Sunday, October 15, 2006

Has It Really Been 617 Years?

Via, although they identify this date as the election of Urban, rather than his death.

[Update: About did in fact list it as the death of Urban. I managed to miss the giant read, bolded "who died" above the explanation. ]

15 October, 1389: The death of Pope Urban VI. This is the guy who was the impetus behind the Western Schism. (Two popes, Clement VII and successors in Avignon and Urban VI and successors in Rome. Ended at the Council of Constance in 1417.)

By all accounts, both Clement and Urban sucked at the whole "Christ's spokesman" aspect of the job. They were both power-mad and vicious men, although Clement seems to have been the more personally charming of the two. How charming one can be while being power-mad and vicious is up for debate, of course. You can click on the links here to read New Advent's accounts of Clement VII and Urban VI, always keeping in mind that a Catholic source takes a Catholic view on things. ( I was raised Catholic, and am now an avowed heretic. Unless there's a snotty Protestant in the room, then I'm Catholic again.)

This late 14th century schism is outside of my time-period, so other people would have more and better things to say about it, I'm sure. I'm more interested in the earlier developments that brought power over the Christian Church to the Bishop of Rome. Early Christianity was not a centralized religion. For the first few centuries, some guy could plant a Church in a city, 'convert' the natives, and then be "called by the people" to be their Bishop. Yes, there are scare quotes in that. The first set, around 'convert,' mean that conversion was not necessarily from paganism to Christianity, but rather from Arianism, or Gnosticism, or Pelagianism, or Donatism, or Celtic Christianity, etc. to the Christianity the converting guy wanted to see. Pick your heresy and refute it at will, then kill anybody who doesn't publicly declare your version of Christianity the best one. (**cough** Colonialism **cough**) The second set, around "called by the people" means that I'm convinced that early bishops were more often called by family wealth and influence, and personal ambition than they were called by the people. Anyway, the official story is that the people -- through God's will -- could recognize sanctity in a man, and called for his elevation to Bishop just as they could demand his recognition as a Saint on his death. (**cough** Tourism, Money, Prestige **cough**)

Each Bishopric was independent of the others, although they often worked together. Most sources credit the seeds of the Papacy as we know it to Gregory I (Bishop of Rome from 590-604), and his sending Augustine of Canterbury to convert Aethelberht of Kent in 597. By the ninth century, Aethelberht is listed in the ASC as 'bretwalda,' or 'ruler of Britain.' Now, seriously, we all know that the King of Kent was hardly the ruler of Britain in the late sixth century. That was a rather convenient bit of anachronism on the part of the monk in charge of that entry. But between the sixth century and the ninth the supremacy of the Roman See was pretty much accepted by most clerics in the West, and especially by British clerics, who'd had a 2-3 century tradition of British bishops reporting directly to Rome. Abbots, however, took some time to get in the Roman groove. It was at the Synod of Whitby (664)that England finally accepted one universal (Roman) date for Easter, and decided that Roman tonsure was better than Celtic tonsure. In short, Augustine the Lesser made Kent Roman Catholic, and Whitby expanded that Roman observance to all of England, at least on paper. [Full disclosure: I hate the smell of incense, I love old books, and I can't see the spiritual benefit of shaving one's head one way rather than another. So, If I had to pick a side, I'd go with Celtic Christianity.]

Now, because England was such a little bishop factory in the early Middle Ages, the view that Rome was the Holy See expanded to (most of) the rest of Europe through Britain.

Frankly, I think both sytems of development were deeply flawed, and I have yet to find any current religious tradition that is less flawed. Hence, heretical me. But, for me, the interesting thing about the Western Schism is its position in history as the "last gasp" of some kind of independence from Rome shown by the college of cardinals.

1 comment:

Sophia Sadek said...

Thanks for the posting. I like your frank analysis.

One of my favorite episodes in the history of Christianity is the conflict between the seminary of Columkill and that of Patrick. They had a big row over ownership of a copy of an OT text.

I'm a big fan of Columkill's school.