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Dear visitor: Summer is here, and you may be thinking about a well-deserved vacation, family get-togethers, BBQs with neighborhood friends. More than likely, making a donation to Catholic Answers is not on your radar right now. But this is exactly the time we most need your help. The “summer slowdown” in donations is upon us, but the work of spreading the gospel and explaining and defending the Faith never takes a break. Your gift today will change lives and save souls for Christ this summer! The reward is eternal. Thank you and God bless.

Pope John XXII

(Reigned 1316-1334)

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John XXII, POPE (JACQUES D’EUSE), b. at Cahors in 1249; enthroned September 5, 1316; d. at Avignon, December 4, 1334. He received his early education from the Dominicans in his native town, and later studied theology and law at Montpellier and Paris. He then taught both canon and civil law at Toulouse and Cahors, came into close relations with Charles II of Naples, and on his recommendation was made Bishop of Frejus in 1300. In 1309 he was appointed chancellor of Charles II, and in 1310 was transferred to the See of Avignon. He delivered legal opinions favorable to the suppression of the Templars, but he also defended Boniface VIII and the Bull “Unam Sanctam“. On December 23, 1312, Clement V made him CardinalBishop of Porto. After the death of Clement V (April 20, 1314) the Holy See was vacant for two years and three and a half months. The cardinals assembled in Carpentras for the election of a pope were divided into two violent factions, and could come to no agreement. The electoral college was composed of eight Italian cardinals, ten from Gascony, three from Provence, and three from other parts of France. After many weeks of unprofitable discussion as to where the conclave should be held, the electoral assembly was entirely dissolved. Ineffectual were the efforts of several princes to induce the cardinals to undertake an election: neither party would yield. After his coronation Philip V of France was finally able to assemble a conclave of twenty-three cardinals in the Dominican monastery at Lyons on June 26, 1316, and on August 7, Jacques, CardinalBishop of Porto, was chosen pope. After his coronation at Lyons on September 5 as John XXII, the pope set out for Avignon, where he fixed his residence.

His vast correspondence shows that John XXII followed closely the political and religious movements in all countries, and sought on every possible occasion the advancement of ecclesiastical interests. Nor was he less insistent than his predecessors on the supreme influence of the papacy in political matters. For this reason he found himself involved in grievous disputes which lasted throughout the greater portion of his pontificate. Great difficulties were also raised for the pope by the controversies among the Franciscans, which Clement V had tried in vain to settle. A number of Franciscans, the so-called “Spirituals“, or “Fraticelli“, adherents of the most rigorous views, refused to submit to that pope’s decision, and after the deaths of Clement V and Gonzalvez, General of the Minorites, they rebelled, especially in the South of France and in Italy, declaring that the pope had no power to dispense them from their rule, since this was nothing other than the Gospel. They then proceeded to drive the Conventuals from their houses, and take possession of the same, thereby causing scandal and much disorder. The new general, Michael of Cesena, appealed to John, who in 1317 ordered the refractory friars to submit to their superiors, and caused the doctrines and opinions of the Spirituals to be investigated. On January 23, 1318, many of their doctrines were declared erroneous. Those who refused to yield were treated as heretics: many were burned at the stake, and some escaped to Sicily.

These troubles among the Franciscans were increased by the quarrel about evangelical poverty which broke out among the Conventuals themselves. The general chapter of Perugia, through their general, Michael of Cesena, and other learned men of the order (including William Occam), defended the opinion of Berenger Talon, that Christ and His Apostles had no possessions either individually or in common. In 1322 Pope John declared this statement null and void, and in 1323 denounced as heretical the assertion that Christ and the Apostles had no possessions either individually or in common, and could not even legitimately dispose of what they had for personal use. Not only the Spirituals, but also the adherents of Michael of Cesena and William Occam, protested against this decree, whereupon in 1324 the pope issued a new Bull, confirming his former decision, setting aside all objections to it, and declaring those who opposed this decision heretics and enemies of the Church. Summoned to appear at Avignon, Michael of Cesena obeyed the summons, but refused to yield and, when threatened with imprisonment, sought safety in flight. Leaving Avignon on May 25, 1328, and accompanied by William Occam and Bonagratia di Bergamo, he betook himself to Louis of Bavaria for protection.

