Charles Mackay (1814-1889), from Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions And The Madness Of Crowds

"Pope John XXII"

This Prelate is said to have been the friend and pupil of Arnold de Villeneuve, by whom he was instructed in all the secrets of alchymy. Tradition asserts of him, that he made great quantities of gold, and died as rich as Croesus. He was born at Cahors, in the province of Guienne, in the year 1244. He was a very eloquent preacher, and soon reached high dignity in the Church. He wrote a work on the transmutation of metals, and had a famous laboratory at Avignon. He issued two Bulls against the numerous pretenders to the art, who had sprung up in every part of Christendom; from which it might be inferred that he was himself free from the delusion. The alchymists claim him, however, as one of the most distinguished and successful professors of their art, and say that his Bulls were not directed against the real adepts, but the false pretenders. They lay particular stress upon these words in his Bull, "Spondent, quas non exhibent, divitias, pauperes alchymistae." These, it is clear, they say, relate only to poor alchymists, and therefore false ones. He died in the year 1344, leaving in his coffers a sum of eighteen millions of florins. Popular belief alleged that he had made, and not amassed, this treasure; and alchymists complacently cite this as a proof that the philosopher's stone was not such a chimera as the incredulous pretended. They take it for granted that John really left this money, and ask by what possible means he could have accumulated it. Replying to their own question, they say triumphantly, "His book shows it was by alchymy, the secrets of which he learned from Arnold de Villeneuve and Raymond Lulli. But he was as prudent as all other hermetic philosophers. Whoever would read his book to find out his secret, would employ all his labour in vain; the Pope took good care not to divulge it." Unluckily for their own credit, all these gold-makers are in the same predicament; their great secret loses its worth most wonderfully in the telling, and therefore they keep it snugly to themselves. Perhaps they thought that, if everybody could transmute metals, gold would be so plentiful that it would be no longer valuable, and that some new art would be requisite to transmute it back again into steel and iron. If so, society is much indebted to them for their forbearance.


Pontiff d'Avignon

Ecclesiastical Leader as Opportunistic CEO

(1249- 1334)

Provincial Prelude

Somewhere near the meandering Lot River, overseen by Mont Saint-Cyr lying south of Souillac, which is on the Dordogne River, is the idyllic bucolic Cahors. This is where Jacques D'Euse was born in 1249. In his hometown as a youth he studied under the Dominicans. (Who knows what would happen if these monks would have been Franciscans,...but let one not get ahead of one-selves.)

He then furthered his education at Montpellier with legal and religious disciplines, and improved that with schooling in Paris.

Religious Law Professor

He returned to the south of France with first a teaching position at Toulouse, specializing in canon and civil law and finally came home to Cahors to teach. Charles II of Naples became his benefactor, and helped in 1300 Jacques become Bishop of Frejus, nine years later was elevated to become his Chancellor, and in another year he was made See of Avignon.

Stormy See

It is better to be a hammer than an anvil.


To understand this man, it might help to understand the dynamics of this late 13th Century era. In 1296, the growing battle of Kings versus the Church authority became heated, with Boniface VII's Clericis laicos attempt to stop royal taxation of clergy, and escalated when he demanded a release of a bishop arrested in France. This led to the bull, Ausculta fili which declared papal power was superior to secular, and increased his adamant position to King Philip IV's anti-Papal propaganda. Legally oriented like his Pontiff Jacques D'Euse gave official support to his decrees, and though patriotically French, he showed his independent streak.

Can We be Frank?

In 1303, following Boniface's death just four weeks after fleeing Nogaret and the Colonnas, the French strongly cajoled the College of Cardinals to pick an amiable Bishop of Rome (or wherever). Benedict XI only lived a year, and in this pro-con franco factional environment, the Archbishop of Bordeaux became Clement V. Preferring his southern French homeland (he was from Gascony) over Rome, and to please the Gallic King, he established his throne at Avignon (which though officially not French territory, they had influence there). The confidence in the leadership of the Popes was seriously challenged during these times, while they increased in power.

