Thursday, December 20, 2012

Urban Blight

While other history sites were celebrating the anniversary of the coronation of King Henry II yesterday, I was thinking about the anniversary of the death of Pope Urban V (1310-1370).

Born William de Grimoard to an aristocratic family, he became a Benedictine monk and later made the abbot at the Abbey of St. Victor, where he made a tribute to John Cassian. He was sent to several universities to exercise his clever mind, and became an expert in Canon Law, the laws of the Church. He taught Canon Law at Avignon, Montpelier, and Paris. Returning to Avignon from a trip to Naples, where he had been sent by Pope Innocent IV, he found the pope dead. In the conclave that followed, no clear winner could be found, and Abbot William found himself being put forward as a compromise candidate. At this point, election of a pope had been formalized to the point where the candidate needed to be a cardinal, and William wasn't even a bishop. A hasty ordination was arranged.

Not a fan of ostentation, he continued to wear his Benedictine habit. A fan of education, he restored a school of medicine in Montpelier. His personal physician was the most-renowned surgeon of the day. He tried to restore the papacy to Rome from Avignon. He tried to get England to pay several years' worth of payments due the papacy, and clashed with Wycliffe over it. He attempted a Crusade against the Turks, which never got off the ground.

He also took a strong stand against heretics.

In 1363, he proclaimed the papal bull In caena Domini (At the table of the Lord), a collection of pronunciations of popes that merited excommunication for transgressors, and for which only the pope could give absolution. This bull, amended to include later papal injunctions, was repeated annually on Holy Thursday or Easter Monday. It listed infringements against papal authority as well as heresies, sacrileges, and other crimes. It was used to justify many an inquisition.

Over the centuries, rulers of Europe—both Catholic and Protestant—considered In caena Domini to be an infringement on their rights as sovereigns and complained. The annual recital of it was finally ended in 1770 by Pope Clement XIV.

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