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  • Wayne Howard

Papal Rome - PART II

In the last section, we talked about the years leading up to 538 AD, and why 538 AD was the year that the papacy officially became a world political power, not just a religious power. Now we will take a look at the Catholic Church and how they became a dominant force in the religious world, and how people began to get fed up with them years later, leading to the Protestant Reformation.

Pope Gregory the Great

Pope Gregory I (590-604) was the next pope to be referred to as “the Great.” He came from a rich and well-established Roman family, with strong connections to the papacy, being descended from Felix III (481-492) and possibly also related to Agapetus I, who had been traveling with Vigilius in Constantinople when he died and left Vigilius contesting the throne with Silverius. Gregory was originally more drawn to a civil career than one in the church. He had become prefect of the City of Rome by 573, still in his early 30s, but that year his father died and his life took a new direction. He resigned all of his civic duties and had his family palace on Caelian Hill converted to a Benedictine monastery and founded six others on his family estates in Sicily, then entered himself as a simple brother. Monasticism was still relatively new in Italy, but had long been a part of religious life in the East. It was brought to the West by St. Benedict less than 50 years earlier, to the town of Monte Cassino in Italy. There was something to be said about being able to spend one's life in manual labor, quiet contemplation, and prayer. He spend three years in his monastery before Pope Benedict I nominated him to be a deacon in charge of one of Rome's seven ecclesiastical districts, where he would be responsible for local administrative duties and taking care of the poor. Then, in 580, Benedict's successor, Pelagius II, sent him to Constantinople in the vain hope of talking the emperor into sending an army against the Lombards, who were invading Italy. He spent the next five years in Constantinople, learning the ways of the Byzantine court, but absolutely refusing to learn Greek. He didn't trust anything Greek, including the language.

On his return to Rome in 585, Gregory returned to his monastery, where he spent the next five years, until Pelagius II died of the plague. Gregory was the obvious choice to be the next pope, but he was not happy about it. He accepted the post reluctantly. Rome was in bad shape. It had suffered floods, pestilence, and famine, and the Lombards were virtually at the gates of Rome. He soon found that his new duties as pope weren't much different than when he'd been prefect of Rome. The city was swamped with refugees, including 3,000 nuns who had fled from the Lombards. He started by working to get grain from Sicily. Unfortunately, the governor of Ravenna, a Byzantine exarch, was insanely jealous of papal power, and he did everything he could to get in the way and make Gregory's job harder than it needed to be. He refused to even lift a finger to help, which meant that Gregory found himself also acting as civil and military governor of central Italy, organizing supplies and directing troop movements, as well as paying wages, and sometimes bribing their enemies not to attack, even if it meant taking the money from Church funds.

If you were wondering where the Church was able to get so much money that Gregory was able to pull from its funds to pay for so many things, the Church actually owned a vast amount of land through western Europe and even a limited amount in North Africa, which was referred to as the Patrimony of Peter. The Church had been accumulating land for centuries. Much of it was due to endowments or donations over the years, but more recently, it was because the former land owners were determined to keep the land from falling into barbarian hands. Until it came into Gregory's hands, no one had really been able to manage it very efficiently. Gregory divided it up into fifteen sections, each to be administered by a rector who was personally appointed by the pope. Within each section, the rector was all-powerful, responsible for collecting rent, transport and sale of produce, and rendering exact accounts, and also for all charitable institutions and maintenance of all churches and monasteries in the region.

This reorganization meant he also needed to develop the papal chancery. When Gregory took power, it had been in the control of 19 deacons. Not only did Gregory swell those numbers several times over, he created new ranks of subdeacons, notaries, treasurers, and senior executive officers. He used this group to keep in touch with, and keep control of, the several hundred bishops under his command, some of whom did not want to accept papal authority. The new chancery was also in charge of diplomatic foreign relations, above all, with the Byzantine Empire, who was still giving Rome problems.

Gregory was also very interested in missionary work. His primary interest was with Visigothic Spain, Frankish Gaul, and Anglo-Saxon Britain. The Spanish king was not difficult to convince. He converted on his own, with only a little help from the Bishop of Seville, from Arianism to Catholicism. Most of the Spanish were Roman and already Catholic, so only a few nobles needed to convert from Arianism. In Gaul, the Frankish king, Clovis I, had already been baptized as a Catholic, but Frankish Gaul was chaotic, with several states warring against one another, and plotting for position within the Church hierarchy. Gregory did the best he could to restore some order, but he only had one ally, Queen Brunhilde, and she was just as violent as everyone else in that kingdom. He was most interested, however, in the island of Britain. He had to compete against Celtic missionaries there, who had a different view of things than the Orthodox church, including how they calculated the date for Easter. Around 596, about forty monks, under the leadership of Augustine, were dispatched to the British Isles. They arrived in the spring of 597, and a few months later, had managed to convince the king and most of his court, and they accepted baptism. Augustine also established a monastery at Canterbury while he was there, dedicated to Peter and Paul, but it eventually became known as St. Augustine's.

