Pope Benedict XII
|Bishop of Rome|
|Papacy began||30 December 1334|
|Papacy ended||25 April 1342|
by Niccolò Alberti
|Created cardinal||18 December 1327|
by John XXII
|Birth name||Jacques Fornier|
Saverdun, Kingdom of France
|Died||25 April 1342 (aged 57)|
Avignon, County of Provence
|Coat of arms|
|Other popes named Benedict|
Pope Benedict XII (Latin: Benedictus XII; 1285 – 25 April 1342), born Jacques Fournier, was head of the Catholic Church from 30 December 1334 to his death in April 1342. He was the third Avignon pope. Benedict was a careful pope who reformed monastic orders and opposed nepotism. Unable to remove his capital to Rome or Bologna, he started the great palace at Avignon. He decided against a notion of Pope John XXII by saying that souls may attain the "fulness [sic] of the beatific vision" before the Last Judgment. Whilst being a stalwart reformer, he attempted unsuccessfully to reunite the Eastern Orthodox Church and Catholic Church, almost 3 centuries after the Great Schism; he also failed to come to an understanding with Emperor Louis IV.
Little is known of the origins of Jacques Fournier. He is believed to have been born in Canté in the County of Foix around the 1280s to a family of modest means. He became a Cistercian monk and left the countryside to study at the University of Paris. In 1311 he was made Abbot of Fontfroide Abbey and quickly became known for his intelligence and organizational ability. In 1317 he was made Bishop of Pamiers. There he undertook a rigorous hunt for Cathars, such as Guillaume Bélibaste, which won him praise from religious authorities, but alienated the local people.
His efforts against the Cathars of Montaillou in the Ariège were carefully recorded in the Fournier Register, which he took to Rome and deposited in the Vatican Library. His transcription was edited by Jean Duvernoy and has been documented by Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie's pioneering microhistory, Montaillou, village occitan.
Accession to papacy
Fournier succeeded John XXII as pope, after being elected in the Conclave of 1334. The Conclave opened on 13 December, and it appeared that there might be a quick election. A two-thirds majority were prepared to elect Cardinal Jean-Raymond de Comminges, the Bishop of Porto, if he would only swear in advance to agree not to return the papacy to Rome. Comminges refused to make any promises in order to get elected. The Conclave therefore ground on through lengthy discussions. As Fournier himself said, "... in the discussion held over the election of a future pope, they could certainly have agreed on others more conspicuous for the repute of their great merits...", in other words, there were a number of possible candidates. The Cistercian cardinal, Jacques Fournier, was elected on the evening of 20 December 1334, after Vespers, on the eighth day of the Conclave.
The election of Fournier happened as the result of an accident. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia:
The cardinals in conclave, most of whom opposed a return to Rome, demanded of Cardinal de Comminges whose election seemed assured, the promise to remain at Avignon. His refusal precipitated an unexpected canvass for candidates. On the first ballot, 20 December, 1334, many electors, intending to sound the mind of the conclave, voted for the unlikely Cardinal Fournier, who, though he was one of the few men of real merit in the college, was but lightly regarded because of his obscure origin and lack of wealth and following. He amazed the conclave by receiving the necessary two-thirds vote. On 8 January, 1335, he was enthroned as Benedict XII.
Papal policy and activity
Benedict XII was a reforming pope who did not carry out the policies of his predecessor. He chose to make peace with Holy Roman Emperor Louis IV, and as far as possible came to terms with the Franciscans, who were then at odds with the Roman See. He tried to curb the luxuries of the monastic orders, though without much success. He also ordered the construction of the Palais des Papes in Avignon.
Benedict spent most of his time working on questions of theology. He rejected many of the ideas developed by John XXII. In this regard, he promulgated an apostolic constitution, Benedictus Deus, in 1336. This dogma defined the Church's belief that the souls of the departed go to their eternal reward immediately after death, as opposed to remaining in a state of unconscious existence until the Last Judgment. Though some claim that he campaigned against the Immaculate Conception, this is far from clear. He engaged in long theological debates with other noted figures of the age, such as William of Ockham and Meister Eckhart.
Though born a Frenchman, Benedict felt no patriotism towards France nor its king, Philip VI. From the start of his papacy, relations between him and Philip were frigid. After being informed of Philip's plan to invade Scotland, Benedict hinted that King Edward III of England would most likely win, regardless.
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