation penetrated in time down to the mass of the people, and there engendered a very dangerous opposition to the Papacy. Men’s minds were attuned to listen with sympathy to the violent attacks of John Wyclif on the constitution of the Roman Church.
From words they passed to deeds. In England, the Statute of Provisors (9 February 1351) did away in theory with the practice of the Holy See in the matter of benefices, and the Statute of Praemunire (23 September 1353) with the right to appeal on these questions to the Roman courts. In the Empire, the position was still worse. The cathedral chapters jealously, and often successfully, defended their privileges against the encroachments of the Avignonese Popes; they persisted too in granting canonries and prebends to the younger sons of noble families, in defiance sometimes of the canonical penalties pronounced by papal officials. At Wurzburg, three clerks, who had come to read an apostolic mandate conferring the archdeaconry of Künzelsan, a canonry, and a prebend in the cathedral church on a Frenchman, John Guilabert, were seized upon, bound hand and foot, and thrown into the Alain. The conflict which broke out between the Church and Lewis of Bavaria gave an opportunity to the cathedral chapters to inflict a series of humiliating rebuffs on the Papacy in the matter of episcopal appointments. In vain the Holy See annulled elections made in defiance of apostolic reservations, nominated fresh candidates of its own, pronounced excommunication on the bishops elected and severe penalties on the electors; its nominees could rarely get their authority recognised in the dioceses entrusted to their charge, and had to be transferred to other sees. The bishoprics of Wurzburg, Freising, Augsburg, Mainz, Hildesheim, were all occupied by “intruders.”
The accession of Charles of Bohemia to the imperial throne did not materially alter the religious situation in the Empire. He had indeed promised Clement VI to drive the “intruders” from their sees and to support the candidature of prelates nominated by the papal Court. But even if he had the intention of keeping his oath, he did not possess sufficient authority to do so. He avoided the use of force and preferred to make terms with the supporters of the house of Wittelsbach. Henceforth elections in chapters or abbeys took place in spite of apostolic reservations and in defiance of them. In order to safeguard their authority, the Popes had no other resource than to appoint as abbots or bishops those very persons whose election they had previously quashed.
Tenacious and widespread though it was, the resistance to papal provisions from 1305 to 1378 failed in the long run to be effective, even in the Empire; the final victory lay with the Holy See. Success was often achieved only by means of a fiction; but that was sufficient to determine the defeat of the chapters and the ordinary collators, and to assure the triumph of papal omnipotence. For, while papal provision was disadvantageous to some people, on the other hand it entailed real benefit to others as well as to the Church itself. It brought to an end the prolonged vacancies of episcopal sees, so damaging to the welfare of souls and to the good management of episcopal revenues; it remedied the negligence of the ordinary collators in providing incumbents for vacant benefices, and the illegalities they committed in their choice of candidates; it put an end to the intrigues which broke out within the chapters at the time of an election, the violent competitions, the settlements in which simony played a part, the long and disastrous schisms when the electors could not agree. Finally, it was attractive to the public authorities and to some of the ordinary collators as well. For between them and the Holy See grew up a tacit concordat, advantageous to both of the contracting parties. Instead of imposing their candidates on the chapters by methods that were hardly canonical, the kings preferred to request the Pope to reserve such and such a church for his own disposal, at the same time recommending their candidate to him. Ordinary collators or patrons did the same; they addressed petitions to the Roman court in favour of the clerk of their choice. The Pope, for his part, by means of the mandates he issued for provisions, furnished himself with important financial resources. He made the bishops and abbots, who received their appointments from him, pay to the chancery the regular and the petty dues. As for the smaller beneficiaries, they had to pay annates. And not only were taxes imposed on bishops and abbots; they also had to take an oath of fealty to St Peter, to the Roman Church, and to the Roman pontiff. Thus was accomplished the centralisation of power in the hands of the sovereign Pope.
But merely to retain the nomination to benefices was not enough for the Popes who had their seat at Avignon. In the fourteenth century, it was impossible for a power even of an essentially spiritual character to dominate the world unless wealth supplied the driving force for its activities. This the Popes of Avignon acquired by creating or developing a vast fiscal system, designed to secure to them considerable pecuniary resources. Two kinds of taxes were levied on ecclesiastical benefices: the one paid directly to the Curia by those liable, the other levied locally by collectors.
The taxes paid at the Roman court were numerous. The ordinary dues (servitia communia) consisted of fees payable by bishops or abbots when appointed to their offices by the Holy See, and amounted to one-third of a year’s income. The petty dues (servitia minuta), the sacra, the subdiaconorum, were gratuities paid to the personnel of the papal court and of the cardinals’ households. Abbots and bishops also had to pay high chancery dues, quittance fees, charges levied on the occasion of their visits ad limina, and fees on receiving the pallium. More important still were the taxes levied locally by the agents of the papal treasury: the decimae, or one-tenth of the net income of a benefice; the annatae (annalia, annualia, fructus primi anni), the revenue of a benefice in the year following the institution of a new incumbent; and subsidia caritativa, which were extraordinary contributions. Further, on the death of any beneficiaries, clergy or bishops, the Popes exercised right of spolia and took possession of their effects; and during the whole vacancy of a benefice to which they collated, they received the revenues, fructus vacantes as they were called. Finally, they deprived the bishops and other prelates of the profits arising from procurationes, the pecuniary dues payable on the occasion of the canonical visitations they all were in duty bound to make.
While the number and the variety of the papal taxes constituted a heavy burden for the clergy, the nature and methods of their collection made them still more odious. No limitation of time could wipe out the debts of the taxpayers. Whether due from personal or from real property, they remained a charge on the benefice, however old they might be. Every holder of a benefice was made liable for the debts of his predecessors. Certainly he could take action against them or their heirs; but this was a doubtful advantage and often too expensive. The methods employed in exerting pressure so as to hasten the payment of taxes and overcome resistance combined to make the papal treasury universally execrated. In the fourteenth century, outside the Church as well as within it, harsh measures were the general rule. The collectors smote the recalcitrants with ecclesiastical censures, excommunication, the aggravatio, the re-aggravatio. It can be imagined what a deplorable impression it must have made on Christian people, when, during the holy offices, they heard the thunders of the Church hurled, with all the formalities, against their own pastors; and what a scandal it was for the people of Mondonnedo to see the mortal remains of their bishop deprived of Christian burial until his heirs made themselves responsible for his debts.
The accounts of contemporaries leave us in no doubt as to the general feeling. The fiscal measures of the Popes of Avignon, though there was a reason for them—and the maintenance of the papal court, the preparation for a crusade, the Italian wars, the transference of the Holy See to Rome, give ample explanation—excited the most lively discontent throughout Christendom. Not to mention the statements of chroniclers, we get from documents in archives and from the very account-books of the collectors themselves a rough idea of the state of mind of the clergy. In England, Parliaments expressed themselves with great bitterness against the papal exactions. In France, the resistance of the incumbents took the form of embarrassing the papal agents in the performance of their duties. In the Empire, the collectors were hunted down, thrown into noisome prisons, mutilated, and even strangled. The excitement among the clergy in the dioceses of Cologne, Bonn, Xanten, Soest, and Mainz reached such a pitch that in 1372 they bound themselves by oath not to pay the tenth demanded by Gregory XI, and to support in their resistance all against whom action was taken; any incumbent who betrayed his pledge was to be deprived of his benefice and declared ineligible to possess one again in the future.
The grievances of the clergy were well-founded. The reasons they alleged against the paying of taxes—the evils of the time, the disasters of war, the high cost of food, the scarcity of money, famine, and, lastly, plague—were certainly just. In France, above all, most benefices were ruined or destroyed by the Grand Companies. As a result the papal taxes inevitably reduced the incumbents to penury; and it cannot be wondered that these wretched people deserted their parishes. On the other hand, the withdrawal from those who had enjoyed it hitherto of the right of procuratio (provision of entertainment during a visitation) resulted in the cessation of canonical visitations, the relaxation of discipline, the abandonment of divine worship, and the non-residence of the clergy. A contemporary gives a slightly exaggerated account of this: “The people saw themselves everywhere deprived of the Word of God, and in several places of participation in the sacraments, because there remained no means of subsistence for their pastors to whose care they had been entrusted; churches and other buildings were almost everywhere in ruins, there being no possibility of keeping them in repair; while the poor died of penury, deprived both of consolation and of succour.”
