General Introduction - The Prophet - 13 

since the Gregory Reform in the latter half of the eleventh century. Two centuries later, it was becoming a victim of its own success. As more and more aspects of church governance became centralized in the Papal court, the Western church became ever more aware of the papacy's use of this vast spiritual authority for narrow political ends within Italy. As a consequence, the papal office itself became politicized. Long vacancies were increasingly common following the death of a pope, as contending factions jockeyed to secure the position.

After a two-year interregnum, the Franciscan pope, Nicholas IV (1288-92) was succeeded by Celestine IV whose pontificate lasted only six months. The legacy of Celestine's successor, the tempestuous Boniface VIll (1294-1303) was filled with conflicts: within the College of Cardinals, between the papacy and the French monarchy, and among Europeans in general. After Boniface's death, the cardinals elected Benedict XI (1303-4) whose pontificate lasted only ten months. Two years later the French Archbishop of Bordeaux, Bertrand de Got, became Pope Clement V (1305-14). Because of the unstable political situation in the Papal States, Clement decided not to travel to Rome, but settled in Avignon. Eventually, the whole Papal court reached their apogee. Its intrusive bureaucracy, oppressive taxation, and opulent life-style made many Western Christians increasingly view the papacy, not as a vehicle of church reform, but its obstacle. Already at the Council of Vienne in 1311, one bishop was calling for "the re-formation of the Church in head and in members."19

For the Lesser Brothers, such criticism of the papacy was particularly poignant. Their very existence as a worldwide brotherhood, in large measure exempt from local control, was dependent on a centralized church government. Early Franciscan history manifests any number of papal interventions. Innocent III (1198-1216) and Honorius III (1216-27) are clearly central figures in the life of the saint and founder, Francis himself. In Quo elongati, Gregory IX (1227-41) not only described his intimate relationship with Francis, but powerfully interpreted his mind and, in doing so, altered the way of life he left for his followers,20 a path continued by Innocent IV (1243-54).21 But papal interventions following Bonaventure's death in 1274 were both decisive and divisive. Nicholas III (1277-80), following his predecessors, attempted to promulgate a definitive interpretation of Francis's Rule.22 Yet controversy over its implementation led the saintly Celestine V, in his brief pontificate, to permit its first division by establishing the Poor Hermits. Boniface VIll heavy-handedly attempted to stifle any division within the Order and, with the promulgation of Olim Caelestinus, April 8, 1295, stripped the fledgling group of papal protection. In that same year, Boniface removed Raymond Gaufredi as general minister, replaced him with John of Murrovalle, whom he viewed as more sympathetic to his views, and encouraged him to curb the zelanti, especially Peter of John Olivi.

In light of this contentious history, the Avignon Papacy and all that it symbolized furthered an already divided and demoralized Order of Lesser Brothers. The "official" portraits of Thomas of Celano and Bonaventure con-




Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 3, p. 13

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