Pope Clement V The Babylonian Exile begins in Avignon as Philip continues to fiddle while Rome burns
A new Pope was in the offing but revenge was the main motive of the king of France Philip IV, also known as "Philip the Fair," which is a misnomer if ever there was one for he manipulated, cajoled and threatened to take over the Church after the death of the good and Blessed Pope Benedict XI's death on July 7, 1304. The saddest fact is that Philip did gain control of the entire papacy as the Babylonian Captivity of the Popes would last until 1377. Rather than selecting a successor immediately after Benedict's death the cardinals, huddling in Perugia where Benedict had died, were once again thrown into two camps - the anti-French Italian contingent who insisted on a pontiff in the mold of Pope Boniface VIII and the pro-French group who were still reeling from Boniface's treatment of them and Philip. The latter wanted to reestablish the Colonna cardinals who had been demoted by Boniface and ultimately turned into that Pope's most bitter enemies siding with Philip in his court. For eleven months they bickered back and forth until finally settling on a compromise candidate - Cardinal Bertrand de Got, the French Archbishop of Bordeaux who, though French, had been sympathetic to preserving Boniface's legacy. But the fact he was French was a victory for Philip who refused to travel to Perugia and accompany the new Pope to Rome for the papal coronation. Rather Philip ordered the cardinals to bring the new Pope Clement V to Lyons in France. Opting not to fight the edict, Clement V consented and was coronated the 195th successor of Peter on November 14, 1305 in France by Philip. The Italians saw this not only as a slap in the face of the Roman tradition, which it was, but something that God Himself was not happy with evident from a series of incidence that had been prophetically foretold by some historians and prophets. First, during the procession a wall came crashing down killing Cardinal Matteo Orsini who had participated in twelve conclaves through thirteen pontiffs from Pope Clement IV dating back to 1265, the year after Clement V was born in Gascony. The fatal rocks just missed Clement who was thrown from his horse; secondly, one of the jewels from the papal tiarra was found missing - the most expensive of all the jewels that many suspect thieves chiseled out during the commotion. Nevertheless it was a bad omen of things to come. While many expected Clement V to return to Rome, Philip had other ideas, keeping him first at Lyons and then moving him to Bordeaux where Clement had been head of the See there as Archbishop, then to Provence and next to Gascony, his birthplace, before finally ending up at Avignon.
With the Pope on French soil and under the heavy influence of the king, the Church took on an entirely different face in the curia. Gone were most of the Italian cardinals as Clement appointed ten new ones, nine of which were French. Philip was so bent on debasing Boniface VIII that he ordered Clement to condemn anyone who memorialized Boniface. He also commanded the Pope to erase all records of Boniface and strike him from the long line of Popes, declaring the former Cardinal Benedetto Caetani a heretic. While many historians insist Clement had no intention of doing this nor of staying in France, he was helpless to do otherwise because of his dependence on Philip financially and for fear of reprisal. Clement was a great compromiser and he felt he could have the best of both worlds by residing in Avignon for it was, at that time, a fiefdom of Naples. Thus he convinced Philip to allow him to move there in 1307. Though the relationship between Philip and Clement was close, each was playing the other. Philip was so obsessed with destroying the memory of Boniface and gaining revenge that he allowed Clement to do what he wanted as the latter stalled Philip's efforts with one thing after another, delaying the inevitable for six years. Philip was ruthless and sent spies to Rome to torch St. John Lateran church and palace in 1308 to make sure Clement would not return to Rome and blamed it on Roman factions which were truly in an anarchical state. Thus it was easy to accuse the Italians of this conflagration and further strengthened Philip's persuasion of the Pope to remain in France. There was also a political move to Philip's actions as he felt Italy would be ripe for French rule with Naples and Sicily favorable to him. The monarch forced Clement into rehabilitating the Colonna cardinals and to issue the papal bull that retracted Boniface's Unam Sanctam. This one was Rex gloriae which ridiculously exalted Philip and which many believe Philip wrote himself