The Schism of the Roman-Catholic Church

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The Schism of the

Roman-Catholic Church

From the book “History of the Church” by N. Talberg.

Translated from Russian by Seraphim Larin.


The Schism of the

Roman-Catholic Church

Missionary activity of the Latins.

Papacy and Monasticism.

Papal Conflict With Emperors.

Decline of Papal Power.

Attempts to Curb Papal Authority.

Church’s Secession in the West.

Reasons that Prepared the Separation of the Churches.

Beginning of the Separation.

Final Separation of the Churches in the 11th Century.

Heresies and Sects in the West.

Theological Directions in the West.

New Dogmas in the Roman Church.

Sects in the Roman Church in the 11th—15th Centuries.


General Dissatisfaction with the Roman Church.

Reform Movements in Germany. Lutheranism.

Roman-Catholic Church Politics.

Guarding of Orthodox Faithful from Roman Propaganda.

Latin Endeavors to Secure Holy Places in Palestine.

New Papal Endeavors in Favor of Unionism.

Interrelationship of Papacy and Catholic Governments.

Religious Directions in the Roman Church.

New Dogmas in the Roman Church.

The Old-Catholics.


The Jesuits.


History of the Jesuits.


Missionary activity of the Latins.

The missionary activity of the Roman church in the 11-15th centuries took on a character that is not proper for a Christian. The peaceful path of spreading Evangelical teachings by means of sermons and persuasion was forsaken. During the conversion of the unbelievers, the Roman church was more willing to allow the use of forceful measures — fire and sword. It was also not backward in sending her missionaries into those countries, where Orthodox missionaries were active, forcing them out and converting the newly Christened Orthodox faithful to the Latin faith. At the same time, they were also attempting to spread their teachings among the established Orthodox faithful, trying to convert them to their faith.

The following methods were employed to spread Christianity throughout Europe: 1) A number of crusades of the cross to convert the Baltic Slavs (Wends); 2) Converting Prussians through force of arms — initially by the order of Prussian knights, and then by the order of German knights; 3) affirming Christianity, which had been established in the 12th century, by sword and flame of the sword-wielders in Livonia, Courland and Estonia, and 4) making Latvia into a Christian state through the marriage of the Latvian prince Yagailo with the successor to the Polish throne, princess Yadviga. Heathen Latvians were baptized through force, while Orthodox Latvians were subject to persecution.

In Asia, the Latinos organized a variety of missions. They conducted propaganda among the Orthodox faithful, and endeavored to convert Muslims and heathens. They had no success among the Orthodox and the Muslims, and while they did establish a Christian congregation in the 13th century among the heathens (Mongols in China), it disappeared without a trace in the middle of the 14th century. After the discovery of new lands in western Africa and subsequently America, the Portuguese and Spaniards brought Christianity to these conquered lands. As a result of their brutal methods of converting the indigenous peoples, Christianity spread very feebly.

Papacy and Monasticism.

Papal struggles with Emperors for independence in church affairs.

The papal authority that was placed on such an elevated position by Nicholas I (858-867), fell significantly in the 10th and mid 11th centuries. This came about as a result of the Italian authorities’ interference in papal affairs, and because of the moral dissipation and inactivity of the Popes and clergy.

In mid 11th century, control of the papal throne was relinquished by the Italian Rulers into the hands of the German Emperor Henry III (1039-56) — from the Finnish dynasty — who restored the Emperor’s authority in Italy. As a consequence of the papal iniquities in those times (one of them sold his papacy for a large sum of money to a wealthy Roman), there arose a movement demanding the reform of the clergy. It soon found itself zealous champions and disseminators in the form of monks from the French monastery of Cluny (in Burgundy). The Clunytians preached that the clergy should reject their secular interests and worldly lifestyles. This applied especially to the Popes. Henry III was in sympathy with the Clunytians, inasmuch as it was aimed against simony and disorder in the church. Henry appointed three Popes, while the Clunytian movement aimed at freeing the church from the influence of secular authorities. A fervent champion of this concept was a monk named Hildebrand, who was made a cardinal by Pope Leo IX (1049-54) and then administered all the papal affairs for the next 20 years. At the outset, Hildebrand with the aid of some skilful politics removed the Emperor’s influence over the papacy. Son of a Tuscany peasant, Hildebrand was first the Pope’s personal chaplain, having spent some time in Cluny. Returning to Rome and supporting reforms, he occupied a prominent position, adroitly defending the independence of the papal authority. After the death of Leo IX, with changes in the papal seat of power, he acted so skillfully that the selection of the Pope, was made without any reference to the Emperor’s court — as though by chance and not by design. True, it was soon that the juvenile Henry IV (1056-1106) became Emperor. Through Hildebrand’s suggestion, he appointed Nicholas II, who decided to openly remove the Emperor’s influence in electing Popes.…