While Gregory's administrative genius laid the groundwork for what would eventually become the Papal State, Gregory was not a man who was interested in worldly glory. He referred to himself as servus servorum Dei, the Servant of the Servants of God. He had always intended for the Patrimony of Peter to be used for a huge charitable fund, at the immediate disposal of the Church for the benefit of the poor. Daily, he shared his table with twelve paupers. He was a monk at heart, completely unspoiled by power. Upon his death in 604, the people immediately demanded that he be made a saint, and eventually he became known as Gregory the Great.

A New Force Comes on the Scene

In 622, the Prophet Muhammed fled Mecca and moved to the city of Medina. Soon after, the Arabs and Muslims suddenly burst onto the scene. They began to take over the east, including three of the five patriarchate cities: Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem. They also turned west, conquering areas of North Africa, and also northern Europe, ending near Tours, France. Rome was not only continuing to face the threat of the Lombards, but now it had to be concerned with this new group of people. The Byzantines were constantly faced with this new threat, but were still able to hold onto Constantinople.

At one point, on Christmas Day, 800 AD, Pope Leo III crowned Charles Martel, a Frank, who then became Charlemagne, as the new Roman Emperor. He never would have attempted something like this if there had been a male emperor in Constantinople, but at that point in time, Constantinople was under the rule of a female, Irene, widow of Emperor Leo IV, and she was acting as regent for her 17-year old son. She wasn't showing any signs of stepping down as ruler, and the people of Constantinople had no desire to send her away, and they weren't happy with the new turn of events, especially when Charlemagne made an offer of marriage to Irene, and Irene looked as though she would accept. They had Irene put to death, and elected a new man to be emperor. After all, they would never trust a Frank, a barbarian, to be emperor of all East and West. That wouldn't be acceptable. Over the next several centuries, corruption bloomed in the papacy. Popes elected emperors, emperors elected popes, popes were murdered or put in jail, and new ones put in place, and emperors were murdered, and new ones crowned, and the rift between Rome and Constantinople continued to grow wider as neither side was willing to accede to the supremacy of the other.

It wasn't until April 13, 1059, that papal elections began to be done the way they are today. Pope Nicholas had secured military support from the Normans, the Romans were in disarray, and there was a child on the German throne, so it was the perfect time to shake things up and remove the power that the Roman aristocracy had over papal elections. At a synod held at the Lateran palace, Pope Nicholas decreed that the responsibility for electing a new pope will rest with the cardinals, or senior clergy in Rome. In short, the Church would now be taking care of its own affairs, and no longer would need to answer to the Roman aristocracy or the Empire. This did not stop them for fighting, however. The cardinals would elect a pope, and the emperors would elect a separate pope, a pope and antipope, if you will. These two separate popes would exist simultaneously, in a struggle for ultimate supremacy. It was still quite some time before the current model of papal election would be fully adopted. Pope Alexander III decreed at the Third Lateran Council in 1179 that the right to elect a new pope was restricted to the College of Cardinals, with a two-thirds majority required before any candidate could be elected, which was necessary after the disaster of his own election nearly 30 years prior, practically being wrestled to the floor for the vestments that he had just been elected to take, and the years of exile and war that followed because of that man. The election process had become too confusing and needed to nailed down into law.

The First Crusade

In 1094, Urban II was on the papal throne. It was his desire to improve relations with Byzantium for the purpose of church unity, as well as maintain the image of papal supremacy. He sent an embassy to Constantinople to invite Emperor Alexius Comnensus I to send representatives to a great Council of the Roman Church to be held in Piacenza the following March. He accepted at once. He hoped he would be able to appeal for Western aid against the Turks, who had invaded 25 years earlier. He believed they could be driven out by a military expedition on a considerable scale. The spokesmen he chose to attend the Council did well. They laid out the suffering of the Christian communities in the East, the wave of Islamic people taking over the region, the enemy armies at the gates of Constantinople. This took hold of Pope Urban's imagination. His scheme began to take shape. It would require nothing less than a holy war, the combined forces of Christian Europe, to go up against this threat. He called another Council in France, where he once again repeated the points made by the delegates from Constantinople, then changed direction slightly, bringing up the plight of Jerusalem, where Christian pilgrims were being robbed and persecuted by the city's Turkish overlords. He proclaimed that it was the duty of the Christian West to march to the aid of the Christian East. All who agreed to do so, out of devotion, not out of hope for honor or gain, were told they would die absolved, their sins remitted.

I should probably take a moment to point out that by claiming that their sins would be absolved if they did this thing, the pope was committing blasphemy. Blasphemy isn't using bad language. It's claiming to be God, and to have the power of God, including claiming to forgive sins. Not to mention, Habakkuk 2:4 tells us, “See, the enemy is puffed up; his desires are not upright—but the righteous person will live by his faithfulness.” We are given the same message in the New Testament many times. Romans 1:17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” Also, Galatians 3:11 “Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because “the righteous will live by faith.” And again, Hebrews 10:38 “But my righteous one will live by faith. And I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back.” If we have righteousness by faith, our works, and certainly not going to war, will not absolve us of our sins. Only turning to Jesus and developing a relationship with Him will do that. One of the stories in the Bible about Jesus healing a paralyzed man also comes to mind. In Matthew 9:1-8, it describes this idea. “Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town. Some men brought to him a paralyzed man, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.”At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, “This fellow is blaspheming!”Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” Then the man got up and went home. When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to man.” I bring this up to point out that this paralyzed man did NOTHING to earn Jesus' forgiveness. We don't need to do anything, except have faith in Jesus, which comes from developing a relationship with Him. Jesus did not tell this man or his relatives to do anything before he would forgive or heal his paralysis. Yet, the so-called Vicar of Christ told this crowd of Christians that they would be absolved of their sins only if they went out and murdered those Muslims and Jews. This is NOT Jesus' way. You might wonder why the people didn't realize this, just like I do. Keep in mind that most of these people were functionally illiterate barbarians. They did not have access to their own Bibles. They had to rely on their spiritual leaders to teach them. It was easy for the church leaders to become corrupt and coerce their followers to do what they wanted them to.

