The Beginning Of Anti-Clerical Violence And The Gradual Death Of Christendom

In the present article, we discuss the rise of anti-Catholic ideology in the midst of a growing trend towards occultism within the late medieval period of the 14th century. In our inquiry of the death of Christendom, we look into the early stages of statist ideologies which promoted the idea of the Church being subordinate to the state. This idea gained major influence in Europe through the teachings of philosophers like Marsilius of Padua and William of Ockham who both taught that it is the government who should control the Church. Marsilius even taught that priests and other Church authorities should be elected by the people, and Ockham went so far as to encourage mob violence against the Pope, esteeming it as an obligation to God. In this, we see the early seeds of what was to come centuries later in Europe: the anticlerical violence of the French Revolution. 

For seventy-one years — from 1309 to 1376 — the headquarters for the Catholic Church was not in Rome, but in Avignon in France. This was the eventual result of rivalry between the French and Italian cardinals and the King of France, Philip IV, pushing for the Church’s headquarters to be shifted from Rome to France (I wrote about this shift here). During these years the famous churches of Rome were horrendously neglected and even used to hold cattle. Within the awe inspiring temples of St. Peter and St. Paul and in the Church of St. John the Lateran, farm animals grazed and wallowed, and into the Campo Marzio the Tiber river overflowed. “The Lateran is razed to the ground, the Mother of all churches lacks a roof and is open to wind and rain”, were the words of the Renaissance philosopher Petrarch. (See Thynne, Churches of Rome, p. 184).

The shift from Rome to Avignon is a most crucial moment within the history of the fall of Christendom; for it was during this time that people, seeing their patriarch outside the city of Peter, began to seriously question the legitimacy of the Pope’s position as the spiritual head of the Christian faith. Not only did doubt linger in the religious atmosphere of the land, but resentment against the religious establishment broiled in the soul of Italy. Even if the popes wanted to return to Rome, the enmity towards them by the Italians — who held bitter animosity towards the French — was so intense that a journey back to St. Peter’s Basilica could have been met with a violent mob.   

The questioning of the Church’s Catholic position became present in every country that clashed with France, especially England which, during the Avignon Papacy, suffered through the 100 Hundred Years with the French. John Wycliffe — amongst the most famous of the pre-Reformation ideologues — was alive and very active in England during the Avignon Papacy. Although Wycliffe is praised today as a hero who defied an authoritarian Church and simply wanted the common man to read the Bible, he was really a revolutionary who spiraled into quite a bizarre theology that was more akin to New Age paganism than Christianity, as we read in the Council of Constance. “Every person is God”, taught Wycliffe. “Every creature is God. Every being is everywhere, since every being is God.” He also taught that, at times, “God must obey the Devil”. He also instilled into his followers that: “It is against sacred scripture for ecclesiastics to have possessions.” It would be such teachings that influenced mobs who were filled with hatred against both the Church and the king.

In 1381 a mob, influenced by Wycliffe and led by Wat Tyler, marched to London where they seized Simon of Sudbury, archbishop of Canterbury, dragged him out of his chapel and beheaded him. King Richard II with two hundred guards confronted Tyler. The criminal spat at the king’s feet, and in accordance with Wyclif’s teachings, demanded that the state confiscate all church lands and proscribe all dioceses but one. He resisted arrest, then one of the king’s men slew him with a sword and that ended the revolt.

In 1382, Nicholas Hereford, a disciple of Wycliffe and a partner in the Wyclif Bible, preached a sermon in 1382 at St. Fridewide’s Church in Oxford declaring that Simon of Sudbury was “justly slain” by the mob. He believed this because Simon dared to question ‘the infallible Wycliffe,’ as we are told by the historian, Anthony A. Wood:

“Nicholas Hereford, master of divinity, did favour Wycliffe in all things, and said openly that Simon Sudbury, Archbishop of Canterbury, was justly killed, because he would have rebuked Wycliffe, and said also that there could be found no falsity in any of his doctrines.”

Such was an event that evinced the gradually crumbling pillars of Christendom. Another sign was the tense quarreling between Italian city-states based on the factional war of Guelph versus Ghibellines that began in the 11th century. Guelph’s were those who backed the political authority of the Pope, whereas the Ghibellines were those who wanted the imperial power — the Germanic Holy Roman Empire —to have full control, just as Israel demanded a king over a council of judges. During the Avignon Papacy, since the Church was based in France, it was thus aligned with the House of Luxembourg, and thus was an enemy of the German King Louis IV who backed the Ghibelline faction.