Political conditions in Germany and Italy moved the pope to assert over the latter far-reaching political claims, and similarly with regard to the German Crown, because of the latter’s union with the imperial office. On this score a violent quarrel broke out between the pope and King Louis of Bavaria. During the vacancy that followed the death of Clement V, there had arisen a disputed election for the throne of Germany, Louis of Bavaria having been crowned at Aachen, and Frederick of Austria at Bonn (November 25, 1314). The electors of both candidates wrote to the future pope to obtain recognition of their choice, and also to seek for him imperial coronation. On the day of his coronation (September 5, 1315) John wrote to both Louis and Frederick and also to the other German princes, admonishing them to settle their disputes amicably. As there was no universally acknowledged German king, and the pope had not given preference to either candidate, neither could hope to exercise imperial authority. Nevertheless, in 1315 Louis appointed Jean de Belmont imperial vicar for Italy, and at the same time supported Galeazzo Visconti of Milan, then in open opposition to the pope. The latter maintained (March 13, 1317) that, by reason of the vacancy of the Roman Empire, all imperial jurisdiction rested with the pope, and, following the example of his predecessor Clement V, he appointed King Robert of Sicily imperial vicar for Italy (July, 1317). On September 28, 1322, Louis of Bavaria informed the pope that he had overcome his opponent, Frederick of Austria, upon which John wrote him a friendly letter.

Louis, however, took no further steps to effect a reconciliation with the pope. On the contrary, he supported in their opposition to the papal legates the excommunicated Visconti of Milan and the Italian Ghibellines, acted as legitimate emperor, and proclaimed, on March 2, 1323, Berthold von Neiffen imperial vicar for Italy. Thereupon John, following the precedent of Gregory VII and Innocent III, warned Louis of Bavaria that the examination and approval of the chosen German king with a view to the consequent bestowal of the imperial dignity belonged to the pope; that he must refrain from exercising royal rights until the legitimacy of his election had been settled; that he must recall all commands already issued, give no further aid to the enemies of the Church—especially the Visconti of Milan, condemned as heretics—and within three months present himself before the pope. Should Louis not submit to this admonition, he was threatened with excommunication. The subsequent behavior of Louis was very equivocal. He sent an embassy to the pope, asking for and obtaining a delay of two months before appearing in the papal presence. At the same time he declared at Nuremberg on November 16, 1323, that he did not recognize the pope’s action or his claim to examine into the election of a German king; he also accused John of countenancing heretics, and proposed the calling of a general council to sit in judgment on him. During this respite, lengthened at his own request, Louis took no steps towards a reconciliation, and on March 23, 1324, John pronounced on the king the sentence of excommunication. On the other hand the latter published at Sachsenhausen on May 22, 1324, an appeal in which he accused the pope of enmity to the empire, of heresy and protection of heretics, and appealed from John’s decision to a general council. An open breach henceforth existed, followed by disastrous results. Louis persecuted the few German cardinals, who recognized the papal Bull, whereupon John on July 11, 1324, declared all his rights to imperial recognition forfeited. The pope further ratified the treaty between Duke Leopold of Austria and Charles I of France, in which the former promised to help the latter to the title of German King, and then of Roman Emperor. However, as Leopold died on February 28, 1326, and Louis of Bavaria and Frederick of Austria became reconciled, the king’s power in Germany became firmly established.

The quarrel between John XXII and Louis of Bavaria stirred up a vigorous literary feud concerning the relations of Church and State. Louis was supported by the Franciscan Spirituals, e.g., Ubertino da Casale, Michael of Cesena, William Occam, Bonagratia di Bergamo, and many others whose extreme ideas on the question of religious poverty had been condemned by the pope; also by two theologians of the University of Paris, Marsilius of Padua and John of Janduno (de Genduno), joint authors of the famous “Defensor Pacis”, which was intended to prove that the only way to maintain peace is by the complete subordination of the ecclesiastical power to that of the State. Denying the primacy of the pope, the authors asserted that the emperor alone could authorize ecclesiastics to exercise criminal jurisdiction, that all temporal rods of the Church belonged to the emperor, etc. Other theologians—e.g. Henry von Kelheim, provincial of the Minorites, Ulrich Hanganor, the king’s private secretary, Abbot Engelbert of Admont, Lupold of Bebenburg, afterwards Bishop of Bamberg, and William Occam, though not so extreme in their views as the authors of the “Defensor Pacis”, willingly exalted the imperial above the papal power. It was unfortunate for the fickle and, in theological matters, inexperienced king that he fell into the hands of such advisers. The “Defensor Pacis” was anathematized by a papal Bull of October 23, 1327, and some of its theses were condemned as heretical by the University of Paris. Many theologians in their writings defended the ecclesiastical hierarchy and the primacy of the pope, among them the Augustinian Alexander a Santo Elpidio: later Archbishop of Ravenna, the Minorite, Alvarius Pelagius, the Augustinian Augustinus Triumphus of Ancona, and Conrad of Megenberg. On their side, however, the defense was carried too far, some of them even extolling the pope as absolute ruler of the world.

