On this date in 1378 the majority of cardinals elected Robert of Geneva as pope, who then took the name Clement VII. The problem was that earlier that year they had elected Urban VI and he was still very much alive and well. They just didn’t like him very much. This act set in motion what is known now as the Western Schism, not to be confused with the Great Schism of 1054 when the eastern Orthodox split from the western Catholic Church https://www.bookofdaystales.com/east-west-schism/. People these days are dimly aware that the papacy has had a complicated history. They may know, for example, that there have been popes and antipopes, and that many medieval popes had illegitimate children (and no one much cared). The image of the pope as a saintly, peace-loving minister of the gospel and leader of the church in spiritual matters is a relatively recent phenomenon growing out of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation over time.
In the Middle Ages the pope was primarily a political (and military) figure. Hence, the election of the pope was more about politics than spirituality. Some might say, without cynicism, that this is still the case. I agree. The election of a Polish pope in the 20th century was a clear attempt to wrestle the papacy from its Italian stranglehold, and since then we’ve had a German and now an Argentino. Everyone knows that this opening of the papacy to ethnicities other than Italian is an attempt to broaden the appeal of a Church that is rapidly losing membership to Protestant churches as well as to atheism or indifference. You only have to live in traditional Catholic countries, as I have in Argentina and Italy, to know that this is obvious. Attendance at Sunday mass can be sparse, and many churches are closing or have to share priests with other churches because of lack of funds. We’ll get an African pope one day, and maybe even a Chinese pope when the time is right. All of this is an attempt to reassert the “catholic” in “Roman Catholic,” and to bolster flagging allegiance around the world.
The word “Catholic” these days is used as a short form of “Roman Catholic” which leads to some confusion. When I was an active pastor, Roman Catholics would sometimes attend my services and afterwards enquire why we said the Apostles’ Creed which says, “I believe in . . . the holy catholic church . . .” The lower case “c” in “catholic” is the hint. The word “catholic” means “universal.” Nowadays Protestants can say these words without flinching too much if they take the road of arguing that under all our differences Christians of all denominations have shared beliefs and values that are fundamental. The term ROMAN Catholic is therefore appropriate for one contemporary branch of Christianity because it is centered in Rome. This was not always the case.
At one time the Catholic Church truly was universal according to the strict interpretation of the Apostles’ Creed – up to the Great Schism of 1054. Local attempts to break away from the universal church were easily crushed. After the Great Schism things were more unsettled, and the papacy was increasingly politicized. The Western Schism or Papal Schism, which lasted from 1378 to 1417 was a political split within the Roman Catholic Church, when three men simultaneously claimed to be the true pope, which was ended by the Council of Constance (1414–1418).
After Pope Gregory XI died in 1378, Romans rioted to ensure the election of a Roman for pope. From 1309 to 1377 the papacy had been located in Avignon where 7 French popes were elected and served under the influence of the French king. Gregory returned the papacy to Rome in 1377 but then died a year later, thus creating a crisis. Was the next pope to be French or Roman?
On April 8, 1378 the cardinals elected a Neapolitan when no viable Roman candidates were acceptable. Bartolomeo Prignano, the Archbishop of Bari, was elected and served as Urban VI in Rome. 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 in Rome, they elected Robert of Geneva as a rival pope on September 20. Robert took the name Clement VII and reestablished a papal court in Avignon. The 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 leaders of the Church had created both the pope and the antipope.
The conflicts quickly escalated from a church problem to a diplomatic crisis that divided Europe. Secular leaders had to choose which claimant they would recognize which fell out as follows:
Avignon: France, Aragon, Castile and León, Cyprus, Burgundy, Savoy, Naples, Scotland and Wales.
Rome: Denmark, England, Flanders, the Holy Roman Empire, Hungary, Ireland (English Dominion), Norway, Portugal, Poland (later Poland-Lithuania), Sweden, Republic of Venice, and other City States of northern Italy.
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.
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 that a church council should resolve the Schism, first made in 1378, was not adopted at first 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, 5 June 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, to his death in 1410, when he was succeeded by John XXIII, who won some but not universal support.
Finally, a council was convened by Pisan pope John XXIII in 1414 at Constance 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, who resigned 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. Thus ended the last period of rival popes. Gregory XII’s resignation (in 1415) was the last time a pope would stand down from papacy before death until the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI in early 2013.
The cuisine of Avignon at the time of the Avignon popes was a mix of southern French, Italian, and Spanish influences – markedly different from that of northern France. Sources for the 15th century are not abundant but the general outlines are evident. Escabeche is a dish that has been around a long time and is certainly known throughout the Mediterranean arc from Spain through France to Italy in various guises. At root it is a sweet and sour fish dish. Here’s a recipe for an escabeche of fresh sardines from southern France. You can use whole mackerel if you like instead of the sardines.
Sardines en Escabèche
12 sardines, scaled and gutted
3 onions, peeled and thinly sliced
6 carrots, peeled and grated
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 red chile, minced fine
20cl/⅔ cup wine vinegar
2 bay leaves
Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat and fry the sardines on each side for about 4 minutes. Remove them with a spatula and reserve.
Lightly sauté the onions, garlic, carrots, bay leaves and minced chili until they are softened but not browned.
Add the vinegar and salt and pepper to taste, and simmer covered for ten minutes.
Spread half of the vegetables on a serving platter, arrange the sardines on the vegetables, and add the rest of the vegetables on top. Cover with foil and refrigerate for 48 hours.
Serve cold with lemon wedges.