Tower of Power of Babel

The collision and collusion course were lining up. It really was not safe in Rome while literal battles waged over heading the Holy Roman Empire. While the Italian Renaissance writer Petrarch assayed and essayed in protest against this "Avignon (or Babylonian) Captivity", the French Kings were coveting the accumulated wealth and power of the Knights Templar. Their French Pope complied, and with spurious charges of blasphemy, corruption and immorality they were ordered disbanded. While much of the money and property passed to organizations like the Hospitallers in most areas; in France the King absorbed it. Strong measures by the authorities were used to extract the proper guilty plea, and even Bishop Jacques D'Euse, with his law and business expertise, oversaw fervently in his jurisdiction what legal and financial sanctions could be brought against those in the Order of the Knights of the Temple.

Moving Up

His expertise was not overlooked, and Clement V elevated him to Cardinal-Bishop of Porto two days before the Christmas of 1312. And when Clement V died two years later in April of 1314 there was so much confusion that it was not until almost twenty-eight months passed when the College of Cardinals met divisively in Carpentras. Was it any wonder that the electoral college could not come to any agreement when it was comprised of eight Italians, with the remainder Frenchmen being ten members from Gascony and three from Provence. It was not until Philip V came to power that there was a successful election assisted by this French King's collection of two dozen cardinals in Lyons that easily chose Jacques D'Euse as Head Prelate of the Church on June 26, 1316. He was coronated in Lyons on September 5, and then he moved into the palace in Avignon.

Fleshly Pseudo-Spiritual Chess Game

In that interim period the Pope had been petitioned --by both Frederick of Austria coronated in Bonn on November 25, 1314; and Louis of Bavaria who was made King on September 5 the following year-- to who should be considered King of Germany (and thus the Imperial heir). John wrote both Kings begging them to resolve this political royal altercation. In that second spring that John XXII was in Peter's Chair, he was defied by first Italian Imperial Vicar, Jean de Belmont and then Galeazzo Visconti of Milan who both had been backed by Louis. And in July 1317 Visconti thought his power was what was left of the Roman Empire and then he in turn used it to pick King Robert of Sicily Imperial Vicar for Italy. Five years later Louis of Bavaria gave word to John that he had militarily superseded his old foe, Frederick of Austria, and at this time John sent him a reconcilitory correspondence. The warm fuzzies were not reciprocated by Louis, however, and the Bavarian King continued to promote the excommunicated Galeazzo, as well as the Ghibellines, while this monarch assumed the unsanctioned role of Emperor, and in March of 1322 he additionally appointed another Imperial Vicar of Italy, someone from closer to home, Berthold von Neiffen.

King Breaker

Probably thinking along Jeremiah's lines of "Peace, peace, there is no peace!" John now had to break bad on this Louis, Lou-eye. Just like Innocent III he had to remind that King-making lied in the authority of the Pope, and warned him to reverse decisions made, especially the support of John's enemies, like the already declared heretical, Visconti or face the pain of excommunication.

Look Out for the Bull!

On November 16, 1323, after Louis' several months stalling action to the John's demands to appear in three months to the Papal court in Avignon, Louis in Nuremburg instead countered with charges of John's tolerance of heretics, and a refutation of Papal authority over canonizing German Kings; and furthermore called for a general council to convene to judge this. So by March 23 of the next year, and no repentance on Louis' part, John banished him from the good Grace offered in the Church. Louis, from Sachsenhausen, retaliated with another appeal by way of a general council to consider John an enemy of the Empire and a heretic; and he arrested any of the few of his local cardinals who went along with this Papal Bull.

John now upped the ante on this high stakes game and officially forfeited all Louis' rights to Imperial authority; and ratified the treaty between Duke Leopold of Austria and his patron King Charles I

Rolling Up Those Purple Sleeves...

This Pope was a workaholic. He had to stay deeply involved in European politics from Kings of France, Naples or England. He multiplied Bishops' Sees in Spain as well as France. He helped learning and the arts, being wide read himself, helping students and universities, and built a legal library nearby. He sent missionaries far abroad, even to China.

