Later in the fourteenth century the Regular Observance grew again to considerable proportions, and in the beginning of the fifteenth century its fame was revived by the flaming preachers Bernardino of Sienna and John of Capistrano. The peace of the Franciscan order continued to be the concern of pope after pope until, in 1517, Leo X terminated the struggle of three centuries by formally recognizing two distinct societies within the Franciscan body. The moderate wing was placed under the Master-General of the Conventual Minorite Brothers, and was confirmed in the right to hold property. The strict or Observant wing was placed under a Minister-General of the Whole Order of St. Francis. The latter takes precedence in processions and at other great functions, and holds his office for six years.
If the Spiritual Franciscans had been capable of taking secret delight in an adversary’s misfortunes, they would have had occasion for it in the widely spread charge that John was a heretic. At any rate, he came as near being a heretic as a pope can be. His heresy concerned the nature of the beatific vision after death. In a sermon on All Souls’, 1331, he announced that the blessed dead do not see God until the general resurrection. In at least two more sermons he repeated this utterance. John, who was much given to theologizing, Ockam declared to be wholly ignorant in theology. This schoolman, Cesena, and others pronounced the view heretical. John imprisoned an English Dominican who preached against him, and so certain was he of his case that he sent the Franciscan general, Gerardus Odonis, to Paris to get the opinion of the university.
The King, Philip VI, took a warm interest in the subject, opposed the pope, and called a council of theologians at Vincennes to give its opinion. It decided that ever since the Lord descended into hades and released souls from that abode, the righteous have at death immediately entered upon the vision of the divine essence of the Trinity. Among the supporters of this decision was Nicolas of Lyra. When official announcement of the decision reached the pope, he summoned a council at Avignon and set before it passages from the Fathers for and against his view. They sat for five days, in December, 1333. John then made a public announcement, which was communicated to the king and queen of France, that he had not intended to say anything in conflict with the Fathers and the orthodox Church and, if he had done so, he retracted his utterances.
The question was authoritatively settled by Benedict XII in the bull Benedictus dues, 1336, which declared that the blessed dead—saints, the Apostles, virgins, martyrs, confessors who need no purgatorial cleansing—are, after death and before the resurrection of their bodies at the general judgment, with Christ and the angels, and that they behold the divine essence with naked vision. Benedict declared that John died while he was preparing a decision.
The financial policy of John XXII and his successors merits a chapter by itself. Here reference may be made to John’s private fortune. He has had the questionable fame of not only having amassed a larger sum than any of his predecessors, but of having died possessed of fabulous wealth. Gregorovius calls him the Midas of Avignon. According to Villani, he left behind him 18,000,000 gold florins, and 7,000,000 florins’ worth of jewels and ornaments, in all 25,000,000 florins, or $60,000,000 of our present coinage. This chronicler concludes with the remark that the words were no longer remembered which the Good Man in the Gospels spake to the disciples, “Lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven.” Recent investigations seem to cast suspicion upon this long-held view as an exaggeration. John’s hoard may have amounted to not more than 750,000 florins, or $2,000,000 of our money. If this be a safe estimate, it is still true that John was a shrewd financier and perhaps the richest man in Europe.
When John died he was ninety years old.
The Papal Office Assailed.
In connection with the decline of the Papacy it is of interest to note how the Papacy was assailed. Among these assailants was a certain Marsiglius who has been called by Catholic historians the forerunner of Luther and Calvin.
To the pontificate of John XXII belongs a second group of literary assailants of the papacy. Going beyond Dante and John of Paris, they attacked the pope’s spiritual functions. Their assaults were called forth by the conflict with Lewis the, Bavarian and the controversy with the Franciscan Spirituals. Lewis’ court became a veritable nest of antipapal agitation and the headquarters of pamphleteering. Marsiglius of Padua was the cleverest and boldest of these writers, Ockam—a Schoolman rather than a practical thinker—the most copious. Michael of Cesena and Bonagratia also made contributions to this literature.
