- Explain the events that led to the Western Schism, as well as its eventual resolution
- From 1309 to 1377, the seat of the papacy resided in Avignon, France, rather than Rome.
- Gregory XI returned to Rome in 1377, thus ending the Avignon Papacy, at which point Romans rioted to ensure the election of a Roman for pope.
- Urban VI, born Bartolomeo Prignano, the Archbishop of Bari, was elected in 1378.
- As pope, Urban VI proved suspicious, reformist, and prone to violent outbursts of temper, and thus many of the cardinals who had elected him soon regretted their decision and moved to Anagni, where they elected Robert of Geneva as a rival pope on September 20 of the same year.
- The second election threw the church into turmoil, and it quickly escalated from a church problem to a diplomatic crisis that divided Europe.
- The conflict was finally resolved by a council was convened by a third Pisan pope, John XXIII, in 1414, which resulted in the excommunication of some of the claimants to the papacy.
The period from 1309 to 1377, during which seven successive popes resided in Avignon, France, rather than in Rome.
A person who, in opposition to the one who is generally seen as the legitimately elected pope, makes a significantly accepted competing claim to be the pope.
The Western Schism, or Papal Schism, was a split within the Roman Catholic Church that lasted from 1378 to 1417. During that time, three men simultaneously claimed to be the true pope. Driven by politics rather than any theological disagreement, the schism was ended by the Council of Constance (1414–1418). For a time these rival claims to the papal throne damaged the reputation of the office.
The schism in the Western Roman Church resulted from the return of the papacy to Rome under Gregory XI on January 17, 1377, ending the Avignon Papacy, which had developed a reputation for corruption that estranged major parts of western Christendom. This reputation can be attributed to perceptions of predominant French influence and to the papal curia’s efforts to extend its powers of patronage and increase its revenues.
After Pope Gregory XI died in 1378, the Romans rioted to ensure the election of a Roman for pope. On April 8, 1378 the cardinals elected a Neapolitan when no viable Roman candidates presented themselves. Urban VI, born Bartolomeo Prignano, the Archbishop of Bari, was elected. Urban had been a respected administrator in the papal chancery at Avignon, but as pope he proved suspicious, reformist, and prone to violent outbursts of temper. Many of the cardinals who had elected him soon regretted their decision; the majority removed themselves from Rome to Anagni, where, even though Urban was still reigning, they elected Robert of Geneva as a rival pope on September 20, 1378. Robert took the name Clement VII and reestablished a papal court in Avignon. This second election threw the church into turmoil. There had been antipopes—rival claimants to the papacy—before, but most of them had been appointed by various rival factions; in this case, a single group of church leaders had created both the pope and the antipope.
The conflict quickly escalated from a church problem to a diplomatic crisis that divided Europe. Secular leaders had to choose which claimant they would recognize. France, Aragon, Castile and León, Cyprus, Burgundy, Savoy, Naples, Scotland, and Owain Glyndwr’s rebellion in Wales recognized the Avignon claimant. Denmark, England, Flanders, the Holy Roman Empire, Hungary, Ireland, Norway, Portugal, Poland, Sweden, Republic of Venice, and other city states of northern Italy recognized the Roman claimant. In the Iberian Peninsula there were the Ferdinand Wars and the 1383–1385 Crisis in Portugal, during which dynastic opponents supported rival claimants to the papal office.
Sustained by such national and factional rivalries throughout Catholic Christianity, the schism continued after the deaths of both initial claimants; Boniface IX, crowned at Rome in 1389, and Benedict XIII, who reigned in Avignon from 1394, maintained their rival courts. When Boniface died in 1404, the eight cardinals of the Roman conclave offered to refrain from electing a new pope if Benedict would resign, but when his legates refused on his behalf, the Roman party then proceeded to elect Innocent VII. In the intense partisanship characteristic of the Middle Ages, the schism engendered a fanatical hatred between factions.
Efforts were made to end the schism through force or diplomacy. The French crown even tried to coerce Benedict XIII, whom it nominally supported, into resigning. None of these remedies worked. The suggestion to have a church council resolve the schism was first made in 1378, but was not initially adopted because canon law required that a pope call a council. Eventually, theologians like Pierre d’Ailly and Jean Gerson, as well as canon lawyers like Francesco Zabarella, adopted arguments that equity permitted the Church to act for its own welfare in defiance of the letter of the law.
Eventually the cardinals of both factions secured an agreement that Benedict and Pope Gregory XII would meet at Savona. They balked at the last moment, and both colleges of cardinals abandoned their popes. A church council was held at Pisa in 1409 under the auspices of the cardinals to try solving the dispute. At the fifteenth session, on June 5, 1409, the Council of Pisa deposed the two pontiffs as schismatical, heretical, perjured, and scandalous. But it then added to the problem by electing another incumbent, Alexander V. He reigned briefly from June 26, 1409, until his death in 1410, when he was succeeded by John XXIII, who won some, but not universal, support.
Finally, a council was convened at Constance by Pisan pope John XXIII in 1414 to resolve the issue. This was endorsed by Gregory XII, Innocent VII’s successor in Rome, thus ensuring the legitimacy of any election. The council, advised by the theologian Jean Gerson, secured the resignations of John XXIII and Gregory XII in 1415, while excommunicating the claimant who refused to step down, Benedict XIII. The council elected Pope Martin V in 1417, essentially ending the schism. Nonetheless, the Crown of Aragon did not recognize Martin V and continued to recognize Benedict XIII. Archbishops loyal to Benedict XIII subsequently elected Antipope Benedict XIV (Bernard Garnier), and three followers simultaneously elected Antipope Clement VIII, but the Western Schism was by then practically over. Clement VIII resigned in 1429 and apparently recognized Martin V.