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The Resignation of a Pope to end a Schism

March 2, 2013

The major news this week has been the resignation of the Pope, he has now officially left his office and we will soon be seeing smoke rising from the conclave. Of course, this gets people thinking back to the last resignation of a Pope, which was Gregory XII in 1415. The events leading up to this resignation were far different than the current Pope’s.

The current Pope has resigned because of his age and health, fair enough, he is 85, which is an old age for someone who has to be in charge of a huge church and all those who follow the Catholic faith. In the past, Pope’s died a lot younger, a lack of medical care and other illnesses that can be treated now, diet and other advances in technology keep us alive a lot longer now than before. With this in mind, Pope’s in previous times did not have to cope with old age, and all that comes with it, while being in such a privileged and responsible position. The last time a Pope resigned, it was to end a schism that was damaging the Christian faith in the Western world.

The Western Schism started in 1377 with Pope Gregory XI when he moved the papacy back from Avignon to Rome, prior to this, having the papacy at Avignon appeared to be causing corruption within the church. However, this was only to cause more problems, especially after his death in 1378. A new Pope was elected, the Romans wanted a Roman, or at the very least an Italian, but the Neapolitan Urban VI was elected. This proved to be a mistake, and some cardinals took it upon themselves to declare the election of Urban VI invalid and elect their own Pope. And so, Pope Clement VII went back to Avignon to have his papacy there.

From this point there were two Popes, a little confusing! This would have caused many problems for all those following the Catholic faith who would have to choose which Pope to follow, and potentially face the wrath of the other.

There were many people and ways to attempt to end the schism, but all failed. In 1406, Pope Gregory XII was elected Pope, but there was a condition to his papacy, that should the pope at Avignon resign, he would too. If this were to happen, a new pope could then be elected, and there would be a fresh start for the papacy, therefore, ending the schism. The end was in sight, but not quite yet. The Council of Constance, held in 1414, was to put an end to the schism.

Pope Gregory XII resigned in 1415, but not because the pope at Avignon resigned, but instead, the council deposed the pope at Avignon. A new pope was elected, but before the death of Pope Gregory XII, very similar to what is occurring today. The new pope, Martin V, was elected


From → Medieval History

  1. rautakyy permalink

    “…a little confusing…” You don’t say! At one point during that schism they actually had three popes, when in addition to the pope in Rome and one in Avignon, one more in Pisa was put forward in 1409.

    And yes, kingdoms of the western church were divided by which pope they supported. My homecountry Finland (along with Sweden, Norway, Iceland and oddly enough Greenland) was under the rule of the Danish king at the time and he decided, politically wisely with the Empire, to support the Roman pope. The Danish king could ill afford a war with the might of the Emperor especially as his vast but scarcely populated realm was at open war with the Orthodox Russian principality of Novgorod at the time here in Finland.

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