III. The Postclassical Period, 500–1500 > F. Europe, 461–1500 > 6. Western Europe, 1300–1500 > e. The Papacy and Italy
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
(See 1305–14)
e. The Papacy and Italy
1. The Papacy
For a complete list of the Roman popes, see Appendix IV.  1
Clement V (1304–14), who had been residing in France, made the decision to settle at Avignon, in southeast France on the Rhône River. Although technically not in French territory—it belonged to the Angevin princes of Naples—French influence was very strong. The actual move of the papal court occurred the following year.  2
The Avignonese papacy. The seven popes of Avignon, all French (as were 113 of the 134 cardinals appointed during this period), removed themselves from Rome, the spiritual center of the West, and devoted their attentions to the reform of the papal bureaucracy and to the construction of the beautiful Gothic papal palace rather than to the spiritual problems of the Church and the political difficulties of Rome and Italy. The term “Babylonian captivity,” sometimes used for the same period, represents a conflation of the ideas of the 14th-century Florentine poet Francesco Petrarch and the 16th-century German reformer Martin Luther. Petrarch's career in the service of Clement VI provoked Italian resentment of the French dominance at the papal curia and hostility toward the fiscal and moral vices of the city and court. His sense of exile led him to quote the beginning of Psalm 137: “By the rivers of Babylon we sat down and wept,” the Rhône being the river of the new Babylon. Martin Luther used the term Babylonian captivity to refer to the entire period of medieval Christianity, when (he believed) the doctrine of salvation by works predominated. The term became a Protestant image implying fiscal and moral corruption and should be avoided by those who do not want to imply a Protestant continuation of medieval Christianity.  3
Expedition of the Emperor Henry VII to Italy (See 1310–13). Henry asserted his independence of the spiritual power and claimed control of Italy. Clement V and Philip IV (opposed to him as a rival of the Angevins) combined against him.  4
JOHN XXII, who supported the Angevins in Naples. His attempt to decide the validity of Emperor Louis IV's title led to a long struggle (1323–47). Louis was supported by the German people, who resented the Avignonese papacy, and by the Franciscans. John was unable to return to Italy because of the continued anarchy.  5
CLEMENT VI’s pontificate was marked by a revolution.  6
Revolution of Cola di Rienzi at Rome. With the support of the populace, Cola overthrew the rule of the patricians, set himself up as tribune of the people, and summoned an Italian national parliament. Expelled by his opponents (1348), he returned in 1352 and was appointed senator by the pope (1354), but was in the same year slain by his baronial opponents. The lords of the Papal States resumed control and were, for all intents and purposes, independent of papal authority. Cola is considered a forerunner of Italian nationalism.  7
INNOCENT VI. He sent the Spanish cardinal Albornoz to Italy, and the latter succeeded in reducing the powerful barons to obedience, thus making possible an eventual return of the pope.  8
Reform of the Curia during the Avignon period. General work of centralization and departmentalization: (1) the camera apostolica; (2) the chancery; (3) justice; (4) the penitentiary (dispensations). The loss of Italian revenues forced the popes to be more exacting in the levying of their spiritual income; thus the centralization of the papal curia put many clerical appointments under direct papal control through an extension of the papal rights of provision (appointment to benefices). The new efficiency in the levying and collection of taxes, combined with the appointment of Italians to offices in northern Europe, increased resentment, especially in England and the German Empire after the outbreak of the Hundred Years' War. Significant items of the budget of John XXII: war, 63.7 percent; upkeep and entertainment, 12.7 percent; alms, 7.16 percent; stables, 0.4 percent; art, 0.33 percent; library, 0.17 percent.  9
Vying with the growing magnificence of the monarchies of Europe, the Avignonese popes and cardinals became known for their pomp and luxury, and these tendencies spread to the episcopate, despite the thundering of the Franciscans and the decrees of local synods. The insubordination of outraged reformers, like the Bohemian preachers and Wiclif, soon penetrated to the masses.  10
Virtually every pope (notably Clement V and John XXII) made serious and honest efforts to combat these alarming developments, but the general anarchy in Europe made success impossible. There was a notable expansion of missions to East Asia: China (an archbishop and ten suffragans, 1312; 50 Franciscan houses, 1314; missions to Persia). Rome, the ancient spiritual center of the West, was reduced to an anarchic, poverty-stricken, provincial city, and clamored for the return of the popes.  11
1376, June 18
Visit of Catherine of Siena (1347–80) to Avignon. Caterina Beninsara, who cultivated piety and claimed from childhood to have received visions, joined the Dominican Third Order in 1363 and, with a group of followers, traveled through Italy preaching reform and ministering in hospitals and leper houses. Her reputation as a mystic and a miracle worker propelled her into a public role: anxious to see the papacy returned to Rome, she went to Avignon to urge Gregory IX to return; public opinion credited her influence as having been decisive. Catherine later supported Urban VI against the Avignonese antipope, and she died in Urban's service. Her 350 letters and mystical compositions, dictated because of her own illiteracy, survive. Canonized (1461) by the Sienese Pope Pius II, she is revered as one of the patron saints of Italy.  12
GREGORY XI visited Rome and died before he could leave. The conclave, under threat of personal violence from the Roman mob, yielded to demands for an Italian pope.  13
URBAN VI was elected. His worthy goals of reform were soon vitiated by his tactless and ill-tempered manner.  14
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.