In 1323, when Louis IV ascended to the throne as Holy Roman Emperor, the Guelphs and Ghibellines began to fight again. Pope John XXII threatened Ghibellines with excommunication and followed through when he excommunicated Louis IV in 1324. Louis invaded Italy and put in place Pietro Rainalducci as Antipope Nicholas V in 1328, although Guelph power in Rome was quickly restored. Pope John XXII himself fell into heresy when he began to argue that when one dies he will not experience the Beatific Vision (the site of the Presence of God) in Heaven until Judgement Day. Although he never pushed for this heresy in official documents, he did spread it through his sermons. But he eventually recanted this idea. Such was the chaos and confusion that took place in the midst of a Europe whose soul was decaying, and where the only flame of zeal could be seen in Spain — where the Christians, residing in the refuge of faith, fought against the Muslim occupiers — and in Poland whose power and strength was gradually increasing. Meanwhile in the Eastern part of Christendom the Byzantine Empire was falling frail to the bludgeoning hoards of the Ottoman Turks.

Tribalism also plagued Europe which was supposed to be under the spiritual influence of the Universal Church whose title was to have people surpass their regional or national biases. The Italians and French did not like each other and this rivalry even escalated in the politics of the Church. This was seen in the election of Pope John XXII. After the French Pope Clement V died in 1314, the French and Italian cardinals were in such an intense battle that violence even broke out between the two peoples. The election was held in the French area of Carpentras which was just a few miles outside of Avignon. There were ten French cardinals from Gascon who wanted to elect one of the two nephews of the deceased Clement V.

There were then seven Italian cardinals who wanted to elect Cardinal Guillaume de Mandagout who was from the Languedoc of southern France. There was then six other French cardinals who declared no commitment to anyone. The tensions extended from the papal conclave and released itself in the streets of the Carptentras where gangs, loyal to the cardinals of Gascon, attacked the homes of the Italian bishops, murdering Italians, setting parts of the town to the flames and looting property. The Italian cardinals fled the town and refused to take part in the election of a pope, leaving the election at an impasse. For the rest of the year 1314, and for the whole year of 1315, the Italian and Gascon cardinals refused to be cooperative. But eventually in March of 1316, the cardinals — after agreeing that no violence would be done — came together in Lyons under the protection of Prince Philip of Poitiers, the brother of King Louis X of France.

But just as the cardinals were on the verge of finally reuniting, Louis X died. He had only a daughter, but his wife was pregnant, and if she had a son then he would be his father’s successor. But if not, then his brother Philip would be king. Philip desired greatly to be king, but he also strongly wanted to influence the election of the next pope. So, instead of merely waiting for the cardinals to conclude their conclave, Philip simply locked them up in a convent in Lyons in June, so as to pressure them to make a quick decision. The plan worked. In August, after some struggle, the cardinals (unanimously) elected Jacques Duese, who was backed by Prince Philip, and he took upon the title of Pope John XXII.

During his papacy, there was a great controversy as to who was going to sit on the throne of the Holy Roman Empire. The emperor, Henry VII of Luxembourg, died in Italy in 1313. The majority of the imperial electors had favored Duke Louis of Bavaria over Frederick of Habsburg (seven to two). Louis was of the Ghibelline faction, meaning he favored the state of the Holy Roman Empire having supreme authority and not having to share its power with the Church. Frederick on the other hand was a Guelph and thus upheld the papacy’s sentiments.

Regardless of the fact that Pope John XXII preferred Frederick of Austria, he initially remained neutral and — as is typical in papal diplomacy — only urged that the two factions settle their disputes civilly. But, the Church’s involvement in the conflict escalated deeply, and by the next year — 1315 — John XXII went so far as to argue that since the king was not chosen by him, that the governor’s office in Italy was vacant and that thus he — the Pope — was ruler over Italy. He also affirmed that those who held office in Italy needed to be confirmed by him.

In September of 1322, Louis and his ally, John of Bohemia, defeated and captured the Pope’s ally, Frederick of Austria, in a battle in Muhldorf in Austria. Upon his defeat, Frederick’s supporters shifted to the victor’s side. Pope John XXII, angered that his ally was vanquished, expressed his rejection of Louis as emperor (regardless of the fact that many cardinals did not want the Pope to get involved).  The conflict between the Church and Louis took place in the midst of war with its allies. For example, in 1323, Louis sent an army to protect Milan against the Kingdom of Naples which, at that time, was quite a formidable force. Naples, alongside France, was a close ally to Pope John XXII, and thus the war was a spite against the political apparatus of the Church.