The Popes of Avignon were not ignorant of the abuses that arose from their fiscal policy. In claiming the taxes they were in fact simply exercising the right of ownership over the property of the universal Church; this had been timidly asserted in the thirteenth century, and now in the fourteenth was often proclaimed aloud. Their pecuniary needs forced them to this regrettable extremity. When John XXII became Pope, he had in his chest only 70,000 gold florins. The papal treasure had been exhausted by the excessive legacies of Clement V; and the new Pope created taxes to meet his difficulties. The receipts amounted to a high figure, about 4,100,000 florins for the whole duration of his papacy. But the expenses, in great part owing to the Italian wars, came to 4,191,466 florins. The camera apostolica would have been driven to bankruptcy, had not John XXII paid in 440,000 florins out of his private exchequer and also extracted 150,000 more from the estate of Clement V. He left Benedict XII in a sufficiently favourable financial position to save him from having to exact some of the taxes. In 1342 the sums in the papal treasury amounted to 1,117,000 florins.
The brightness of the financial situation was abruptly dimmed after the accession of Clement VI. Accustomed to the life of a great nobleman, Clement scattered money far and wide. The balance of the papal treasury had sunk at his death to 311,115 florins; and even this was a fictitious balance, for it had only been created by borrowing. Innocent VI had an annual revenue of 253,000 florins, but the Italian wars swallowed up more than the taxes brought in. Henceforward the deficit was an ever yawning gulf. Innocent found himself obliged to sacrifice a great part of his silver plate, and a large number of jewels and precious ornaments. He was reduced to extreme penury; even works of art were sold for their weight in gold and silver, regardless of their artistic value. Urban V, at the end of his resources, had to borrow 30,000 florins from his cardinals, and Gregory XI was in debt to Louis of Anjou to the extent of 120,000 gold francs. Perforce they had to load taxes upon the holders of benefices.
The Italian wars were not the only interest of the Popes. They reckoned that, in view of the general increase in wealth, they would sink in the esteem of their contemporaries if they did not display themselves as the centre of social pomp. In consequence they lived like temporal princes and supported a gorgeous retinue. Their court shone with a display of luxury, though relatively to their other expenditure it was not excessive. The first place in the entourage of the sovereign pontiff was taken by his relatives, male and female, who attired themselves in precious stuffs and costly furs; then came knights, squires, serjeants-at-arms, chaplains, ushers, chamberlains, chefs, and so on. In sum, the private court of the reigning Pope was composed of three or four hundred persons or even more; and they were all supplied with clothing, food, lodging, and wages. Avignon under Clement VI became the rallying-place of the finest spirits of the age. In it could be met Italian and German painters, French sculptors and architects, musicians, poets, men of letters, lawyers, philosophers, astronomers, doctors; it was the scene of balls, tournaments, fetes, wedding banquets. An Italian eyewitness has left us an account of a magnificent reception given by Cardinal Annibale da Ceccano to Clement VI in 1343. Further, the Head of the Church needed a residence both secure and stately. Benedict XII and Clement VI built on the Roches des Doms the gigantic towers which still strike the visitor with astonishment, and connected them with imposing walls. Inside their palace, which was like an impregnable fortress, the Popes could defy the troops of free-lances who held France and Provence to ransom. This was not sufficient, however. The invasion of the Grand Companies into the county of Venaissin forced them to enclose both the old town and the new with a common girdle of walls, having magnificent ramparts, crowned with battlements, pierced with posterns, and defended by moats. Luxury was displayed especially in the internal decoration of the papal palace. Carpets adorned the various apartments and state chambers. Rich stuffs hid the none too gorgeous furniture. On the walls, if they were not decorated with frescoes, hung tapestries of high warp, the products of Spanish and Flemish workshops, silken hangings, taffetas, green and red serge. The tables were loaded with vessels of gold and silver.
The cardinals, like the Pope, led a life of pomp and magnificence. In 1351 Bernard of Garves rented fifty-one houses or parts of houses in order to lodge all his retainers. Peter of Banhac needed ten stables for his horses, and five of them could alone take thirty-nine horses.
So in the fourteenth century a new state of affairs had come into being. The Papacy set itself to extract all that heaped-up wealth could supply of worldly renown and human delights. In this it imitated the temporal powers, who in the same period were increasing their pomp. The papal court underwent a transformation similar to that of the royal courts of France and Aragon. It extended too the cult of arts and letters inaugurated by Boniface VIII. In sum, the period of the Avignonese Popes was marked by a profound transformation. The Papacy had rapidly recovered the moral prestige which it had lost at the time of the contest between Philip the Fair and Boniface VIII. It aimed at creating a strong temporal power by continually rounding off its lands that lay in imperial territory, and by reducing to obedience those Italian States which, to a greater or lesser extent, recognised its authority. The Pope declared himself as king, and as such surrounded himself with a magnificent court, in which the cardinals played the part of princes of the blood.
Undoubtedly, to make the Church rich and powerful, they ran the risk of introducing into it the spirit of the world and the desire for its gains. Would not the care of souls be thereby neglected? In truth, the Pope’s example became contagious. The clergy dressed in sumptuous garments, made of fine material patterned in squares like a chess-board; they had on their feet pointed shoes of the latest fashion; and, contrary to the canonical regulations, they wore their hair long. A canon of Liege, Jean Lc Bel, came to divine service every day accompanied by a guard of honour composed of some sixteen to twenty persons. There were numerous exceptions, but far too many bishops, as the Cistercian James of Therines remarks, “were principally occupied with increasing their power and worldly goods.” They practised luxury and ostentation. Provincial councils ordered them to reduce their establishments, and forbade them to keep jesters, dogs, and falcons; but without success.
This new orientation given to the Church was to some minds a grave scandal. The loudest in their censures were the Franciscans in Provence, who were partisans of absolute poverty. Known as Beguins or Spirituals, they drifted into strange errors. According to them, the era of the Holy Spirit had arrived; the Church, given up to avarice, pride, and the pleasures of the flesh, had finished its course; the Pope was Anti-Christ; the official priesthood was to be succeeded by monachism. These revolutionary views aroused the attention of John XXII, who excommunicated all Fraticelli, Beguins, Beguines, Bizochi, and Brethren of the Poor Life, and ordered them to dissolve the associations which, under cover of privileges from Celestine V, they had tried to form in Italy and the south of France (1317-18). A much more serious issue brought the Holy See into conflict, no longer with a small body of fanatics, but with almost the whole Order of Franciscans. It arose on a theological question: did Christ and the apostles practise poverty to the extent of having no possessions either in common or individually? The constitution Cum inter nonnullos (12 November 1323) taxed with heresy those who maintained the affirmative on this point, and an important section of the Friars Minor revolted.
Both against the Spirituals and other more or less kindred sects, and against the supporters of absolute poverty, the tribunal of the Inquisition took action. It had just been reorganised by the Council of Vienne. The friar-inquisitor, whether Franciscan or Dominican, who up to then had been in sole charge, had henceforward to collaborate with the bishop to whom the accused was subject. The presence of the ordinary was necessary for the use of torture, for the custody of those under arrest or condemned, for the management of the prisons, and for the publication of sentences. The errors professed by the Spirituals and by the Franciscans in revolt against the Holy See were energetically suppressed. Recalcitrants perished at the stake or languished in prison. By the end of the century their numbers were very small.
Other heretics, the Vaudois (Waldenses), who had taken refuge in the deep valleys of Dauphine, were zealously tracked down. Their theological beliefs can be practically summed up as the direct negation of the authority of the Roman Church. The priests, they declared, soiled by the thirst for lucre and the love of riches, had lost all right to lead Christians in the path of salvation. Their own barbas (guides), men of upright and intelligent minds who observed evangelical poverty, alone were qualified to absolve sins. Expeditions were equipped by the orders of Gregory XII and were completely successful; the prisons became too small to hold those whom the sword and the stake had spared. The Great Schism gave the Vaudois the opportunity to raise their heads again; and their numbers grew to such a point that in 1488 an army was dispatched to massacre them to the very summits of the Alps.
