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Clement VI - The Black Death Strikes

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Clement VIIt is said that Philip VI of France sent an envoy to Avignon to secure the election of his favorite, Pierre Roger. The envoy arrived to find that the cardinals had already elected a pope--Pierre Roger. He took the name Clement VI. Pierre was born in 1291 near Limoges of the noble family of the counts of Beaufort. He entered the Benedictine monastery of La Chaise Dieu at the age of ten. He studied at Paris and distinguished himself as a theologian. Abbot, bishop, archbishop, and cardinal--his career was brilliant. The king, like the ecclesiastical authorities, appreciated Pierre's ability and made him chancellor.

Clement VI, like Benedict XII, had been a monk; but while Benedict remained the austere religious bent upon reform, Clement developed into a magnificent prince, scattering largesse with both hands. To Avignon flocked swarms of fortune hunters and pleasure-seekers. The austere castle built by Benedict was transformed into a princely palace. Abuses, pruned by Benedict, flourished with renewed vitality. The extravagance of Clement hurt the financial position of the papal court even as the sumptuous display lowered its prestige. Not that Clement was a bad man (Petrarch's accusations seem unfounded) but his court echoed to the music of the lute and the lively trumpets of the tournament.

In Clement's reign, Rome saw the meteoric rise and fall of Cola de Rienzi. At first Clement allowed the Tribune to rule Rome, but when Rienzi abandoned good sense, the Pope withdrew his support and Rienzi's regime collapsed. Far from returning to Rome, Clement dug the papacy in deeper at Avignon by purchasing the territory from Joanna, queen of Naples and countess of Provence. He did agree to the Romans' request that the Holy Year should be celebrated every fiftieth year.

Clement tried to stop the disastrous war between France and England. He succeeded only in arranging a truce. Indeed, his partiality for France (he lent large sums to Philip) led to the Statute of Provisors which limited papal financial exactions in England.

Clement did what he could to promote a league against the Turks. The league enjoyed limited success by clearing Turkish pirates from the Archipelago. He also tried to bring back Greeks and Armenians to Catholic unity.

When the Black Death hit Europe, Clement proved that under his rich robes beat the heart of a true vicar of Christ. The dreadful scourge desolated France in 1348. Avignon was hit hard, but the Pope stayed at his post. He took spiritual and temporal measures to check the plague and bolster morale. The stunning blow had numbed men's wits and soon the cry arose that the Jews had poisoned the wells. In German cities mobs rose against the poor Jews. Clement spread the papal mantle around this persecuted folk. He excommunicated those who attacked them and opened the Papal States to Jewish refugees.

Clement VI died rather suddenly on December 6, 1352. St. Brigit of Sweden, the famous mystic, had spoken severely of the Pope, but she believed that by his charity he would be saved.

Excerpted from "Popes Through the Ages" by Joseph Brusher, S.J.


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                                                     Edited: December 03, 2006 - Webmaster: Webmaster
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