The name given to the papacy (1308–78) because of its residence for some 70 years at avignon instead of at Rome.
Reasons for Residence at Avignon. The popes took up residence at Avignon for reasons that were partly historical, partly personal, and partly political. The papacy was still suffering from the shattering effects of the pontificate of boniface viii, which had created external enemies and internally split the College of Cardinals (see cardinal). The brief pontificate of benedict xi did not help matters. The cardinals were anxious to elect a pontiff who had been connected in no way with any previous papal measures and who could be seen as a "neutral" both in external and internal affairs. The long vacancy after Benedict's death testifies to the serious efforts made by the cardinals to find a man who fulfilled the requirements. After several abortive ballots in conclave—one of the candidates was the English Dominican provincial, Walter Winterbourne—the choice fell on Abp. Bertrand de Got of Bordeaux (clement v).
Clement had not been a member of the Curia, was politically a subject of the English King but culturally thoroughly French, and seemed to be exactly the man to steer the papacy through difficult times. Although he intended to go to Rome after his election, Clement was prevented by a number of circumstances, chiefly by the posthumous trial of Boniface VIII. Clement considered it more prudent to be near the French King to dissuade him from resuming the trial against the dead pope, to convene the General Council at Vienne, and to direct affairs arising from philip iv's sudden arrest of the templars. Moreover, the absence of the Curia from Rome since the death of Benedict had made Rome and Italy more insecure than ever, especially as the peninsula was seething with the strife between guelfs and ghibellines, and as the new Luxembourg emperor, henry vii, pursued a policy in Italy diametrically opposed to that of the papacy.
In 1308 the papal court came to reside at Avignon, which provided easy communication with both France and Italy. Avignon belonged to vassals of the Roman Church and was not then on French soil. It was intended merely as a temporary abode until the questions between the French King and the papacy were solved and the Council of Vienne had finished its work. The council ended May 6, 1312, but the state of Clement's health did not permit the arduous move back to Rome; he seems to have suffered from cancer and died two years later. Although the situation in Italy had meanwhile deteriorated, john xxii nevertheless planned to return to Italy and to reside at bologna; but that city was as unruly and insecure as any other place in Italy, and soon the plan was dropped.
Each succeeding pope entertained the idea of moving back to Italy. urban v did in fact return to Rome, but he found himself confronted by the hostility of the Roman populace, even though the papal emissary, Cardinal albornoz, had shortly before established some sort of order in the states of the church. Realizing also that if he were nearer the French king he might hope to mediate the struggle between England and France, Urban V resumed residence at Avignon. Under his successor, gregory xi, the papacy finally effected a return to Rome. A further motive for the prolonged residence at Avignon was the perhaps illusory plan of a crusade, continuously entertained by virtually all the Avignon popes. A crusading appeal, it was thought, would find a readier response if the war between England and France were brought to a speedy end.
Assessment. The Abignonese papacy has prompted many adverse judgments. One of the most frequently voiced criticisms is that it came entirely under French influence and was in fact an appendix of French policy. This is a highly colored view, rising, on the one hand, from the hostility of contemporary English sources, which understandably linked the papacy with French political designs, and on the other hand from contemporary German sources, which also were colored by the antagonism between Emperor louis iv and the papacy. The one-sided judgments of petrarch, St. catherine of siena, and St. bridget of sweden also added to the pejorative
bias that has ever since distorted the view of the Avignon papacy.
On balance, however, the constant peace efforts of the Avignon popes showed that they stood above the turmoil of regal rivalries. Moreover, so far from being in the tow of France, they frequently pursued policies, particularly in regard to Italy, that would be quite inexplicable had the popes been mere tools of the French kings. A proper assessment of the Avignon papacy must never lose sight of the somewhat artificial situation in which the popes found themselves. This situation, which the popes had done nothing to bring about and of which they had become the victims, bred in them a sense of insecurity that may explain the restlessness and impetuosity of papal measures initiated at Avignon. Torn though they were from their natural abode, the popes of Avignon accelerated the process of bringing principles of government to their logical conclusion and theoretical perfection.
It is perhaps a paradox that the full élan and vigor of papal principles of government were to be witnessed on "foreign" soil and in a period not unjustifiably called the waning of the Middle Ages. One thing is clear, however—the papacy itself introduced no new principles while at Avignon. What it did was to create a highly advanced system out of what had so far grown in an unsystematic manner. The administrative and organizational measures of the Avignon papacy were designed to create the machinery that was to serve the perfected system of government. And some of these measures continued to be practiced long after the return to Rome.
Measures Adopted at Avignon. The administration was thoroughly overhauled, mainly during John XXII's pontificate. There were four main departments that constituted the hub of the papal government at work.