When Louis of Bavaria saw his power firmly established in Germany, he set out early in 1327 for Italy, where in February, with the chiefs of the Italian Ghibellines, he held a congress at Trent. In March he passed through Bergamo on his way to Milan. On April 3 John XXII declared forfeited all rights of Louis to the German Crown, also to all fiefs held from the Church and from former sovereigns, and finally to the Duchy of Bavaria. Moreover, he summoned Louis to appear before the Holy See within six months, and accused him of heresy for defending a doctrine which the Head of the Church had repudiated, and for taking under his protection the heretics, Marsilius and John of Janduno. Louis paid no attention to this notice, which indeed only aggravated his opposition to the pope. In Milan he received (May 30) the crown of Lombardy from the hands of two deposed bishops, and arbitrarily appointed several new bishops. The pope on his side appointed bishops to’ sees falling vacant within the empire, and continued to fill the various reserved prelacies, so that an open schism henceforth existed. In 1328 Louis set out for Rome, where the Guelphs had been overthrown with their senator King Robert of Naples. On January 17, 1328, the excommunicated German king received in Rome the imperial crown from Sciarra Colonna, who on April 18, after a farcical proceeding, and in the name of Louis of Bavaria, proclaimed John XXII a heretic, usurper, and oppressor of the Church, and deprived him of all his papal dignities. A straw image of the pope was publicly burned in Rome, and on May 12 the Franciscan Spiritual, Pietro Rainalducci of Corbario, was proclaimed anti-pope by Louis, taking at his consecration (May 22) the name of Nicholas V.

But Louis had made himself so universally obnoxious in Italy, on account of his tax levies, that the position of the anti-pope was untenable. Many Ghibelline cities and rulers became reconciled with the pope, and finally Pietro of Corbario himself wrote to John, asking for pardon and absolution. At Avignon on August 25, 1330, he publicly acknowledged his guilt in the presence of the pope and the cardinals, whereupon the former gave him absolution and the kiss of peace. Nevertheless, Pietro was not allowed to leave the city, where he spent the three remaining years of his life in voluntary penance and study. By degrees the whole of Italy returned to the obedience of the legitimate pope. The latter meanwhile had renewed his sentence against Louis of Bavaria, and proclaimed in Italy a crusade against him (1328). At the same time he summoned the German princes to hold another election, and excommunicated Michael of Cesena, William Occam, and Bonagratia. The adherents of Louis in Lombardy soon dwindled away, and he returned to Germany in the beginning of 1330. Here too, the people were weary of the long conflict, and wished for peace, so that Louis was compelled to take steps towards a reconciliation with the pope. In May, 1330, he entered into negotiations with Avignon through the mediation of Archbishop Baldwin of Trier, King John of Bohemia, and Duke Otto of Austria. The pope demanded from Louis renunciation of all claims on the imperial title. Louis on that occasion refused to entertain the idea, but was later (1333) willing to discuss the project of his abdication. The matter, however, was then postponed. Whether John XXII arbitrarily severed Italy from the empire has never been definitely settled, for the authenticity of the Bull “Ne praetereat” is not certain.

