There was one pope; then another claimed to be pope; then, still another. A rupture, a schism, rent Western Europe as never before. Largely along national lines, Europe was divided into two and eventually three allegiances. Confusion, suspicion, distrust, bitterness, even hatred consumed much of Christian Europe. Indeed, there have been other times in the long history of the papacy when there were rival claimants, but none can be compared to the schism (known to history as the Great Schism) that began in 1378 and lasted for almost four decades. And it cast a long, lingering shadow over the subsequent history of the church.
Two men, each claiming to be pope and bishop of Rome, each claiming canonical election, established themselves together with full papal apparatus at Rome and Avignon. Both held the same constitutional position: they believed in the primacy of Rome over the church. They differed only about who was the true successor of Peter, the bishop of Rome and, on earth, the head of the church. Each quickly excommunicated the other and began to act as pope. Neither Urban nor Clement, on the human level, had much to commend him as leader of the Christian church. Urban s lapses into apparently demented behaviour led to decisions and actions hardly consistent with the ideals of the religion of which he claimed to be leader. Clement, on the other hand, was the butcher of Cesena. A year and a half before the cardinals elected him pope, the then Robert of Geneva, acting as a military commander, ordered the slaughter of all the inhabitants of Cesena, near Rimini, sparing none, not women, children, the aged, the infirm. As many as three thousand perished, and the streets and lanes of Cesena were said to have been awash with blood. Neither Urban nor Clement was an ideal person to be pope, but one of them was the true pope and the other an anti-pope. The identity of the true pope was the central but not the only question of the schism. How to resolve the schism was the allied question, and it soon became the paramount question. Christians of unquestioned rectitude, belonging to both camps, endeavoured to find answers, and their quest was to