The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, vol. 2


CHAPTER ONE: Revival of Interpretation in Italy and Bohemia

I. Thinkers Disillusioned by Break in Papal Continuity

The medieval church reached its height in the thirteenth century. Probably at no time did it play so dominant a part in the lives of men. Having disposed of the Holy Roman Empire, its rival in the race for leadership, the Papacy seemed secure. But the fourteenth century had scarcely begun when the Papacy found its authority sharply challenged. First came the Babylonian Captivity (1309-1377) at Avignon. At last this ended, and the Papacy returned to Rome under Gregory XI. 1 This was no sooner effected than the Roman group insisted on an Italian pope, Urban VI. This election, however, proved unsatisfactory to some, and so, reinforced by their French colleagues, the cardinals met again and elected another pope, the French-speaking Clement VII. Thus the embarrassment of the Babylonian Captivity was continued for many years in the scandal of the Great Schism. 2 PFF2 17.1


The older writers placed the Middle Ages from 500 to 1500, between the ancient and modern ages. Historians are not agreed on the time of ending the Middle Ages. However, the transitional epoch is commonly designated the Age of the Renaissance—meaning the reflaming of the old culture, or the intellectual awakening. The medieval mind began to undergo a fundamental change. The authority of the church, supplemented by the writings of a few ancients like Aristotle, had been dominant in Scholasticism. But scholars began to assert that not all knowledge had been discovered, and that some things long unquestioned were not true. Many universities were founded, being developed out of monastic and cathedral schools. Thus the University of Paris came into being sometime between 1150 and 1170, Oxford about 1168, Cambridge about 1209, and Prague in 1348. PFF2 17.2

The Romance languages developed out of the medieval Latin. In Italy, Spain, and Gaul the Latin was modified as these peoples developed languages of their own. Though the scholars continued to use Latin, Greek had almost disappeared in Western Europe. One of the most influential factors in producing the change was the revival of classical Greek and Roman literature. It was a rediscovery, its promoters taking the name of Humanists. And the first phase of the Renaissance began in Italy, finding its finest expression in Dante and Petrarch. 3 PFF2 18.1

This intellectual movement, with its revival of letters, therefore marked the transition from medieval to modern history. It was accomplished by the overthrow of Scholasticism, and deliverance from the dominating power of the church in secular matters, which freedom in turn gave rise to the new nationalism. In England, Wyclif’s Bible was one of the forerunners of a new day; in Germany and the Low Countries the study of the original Biblical languages paved the way for the Reformation. During the Renaissance came the invention of printing, the expansion of exploration and commerce, the development of navigation and science, the discovery of America, and the foundations of modern astronomy, laid by Copernicus and Galileo. PFF2 18.2


The Papacy’s “dark century,” as it is sometimes called, extending from about 1347 to perhaps 1450, included the period of the Great Schism (1378-1417), with the rival claims of the French and Italians to the possession of the Papacy. The transfer of the Papacy to Avignon, the Babylonian Captivity, and the Great Schism marked the beginning of a new epoch in the church—a period of definite decadence and loss. Reaction from disappointed hopes and dire predictions of pious churchmen helped to bring on the revolt of men like Wyclif and Huss, and stimulated the vagaries of the mystics. 4 PFF2 19.1

The whole theory and system of an infallible election of the pope collapsed with the Great Schism, as Rome and Avignon fought for the tiara, each hurling spiritual thunderbolts at the other. 5 Unity was destroyed. Only one pope could be the true vicar of Christ. The other must be an impostor, as each anathematized the other. 6 Or perchance both were right. PFF2 19.2

The conflict of the Papacy with the Hohenstaufen emperors had greatly weakened both powers. It had made it possible for France to dominate the Papacy, but it had also materially weakened the empire. The solidarity of Europe was breaking. The structure which empire and Papacy had built, and upon which they rested, was giving way. A new nationalism took its place, and now these new states began to challenge the very basis of papal power. It gave opportunity for thinkers to attack the corruptions of the church. It alienated the support of the states of Europe. It fomented discussion of the principles upon which the Papacy rested. It aroused public opinion and produced a cry for reform from one end of Europe to the other. 7 PFF2 19.3

The emperors could not be content at the sight of a Papacy in the hands of the French and dominated by the monarchy of France. The friends of the empire were necessarily the enemies of France and of the Gallicized Papacy. Whether in Italy or in Germany, the protagonists of the imperial political positions were antipapal, and any material upon which they could lay hands, usable against the Papacy, became ammunition hurled at the hierarchy. And antipapal churchmen in the imperial fold found in Scripture much that they could use in attacking the popes seated at Avignon. PFF2 19.4


It was a period of confusion, marked by increasing denunciations of the Papacy and predictions concerning the appearance and identification of Antichrist. 8 The Spiritual Franciscans were especially active, both extremists and moderates. But there were irreconcilable differences among these protesters before the Reformation. Nevertheless, men’s convictions grew stronger as the predicted marks of Antichrist broke out like plague spots upon the body of “the Man of Sin,” as the Catholic Church was frequently called. And the papal church system was compelled to fashion itself anew amid these repeated protests and hostile actions. Foxe lists an imposing array of learned men between 1331 and 1360, including Dante and Petrarch, who contended against the usurpations of the pope. 9 Of these lesser ones, we cite only three, preliminary to major characters. PFF2 20.1

MICHAEL OF CESENA, general of the Grey Friars, declared the pope “to be Antichrist, and the church of Rome to be the whore of Babylon, drunk with the blood of saints.” 10 Michael had numerous followers, not a few of whom were slain. JOHANNES DE RUPESCISSA (sometimes called Jean Roquetaillardes), a Minorite friar under Clement VI, in 1345, preached openly that the Church of Rome was the whore of Babylon, and that the pope, with his cardinals, was “very Antichrist.” Foxe’s conjecture is that this friar and an unnamed priest were imprisoned and burned at Avignon. Foxe looked upon this violence as evidence that the devil had been loosed after his thousand-year binding, 11 and regarded these martyrs as voices of resistance to Antichrist, as they longed for his fall and ruin. In the fourteenth century the controversy takes on a broader character and touches more on fundamental principles. PFF2 20.2