By August 1096, several hundred people, including priests, monks, nobility, and peasants, knelt before his throne and pledged themselves to take the Cross. The First Crusade was under way. They smashed the Turks at Dorylaeum in Anatolia in July 1097; Antioch fell to the Crusaders in June 1098; in July 1099, they battered their way into Jerusalem, slaughtered all the Muslims in the city, and burned all the Jews alive in the main synagogue. But before the reports could reach Rome of their victory, Pope Urban had died.

The Second Crusade

Shortly after the First Crusade came to a close, in 1098, a Christian state was set up along the Euphrates river, by the name of Edessa. It remained semi-independent until suddenly, on Christmas Eve 1144, it was conquered by an Arab army. The news of its fall horrified all Christendom. Something had to be done. There was only one clear choice for someone to lead the Crusade, and that was King Louis VII of France. One year later, on Christmas day 1145, he announced to his vassals that he intended to take the Cross. St. Bernard called on the masses, and they came and pledged to take the Cross as well. Unfortunately for the Church, this Crusade did not go well. They headed out in late July 1148. They started out by attacking Damascus, and ended up driving it into the hands of their enemies. Shortly after, they lost their nerve. They were only on the campaign for five days when they called the order to retreat. They were attempting to cross the desert in the dead of summer, camping on the side of the wall that held no shade or water, and their men and horses were quickly dying off. It was humiliating, to say the least. They did not regain even an inch of Muslim soil, and their losses were immense.

Arnold of Brescia

Arnold of Brescia was making problems for the Church before the Second Crusade was called. He was an Augustinian monk from Lombardy who had been educated at Notre Dame in Paris, most likely under Peter Abelard, a famous theologian and poet, who is most well known for his love affair with Heloise, but was a brilliant thinker in his own right. He believed in the power of logic and ethics and having a sense of moral responsibility, and he passed those beliefs on to Arnold. Arnold not only believed strongly in logic and rational inquiry, which the Church would already take issue with, but he also held a passionate hatred for the temporal power of the Church. To him, Church and state should be separate. The civil law, based on the laws of ancient Rome, must prevail over the canon and the pope should rid himself of all worldly pomp, renounce his power and privilege, and revert to the poverty and simplicity of the early Fathers. Only then would the Church be able to relate to the humble masses of its flock. He denounced the cardinals, saying they “were beset with pride, avarice, hypocrisy, and shame, and that they were not the Church of God, but a house of commerce and a den of thieves. He said that the pope himself was not a shepherd of souls, but a man of blood who maintained his authority by fire and sword, a tormentor of churches and oppressor of the innocent whose only actions were for the gratification of his lust and for the emptying of other men's coffers in order that his own might be filled.” The truth was, Pope Eugenius, who called for the Second Crusade, was actually a good man. He was a former monk himself, and throughout his reign as pope, he continued to wear the course white robe of a Cistercian monk underneath the pontifical garments. Arnold (and his former teacher Abelard) had already been condemned by 1140, 5 years before the need for the Second Crusade had been announced. They were exiled from France, but by 1146, Arnold had made his way to Rome, and found support from the Roman Senate. Eugenius may have actually been sympathetic to Arnold, despite the awful things Arnold said about him as the pope. While Arnold was in Rome, Eugenius lifted his sentence of excommunication and ordered him to live a life of repentance. Eugenius went off to France and Germany to call together the masses to go off on the Second Crusade and was received there with every possible honor. It was only in Rome, where Arnold had become, for all intents and purposes, the master of the city, that Eugenius was reviled. After returning to Italy and finding Arnold just as bad as before, he renewed his sentence of excommunication. After the death of Pope Eugenius, his successor only lasted 18 months, at which point an English man was named the new Pope, taking the name Hadrian IV. Arnold continued to make problems for Hadrian, keeping Hadrian confined to a small section of the city. Hadrian needed to get Arnold out. In order to flush him out, he made a bold move, closing all churches in Rome, forbidding any sacraments to be given, with the exception only for infant baptism and absolution of the dying. No Masses were given, no weddings, not even any burials on consecrated lands. Easter was fast approaching and if the Church would not open back up, the city would lose a lot of money from the pilgrimages to Rome that usually took place at that time. Arnold and his followers were expelled from Rome, and Rome was reopened just in time to give Mass on Easter Sunday. We are not told when or where Arnold's end came, but we are told that he was condemned by a Church tribunal for heresy and rebellion, and that he walked calmly to the gallows without a trace of fear, and as he knelt to take his last confession, even his executioners were in tears. They hanged him nonetheless, then burned his body, and so that no relic could remain for veneration by the people, they threw his ashes into the Tiber River.

