7 August 2021


Today is the Anniversary of the Election (1316) in Summum Pontificem of Jacques d'Euse of Cahors. The Roman See had been vacant for well over two years; indeed, in less than a century after 1316, the Universal Church was to find herself with no fewer than three claimants to the papal throne. Our own is not the first historical period in which the Roman See has provided as many ecclesiological problems as she solved!

John XXII has been seen as dodgy because of a particular view he held concerning the beatific vision. But it would be more positive to regard him as the Father of Counter-Reformation piety and devotion. He was a combination of reformer and innovator. His initiatives were rarely wholly new, but he consolidated and gave a new face to medieval dvotion. It was he who ordered the observance of Trinity Sunday; and the ringing of what came to be regarded as the evening Angelus. He prescribed the bowing of the head at the Names of both Jesus and Mary; the use of the prayer Anima Christi (of which he has been suspected of being the author). He promoted literati and encouraged the study of Greek and Hebrew.

He is also the immediate Begetter of the cult of the Blessed Sacrament which has been such a wonderful divine gift to the Latin Church. Forget stuff you may have read about the Bull Transiturus of Pope Urban IV (1264); this seems to have been ignored even in the papal capella itself! It may have been repromulgated at the Fifteenth Ecumenical Council, summoned to Vienne in 1311 by Clement V, after whose death in 1314 it was incorporated in the collection of decretals called the Clementines. John XXII was the next pope; in 1317 he promulgated the festival of Corpus Christi to the Universal Church, after which it spread rapidly. 

Observances which Transiturus had not envisaged inluded processions of the Most Holy in a monstrance; but in the years after 1317 sumptuous monstrances  appeared in great numbers throughout the West. They did not at first resemble the 'Rays of the Sun' baroque monstrances with which we are familiar; they tended to be immensely heavy iocalia which needed be carried, resting upon a feretrum, by several people.

Hitherto, the devotion of Latin Christendom had tended to regard the Blessed Sacrament as a Relic of the dead Body of the Lord; thanks to the revolution over which John XXII presided, we came better to understand It as the Living Body of the Living Christ; hence, as the locus for a direct, lived, relationship between believer and Lord. In such a context, the need was felt for vessels in which the Host could be placed and could be seen, worshipped, and prayed to, exposed within a cylinder of glass or crystal or behind a small window.

Thank God for John XXII! And for the Avignon Papacy!


Albrecht von Brandenburg said...

Yes, but the Avignon Papacy went on for too long.


P.S.: If you could remember my special intention re a certain lady in your Memento of the Living ...

Ray Kinsella said...

Remarkable article...and so relevant to our own time when an understanding of the cosmic Christ in the holy Eucharist has been subverted. One wonders whether Pope John XX111 took his illustrious predecessor as an exemplar..
Thank you so much for that.

Mosella said...

- “But it would be more positive to regard him as the Father of Counter-Reformation piety and devotion.”

It might also be more positive to regard John XXII as one of the fathers of the famed wines of Chateauneuf-du-Pape! In the Rhone Valley north of Avignon, amid the 14th century ruins of John XXII’s summer papal residence, a rolling landscape of flat pebbles, both little and large to hold water and warmth, contains grapevines from what could be called by some a holy heritage. It’s a gentle site to see, standing yet in contrast to the harsh temporal life left to us in history of the early Avignon popes, who first recognized the potential in this territory’s terroir, and who proceeded to produce wine from its vines which was coveted in the great courts of Europe.

The Fédération des syndicats de producteurs de Châteauneuf-du-Pape informs: “According to the archives of the Apostolic Chamber, the total number of grapevines at Châteauneuf was estimated to be more than three million in 1334. This represents 600 to 800 ha of vineyards. Under John XXII, the wines of this area Orders renewed each year until reaching over three thousand liters per year. During the festivities the wine was served to ambassadors and other representatives of foreign courts and soon afterwards even shipped in barrels to Italy, Germany and Britain.”

The heritage of the Avignon popes’ excellent wine is easily recognized today through a Chateauneuf-du-Pape’s wine bottle label depicting the insignia of the papacy. Quoting Fr. Hunwicke: “Thank God for John XXII! And for the Avignon Papacy!”

Simon Cotton said...

John was not just a theologian, but a considerable administrator. Many thought that Catharism had disappeared after the fall of Montsegur in 1243. Not so. As a native of Cahors, John was well aware that it was more than clinging on in some areas. We know of its persistence in some places, e.g. Montaillou, in the 1300s (Rene Weis's book 'The Yellow Cross' is the most accessible source). John created many more bishoprics to improve surveillance, notably by subdividing the large archdiocese of Toulouse in 1317-8, which accounts for many of the former cathedrals that you can see today in that area of Southern France, e.g. Rieux, Lombez, Condom, Mirepoix, Saint Papoul, Saint Pons, Castres, Vabres etc.

John Patrick said...

Glad to hear Pope John XXII in spite of dodgy views redeemed himself by promoting the devotion to the Blessed Sacrament.

If only a certain modern day Pontiff with dodgy views could so redeem himself.

Albrecht von Brandenburg said...

Yes, all on all JXXII was a good pope - shame about his error, of which he thankfully repented.