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The Great Western Schism begins in 1378, at a time of serious crisis for the medieval West, not only with the Hundred Years War, but also with the various upheavals that agitated the papacy, especially in its confrontation with the King of France, Philippe le Bel. This first led to the installation of the Pope in Avignon from 1309, opening a period of nearly forty years which saw the Catholic Church torn apart. Until 1417, this religious schism will simultaneously oppose several popes (in Avignon, Rome and even Pisa) who will all claim their legitimacy. It was during the Council of Constance that the crisis will find its resolution with the resignation or deposition of rival popes and the election of Martin V, who will be universally recognized.
A divided Christian Europe
It was in a far from peaceful climate that the papacy returned to Rome, by decision of Gregory XI, in 1377. The death of the Pope the following year only reinforced the rivalries between the French and the Italians. The latter refused to see a new French pope, and went so far as to provoke a riot during the conclave of 1378. From this stormy and influenced election, the Archbishop of Bari, Barthélémy Prignano, became Pope Urban VI victorious. He quickly put in place a policy that pitted the French cardinals, but also certain Italian cardinals, against him. He was deposited a few months after his election, at the conclave of Fondi, and it was Robert of Geneva who succeeded him, under the name of Clément VII, on September 20, 1378. The new pope returned to Avignon, and the Great Schism did not occur. what to start.
The deposition of Urban VI and the election of Clement VII are far from solving the problem. In a very tense political context, each one chooses his camp and his obedience, according to his interests and his rivalries; thus, France obviously, but also Scotland, Castile, Portugal, Aragon or the kingdom of Naples, support the Pope of Avignon. Conversely, the Empire, England, Ireland, Flanders, Northern Italy (including Florence and Milan) choose Urban VI. The consequences of these divisions have an impact far beyond the Curia or European courts, to the depths of European societies.
Conflicts, especially in Italy, broke out because of the rivalries between the two popes. Attempts at conciliation, such as "the way of cession" of 1394, where France proposes to push Benedict XIII (successor of Clement VII) to withdraw if the other pope does the same, fail, including because of the intransigence of the two competitors. Benedict XIII is also a time dropped by France in 1398. The crisis continues, however.
The Council of Pisa to settle the Great Schism?
The hope of seeing the end of the Great Schism arises thanks to the initiatives of the clerics, who propose a "conciliar voice". This leads to the Council of Pisa in 1409, convened by cardinals without the endorsement of either pope. More than five hundred clerics are present, among which Otto Colonna, future Martin V. The two competing popes, Benedict XIII and Gregory XII, are deposed, and a new one is elected by the council, the Franciscan Pierre Filarghi, who becomes the pope Alexander V. Unfortunately, rather than settle the crisis, the Council of Pisa aggravates the Schism!
Indeed, if a good part of Western countries recognize the new sovereign pontiff, some, and not the least, retain (or restore) their support for the deposed popes. France and Spain are with Benedict XIII, while Bavaria, Naples or Venice remain alongside Gregory XII. So much so that in 1410, Western Christendom had three popes: Benedict XIII in Avignon, Roman Pope Gregory XII, and John XXIII (who succeeded Alexander V) in Pisa!
The Council of Constance and the end of the Great Western Schism
Two personalities ultimately help resolve the Great Schism: the Pope of Pisa, John XXIII, and the future Germanic Emperor, currently king of the Romans, Sigismund. The latter persuaded John XXIII to convene a council in Constance, in 1413, and to impose himself on the other popes. The council, which lasted until 1418, not only aimed to settle the Schism, but at the same time to punish rising heresies, such as hussism. Thus, in 1415, the Czech priest John Hus was burnt at the stake.
As for the Great Schism, it is not easily resolved despite Sigismond's will. This one, in 1415, must impose on John XXIII a promise of abdication by the bull Pacis bonum, before the Pope, who sees no reason to be deposed, chooses to flee! While the Council of Constance had to settle the crisis, it worsened it, like that of Pisa a few years earlier ... Fortunately, the Fathers took the initiative by decree Haec sancta (or Sacrosancta), asserting their superiority over the fleeing pope, and over the antipopes. This allows them to depose John XXIII, to push Gregory XII to abdicate, and Benedict XIII to flee to Narbonne. It is once again Sigismund who intervenes, pushing the last supporters of Benedict XIII to let go. He died in 1423, still at large.
The Great Western Schism is finally settled at the Council of Constance, with the election of Martin V, November 11, 1417. The crisis has deeply marked Western Christianity, and in particular called into question the authority of an accused pontifical power of absolutist drift. From now on, the council challenges the supremacy of the pope, for a time in any case. The scandal of the Great Western Schism has discredited the papacy and intensified the call for reform within the Christian community; this was born shortly after with the Protestant Reformation.
- Louis Salembier, The Great Western Schism. Nabu press, 2010.
- J. Chélini, Religious History of the Medieval West, Pluriel, 2010.
- B. Bove, The time of the Hundred Years War (1328-1453), Belin, 2010.