In spite of the impulse given to it by the Popes of Avignon, the Inquisition was becoming moribund. The public authorities were jealous and suspicious of it, and refused it their support. The ill-feeling against the Church went on increasing; and heresy, though persecuted, left its traces everywhere. In the last half of the fourteenth century, Wyclif succeeded in stirring Europe by the trenchancy of his writings and the thunders of his preaching, while the Bohemian priests Conrad Waldhauser, Milic of Kromeriz, and Matthias of Janov lashed the disorders of the clergy unsparingly. The spirit of insubordination with which these innovators inspired the masses made ravages throughout Christendom; their gravity was to be realised in the period of the Great Schism.
If abuses existed under the Popes of Avignon, it was not because they were tolerated. On the contrary, the different Popes who resided on the banks of the Rhone strove to suppress them. Clement V added to the Decretales a sixth book, the Clementines, full of wise rules on discipline. John XXII published a series of constitutions, later to form an addition to the Corpus iuris canonici under the name of Extravagantes. He also created new dioceses in South France, Aragon, and Italy, thinking by extraordinary measures to provide for the salvation of souls. New bishops, he believed, could more easily feed less numerous flocks. Benedict XII, Innocent VI, Urban V, and Gregory XI enforced residence on incumbents, drove the parasites from the court, favoured study, and combated the abuses whose existence they were the first to note.
With the reform of the religious Orders these Popes were equally concerned. While the Franciscans were suffering from dangerous dissensions within the Order, the Dominicans, the Knights of St John of Jerusalem, the Order of Grandmont, the Cistercians, the Benedictines, the Canons Regular living under the rule of St Augustine, had all considerably abated their pristine fervour. The Popes, especially John XXII, Benedict XII, and Innocent VI, tried to restore the monastic life in its integrity. They imposed new constitutions, they appointed to the headship men more likely to combat abuses, after having deposed those who were unworthy of their high office, and they restored in the cloisters the practice of poverty, work, and study. One of the great evils in the Church in the fourteenth century arose from the crowd of vagabond monks (gyrovagi), who had been expelled from their convents or had left them without the permission of their superiors, and who roamed the world in quest of adventures and lived a hand-to-mouth existence dependent on the charity of the public. Benedict XII and his successors were at pains to enforce the return of these vagabonds to their own monasteries, or, if that created difficulties, to others of the same Order. They also endeavoured to check the practice among members of the Mendicant Orders of transferring to the Benedictines and Cistercians, thus becoming eligible for benefices. Some of their regulations remained in force until the Council of Trent; others, which they had propounded but not put into force, were promulgated by that Council.
The reforms inspired by the Popes of Avignon might have produced more effective and lasting results, had it not been for the counteracting influence of events of a disastrous nature and beyond papal control. The Black Death of 1348-49 depopulated the convents and profoundly disturbed monastic life; the ware which raged almost throughout Europe, and particularly in France, led to the most terrible disorders. The freebooting bands that devastated the country brought ruin to monasteries and priories; they laid waste the fields, pillaged the granaries and warehouses, burnt the dwellings, violated the nuns. This accumulation of evils, detailed by chroniclers and documents alike, resulted in the absence of discipline and the neglect of the essential principles of monastic life. The number of wandering monks increased, and many of them went to swell the ranks of the Flagellants, those fanatics who began by scourging the body until blood flowed as a means of appeasing the wrath of God, but who ended by becoming a public danger. Their blind zeal drove them to persecute the Jews, to threaten ecclesiastical property, to emancipate themselves from the authority of the Church, to scorn the ordinary means of salvation, and to create a definitely revolutionary movement, against which prison and the stake were the only methods that succeeded.
Crusading zeal of the Papacy
The Popes of Avignon were obsessed with the idea of a crusade. They preached it with a praiseworthy devotion that deserved to earn success. At their appeals, the princes solemnly took the cross; but the enthusiasm, which was possibly quite sincere, died as rapidly as it had come into being. The warfare which raged unceasingly in Europe prevented the kings from undertaking the pious journey overseas; and finally the fall of Acre in 1291 had numbed the energy of the West. The era of general crusades was over for good. Henceforward there were only to be limited expeditions, brilliant indeed, but barren in their effects, because of the small numbers of soldiers or sailors that took part in them; thus there might have been great results from the capture of Rhodes on 13 August 1310, and the naval victory of Negropont during John XXII’s pontificate. However, the papacy of Clement VI was marked by important achievements. Judging that an appeal to arms addressed to the kings would receive an inevitable rebuff, he took on himself to plan a crusade. His idea was to form a naval league between the Latins of the East and the Venetians against the Turkish corsairs who infested the Archipelago; then to profit by the weakness of the Greek and Armenian schismatics to make them solicit the alliance of the Latin league and abandon their schism.
The first part of this ingenious plan was put into execution. After laborious negotiations, in which Clement VI displayed both patience and ingenuity, a league was formed between the Papacy, the Venetians, the King of Cyprus, and the Hospitallers. In the spring of 1344 a flotilla of twenty-four vessels assembled at Negropont, and, under the direction of the Patriarch Henry of Asti, surprised Smyrna, which for long had been the head-quarters of the Turkish corsairs, on 28 October 1344. Emboldened by their victory, the Latins, after some further successes, wrested from the emir Omar Beg the command of the sea. On land the Christian arms were less fortunate. The Turks could not be dislodged from the citadel which dominated the town of Smyrna; and even, following on a sortie of the Christians, killed all their leaders (January 1345). However, the early victories had roused the West from its apathy; an army of about 15,000 crusaders came to Smyrna in 1346 to act under the command of Humbert, the heir to Dauphiné. Unluckily Humbert was irresolute and incapable of initiative. His indecision paralysed his troops, who had not the spirit to make a move against the enemy. Soon sickness and dissensions among the allies discouraged the unstable commander of the crusade; he obtained his recall to Europe and retired into a Dominican convent. In spite of this, the fleet won a striking success at Imbros, and destroyed more than a hundred Turkish vessels. But, left without a leader, the league gradually disintegrated; the Venetians had in view only the extension of their influence at the expense of the Genoese and the Hospitallers of Cyprus. There was nothing to be done but to sign a truce which should assure to the Christians the advantages won at Smyrna (1350-51).
The formation of the Latin league brought about a rapprochement between the Holy See and Constantinople. The death of Andronicus Palaeologus had aroused disturbances in the Eastern Empire, where the leading minister, John Cantacuzene, disputed the throne with Andronicus5 heir. The Empress-regent in alarm sought the help of the Holy See, and addressed to it written promises of submission to the Roman Church. Clement VI replied that if the Greeks gave serious pledges of their sincerity, he would give them his assistance. But for the Byzantine Court to treat of reunion at a time of civil war was to run the risk of alienating a people strongly attached to its traditions; so it took no action on the papal terms. It meditated an alliance with Omar Beg, the powerful emir of Smyrna; but the capture of that town by the Latins compelled the Greeks to change their policy and to veer round once more to Clement VI. In the same way Cantacuzene had intrigued with Omar Beg and now felt his position prejudiced thereby. He shared the throne with John Palaeologus, and paid court to the Holy See, in order to prevent the Empress and her party from allying with the Latins, and also to fetter the actions of the Genoese and Venetians who were advantaging themselves at his expense. Clement VI at first rejected the advances of Cantacuzene and then gave heed to them; but he made his alliance conditional, especially on the union of the Churches and the recognition of papal supremacy. When the break-up of the Latin league took place, the scheme of reunion, which for Cantacuzene had really only been a diplomatic counter, entirely collapsed.
While preaching and organising the crusade and working for the union of the Churches, the Popes of Avignon kept in the forefront an object which they had much at heart—the expansion of Catholicism in Asia. They did their best to get into relations with the rulers of the Far East who seemed well-disposed to Christianity, to the prejudice of the doctrines of Islam; secondly, they took in hand the conquest of paganism. In place of temporary missions with no fixed centre they substituted permanent missions which gave birth to new Churches. In 1312 the episcopate included an archbishop and ten suffragans in China; by 1314 there were almost fifty Franciscan convents. On 1 April 1318 John XXII created ten suffragans for the metropolitan of Sultaniyah. And in the Persian provinces twenty churches could now be counted. One measure adopted by John XXII in 1324 greatly assisted the expansion of the missions. The Societas Peregrinantium propter Christum, founded by Innocent IV, received new statutes, and was placed under the direction of a vicar-general. His duties consisted in the sending of missionaries, Franciscan or Dominican, to the infidels wherever the needs of the moment required. A few years later, about 1330, the Basilian monks in Armenia abjured the schism, adopted the Dominican rule and habit, and under the name of United Brethren (later Uniats) swelled the missionary ranks. The Franciscans established themselves once more in the Holy Land, and built convents at Jerusalem and Bethlehem. In Tartary, Turkestan, India, at Tabriz and elsewhere, Christianity was preached. Political events, however, in the second half of the fourteenth century put a sudden check to the advance of the faith. The overthrow in 1368 of the Mongol dynasty in China and the accession of Tamerlane (Timur) to the throne of Transoxiana resulted in the expansion of Islam in Asia. Tamerlane undertook a holy war and set himself to get possession of the Caliphate. The Muslims quickly regained the ground lost by them at the beginning of the century; they subjugated Kipchak in 1389 and India in 1398. Soon there was nothing left in Persia but the bishopric of Sultaniyah, and on this its prelates had but a precarious hold.
