You are currently viewing Western Schism | History and origins

Western Schism | History and origins

  • Post category:Events
  • Post author:

The Western Schism represents the Christian world and the Avignon age. Between 1200 and 1300, the prestige of Rome was at its peak. Among the numerous important events, it was in 13,00, the first sacred year. The church thus thinks it can acquire political supremacy, but this will not be possible at the time of the birth of the monarchies. 

After periods of conflict between France and the papacy, the (forced) decision of Clement V came to transfer the holy state of Avignon. The Church became a satellite of the French monarchy, but during the 70 years it spent in Avignon, it strengthened its internal structures and increased its wealth through the tithes received from each state and the sale of indulgences.

History of the Western Schism

In 1378 under pressure from the Italian cardinals was elected Pope Urban VI returned the seat to Rome. The French cardinals, however, did not accept such an act and elected another pope (Clement VII) based in Avignon. This opens the “great schism” period, which will last 40 years with two series of popes contrasting each other in different locations.

In 1409 an attempt was made to resolve the question, but the situation worsened, and a third pope was elected in Pisa. Thus the proposal was made to convene a council of cardinals whose decisions should also be respected by the pope. These proposals did not last long, and in 1417, the board of Constance elected Martin V as the only pope.

In 1439 another pope (Felix V) was elected, deposing the legitimate one, who, however, renounced power afterten0 years, and the conflicts ended. The many doctrinal storms, the now widespread discredit, and the indecent behavior of the clergy leave the church in a state of little credibility and corruption. Despite this, Christian teaching is not questioned. To obtain new income, the sale of indulgences is put in place, that is, the forgiveness of sins through the payment of specific tariffs. 

Representation of the Western Schism

western schism

Source: Wikipedia

Consequences of the Western Schism

Within 100 years, all criticism of the church became a real dissent demonstrated in various ways and cases. Among the most critical debates are those of Wyclif in England, harshly accusing the worldly attitudes of the church and those in Bohemia on the part of Jan Hus, on the same ideas as Wycliffe, if less radical.

Dissent, however, was the first “rebellion” against the church as early as the 13th century; in fact, we had to do with movements called “heretics.” The church thus gave rise to the court of the inquisition. They are, therefore, were intended inquisitors who had the duty to investigate to search for heretics divided into four groups: confess (if they recognized their mistake), deny (if they did not acknowledge their heresy), perfect (if they were fully entirely heretics), a, and imperfect (with ideas heretics but not such as to distract from the Christian faith). 

The priests appointed as inquisitors were cultured and of unwavering faith and very fanatic. The system mainly used by these was the torture with which they always extorted true confessions. Penalties for heretics ranged from mere multis to death at stake.

3 Factors made the Western Schism occur

As we said in the beginning, the period of crisis of Catholicism led to the event of the Western Schism. Below are the three main factors that made up the period of crisis for Catholicism.

1. Roman Papacy VS Avignon Papacy

In the fourteenth century, the French clergy exercised a dominant influence in the government of the Roman Catholic Church; the papacy and its prestige suffered from it. In 1377, Pope Gregory XI returned from Avignon to Rome, where he died the following year. 

Traditional electors of the sovereign pontiff, the cardinals divided and, in the same year, 1378, successively elected an Italian pope, Urban VI (who remained in Rome), and a French pope, Clement VII. (Who, having been unable to settle in Rome, retired to Avignon). 

The Western Schism thus originates in the double papal election of 1378. It was consummated when Clement VII received the support of France from the Valois, Scotland, and the Iberian States. At the same time, Urban VI was recognized in Italy, England, Scandinavia, and Central Europe.

2. The stalemate of the religious crisis

The death of Urban VI in 1389 and that of Clement VII in 1394 did not settle the conflict, each having a successor: Boniface IX (then Innocent VII and Gregory XII ) as “Roman” Pope, and Benedict XIII as “Avignon” Pope. 

One resorts to the conciliar way of the “assault” (by arms) not succeeding. But, while the Council of Pisa elected a third pope, Alexander V (1409), who died the following year and was succeeded by (Antipope) John XXIII, the two deposed popes of Rome and Avignon remained in place. : so that the papacy becomes three-headed.

3. Resolution of the conflict at the Council of Constance

The crisis found its resolution with the Council of Constance (1415-1418), during which the three pontiffs were deposed and resulted in the election of a single pope, Martin V (1417), recognized throughout the West. However, when the council broke up in 1418, it only sketched out the expected reform.

You might also want to know. 

1. What is the Great Western Schism?

The Great Western Schism was a moment of crisis in Catholicism. Several rival popes (notably in Rome and Avignon) simultaneously ruled the Christian West.

2. What were the consequences of the Schism?

The importance of the schism does not seem to have been perceived in the West. (Especially since Leo IX and Michael Cerularius died quickly). On the other hand, in the East, the Western Schism was accentuated through the consequences of the hostility of the Byzantines toward Western Christians.

3. What is meant by schism?

The word is Greek and means division and separation. Today, the term schism means the break from an existing community of faith. It can be caused by theological differences and rebellion against authority.


In conclusion, several attempts were made to resolve this conflict but were unsuccessful. In the long run, this situation did not do the papacy’s authority any good. Many people wished for one council that should lead to a solution. However, this made the situation even worse.

Only another council, the Council of Constance, resolved the conflict in 1417, and with Martin V, a new pope ascended the papal throne. Pope Benedict XII lived for a short time. In Avignon, but after that died too, that could eliminate the Western Schism. And Rome was again the residence of the only pope. That’s how it should stay. But even today, the papal palace in Avignon bears witness to this period of separation of church power.