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What was the Avignon Papacy / Babylonian Captivity of the Church?


 

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Avignon Papacy
Question: "What was the Avignon Papacy / Babylonian Captivity of the Church?"

Answer:
The Avignon Papacy was the time period in which the Roman Catholic pope resided in Avignon, France, instead of in Rome, from approximately 1309 to 1377. The Avignon Papacy is sometimes referred to as the Babylonian Captivity of the Church because it lasted nearly 70 years, which was the length of the Babylonian captivity of the Jews in the Bible (Jeremiah 29:10).

There was significant conflict between King Philip IV of France and Pope Boniface VIII. When the pope who succeeded Boniface VIII, Benedict XI, died after an exceedingly short reign, there was an extremely contentious papal conclave that eventually decided on Clement V, from France, as the next pope. Clement decided to remain in France and established a new papal residence in Avignon, France, in 1309. The next six popes who succeeded him, all French, kept the papal enclave in Avignon.

In 1376, Pope Gregory XI decided to move the papacy back to Rome due to the steadily increasing amount of power the French monarchy had developed over the papacy in its time in Avignon. However, when Gregory XI died, his successor, Urban VI, was rejected by much of Christendom. This resulted in a new line of popes in Avignon in opposition to the popes in Rome. In what became known as the Western Schism, some clergy supported the Avignon popes, and others supported the Roman popes.

The Western Schism gave rise to the conciliar movement (conciliarism), in which ecumenical church councils claimed authority over the papacy. At the Council of Pisa in 1410, a new pope, Alexander V, was elected and ruled for ten months before being replaced by John XXIII. So, for a time, there were three claimants to the papacy: one in Rome, one in Avignon, and one in Pisa. At the Council of Constance in 1417, John XXIII was deposed, Gregory XII of Rome was forced to resign, the Avignon popes were declared to be “antipopes,” and Pope Martin V was elected as the new pope in Rome. These decisions were accepted by the vast majority of Christendom, and so the Western Schism was ended, although there were various men claiming to be the pope in France until 1437.

Biblically speaking, there is no office of pope. Jesus is the head of the church, and the Holy Spirit is the “vicar of Christ.” The entire mess of the Avignon Papacy / Babylonian Captivity of the Church could have been avoided if the church simply followed what the Bible says about church government. One man being the supreme authority over the church is definitely not what the Bible teaches.

Recommended Resource: The Gospel According to Rome: Comparing Catholic Tradition and the Word of God by James McCarthy


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