« Prev Further Progress of the Schism. 1378-1409 Next »

§ 14. Further Progress of the Schism. 1378–1409.

The territory of Naples remained the chief theatre of the conflict between the papal rivals, Louis of Anjou, who had the support of Clement VII., continuing to assert his claim to the throne. In 1383 Urban secretly left Rome for Naples, but was there held in virtual confinement till he had granted Charles of Durazzo’s demands. He then retired to Nocera, which belonged to his nephew. The measures taken by the cardinals at Anagni had taught him no lesson. His insane severity and self-will continued, and brought him into the danger of losing the papal crown. Six of his cardinals entered into a conspiracy to dethrone him, or at least to make him subservient to the curia. The plot was discovered, and Urban launched the interdict against Naples, whose king was supposed to have been a party to it. The offending cardinals were imprisoned in an old cistern, and afterwards subjected to the torture.257257    Nieheim, p. 91. See also pp. 103 sq., 110, for the further treatment of the cardinals, which was worthy of Pharaoh. Forced to give up the town and to take refuge in the fortress, the relentless pontiff is said to have gone three or four times daily to the window, and, with candles burning and to the sound of a bell, to have solemnly pronounced the formula of excommunication against the besieging troops. Allowed to depart, and proceeding with the members of his household across the country, Urban reached Trani and embarked on a Genoese ship which finally landed him at Genoa, 1386. On the way, the crew threatened to carry him to Avignon, and had to be bought off by the unfortunate pontiff. Was ever a ruler in a worse predicament, beating about on the Mediterranean, than Urban! Five of the cardinals who had been dragged along in chains now met with a cruel end. Adam Aston, the English cardinal, Urban had released at the request of the English king. But towards the rest of the alleged conspirators he showed the heartless relentlessness of a tyrant. The chronicler Nieheim, who was with the pope at Naples and Nocera, declares that his heart was harder than granite. Different rumors were afloat concerning the death the prelates were subjected to, one stating they had been thrown into the sea, another that they had their heads cut off with an axe; another report ran that their bodies were buried in a stable after being covered with lime and then burnt.

In the meantime, two of the prelates upon whom Urban had conferred the red hat, both Italians, went over to Clement VII. and were graciously received.

Breaking away from Genoa, Urban went by way of Lucca to Perugia, and then with another army started off for Naples. Charles of Durazzo, who had been called to the throne of Hungary and murdered in 1386, was succeeded by his young son Ladislaus (1386~1414), but his claim was contested by the heir of Louis of Anjou (d. 1384). The pontiff got no farther than Ferentino, and turning back was carried in a carriage to Rome, where he again entered the Vatican, a few months before his death, Oct. 15, 1389.

Bartholomew Prignano had disappointed every expectation. He was his own worst enemy. He was wholly lacking in common prudence and the spirit of conciliation. It is to his credit that, as Nieheim urges, he never made ecclesiastical preferment the object of sale. Whatever were his virtues before he received the tiara, he had as pope shown himself in every instance utterly unfit for the responsibilities of a ruler.

Clement VII., who arrived in Avignon in June, 1379, stooped before the kings of France, Charles V. (d. 1380) and Charles VI. He was diplomatic and versatile where his rival was impolitic and intractable. He knew how to entertain at his table with elegance.258258    Nieheim, p. 124. The distinguished preacher, Vincent Ferrer, gave him his support. Among the new cardinals he appointed was the young prince of Luxemburg, who enjoyed a great reputation for saintliness. At the prince’s death, in 1387, miracles were said to be performed at his tomb, a circumstance which seemed to favor the claims of the Avignon pope.

Clement’s embassy to Bohemia for a while had hopes of securing a favorable declaration from the Bohemian king, Wenzil, but was disappointed.259259    Valois, II. 282, 299 sqq. The national pride of the French was Clement’s chief dependence, and for the king’s support he was obliged to pay a humiliating price by granting the royal demands to bestow ecclesiastical offices and tax Church property. As a means of healing the schism, Clement proposed a general council, promising, in case it decided in his favor, to recognize Urban as leading cardinal. The first schismatic pope died suddenly of apoplexy, Sept. 16, 1394, having outlived Urban VI. five years.

