Friday, January 18, 2013

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

Yesterday was the anniversary of the date in 1377 when Pope Gregory XI moved the papacy from Avignon, France, to Rome. It stands to reason, however I have little evidence to support it, that today must be the anniversary of the date in 1377 when the pope had his cable turned on and unpacked his record collection.

Gregory and his small retinue of hundreds moved into a charming fixer-upper and proceeded to plan his vegetable garden and to innovate new ways to torture heretics. The house immediately became a magnet for Rome’s cognoscenti, literati, and illuminati. Unfortunately for the thirty-second most unoriginally named pope (all of the Johns (including an antipope (John XVI) and a non-existent pope (John XX)) and the first ten Gregorys are ahead of him), he died not long after his move, leaving his garden plan unexecuted (but not a few heretic--they WERE executed) and casting all of Catholicism into a lengthy spat.

Before I get into The Great Schism, I would like to revisit the fact that there is a nonexistent pope. Somehow the papal historical record labeled one of their honchos incorrectly. John XIV was apparently counted twice (perhaps due to the action of another antipope, Boniface VII (sometimes the history of Western religion reads like a Marvel comic book: Pope/Antipope)).  I am not kidding when I tell you that the papal record apparently refers to John XIV AND John XIV the second.  How can you have a John XIV the second?  Isn’t that like having a John Jr III?  It doesn’t make any sense.  But, when the pope who would be XX came around--a guy referred to as (again, no joke) Spanish Peter--he decided to correct the record (assuming there already had been XX popes named John) and he skipped the XX and went right in as XXI.  As it turns out, John XIV and John XIV the second turned out to be the same guy.  Um, duh?  No wonder some Christians believe the world is only 6000 years old--they can’t even keep track of sequentially numbered guys named John.

But, anyway, the pope elected after Gregory XI was from Naples, and the French, being used to a) having a short walk to the pope’s house (pre-1377) and b) speaking French to the pope (okay, you got me, it was probably Latin, but there’s no joke there…is there?), did not like the new guy. So, they did what any reasonable collection of people will do when an election doesn’t go their way—they split. Literally. And, so, The Great Schism began, and Europe had to choose a patriarch. This was highly confusing to Europe. The pope was supposed to be the closest human to God, and now there were two?  How could that be right? As it turned out, most of France and Scotland went with the antipope in Avignon, and everybody else sided with the Neapolitan pope.

For thirty years, cardinals tried to solve the problem. The best solution they could come up with occurred in 1409, when, in an attempt to sort out who was the legitimate pope, they elected a second antipope, giving them, you guessed it, three popes to choose from! I have no idea how they managed such an unbelievable act of incompetence.  Maybe they thought they were voting for one thing and voted for another? Perhaps the ballot was printed in too small a print, or it was written in the vernacular (which they did not understand). Be that as it may, the episode of The Great Catholic Comedy from season 13 titled “Aw, Schism!” began to rival the most madcap episodes of I Love Lucy ever filmed at DesiLu Studios.

Eventually, the cardinals figured out the difference between one pope and three popes (or one pope and two antipopes), and they recognized the legitimacy of the Roman “line” of popes. They call it a line, but that would imply heredity, wouldn’t it?  Are only popes allowed to reproduce? I will stop this line of inquiry here, I don’t want to upset too many of my family members.

Needless to say, the Roman popes eventually moved out of Gregory XI’s little cottage and started their own city-state, Vatican City. Hmmm, city-state. Didn’t the Greeks have city-states? And wasn’t there a big break up between the Greek and Latin Church in 1054? And wasn’t that The Great Schism? Does that mean we should refer to the 1377 break as The Great Schism the second?  And, really, y’all, what’s with all the schisms? Can’t we all just get along? 

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