The Third Crusade

In 1187, Jerusalem fell once again to a Muslim leader named Saladin. The responsibility to coordinate the next Crusade belonged to Pope Clement III. He arranged for three kings to lead the charge: Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa, Richard I “the Lionhearted” of England, and Philip II of France. This campaign was slightly more successful than the Second Crusade, but not by much. A few territories were conquered, but by the time they reached Jerusalem, Frederick had drowned and they no longer had sufficient men or resources to go up against Saladin's army, although they were able to negotiate access to Jerusalem for pilgrims, and a Christian foothold to be maintained in the Middle East. Another Crusade was going to have to be planned to regain Jerusalem.

The Fourth Crusade

The Fourth Crusade was called in 1198, again with the intent to free Jerusalem from Muslim control, and to fund the campaign, Pope Innocent III called for a tax of 2.5% on clerical incomes. However, when the Crusaders gathered in 1202, they were unable to pay the agreed-upon fee of 84,000 silver marks to transport the army across the Mediterranean. The Venetians, therefore, refused to sail them across unless the Crusaders helped them to recapture the city of Zara on the Dalmatian coast. The Crusaders agreed to this, sacked Zara, and attempted to divide the spoils between themselves and the Venetians, which instantly broke out in new fighting among themselves. Once things settled down, they needed to wait out the winter in the city. When news of what happened reached the pope, he was livid. He retaliated by excommunicating the entire expedition, but eventually reconsidered and left the punishment to the Venetians only. In the meantime, while they were waiting for the winter to pass, Duke Philip of Suevia arrived with an interesting proposal. He asked the Crusaders to escort his brother-in-law, Alexius, to Constantinople and enthrone him there in place of the present usurper. In exchange, Alexius would finance its future advance and supply an additional army of ten thousand, and would also heal the schism between Rome and Constantinople by submitting the Byzantine church to the authority of Rome. This was too good an offer to pass up, but had unintended consequences. Wearing the Cross of Christ on their shoulders, the Crusaders sacked Constantinople, nearly destroying the most vital Christian outpost in the East, and leaving on the throne a series of illiterate Frankish thugs for the next 57 years. Byzantium was to survive for almost 200 years more, but it never quite recovered from this episode, only returning to a shadow of its former self.

The Albigensian Crusade

The Albigensians were a heretical Christian sect that first appeared in the Languedoc, around the beginning of the eleventh century, and spread out from there, even coming to Western Europe. They were very black and white about good and evil. The spiritual God was good and all things material were of the Devil, and therefore evil, including food. They nearly starved themselves. Their leaders abstained from meat and sex. They rejected much of what the Catholic Church promoted, like saints, relics, holy images, and the sacraments, particularly marriage and baptism, and the Pope Innocent didn't like that they flew in the face of Catholicism, so he decided to send a group of missionaries to them, in hopes of getting them to convert. Unfortunately, one of the missionaries was murdered, and Innocent decided to call a Crusade against them in 1209 that lasted 20 years, and contributed to the massacre of countless heretics, sometimes destroying whole towns, and yet still didn't wipe out the heresy. It would be another hundred years before the Inquisition began that would finally rid the world of that sect.

The Fifth Crusade

The Fifth Crusade was another disaster. It was also called by Innocent III, but he died before it could get under way. His successor, Honorius III picked up where he left off. The intent was still to regain Jerusalem, but they decided to try a new and roundabout way to do this. For whatever reason, they felt it would be easier to capture the Egyptian city of Damietta, and then later exchange it for Jerusalem. The Crusaders left in 1218, laid siege to Damietta for seventeen months, at which point the Muslim ruler at Damietta offered to give them the Kingdom of Jerusalem if they would leave Damietta alone, but for some reason, they decided to refuse the offer and continued to besiege the city, which fell to them in November 1219. The war continued another couple of years, as the Crusaders had decided they'd like to take the whole of Egypt, but their greed got the better of them. They became trapped when the Nile flooded and were only able to escape by surrender and they were forced to walk away empty-handed.

Pope Honorius was pretty angry. He laid most of the blame at the feet of Frederick II, the Roman Emperor. Frederick had pledged to take the Cross and was supposed to lead the Fifth Crusade, but had delayed his leaving so that he was too late to join. Had he been in charge, it likely would have turned out very differently, in the Church's favor. It is interesting that Frederick ever pledged to take the cross in the first place. He was raised with Muslim tutors and could speak fluent Arabic. He was accepting and curious about Islam. It is likely because of this that he had delayed leaving Germany for the Fifth Crusade. And now Honorius was dead set on a sixth crusade and he was determined that Frederick WOULD lead this one.