because his ego and revenge was so intense. The bull praised the king for his zeal in setting the record straight and attacking Boniface. Because Boniface had betrayed Pope Celestine V the Spiritual Franciscans were overjoyed when Clement canonized Celestine on May 5, 1313. Philip agreed for it set in motion his cause to have Boniface condemned for his actions since a formal declaration was impossible. With this accomplished, Philip turned to swallowing up more territory and riches. One of his targets were the Knights Templars who had been brave warriors during the crusades and brought back much wealth and know-how to Europe. However they, too, had succumbed to the temptations of the world and had moved to the upper class echelons, owning property, banks, land, etc. They were a threat to Philip who coveted their lands and wealth. Therefore he circulated many rumors of heresy and immorality fostered by the Templars and had them all rounded up on October 13, 1307 beginning with the arrest of their leader, the legendary Jacques de Molay, the Grand Commander or Grand Master. Philip had their properties confiscated and commanded Clement to condemn the order. Though apprehensive to do so without proof, he realized it would be one way to take Philip's mind off the crusade to have Boniface totally condemned. Thus Clement chose to convene a general council - the Fifteenth Ecumenical Council at Vienne, France in which the body persuaded the Pope to dissolve the Knights Templar and turn over all properties to the king who made a facade of transfering all properties to the Knights Hospitalers where, in truth, it was all being funneled back to the French monarchy. Clement never officially condemned the Templars but miscommunication made it look as though he did and the Templars never recovered. They would never be reinstated in the Church and provide the seeds for rebellion in later years and be the cornerstone organization to begin a new order - the Freemasons.
Clement was not a bad pope, just a weak one who was caught in the vice grip of Philip's power. When Clement sought to deal in matters in England and with the German king Henry VII he was in over his head for the British isles were in turmoil as well and France was a bitter enemy. Though Clement tried to appease England by releasing King Edward I of his pledge to his barons and founding the heralded University of Oxford, he ran into big trouble in Scotland when he excommunicated the legendary Robert the Bruce for murdering John the Red in the sanctuary of a Scottish church and deposed two bishops who had backed the Scottish rebels in their fight for freedom. This was a truly bad move on Clement's part for it set in motion an anti-papal movement in the Scottish highlands that would last for centuries and make it easier for Calvinism to take hold in that country whereas Ireland, a similar culture, would remain Catholic. As for Henry VII, Clement V, as a puppet of Philip's, tried to encourage the German emperor to conquer Venice. To aid the Holy Roman Emperor in this quest, Clement V preached a crusade against the Venetians in order to reacquire lost land for the papal states in Ferrara. However, after his successes in northern Italy, Henry VII set his sights farther south and came into direct conflict with King Robert of Naples who held all of St. Peter's in Rome. The alliance of Robert and Philip forced Clement's hand and he had to demand a truce and request for Henry to withdraw or suffer the consequences of excommunication. Though the emperor was not favorable to such a threat, no action was taken since he died on August 24, 1313. Less than a year later Clement would also succumb on April 20, 1314 at Roquemaure, France. Even though he was only fifty, he was no doubt worn out by the constant demands of Philip IV. He would be greatly criticized for nepotism, electing four relatives to the rank of cardinal and providing influential and wealthy positions of power within the church to other family members. This was a cause of great resentment not only in Italy and throughout the rest of Europe, but in France as well. All in all Clement's nine year reign was wrought with disappointment and despair throughout the universal Church for many could see Philip's hand in everything Clement did and this did not bode well for the traditions established over the centuries. The papacy had turned from a spiritual fortress to a retaliatory office of politics and it wouldn't get much better over the next seven decades as we shall see in future installments.
Next week we will deal with Clement's successor Pope John XXII and the first antipope of the fourteenth century Nicholas V - the Italians' answer to the French takeover.