Scotland’s Pope: Benedict XIII

Scotland’s Pope: Benedict XIII

J. H. Baxter (Regius Professor of Ecclesiastical History in the University ofSt. Andrews)

 Scot’s Magazine (1929) 


In the latter half of the month of August, five hundred years ago, a short, simple and significant ceremony took place in the papal palace on the rocky peninsula of Peñiscola, that miniature Gibraltar lying midway between Tortosa and Castellón and jutting out into the Mediterranean Sea in the direction of Italy, as if symbolising the defiant watchfulness of the pontiffs to whom for a season it gave home and shelter. Since 1378 the Church had been divided against itself, and, with alarm at first, then with something of contempt and scorn, Christendom had seen two rival claimants, and later three, dispute the possession of apostolic authority, excommunicating each other amid a warfare of pamphlet- eering and mutual denunciation which subsided only when the Council of Constance terminated the unholy rivalry, deposed the three popes and elected its own indubitable and universally accepted Head of the Church, Martin V.

But that dispossessed pontiff, to whom Scotland, isolated and alone, had tenaciously clung even after sentence of deposition had been passed against him, lingered on with a small and unimportant following for some six years more, and even then his cardinals, inspired with his firm conviction of the justice and soundness of their cause and refusing to bow to the authority of a Pope whom all the world except themselves acknowledged, provided a successor to him in the person of Gilíes Sanchez Muñoz, who took the title of ClementVIII. Buttheelectionwasasolemnfarce,andthe new Pope a mere simulacrum. Five years of powerless and ineffective rule convinced him and his electors of the folly of continuing their pretence of independence.

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