Two heads aren’t always better than one—and three heads can get downright ridiculous. For example …

During medieval days, the pope reigned as the most powerful figure on earth, a superleader combining religious and political authority in one gilded role. But between 1,300 and 1,500 political leaders in England and France began defying the papal father.

The harshest conflict arose when troops of France’s King Philip burst into the bedroom of 86-year-old Pope Boniface, more or less frightening him to death. A Frenchman, Pope Clement V, replaced him and moved the papal residence to France. Thus began a 72-year period of six successive French popes, all of whom chose to live in the small town of Avignon, France, rather than in Rome. This “exile” has been called the Babylonian Captivity of the Papacy. Tensions between France and Italy eventually led to the election of two popes, one chosen by the Italian faction and the other by the French. This “Great Papal Schism” lasted for 39 years, each pope having his own College of Cardinals, each claiming to be the true vicar of Christ.

In 1409 a majority of cardinals from both camps agreed to end the schism by deposing both popes and electing a new one from scratch. The result? When neither of the old popes resigned, the number increased to three. The ridiculous spectacle of three popes led to the Council of Constance convening on November 5, 1414—the largest church council in history and the most important since the Council of Nicaea in 325. Constance, a village of 6,000, swelled with 5,000 delegates along with an army of servants, secretaries, peddlers, physicians, quacks, minstrels, and 1,500 prostitutes. The council met for three years and at length persuaded one of the popes to resign and deposed the other two. In 1417 it chose a new leader, Pope Martin V, thus effectively ending the Great Schism and the Babylonian Captivity.

But the damage to the Vatican’s prestige had been wrought, helping pave the way for the Reformation exactly 100 years later.

It is truly wonderful when relatives live together in peace. (Psalm 133:1)

Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). Nov. 4.

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