Boniface IX., who succeeded Urban VI., was, like him, a Neapolitan, and only thirty-five at the time of his election. He was a man of fine presence, and understood the art of ruling, but lacked the culture of the schools, and could not even write, and was poor at saying the services.260260    Nesciens scribere etiam male cantabat, Nieheim, p. 130. He had the satisfaction of seeing the kingdom of Naples yield to the Roman obedience. He also secured from the city of Rome full submission, and the document, by which it surrendered to him its republican liberties, remained for centuries the foundation of the relations of the municipality to the Apostolic See.261261    Gregorovius, VI. 647 sqq.; Valois, II. 162, 166 sqq. Bologna, Perugia, Viterbo, and other towns of Italy which had acknowledged Clement, were brought into submission to him, so that before his death the entire peninsula was under his obedience except Genoa, which Charles VI. had reduced. All men’s eyes began again to turn to Rome.

In 1390, the Jubilee Year which Urban VI. had appointed attracted streams of pilgrims to Rome from Germany, Hungary, Bohemia, Poland, and England and other lands, as did also the Jubilee of 1400, commemorating the close of one and the beginning of another century. If Rome profited by these celebrations, Boniface also made in other ways the most of his opportunity, and his agents throughout Christendom returned with the large sums which they had realized from the sale of dispensations and indulgences. Boniface left behind him a reputation for avarice and freedom in the sale of ecclesiastical concessions.262262    Erat insatiabilis vorago et in avaricia nullus similis ei, Nieheim, p. 119. Nieheim, to be sure, was disappointed in not receiving office under Boniface, but other contemporaries say the same thing. Adam of Usk, p. 269, states that, "though gorged with simony, Boniface to his dying day was never filled." He was also notorious for his nepotism, enriching his brothers Andrew and John and other relatives with offices and wealth. Such offences, however, the Romans could easily overlook in view of the growing regard throughout Europe for the Roman line of popes and the waning influence of the Avignon line.

The preponderant influence of Ladislaus secured the election of still another Neapolitan, Cardinal Cosimo dei Migliorati, who took the name of Innocent VII. He also was only thirty-five years old at the time of his elevation to the papal chair, a doctor of both laws and expert in the management of affairs. The members of the conclave, before proceeding to an election, signed a document whereby each bound himself, if elected pope, to do all in his power to put an end to the schism. The English chronicler, Adam of Usk, who was present at the coronation, concludes the graphic description he gives of the ceremonies263263    Chronicle, p. 262 sqq. This is one of the most full and interesting accounts extant of the coronation of a mediaeval pope. Usk describes the conclave as well as the coronation, and he mentions expressly how, on his way from St. Peter’s to the Lateran, Innocent purposely turned aside from St. Clement’s, near which stood the bust of Pope Joan and her son. with a lament over the desolate condition of the Roman city. How much is Rome to be pitied! he exclaims, "for, once thronged with princes and their palaces, she is now a place of hovels, thieves, wolves, worms, full of desert spots and laid waste by her own citizens who rend each other in pieces. Once her empire devoured the world with the sword, and now her priesthood devours it with mummery. Hence the lines —

" ’The Roman bites at all, and those he cannot bite, he hates.

Of rich he hears the call, but ’gainst the poor he shuts his gates.’ "

Following the example of his two predecessors, Innocent excommunicated the Avignon anti-pope and his cardinals, putting them into the same list with heretics, pirates, and brigands. In revenge for his nephew’s cold-blooded slaughter of eleven of the chief men of the city, whose bodies he threw out of a window, he was driven from Rome, and after great hardships he reached Viterbo. But the Romans soon found Innocent’s rule preferable to the rule of Ladislaus, king of Naples and papal protector, and he was recalled, the nephew whose hands were reeking with blood making public entry into the Vatican with his uncle.

The last pope of the Roman line was Gregory XII. Angelo Correr, cardinal of St. Marks, Venice, elected 1406, was surpassed in tenacity as well as ability by the last of the Avignon popes, elected 1394, and better known as Peter de Luna of Aragon, one of the cardinals who joined in the revolt against Urban VI. and in the election of Clement VII. at Fondi.

Under these two pontiffs the controversy over the schism grew more and more acute and the scandal more and more intolerable. The nations of Western Europe were weary of the open and flagitious traffic in benefices and other ecclesiastical privileges, the fulminations of one pope against the other, and the division of sees and parishes between rival claimants. The University of Paris took the leading part in agitating remedial measures, and in the end the matter was taken wholly out of the hands of the two popes. The cardinals stepped into the foreground and, in the face of all canonical precedent, took the course which ultimately resulted in the reunion of the Church under one head.

