Three men claimed to be pope in the 1300s and 1400s. Kings, princes, priests, and laypeople fought one another to support the different claimants for the Chair of Peter. This chaos led to the Western Schism, and God raised up Vincent Ferrer.
When Vincent joined the Dominicans, he zealously practiced penance, study, and prayer. He was a teacher of philosophy and a naturally gifted preacher called the “mouthpiece of God.” His saintly life was what made his preaching so effective. Vincent’s subjects were judgment, heaven, hell, and the need for repentance.
Even the holiest people can be misled. Pope Urban VI was the real pope and lived in Rome, but Vincent and many others thought that Clement VII and his successor Benedict XIII, who lived in Avignon, France, were the true popes. Vincent convinced kings, princes, clergy, and almost all of Spain to give loyalty to them. After Clement VII died, Vincent tried to get both Benedict and the pope in Rome to abdicate so that a new election could be held. It hurt Vincent when Benedict refused.
Vincent came to see the error in Benedict’s claim to the papacy. Discouraged and ill, Vincent begged Christ to show him the truth. In a vision, he saw Jesus with Saint Dominic and Saint Francis, commanding him to “go through the world preaching Christ.” For the next 20 years, Vincent spread the Good News throughout Europe. He fasted, preached, worked miracles, and drew many people to become faithful Christians. Vincent returned to Benedict in Avignon and asked him to resign. Benedict refused. One day while Benedict was presiding over an enormous assembly, Vincent, though close to death, mounted the pulpit and denounced him as the false pope. He encouraged everyone to be faithful to the one, true Catholic Church in Rome. Benedict fled, knowing his supporters had deserted him. Later, the Council of Constance met to end the Western Schism.
Have the students research the popes of the Western Schism. The popes at the time of the Council of Constance (1414) were Benedict XIII (antipope), Gregory XII (pope), and John XXIII (antipope). Point out that John XXIII, who was pope from 1958 to 1963, took his name to fill up the vacancy left by an antipope.
Remind the students to pray for the current pope.
Excerpted from Christ Our Life, by Sisters of Notre Dame of Chardon, Ohio
Image credit: Vincent Ferrer by Giovanni Bellini, 1465. Public Domain via Wikimedia.