The Babylonian Captivity of the Papacy by R. Scott Clark | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.
Yesterday I read the next main article on the theme of this month’s Tabletalk. It carries the above title, treating the chaos and confusion that reigned in the papacy of the Western church in the 14th century.
R.Scott Clark, professor of church history and historical theology at Westminster Seminary (West-CA), sees this as a teaching lesson to show that Rome’s contention of a clear succession of popes from Peter to the present day is invalid, as well as unbiblical.
I believe you will profit from knowing this side of the church’s history during this century. You will find Clark’s full article at the Ligonier link above. Here is a portion of it to get you started.
Like Christians during the Avignon crisis, we live in an age when authority and order seem to be dissolving before our eyes. Some Christians, who are sensitive to these cultural shifts and to their effect upon evangelical churches, see the problems reflected in liturgical changes and general spiritual and ethical chaos. They are thus attracted to Rome on the basis of her claim to continuity with the past, ostensible unity, and stability.
The Avignon crisis is just one of many examples from the history of the medieval church that illustrate the futility of seeking continuity, unity, and stability where they have never existed. The historical truth is that the Roman communion is not an ancient church. She is a medieval church who consolidated her theology, piety, and practice during a twenty-year-long council in the sixteenth century (Trent). Her rituals, sacraments, canon law, and papacy are medieval. The unity and stability offered by Roman apologists are illusions—unless mutual and universal excommunication and attempted murder count as unity and stability. Crushing opponents and rewriting history to suit present needs is not unity. It is mythology.
Roman apologists sometimes seek to vindicate the Roman popes, as distinct from the Avignon popes and the Pisan popes, by describing the Avignon popes as if they were less fit for office than the former. That is, to put it mildly, a strange argument. If popes are as popes do, then we may shorten the list of popes quite radically. On that principle, Rome had no pope from 1471 to 1503, and arguably beyond. In that period, Sixtus IV (reigned 1471-84), in an attempt to raise funds, extended plenary indulgences to the dead. Innocent VIII (reigned 1484-92) fathered sixteen illegitimate sons, of whom he acknowledged eight. Alexander VI (reigned 1492-1503) fathered twelve children, openly kept mistresses in the Vatican, made his son Cesare a cardinal, and tried to ensure Cesare’s ascension to the papacy. Alexander’s daughter Lucretia has been alleged to be a notorious poisoner. We have not even considered Julius II (reigned 1503-13), who took up the sword and was so busy conducting military campaigns to improve papal control over the peninsula that he conducted Mass while wearing armor.
The existence of simultaneous popes in Rome, Avignon, and Pisa, each elected by papal electors and some later arbitrarily designated as antipopes, illustrates the problem of the notion of an unbroken Petrine succession. The post-Avignon papacy is an orphan who has no idea who his father was in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.