In 1059, he decreed at the Lateran council that the election of Popes belongs to the College of Cardinals bishops from Roman districts, priests from major churches and several deacons attached to the Pope and his cathedral. The rest of the clergy and people had to show only their concurrence. With regards to the Emperor, he could confirm the election to the extent of the right given to him by the apostolic throne. Roman nobility was dissatisfied with being relegated to a secondary position. They asked Henry IV to take advantage of the right to appoint Popes, just as his father had done. However, Hildebrand elected his own candidate, Alexander II (1061-73). After his death, Hildebrand decided to take up the throne himself, and after being elected by the cardinals, assumed it under the name of Gregory VII (1073-85). The Emperor was simply notified of the election.

Gregory ascended the papal throne, filled with those ideas on papal omnipotence, which had long ripened and developed into a whole system in his mind. Adopting the Roman church’s long-held view on the Pope as being Christ’s ruling vicar on earth, Gregory wanted to establish a universal theocratic monarchy under papal domination. According to his conception, the Pope had to rule not only over the spiritual but also secular authorities. He regarded every authority, not excluding that of the Emperor, as lower than the Pope’s. Every power receives its blessing and authority from the Pope. In cases where there is abuse from spiritual or secular powers, the Pope has the right to deprive them of their privileges that are attached to their calling, and grant those privileges to someone else, according to his discretion. According to Gregory, the Pope has the authority to grant omophorions and Emperor’s and king’s crowns. Before beginning to bring his ideas into fruition, Gregory needed to completely remove the secular influence on papal affairs. Although having rid itself of the Emperor’s pressure on the election of Popes, the investiture still remained under secular influence i.e. the right to allocate spiritual responsibilities. Consequently, Gregory immediately went about in abolishing the investiture. At a council in 1075, he passed an act banning investitures. It was decreed that those religious individuals that received their investiture from secular authorities be replaced, while those who carried out the investiture, be excommunicated from the church. The same council forbade priests to marry. In Gregory’s view, because unwedded priests were denied relatively ties with the surrounding world, this would make them more zealous workers of the church. The struggle against investiture was undermining the feudal dependence of church lands — bishop, abbot and priest must appear as church pastors and not vassals of king or prince.

The clergy itself submitted unwillingly to the spiritual reforms. The decision of a celibate priesthood was received especially harshly. Some clerics rose up against the papal legates. The worst reception received for these papal decrees was in Germany. Papal legates appeared before Henry IV and presented him with the situation regarding investitures. As at that time Henry was setting out to war, he agreed to the papal demands. However, when he returned, he continued the practice of investiture. Then in 1076, the Pope summoned him to Rome to be tried. The Emperor disdainfully sent his envoys to the Pope, and assembled a council of German bishops at Worms. In fulfilling the wishes of the Emperor, the council decided that it was unnecessary to submit to Pope Gregory as he was trying to enslave the church and remove the authority of the bishops. Henry declared that the Pope is subverting social order, established on two beginnings and blessed by God’s grace — Emperor’s power and priesthood. Having mixed these two fundamentals together, the Pope should resign and give way to a worthier individual.

However, Gregory was not to be frightened or driven from his path. In turn, the Pope excommunicated Henry and the bishops from the church. He declared that Henry is deprived of his regal worthiness, and that his subjects are released from their allegiance to him. He charged the German princes to select a new king. Had Henry not turned the German princes against himself by his earlier actions against them, this papal command would have had no effect. These papal allies were the same feudalists, whose influence the Pope tried to eradicate from the church. The East German dukes began a war against Henry. An uprising flared up in unruly Saxony. The spiritual hierarchy, having just expressed their opposition to the Pope, was confused by the Pope’s determination and with the common people, who due to their sympathy for church reforms, organized riots against the Pope’s enemies. The dukes, having gathered for an assembly in Tribur and decided that if Henry is not re-instated to the church by the Pope, he would be denied his throne. Henry became bewildered.

