Christ's Faithful People
1352 - 1362 AD
Clement VI had eased the election regulations of Gregory X, but at the next conclave the cardinals did not need the more comfortable conditions, for they quickly elected Etienne Aubert, who took the name Innocent VI. Etienne Aubert was born at Mont near Limoges of parents in moderate circumstances. He became a professor of law at Toulouse, bishop of Noyon and later of Clermont, and a cardinal in 1342. Zealous for reform, he leaned much on the advice of the austere Carthusian Jean Birel. He tried hard to reverse the extravagant policy of Clement. He sent the place-hunters packing, cut down financial abuses, and put a damper on the gaiety of the Avignon court. Financially, however, he could not cut down papal taxation much. Indeed he was so distressed that to make ends meet he actually had to sell paintings, jewels, even the church plate.
In spite of his earnest efforts papal prestige declined. King Edward III of England in 1363 issued the statute of Praemunire which hampered relations between Englishmen and the Holy See. In 1356 Emperor Charles IV issued the Golden Bull, which regulated the imperial election--without mention of the Pope. Even at Avignon the Pope was no longer safe. The Peace of Bretigny which put a temporary stop to the war between France and England sent swarms of free companions rampaging into Avignon, and indeed besieging the Pope. The cardinals themselves had shown a disturbing tendency when in the conclave they had all signed an agreement that the man elected pope should give the sacred college a good deal more power than it deserved. A number, among them Etienne Aubert, had signed only with the restrictive clause, "if and insofar as it is according to law." Once pope, Innocent wasted little time in denouncing the mischievous agreement as contrary to the laws of Gregory X and Clement V.
To settle the affairs of turbulent Rome, Innocent first sent Rienzi back to pacify the city, but the people butchered the Tribune. Already in 1353 Innocent had sent as his vicar into Italy the man who would restore order there, the Spaniard Gil Albornoz. Albornoz, cardinal archbishop of Toledo, had fled from the court of Pedro the Cruel, unable to restrain his indignation at that monarch's conduct. He battered and coaxed the Italian barons until he succeeded in making it possible for a pope to live in Rome once more. Unfortunately Innocent was too old and sick to have the necessary energy.
Innocent resumed the work of Benedict XII in reforming religious orders. Though a friend of fervent religious, his legal mind had little sympathy for the remnants of the rebellious "spiritual" Franciscans. His last years were painful, as the Black Death once again struck Avigon. He died September 22, 1362. He had tried hard and had been a good pope. St. Brigit of Sweden declared that "Pope Innocent, more abominable than Jewish usurers, a greater traitor than Judas, more cruel than Pilate, has been cast into hell like a weighty stone." Historians do not endorse this harsh judgment of the Swedish mystic, who, though she was a saint, sometimes said more than her prayers.