The Sixth Crusade

Honorius died in 1227 and the next crusade didn't began until 1228. The new pope, Gregory IX, threatened Frederick with excommunication if he delayed any further on starting the crusade. Unfortunately, an epidemic broke out that August among the Crusader camps. Quite a few people died, including some of the leaders. Frederick also got sick and was forced to delay his departure. He sent messengers to explain the situation to the pope, but instead of being sympathetic, the pope was furious. He felt that Frederick should have seen all of that coming, and he couldn't even be sure that Frederick truly was sick, so he promptly excommunicated him. And even though this meant Frederick was no longer to be allowed to lead a Crusade, Frederick was undeterred. He had a plan for regaining Jerusalem without needing to fight. As soon as he was well again, he was back on his way. Some months before, he had received an appeal from the Sultan al-Kamil in Cairo, asking for help with his brother al-Mu'azzam, who was governor of Damascus. If Frederick could drive al-Mu'azzam away from Damascus, then al-Kamil would be in a position to hand Jerusalem over to the Christians. By the time the Crusaders arrived, al-Mu'azzam had died of natural causes, but Frederick decided to talk to al-Kamil anyway, to see if they could resolve everything peacefully. In fact, al-Kamil was willing to work with him, and handed Jerusalem over, with a ten-year treaty that laid out certain conditions that would allow the Muslims and their sacred buildings to remain intact, and would give the Christians not only the city, but also a clear passage in and out that would be safe from attack. Despite getting what they had been trying for, the pope was angry because Frederick had disobeyed his excommunication order that should have prevented him from leading the Crusade, and then Frederick had ignored it even further, going to mass at the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem after being allowed entrance into the city. It was even worse, to the Christians in Jerusalem, that Frederick also expressed curiosity and interest in every Muslim he came across, wanting to know more about them and their religion. However, once he was back in southern Italy, he was welcomed as a hero, except from the pope. On his return, he had to fight the pope's armies. The pope had started a rumor that the emperor (Frederick) was dead and had tried to instate a new emperor. The kingdom was in chaos, but on Frederick's return, he was able to push the pope's army out. Eventually, Pope Gregory lifted the excommunication from Frederick, and they formed a shaky truce.

Two final Crusades were led by King Louix IX of France, from 1248-1254 and 1270, respectively. These last two Crusades were in an attempt to get Jerusalem back from Muslim hands once again, using the same tactics as in the Fifth Crusade, going after Egypt first, and both had roughly the same results as the Fifth as well.


The Inquisition was technically a powerful office within the organization of the Catholic Church whose job it was to root out and punish heresy throughout Europe and, later, the Americas. It became official in 1231 when Pope Gregory IX charged the Dominican and Franciscan Orders with tracking down heretics. It unofficially started, however, in 1184 when Pope Lucius III sent bishops to deal with the Albigensians, and also, around the same time, another group called the Waldensians, attempting to wipe them out.

When an Inquisitor arrived in a new town, he would announce his presence. This gave the citizens the opportunity to come forward and admit to heresy. Anyone who confessed to heresy was given a punishment, which ranged from anywhere to being forced to go on a pilgrimage, to a whipping. If someone was accused of heresy, they were forced to testify. They were not allowed to face their accuser, they were given no counsel, and were often the victim of false accusations. If the accused refused to confess to heresy, they were automatically put to torture and eventually executed. There were countless abuses of power. Count Raymond VII of Toulouse was known for burning heretics at the stake, even if they confessed. His successor, Count Alphonese, confiscated the lands of the accused to increase his own wealth.

Knights Templar

The Knights Templar were one group who were treated particularly bad as a result of the Inquisition. The Knights Templar was founded around 1119 as a branch of the Cistercian monks and given papal recognition in 1129 as a Catholic medieval military order whose members combined martial prowess with a monastic life for the purpose of defending Christian holy sites and pilgrims in the Middle East and elsewhere. Their headquarters were in Jerusalem and, later, the town of Acre. They were allowed to fight as monks because the religious doctrine did not forbid fighting, as long as it was for a just cause, and the Crusades and defense of pilgrims and the Holy Land were considered exactly that. The order grew thanks to donations from supporters who recognized their importance. People, from the humble to the rich, gave what they could to ensure both a better afterlife, and a better life in the here and now. Donations came in many forms, including money, horses, land, military equipment, and food. The Templars invested their money, buying properties that could increase their revenue, like farms, vineyards, mills, churches, and townships. They were also able to take booty from conquered lands. All of this was wise, because their expenses were considerable, with regular maintenance of their soldiers, equipment, horses, and lands. Military expeditions also resulted in loss of men, animals, and sometimes properties. They not only took care of their own, but they gave tithes to the church, and helped the poor, giving one tenth of all bread produced as alms to the poor.

The Templars weren't just good at investing. They became very good at banking. Their communities were considered a very safe place to bring and store cash, jewels, and important documents. They began to offer loans which gained interest for them. They started what was likely the earliest form of a checking account, allowing people to deposit money in one convent, and, with a letter of proof of their deposit, withdraw money from a completely separate convent.

Upon entering the order, knights took certain vows. They were to obey the Grand Master (the head of the order), they must attend church services, they were to remain celibate, and stay away from worldly pleasures. Their vows were very similar to those that any monk would take, without the restriction of always remaining inside their communal accomodation. They wore a uniform of a white tunic with a red cross on the breast and a simple cord for a belt.