The Great Schism
The prolonged stay of the Papacy at Avignon had the effect of withholding from the Italians the considerable advantages which they reaped from its presence among them. Rome became a city of the dead. Instead of being the capital of Christendom, it was reduced to the level of a provincial town tom by faction-strife. Petrarch echoed the Italian grievances. With inimitable vigour of expression he denounced the pontiffs who had deserted Italy. Avignon is hateful in his eyes. “How shameful”, he writes, “to see it become suddenly the capital of the world, in which it ought only to take the lowest place”. He even calls it “the impious Babylon, the hell on earth, the sink of vice, the sewer of the world. There is in it neither faith, nor charity, nor religion, nor the fear of God, nor shame, nothing that is true, nothing that is holy....” The matchless poet is not content with abuse of Avignon. He makes his talents subserve his hatred, and paints the papal court in the blackest colours, as given up to the worst debaucheries. For long the impassioned invective of Petrarch has been taken as truthful and repeated complacently. But recent historians have recognised its real value, in refusing to it any semblance of truth. One of them speaks of Petrarch as “the implacable detractor of the Popes of Avignon”, and this is the phrase that exactly describes him.
However, there is one point on which the poet has not exaggerated. He is for us a standing witness of the state of exasperation to which Italian opinion had come. The Romans, especially, wished to end what was meaning ruin to them, the absence of the Papacy. In Gregory XI’s time, their ambassadors summoned the Pope to return within their city’s walls. They averred, according to Nicholas Eymerich, inquisitor in Aragon, “in the name of those that sent them, that if he did not transfer the papal court to Rome, the Romans would create a Pope who would pledge himself to fix his dwelling and his residence among them”. According to the warden of the Castle of Sant’ Angelo, the Abbot of Monte Cassino was ready to play the thankless part of anti-Pope. Further, several Romans plotted to massacre the foreigners of whom the Curia was composed, and especially the cardinals, in order to force the Pope to fix his residence for ever in the Eternal City. If, as he declared his intention of doing, Gregory XI had quitted Rome again, in all probability the schism would have broken out. In his lifetime the crisis would have been easier to settle. Unfortunately he died too soon, with the gloomy presentiment of the dissensions which were to rend the Sacred College. However, before he died, in order to dispel the danger, he thought it sufficient to allow the cardinals to carry out his successor’s election under irregular conditions. He authorised them not to preserve the interval prescribed by custom, not to stay in Rome, and not to shut themselves up in conclave (19 March 1378).
The forebodings of Gregory XI were speedily realised. The day after his death, which occurred on 27 March 1378, the Romans began to bring pressure to bear on the Sacred College. Steps were taken collectively by the municipal officials and separately by individuals, all directed to prove to the cardinals the necessity they were under of electing a Roman, or at least an Italian, as Pope. These different demonstrations of the popular will were accompanied too by threats. One man apostrophised Jean de Cros in the following terms: “Give us an Italian or a Roman Pope; otherwise, all the ultramontane cardinals will be knifed”.
The attitude of the Romans became still more dangerous. Getting possession of the guard of the conclave and of the Borgo San Pietro, they evicted the papal functionaries and drove the nobles out of the town. As they were afraid that the members of the Sacred College might think of escaping by water, they confiscated the oars and rudders of all the vessels anchored in the Tiber. Moreover, from the Campagna and the neighbouring hills armed bands poured into Rome, who did not scruple to molest the followers of the cardinals. Panic spread on all sides, and there was fear of pillage. The far-sighted put their possessions in safe custody. Peter of Luna dictated his will, while Robert of Geneva donned a coat of mail before adventuring into the street. And yet the cardinals do not seem to have fully appreciated the danger. They did not think of hiring mercenaries in the service of the Church or of shutting themselves up in the Castle of Sant’ Angelo. They relied on the promises of the Romans to respect their freedom of voting.
On Wednesday, 7 April 1378, the entry into conclave took place, accompanied by the clamour of the populace demanding a Roman or an Italian Pope. The municipal officials, faithfully interpreting the popular will, took an attitude which was to bear important results: “Name a Roman or an Italian Pope”, they said to the assembled cardinals; “otherwise your lives and ours are in danger, so determined are the people to obtain what they want”. A disturbed night followed. About day-break the alarm sounded. Soon the crowd, massed near the Vatican, became tumultuous; its shouts grew more menacing. The three priors of the Sacred College felt obliged to hold a parley with the demonstrators; but the guard of the conclave represented the peril that threatened them: “You run the risk of being torn in pieces, if you do not hasten to elect an Italian or a Roman. We are outside, and can judge of the danger better than you can”. This language had the effect of persuading the cardinals. The scrutiny was taken, and the Archbishop of Bari, Bartolomeo Prignano, received the unanimous vote of all the cardinals except Orsini, who refused to participate in an election conducted in such circumstances. His colleagues also seemed to have the feeling that they were acting without due consideration. Some of them voted in these terms: “I freely name Bari”; “I name the Archbishop of Bari with the intention that he shall be veritably Pope”. The expressions they employed showed that they were conscious of having committed some irregularity in the election. By using them, they wished apparently to give a belated legality to their actions and to ease their consciences. But doubt was uppermost; one of them, at the meal following the election, proposed that it should be held again.
While a deputation was on its way to make sure of Prignano’s consent, the Romans, in ignorance of the result of the scrutiny, were getting impatient. They broke through the conclave enclosure and invaded the Vatican. There was a general rush for safety. The cardinals scattered and took refuge where they could; the cardinal of Brittany climbed to the roof of his house and hid behind a chimney. Those most in danger shut themselves up in the Castle of Sant’ Angelo or escaped from Rome. On 9 April twelve out of the sixteen cardinals enthroned Prignano. No one thought of denouncing the invalidity of the election of 8 April or of proposing the holding of a new conclave. They even, individually or as a body, announced to the Christian rulers the accession of Urban VI to the papal throne.
The Pope in a very short while revealed himself in an unfavourable light: he was capricious, passionate, and extremely violent. The cardinals repented of their choice, and one after the other they left Rome and assembled at Fondi. There, thirteen in all, they elaborated a sort of encyclical, in which they declared Prignano’s election invalid and pronounced anathema on his person (9 August 1378). On 20 September the foreign cardinals gave their votes to Robert of Geneva (Clement VII); their Italian colleagues gave a tacit consent to the election by their presence in the conclave. So began the period which bears the distinctive title of the Great Schism of the West, partly because of its exceptional duration (it lasted from 1378 to 1417), partly because of the gravity of the crisis, which almost brought the Church to ruin and at any rate afflicted it with the direst consequences.
