The protestant revolt had many different things happened before that led to this great separation. There was though, a significant period which increased the likelihood of a revolt. These years have been called the Babylonian captivity, or the Avignon papacy. This was seventy years period in which the Popes lived in France instead of Rome. In the eyes of the average person, the authority of the Pope was greatly diminished because of many reasons such as the French prejudice, clerical lifestyles, the worldliness of the clerics, and the appearance that a group was more infallible than the pope, that were demonstrated very publicly.
There are many minor points to be made concerning why the revolt happened, but let us look at only the reason that have a connection to the Avignon Papacy. The papacy in France was a result of French prejudices. The popes, during this time, had a French prejudices all during their stay in Avignon. They also were making moves that were positive for the French. For example,
all seven of the popes during the period were French, as were 111 of the 134 cardinals created (Avignon Papacy)
Another factor is that, the Chair of Peter was more viewed as a job, rather than the shepherd of Christ’s flock. With this said, one understands the prejudices that were present in the clergy at this time.
A significant problem Luther had with the Catholic Church was its clergy living lives of luxury. This was not started in Avignon though, but Avignon was part of it very much. For this Augustine (Luther was an Augustinian monk before he broke away from the Church), this life of riches, with its fame and pleasure, was very unlike what he thought clergy should be. He could have never been able to gain any support for this statement though unless people lost reverence for clergy. This reverence for the clergy had been lost, in particular with the Avignon papacy. Luther’s objections had reasons, but the way they were used was the trouble. The luxury was very prevalent in clergy at this time, much to Luther’s disgust.
Another minor point to be made is about the character of these popes. None of the popes were great popes. They committed the sin of simony. That is they sold church positions for money, or some other material good. They also had a vice of self-interest, which led them to worry about themselves rather than the welfare of the church. Also, a similar, yet different sin they had, was their love for relatives. This exaggerated love kept other holier people out of office for someone else because they were related. These small, but significant, points were cause by a lack of vigilance for looking out for the Church’s interests.
Furthermore, the bishops, during the Avignon papacy, tried to gain more power for themselves. This was done, while there was no pope, just before Pope Innocent the sixth, was elected. They agreed that;
in future their number should be no more than 20… that new cardinals should be chosen only with the consent of two-thirds of the existing cardinals;…. Nor [could cardinals be] excommunicated without the approval of two-thirds of the college (Carroll, 396)
This power grab took away the pope’s power over number of cardinals, who to choose for a cardinal, and his excommunication power. Although done by the cardinals, it was illegitimate since it did not have the papal agreement. This regrettably, though, gave the impression to the common people, that a group of people could be more “infallible” than the pope. Unfortunately this led to people believing that they could find truth by themselves without the pope. This belief was exactly what the protestant revolutionaries thought, and a substantial reason why they split. It has been proven time and time again, the internal enemies are always more dangerous than the external enemies. The bishops at this time were the internal enemies that caused so much damage.
A main point though is that the papacy in Avignon weakened the view of the pope, thus making a revolt easier to happen, which was done in the early fifteen hundreds. The reason for this weakened view is because Catholics looked for the pope in Rome, and only Rome. This also disunited the people, they were like “sheep without a shepherd.” With the papal residence in a foreign country, it limited the papal temporal authority. This authority was constrained with the presence of the French kings nearby. These seventy or so years in France were very drastic for the papacy, although the full consequences could not be observed at that time.
Therefore, one can see how the French papacy had a big influence on the revolt. With the attitude toward the papacy declining, the excessive French prejudices, the secularity of the popes, and the luxury of their lives. The lives of these men cause the Catholic Church the greatest schism it has ever known.
“Avignon papacy.” Britannica School. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 2014. Web. 4 Mar. 2014.
Carroll, Warren H. The Glory of Christendom. Front Royal: Christendom Press, 1993. Print.