Critically examining writings, such Petus Olivi, brought his thumbs down, and Meister Eckhardt fared only a little better with help of 14th century white-out. His incorporation of the Corpus Juris Canonici in his publishing of the Clementines. Of his numerous decretals (besides the one mentioned following, was "Extravagantes johannis XX" in Corp. Jur. Can. He wrote a decree against alchemy (that was also another revenue windfall) in 1317, De Crinine Falsi Titulsu VI --I Joannis XXII. (circa annum 1317 Avenioni) :

Alchemies are here prohibited and those who practise them or procure their being done are punished. They must forfeit to the public treasury for the benefit of the poor as much genuine gold and silver as they have manufactured of the false or adulterate metal.
--and even wrote his views on music (that echo mine from American Idol):
These musicians run without pausing, they intoxicate the ear without satisfying it, they dramatize the text with gestures and, instead of promoting devotion, they prevent it by creating a sensuous and innocent atmosphere. Thus it was not without good reason that Boethius said: "A person who is intrinsically sensuous will delight in hearing these indecent melodies, and one who listens to them frequently will be weakened thereby and lose his virility of soul."


Though John spent a lot in his revamping the Papacy, he still left almost a million gold florins for his estate when he died, though not the five times that amount boasted by some.

To the Head Vicar Go the Spoils

Knowing how much of a tightrope it was to exact more money out of the royalty without backlash, especially in France, which prospered him the most, (somewhat to keep Louis of Bavaria at bay whom he excommunicated) John nevertheless also made use of the jus spolii, or right of spoils whereby he got the inheritance of recently dead Bishops' estates. He managed to increase his money from tributary kingdoms, and servita communia; and his annata, a small tax was supplemented by his reserving to himself in 1319 all the convenient vacant benefices. The palace at Avignon housed a big bureaucracy, and expenses were weighty. He started a centralized governmental Juggernaut that his re-structured expanded Curia successors further made it infamous.

Don't Poor-mouth Me

The more we despise poverty the more the world will despise us and the greater need will we suffer. But if we embrace Holy Poverty very closely, the world will come to us and will feed us abundantly.

----Francis of Assisi

In the ninety years since their Assisian founder's death, the Franciscans, who emphasized completely embracing asceticism, divided into two groups, the relatively moderate Conventuals, and the Spirituals (later split into Observant, and Capuchins, united in 1897 by Leo XIII). It was the latter that came into conflict with the ecclesiastical adminstrative marriage with high finances that Jacques, now Pope John XXII had more than enough aptitude. 1 His enemies used the division and controversy to their advantage to regain power. The legal mind went to work to protect the big business end of his hands, and the power of his lands, 1322 he declared the statements of Berenger Talon: that Christ and the disciples owned nothing separate or together, and was backed by William Occam -- null and void. The next year John issued a denunciation that those assertions were heretical. But most strongly worded, was his Bull, Quia Quorundam given in 1324 basically calls the own-nothing extremists out of bounds liars in need of shunning. Part of the treatise defines the "key" of knowledge and power and proper use of loosing and binding, which obviously he thought this too leftward leaning bunch of friars misused. He cites explanations from previous Popes, Gregory, Innocent, Nicholas, and Alexander; and even Saint Augustine. The argument surrounds the issue that though like Jesus and the Disciple it was Scriptural and noble to have no ownership of "temporal civil and worldly lordship" and property individually, but:

...the founder of the Rule prescribes to all the Brothers, that they should in no way receive a penny or money, either directly or by means of a go-between, nor also many other things contained in the said Rule that indeed neither Christ nor the Apostles taught in words nor confirmed by example.

After explaining that Christ and the Twelve came back and carried money, quoting Augustine, "The Lord had a bag keeping safe the offerings of the faithful, and distributed them..." Towards the end of the document things get serious dispersed with 75 cent words, calling it:

...a heresy condemned by the above mentioned constitution (Cum inter), namely that Christ and his apostles had, in the things we read they had, only simple use of fact without any right, from which (if it were true) it would follow that Christ's use was not just, which certainly contains blasphemy, and something inimical to the Catholic faith, since there is no doubt this has proceeded from pertinacious and erroneous animosity: of each and every one who, in word or in writing, personally or through another or others, has presumed (to assert) such things publicly, and also of those who taught them in such matters and caused them to do the foregoing, we therefore declare, with the advice of our brothers the Cardinals, that they have fallen into condemned heresy, and that they must be avoided as heretics. But if anyone henceforth knowingly presumes to defend or approve, in word or in writing, the heresies, or either of them condemned by the constitution Cum inter, with the advice of the same brothers -the Cardinals- we decree that he is to be regarded evidently by all as a heretic. Besides, since, as it is reported, they have tried with mad acts of boldness to attack our constitution above mentioned Ad conditorem canonum, we strictly forbid, with the advice of the same brothers, that anyone should knowingly, in word or in writing, approve or defend anything contrary to the things defined, ordered or done by it. But if anyone presumes to the contrary, let him be regarded by all as contumacious and as a rebel against the Roman Church.