Opinion in modern times is much divided on the subject of the legitimacy of Urban VI and of his rival Clement VII. The problem amounts to this. There are certain points that are beyond dispute: the election of Prignano was preceded and accompanied by popular disturbance, which brought a certain pressure to bear on the electors; it took place under the sway of a definite fear, but not entirely as the result of that fear; it was carried out with undeniable precipitancy; its validity appeared doubtful from the first to a number of the electors. Were these different circumstances sufficient to deprive the cardinals of the freedom they ought to enjoy in the choice of a Pope, and therefore to vitiate the election of 8 April 1378? This is the crucial question, and in order to settle it we need not turn to the legal texts that define wherein freedom in the election of a Pope consists. We have to deal, on the contrary, only with the evidence of persons interested in legalising their own conduct. The difficulty is not one peculiar to modern times; contemporaries felt incapable of coming to a decision. The Council of Constance, which met to end the crisis, Martin V and his successors, the Church in fact—all have avoided pronouncing a verdict. “The solution of the great problem posed in the fourteenth century escapes the judgment of history”—such is the wise conclusion of Noel Valois, and to this we must subscribe
Since the Church had two heads, it was only to be expected that each would excommunicate the other or at least the opponents of his cause; also that each would nominate to benefices, and that in consequence the partisans of Clement VII and the partisans of Urban VI would be at daggers drawn in every diocese. Religious warfare threatened the peace of every State, and the governments found that they had either to give their adherence to one of the rival Popes or to remain neutral. It has long been the custom to explain the composition of the rival obediences solely by political expediency. To France is attributed the design of having sought for its own advantage to re-establish an Avignonese Pope and to associate its allies with its own aims; opposed to it were England and the Empire, anxious, in concert with other smaller States, to free themselves from French influence. The facts, however, are somewhat different. Undoubtedly policy played a part, but conscience played its part as well. At first, Charles V shewed no hostility towards Urban VI in spite of the unfavourable reports that reached him from Rome. Ignorant where the truth lay, he adopted an official neutrality (11 September 1378). It was only after having consulted the clergy of the realm assembled at Vincennes on 16 November 1378, and after having examined the documents dispatched by the cardinals from Fondi and from Avignon, that he gave a tardy decision in favour of Clement VII.
Castile, although the ally of France, preserved for some time a strict neutrality. At last King John I determined to abandon this equivocal attitude. In May 1380 an embassy was sent to Avignon, Rome, and Naples; it heard evidence from eyewitnesses of the election of Urban VI and from the surviving cardinals. The enquiry was strictly conducted and its results communicated on 23 November 1380 to the clergy assembled at Medina del Campo; on 19 May 1381 adhesion to Clement VII was proclaimed.
The Kings of Aragon took the same attitude as their neighbours of Castile; after having instituted two enquiries, in 1380 and 1386, they adopted the cause of Clement VII. On 6 February 1390 Charles III, King of Navarre, followed their example. The King of Portugal had already, at the end of 1379, declared against Urban VI; it was only the intervention of England that caused him to retract (29 August 1381). In fact, it was England that in every way opposed Clement VII. It saw in him an ally of its enemy, France; and it tried to checkmate him in Flanders, Italy, Tuscany, Umbria, Provence, and Guienne. Hardly at all did religious motives inspire its conduct. The contest with Clement VII was for the Plantagenets only a particular phase of the struggle in which they had been engaged for many years with the Valois. They declared in favour of Urban VI without having seriously examined the validity of his election; their information as to what took place at the conclave seems to have been scanty and often erroneous. They carried their intolerance so far as to refuse to receive the delegates of the cardinals. Policy equally dictated the attitude taken by Scotland towards the rival claimants to the papal tiara; as an ally of France it adopted the cause of the French Pope.
That the Emperor declared for Urban VI was decided as much on political as on conscientious grounds. His choice was defended by strong arguments derived from the inconsistency of the cardinals’ actions: first the enthronement and recognition of Urban, then the election at Fondi. His manner of judging the events did not equally impress all the princes of the Empire; some of them were for Urban, others for Clement. Some went through strange alternations: after recognising Clement VII as the true Pope, they abandoned his cause under pressure of circumstances, in spite of their French sympathies. Hungary, on the other hand, never hesitated; from June 1379 onwards it adhered to Urban VI.
The situation in Italy was very complex and variable. In Sicily the Duke of Montblanch and his son Martin I corresponded both with the Pope of Rome and with the Pope of Avignon. Their desire was to range themselves within the Avignonese obedience, but the opposition of the nobles and people prevented them from ever realising their aim. At Naples, during the reign of Joanna I, there was considerable excitement. The people were on the side of Urban VI, while the queen at one time proclaimed him as Roman pontiff, at another as usurper. The accession of Charles of Durazzo to the throne on 2 June 1381 ought to have strengthened the position of Urban; for was it not to him that Charles owed his crown? But the violence and extravagant conduct of the Pope of Rome turned the mind of Charles against him. Urban VI seemed, in fact, to have been seized with madness. He stirred his own partisans into revolt against him; he set himself to empty his own court. He put to the torture several cardinals who disapproved of his strange conduct; five others were moved by his barbarous proceedings to issue a sort of encyclical branding the character and actions of him who had raised them to the purple. Pileo da Prata and Galeazzo Tarlati di Pietramala left Italy and went to Avignon to make submission to Clement VII, who hastened to add them to his own Sacred College (13 June 1387). The fantastic character of Urban frightened the towns of Umbria and Tuscany, and they concluded a treaty of defensive alliance against him. Gian Galeazzo Visconti, Florence, Bologna, and many other towns entered into relations with Clement, and though not actually recognising him received his ambassadors. Even at Rome riots broke out, and Urban, feeling his position to be unsafe, left the city. So an examination of the map of Europe some ten years after the double election of 1378 forces the conclusion that the area of the two obediences is practically equal, but that on the whole the balance is on the side of the Pope of Avignon. This is of little consequence, however, beside the melancholy fact that the West was rent asunder into two factions, each of which burled its anathemas against the other.
This abnormal state of affairs could not last. Had not then the Church the power within herself to heal her wounds? Had she not in the past had recourse to a remedy of which she had proved the healing effects—the assembling of a General Council? But the application of such a measure necessitated the assent and the co-operation of both the heads of Catholicism. Neither Urban VI nor Clement VII would consent, nor would their cardinals either. Theologians pointed out that a council had no authority over the person of a Pope. Who would convoke it? The two rivals in concert? They could not be counted upon to take a step which put their rights on an equality. One of them by himself? The partisans of the rival obedience would not listen to a summons issuing from one whom they regarded as a usurper. The cardinals, or the prelates? The Emperor? The kings acting in harmony? All these solutions went right against tradition. A council assembled under such abnormal conditions would be devoid of authority. From it, men thought, the schism would only emerge the more vigorous.
To this almost official doctrine certain writers gave formal contradiction. Henry of Langenstein in the Epistola Pacis (1379), Conrad of Gelnhausen in the Epistola Concordiae (1380), an anonymous writer—possibly Pierre d’Ailly—in the Epistola Leviathan (1381), pleaded the cause of the council. In 1381 Henry of Langenstein wrote a treatise even more unorthodox. His Concilium Pacis suppressed all the embarrassing questions as to the summoning of the council, the person of its president, its legitimacy. It expounded the views that the council is superior to the Pope, that infallibility resides in the congregation of the faithful or their pastors, that the council can assemble at the summons of the kings, can listen to the statements of Clement VII and Urban VI, and can give a decision, whether in favour of one of them or for the holding of a new election by the college of cardinals
The subversive theories enunciated by Henry of Langenstein were not new. They practically reproduced the revolutionary propositions put forward by William of Ockham, Marsilio of Padua, and John of Jandun at the height of the struggle between Lewis of Bavaria and John XXII. William of Ockham, some fifty years before, had attacked the ancient prerogatives of papal power. In 1324, in the Defensor Pads, which was condemned by John XXII shortly afterwards (23 October 1327), Marsilio of Padua and John of Jandun had maintained “the supremacy of the Empire, its independence of the Holy See, and the invalidity of the powers usurped by the sovereign pontiffs.” They had taught that the Papacy was of human institution and only obtained its pre-eminence by a long series of usurpations. The supreme authority in the Church belonged to the general council, the summons to which devolved on the humanus legislator fidelis, “which has no power above it,” or its representative, “the princeps." From council and “legislator” the Pope derived his powers. By them he could be punished, suspended, or deposed. In short, Marsilio of Padua and John of Jandun preached the subjection of the Church to the State; they overturned the ecclesiastical hierarchy, despoiled the clergy of their privileges, and degraded the sovereign pontiff to the position of president of a sort of Christian republic governing itself, or rather putting itself under the government of Caesar.
The writings of Henry of Langenstein were too bold to win at once the assent of the mass of the clergy and of the governments; they needed time to accomplish their work. The ideas that the German doctor enunciated penetrated at last into university circles and ended by being put into practice, when all other means of ending the schism had been exhausted; especially when the cardinals of both obediences seemed to shew their desire to perpetuate the schism by electing successors to Urban VI and Clement VII, to the former Boniface IX on 2 November1389, and to the latter Benedict XIII on 28 September 1394.