In the winter of 1077, he left with a small retinue to Italy. At the time, the Pope was located at a castle in Canossa, owned by his faithful supporter countess Matilda. Having arrived there, Henry was not allowed entry into the castle. He sent an envoy to the Pope with the acknowledgment of his guilt, to express his acceptance of the Pope’s demands and to secure absolution. The Pope forced Henry to stand three days before the castle walls for his decision, dressed as a penitent in bare feet, and not eating. The Pope forgave him, but only on the condition that the matter be resolved by the German dukes at an assembly.

However the humiliation, which Henry endured, proved fruitless. The German dukes not only didn’t lay down their arms, but also elected Rudolf, Duke of Swab as their king, who commenced a war against Henry. The Pope acknowledged Rudolf as king and once again, excommunicated Henry (1080). However, Henry was still able to attract a large number of supporters. Part of the spiritual hierarchy remained by his side, fearing that with the removal of their investiture they would become fully dependent on the Pope. Among those low echelon clergy were married priests. He attracted to his side, minor knights and populations of large cities, which were growing wealthy and were endeavoring to rid themselves of the oppression of seniors. In banning the Emperor, the Pope declared that the Apostles having received the authority from Christ to bind or unbind human consciences, were placed over the church and the whole world. If their successors can control spiritual responsibilities, they would more so authoritative over kingdoms and princedoms. Henry did not fall in spirit. Convening a gathering of bishops that were supporting him, he repeated Gregory’s declaration at the councils in Mölsen and Brixen (1080), and elected a new Pope Clement III. In one of the battles, Rudolf of Swab was killed and Henry consolidated his power in Germany. He then decided to end the matter with the Pope. In 1084, he stormed Rome, raised Clement to the papal throne and was crowned Emperor by him. Pope Gregory locked himself away in the castle of Sant’Angelo and firmly refused all talks with Henry. At this time, the Norman's who have conquered southern Italy came to the Pope’s aid. Their duke, Robert Guiscard, assembled a large force, which included enlisted Saracens. Henry was forced to leave Italy with the approach of Guiscard. The Norman's and Saracens savagely looted the city in front of the Pope’s eyes. Naturally, the citizens of the city were outraged at the behavior of the Pope’s allies. Realizing his grave position, Gregory VII withdrew to Salerno in the east where he shortly died in 1805, declaring to his close associates: “All my life I loved the truth and hated iniquity, for which I now die in exile.” The Roman church canonized him.

Popes Victor III (1086-87), Urban II (1088-99) and Paschal II (1099-1118), that controlled the Roman church after Gregory, were all his students and tried to realize his plans. Consequently, the struggle against investiture continued. They demanded its abolition, subjected Emperors to excommunication from the church and organized political unions against them. Henry IV, his son Henry V and their troops used to come to Italy, drive out the Pope and restore the antipope Clement. Pope Urban was especially resolute in his battle against Henry IV. In 1092, he was even able to provoke Henry’s son Conrad (who eight years later ruled Lombardy and Tuscany) against him. Urban’s sermon in Piacenza and Clermont (in France), aroused fanatical inspiration among the masses, which he was able to utilize for his own purposes. In 1096, while marching through Italy, the crusaders helped him to drive Clement out of Rome and subdue the Roman nobles that maintained the Emperor’s side. Urban then occupied the papal throne. Urban’s successor, Paschal II was able to completely dislodge antipope Clement from the domain of Rome, whereupon he died in that same year. Henry IV could do nothing with Urban II. The domain of countess Matilda barricaded Rome from the north and the support of the Norman's in the south, ensured protection for the Pope. Advanced in age, Henry IV was obliged to go to war against his son Henry. In 1106, their forces met on the banks of the river Rhine, where Henry IV died suddenly. The son was conditioned to oppose his father by the Pope, who sent him flattering letters with requests “to show some help to God’s church.”