Before Gregory’s election, the Roman cardinals, numbering fourteen, again entered into a compact stipulating that the successful candidate should by all means put an end to the schism, even, if necessary, by the abdication of his office. Gregory was fourscore at the time, and the chief consideration which weighed in his choice was that in men arrived at his age ambition usually runs low, and that Gregory would be more ready to deny himself for the good of the Church than a younger man.

Peter de Luna, one of the most vigorous personalities who have ever claimed the papal dignity, had the spirit and much of the ability of Hildebrand and his namesake, Gregory IX. But it was his bad star to be elected in the Avignon and not in the Roman succession. Had he been in the Roman line, he would probably have made his mark among the great ruling pontiffs. His nationality also was against him. The French had little heart in supporting a Spaniard and, at Clement’s death, the relations between the French king and the Avignon pope at once lost their cordiality. Peter was energetic of mind and in action, a shrewd observer, magnified his office, and never yielded an inch in the matter of papal prerogative. Through the administrations of three Roman pontiffs, he held on firmly to his office, outlived the two Reformatory councils of Pisa and Constance, and yielded not up this mortal flesh till the close of the first quarter of the fifteenth century, and was still asserting his claims and maintaining the dignity of pope at the time of his death. Before his election, he likewise entered into a solemn compact with his cardinals, promising to bend every effort to heal the unholy schism, even if the price were his own abdication.

The professions of both popes were in the right direction. They were all that could be desired, and all that remained was for either of them or for both of them to resign and make free room for a new candidate. The problem would thus have been easily settled, and succeeding generations might have canonized both pontiffs for their voluntary self-abnegation. But it took ten years to bring Gregory to this state of mind, and then almost the last vestige of power had been taken from him. Peter de Luna never yielded.

Undoubtedly, at the time of the election of Gregory XII., the papacy was passing through one of the grave crises in its history. There were not wanting men who said, like Langenstein, vice-chancellor of the University of Paris, that perhaps it was God’s purpose that there should be two popes indefinitely, even as David’s kingdom was divided under two sovereigns.264264    Du Pin, II. 821. Yea, and there were men who argued publicly that it made little difference how many there were, two or three, or ten or twelve, or as many as there were nations.265265    Letter of the Univ. of Paris to Clement VII., dated July 17, 1394. Chartul. III. 633, nihil omnino curandum quot papae sint, et non modo duos aut tres, sed decem aut duodecim immo et singulis regnis singulos prefici posse, etc.

At his first consistory Gregory made a good beginning, when he asserted that, for the sake of the good cause of securing a united Christendom, he was willing to travel by land or by sea, by land, if necessary, with a pilgrim’s staff, by sea in a fishing smack, in order to come to an agreement with Benedict. He wrote to his rival on the Rhone, declaring that, like the woman who was ready to renounce her child rather than see it cut asunder, so each of them should be willing to cede his authority rather than be responsible for the continuance of the schism. He laid his hand on the New Testament and quoted the words that "he who exalteth himself shall be abased, and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted." He promised to abdicate, if Benedict would do the same, that the cardinals of both lines might unite together in a new election; and he further promised not to add to the number of his cardinals, except to keep the number equal to the number of the Avignon college.

Benedict’s reply was shrewd, if not equally demonstrative. He, too, lamented the schism, which he pronounced detestable, wretched, and dreadful,266266    Haec execranda et detestanda, diraque divisio, Nieheim, pp. 209-213, gives both letters entire. but gently setting aside Gregory’s blunt proposal, suggested as the best resort the via discussionis, or the path of discussion, and that the cardinals of both lines should meet together, talk the matter over, and see what should be done, and then, if necessary, one or both popes might abdicate. Both popes in their communications called themselves "servant of the servants of God." Gregory addressed Benedict as "Peter de Luna, whom some peoples in this wretched—miserabili — schism call Benedict XIII."; and Benedict addressed the pope on the Tiber as "Angelus Correr, whom some, adhering to him in this most destructive—pernicioso — schism, call Gregory XII." "We are both old men," wrote Benedict. "Time is short; hasten, and do not delay in this good cause. Let us both embrace the ways of salvation and peace."