The French government was the first to take the way of innovation. Charles VI, interfering in spiritual affairs, assembled at Paris a national council, which sat from 2 to 18 February 1395 and numbered as many as 109 members. This imposing assembly voted, by a majority of about three-quarters, the adoption of the method of cession (the joint resignation of both Popes). The Dukes of Berry, Orleans, and Burgundy went to Avignon to communicate, in the name of the king, the decision to Benedict XIII. They received a point-blank refusal. But their journey had the result of linking up the Sacred College with France; the cardinals met at Villeneuve-les-Avignon on 1 June 1395, and adopted, with only one dissentient voice, the French plan. More than a year passed in fruitless negotiations; the sovereigns of Europe disliked the method of cession. At last England and Castile changed their minds. Their ambassadors joined with those of France, in the summer of 1397, in begging Benedict XIII and Boniface IX to renounce the tiara simultaneously and to submit to the decision of a council. Both Popes refused to listen to them and put forward proposals to create delay.
In despair of obtaining the end of the schism, the French clergy met at Paris from 14 May to 8 August 1398 and adopted an extremely serious resolution. They decided that the best way of bringing the Papacy to their view was to deprive it of all the sources of influence of which it disposed—the receipts from the heavy taxation, which supplied it with abundant resources, and the collation to benefices. By a process of self-deception they were ingenuously persuaded that such a resolution did not amount to an act of disobedience; they adopted as a pretext the fallacy that, in prolonging the schism by his refusal to abdicate, Benedict XIII was guilty of heresy and therefore deprived of all right to govern the Church. This revolutionary doctrine, borrowed from Ockham, Marsilio, John of Jandun, and Henry of Langenstein, overturned the constitution of the Church. It suppressed papal independence, and handed over the Holy See to the mercy of the princes and the lower clergy. It assured the triumph of disorder and the introduction of anarchy into the government of the Church. In spite of all these consequences, the total withdrawal of obedience from Benedict XIII was published on 27 July 1398. The king announced it by ordinance; like the clergy, he thus attributed to himself the right of dominating the Papacy. So, in a moment, the edifice cleverly and patiently built up by Clement V and his successors toppled to the ground. The collation to benefices that had taken so much trouble to acquire passed back into the hands of the ordinary collators. The fiscal regime, imposed on ecclesiastics in spite of their resistance, came to an end; but the bishops and the king clearly meant to maintain it for their own advantage.
The withdrawal of obedience necessitated the solution of certain problems, which were decided by the clergy in August 1398. It was decreed that those elected to the headship of monasteries, whether exempt or not, should receive confirmation from the bishop of the diocese; that bishops should submit their elections to the metropolitans; that elections, postulations, and provisions should be made free of charge. The reversions to benefices granted by Benedict XIII lapsed, unless the recipients bad already acquired a ius in re. In cases reserved for the Holy See, absolution was given by the bishops, failing the papal penitentiaries, who kept their powers provided they abandoned the cause of Benedict; even so the penitents had to apply to the next Pope recognised. Dispensations for marriage in urgent cases were also a matter for bishops and cardinals. Appeals were conducted in three stages: bishop, archbishop, and provincial council.
The publication of the royal ordinance of 27 July 1398 at Avignon on 1 September produced a panic within the Curia. Almost everyone decamped, for fear of losing their benefices. Five cardinals alone remained faithful to Benedict XIII; the remaining eighteen crossed the Rhone and took up their quarters at Villeneuve. Though separating themselves from the Pope they yet claimed to be maintaining the government of Christendom. They confiscated the papal seal, and named one of their number captain of Avignon. Fighting soon broke out in the town; the inhabitants began the siege of the papal palace in which Benedict remained enclosed.
The King of France and the Sacred College had thought to prevail over the Pope; they underestimated his obstinacy and his endurance. The aged Pope did not give way; on the contrary, it was he that imposed his will on his adversaries. He actually eluded the vigilance of the besiegers and escaped on 11 March 1403. Once in his native Provence he was in safety. His escape had an immediate effect. The cardinals on 28 March, the people of Avignon on 31 March, France (28-30 May) returned to the obedience of Benedict XIII. Apostolic reservations appeared again as in the past, and elections and collations made contrary to them were declared null. The payment of annates was claimed from all who had entered upon their benefices since 1 August 1398. The papal collectors exacted even the payment of arrears of taxes, however far back they went. The policy of violence adopted by the King of France had ended in a complete check.
The experiment of a self-governing Church had satisfied nobody; the mirage of liberty had rapidly vanished. The principle of free elections had been outrageously violated; and the chapters had had to obey nobles, princes, kings, and to do violence to their own wishes. Hardest of all was the lot of the ordinary collators and patrons; the clergy of their choice were evicted in favour of university nominees and the candidates of the king or the princes. Their last illusions were swept away by royal letters dated 20 March 1400: collators received the injunction to provide alternately, according to the vacancies, for proteges of the king, the queen, the dauphin, the king’s brother, or his uncles, and for nominees of the University of Paris. The Archbishop of Rouen was made to suffer for refusing a benefice to the confessor of the Duke of Orleans: his temporalities were seized by the royal officials. Also, during this period, the royal power, which had approved, if not provoked, the suppression of papal taxes, quickly re-established them for its own profit in the form of aids, extraordinary subsidies, and tenths. Needless to say, the king’s agents shewed no moderation in collecting the contributions. The monk of Saint Denis, who witnessed their brutality, states bitterly that “the first fruit of the withdrawal of obedience was to expose the Church to the persecution of the secular arm”. Thus had another chronicler written long before of Pope and king: “While the one shears Holy Church, the other flays it.”
The withdrawal of obedience might perhaps have produced lasting results, if it had had the assent of all the clergy. But some of the bishops, the universities of Toulouse, Angers, and Orleans, and a large number of clergy and laymen, felt invincible repugnance at breaking with a Pope regarded by them all as legitimate; their consciences prompted them to obedience. These scrupulous souls made up a minority working in favour of Benedict XIII, and they finally brought about the reopening of negotiations with him. Outside France, in spite of an active propaganda, only the Queen of Sicily (Naples), the King of Castile, the Bishops of Metz and Verdun, the Dukes of Bar and Lorraine, the Archbishop of Besançon, the Count of Namur, the Duchess of Brabant, and the towns of Cambrai and Liege, joined in the withdrawal of obedience; while in 1401 Provence, a dependency of the Queen of Sicily, submitted of its own accord to Benedict XIII, and in February 1402 Henry III of Castile, responding to the almost unanimous wish of his people, did the same. The French policy, therefore, met with a humiliating rebuff.
Benedict XIII, who had taken refuge at St Victor’s in Marseilles, thought he ought to give a proof of his good intentions for unity by entering into negotiations with Boniface IX in September 1404. His ambassadors proposed a meeting, or at any rate that discussions should be entered into by arbitrators appointed by both parties. But Boniface IX refused, and treated his adversary as an obdurate heretic. In this he was consistent with his previous attitude; for on 1 March 1391 he had declared it to be a sin for anyone to maintain the view that a General Council was capable of ending the schism. At bottom, Boniface IX had never doubted the justice of his cause; he could only see one solution for the crisis from which the Church was suffering—the submission of the usurper, as he regarded him. So naturally he repelled with indignation a project which implied his recognition that the rights of his rival were oil an equality with his ow n. His cardinals were of the same mind. When Boniface IX died on 1 October 1404, they had the opportunity of displaying their altruism by suspending the election of a successor and coming to terms with the delegates of Benedict XIII, who were in Rome at the time. On the contrary, they demanded the abdication of the Pope, “hoping to remain in sole possession of the field.” In their defence, it must be acknowledged that the representatives of Benedict refrained from enquiring about the guarantees that might be forthcoming if their master should consent to surrender power. To the demands of the Roman cardinals they replied with a direct refusal, and then took their leave and departed.
The Roman cardinals then met in conclave. After having all bound themselves to work for unity and to abdicate if they obtained the tiara, they elected as Pope Cosmo Migliorato, better known as Innocent VII, on 17 October 1404. The new Pope seemed to intend to keep his promise. He invited the ambassadors of Benedict XIII to return to Rome and renew the conversations that had just been broken off. But he changed his mind and decided otherwise. When the ambassadors proposed a conference with their master to debate the question, Innocent would no longer receive them. Benedict XIII resolved to profit by the advantage which his rival’s refusal gave him. On 16 May 1405 he landed at Genoa, and renewed to the Roman Court his proposal of a conference. As he expected, he met with a fresh refusal. A cleverly-worded bull, of 27 June 1405, pointed out that the wrong did not lie on his side. The princes were invited to overcome the obstinacy of Innocent VII by force; but they remained deaf to this appeal to arms.
