The History of The Church
The Church had held sway over medieval society for centuries, but it began to lose its grip in the fourteenth century. It was not only that it could not explain nor prevent the calamities that swept through the century, it was enduring its own calamities.
The Church was at its strongest in the thirteenth century, but within a few years of entering the fourteenth it entered a series of crises that would all but destroy it (and certainly destroyed its hold over the minds and hearts of many Europeans).
1) The Babylonian Captivity
This is something that forms part of the plot of The Nameless Day. One of the great medieval popes, Boniface VIII, died in 1303. For many years he had been engaged in a power struggle with the French King, Philip IV. When Boniface died, Philip seized the opportunity to influence the subsequent papal election so that his own man, Clement V, took the papal throne (there was a brief interval when someone else was elected, but he lived less than a year). Clement promptly removed the entire papacy from Rome to the French-controlled town of Avignon, where the papacy remained for over 70 years. All Europe believed that during this time the papacy was controlled by the French monarchy - indeed, the majority of papal officials, including the cardinals (from among whom a new pope was always elected), were Frenchmen. The era when the popes lived in Avignon is known as the Babylonian Captivity, and the papacy lost a great deal of respect during this time as most people believed the pope the mouthpiece of the French monarchy rather than of God.
2) The Great Schism
Worse was to follow when Gregory XI returned to Rome in 1377. No-one knows whether Gregory meant to this to be a permanen...
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...ack Death in 1348, something had to snap. Heresies (a heresy was any deviation from accepted Church belief) had always been a problem for the Church, but during and after the latter fourteenth century they flared out of control, resulting finally in the Protestant Reformation of the early sixteenth century.
When people sought religious comfort in order to cope with the chaos of the physical world they encountered a Church that was, to all intents and purposes, in chaos (and the pestilence had struck the Church as badly as secular society). People began to look elsewhere for spiritual comfort ...
As there were tremendous and violent social revolts in Europe post the Black Death, so there were some extremely strong and extremely dangerous heresies. the one I want to discuss here, again because it has such a bearing on THE CRUCIBLE, is the English Lollard movement.