Poets, Saints, and Visionaries of the Great Schism, 1378-1417

Article excerpt

Blumenfeld-Kosinski, Renate. Poets, Saints, and Visionaries of the Great Schism, 1378-1417. University Park, Pa.: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2006. Pp. xii; 240.

In this retrospective evaluation of texts written during a period when two or three popes attempted to shepherd western Europe, Blumenfeld-Kosinski (henceforth: BK) describes the twofold split of the papacy, once during a twelfth-c. prelude (1159-77) and then during the Great Schism of 13781417. In 1 159, Cardinal Roland became Pope Alexander III in Rome, while Emperor Frederick Barbarossa supported Cardinal Octavian (Pope Victor IV). Christianity was thus divided: Germany vs. the remainder of Europe; and France vs. Rome.

The author discusses the roles of John of Salisbury (councilor to Thomas Becket later), Hildegard of Bingen, and Elisabeth of Schönau in the thirteenth century. For example, John described the papal election of 1 159 and indicted Barbarossa in scathing terms, the emperor wielding the temporal sword, while the Roman Church used its spiritual authority. Hildegard preached publicly, wrote letters to European dignitaries and laypeople, and advocated radical Church reform; she was soon expected to become a judge in this schism and supported Alexander in outspoken apocalypticism, prophesying the end of times. Elisabeth's visionary texts were widely read; preoccupied by Roman clerical corruption and avarice, she cited the failures of a double papacy, as BK explains.

The outstanding figures predicting and later criticizing the atmosphere of the Great Schism were Pedro of Aragon, Ermine de Reims, Marie Robine, Catherine of Siena, Constance de Rabastans, Saint Vincent Ferrer, and others. During this time, every part of Europe had to choose an allegiance, and literary spokespersons warned about this necessity and its probable consequences within philosophical, allegorical, or visionary works. The popes' move to Avignon (beginning in 1378, with Clement VII [Robert of Geneva]) was seen by some as exile, and by others as a "Babylonian captivity." Many individuals declared that these "bishops of Rome" should return to the Holy City; Rome, however, was nothing but a large village, ruled by local (corrupt) tyrants, and characterized by turmoil and swamp fever. Both Avignon and Rome boasted major saints, for example Saint Vincent Ferrer (a Clementist) and Saint Cadierine of Siena, speaking for the Roman Pope Urban VI (Bartolomeo Prignano).

Jean Gerson (1363-1429) approved of visionaries like Saint Birgitta, Pedro of Aragon, and Saint Catherine. In the meantime, ordinary people who were divided and did not know to which papal see they belonged, felt anxiety. Pedro of Aragon had first been married but then become a Franciscan friar, in response to a vision. (He died on his trip to Rome, 1381.) St. Birgitta moved to the Holy City in 1349 and was canonized three times (by different popes) ; and St. Catherine, who also urged the pope's return to Rome, was canonized in 1461 (and 1970). In fact, the Urban popes' reestablishments in Italy were motivated by Pedro and Birgitta.

By 1380 a group of laywomen became visionaries calling for the end of the Schism. Constance de Rabastans (a small town between Toulouse and Albi) supported the Roman pope while her (French) region was Clementist. …