William of Occam refused to appear in Avignon, but Michael of Cesena responded to his summons, but when recalcitrant to John's demands escaped being arrested and jailed.

Suffer Not a Witch

John XXII had this growing fear that witches were casting spells on him, and maybe after his 1326 Decretal Supra illious specula "Magic and the Inquisition 23", they were retaliating against his threat of excommunication with those using images, rings, mirrors, phials or anything for magic purposes of helping them for "depraved lusts" that he knows "allay themselves with death and make a pact with hell." They are offered the chance of renewing their baptismal vows with the Savior, however. This document, typically law conscious, was the first to be this specific on deeds to be charged by the inquisitors. At this time, however, the Pope would need the help of a reluctant Louis to enforce it.

The Anti-Pope

In 1328 Louis of Bavaria, after a year's incursion in Italy and collusion with Italian Ghibellines, who supported the Spiritual Franciscans, had enough of John's contesting supremacy and after a military incursion into Italy, appointed a Spiritual, Pietro Rainalducci of Corbario as the Anti-Pope Nicholas V. Of course John forfeited all Louis' rights to the German Crown, and to all the fiefs below him, like the Duchy of Bavaria. The only successful result of this attempt was that John XXII eventually backed off his claim to Louis' secular authority. Pietro, after Louis increasing unpopularity in Italy, had eventually came to Avignon 1330 to seal his appeals for peace with a Holy Kiss, but was basically under house arrest there for the next three years left of his life. This same year Louis left Lombardy and his attempts to get Michael Cesena, Bonagratia, and William Occam to conspire against John. Louis successfully postponed his possible willingness to abdicate in 1333. The strength of John's Bull, Ne praetereat has mixed views. This divisive incident was prophetic forerunner to more divisive future events to come to world religion and politics.

Another John's Vision

A work started when he was Bishop concerning Beatific Vision came back to haunt him in his Papacy. In this work he explained that the baptized dead will not see God until after the Last Judgment. He was intensely debated by scholars who maintained the standard belief that souls did come into God's presence even before the Resurrection of the Body. Some even called his views heretical. In 1333 after a November inquiry to King Philip on the matter, Pope John XXII had to allow the theologians liberty to dissent since he had not made an official papal decision. In December the theologians in Paris agreed that the souls of the blessed departed will see God right after death, while tactfully pointing out that the Pope only was opinionating, and asked him to come to their side of this issue.

The Commish

In Avignon a commission appointed by John was given the task to sort out this controversy by delving into the Church Father's writings. When the results favored the traditional view, he officially recanted until finally re-asserting his orginial Beatific Vision just before his death (of natural causes) in December of that year, 1334.


His legacy left can not be faulted as one of the soft, lazy popes that followed, he had no qualms at empowering his office any way he could, even though with more calculating than genuflecting.

1 Some consider him John XXI, because the one elected in 1410 who was also called Pope John XXII, yet again some historians call this later one John XXIII, who was put here by the Council trying to resolve which of three Popes would rule during this time called the Great Schism. (If it had not been for this rift, the Eastern Orthodox Church might have been re-emerged with their Western brethren.) This John XXIII after being tried in 1415 had to give the throne up (but unfortunately not before at the Council of Constance condemning religious muckraker, Jan Hus to death, but which had the blessed result of hundreds of years of a Hussite Church in Bohemia.). Finally, in 1958 the Catholic Church had another John, this one the real twenty-third.

Catholic Encyclopedia Online John XXII "Magic and The Inquisition" by Nicole Hirst)
Great Leaders of the Christian Church, ed. John D. Woodbridge; Moody Press: Chicago, 1988.
Eerdman's Handbook to the History of Christianity, ed. Tim Dowley; Eerdman's Publishing: Grand Rapids, 1977.

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