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1389 - 1404 AD

The great western schism was not a schism in the ordinary sense that people revolted from the pope. The Great Western Schism was a split in the Church because it was doubtful to many just who was the legitimate pope. This split caused frightful desolation in the Church. Each claimant excommunicated the other and his supporters. Two papal courts had to be maintained. The popes felt powerless to insist on reform or to fight against the encroachments of the state. In short, the Great Western Schism was stark disaster.

When Urban VI died, a discredited old man, it was hoped that the schism would end. But since Clement VII at Avignon showed no inclination to abdicate, Urban's fourteen Cardinals elected young Pietro Tomacelli, who took the name Boniface IX.

Boniface IX was a Neapolitan of poor but noble birth. As a young man he had been made cardinal by Urban and now at thirty-three he assumed the headship of the Church at a critical time. His reputation was that of a clever and amiable diplomat rather than that of a scholar. Amiable he proved to be. By his winning charm he did much to repair the damage Urban's bitter harshness had caused. But he did not succeed in ending the schism.

Clement excommunicated Boniface and Boniface returned the compliment. He did try to negotiate with Clement, but with no result. Hope flared high when in 1394 Clement VII died. The University of Paris, even the French king himself, urged the Avignon cardinals to hesitate before perpetuating the dreadful schism. But not they! The Avignon cardinals hurriedly rushed through an election and chose the Spaniard Pedro de Luna, who took the name Benedict XIII.

Boniface felt the weakness of his position. He was compelled to tolerate state interference with his rights. He could not cope with abuses. Indeed, in his pontificate abuses multiplied. Papal taxation, already unpopular, was increased. To gain the money he so desperately needed for the expenses of the papal curia Boniface resorted to questionable means. It was during this pontificate that money and indulgences began that close association which was a scandal to many. Yet Boniface did not want the money for himself.

In the political sphere Boniface won a victory over Clement VII when Ladislaus, his candidate for the throne of Naples, ousted Louis of Anjou, the favorite of the Avignon claimant. In general, however, there was a dreary and inconclusive seesaw. Benedict's position was even worse than that of Boniface, for the French, enraged at his stubbornness, withdrew their obedience from him for some years.

Boniface did what he could to help the Eastern Empire, now tottering under the blows of that powerful Ottoman, Bajazet. He also canonized the outspoken mystic, Brigit of Sweden.

In 1404 Benedict sent an embassy to Boniface, but nothing came of it; and shortly after, tormented by stones, Boniface IX died.

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