On 6 November 1406 the Roman Pope died after a short illness. Gregory XII was elected as his successor on 30 November, and on 11 December he published a bull expressing his determination to renounce the tiara, provided that the Avignonese cardinals would consent to unite in conclave with their Roman colleagues. While making it clear that his own preference was to act by way of conference, Benedict XIII in somewhat ambiguous terms accepted the proposal. In short, it was agreed that a meeting should take place at Savona from 29 September to 1 November 1407. When the time came to carry out the agreement, Gregory XII repented of his proposal of joint abdication. He did not conceal his dislike of entering a port which was under the French King’s authority, and he merely announced that he would approach as near as was possible to Benedict XIII. This was a vague and not very helpful assurance. It delighted Benedict, for it gave him an excellent part to play; he did not fail to reach Savona by the appointed date. The festival of All Saints arrived with Gregory at Siena, and refusing to go any farther. There were various reasons for his not keeping his word: the fear of losing in his absence the Papal States, which were threatened by the King of Naples, Ladislas of Durazzo; the advice of his supporters among the lay rulers, who dissuaded him from going to Savona; his mistrust of the King of France; and possibly too, the control that his nephews and courtiers exercised over him. When Benedict, to maintain his advantage, came to Porto Venere, Gregory brought himself to leave Siena and go to Lucca, on 28 January 1408.
A comparatively short distance now separated the two Popes. Gregory XII invented countless excuses to avoid crossing the gap, and proposed various meeting-places, such as Pisa, Avenza, and Leghorn. Then came the capture of Rome by Ladislas of Durazzo on 25 April 1408, and this gave him the opportunity to break off negotiations. The cause of unity seemed for ever ruined. The Roman cardinals felt that they had been tricked; in May, nine of them abandoned Gregory XII and went to Pisa; from there they sent envoys to Benedict XIII, and discussions were begun at Leghorn. Four cardinals represented Benedict, and they readily conferred with those from Rome. Without the knowledge of their masters and in direct revolt against them, the cardinals of the two obediences quickly came to terms. It seemed to them that as the Popes lacked the courage to heal the schism, the duty devolved upon them. They announced to the Christian world that a General Council would meet at Pisa on 25 March 1409.
For the Council to have a definite result it was necessary that the whole of Christendom should be represented in it; this implied the withdrawal of obedience by all countries from the reigning Popes. Now, in spite of the efforts of the cardinals and of France, Europe was divided into two parties. On one side were England, Lorraine, Holland, the Bishop of Liege, the Electors of Cologne and Mainz and some other German princes, the King of Bohemia (Wenceslas, King of the Romans), Poland, Austria, Lombardy, Tuscany, the Romagna, France, Navarre, Portugal, the King of Cyprus, and Louis of Anjou, Ladislas’ rival for Sicily; on the other, the rest of the Empire including Rupert, King of the Romans, the Scandinavian countries, Hungary, Venice, the March of Ancona, a portion of the Romagna, Rome, Ladislas, King of Sicily (Naples), Castile, Aragon, and Scotland. Policy, indeed, inspired the conduct of more than one government; but the opponents of the Council were on strong ground in contesting the right of the cardinals of the two obediences to convoke the Council while Gregory XII and Benedict XIII were still regnant.
On the day fixed, 25 March 1409, the Council met at Pisa; it numbered some 500 members. Its first care was to institute proceedings against Benedict and Gregory. On 5 June sentence was pronounced: the two Popes were deprived of the tiara as heretics. It remained to choose a successor. To the cardinals present at Pisa was given the commission of proceeding to the election of a Pope; twenty-four in number they entered into conclave, and on 26 June 1409 elected Peter Philarges, cardinal of Milan, who took the name of Alexander V. The new Pope did not occupy the chair of St Peter for long; he died suddenly during the night of 3-4 May 1410. The Sacred College fixed its choice on Baldassare Cossa, Pope John XXIII, on 17 May 1410. The fathers of Pisa had thought to relieve the conscience of Christendom. By their precipitancy in electing a Pope they had only aggravated the evil which they fondly imagined they were curing. In place of two obediences there were henceforward three.
Fearing for his personal safety, Benedict XIII had taken ship on 16 June 1408; on 1 July he landed at Port Vendres and made his way to Perpignan. There he took up his residence, and summoned a council, which opened on 21 November. It was, all things considered, an imposing assembly; it comprised about 300 members, including eight archbishops and thirty-three bishops. But of the cardinals who had formerly composed his court, only three were present. The fathers of the council came from Castile, Aragon, Navarre, Provence, Savoy, France, and Lorraine. The other States were not represented, so that the council had not the necessary qualification of universality. The question of unity figured on the programme; but Benedict’s actual purpose was, by equipping himself with resolutions of the council, to combat those who had deserted his cause. Contrary to his expectations, he found himself obliged to give his promise to abdicate; but his abdication was to take effect from the day on which Gregory XII was deposed, both de facto and de iure. This condition relieved him of apprehension for the future, for Gregory had no intention of abdicating. Far from it; he had taken refuge in the territory of Friuli, and held a council there at Cividale from June to August 1409. One decree was published, citing Benedict XIII and Alexander V to appear before him, and affirming that he alone was the rightful successor of St Peter. If he made mention of abdication, he was careful to hedge his promise round with conditions which made it nugatory. To avoid the danger of compulsion being brought to bear upon him, he put himself under the protection of Ladislas of Durazzo; it was to Ladislas’ interest to undertake his defence and to ensure its efficacy. So neither Benedict XIII nor Gregory XII would bring themselves to surrender their office. Their partisans, undoubtedly, were only thinly scattered throughout Christendom, but there was always the chance that reasons of State or weariness of the strife might cause a revulsion of feeling, and that the government of the Catholic world would thus be restored to them.
In fact, the countries which had decided for the obedience of the Popes of Pisa were not long in realising that the expectations they had based on them were being sadly deceived. The Council had demanded from Alexander V the establishment of reforms which would restrict the rights of the Holy See to an alarming degree. They amounted to this: restitution to the bishops of the rights of procuration, suppression of annates, servitia, tenths, and other taxes, re-establishment of canonical elections and of collation to benefices by the ordinary collators. The Pope resisted demands so contrary to the practice hitherto observed in the Church. He consented to certain limited concessions: for example, that the ordinary collators should have the power of appointing to one out of every four of the benefices within their gift; and that arrears of taxes due under previous Popes should not be exacted. But these concessions vanished into thin air. The old taxes reappeared. Freedom of elections, especially from papal provisions, was not restored, with the connivance certainly of the lay rulers. The general discontent increased when John XXIII imposed on Christendom a collection of crushing fiscal measures. In short, the reforms promised at Pisa miscarried; they were betrayed by those who had shouldered the responsibility for seeing them carried into effect.
John XXIII had to pay a heavy reckoning. The Council of Constance deposed him on 29 May 1415, and he himself ratified the sentence. Gregory XII adopted a more dignified attitude: after having issued his summons to the Council, he abdicated on 4 July. As for Benedict XIII, the Emperor Sigismund made a special journey to Perpignan, and tried to obtain from him the abdication he had promised so often, notably at the council in Perpignan itself. The old Pope obstinately refused to abdicate. He believed in the legitimacy of his rights and in the loyalty of his supporters, who still numbered about one-fifth of the Catholic world. Here his calculations went astray. On 13 December 1415 at Narbonne, the representatives of the Kings of Aragon, Castile, Navarre, and the Count of Foix signed an instrument by which they bound themselves to leave the Council of Constance to proceed against Benedict, provided, as his legitimacy was not contested by them, that he did not voluntarily abdicate. On 26 July 1417 Benedict XIII was deposed. On 11 November 1417 Cardinal Odo Colonna was elected unopposed as Pope Martin V.
