historic day

The pope resigned today, which has to turn out better than last time. Last time began with what historians call the “The Babylonian Captivity of the Church” (1305-77), which began when King Philip IV of France imprisoned and abused the 86 year old Pope Boniface, who died in a sack on his way to France. Philip had wanted to tax the French clergy but Boniface said No, because he wanted the money to come to Rome. Philip taxed them anyway so Boniface excommunicated Philip. Philip then captured Boniface and roughed up the elderly pope enough that he died.

When the cardinals met to elect a new pope to replace Boniface, Philip intimidated them into electing a pope who would be a stooge for the French.  The new pope accommodated Philip and promptly moved the seat of his papacy from Rome to Avignon, where his line remained for 70 years, (hence the term, “Babylonian Captivity of the Church”).

By 1377 the popes had had enough and Pope Gregory XI decided to return the papacy to Rome. The papacy had come close to collapse because the rest of Europe knew the popes were servants of the French, and the English, Germans, and Italians began to rebel against papal authority. Gregory saved the papacy by moving it back to Rome, but then he died the following year.

The French cardinals traveled to Rome to elect a new pope. They intended to vote for another French pope, which had been business as usual for the past 70 years. But a popular uprising in Rome forced the cardinals to elect an Italian, Urban VI, who then proceeded to remove the French from offices within the church.

When the French cardinals returned to Avignon, they complained that their election was not free since they were compelled by a mob to choose Urban. The cardinals renounced Urban and chose Clement VII, a Frenchman, as their pope in Avignon.

So now there were two popes, which was a huge problem. The average peasant knew that she must belong to the true church to be saved, but how could she tell which pope led the true church? This problem of a divided church was referred to the theologians at the Sorbonne in Paris, who called a council at Pisa to settle issue.  This might have worked except that both popes objected to the council and excommunicated its proceedings. The council ignored the popes, and after deposing and excommunicating them, chose Alexander V as their new and true pope. However, church law didn’t allow a mere council to elect a pope so the old popes had grounds to reject it. The Council of Pisa had merely compounded the problem, for now there were three popes rather than two, all claiming to lead the one true church and excommunicating the others.

What to do? The Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund now got involved. He fulfilled canon law by forcing the Pisa pope (John XXIII) to call a council at Constance. Because it was called by a pope, the Council of Constance had ecclesiastical authority. Its first order of business was to depose the Pisa pope who called it. The pope in Rome, Gregory XII, saw the writing on the wall and resigned, but the pope in Avignon, Benedict XIII, excommunicated everyone and fled to Spain where he ruled over a mini-papacy for 5 years. He may have been Baptist.

The Council of Constance elected an Italian, Martin V, who became the new pope in Rome. There, fixed it. Whatever transpires in the next few weeks, it has to go better than that.






9 responses to “historic day”

  1. Understatement of the year hands down – “He may have been Baptist”

  2. I wonder…he ruled his mini-papacy for 5 years…that’s a long time for a good independent, fundamental, conservative, separatistic pastor 😉

  3. So, Mike, with all this said,& some precedent for multiple papacies in he past, it sounds like maybe both my brother-in-law, Larry, & his brother Dick could still be elected – perhaps both. Remember both are Catholic, live near Notre Dame & are ardent fans of football & women’s basketball. Of course they would go by Pope Lawrence & Pope Richard. Where does this leave Cleveland?

  4. Michael, sometimes sarcasm can be disarming and sometimes it is revealing. If the Catholic Church is Christ’s beloved bride and makes His presence real through the sacrament of the Eucharist your attempt at humor here is curious. Certainly forgivable. Many people joked off Jesus for being a mere man and yet claiming authority to forgive sins (an authority that Jesus explicitly gives to His apostles before His ascension).

    I am well aware of the frailty and imperfections of all Christians. Even priests and some popes.

    But you do not leave Peter because of Judas. Or because of Peter’s actions at times. God draws straight lines with crooked sticks at times.

    My faith is that Christ has maintained an unbroken line of successors from St. Peter to the present day, triumphing over the failings of individuals and foolish actions of his slow learning children.
    But I believe Christ promised to build His Church on Peter and nothing in this world or the next would overcome the faith and sacred testimony contained in sacred Scripture and Tradition.

    Note that while confusion arose about the Pope for a time and some actions were to us petty, no doctrine or teaching of faith was changed or contradicted. The Eucharist was still Christ present. People still participated in the sacraments. And all through history saints such as St. Francis God raises up with prophetic voice to bring reform withing the Church (not splinter and break away like the rebellious reformers did).

    If you would spend as much time reading the Catechism, the lives of the saints, and experience a year at mass, as you have taking this pot shot at the petrine office that Christ established, you may in the spirit of lent have a change of heart and repent (to reconsider or think again).

    Did you ever watch the Catholicism series created by Father Barron?

    Have you visited masses around Grand Rapids in frequency to experience the liturgical flow of a year as a Catholic?

    If I am wrong then none of what I say matters. If you are wrong, you have not spoken the whole truth about the papacy and have done something the apostle Paul condemns. You have not prayed for these Shepherds who God appoints to guard and guide His flock but have spoken dishonorably about those in authority over you, whether you accept or dismiss that authority, I would say this is a big gamble.

    If the Church is just a man made authority and not something instituted by Christ, proceed. But if like the incarnation, the Church is both a Divine and Human institution, you may be wrestling with the wrong angel.

    As one writer has humorously said, any institution with all the failings and sinners the Catholic Church has would have collapsed or faded out long ago just like all the other man lead institutions and kingdoms before it. The fact that it is the longest enduring institution in history despite being made up of sinners, testifies that it is note a mere human institution, but the Body of Christ extending through every age until the end of it when Christ returns.

    Then the keys of the kingdom given to Peter to steward and passed on to 265 successors, will be joyfully passed back to the returning King.

    No joke.

  5. And for a fair handed representation that while not denying the realities of this history, also does not misrepresent it as the above writing has done:


  6. Michael, you really need to lighten up.

  7. I typically enjoy your humor Dr. Wittmer. I really do. I tend to be very jovial and enjoy stand up comics very much. But this post you wrote could have come from CNN, the BBC, or NPR. Their coverage of the Church is deeply slanted that it is laughable.

    For you, it seems you do not want engage on the Catholic faith as you have said in the past. But then you brought it up here and it came across as disrespectful to me.

    When you want to talk, I am happy to speak in person with you so we do not dehumanise or caricature each other as often happens through impersonal communication.

    I consider you a brother in Christ and say peace to you.

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