Dear Rev. Know it all,
Can you explain why all of a sudden we stopped singing Gregorian chant and started singing Kumbaya at Mass and now we have stopped singing Kumbaya and now we are singing dreary Gregorian chant again. I miss those old, traditional hymns with stirring music and lyrics that we could all sing and understand, words like “eat His body, drink His blood, and we’ll sing a song of love, halelu, halelu, halelu-u-yah” written by the immortal Ray Repp. I am so confused.
Harold “Hoot” and Annie Gibson
Dear “Hoot” and Annie,
Of course I can, but it will be very long and very boring and you will have to pay attention. The problem begins in 1300 AD, more or less with Philip the Fair, king of France and Edward I “Longshanks" of England (who disemboweled Mel Gibson in the movie “Braveheart”). They were at war over the province of Gascony and to finance the war they both wanted to tax the clergy and the Church. Pope Boniface VIII said “Over my dead body!” and King Philip of France said, “That could be arranged.”
So, Philip tried to kidnap the Pope, but merely managed to have him beat up by thugs on September 7, 1303. He died a month later. The cardinals elected an Italian, Benedict XI, who managed to survive eight months, so the cardinals thought they should elect somebody who could get along with the king of France. They chose a fellow named Raymond Bertrand de Got who was not at the election. He wasn’t even a cardinal, nor was he in Rome at the time. He was in France. This was reasonable because he was, in fact, French.
The cardinals thought he would be neutral and make nice with the king. He was crowned pope in a grand ceremony attended by the King in Lyons, France. He never quite made it to Rome, the city of which he was now bishop. He got as far as Avignon, now part of France, then owned by the king of Sicily. And there they stayed until, seven popes later, Pope Gregory XI was elected in 1370. He was pope until 1378, and was the last of the Avignon Popes. His return to Rome on January 17, 1377 was inspired by the prophecies of St. Catherine of Siena.
Problem solved? Hardly! This is where things get really bad. After the death of Pope Gregory XI, an Italian, Urban VI was elected. He had some odd ideas about cardinals, like avoiding gratuities and gifts, and accepting salaries from kings and noblemen and limiting luxuries and retinues, and the multiple benefices (clerical sources of revenue). And he refused to move back to Avignon, which irritated King Charles V of France. The cardinals were deeply insulted and five months after Urban’s election, the French cardinals met at Anagni, to declare his election invalid because they had been intimidated by the Roman mob (which can, in fact, be intimidating) into electing an Italian pope. So, they elected Robert of Geneva who was commander of the papal troops. He became the anti-pope Clement VII, and thus began the Western Schism which divided Catholic Christendom until 1417.
Nobody knew who was on first, authority wise. You had two popes, one in Avignon and one in Rome. France, Spain, Naples, and Scotland recognized the Avignon pope. Denmark, England, Flanders, Germany, Hungary, northern Italy, Ireland, Norway, Poland, and Sweden recognized the Roman pope. At one point there were three popes. Finally, the Council of Constance met in 1414, authorized by the legitimate successor of Urban VI, (remember him? The true pope in Rome?) The Council of Constance elected the new pope, whom (almost) everybody recognized. Finally, problem solved. Not on your life!!! Now it gets really, really bad.
While no one was paying attention, a few things happened. The Church had become enmeshed in the politics of Europe, there were good and godly clergy and there were some not quite so good and godly, just like now, and then there was the black death. Over a period of 2-4 years, beginning in 1348 the Bubonic plague wiped out as much as half of the population of Europe. The death rate among clergy was much higher, perhaps two thirds. Parish priests and monks who were doing their jobs caught the plague and died.
In Avignon, Pope Clement VI's physicians told him to surround himself with torches to hide from the plague. But he remained at his post in Avignon supervising pastoral care of the sick and burials. He never caught disease. He wasn’t a man noted for his holiness, but in this case he did his job. I would probably have hidden under my bed, whimpering and trying not to inhale.
So the good priests died, there was chaos in the leadership of the Church for about a century and the aristocracy tried to take over the Church. In this chaotic climate, there arose people who thought they knew what to do. The first of these was a priest named John Wycliffe in England, (1324-1384) who was in effect the father of the Protestant Reformation a full century before Luther.
(To be continued......)