Great Western Schism

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Great Western Schism


a period in the history of the papacy from 1378 to 1417, when two or three popes, struggling among themselves, simultaneously held the papal throne. The causes of the Great Western Schism were a weakening in the importance of the papacy as the international center of the feudal system (as centralized governments formed in Western Europe) and a struggle among the Western European rulers to subjugate the papal throne.

The Great Western Schism began after the Avignon Captivity of the popes. After the death of Pope Gregory XI (1370-78), who had returned from Avignon to Rome, Urban VI was elected pope (1378-89). Urban VI was supported by the states of northern and central Italy, the Scandinavian states, the German states, and England. The clergy, oriented toward France, Spain, Scotland, and Naples, elected Clement VII (1378-94) at Avignon in counterposition to Urban VI. Two papal curias were created. The popes anathematized each other. The successor to Clement VII was Benedict XIII (from 1394); the successors to Urban VI were Boniface IX (1389-1404), Innocent VII (1404-06), and Gregory XII (from 1406).

A church council in Pisa (1409) removed both Benedict XIII and Gregory XII and elected Alexander V as pope (1409-10). But as the dethroned popes did not accept the decision of the council, there were three popes on the papal throne. The schism contributed to the development of heretical movements that threatened the feudal system as a whole. This in turn alarmed the secular feudal authorities, who called for the reestablishment of church unity. The Council of Constance (1414-18) put an end to the schism by removing the three popes, John XXIII (successor to Alexander V), Gregory XII, and Benedict XIII, and electing Martin V as the new pope (1417-31). The Great Western Schism greatly undermined the authority of the papacy and the Catholic church as a whole.


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A companion to the great western schism (1378-1417).

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