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MARTIN V

1417 - 1431 AD

After years of agony the great western Schism drew to its end. Gregory XII, the legitimate pope, after convoking the council already gathered at Constance, had abdicated. John XXIII, the Pisa claimant, had been deposed. Only the Avignon claimant, Benedict XIII, remained, and the council, kings, and churchmen strove to persuade him to abdicate. Not he! Even when abandoned by the powers and by his staunch supporter and friend St. Vincent Ferrer, he retired to Peniscola and continued to denounce all opponents. When the Spanish kingdoms abandoned him and made their submission to Constance, the way was open for an undisputed election.

After three days of conclave, Oddone Colonna was elected unanimously on November 11. He took the name Martin V. Christendom once more recognized the same pope. As an old chronicler put it, "Men could scarcely speak for joy."

Oddone Colonna was born at Genazzano in 1386. After studies at Perugia he entered the diplomatic service of the Church. He became a cardinal in 1405 and abandoned Gregory XII to take part in the Council of Pisa. A subdeacon at his election, he was rapidly ordained deacon, priest, and bishop before his coronation on November 21.

Martin V was a vigorous man, virtuous, able, and gracious. He needed all his good qualities, for the difficulties he faced were immense. Though the schism had ended, it left a rich legacy of evils. At first Martin could not even get to Rome, but by skillful diplomacy he entered the city in 1420. He found it in dreadful shape and worked hard to restore it.

Martin was much less successful in launching the needed reform. His energy was diverted from this task by his fear of a council. The Council of Constance in a revolutionary series of decrees had declared that a general council is above the pope. Martin was unable to approve this, but he feared to provoke a fresh schism. Consequently, he cleverly approved whatever the council had done in a conciliar manner. Since the revolutionary decrees had been carried in a manner far from conciliar they were implicitly excluded from the papal approval. Constance had also decreed that councils should be held at stated intervals. These councils might have been helpful to promote reform, but under the troublesome circumstances it is no wonder that Martin feared them. Martin indeed called a council for Pavia in 1423, but when the plague sent it to Siena, so few were present that the Pope dissolved it. This council decreed that another should meet at Basel in seven years. Though Martin convoked it in 1431, his successor had to face it. Martin died February 29, 1431.

Martin V did not start the thorough reform so much needed, but he did accomplish something. He supported the great Franciscan St. Bernardino of Siena in his propagation of devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus. He created excellent cardinals. He did so much for Rome and the Papal States that he is known as "the second founder of the papal monarchy and the Restorer of Rome."


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