This election did not immediately end the schism. Benedict, enclosed in the castle of Peñíscola, persisted in resistance until his death on 29 November 1422. Before he died, he reconstituted his court by the creation of four cardinals. The intrigues of King Alfonso V of Aragon, who was interested in prolonging the schism, caused this college of cardinals to elect Gil Sanchez Muñoz, provost of Valencia, on 10 June 1423 as Pope Clement VIII. He held office for six years, and abdicated on 26 July 1429. He even experienced a schism within his party. John Carrier, one of Benedict XIII’s creations, who had not been summoned to the conclave of 1423, set up a rival Pope, Benedict XIV; of him no single act is recorded. The Aragonese schism ended thus in farce.
Effects of the Schism
The crisis through which the Church had passed had been in the highest degree detrimental; its constitution was wellnigh overturned. For the great achievement of the Popes of Avignon had been to increase the papal sovereignty over Christendom by encroaching gradually upon episcopal rights, and to develop a system of centralisation, complete in all its details, by absorbing little by little every individual activity in the Church. The withdrawal of obedience adopted in 1398 by France, Castile, and other countries dealt a grave blow to tradition. In spite of the inconveniences it created and the discontent to which it gave rise, it taught the clergy to organise, and to govern without the Pope. The attempt made, fruitless as it was, acted as a spur some ten years later, when the neutrality voted at the fifth council of Paris in 1408 was received with enthusiasm. The general discontent degenerated into revolt against the Papacy. Profiting by the lessons of the past, the council organised on systematic lines the autonomy of the French Church. For the papal power were substituted two main organs of government—provincial councils and primacies.
The provincial councils were held each year, and lasted for at least a month. They gave dispensations for marriage, heard appeals, exercised jurisdiction over all the clergy including the bishops and the metropolitan, and examined and confirmed the elections of the primates. The primates confirmed the archbishops in office, consecrated them, and heard appeals from their courts. In case of death or other impediment, their powers were exercised by their suffragans and the provincial council. In the religious Orders the central authority was in the hands of the general chapters; a permanent committee, composed of four members and having its seat at Paris, heard cases from exempt monasteries. Minute regulations were laid down about benefices; especially they aimed at preventing the secular authorities from exercising pressure over elections by the chapters. The disputes to which the collation to smaller benefices gave rise were dealt with by a committee of five members who, in the event of absolute disagreement between collators and privileged clergy (i.e. royal and university nominees), themselves appointed to the benefices, though only alternately with the ordinary collators. Papal taxation was entirely suppressed.
As we have seen, the violent attacks made by Henry of Langenstein in the Squalores curiae romanae and Dietrich of Niem in the Speculum aureum de titulis beneficiorum had passed in time from the realm of theory to that of practice. Their revolutionary phrases reappeared on the lips of the various orators who prepared with skill and virulence the charges against the Papacy in the Paris councils—Pierre Leroy, Gilles Deschamps, Jean Jouvenel, Jean Petit, Gerson, Pierre d’Ailly, Jean Cortecuisse. Moreover, from 1408 onwards, national Churches with their own liberties and customs were being formed outside France also, in the various kingdoms that adopted neutrality both towards Benedict XHI and Gregory XII. These Churches, however, had no vitality apart from what they obtained from the royal power. In spite of their desire for independence, they were obedient to the rulers. They were essentially State Churches, and in a few years they were to acquire so much power that Martin V had to negotiate and make concordats with them. The constitution of the Roman Church was thus profoundly modified. The Holy See could no longer communicate directly with the episcopate; it must henceforward beat against the royal will which barred its way. The ideals of the Middle Ages faded away in the troubles that resulted from the Great Schism. Even the power of the Pope was to be limited in a dangerous fashion.
Faced with the evils that grew out of the schism of the West, controversialist writers and speakers of the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries transferred to the days of uncontested Popes the grievances which could justly be formulated against the Popes of the three obediences. In domineering tones they demanded the reform of the Church in head and members; some of them aimed at more radical measures. One verse-writer, a member undoubtedly of the University of Paris, compares the Church abandoned to schism to a woman with two husbands, and made a Greek address it, or, to be more precise, counsel it, thus:
L'Eglise ha pour espous Jhesu, vray Dieu et home.
John Wyclif went so far as to refer to the Papacy in the following terms: “To get rid of such a demon would not harm the Church, but would be useful to it; in working for his destruction, the Church would be working solicitously for the cause of God.” However, though these daring propositions found some echo among contemporaries, most people were not so extreme as this. They confined themselves to proclaiming the need for reforms and the superiority of the Council over the Pope, as the only practical way of bringing the schism to an end; and their theories were to triumph, at long last, at Pisa and Constance. The prestige of the Papacy was, therefore, profoundly affected; its absolute power seemed to have been taken from it, or at least to have been considerably limited in scope.
Grave as was the crisis through which the Church had passed, it is advisable to avoid exaggeration about it. Historians who base their views on the violent charges made in the controversial literature of the time, above all in the celebrated work of Nicholas of Clamanges, the De corrupto Ecclesiae statu, have depicted the moral condition of religious society in the fourteenth century in the blackest colours. Going back to the period before the Great Schism, they have drawn plentifully from the writings of Dante, Petrarch, the chroniclers, and even of convinced champions of papal omnipotence, such as Alvaro Pelayo, St Catherine of Siena, and St Bridget of Sweden. Their enquiries all end in the same conclusions. But the documents published out of the Vatican Archives have caused other historians to revise the charges by which the memory of the Popes of Avignon has been assailed, at least to a certain extent. While condemning what was deserving of condemnation, these recent writers have clearly distinguished Clement VII and Benedict XIII from their predecessors. Though in every pontificate there were abuses, it is necessary to take note of the sum of Christian endeavour, and of the manifestations of popular piety. The evils of the time drove the faithful to the exercise of severe penances.
There were saints in all ranks of society and in every country. Raymond Lull (1256-1315) and Pierre Thomas (1305-66) died as martyrs for the faith, the one at Bougie, the other at Famagusta. Bertrand of Saint- Genies, Patriarch of Aquileia, fell a victim in 1350 to his zeal for recovering the property and privileges of which his Church had been unjustly deprived by predatory vassals. The Blessed Venturino da Bergamo (1304-46) excited the crowds by his ringing eloquence, and at his voice they forgot their feuds, practised charity, gave themselves up to exercises of penance. On 1 February 1335 he left Bergamo, and drew after him to Rome a mass of pilgrims who numbered up to 20,000 or 30,000 persons, all of whom devoted themselves ardently to prayer and the strictest asceticism. In 1343 his enthusiastic sermons excited the populace in Lombardy to take the cross, and when they embarked for the Holy Land he followed them, to meet his death at Smyrna. The Blessed Giovanni Colombini (1304-67) also traversed Italy, not to preach the crusade, but to announce and prepare the kingdom of God. “Praised be Jesus Christ1’ was his motto and device. As his Divine Master had set the example of charity, so he continually preached peace. His disciples took the name of Gesuati in 1364, and gave themselves up to the care of the poor and the sick. The Sienese Giovanni Tolomei, St Bridget of Sweden, St Catherine of Siena, St Colette, the Blessed John Discalceatus, Peter Ferdinand Pecha, Gerard Groote of Deventer, James of Bourbon, the Blessed Peter of Luxemburg, and others, were all famed for terrible austerities. These pious souls were not isolated cases. Besides the Gesuati, other new religious congregations were founded such as the Olivetans, the Hieronymites, the Brethren of the Common Life, and the Brigittines. Mystic Christianity, preaching the renunciation of the things of this world and the abandonment of the soul to God, had in the fourteenth century its most illustrious representatives—Master Eckehart, Margaret Ebner, Johann Tauler, Heinrich Suso, Jan Ruysbroeck, Jean Gerson, and above all Thomas a Kempis, the author of that admirable treatise of perfection, the Imitatio Christi. Around these diverse persons were gathered lay folk, themselves in love with mysticism and the spirit of penance. The fourteenth century counted an indefatigable apostle in Vincent Ferrer, who evangelised in turn Aragon, Castile, Languedoc, Auvergne, Touraine, Brittany, Burgundy, the Lyonnais, Dauphine, and Flanders, and everywhere won the multitudes by his eloquence. Finally, at the summit of the ecclesiastical hierarchy, the Blessed Urban V, with his gentle mien, illumined the whole Church.
So there existed in the fourteenth century a remarkable contrast of good and evil, and, in spite of the deep wounds from which the Church was suffering, she gave proof of an intense vitality. One most anxious question, however; still demanded an answer. Could the Church herself heal her own wounds?