Initially, Henry V followed in his father’s footsteps. Countess Matilda died, leaving her huge estate to the Roman throne. Henry V didn’t want to allow this strengthening of the Pope’s secular possessions, and continued to insist on the Emperor’s right of investiture of hierarchy clergy in the German and Italian kingdoms. Although he occupied Rome, his precarious position in Germany once again performed a great service to the Popes. Both sides had been fatigued through battle. During Pope Callistus II (1118-24) at the assembly in Worms, the Pope concluded a very favorable treaty for himself with Emperor Henry V and the German knights. On the basis of the 1122 Worms’ concordat, the Pope, as a spiritual figure, was presented with the right to spiritual investiture i.e. the right to select and ordain bishops and abbots, in conformity with church laws, together with bestowing the ring and scepter. The Emperor, as a secular head, was accorded the secular investiture i.e. the right to grant the same bishops and abbots, princely rights, land holdings etc., while accepting from them their feudal allegiance. For a time, discords and disorders that separated the western Christian world ceased.

Papal Conflict With Emperors.

Striving toward the realization of Pope Gregory’s theocratic plans, his successors entered into the conflict with the Emperors for ascendancy of church power over the state. Thus, Innocent II (1130-43) began to openly declare that Emperors obtained their worthiness just like a fief from a Pope. The same declaration was made by Adrian IV (1154-59) in a letter written to Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa (1152-90), from the house of Hohenstaufen.

A struggle began between the Popes and Hohenstaufens on this issue, which lasted for nearly 100 years. Frederick Barbarossa came to Italy, wanting to limit Pope Adrian’s pretensions. He called an assembly, where he argued that bishops had to submit to the Emperor and that if the Popes enjoyed secular powers, it is not because of a divine right, but rather by the directive of kings that grants them this authority. Soon after the election of Adrian’s successor, opinions of the cardinals became divided. Some selected Alexander III (1159-81), opponent to the Emperor, while the others — Victor IV (1159-64), his supporter. Frederick took advantage of the situation to subordinate the Popes to his influence. He called a council and demanded that both Popes appear before it. Alexander didn’t appear at the council and committed both Victor and Frederick to excommunication. The Emperor then expelled Alexander from Rome and installed Paschal as the new Pope. Leaning on the support of the Lombard cities, Alexander was not capitulating. When matters in Italy turned unfavorable for Frederick, he made peace with Alexander in 1177, on conditions that were favorable to the Pope.

Alexander’s successors were insufficiently strong to stand up to Frederick Barbarossa and his successor, Henry VI (1191). With the help of his wedding to Constance, sole heir to the Sicilian throne, Henry appended to his holdings the Norman kingdoms of both Sicilies, making him overlord of all Italy. Even in Rome, the Popes were greatly constricted under the ordinance of the Emperor’s prefect.

With the death of Henry V (1197), who left a very young son Frederick, the situation changed. Constance became ruler of Sicily, while the knights in Germany decided to select a new Emperor. The papal throne was taken by Innocent III, one of the most outstanding politicians of his time. He set himself the task of realizing in all its fullness, Pope Gregory’s plan for theocracy, and was able to place papacy on such a high level, that it never experienced before nor surpassed subsequently. After ascending the papal throne, he forced the prefect of Rome to swear allegiance to him, thereby eliminating the Emperor’s authority over Rome. Replicating this in other cities within the church domain, he was able to created an independent papal kingdom. Having re-established opposition from the rest of the Italian cities to the Emperor’s authority, thereby securing their support, the Pope embarked on Sicily. He was fortunate in that Constance herself asked Innocent to confirm her son as heir, Frederick, to the dominion of Sicily, as a fief of the papal throne. Before her death, Constance (1198) in her will passed guardianship of her son to the Pope, making Innocent ruler of Sicily. Meanwhile in Germany, a fierce struggle was taking place for the country’s throne, and both pretenders turned to the Pope for help. In 1209, Innocent placed the crown on Otto of Saxon. Having received his crown in Rome, Otto violated his promise to protect all papal rights and expand them in Italy. He declared many papal lands as Emperor’s fifes and attacked Sicily. Innocent III excommunicated Otto from the church (1210) and declared that he is deprived of his worthiness to be Emperor. The Pope offered the German knights to elect his pupil Frederick II as their Emperor, which in fact they did.

Innocent III also revealed his power in France, Portugal and England. With the latter, he had to endure a war with the English king John “Lakeland.” In 1207, the king refused to accept the Pope’s nominee, Stephen Langton as the Bishop of Canterbury. As a result of this battle, the Pope excommunicated John in 1209 and thereupon in 1212, deprived him of him of his throne. The people disliked the king for his cruelty and an uprising began in England. John became subdued, accepted Langton and acknowledged England to be a papal fief that was obliged to pay a tribute.