Out of jealousy, possibly, or maybe out of fear that they were getting too powerful, rumors started to circulate that the Templars were becoming corrupt. In all the countries they operated in, they were most powerful in France, and this had King Philip more than a little concerned. Plus, Philip had serious financial problems and was indebted to the Templars. He'd already done away with all of the Jewish and Lombard bankers. If he could also do something about the Templars, he could seize their wealth and his financial problems would be over. He began to seed new rumors about the Templars, that they were actually Satanist, and held secret meetings, worshiping an idol they had named Baphomet, that in their initiation as a new member, they denied Christ as their Savior and trampled the Crucifix. They were said to be required to have ritual sex with one another, and that any illegitimate children they may have fathered were disposed of, often roasted alive. In short, they made the Templars look REALLY BAD! Philip even paid a few people off to act as witnesses to give the evidence required. On Friday the 13th of October, 1307, the grand master of the Temple, Jacques de Molay, was arrested in Paris, along with sixty of his brethren, and were put to torture to force them to confess, many of whom then did, just to get the torture to end, but when cardinals were sent by the pope to investigate what was going on, they denied the charges that had been laid against them, displaying for those cardinals the evidence on their bodies of the torture they'd endured. However, Philip had their confessions on paper, and that was enough to give the pope pause. More and more of the Knights were arrested and put to torture, in other countries besides France, on King Philip's encouragement. On April 11, 1310, the public trial of the Templars began. It was announced that anyone who attempted to retract a previous confession would be burned at the stake, and many of them were. The trial dragged on for another four years, at the end of which, the Grand Master himself was dragged out to a scaffold outside Notre Dame Cathedral, and was asked to publicly confess one last time, but knowing he was about to die, he had nothing else to lose and spoke loudly and clearly that, as God was his witness, he and his order were completely innocent of the charges for which they had been accused. That same night, they were rowed out to a small island and executed. Unfortunately for King Philip, his plan to seize all of the Templar holdings and become rich were destroyed when the pope issued a papal bull that requested that the assets of the Templars be dispersed among their brethren, the Knights Hospitallers. Somewhere close to 15,000 Knights Templar were killed during this time.


Despite his obvious financial deficiencies, King Philip was a very powerful man. France, at that time, was the most populated area in Europe, and he was the leader. Well before his decision to go after the Knights Templar, he was having issues with Pope Boniface VIII due to issues of taxation. In the process of writing up an excommunication for Philip, Philip's henchmen arrived and attacked Boniface and took him prisoner. Boniface never quite recovered from the shock of that attack and died a few weeks later. The next pope attempted to punish those involved in that attack, but died before anything could be done. After that, when the cardinals got together to elect the next pope, they reached an empasse. Half of the College of Cardinals were still really angry about what happened to Boniface. The other half were disgusted by Boniface himself and wanted to see an end with the long dispute with France. They were deadlocked trying to pick a candidate, and if they were ever going to elect someone, it would have to be someone from outside the College. They settled on the Archbishop of Bordeaux, who took the name Clement V. Being French, and formerly under the control of King Philip, it quickly became obvious that Philip still had a lot of control over him. He started by insisting that Clement be crowned in France, rather than doing it in Rome, so he went through his coronation ceremony in the city of Lyons. He had intended to eventually make his way to Rome, but he was very wrapped up with work in the missionary field and traveled a lot through France in the first several years of his papacy. His cardinals were all French but one. Philip put a great deal of pressure on him to stay in France, and in 1309, he decided to settle in the French city of Avignon. Although there was never any official transfer of the papal capital from Rome to Avignon, there the papacy would remain for the next 68 years, and each of the seven popes during that period were French. When they first settled in Avignon, it was a disgusting city to live. It smelled awful and was full of taverns and brothels. But they began to build mansions and palaces and turned it into a fabulous home for the pope and his cardinals, especially under Clement VI, who tended to be very flashy.

The Black Death

Bubonic plague arrived in Europe from 1347-1350. It was a horrible disease, arriving first at the port in Messina, Italy. When people gathered at the docks, they found that the ships were full of dead and dying people with black sores all over their bodies. They immediately sent the ship on its way, but it was too late. The plague had already spread. W know now that it was caused by a bacteria carried by the fleas who had been on infected rats, but was also spread by breathing the same air as an infected person. It acted fast, killing within a few days to a week. It managed to wipe out nearly 1/3 of the population. It found its way into Avignon in January 1348. By September, around 62,000 people had died. Clement VI was pope at that point. He very bravely stayed in the city, organizing efforts to remove the dead in carts and burying them outside the city. In the early days, he also held processions, singing litanies, before realizing that the processions were just contributing to the spread of the disease. He offered absolution to any who had confessed and happened to die of the disease. He retired to his own apartments and would see no one. He sat between two blazing fires, and in the summer, when this became impossible, he retired to his castle near Valence until autumn when he returned. The treatment worked. He survived. It wasn't until early December that the scourge seemed to slow.

No one knew back then what had caused the plague. It was terrifying, to say the least. They felt that it must be a punishment from God for some sin such as greed, blasphemy, heresy, fornication and worldliness. If this were the case, then to get rid of the disease, they'd need to get rid of the heretics, etc. The people needed a scapegoat, and they tended to turn against the Jews. They massacred Jews by the thousands. Never mind that the Jews had probably suffered worse from the plague than anyone else, because they were forced to live in the ghettos, where there were more rats and they had to live in closer contact with one another. To his credit, Pope Clement acted swiftly and condemned the massacres wherever they occurred, calling on Christians to conduct themselves with tolerance and restraint. Those who continued to victimize any Jew would be automatically excommunicated.

