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that strikes home like this letter. It transfixes the heart of the Great Schism of the
West with a flaming sword. And its every declaration, even its every passionate
outcry, is fully substantiated by the facts of history. The great French scholar Noel
Valois, in the first of four large volumes on the Great Schism of the West written
at the turn of the century, 2 as he followed the complex and tumultuous events of
the conclave of the cardinals which elected Pope Urban VI in April 1378 and the
anti-conclave which set up an antipope against him, assembled the historical facts
for us, page by page, step by step, from the original sources. The most noted
papal historian of the twentieth century writing in English, Walter Ullmann, does
little more than footnote Valois 3 St. Catherine spoke true.
Inspired by her and by her memory (for she died, just 33 years old-the
traditional age of her Savior at His crucifixion-in 1380) most of Italy held out for the
true Pope through all the bitter and confusing years that followed the rending split
of 1378. But France-the greatest power in Europe, where the Popes had lived in
preference to Rome for three-quarters of a century was aligned most of the time
with the antipopes. In the centuries that have followed, while anti-Catholic
historians have been satisfied to use the Great Schism as a stick to beat the Church
with, those not so prejudiced have mostly sought-as, increasingly with the passage
of time, men living during the Schism sought-to find some way of avoiding the
awful choice between two (and later three) powerfully supported contenders for
the highest office in Christendom.
Yet there was in truth no way to escape that choice then, and there is no way
now. One of these contenders was truly the Pope; the others were antipopes. The
Church can have no more than one Pope at a time. Christ did not entrust the
leadership and the future of His Church to a committee, still less to a council of
hundreds or thousands. One searches the Gospels in vain for any mention of a
Church council called by Christ. Many in the years of the Great Schism may have
honestly tried to make the right choice of Pope and yet made the wrong one. But
there was a right choice to be made. St. Catherine of Siena knew that best of all.
She was there, observing all that happened. She made her choice: Pope Urban VI.
And she was right.
Let us review the evidence.

Pope Gregory XI, the last of the French Popes at Avignon, died on March 27,
1378.4 In the evening of April 7 sixteen of the 22 cardinals gathered in the Vatican
palace for the conclave. Eleven of them were French,' four were
'Noel Valois, La France et le grand schisme d'Occident, Volume I (Paris, 1896). 3Walter
Ullmann, The Origins of the Great Schism (London, 1948), pp. 1-101. 4 Guy Mollat, The
Popes atAvignon (New York, 1963), p. 63.
Ullmann, Origins of the Great Schism, pp. 16-17.
(1) Jean de Cros, Cardinal-bishop of Palestrina, called Cardinal of Limoges; (2)
Guillaume d'Aigrefeuille, Cardinal-priest of St. Stephen; (3) Bertrand de Lagery,
Italian,' and one was Spanish: Pedro de Luna, who was to outlive them all, dying at
81 in the castle of Peiiiscola off the coast of Aragon, maintaining the Great Schism
until his last hour.' Every one of these men marched into the center of the history
of the Church that April evening in 1378, and all but one-the Roman Cardinal
Tebaldeschi-came out of that year a traitor to the Pope and to the Church.
The numerically dominant French contingent was sharply divided between the
followers of Jean le Cros, the Cardinal of Limoges, and of Cardinal Robert of
Geneva, who tended to favor Archbishop Prignano of Bari. The
Roman people wanted an Italian Pope, preferably a Roman, fearing that any French
Pope would be strongly tempted to go back to Avignon, as Pope Urban V had done.
They were shouting their demand for a Roman or at least an Italian Pope as the
cardinals entered the Vatican, though all observers agree that the crowd called out
no name-only the new Pope's nationality seemed to concern them. Few outside the
conclave itself seem to have even thought of Prignano, who was much better
known to the cardinals with whom he had worked closely, than to the general
Italian public .9
Roman city officials who had come into the palace with the not yet enclosed
cardinals urged them to respond positively to the public demand for an Italian
Pope, but the cardinals refused to make any promises. By nine
o'clock in the evening the cardinals were confined, though not hermetically sealed
in. At about midnight a city official was heard shouting through a window that the
cardinals must elect an Italian, and the people outside-fortified by alcohol and
energized by dancing-kept up their chants all night, clearly audible through most of
the palace. There was to be no voting
Cardinal-priest of Santa Cecilia, called Cardinal of Glandeve; (4) Hugh de Montelais,
Cardinal-priest of the Four Crowned Saints, called Cardinal of Brittany; (5) Count
Robert of Geneva, Cardinal-priest of the Twelve Apostles, called Cardinal of
Geneva; (6) Guy de Malesset, Cardinal-priest of the Holy Cross, called Cardinal of
Poitiers; (7) Pierre de Sortenac, Cardinal-priest of San Lorenzo, called Cardinal of
Viviers; (8) Gerard du Puy, Cardinal-priest of San Clemente, called Cardinal of
Marmoutier; (9) Pierre Flandrin, Cardinal-deacon of St. Eustace; (10) Guillaume
Noellet, Cardinaldeacon of San Angelo; (11) Pierre de Vergne, Cardinal-deacon of
Santa Maria in Via Lata (Ullman, Origins of the Great Schism, pp. 9-10).
(1) Pietro Corsini, Cardinal-bishop of Porto, called Cardinal of Florence; (2) Pietro
Tebaldeschi, Cardinal-priest of Santa Sabina, called Cardinal of St. Peter (a Roman);
(3) Simon de Brossano, Cardinal-priest of Sts. John and Paul, called Cardinal of Milan;
(4) Jacopo Orsini, Cardinal-deacon of San Giorgio in Velabro (another Roman)
Origins of the Great Schism, p. 9).
See Alec Glasfurd, The Antipope, Pedro de Luna (1342-1423); a Study in Obstinacy (London, 1965).
Valois, France et le grand schisme, I, 26-36; Charles-Joseph Hefele and Henri Leclercq,
Histoire des Conciles, Volume VI, Part 2 (Paris, 1915), pp. 978-988; L. Salembier, The Great
Schism of the West (New York, 1907), pp. 34-36; John H. Smith, The Great Schism (New York,
1970), p. 136.