It was under Innocent that a Latin empire arose, and his authority and influence spread throughout a significant part of the East. He completed his brilliant manipulation with the Fourth Lateran Council (1215), which was attended by many bishops, abbots, priors and many kings of Western Europe.

After Innocents death, the Emperor’s authority became predominant over the Pope’s. Frederick II began to restore his power in Italy. He didn’t separate the Sicilian crown from the German one, as Innocent wanted. Innocent’s second successor, Pope Gregory IX (1227-42), attempted to banish Frederick from Italy and demanded the fulfillment of the promised crusade. Frederick moved on Palestine, but due to sickness among his soldiers, soon had to return. The Pope committed him to excommunication. Ignoring this and without the Pope’s permission, Frederick made a fifth crusade in 1228, temporarily seized Jerusalem from the Turks, and as a result of his marriage to Yolande — heiress to the throne of Jerusalem — and her subsequent death, crowned himself king of Jerusalem. After his return in 1229, Frederick temporarily made peace with the Pope, who was unhappy with both his successes and his actual return. Shortly after, there began a terrible hostility between them. Frederick started to appropriate papal territories. In 1239, Gregory IX again committed him to excommunication. Frederick sent an epistle to the princes and cardinals, in which he called Gregory an enemy of all governments, and promised to liberate everyone from papal tyranny. In response, the Pope sent a dispatch to them presenting Frederick as a non-believer. In 1240, the Emperor approached Rome. Counting on the French bishops as not being subordinate to Frederick, the Pope convened a council for 1241; while he in turn, seized the French bishops travelling from France. Occupying Rome, Frederick made the Pope his prisoner, who couldn’t bear the pressure and died in 1241. His successor, Celestine IV, lived just three weeks after his election. Because of dissension among the cardinals, the papal throne remained vacant for two years. In 1243, Innocent IV (1243-54) was elected and he continued his struggle with Frederick. In 1245, the Pope withdrew to Lyons, convened a council where he damned Frederick as a heretic and sacrileges, declaring his throne vacant and offering the Germans and Sicilians to choose another Emperor. Not having finished his battle with Innocent IV, Frederick II died in 1250. Having found out about this, Innocent rapturously announced Frederick’s death to the whole world as an event that was joyous to both heaven and earth.

Frederick’s children, Conrad IV and Manfred, began to consolidate the Emperor’s authority, the former — in Germany, the latter — in Naples and Sicily. Conrad died shortly thereafter, leaving a son Conradin. Just as Innocent lead the battle against the Hohenstaufens, so did his successors. In order to force them out of Naples and Sicily, the Popes placed a French prince Charles of Anjou to oppose them by inviting him to Italy with a crusading army. In the ensuing battle Manfred was killed, while Conradin was taken prisoner and executed by Charles in Naples (1268), but not without the knowledge of Pope Clement IV (1265-68).

Decline of Papal Power.

After a century of stubborn struggle against the hostile house of Hohenstaufens, the papacy gained a complete victory over them. However, this very victory was the beginning of the fall of papacy. Charles of Anjou, obligated to the Popes for his sovereignty over Naples and Sicily, and having given them a lot of promises, aspired to occupy such a position in Italy that were occupied by German Emperors. The Popes were forced to undertake measures in order to weaken his authority. Pope Nicholas III (1277-80) concluded a union with German and Byzantine Emperors, and before his death prepared an uprising in Sicily against him, known as the Sicilian supper (?). Notwithstanding this, Charles succeeded in securing such an influence in Italy that in 1281, he insisted on the election of his subordinate Pope Martin IV (1281-85).