The plague came back early in 1361, leaving another 17,000 dead by summer, and came back every few generations. Today we are able to easily control it with simple antibiotics, but back then, it was devastating. Worldwide, it probably caused close to one million deaths.


Giovanni Boccaccio's Decameron was written between 1348 and 1358, approximately 30 years after Dante wrote his Divine Comedy. Despite admiring Dante's writing, Boccaccio has a very different style. Decameron is a collection of 100 stories, supposedly told over 10 days by a party of ten young people who had fled the Black Death in Florence. Among other things, it shows how cynical and disillusioned Boccaccio was with the clergy overall, not just the papacy. For example, one of his characters in the stories complains about fat friars, which the Franciscans had become, despite their vows of poverty and claims to lead a simple life. He points out the hypocrisy that the church leaders are barely bothering to cover up. This really bothers him. Another of his characters has a Jewish friend named Abraham. This character attempts to talk Abraham into converting to Christianity, but Abraham, being very wise, says he wants to see how the church leaders conduct themselves, so he decides to make a trip to Rome. The main character's heart sinks as he knows that once Abraham sees how the church leaders conduct themselves, he will never want to be a Christian, but as it turns out, when Abraham returns, he tells his friend that, certainly, the church leaders are awful, but that despite their bad example, Christianity has still spread, which means the Holy Spirit must be behind it, and he'd like to become a Christian, after all.

Authors tend to reflect the sentiment of the people around them. It is clear that people were not pleased with the way the Church was being led, and this becomes more clear as time passes and they move toward the Reformation.

Return to Rome

Clement VI's successor, Innocent VI, had his heart set on returning the papacy to Rome, and he started taking steps to make the transition back as smooth as possible. He sent one of his cardinals, Gil Alvarez Carrillo de Albornoz, to Rome to start reasserting papal authority in the city, by leading the opposition against the hostile aristocracy and winning over the masses to the papal cause. Albornoz was perfect for this job. He was more a general than a churchman and he rapidly subdued the despots and feudal lords who had taken over the papal states. One by one, the rebellious cities fell, and by 1364, the papal states were once again back under papal authority. In the meantime, the pope brought reform and order back to Avignon. Where Clement the VI was all about luxury and extravagance, Innocent VI was about order and discipline. He did away with abuses to power and overspending. Innocent did not get to see the return to Rome, but he laid the groundwork to make it easier for the next pope.

The next pope was Urban V. He had two major ambitions. He wanted to send a Crusade to stop the Turks at Constantinople and he wanted to return the papacy to Rome. The Crusade never made it off the ground, but he did get the ball rolling for the return to Rome. He announced to all his cardinals and all of the princes of Europe in June 1366 that the Papacy was leaving Avignon for Rome. He set the date for departure on April 30, 1367. The papal court, however, was horrified by this news. They had spent years building their homes and palaces and the city was no longer a smelly village, but a place they considered home. Now they would have to go back to Rome, which was a city in severe disrepair, where the people were hostile and malaria ran rampant. But the Holy Father had spoken, and they had to obey. They packed up all of their worldly goods, leaving only a small number of people in Avignon to carry on papal business until Rome was set to take over again. They arrived in the port of Corneto on June 5. Albornoz was waiting for them there and offered to have the pope remain as his guest in Viterbo while the Vatican was undergoing repairs. Neither it nor the Lateran palace were fit to live in at that point. So it wasn't until October 16, that the pope was first able to enter, with an armed guard of 2,000, the city of Rome. It had been 63 years since a pope had set foot in the city. While he was there, he began an ambitious plan to completely rebuild the Lateran, and repair the churches of Rome, nearly all of which were crumbling by then. His presence acted as a calming tonic to the people of Rome, feeling like there could finally be some stability, maybe even prosperity. His return was only to last three years, however. Because of a flare-up around a treaty that had brought peace in the midst of the Hundred-Years War between France and England, the war was back on. Rome was too far distant for the pope to have any effect, but he would be able to have more control from Avignon, and so, with heavy heart, he ordered the return to Avignon once more. He died a few months after his arrival.

The cardinals next chose a nephew of Clement VI, who took the name Gregory XI. They probably thought they would have no more talk of going back to Rome, since the last experiment failed, but Gregory felt that the true home of the Papacy was in Rome, and they really did need to go back. He announced in May 1372 that they would be returning, but for many reasons, some of them financial, some of them because of the war, and some because the emperors of Western Europe were strongly resistant, they did not leave until September 1376, and finally arrived on January 13, 1377. The papacy was back and would not leave Rome again.

