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Benedict XII

Pope from 1334. Born Jacques Fournier, he was a distinguished theologian who became master of the University of Paris, and as a young man entered the Cistercian Abbey of Boulbonne. He was eventually created cardinal and, until his election as the third Avignon pope, was cardinal-priest of South Priscia. At this time he played a leading part in the controversy caused by John XXII’s teaching on the fate of departed souls. He showed great zeal in the pursuit of heretics. Austere in his public and private life, he continued to wear his habit when he became pope.

A conscientious reformer within the church, Benedict required all diocesan bishops and all clergy who had benefices with the care of souls to be sent back from Avignon to their duties. He abolished the granting of abbeys to nonresident abbots; reorganized the office of penitentiary and the administration of papal correspondence; and attempted to reform the religious orders by a series of constitutions (1330-39) aimed at renewing their fervor and strictness. The constitution which he imposed on the Franciscans was not welcomed and was abolished by his successor. Benedict’s efforts were openly resisted by the master general of the Dominicans. The radical reforms introduced into the Benedictine Order included the restoration of common life in monasteries and courses of monastic study. Benedict also had little success in his efforts to improve the political scene. Relations between papacy and emperor were not helped by his tendency to ally himself with the policies of Philip VI of France. The electors eventually declared at Rense that the emperor’s rights needed no papal confirmation. Benedict’s main theological work was the Benedictus Deus (1336) in which he pronounced that the souls of the just who have no sins to expiate will, on dying, experience immediately the Beatific Vision.* He began the building of the Palace of the Popes at Avignon.

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