However, the more dangerous opponent for papacy was the French king Philip the Fair (1285-1315). He rejected the papal right, established by Popes, to interfere in secular matters of other states. He delivered the first savage blow against Boniface VIII (1294-1303). Philip was at war with England. The Pope offered himself as a mediator, which Philip rejected, not wanting any interference from the Pope. The Pope became indignant, having learned that in order to cover his military expenses Philip had levied taxes on the French clergy, In 1296, the Pope issued a bull (without naming Philip), in which he threatened excommunication from the church to all laymen that are applying the taxes on the clergy, and all the clergy that are paying such taxes. The Pope replied by forbidding the export from France of all precious metals. As a result, the Pope began losing his income from France, and because of this, he agreed to concessions. The clergy was not forbidden to make voluntary donations for the state’s needs. A compromise was established, and Philip even accepted the Pope’s offer of mediating in his talks with the English king. However, it was soon discovered that in the role of adjudicator between the two, the Pope was supporting the English king. Hostilities renewed and the struggle between Philip and Boniface reached extremes. In 1301, because the papal legate spoke to the king so rudely, he had him arrested, ignoring the Pope’s demands to have the matter dealt with in Rome. The Pope wrote indignantly to the king: “Fear God and preserve His commandments. We wish you to know, that in spiritual and temporal matters, you are subordinate to us… We regard those who think otherwise as heretics. “ In another letter, he offered Philip to come to Rome with the French clergy — or an authorized body — in order to explain these matters. Philip burned both letters and replied: “ Let your immense stupidity know that in temporal matters, we are subordinate to no one… We regard those who think otherwise as insane.” In 1302, Philip convened an assembly of deputies from all classes of society, who expressed the same opposition as the King’s to the Pope, and triumphantly declared that the king received his crown directly from God and not the Pope. The French clergy concurred with this. Boniface responded by calling a council in Rome and condemning the behavior of the French with a bull “unam Sanctam” (opening words), in which he developed with full determination, Gregory VII system. He declared: “Christ entrusted the church with two swords, symbols of two authorities — spiritual and secular. One and the other had been established for the benefit of the church. The spiritual authority is found in the hands of the Popes, while the secular one — in the hands of kings. The spiritual one is greater than the secular one, just as the soul is greater than the body. Consequently, just as the body is subordinate to the soul, so must the secular authority be in subordination to the spiritual one. Only under these circumstances can the secular authority serve the church beneficially. In case of abuse by the secular power, then the spiritual authority must try her. The spiritual authority cannot be tried by anyone. To separate secular authority from the spiritual one and recognize it as autonomous, means to introduce a dualistic heresy — manicheism. In contrast, to acknowledge the Pope’s total spiritual and secular authority, is to acknowledge the faith’s dogma.”

Philip answered this bull by convening an assembly of government representatives, where the jurist Wilhelm Nogare accused the Pope of many crimes, and proposed the king be authorized to arrest and try the Pope. Boniface couldn’t tolerate this; in 1303, he damned Philip, applied interdictions on France and dismissed the whole French clergy. Philip convened a third assembly. Here, his skilful jurists accused Boniface of simony and other crimes, even non-existing ones e.g. of witchcraft, and as a consequence of this, it was decided to immediately convene a council in Lyons so that the Pope could be tried and the king vindicated. Meanwhile, Wilhelm Nogare was entrusted to arrest Boniface and present him to the council. Nogare set forth to Italy; he was joined by another enemy of the Pope, a cardinal who was a descendant of Colonna and who was driven out of office when Boniface became Pope. When they arrived, they found the Pope in a small town of Anagni. In order to disarm his enemies, he met them in full papal regalia, sitting on his throne. However, ignoring his endeavors, they arrested him in his own house. They treated him so harshly that after being liberated by the townspeople 3 months later, upon his return to Rome, he went insane and died shortly thereafter (1303).

Boniface’s successor, Benedict XI, realizing that his predecessor acted too brusquely, attempted to have a reconciliation with France. However, after 8 months in office, he died (1304). During the election of the new Pope, the cardinals were divided — those who had France’s interests at heart, wished to see a Frenchman occupy the papal throne, while those committed to Boniface’s interests — an Italian. Finally, the French bloc took the upper hand. The chosen Pope was an Archbishop Bertrand of Bordeaux, who took the papal name of Clement V (1305-14). Having an influence on the election, Philip the Fair secured an oath from the new Pope that he will revoke all of Boniface’s arrangements concerning him, denounce Boniface and destroy the Knights Templar. Fearing repercussions in Rome for his concessions to France, Clement decided to remain in France permanently by summoning the cardinals and confirmed his residency in Avignon. The Popes remained here up to 1377, and this nearly 70-year stay is known in history as the Avignon papal captivity. The Popes of Avignon, beginning with Clement V, became fully reliant upon the French kings and functioned under their influence. Despite this, the Avignon Popes strived to play the role of universal overlords — if not in France, then in other countries. However, they were not successful.