Louis would soon find himself amongst the excommunicated, and not surprisingly, the Pope demanded that Louis relinquish his throne and announced to his subjects that they were no longer obligated to obey him if he refused to step down. In 1325, Louis released Frederick from prison on condition that he would cease his claim to the throne and return the cities and imperial lands seized by his party in Swabia.

In these tensions with the Church, Louis sought for a theological defense against the political claims of the Pope. He found this theology in Marsilius of Padua, a scholar who taught that Pope John XXII was “the great dragon and old serpent”, and an ideology of state control over the Church. In his tract, Defensor Pacis, Marsilius rejected the political power of the Church, stating that Christ did not establish a church nor gave the Church any sort of political authority. He affirmed that whatever authority the Church had was given to it by the state.

Instead of the pope having supreme authority, Marsilius argued, the Church’s interpretation of Scripture should be done only by ecumenical councils consisting of both clergy and laymen who were to be elected by the people. Scripture was to be the only religious authority and its interpretation was to be determined by the councils which were to be formed through democratic elections. Moreover, to further crumble the authority of the Church, Marsilius argued that councils should only be convened by the state. The state and the councils could appoint, suspend or even depose a pope.

Whatever power the pope has should only be granted to him by the state and the councils which would also be called for by the state. The Church’s properties, according to Marsilius, should also be subject to government taxation. Thus Marsilius was calling for the Church to be a vehicle of government, which is exactly what the Protestant Reformation, centuries later, would enact. His theology was essentially a form of extreme statism. What Marsilius was advocating for really reflected a certain trend that foreshadowed what Europe was heading towards: mass movements that called for state control over the Church, and this was seen in both the Protestant revolt and the French Revolution. In 1326 Marsilius accompanied Louis to Italy where he preached and wrote against the Pope.

Louis brought life to this philosophy when, in 1327, he arrived to a conference of Ghibellines accompanied by Marsilius in Trent and declared that Pope John XXII was unfit for the papacy and was not the legitimate pope; he then threatened to invade Italy. In that same year Louis travelled to Milan where he deposed the Lord of Milan, Galeazzo I Visconti, who he accused of conspiring with the Pope, and crowned himself king.

John XXII demanded that Louis leave Italy within two months and arrive to Avignon for sentencing, condemning him as a supporter of heretics. John XXII also excommunicated Marsilius of Padua and numerous of Louis’s allies. The tension between the pope and the king escalated further, and in January of 1328 John XXII even declared a crusade against Louis. In that same month Louis travelled to Rome where he was crowned in Peter’s Basilica.

Attending the coronation was revolutionary ideologue, Marsilius of Padua. Now Louis exerted his efforts to replace John XXII with his own pope. Marsilius announced that John XXII was “deposed by Christ” and was stripped of his clerical authority by King Louis. Through the authority of the king, an antipope was elected by an assembly of priests and laymen (in accordance to Marsilius’s vision). This antipope was Pietro Rainalducci, a friar of the heretical “Spiritual Franciscans”, and he took the title of “Nicholas V.”

Marsilius was commissioned to be the leader of the city of Rome over which he acted like a tyrant, persecuting the priests who refused to comply with his demands. Truly his philosophy — which was presented as a force for peace — manifested its full self, with its violence and despotism. Marsilius tried to force the priests to acknowledge the antipope, but they refused and were persecuted. A prior for the Augustinians was even fed alive to the lions. Marsilius, while claiming to have desired a return to the true teachings of Christ, was in reality returning Rome back to its pagan ways when the emperors fed the Christians to the lions. (See Gregorovius, History of the City of Rome in the Middle Ages, p. 151; Carroll, History of Christendom, vol. 3, ch. 9, p. 364).

Another philosopher that received the protection of King Louis was William of Ockham who went so far as to say that the kings and the people have the right and obligation to violently fight against a heretical pope, and by this he was referring to Pope John XXII. He wrote:

“Therefore everybody is obligated to resist a heretic pope as someone who is committing a public crime. And thus kings and princes have the function of opposing a heretic pope. […] For it is the task of kings and princes to exercise temporal authority against a heretic pope, unless there be some among them who wish to submit voluntarily to martyrdom by divine inspiration.”