In the last years of John’s pontificate there arose a dogmatic conflict about the Beatific Vision, which was brought on by himself, and which his enemies made use of to discredit him. Before his elevation to the Holy See, he had written a work on this question, in which he stated that the souls of the blessed departed do not see God until after the Last Judgment. After becoming pope, he advanced the same teaching in his sermons. In this he met with strong opposition, many theologians, who adhered to the usual opinion that the blessed departed did see God before the Resurrection of the Body and the Last Judgment, even calling his view heretical. A great commotion was aroused in the University of Paris when the General of the Minorites and a Dominican tried to disseminate there the pope’s view. Pope John wrote to King Philip IV on the matter (November, 1333), and emphasized the fact that, as long as the Holy See had not given a decision, the theologians enjoyed perfect freedom in this matter. In December, 1333, the theologians at Paris, after a consultation on the question, decided in favor of the doctrine that the souls of the blessed departed saw God immediately after death or after their complete purification; at the same time they pointed out that the pope had given no decision on this question but only advanced his personal opinion, and now petitioned the pope to confirm their decision. John appointed a commission at Avignon to study the writings of the Fathers, and to discuss further the disputed question. In a consistory held on January 3, 1334, the pope explicitly declared that he had never meant to teach aught contrary to Holy Scripture or the rule of faith and in fact had not intended to give any decision whatever. Before his death he withdrew his former opinion, and declared his belief that souls separated from their bodies enjoyed in heaven the Beatific Vision.

The Spirituals, always in close alliance with Louis of Bavaria, profited by these events to accuse the pope of heresy, being supported by Cardinal Napoleon Orsini. In union with the latter, King Louis wrote to the cardinals, urging them to call a general council and condemn the pope. The incident, however, had no further consequences. With untiring energy, and in countless documents, John followed up all ecclesiastical or politico-ecclesiastical questions of his day, though no particular grandeur is remarkable in his dealings. He gave salutary advice to ruling sovereigns, especially to the Kings of France and of Naples, settled the disputes of rulers, and tried to restore peace in England. He increased the number of sees in France and Spain, was generous to many scholars and colleges, founded a large library at Avignon, furthered the fine arts, and dispatched and generously maintained missionaries in the Far East. He caused the works of Petrus Olivi and Meister Eckhardt to be examined, and condemned the former, while he censured many passages in the latter’s works. He published the “Clementines” as the official collection of the “Corpus Juris Canonici“, and was the author of numerous decretals (“Extravagantness Johannis XXII” in “Corp. Jur. Can.”). He enlarged and partly reorganized the papal Curia, and was particularly active in the administration of ecclesiastical finances.

The usual revenues of the papacy grew very meagre, owing to the disturbed condition of Italy, especially of the Papal States, consequent on the removal of the papacy from its historic seat at Rome. Moreover, since the end of the thirteenth century the College of Cardinals had enjoyed one half of the large income from tributary kingdoms, the servitia communia of the bishops, and some less important sources. Pope John, on the other hand, had need of large revenues, not only for the maintenance of his Court, but particularly for the wars in Italy. Since the thirteenth century the papal treasury had exacted from the minor benefices, when conferred directly by the pope, a small tax (annata.—See Annates; Apostolic Camera). In 1319 John XXII reserved to himself all minor benefices falling vacant in the Western Church during the succeeding three years, and in this way collected from each of them the aforesaid annates, as often as they were conferred by the pope. Moreover, many foreign benefices were already canonically in the papal gift, and the annates from them were paid regularly into the papal treasury. John also made frequent use of the right known as jus spolii, or right of spoils, which permitted him under certain circumstances to divert the estate of a deceased bishop into the papal treasury. He procured further relief by demanding special subsidies from various archbishops and their suffragans. France, in particular, furnished him the most financial aid. The extensive reservation of ecclesiastical benefices was destined to exercise a prejudicial influence on ecclesiastical life. The centralized administration took on a highly bureaucratic character, and the purely legal standpoint was too constantly in evidence. The pope’s financial measures, however, were highly successful at the time, though in the end they evoked no little resistance and dissatisfaction. In spite of the large expenditures of his pontificate, John left an estate of 800,000 gold florins—not five millions as stated by some chroniclers.

John XXII died on December 4, 1334, in the eighty-fifth year of his age. He was a man of serious character, of austere and simple habits, broadly cultivated, very energetic and tenacious. But he held too persistently to canonico-legal traditions, and centralized overmuch the ecclesiastical administration. His financial measures, more rigorously applied by his successors, made the Curia of Avignon generally detested. The transfer of the papacy from Rome to Avignon was esteemed to have taken place in the interests of France, which impression was strengthened by the preponderance of French cardinals, and by the long-continued conflict with King Louis of Bavaria. In this way was aroused a widespread distrust of the papacy, which could not fail to result in consequences detrimental to the interior life of the Church.


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