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Clement VI

Second Avignon* pope from 1347. Born Pierre Roger, he entered the Benedictine monastery at La Chaise-Dieu, later moving to Paris where he became a student, then a teacher. Ecclesiastical promotion came quickly: abbot of Fécamp in 1326, then after two bishoprics, archbishop of Rouen in 1330. He was made cardinal by Benedict XII in 1338, and pope at Avignon nine years later.

Clement was a brilliant orator and a great and ostentatious nobleman; thus he has been described as the first of the Renaissance popes. Like Clement V, his attachment to France was strong, and he was an ardent admirer of Philip the Fair, which prejudiced his attempts to bring peace between France and England. Also, following French policy, he carried on the struggle with Louis the Bavarian until 1347. He received the submission of William of Ockham who had advocated the separation of church and state together with the denial of temporal authority to the pope. The Franciscans also came under his displeasure as schismatics. That same year (1347), Cola di Rienzo* was imprisoned for similar reasons as Ockham—the encroachment of the pope’s temporal power.

Clement seemed more concerned with Avignon than Italy. The sovereignty of Avignon he bought from Joanna I of Naples in 1348 for 80,000 golden florins, and surrounding himself with French cardinals, he turned Avignon into one of the most resplendent courts in Europe, from where also he directed the political campaigning in Italy. All this was paid for by extending taxation to ecclesiastical benefices, claiming for himself the overall right of church property and the right to intervene in the presentation of benefices, which brought opposition from many quarters, especially from Edward III of England (who in 1351 claimed monarchial right of presentation in all papal appointments to benefices). In spite of his tendency to nepotism, Clement did aid the poor. He helped those who were caught in the Black Death* at Avignon (1348-49). He defended the Mendicant against the secular orders. He was kindly disposed toward the Jews, who generally were safer in papal states than elsewhere in Europe. In 1351 he established a bishopric for the Canary Islands. His contribution to theology is best seen in his jubilee bull of 1350 concerning indulgences,* a practice which had received his approval in 1343.

See W. Ullman, The Origins of the Great Schism (1948); and G. Mollat, Les Papes d’Avignon (9th ed., 1949).