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§ 13. The Schism Begun. 1378.

The death of Gregory XI. was followed by the schism of Western Christendom, which lasted forty years, and proved to be a greater misfortune for the Church than the Avignon captivity. Anti-popes the Church had had, enough of them since the days of Gregory VII., from Wibert of Ravenna chosen by the will of Henry IV. to the feeble Peter of Corbara, elected under Lewis the Bavarian. Now, two lines of popes, each elected by a college of cardinals, reigned, the one at Rome, the other in Avignon, and both claiming to be in the legitimate succession from St. Peter.

Gregory XI. foresaw the confusion that was likely to follow at his death, and sought to provide against the catastrophe of a disputed election, and probably also to insure the choice of a French pope, by pronouncing in advance an election valid, no matter where the conclave might be held. The rule that the conclave should convene in the locality where the pontiff died, was thus set aside. Gregory knew well the passionate feeling in Rome against the return of the papacy to the banks of the Rhone. A clash was almost inevitable. While the pope lay a-dying, the cardinals at several sittings attempted to agree upon his successor, but failed.

On April 7, 1378, ten days after Gregory’s death, the conclave met in the Vatican, and the next day elected the Neapolitan, Bartholomew Prignano, archbishop of Bari. Of the sixteen cardinals present, four were Italians, eleven Frenchmen, and one Spaniard, Peter de Luna, who later became famous as Benedict XIII. The French party was weakened by the absence of the six cardinals, left behind at Avignon, and still another was absent. Of the Italians, two were Romans, Tebaldeschi, an old man, and Giacomo Orsini, the youngest member of the college. The election of an Italian not a member of the curia was due to factions which divided the French and to the compulsive attitude of the Roman populace, which insisted upon an Italian for pope.

The French cardinals were unable to agree upon a candidate from their own number. One of the two parties into which they were split, the Limousin party, to which Gregory XI. and his predecessors had belonged, numbered six cardinals. The Italian mob outside the Vatican was as much a factor in the situation as the divisions in the conclave itself. A scene of wild and unrestrained turbulence prevailed in the square of St. Peter’s. The crowd pressed its way into the very spaces of the Vatican, and with difficulty a clearing was made for the entrance of all the cardinals. To prevent the exit of the cardinals, the Banderisi, or captains of the thirteen districts into which Rome was divided, had taken possession of the city and closed the gates. The mob, determined to keep the papacy on the Tiber, filled the air with angry shouts and threats. "We will have a Roman for pope or at least an ltalian."—Romano, romano, lo volemo, o almanco Italiano was the cry. On the first night soldiers clashed their spears in the room underneath the chamber where the conclave was met, and even thrust them through the ceiling. A fire of combustibles was lighted under the window. The next morning, as their excellencies were saying the mass of the Holy Spirit and engaged in other devotions, the noises became louder and more menacing. One cardinal, d’Aigrefeuille, whispered to Orsini, "better elect the devil than die."

It was under such circumstances that the archbishop of Bari was chosen. After the choice had been made, and while they were waiting to get the archbishop’s consent, six of the cardinals dined together and seemed to be in good spirits. But the mob’s impatience to know what had been done would brook no delay, and Orsini, appearing at the window, cried out "go to St. Peter." This was mistaken for an announcement that old Tebaldeschi, cardinal of St. Peter’s, had been chosen, and a rush was made for the cardinal’s palace to loot it, as the custom was when a cardinal was elected pope. The crowd surged through the Vatican and into the room where the cardinals had been meeting and, as Valois puts it, "the pillage of the conclave had begun." To pacify the mob, two of the cardinals, half beside themselves with fright, pointed to Tebaldeschi, set him up on a chair, placed a white mitre on his head, and threw a red cloak over his shoulders. The old man tried to indicate that he was not the right person. But the throngs continued to bend down before him in obeisance for several hours, till it became known that the successful candidate was Prignano.

In the meantime the rest of the cardinals forsook the building and sought refuge, some within the walls of St. Angelo, and four by flight beyond the walls of the city. The real pope was waiting for recognition while the members of the electing college were fled. But by the next day the cardinals had sufficiently regained their self-possession to assemble again,—all except the four who had put the city walls behind them,—and Cardinal Peter de Vergne, using the customary formula, proclaimed to the crowd through the window: "I announce to you a great joy. You have a pope, and he calls himself Urban VI." The new pontiff was crowned on April 18, in front of St. Peter’s, by Cardinal Orsini.

The archbishop had enjoyed the confidence of Gregory XI. He enjoyed a reputation for austere morals and strict conformity to the rules of fasting and other observances enjoined by the Church. He wore a hair shirt, and was accustomed to retire with the Bible in his hand. At the moment of his election no doubt was expressed as to its validity. Nieheim, who was in the city at the time, declared that Urban was canonical pope-elect. "This is the truth," he wrote, "and no one can honestly deny it."250250    Erler’s ed., p. 16. All the cardinals in Rome yielded Urban submission, and in a letter dated May 8 they announced to the emperor and all Christians the election and coronation. The cardinals at Avignon wrote acknowledging him, and ordered the keys to the castle of St. Angelo placed in his hands. It is probable that no one would have thought of denying Urban’s rights if the pope had removed to Avignon, or otherwise yielded to the demands of the French members of the curia. His failure to go to France, Urban declared to be the cause of the opposition to him.