Nothing could have been finer, but it was quickly felt that while both popes expressed themselves as ready to abdicate, positive as the professions of both were, each wanted to have the advantage when the time came for the election of the new pontiff to rule over the reunited Church.

As early as 1381, the University of Paris appealed to the king of France to insist upon the calling of a general council as the way to terminate the schism. But the duke of Anjou had the spokesman of the university, Jean Ronce, imprisoned, and the university was commanded to keep silence on the subject.

Prior to this appeal, two individuals had suggested the same idea, Konrad of Gelnhausen, and Henry of Langenstein, otherwise known as Henry of Hassia. Konrad, who wrote in 1380,267267    Gelnhausen’s tract, De congregando concilio in tempore schismatis, in Martène-Durand, Thesaurus nov. anecd., II. 1200-1226. and whose views led straight on to the theory of the supreme authority of councils,268268    So Pastor, I. 186. See also, Schwab, Gerson, p. 124 sqq. affirmed that there were two heads of the Church, and that Christ never fails it, even though the earthly head may fail by death or error. The Church is not the pope and the cardinals, but the body of the faithful, and this body gets its inner life directly from Christ, and is so far infallible. In this way he answers those who were forever declaring that in the absence of the pope’s call there would be no council, even if all the prelates were assembled, but only a conventicle.

In more emphatic terms, Henry of Langenstein, in 1381, justified the calling of a council without the pope’s intervention.269269    Consilium pacis de unione et reformatione ecclesiae in concilio universali quaerenda, Van der Hardt, II. 3-60, and Du Pin, Opp. Gerson, II. 810 The institution of the papacy by Christ, he declared, did not involve the idea that the action of the pope was always necessary, either in originating or consenting to legislation. The Church might have instituted the papacy, even had Christ not appointed it. If the cardinals should elect a pontiff not agreeable to the Church, the Church might set their choice aside. The validity of a council did not depend upon the summons or the ratification of a pope. Secular princes might call such a synod. A general council, as the representative of the entire Church, is above the cardinals, yea, above the pope himself. Such a council cannot err, but the cardinals and the pope may err.

The views of Langenstein, vice-chancellor of the University of Paris, represented the views of the faculties of that institution. They were afterwards advocated by John Gerson, one of the most influential men of his century, and one of the most honored of all the centuries. Among those who took the opposite view was the English Dominican and confessor of Benedict XIII., John Hayton. The University of Paris he called "a daughter of Satan, mother of error, sower of sedition, and the pope’s defamer, "and declared the pope was to be forced by no human tribunal, but to follow God and his own conscience.

In 1394, the University of Paris proposed three methods of healing the schism270270    Chartul III. p. 608 sqq. which became the platform over which the issue was afterwards discussed, namely, the via cessionis, or the abdication of both popes, the via compromissi, an adjudication of the claims of both by a commission, and the via synodi, or the convention of a general council to which the settlement of the whole matter should be left. No act in the whole history of this famous literary institution has given it wider fame than this proposal, coupled with the activity it displayed to bring the schism to a close. The method preferred by its faculties was the first, the abdication of both popes, which it regarded as the simplest remedy. It was suggested that the new election, after the popes had abdicated, should be consummated by the cardinals in office at the time of Gregory XI.’s decease, 1378, and still surviving, or by a union of the cardinals of both obediences.

The last method, settlement by a general council, which the university regarded as offering the most difficulty, it justified on the ground that the pope is subject to the Church as Christ was subject to his mother and Joseph. The authority of such a council lay in its constitution according to Christ’s words, "where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." Its membership should consist of doctors of theology and the laws taken from the older universities, and deputies of the orders, as well as bishops, many of whom were uneducated,—illiterati.271271    Chartul., I. 620.

Clement VII. showed his displeasure with the university by forbidding its further intermeddling, and by condemning his cardinals who, without his permission, had met and recommended him to adopt one of the three ways. At Clement’s death the king of France called upon the Avignon college to postpone the election of a successor, but, surmising the contents of the letter, they prudently left it unopened until they had chosen Benedict XIII. Benedict at once manifested the warmest zeal in the healing of the schism, and elaborated his plan for meeting with Boniface IX., and coming to some agreement with him. These friendly propositions were offset by a summons from the king’s delegates, calling upon the two pontiffs to abdicate, and all but two of the Avignon cardinals favored the measure. But Benedict declared that such a course would seem to imply constraint, and issued a bull against it.