For William, if one does not resist a heretical pope, then he consents to him. He even stated that the pope may be killed:

“Again, it is permitted to anyone to resist force with force without the authority of the ruler or judge […]. But sometimes force cannot be resisted unless the attacker is killed, therefore in that case it is permitted to wage at least a private war without the ruler’s authority.” (See Koch, Patterns Legitimizing Political Violence in Transcultural Perspectives)

To permit the killing of the pope through “a private war without the ruler’s authority” is essentially calling for mob violence (or some sort of mercenary violence) against the ecclesiastical authority. Moreover, Ockham believed (like Marsilius of Padua) that the Church needed to be subordinate to the state. So in the work of Ockham we have the exhortation for mob violence against the Pope (John XXII) and the promotion of extreme statism in which the state is not separate from the Church but over the Church with its authoritarian power. (See Crocker III, Triumph: The Power and Glory of the Catholic Church, p. 199)

While the birth of a statist ideology that believed in the subordination of the Church to the government was on the rise, there was also another ideology that was growing in popularity, and that was the occult. Occultism in Christendom had already a strong underground network going back to the early medieval period, and a clear mark of its presence was revealed when a group of occultists, some of whom holding strong positions within the Church, tried to assassinate Pope John XXII with the use of poison and cursed images.

It began with an ecclesiastical authority, Hugues Geraud, who had gained the position of Bishop of Cahors in France by paying Pope Clement V a thousand florins (this was known as simony, or the purchase of church offices — or really bribery). Geraud then enjoyed his office as bishop with a life of luxury and, to protect himself from Pope John XXII, had his priests make a vow of silence. John XXII was warned about this bishop and Geraud was summoned to court.

During this time, certain men were caught trying to smuggle strange packages into Avignon, full of various poisons and little wax figurines of the people they wanted dead which were hidden within loaves of bread. Geraud and his clerks were arrested and tried in 1317. It was shown in court that Geraud had gotten the poisons and wax images from a certain Jewish wizard at Toulouse and some other persons. Members of the papal household, including a cardinal, were bribed to enable the assassination of the Pope, and that the Archbishop of Toulouse even blessed the images.

The Archbishop argued that he did not know that the images were going to be used for curses, but nonetheless he soon fled from Toulouse.  Geraud was eventually burned at the stake (See McCabe, Crises in the History of the Papacy, pp. 211-213) but the networks of occultism would still perpetuate deep into the upper echelons of government power within Christendom. One of the wax figurines were of the Pope’s nephew, Jacques de Via. The conspirators had conducted a ritual by stabbing the image as the Jewish wizard recited curses (just like African voodoo). One explanation described the ritual as such:

“And the aforementioned bishop [Hugues] revealed the image in the presence of the witness [Pierre Fouquier] and a Jew who had come from Toulouse, a teacher of the art; he [Hugues] baptized it, sprinkling holy water on it and anointing it with chrism, reciting prayers and words written in a book he was holding. Afterward, according to the instructions of the Jew, the aforementioned bishop pierced it in the stomach with a stylus, and the witness pierced it in the side with a needle, saying May those who persecute me be thwarted, etc. (Jer. 17:18), May his days be few, etc. (Ps. 108:8), and the remaining verses of that Psalm. Having done this, they placed the aforementioned image as though it were dead on its back, in a chest of the aforementioned bishop.” (See Ihnat and Mesler, From Christian Devotion to Jewish Sorcery: The Curious History of Wax Figurines in Medieval Europe)

Revisionists today will say that such stories were used to promote antisemitism, but the reality is that such kabbalist networks exist in the Church today, and we at were witness to this, as you can read in our article,How Our Trip To Rome Uncovered A Network Of Nuns Who Are Pushing For The Occult In The Catholic Church, demonstrating how this evil continues on even today.

Here we see the occult intermixed with Christian ritual and Biblical verses, done with the purpose of subverting the established Church authority. It is an indication — alongside the rise of statist philosophies taught by the likes of Marsilius and Ockham — of very strange times, filled with instability and sinister ideology. But such was a symptom of a greater disease within the heart of the Church. The Pope was no longer in Rome but in France due to an overreaching government power over the church done by the French government, and tribalist divisions between French and Italians. These alone were indicative enough of the weakening and gradual crumbling of Christendom.