The Papacy goes into captivity at Avignon

The decline of the Papacy became vivid in what is often called the Babylonian Captivity. From 1309 to 1377 the Popes resided at Avignon, and although that city was not in France, it was overshadowed by that realm. All the Popes of the period were Frenchmen and were subject to French influence which at times became domination by the King of France. The Papacy was almost a French institution. This weakened its prestige in nations and regions at enmity with France and after 1350 issued in the Great Schism which, as we are to see, weakened not only the Papacy but also the Western Church.

It was under Clement V, Pope from 1305 to 1314 and the second after Boniface VIII, that the headquarters of the Papacy were removed to Avignon. Clement had been Archbishop of Bordeaux which, although under the King of England, was French soil. Under pressure from the King of France he annulled the acts which had been directed against that monarch by his two predecessors. He was noted for appointing his relatives to high office in the Church, including six whom he made cardinals. All but two of the twenty-four cardinals whom he created were French, a precedent which was to be followed by his Avignon successors.

The longest reign of the Avignon Pontiffs was that of John XXII, from 1316 to 1334. Coming to the office when he was sixty-seven, John XXII lived into his eighty-fifth year. In spite of his advanced age, his was a vigorous rule. Austere and simple in his private life, he left behind him a large personal fortune. He was involved in extensive wars over German and imperial affairs, for the struggle between Popes and Emperors continued to plague both lines of potentates. Possessing outstanding organizing and executive gifts, he increased the centralization of the affairs of the Church in the Papal curia and departmentalized the administration. He faced serious financial problems, for the removal to Avignon had cost the Papacy some of its Italian revenues and his extensive participation in war consumed almost two-thirds of his budget. Yet he proved to be something of a financial genius in augmenting the Papal funds and in introducing an efficient financial system. Among other measures he reserved for his treasury the income for three years of all minor benefices which fell vacant in the Western branch of the Church and also claimed the personal property of bishops on their death.

In general, the Avignon years were marked by luxury in the Papal entourage and the enlargement of varied forms of Papal taxation and exaction. Palatial residences for Pope and cardinals were erected. These and the style of living maintained within them were costly. The Papal bureaucracy and. the Papal ventures in politics also demanded large expenditures. Among the sources of funds were what were technically known as Papal reservation and provision. By reservation was meant the right of nomination to a vacant benefice. Provision was appointment to a benefice before it fell vacant. From each new appointee the Pope expected the annate, approximately one year's revenue of the post. The income from vacant benefices the nomination to which was in Papal hands was also an increasing source of revenue, especially since the posts might be deliberately kept unfilled. In their effort to control the moral and religious life of Western Christendom the Popes, as we have seen, had encouraged or required appeal to their court. Under the Avignon Pontiffs the fees exacted for such appeals were another source of funds.

These enlargements of Papal powers and taxes aroused widespread resentment. In England, for example, in 1351 there was enacted the Statute of Provisors which forbade Papal interference in elections to ecclesiastical posts. This was followed, in 1353, by a law, Praemunire, which prohibited appeals to courts outside the kingdom. Although the Pope was not specifically named in the act, the intent was clear.

Some of the Avignon Pontiffs were upright men who strove to correct abuses and to improve the life of the Church, but the tide was against them. The Papacy was in a decline which in the next period was to be a scandal to the Christian name, first because of a prolonged and bitter division of Western Europe among rival claimants of the see and then because men of quite unworthy character manoeuvred themselves into Peter's Chair.

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