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Western Civilization 10, Lesson 150 – The Great Western Schism

Popes are often viewed as men of great patience and piety.  While this is true, an event that happened in the late 1300s, known as the Great Western Schism, showed that popes are still human and can be petty and stubborn in their own way.  In this essay, I am going to talk about what led to the schism and what happened.

When Pope Gregory XI died in 1378, the College of Cardinals needed to elect a new pope to take over.  When they gathered a conclave to decide who would be the next pope, a Roman mob assembled outside of the building.  The mob demanded that the cardinals pick a Roman man so the papacy would not be moved to Avignon, where it had been for the last 68 years.

The cardinals eventually chose Bartolomeo Prignano, who took the name of Pope Urban VI.  He was not a Roman, but he was not French either.  This was a compromise the people could accept at the time.

Urban VI was known to be pious and reliable.  However, a few years into his reign as pope he started to display erratic and irrational behavior.  It was said that he started to denounce clergymen in public, and even physically assaulted one.

This forced the College of Cardinals to reassemble to elect a new pope to replace Urban.  They chose a Frenchman who took the name Clement VII.  Unfortunately, Urban was unwilling to abdicate for Clement.  He claimed that Clement was an imposter while the cardinals claimed that Urban was not the legitimate pope since their decision to elect him was made under duress (due to the Roman mob).

Since Urban refused to abdicate, Clement could not take up the Roman papal residence and moved back to Avignon.  This was the exact thing the Roman people wanted to avoid.

Urban started to appoint new cardinals since the ones who elected him obviously did not want him around.  Clement then claimed the original cardinals his.  Now, the people had two sets of popes and cardinals.  This was what officially started the Great Western Schism.

Neither side tried to make any amends to the situation, forcing people to choose between the two popes.  Either you were loyal to the Roman papacy or to the Avignon papacy.

In 1409, the Council of Pisa was formed by the University of Paris.  They were so desperate for a solution that the university had set out a suggestion box in case anyone had ideas as to how to end the whole affair.  The council decided that neither pope should be in power and chose, yet another, pope to take over.

The schism came to an official end in 1415, when the Council of Constance elected Pope Martin V as the one and only legitimate pope.

Personally, I find the whole dilemma quite amusing.  I doubt people who lived during this time shared my sentiments though.  Even when the situation was solved, the event made the Church lose a lot of their credibility and dignity.  It was not until the 20th century when the Church publically stated that the legitimate pope during this time was Urban, the Roman pope.

As you can see, the whole ordeal started because of one man who supposedly went insane.  Even popes have their moments, which can lead to a 37 year long schism.

Thanks for reading!


Author: sophiaelahirpc

10th Grade student in the Ron Paul Curriculum. Full-time teen writer living in Singapore.

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