Awareness of independence of secular powers from spiritual ones developed everywhere. Following France, the next protestations against papal pretensions emerged in Germany. The Popes sent ineffectual excommunications and interdictions — but they were ignored. In 1338, the German Emperor Ludwig of Bavaria, the dukes and electorates even decided to show that the secular power was independent of the spiritual one, by passing a triumphant act. Having declared that the papal pretensions of controlling the Emperors crown as being unlawful, they decided that future coronations will not require papal affirmation. The same thing was passed in the “golden bull” (1356) of Emperor Carl IV. During the Avignon captivity of Popes, England being totally enslaved by the Popes since the times of John Lackland, also liberated itself from their influence. During Edward III reign, feudal tributes to the Popes were terminated, as was the practice of sending appellations to Rome. Even in Italy, the power of the Popes weakened. Only in the church sphere were they formally acknowledged as overlords. Whereas in reality, neither the Pope nor his successors and legates had any influence on the running of the state. Adherents of the Pope invited them to return to Rome, fearing that if the Popes remained in Avignon, papal authority would be completely obliterated. The Popes themselves were well aware of this. Employing a mercenary force for his resettlement within the church dominion, Gregory XI (1370-78) finally moved his residence to Rome (1377), where he eventually died (1378).

With his death, the Roman church experienced the beginning of the so-called Great Schism. The majority of cardinals in the papal curia were French, having come from Avignon. They insisted that the Pope be French while the Roman people demanded that he be a Roman. Eventually, an Italian was chosen as Pope — Urban (1379-89), a man of harsh and even cruel nature. The new Pope began his reign with trying to improve the morals of the clergy; this touched upon the cardinals. Insulted by this, the French cardinals seized the Pope’s valuables, left Rome declaring the election of Urban as invalid and elected their own Pope Clement VII (1379-94), who shortly thereafter settled in Avignon. Clement was recognized by France, Naples and Spain, while the other nations acknowledged Urban. Thus a dual authority appeared in the Roman church.

Attempts to Curb Papal Authority.

With the advent of the Great Schism, the western world, used to seeing the Pope as the sole head of the church, became very confused with this development. Furthermore, both the Roman and the Avignon Popes increased this confusion through their intrigues, malediction and dissolute lifestyles. Church discipline fell. Church transgressions intensified, especially simony. In the west, belief in the necessity for a visible church head wavered. Moves against the papal authority as head of the church began to emerge. Opinions began to be expressed that the Ecumenical council was greater than the Pope and it can pass judgement on him, and that only through that council can church transgressions and schism be stopped. After several discussions, the western powers agreed to initiate decisive measures to end the schism.

In 1397, an assembly of representatives of various powers decided to invite both Popes to voluntarily relinquish their positions. However, their concurrence didn’t eventuate. Greatly vexed at the two Popes behavior, the French and Roman cardinals agreed on convening a council. This council in the name of the two bodies was convened in 1409, in Pisa. At the same time, the Popes convened their own councils, which rejected the legality of the Pisa council. Apart from cardinals, bishops and abbots at the council in Pisa, there were also many magisters of theology and canonical rights. France and England sent their empowered representatives. However, the council that strived to end the dual papacy, didn’t achieve this because of the mistakes committed. The council decreed that the council can judge Popes and demanded the appearance of both Popes for judgement. When the Popes didn’t appear, the council declared them deposed. The question of transforming the head of the church and its members was raised. However, the cardinals attempted to convince the council to first elect a new Pope and then effect the reforms under his control. Alexander V was elected as the new Pope, and this was the mistake that the council made. Contending that the reforms need preparatory work before they can be introduced, he dismissed the council with a promise of reconvening it in 3 years time. Effectively, in addition to the two Popes, the Roman church received a third one. Each one regarded himself as the lawful Pope and was recognized as such by one or the other kingdoms. Alexander V died in 1410. It was said that Baldassare Cossa, who assumed the papal throne under the name of John XXIII, poisoned him.

After persistent calls, especially from the German Emperor Sigismund, the Pope agreed to convoke a general council, which continued from November 1414 till May 1418 in Constance.

