The Western Schism in the Medieval Christian Church
Western Schism brought conflict and division in the Christian Church of the middle ages. It brought conflict in the ruling of the ecclesiastical powers during that time. These were Conflicts between two popes or even three popes, who claim the papal seat at the same time. It resulted to the division of the Church authority between the anti-pope in Avignon and the authentic pope in Rome. Thus, we can better understand this schism if we know first its meaning, nature, and background in the medieval Christian Church.
The meaning of Schism is basically the breaking away from the ecclesiastical communion. The ecclesiastical communion is the unity of the Church leaders and faithful. During Schism, this unity breaks and eventually the leaders and the faithful choose which side to follow. The worst thing to happen during the schism is to confuse the faithful and bring them to abandon their faith. There were a lot of Schisms in the Christian Church even in the start of Christianity. For example, the schism between the Jews and the Gentiles that brought conflict and division in the early Christians. The schism started when the Jews claimed their superiority against the Gentiles for being the chosen people of God and for their right to worship the God of Israel revealed in the form of Jesus Christ. Schisms were often rooted from the ego and personal interests of the church leaders and also from their clashing principles. Moreover, the Schism in the Church only shows how political and humane the people leading her.
The Nature of the Western Schism is the division of the Church papal authority between Rome and Avignon. It started when several French Cardinals considered the election of pope Urban VI invalid. They brought the papal curia to Avignon and elected a new pope, Clement VII. All in all, there were four schisms in the Western Schism that brought conflict and division in the medieval Church.
The medieval Church during the schism is characterized of far-reaching changes in politics, religion, culture and economy. The politics and religion were interrelated. During this period the Church clergy were considered the most powerful persons in the society. They both control the Church and the government. During the western schism, there were Kings, noblemen, and even Saints who supported either the Roman Pope or the Avignon Pope. The people supported the Pope of their own race. For example, the French and Spaniards supported the Avignon pope. The economy of this period drastically decreased because of the exploitation of the Church’s finances to support both papacies. The taxes, offerings, and indulgences were increased and became compulsory to all even to the poor. Thus, these brought poverty and loss of faith to most people.
All in all, the Western Schism is a proof of man’s imperfections and weakness in the course of history. It should not be forgotten; rather it should be a source of lesson for the present generation, especially to the generation of the Catholic Church leaders.