The year 1314 was momentous not only for the passing of the French Pope Clement V who began the Avignon exile called in Church annals the "Babylonian captivity," but also for the death of that thorn in the side of the Italians - Philip IV, king of France who had wielded so much influence. His son Philip, count of Poitiers succeeded him as King Philip V. Meanwhile in Italy the cardinals and populace were feeling neglected and the resentment grew to such a fever pitch that violence broke out in the conclave at Carpentras, France where Clement had died near Avignon. It became so bad Philip had to reassemble the College of Cardinals at Lyons under heavy security. The favorite candidates were sacrificed for a compromise selection - a humble French prelate from Cahors - Cardinal Jacques Duese who was already 72 years old. He had the backing of both Philip V and the king of Naples Robert who the cardinal had served as chancellor. In addition he had served as bishop of Avignon so he was no stranger to the main principals who felt he would be a perfect interim pontiff because he was feeble in health and aging rapidly. But they didn't count on a renewed energy from this man who became Pope John XXII as the 196th successor of Peter who was coronated on August 7, 1316 - two years and three months and seventeen days after Clement's death.
It quickly became evident that John XXII would not be a puppet Pope for Philip V as Clement V was for Philip IV. One of the first things the new Pope announced was his desire to return the papacy to Rome. This prompted the Italians to receive him more warmly than they had anticipated. While making plans for that he dove into cleaning up the papacy that had been left in shambles administratively by his predecessors and because of the two year vacancy between Clement and himself. Despite his age, he totally reorganized the curia and redrew dioceses, splitting up larger ones to accommodate the flocks and to make tithing more fair for all. While he can be lauded for his new fiscal system that was ahead of its time, he might be considered "a fool who rushed in where angels fear to tread" when he was sucked into the Franciscan controversy by the general of the Order Michael of Cesena who asked him to rule against the Spirituals who Pope Saint Celestine V had elevated and who Pope Boniface VIII had alienated so much that resentment towards the latter was still strong as ever when John XXII became involved. The Pope issued an order commanding the Spirituals to be obedient to their superiors who were not in union with their philosophy. He banned their habits they had donned and and rationalized they could store up provisions and material things. If they did not comply they would be handed over to the Inquisition Court which pronounced that Jesus and His Apostles owned nothing as their own; the sylogism being that the Franciscans should turn everything over to the Pope since they owned nothing. John was caught in the middle. He tried to denounce the declaration but it was too late. The Franciscan Order as a whole was up in arms. In retaliation, many aligned themselves with one of John's enemies - the Holy Roman Emperor Louis of Bavaria. John XXII had plunged himself into world politics by trying to mediate between Frederick of Austria and Louis of Bavaria who were bitterly contending for the Holy Roman Emperor's crown after the death of Henry VII. Louis disregarded the papal intervention and won out, dissing the Pope who in turn issued an interdict. Louis countered by lobbying for a general council to present his case and attempt to demean the Holy Father on grounds of mental incompetency and senility.
Rather than waiting for the council to convene, the self-appointed emperor took matters in his own hands, invading Rome. There, in 1328 Louis selected the Franciscan Pietro Rainalducci as Pope Nicholas V. On May 14, 1328 Louis crowned Nicholas as Pope and in turn the Pope crowned Louis as emperor. A week later Nicholas named nine new cardinals and began setting up a Roman curia. Not only was the papacy split but so was the Franciscan Order as those following Michael of Cesena rallied around Nicholas at the insistence of William of Occam who was obsessed with establishing a new Pope to the point of condemning John XXII claiming he was a heretic, while loyal Franciscans remained solidly behind John. When Azzone Visconti defected his support for Louis and turned on the emperor, Louis was forced to flee Rome. There were already cracks in the alliance and others soon followed creating a huge chasm, including Nicholas V who disassociated himself with Louis and William and fled to a castle at Burgaro. When the Florentine army discovered his whereabouts, John XXII requested they bring Nicholas to him. But the protective count of Burgaro stole Nicholas away to Pisa fearing the warriors of Firenze would kill him and made arrangements for Nicholas to renounce the papacy and seek forgiveness from John who had previously excommunicated him.
Before the Archbishop of Pisa on July 25, 1330 he formally renounced his claim to the papal throne and sought forgiveness from John. Soon after he was sent to Avignon where he humbled himself before John who in turn pardoned him, realizing this man had been used by Louis and the others and, seeing the genuine sorrow in Nicholas, allowed him to remain in the court of Avignon with all the privileges of a Franciscan priest. He died on October 16, 1333 and was buried at the church of the Franciscans in Avignon.
Despite the troubles John XXII encountered, he was a good man and showed his talents as an organizer and canon lawyer in leaving the Church in better shape during his 18-year pontificate that many didn't expect to last even a year considering his age and health. But John fooled them all and was very active in promoting mission activities in Asia and the mideast, specifically Iran where no Pope had dared penetrate prior to that. He favored the Dominicans, obviously because of the Franciscan split, and also because he had lived in a Dominican priory during the early years of his papacy. The Pope, though infallible in faith and morals, seemed very, very fallible especially in his last years when he was nearing ninety-years. He had made the statement during a homily, not from the Chair of Peter, that all souls could not benefit the Beatific Vision until they had experienced the Last Judgment which, in effect, meant they were in Limbo the same as those before Christ redeemed mankind. He humbly apologized for his error, explaining he was not speaking ex cathedra but rather solely as a person. But it was enough to shake the populace, especially the frustrated Franciscans who used this as more grist for the mill to declare him a heretic, a charge he lived with until his death, fueled by the hatred from Louis and William.
Like Clement V, he exhibited a tendency to appoint many relatives and this nepotism also angered others as he further entrenched the French Church at Avignon by building the Papal Palace at Avignon. It was John XXII who instituted the feast of the Most Holy Trinity as well as the "Sacra Rota." On December 4, 1334 John breathed his last breath, seeking forgiveness for all he had wronged on his deathbed in Avignon.
Before we continue our march through the Avignon Popes with John's successor Pope Benedict XII, we will pause for the next several weeks beginning with the next installment to do a review of the first 1300 years in Church history and to point out how 1332 was such a pivotal year and how the events that took place during that time would shape history for the next 666 years leading up to our present year of 1998.