In reality, there were three Popes ruling simultaneously: Gregory XII in Rome, recognized by middle and south of Italy; Benedict XIII in Avignon from 1394 and recognized by France and Spain; John XXIII in Bologna, recognized by northern Italy, Switzerland and Germany. They finally found no remedy than to dethrone all three Popes and elect a new one (11 Nov. 1417) — Martin V, who in turn closed the council with a promise to reconvene it in 5 years time. All the representatives of different kingdoms were able to achieve is to conclude separate concordats with the Pope, regarding the removal of some of the church’s failings. Martin was able to convince the council to defer the major reforms until the convening of the new council. The sitting council was closed in 1431. During Martins reign, the other Popes died and the schism ended. He didn’t concern himself with reform and only called the council in 1431 at Basle, but died the same year.

Martins successor, Eugene IV (1431-47) had to open the council at Basle, because all the representatives invited by Martin, had already arrived in 1431. The new Pope sent his cardinal to represent him and under whose auspices the council sitting opened. Eugene counted on the council acting according to his directives. However, this didn’t occur; the council immediately announced that it will act quite independently concerning the followers of Huss. As a result, the Pope declared the council closed. However the fathers at Basle didn’t want to recognize this. Verifying the prior state that an ecumenical council is higher than the Pope, they demanded that Eugene appear for trial and that if he failed to do so, they threatened him with removal. After some opposition, the Pope was forced through circumstances in 1433, to rescind his order for the closure of the council. However, the peace didn’t last long. The council of Basle took to church reforms, and its first enactment was to curb the unlimited authority of the Pope. Naturally, Eugene didn’t want to agree with this. Polemics ensued. The Basle fathers insisted that that the council was above the Pope and consequently he had to obey it. But the Pope maintained that the council was totally dependent on the him, as all its determinations received its legal status through the Pope’s confirmation. In 1437, so as to terminate the Basle fathers’ dangerous endeavors for reform, Eugene decided to relocate the council to Italy. At the time, there were discussions between the Pope and the Greek government about convening a council to deliberate over the question of unity between the two faiths. Eugene insisted that the council be held in Italy, and proposed that the Basle fathers relocate themselves over there. They refused.

Nonetheless, Eugene declared the Basle council closed and in 1438, appointed a new council at Ferrara, which was subsequently moved to Florence. Notwithstanding this, the council at Basle continued its sittings, and shortly after the opening of the council in Ferrara, declared the Pope dethroned. In response, the Pope excommunicated the Basle fathers from the church. After this, the Basle council started to wane; many of its bishops departed and some went over to the Pope’s side. Not being fazed by this, in place of Eugene, the remaining bishops elected a new Pope — Felix V. However, as everyone was conscious of the schism, the election of the new Pope was greeted with displeasure. Only a small number of the German electors approved of Felix. Even so, the Basle council continued sporadically in various cities until 1449, significantly weakening the papal authority. The council’s reforms were adopted in France and Germany and because of them, it was here that the clergy and churches were more independent of the Pope. In 1438, there appeared in France the so-called pragmatically sanction, while in Germany, in 1448 — the Vienna concordat, which defined the relationship of the French and German churches with the Pope.

Having concluded the matter with the Greeks, Eugene IV applied all his power in order to eliminate the aftermath of the Basle council — and so did his successors. However, because papal despotism was well known to everybody, their endeavors to have absolute power over all the churches met with little success. The 15th century saw the Popes ceasing their endeavors to have influence on political affairs of western states. They understood that the era of Hildebrand’s ideas had passed. Italy was the only country — in church domains — where the Popes enjoyed secular authority. The successors of Eugene IV, before the reformation, turned their attention toward consolidating this power. They wanted to make their domain a true kingdom, with the Pope as Emperor. As a consequence, more than at any other time, papacy assumed a secular characteristic. It is through this that the hierarchy and “Christ’s vicars” turned into sly politicians, intriguers, warriors, extravagant and immoral tyrants etc. For example Pope Leo X (1513-21), during whose time reformation commenced, was nothing more than an indulgent and extravagant secular ruler. The arts and sciences (of which he was patron), provided him with a more refined enjoyment. Religion and the church were completely forgotten by this Pope. The Pope himself treated Christianity with skepticism, while his confidants openly expressed their non-belief, and mocked everything that was holy.

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