Apostolic Camera. This was the supreme financial office, exercising supervision and control over all papal tax collectors operating in distant lands and over all financial transactions within and without the Curia itself. The papal exchequer also controlled the papal mint. Attached to it was the secretariat that conducted the secret correspondence of the pope through specially appointed secretarii, as well as all diplomatic correspondence not of a routine nature. The chamberlain, the head of the apostolic chamber, was the pope's most trusted adviser.
At Avignon ecclesiastical finance was perfected. It was precisely because of demands made by a stringent financial system that numerous categories of taxes, fees, and profits were rigorously collected. By contemporary standards, the expenditures of the Roman Church at Avignon reached astronomical figures. Rigorous tax collection caused understandable opposition, especially in the ranks of the lower clergy. Large expenditure was caused also by many undertakings financed by the papacy, such as the wars in Italy, the missions to distant lands, the support of universities, and the financing of inquisitorial machinery for the suppression of heresy. However, it is also true that the Curia at Avignon had become the most splendidly equipped in Europe. Cardinals and other members of the Curia displayed an amount of luxury and pomp that was both unnecessary and inadvisable in view of the current demand that the Church return to apostolic poverty.
The Chancery. Also highly developed at Avignon, the chancery was the nerve center of the pope's government in practice. It was concerned with the drafting, registration, and dispatch of papal administrative acts, letters, and decrees, and was headed by the vice-chancellor. All routine business went through the chancery.
Judicial Department. This department dealt with all litigations and contentious matters not primarily of a financial nature. It was subdivided into several branches, of which the most important was the consistory, headed by the pope himself, assisted by the cardinals. The consistory dealt with major issues and was also the supreme court of appeal. Subsidiaries of the consistory were the audientia sacri palatii and the audientia litterarum contradictarum, both consisting of trained lawyers. The former, also called the Rota, was concerned primarily with purely ecclesiastical matters, such as collation of Benefices, provisions, reservations, and immunities; the latter dealt with proper litigations.
Apostolic Penitentiary. This department handled matters concerning interdict, excommunication, and other ecclesiastical censures, as well as the removal of canonical matrimonial impediments. The head was a cardinal who functioned as grand penitentiary.
Organization and Reform. The proliferation of offices and departments at Avignon should not lead to the view that the papacy was nothing but a gigantic administrative machine. It was a highly complicated organization which, if it were to function properly, had to be effectively controlled. For this purpose central offices and departments were a necessity. It was precisely through its first-class organization that the Avignon papacy was enabled to continue old policies and to initiate new ones. Most notable among the former were the reform measures concerning the state of the clergy and above all the religious orders, especially the friars. Among the latter must be mentioned the initiation of missionary enterprises on a scale much larger than hitherto envisaged.
The missions to Asia, as far as China and Persia, India and Turkestan, testify to the earnestness of the Avignon papacy to spread Christianity in regions that offered nothing but risks and unimaginable hazards. What needs special emphasis is the promotion by the Avignon papacy of educational work, notably in the universities, and the establishment of new fields of study, such as Arabic.
On the other hand, the variegated nature of the Avignon papacy at work brought about noteworthy constitutional practices, virtually dictated by governmental exigencies. The cardinals began de facto to assume powers which amounted, in practice, to an oligarchic form of government; the pope was virtually bound to take counsel from the cardinals in charge of special departments. It was a symptom of the increased power of the cardinals that they hit upon the device of the so-called papal electoral pacts (see capitulations) first recorded in 1352, according to which the pope was to be severely restricted in the exercise of his monarchic powers. The outbreak of the western schism, soon after the pope's return to Rome, was to no small extent the result of the assumption of cardinalitial power. The peculiarities and achievements of the Avignon papacy can be understood only when viewed against the historical background.
Bibliography: Sources. É. baluze, Vitae paparum Avenionensium, ed. g. mollat, 4 v. (Paris 1914–27), Bibliothèque des Écoles françaises d'Athènes et de Rome, Lettres des papes d'Avignon se rapportant à la France (Paris 1899–). f. bock, Einführung in das Registerwesen des avignonesischen Papsttums, 2 v. (Rome 1941). o. berthold, ed. and tr., Kaiser, Volk, und Avignon: Ausgewählte Quellen zur antikurialen Bewegung in Deutschland in der ersten Hälfte des 14. Jahrhunderts (Berlin 1960). Literature. g. mollat, The Popes at Avignon, 1305–1378, tr. j. love (London 1963). e. kraack, Rom oder Avignon? Die römische Frage unter den Päpsten Clemens V. und Johann XXII (Marburg 1929). e. duprÉ theseider, Problemi del papato avignonese (Bologna 1961). b. guillemain, La Cour pontificale d'Avignon (1309–76 ): Étude d'une société (Paris 1962). n. housley, The Avignon Papacy and the Crusades, 1305–1378 (Oxford 1986). y. renouard, The Avignon Papacy, 1305–1403, trans. d. bethell (London 1970). d. willman, The Right of Spoil of the Popes of Avignon, 1316–1415 (Philadelphia 1988).