In 1377 the aged Pope Gregory XI re-entered Rome, and shortly passed away. In haste the College of Cardinals elected a new pope, Pope Urban VI. In August the cardinals suddenly informed all Europe that the people of Rome had forced the election of an apostate to the chair of Peter and that the proceedings were invalid. A new College of Cardinals then elected another pope a month later, Pope Clement VII. Clement moved about Italy and eventually sailed for France and Avignon. Thus, with Urban ruling from Rome and Clement from Avignon the Great Schism began, lasting for 39 years. Each pope had his own College of Cardinals, and each pope claimed to be the true Vicar of Christ with the power to excommunicate those who did not acknowledge him. France went with Clement; Italy with Urban. The empire went with Urban; so did England. Scotland went with Clement. But within each country minorities existed. Tumults and riots broke out. Property was burned and crusades were preached — a house divided against itself could not stand. When it became obvious that a General Council would be necessary to heal the Schism, it became apparent that only the Pope could call for such a council. Which Pope? In effect Canon Law prohibited the reunion of Christendom! Eventually, by 1409, necessity demanded a General Council. It was held at Pisa, on the west coast of Italy. The council deposed both claimants to the papal chair and elected a third man, Alexander V. Neither of the two deposed popes would accept the action of the council, so the church now had three claimants to the chair of Peter. When one of the popes preached a crusade against another pope, and started selling indulgences to pay for it, the leadership of Europe was goaded into firm action. In 1414 the Holy Roman Emperor assembled at the German city of Constance. There with a council of lay representatives and bishops, this convention of "nations" gave each nation one vote. In 1417 the council got one papal incumbent to step aside, deposed the other two and chose a new Vicar of Christ, Martin V. One of the deposed popes, Benedict VIII of Avignon, clung to his claim, but for all practical purposes, the council in Constance ended the Great Schism.
Oddly enough, though Martin reigned precisely because of the council’s actions, as soon as he gained the papacy he repudiated all acts of the council, except the one by which he ruled. Herein are found some seeds of the eventual Protestant Reformation. For the first time in church history, men saw the promise of a national church, made up of individuals molded by reformative action, not papal dictatorship. For the first time in history the people had found a lever by which they could move the papacy. All they lacked was the proper fulcrum.
[tags]Alexander, BlogRodent, Canon, church-history, ChurchRodent, Great-Schism, history, Peter, Pope-Clement-VII, Pope-Urban-VI, Reformation[/tags]