Great Schism

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Great Schism

A divide in the Catholic Church that brought an institution that dominated medieval Europe to the lowest point of its reputation, and became a key impetus for the Protestant Reformation. In 1377, the papal court, which had resided in the southern French town of Avignon, was returned to Rome on the orders of Pope Gregory XI. In the next year, Gregory's death was followed by the election of Urban VI who, much to the chagrin of the cardinals who had elected him, soon took steps to reform the corrupt bureaucracy of the church. A faction of French cardinals met in the town of Agnani and declared the election of Urban as null. They elected Robert of Geneva as Clement VII, a French-speaking rival pope who returned to Avignon. Urban's papal court in Rome survived, and Christians throughout Europe found their loyalties demanded by two separate and hostile factions of Italian and French prelates. Urban VI was followed in Rome by Boniface IX (13891404), Innocent VII (14041406), and Gregory XII (14061415). Clement was succeeded in Avignon by Benedict XIII (13941417). To resolve the schism, the cardinals gathered in the Tuscan city of Pisa, on the advice of religious scholars that the pope was subject to the decisions of a holy council. The Council of Pisa then elected a third pope, Alexander V, who was not recognized by either of the popes in Rome and Avignon. The Holy Roman Emperor summoned church officials to the Council of Constance in 1414. The council declared the two rival popes deposed and elected Martin V. This pope managed to return the Papacy permanently to Rome, but not before the church suffered a serious loss in its reputation as the supreme religious authority, paving the way for the dissidents and Protestants whose movement would sweep northern Europe in the sixteenth century.

See Also: Hus, Jan; Luther, Martin; Reformation, Protestant

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Great Schism, 1378–1417. After the papacy's stay from 1309 at Avignon, an enclave in southern France, the Roman populace in 1378 demanded an Italian pope and the conclave, intimidated, elected Urban VI. Within three months, his conduct had alienated many supporters, who elected Clement VII. The rival pope established himself once more at Avignon. The rift perpetuated itself and the Council of Pisa in 1409, summoned to restore church unity, merely succeeded in electing a third pope, Alexander V. Not until the Council of Constance in 1417 was unity restored with the election of Martin V. The response of governments to the schism was almost purely political. The king of France supported the Avignon popes, who were more likely to be under French influence. The English, bitterly opposed to France, recognized the Roman popes. The Scots, allied to France, joined in acknowledging Avignon. An Irish synod at Roscommon in 1383 also supported Avignon. The rival popes, greatly weakened, were obliged to make substantial concessions. Scotland received from the Avignon popes its first cardinal and its first university at St Andrews, granted by Benedict XIII in 1414. The Scots even stayed with Benedict after Martin V had been elected until the Faculty of Arts of the new university carried the day to abandon its benefactor. In 1406 Owain Glyndŵr, in rebellion against Henry IV, offered submission to Benedict if he would confer archiepiscopal status on St Davids, establish a university for Wales, and declare Henry IV a usurper.

J. A. Cannon

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Great Schism (1378–1417) Split within the Roman Catholic Church following the election of two rival popes to succeed Gregory XI. In 1309, Pope Clement V moved the papacy from Rome to Avignon, France. The attempt to return the papacy to Rome saw the Italian cardinals elect an Italian pope, Urban VI, and the French cardinals elect a rival ‘Antipope’, Clement VII. The schism ended with the Council of Constance, which established Martin V as sole pope.

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Great schism. Either (1) the excommunication by Rome in 1054 of the patriarch of Constantinople, and the patriarch's excommunication of the pope; or (2) the schism in the W. Church, 1378–1417 when there were two, and for a time three, contenders for the title of pope.