Why the decline of the Papacy

The reasons for the decline of the Papacy were complex. Among them, however, was the growth of monarchies reinforced by a rising tide of a sentiment akin to nationalism. Kingdoms were not new but they were becoming stronger. As communications im proved and cities and commerce grew. Western Europe began to emerge from its exclusively agricultural economy and endless division into large and small units associated with one another through feudal ties. Yet the dream of drawing together all Christendom into one unit dominated by the Holy Roman Empire and the Papacy was not fulfilled. Instead, Western Europe remained divided into numbers of states, large and small. Each monarch sought to control that portion of the Church which was within his domains and resented Papal interference. In this he was supported by the majority of his subjects, for they were averse to seeing foreigners placed in ecclesiastical posts by Papal appointment and were especially angered by the taxes imposed through the Church for the support of the Papal curia.

The debilitating conflict between Empire and Papacy was another source of the decline of the Papacy. The efforts of the reformers to free the Church from secularism by making it independent of the state and the vision which sustained the great Popes of a society in which the Christian purpose would be predominant through the guidance of the Bishops of Rome as Vicars of Christ had led to prolonged internecine strife in which Popes resorted to measures which were quite inconsistent with Christian standards of conduct. The Empire suffered more than the Papacy, but the latter was weakened, especially in moral stature.

Furthermore, the very machinery which the reforming Popes developed to make their power effective in purifying the Church and raising the moral and Spiritual level of society proved a source of weakness. Their measures entailed the multiplication of officials, many of them at Rome and others scattered throughout Christendom, an elaborate and expensive bureaucracy. Positions in that bureaucracy were sought by ambitious men, for they brought prestige, physical comfort, even luxury, and a kind of power which was antithetical to that of the Gospel. Here, in the name of the Gospel, was a perversion of the Gospel which eventually became a noisome scandal. The taxes required for the support of the bureaucracy aroused resentment which challenged, often successfully, the authority of the Papacy to impose and collect them.

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