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1370, and died on the 19th of December of that year, in complete fulfilment, as the historians do not fail to point out, of the prophecy of St. Bridget.
The Conclave assembled at Avignon on the canonical tenth day after the death of Urban, and immediately, by the unanimous vote of all the nineteen cardinals present, elected Pietro Eoger of Maumont, in the diocese of Limoges, Pope, by the name of Gregory XI., the seventh and last of the line of French Popes. Gregory seems to have been a conscientious man, and, like his two or three predecessors, made some nearer approach towards the character and conduct that might be supposed fitting in a ruler of the universal Church, as the duties of such a position were then understood by the best members of that Church, than any of the Popes shortly preceding the "Babylonish Captivity" had done. And these last Popes had been chosen almost entirely by French cardinals. Was it the case, that, rude, rough, and violent as the times were among those Gascon and Languedocian populations, there existed in the social atmosphere of those races a somewhat nearer approach towards an adequate conception of the meaning and significance of the office to be filled by the Supreme Euler of the Christian Church, than was the case among the invincibly and permanently Pagan tendencies of the Italian people? The discussion of such an idea would lead us very much too far afield from the proposed subject of this volume. It is sufficient to have suggested it to the speculative inquirer interested in the study of national characteristics.
Gregory XI. was, as I have said, to all appearances a conscientious man, and he like his predecessor seems to have felt strongly on the subject of restoring the Papacy to the Eternal City. Indeed he had made up his mind to do so, not merely by his temporary presence in Eome, as his immediate predecessor had done, but by definitively re-transferring the Papal Court to Eome. This is proved by the fact that when he left Avignon for Eome, on the 10th of September, 1376, he was accompanied by all the cardinals, save six, and by the whole of the members of the Pontifical Court.
But this restoration was a very difficult matter—a much more difficult matter than it had been to carry the Apostolical Court from Eome to Avignon. The difficulties in the way of returning to Eome may be easily understood in a great degree; and it is equally easy to feel assured that other obstacles and difficulties must have existed besides those which we can now descry. Further, there is no reason to doubt that the assertions of Gregory's predecessors, to the effect that the interests of the Church and the work of administering it required their presence in France, were made in all good faith and entire persuasion that such was the fact. They were Frenchmen, and were naturally convinced that France was the true centre of the Christian world, as indeed it had for the last century or so been becoming more and more. England and English affairs, the wars of her kings, and the heresies of her people, had contributed much in those latter times to the cares of the Popes. And they felt themselves to be more at hand for the supervision of them at Avignon than at Eome. Then, again, if Aquitainian and Languedocian barons were masterful and high-handed, if times were rude and men violent in France, the men into the midst of whom the Popes were importuned to return were a herd of raging ruffians, cut-throats, and poisoners. The former were men who could always be awed into reverence by a due exhibition and administration of Papal Mumbo-jumbo. The latter were men whom no Mumbo-jumbo could awe into a reverence which was alien to their nature, or into superstition which too long a close acquaintance with, and handling of, Mumbo-jumbo had utterly liberated them from.
And the great and all-important fact of a definitive restoration of the Papal Court to Eome was accordingly brought about by an accident after all.
Gregory XI., having left Avignon, as has been said, on the 10th of September, 1376, celebrated his Christmas mass at Corneto, on his arrival in Italy. He was received with the utmost possible enthusiasm by all classes, and with the greatest pomp and magnificence; and at once began active endeavours to repair the evils, material and moral, which had resulted from the absence of the Popes from Eome. But it was uphill work! The Florentines were at open war with him. The petty tyrants of the papal cities joined themselves to them, whenever they were disposed to rebel against the Pope. The Eoman barons showed not the smallest disposition to obey him. And the Gascon and Breton troops, whom he had brought with him to protect him, found it hard work to do so. Gregory, we are told, was stricken with melancholy from the day of his arrival in Eome. How well we can imagine that it should have been so! A gloomy, savage-looking, and half-ruined city grovelling amid the majestic ruins of the Paganism which still survived in the blood of the descendants of those who had raised them; lawless and knowing no authority save that of the ruffian barons and their retainers, who were ever snarling over the carcass; desolate in the midst of the ever sad and dreary Campagna! . . . . . Yes! It may be understood that the Languedoc Pope should have been stricken with melancholy at the sight of the surroundings, and the life, and the work before him.
He seems very soon to have begun to make up his mind that it would not do, and that he must return! That, however, was far more easily said than done. The Eomans, who would not obey him, were by no means willing that he should depart. It is probable that they would have attempted, and probably succeeded, in detaining him by violence. And it is to be remembered that his death at Pome would have suited their plans and wishes just as well as his continuing to live there. Tor in that case there would be a Conclave at Pome, and the probability of a Pope who would continue to reside there.
Gregory had, however, determined to return. But he was continually tormented by an incurable and painful illness, and he began to foresee that he might never see his Languedoc again! And his last act seems to indicate a conviction, not only that he had make a mistake in moving to Pome, but that it would be desirable for his successor, be he whom he might, to continue to keep the Papacy in France; for his last act was the preparation of a dispensing Bull, empowering the cardinals to elect his successor either in or away from Eome, wherever the greater number of the members of the College might be. Now as the major part of the cardinals were then in Eome, and as they had all been most urgent with the Pope to return to France, this Bull would seem to contemplate their going away from Eome to make the election elsewhere.
Gregory indeed was destined never to leave Eome. His last illness overtook him before he could put his intention of returning into execution; and he died on the evening of the 27th of March, 1378, having reigned seven years and all but three months, of which the last year and three months were passed in Italy.
And thus ended the "Babylonish Captivity."