Ockam sets forth his views in two works, The Dialogue and the Eight Questions. The former is ponderous in thought and a monster in size. It is difficult, if at times possible, to detect the author’s views in the mass of cumbersome disputation. These views seem to be as follows: The papacy is not an institution which is essential to the being of the Church. Conditions arise to make it necessary to establish national churches. The pope is not infallible, Even a legitimate pope may hold to heresy. So it was with Peter, who was judaizing, and had to be rebuked by Paul, Liberius, who was an Arian, and Leo, who was arraigned for false doctrine by Hilary of Poictiers. Sylvester II made a compact with the devil. One or the other, Nicolas III or John XXII, was a heretic, for the one contradicted the other. A general council may err just as popes have erred. So did the second Council of Lyons and the Council of Vienne, which condemned the true Minorites. The pope may be pronounced a heretic by a council or, if a council fails in its duty, the cardinals may pronounce the decision. In case the cardinals fail, the right to do so belongs to the temporal prince. Christ did not commit the faith to the pope and the hierarchy, but to the Church, and somewhere within the Church the truth is always held and preserved. Temporal power did not originally belong to the pope. This is proved by Constantine’s donation, for what Constantine gave, he gave for the first time. Supreme power in temporal and spiritual things is not in a single hand. The emperor has full power by virtue of his election, and does not depend for it upon unction or coronation by the pope or any earthly confirmation of any kind.
More distinct and advanced were the utterances of Marsiglius of Padua. His writings abound in incisive thrusts against the prevailing ecclesiastical system, and lay down the principles of a new order. In the preparation of his chief work, the Defence of the Faith,—Defensor pacis,—he had the help of John of Jandum. Both writers were clerics, but neither of them monks. Born about 1270 in Padua, Marsiglius devoted himself to the study of medicine, and in 1312 was rector of the University of Paris. In 1325 or 1326 he betook himself to the court of Lewis the Bavarian. The reasons are left to surmisal. He acted as the emperor’s physician. In 1328 he accompanied the emperor to Rome, and showed full sympathy with the measures taken to establish the emperor’s authority. He joined in the ceremonies of the emperor’s coronation, the deposition of John XXII and the elevation of the anti-pope, Peter of Corbara. The pope had already denounced Marsiglius and John of Jandum as “sons of perdition, the sons of Belial, those pestiferous individuals, beasts from the the abyss,” and summoned the Remans to make them prisoners. Marsiglius was made vicar of Rome by the emperor, and remained true to the principles stated in his tract, even when the emperor became a suppliant to the Avignon court. Lewis even went so far as to express to John XXII his readiness to withdraw his protection from Marsiglius and the leaders of the Spirituals. Later, when his position was more hopeful, he changed his attitude and gave them his protection at Munich. But again, in his letter submitting himself to Clement VI, 1343, the emperor denied holding the errors charged against Marsiglius and John, and declared his object in retaining them at his court had been to lead them back to the Church. The Paduan died before 1343.
The personal fortunes of Marsiglius are of small historical concern compared with his book, which he dedicated to the emperor. The volume, which was written in two months, was audacious as any of the earlier writings of Luther. For originality and boldness of statement the Middle Ages has nothing superior to offer. To it may be compared in modern times Janus’ attack on the doctrine of papal infallibility at the time of the Vatican Council. Its Scriptural radicalism was in itself a literary sensation.
In condemning the work, John XXII, 1327, pronounced as contrary “to apostolic truth and all law” its statements that Christ paid the stater to the Roman government as a matter of obligation, that Christ did not appoint a vicar, that an emperor has the right to depose a pope, and that the orders of the hierarchy are not of primitive origin. Marsiglius had not spared epithets in dealing with John, whom he called “the great dragon, the old serpent.” Clement VI found no less than 240 heretical clauses in the book, and declared that he had never read a worse heretic than Marsiglius. The papal condemnations were reproduced by the University of Paris, which singled out for reprobation the statements that Peter is not the head of the Church, that the pope may be deposed, and that he has no right to inflict punishments without the emperor’s consent.
The Defensor pacis was a manifesto against the spiritual as well as the temporal assumptions of the papacy and against the whole hierarchical organization of the Church. Its title is shrewdly chosen in view of the strifes between cities and states going on at the time the book was written, and due, as it claimed, to papal ambition and interference. The peace of the Christian world would never be established so long as the pope’s false claims were accepted. The main positions are the following:—
The state, which was developed out of the family, exists that men may live well and peaceably. The people themselves are the source of authority, and confer the right to exercise it upon the ruler whom they select. The functions of the priesthood are spiritual and educational. Clerics are called upon to teach and to warn. In all matters of civil misdemeanor they are responsible to the civil officer as other men are. They should follow their. Master by self-denial. As St. Bernard said, the pope needs not wealth or outward display to be a true successor of Peter.
The function of binding and loosing is a declarative, not a judicial, function. To God alone belongs the power to forgive sins and to punish. No bishop or priest has a right to excommunicate or interdict individual freedom without the consent of the people or its representative, the civil legislator. With these main positions of the Defensor pacis we will continue the next time.