The two parties continued to express deep concern for the healing of the schism, but neither would yield. Benedict gained the support of the University of Toulouse, and strengthened himself by the promotion of Peter d’Ailly, chancellor of the University of Paris, to the episcopate. The famous inquisitor, Nicolas Eymericus, also one of his cardinals, was a firm advocate of Benedict’s divine claims. The difficulties were increased by the wavering course of Charles VI., 1380–1412, a man of feeble mind, and twice afflicted with insanity, whose brothers and uncles divided the rule of the kingdom amongst themselves. French councils attempted to decide upon a course for the nation to pursue, and a third council, meeting in Paris, 1398, and consisting of 11 archbishops and 60 bishops, all theretofore supporters of the Avignon pope, decided upon the so-called subtraction of obedience from Benedict. In spite of these discouragements, Benedict continued loyal to himself. He was forsaken by his cardinals and besieged by French troops in his palace and wounded. The spectacle of his isolation touched the heart and conscience of the French people, and the decree ordering the subtraction of obedience was annulled by the national parliament of 1403, which professed allegiance anew, and received from him full absolution.

When Gregory XII. was elected in 1406, the controversy over the schism was at white heat. England, Castile, and the German king, Wenzil, had agreed to unite with France in bringing it to an end. Pushed by the universal clamor, by the agitation of the University of Paris, and especially by the feeling which prevailed in France, Gregory and Benedict saw that the situation was in danger of being controlled by other hands than their own, and agreed to meet at Savona on the Gulf of Genoa to discuss their differences. In October, 1407, Benedict, attended by a military guard, went as far as Porto Venere and Savona. Gregory got as far as Lucca, when he declined to go farther, on the plea that Savona was in territory controlled by the French and on other pretexts. Nieheim represents the Roman pontiff as dissimulating during the whole course of the proceedings and as completely under the influence of his nephews and other favorites, who imposed upon the weakness of the old man, and by his doting generosity were enabled to live in luxury. At Lucca they spent their time in dancing and merry-making. This writer goes on to say that Gregory put every obstacle in the way of union.272272    Nieheim, pp. 237, 242, 274, etc., manifeste impedire modis omnibus conabantur. He is represented by another writer as having spent more in bonbons than his predecessors did for their wardrobes and tables, and as being only a shadow with bones and skin.273273    Vita, Muratori, III., II., 838, solum spiritus cum ossibus et pelle.

Benedict’s support was much weakened by the death of the king’s brother, the duke of Orleans, who had been his constant supporter. France threatened neutrality, and Benedict, fearing seizure by the French commander at Genoa, beat a retreat to Perpignan, a fortress at the foot of the Pyrenees, six miles from the Mediterranean. In May of the same year France again decreed "subtraction," and a national French assembly in 1408 approved the calling of a council. The last stages of the contest were approaching.

Seven of Gregory’s cardinals broke away from him, and, leaving him at Lucca, went to Pisa, where they issued a manifesto appealing from a poorly informed pope to a better informed one, from Christ’s vicar to Christ himself, and to the decision of a general council. Two more followed. Gregory further injured his cause by breaking his solemn engagement and appointing four cardinals, May, 1408, two of them his nephews, and a few months later he added ten more. Cardinals of the Avignon obedience joined the Roman cardinals at Pisa and brought the number up to thirteen. Retiring to Livorno on the beautiful Italian lake of that name, and acting as if the popes were deposed, they as rulers of the Church appointed a general council to meet at Pisa, March 25, 1409.

As an offset, Gregory summoned a council of his own to meet in the territory either of Ravenna or Aquileja. Many of his closest followers had forsaken him, and even his native city of Venice withdrew from him its support. In the meantime Ladislaus had entered Rome and been hailed as king. It is, however, probable that this was with the consent of Gregory himself, who hoped thereby to gain sympathy for his cause. Benedict also exercised his sovereign power as pontiff and summoned a council to meet at Perpignan, Nov. 1, 1408.

The word "council," now that the bold initiative was taken, was hailed as pregnant with the promise of sure relief from the disgrace and confusion into which Western Christendom had been thrown and of a reunion of the Church.

« Prev Further Progress of the Schism. 1378-1409 Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection