Papal attempts to gain power in the Late Middle Ages (Under

Crisis in the Late Medieval Church
“The Catholic Church endured a prolonged period of
crisis that lasted from 1305 until 1416; some would
extend the date even later. During these years, the
Church found its authority undermined,
openly challenged, and divided among
rivals. Although it merged at the end of
the period with its authority seemingly
intact, the struggle brought significant
changes to the structure of the Church
and sowed seeds that would later be
harvested in the Reformation.”
-Dr. E.L. Knox,
Professor of Western Civilization,
Boise State University
Papal attempts to gain power in the Late Middle Ages
(Under Innocent III, Urban IV, Gregory X, and Boniface VIII):
• Papal plentitude of power—allowed to name saints,
dispose church pfficials, centralized papal monarchy
• Rota Romana—its own law court
• Sequestering of cardinals at the death of a pope
• Clericis laicos—forbade taxation of the clergy by secular
monarchs without prior papal consent (Fr. and Eng.
• Unam Sanctam—bull stating that temporal power was
subject to spiritual power
Philip the Fair (of France) responded to many of these
threats to his kingly power, eventually resulting in Boniface
VIII’s death, the removal of the papacy from Rome, and an
end (mostly) to papal threats to secular power.
The Avignon Papacy, Great Schism and
Conciliar Movement
• Avignon Papacy / “Babylonian Captivity” (1309-1377)
– Pope Clement V moves papal court to Avignon to escape strife of
– To get needed revenue, papal taxes go up, and sale of indulgences
begins (and the doctrine of purgatory developed as well)
• Lead to the Great Schism (1378-1417)—pope in Rome (Urban
VI) and pope in Avignon (Clement VII); mutual
– Europe was divided between the 2 popes, attempts to resolve the
problem were unsuccessful until…
• Conciliar Theory: idea that a representative council could
regulate actions of pope.
– Numerous council held, pope problem solved (after some
conflict…i.e. a time with 3 popes!)
• Consequences of Church crisis: centralization, anticlericalism, conciliar theory & writings, loss of spiritual
leadership in the papacy.
Accurate up to 1409
(Council of Pisa and
election of Alexander V)