Seldom has so fine an opportunity been offered to do a worthy thing and to win a great name as was offered to Urban VI. It was the opportunity to put an end to the disturbance in the Church by maintaining the residence of the papacy in its ancient seat, and restoring to it the dignity which it had lost by its long exile. Urban, however, was not equal to the occasion, and made an utter failure. He violated all the laws of common prudence and tact. His head seemed to be completely turned. He estranged and insulted his cardinals. He might have made provision for a body of warm supporters by the prompt appointment of new members to the college, but even this measure he failed to take till it was too late. The French king, it is true, was bent upon having the papacy return to French soil, and controlled the French cardinals. But a pope of ordinary shrewdness was in position to foil the king. This quality Urban VI. lacked, and the sacred college, stung by his insults, came to regard him as an intruder in St. Peter’s chair.

In his concern for right living, Urban early took occasion in a public allocution to reprimand the cardinals for their worldliness and for living away from their sees. He forbade their holding more than a single appointment and accepting gifts from princes. To their demand that Avignon continue to be the seat of the papacy, Urban brusquely told them that Rome and the papacy were joined together, and he would not separate them. As the papacy belonged not to France but to the whole world, he would distribute the promotions to the sacred college among the nations.

Incensed at the attack made upon their habits and perquisites, and upon their national sympathies, the French cardinals, giving the heat of the city as the pretext, removed one by one to Anagni, while Urban took up his summer residence at Tivoli. His Italian colleagues followed him, but they also went over to the French. No pope had ever been left more alone. Forming a compact body, the French members of the curia demanded the pope’s resignation. The Italians, who at first proposed the calling of a council, acquiesced. The French seceders then issued a declaration, dated Aug. 2, in which Urban was denounced as an apostate, and his election declared void in view of the duress under which it was accomplished.251251    The document is given by Hefele, VI. 730-734. It asserted that the cardinals at the time were in mortal terror from the Romans. Now that he would not resign, they anathematized him. Urban replied in a document called the Factum, insisting upon the validity of his election. Retiring to Fondi, in Neapolitan territory, the French cardinals proceeded to a new eIection, Sept. 20, 1378, the choice falling upon one of their number, Robert of Geneva, the son of Amadeus, count of Geneva. He was one of those who, four months before, had pointed out Tebaldeschi to the Roman mob. The three Italian cardinals, though they did not actively participate in the election, offered no resistance. Urban is said to have received the news with tears, and to have expressed regret for his untactful and self-willed course. Perhaps he recalled the fate of his fellow-Neapolitan, Peter of Murrhone, whose lack of worldly wisdom a hundred years before had lost him the papal crown. To establish himself on the papal throne, he appointed 29 cardinals. But it was too late to prevent the schism which Gregory XI. had feared and a wise ruler would have averted.

Robert of Geneva, at the time of his election 36 years old, came to the papal honor with his hands red from the bloody massacre of Cesena. He had the reputation of being a politician and a fast liver. He was consecrated Oct. 31 under the name of Clement VII. It was a foregone conclusion that he would remove the papal seat back to Avignon. He first attempted to overthrow Urban on his own soil, but the attempt failed. Rome resisted, and the castle of St. Angelo, which was in the hands of his supporters, he lost, but not until its venerable walls were demolished, so that at a later time the very goats clambered over the stones. He secured the support of Joanna, and Louis of Anjou whom she had chosen as the heir of her kingdom, but the war which broke out between Urban and Naples fell out to Urban’s advantage. The duke of Anjou was deposed, and Charles of Durazzo, of the royal house of Hungary, Joanna’s natural heir, appointed as his successor. Joanna herself fell into Charles’ hands and was executed, 1882, on the charge of having murdered her first husband. The duke of Brunswick was her fourth marital attempt. Clement VII. bestowed upon the duke of Anjou parts of the State of the Church and the high-sounding but empty title of duke of Adria. A portion of Urban’s reward for crowning Charles, 1881, was the lordship over Capria, Amalfi, Fondi, and other localities, which he bestowed upon his unprincipled and worthless nephew, Francis Prignano. In the war over Naples, the pope had made free use of the treasure of the Roman churches.

Clement’s cause in Italy was lost, and there was nothing for him to do but to fall back upon his supporter, Charles V. He returned to France by way of the sea and Marseilles.

