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The Great Schism

The great schism is widely believed to be a great rift that separated the church into two, Eastern Orthodox and Western Roman Catholic, during the period of the great Roman Empire. Nonetheless, the term cannot be conclusively examined without studying the subsequent rift that occurred in the Roman Catholic and the resulting growth of the English and French empire as a result of this rift. There are many events which contributed to the great schism and there continues a lively debate on whether it could have been avoided. In addition, there are many players whose actions aided in the schism among them Pope Boniface VIII, Phillip IV and the Avignon Papacy. Above the people and events that led to the schism, there existed matters other factors like geography, doctrinal issues, political considerations and economical matters which provided a fertile ground for the great schism. Yet there were efforts through out history to reconcile the different factions of the church and these efforts still continue even to today. It is therefore possible to say that the major reasons for the great schism were political, doctrinal differences and the Avignon papacy.

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Phillip IV

Phillip IV also known as Phillip the fair is one of the greatest French Kings to have sat on the French throne. But his greatness is not because of his possession of great virtue for he was not a virtuous king. He was daring and is regarded as having being capable of doing anything for the sake of increasing his wealth. His lust for money was so great that he ordered the kidnapping of the pope for his role in questioning the conduct of the French King. How did the French King aid in bringing about the second schism which tore apart he Roman church?  Traditionally, the papacy seat was based in Rome which was the recognized capital of the Roman Empire. The term “recognized” has been used since one of the Roman emperors, Emperor Constantine, built his own capital at Constantinople. However, Phillip knew the kind of wealth and power he could wiled if he could control the papacy and the entire church by extension. He was a man known to use the wealth of others for his own means and was ready to kill or imprison others to possess their wealth.

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 Phillip schemed to have one of his allies installed as Pope. He did this by using his considerable power as a French King to have the Vatican appoint as many French cardinals as there were Italian cardinals. He then used bribery and threats to have Pope Clement V elected as pope even though Italians had wanted to have one of their cardinals elected. He then went out of his ways to convince the new pope that Rome was not safe for him and this resulted in the new pope refusing to take residence at the Vatican. Instead, he moved the papacy to Avignon and thus began a line of popes who did not take residence at the Vatican. Popes whose influences were greatly compromised by the French throne that the rest of the catholic world lost faith in the Avignon papacy and installed another Pope in Rome.

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Pope Boniface was the second the last pope before the papacy was moved to Avignon France in what has come to be referred to as the Babylonian Captivity. There is no doubt that the French King, Phillip IV, had a great part to do with the occurrence o the great schism. What moist might not realize is that his role might have resulted in the willfulness of pope Boniface VIII and his great criticism of the king’s conduct. This led Phillip to order the kidnapping of Pope Boniface VIII where he was beaten up to the extent that he died only a few days after his escape. This after the pope had criticized the French King and called upon him to respect the supremacy of the Papacy over the sovereign power of kings. The ability of a king to ignore the rulings of a pope and have him arrested reduced the powers of a pope considerably and increased Phillip’s power to influence the church in the future. This criticism might have made the French King decide it was better for him to avoid the election of another pope who would constantly try to undermine his power over country and church.

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The Avignon Papacy as mentioned in earlier parts of the paper refers to the period where the papacy resided in Avignon and not Rome. This paper has made it clear the circumstance through which the pope ended up serving at Avignon and this part looks at how this contributed to the great schism. Most non French cardinals were not happy with Clements’s refusal to reside and preside at the Vatican. The Avignon Papacy also reduced most powers and privileges enjoyed by cardinals before then. This led the other cardinals to denounce the Avignon based papacy and elected one of their own as pope residing at the Vatican. This created a division in the Roman Catholic with people and nations aligning themselves to the pope who better served their interests. This was a period where different factions created separate doctrines and issues relating to the conduct of the clergy and the relationship of the state and church. While the Avignon Papacy came to an end a few decades later, the rift that was created in this period never fully healed and resulted to further subsequent splits in later years.

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The great schism is credited with the split of the church and the several revisions in doctrines, church practices and the relationship between church and state that resulted. There are many who played a huge role in the schism that has not been mentioned here. But the politicians of the time had an immense role in the great schism at all stages. Only time will tell whether reconciliation is possible among the different factions of the church and if the great schism can be healed. 

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