Thus the schism was completed, and Western Europe had the spectacle of two popes elected by the same college of cardinals without a dissenting voice, and each making full claims to the prerogative of the supreme pontiff of the Christian world. Each pope fulminated the severest judgments of heaven against the other. The nations of Europe and its universities were divided in their allegiance or, as it was called, their "obedience." The University of Paris, at first neutral, declared in favor of Robert of Geneva,252252    The full documentary accounts are given in the Chartularium, III. 561-575. Valois gives a very detailed treatment of the allegiance rendered to the two popes, especially in vol. II. Even in Sweden and Ireland Clement had some support, but England, in part owing to her wars with France, gave undivided submission to Urban. as did Savoy, the kingdoms of Spain, Scotland, and parts of Germany. England, Sweden, and the larger part of Italy supported Urban. The German emperor, Charles IV., was about to take the same side when he died, Nov. 29, 1378. Urban also had the vigorous support of Catherine of Siena. Hearing of the election which had taken place at Fondi she wrote to Urban: "I have heard that those devils in human form have resorted to an election. They have chosen not a vicar of Christ, but an anti-Christ. Never will I cease, dear father, to look upon you as Christ’s true vicar on earth."

The papal schism which Pastor has called "the greatest misfortune that could be thought of for the Church"253253    Pastor, p. 143 sqq., quotes a German poem which strikingly sets forth the evils of the schism, and Pastor himself says that nothing did so much as the schism to prepare the way for the defection from the papacy in the sixteenth century. soon began to call forth indignant protests from the best men of the time. Western Christendom had never known such a scandal. The seamless coat of Christ was rent in twain, and Solomon’s words could no longer be applied, "My dove is but One."254254    Adam of Usk, p. 218, and other writers. The divine claims of the papacy itself began to be matter of doubt. Writers like Wyclif made demands upon the pope to return to Apostolic simplicity of manners in sharp language such as no one had ever dared to use before. Many sees had two incumbents; abbeys, two abbots; parishes, two priests. The maintenance of two popes involved an increased financial burden, and both papal courts added to the old practices new inventions to extract revenue. Clement VII.’s agents went everywhere, striving to win support for his obedience, and the nations, taking advantage of the situation, magnified their authority to the detriment of the papal power.

The following is a list of the popes of the Roman and Avignon lines, and the Pisan line whose legitimacy has now no advocates in the Roman communion.

Roman Line

Urban VI., 1378–1389.

Boniface IX., 1389–1404.

Innocent VII., 1404–1406.

Gregory XII., 1406–1415.

Deposed at Pisa, 1409. d. 1424 Resigned

at Constance, 1415, d. 1417.

Avignon Line

Clement VII., 1378–1394.

Benedict XIII., 1394–1409.

Deposed at Pisa, 1409, and at

Constance, 1417,.

Pisan Line

Alexander V., 1409–1410.

John XXIII., 1410–1415.

Martin V., 1417–1431.

Acknowledged by the whole Latin Church.

The question of the legitimacy of Urban VI.’s pontificate is still a matter of warm dispute. As neither pope nor council has given a decision on the question, Catholic scholars feel no constraint in discussing it. French writers have been inclined to leave the matter open. This was the case with Bossuet, Mansi, Martene, as it is with modern French writers. Valois hesitatingly, Salembier positively, decides for Urban. Historians, not moved by French sympathies, pronounce strongly in favor of the Roman line, as do Hefele, Funk, Hergenröther-Kirsch, Denifle, and Pastor. The formal recognition of Urban by all the cardinals and their official announcement of his election to the princes would seem to put the validity of his election beyond doubt. On the other hand, the declaratio sent forth by the cardinals nearly four months after Urban’s election affirms that the cardinals were in fear of their lives when they voted; and according to the theory of the canon law, constraint invalidates an election as constraint invalidated Pascal II.’s concession to Henry V. It was the intention of the cardinals, as they affirm, to elect one of their number, till the tumult became so violent and threatening that to protect themselves they precipitately elected Prignano. They state that the people had even filled the air with the cry, "Let them be killed," moriantur. A panic prevailed. When the tumult abated, the cardinals sat down to dine, and after dinner were about to proceed to a re-election, as they say, when the tumult again became threatening, and the doors of the room where they were sitting were broken open, so that they were forced to flee for their lives.

To this testimony were added the depositions of individual cardinals later. Had Prignano proved complaisant to the wishes of the French party, there is no reason to suspect that the validity of his election would ever have been disputed. Up to the time when the vote was cast for Urban, the cardinals seem not to have been under duress from fear, but to have acted freely. After the vote had been cast, they felt their lives were in danger.255255    This is the judgment of Pastor, I. 119. If the cardinals had proceeded to a second vote, as Valois has said, Urban might have been elected. The constant communications which passed between Charles V. and the French party at Anagni show him to have been a leading factor in the proceedings which followed and the reconvening of the conclave which elected Robert of Geneva.256256    Valois, I. 144, devotes much space to the part Charles took in preparing the way for the schism, and declares he was responsible for the part France took in it and in rejecting Urban VI. Hergenröther says all the good he can of the Roman line and all the evil he can of the Avignon line. Clement he pronounces a man of elastic conscience, and Benedict XIII., his successor, as always ready in words for the greatest sacrifices, and farthest from them when it came to deeds.

On the other hand, the same body of cardinals which elected Urban deposed him, and, in their capacity as princes of the Church, unanimously chose Robert as his successor. The question of the authority of the sacred college to exercise this prerogative is still a matter of doubt. It received the abdication of Coelestine V. and elected a successor to him while he was still living. In that case, however, the papal throne became vacant by the supreme act of the pope himself.

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