Simultaneous Popes

Pope Gregory's health had never been good, and now that he was back in Rome, he was very aware that he would not live much longer. If the Papacy were going to remain in Rome, he knew that it would be best if his successor were Italian, who would then appoint Italian cardinals, and the French influence in the College of Cardinals would gradually be reduced. The people agreed. When he died in March 1378, the mobs were heard shouting outside that they would have a Roman, or at least an Italian as pope! Gregory was thus succeeded by Urban VI, a member of the working class of Naples who had worked his entire adult life in the papal chancery and was a quiet, efficient, and conscientious bureaucrat. Unexpectedly, from almost the moment that he was elected, he turned into a raging tyrant, hurling insults at the French cardinals, and even sometimes physically attacking them. The French cardinals slipped away to Anagni, where they made the claim that Urban was only elected due to threat of mob violence, and therefore was invalid, so he must abdicate at once. When no word was heard from Rome, they backed a little further away, to Naples, where Queen Joanna could protect them, and there declared that Urban was deposed and elected Robert of Geneva, who had succeeded Albornoz as the papal legate in Italy, who now took the name Clement VII. Robert of Geneva had already been a very violent man, so it's a bit of a surprise that he was chosen as the new pope. Queen Joanna openly supported the newly elected Clement, but the people of Naples preferred Urban, as he was one of their own. Urban had not stepped down from his chair in Rome, so Clement retreated to Avignon where much of the papal treasury and libraries were still housed. This was not quite the same as a pope and an antipope, since both popes were elected by the same group of cardinals.

The Church now had two competing popes, one in Rome, one in Avignon, which meant there would need to be two Colleges of Cardinals, two papal chanceries, and double the expenses. It was more than the Church could handle. Urban was the first to die, and if the Church would have just accepted Clement as his successor, they probably would have been fine, but Rome elected another man from Naples, who took the name Boniface IX. Clement and Boniface were put under a great deal of pressure, mostly from France, especially the University of Paris, to agree to a solution, wherein both popes would resign and open the way for a new conclave. Neither of the popes agreed to this, and Clement was still arguing the point when he died in September 1394. Avignon could have ended the schism right then, but they did the same as Rome had, and elected another pope, although the cardinals all agreed that whoever was elected, should a majority decision be made to that effect, would abdicate immediately. The new Avignon pope took the name Benedict XIII, and promptly changed his mind about abdicating if the need should ever arise. He felt that he was the rightful pontiff and that was that. He was determined to end the schism, but not by abdicating. He sent a proposal to Rome that the two pontiffs should meet, but Boniface was unwilling, and died not long after. Boniface's successor, Innocent VII also rejected proposals to meet, and also died not long after, and was succeeded by Gregory XII. Like Avignon before, the Roman cardinals also all agreed any of them, upon election, would immediately stand down in the case of either the death or abdication of Pope Benedict in Avignon. Gregory agreed to meet Benedict, but before the meeting was to take place, he changed his mind, and then also announced that he was no longer willing to abdicate under any circumstance.

Since the popes weren't willing to meet, the Colleges of Cardinals for each of them decided to come together to work out their differences. A General Council was to be held in Pisa on March 25, 1409. Both popes refused to attend, but there was a huge turnout of bishops, cardinals, and other delegates. The Council held 15 sessions over 10 weeks. Gregory and Benedict were condemned as “notorious schismatics and heretics,” (though there were many who questioned what heresy they had committed) and the two were formally deposed. The cardinals then formed a conclave and elected the Cardinal Archbishop of Milan who took the name Pope Alexander V. By calling the popes to the Council and then getting angry that they refused to attend, they basically implied that they were superior to the Papacy itself, which neither of the rival popes were willing to endorse, so they ignored their depositions, and the Church was now saddled with THREE simultaneous popes, not just two. But they were too proud to admit mistake, and when the new Pope Alexander died, they called conclave and elected another, Pope John XXIII.

The thing about John XXIII is, before he became pope, he had been a pirate, of all things. In those days, he had been known to seduce two hundred matrons, widows, and virgins, as well as an alarming number of nuns. After he became pope, things did not change. He sank the spiritual and moral level of the papacy to a new state of depravity it hadn't known in close to 500 years. In May 1415, he was arraigned before a General Council that would be held in Constance, a city north of the Alps. He was actually hoping to accomplish a great deal at this Council. There was certainly the question of his two rivals, Gregory and Benedict, and there was also an urgent need to look into the teachings of John Wycliffe of England and Jan Hus of Bohemia, two of the earliest reformers. He asked Sigismund of Luxembourg to back him politically. After some negotiations, all points were agreed upon, except that Sigismund be allowed to preside over the Council, although John didn't have a choice, really. He just wanted to be able to steer things in his direction, but with some misgivings, he gave in. The Council at Constance was very well attended, and Jan Hus even came in person, thinking that a letter he carried from Sigismund, would give him safe conduct. Unfortunately, Sigismund was much more interested in getting Hus and his teachings under control, and had him arrested immediately, and later, burned at the stake.

Pope John, on the other hand, fled from the Council, disguised as a stable boy. The mood had quickly turned against him, the Council wanted to put him on trial for his crimes, and he needed to get to safety. It didn't help. The Council called for his immediate abdication, tried him in his absence, and had him condemned under charges of piracy, murder, rape, sodomy, and incest. Sigismund sent soldiers out to find and arrest him, and he spent the next four years under the custody of Elector Ludwig III of Bavaria, from whom he purchased his freedom for a vast sum, then returned to Italy, where he found he was, surprisingly, forgiven for his past. He was given a bishopric and was awarded with a lavish tomb in the baptistery of Florence Cathedral.

Back in Constance, the Council had made the decision to depose John XXIII and Benedict XIII, both being 87 years old, and then requested that Gregory XII abdicate with honor, with the promise that he would rank second in the hierarchy, only under the new pope. He was approaching 90 years old, and only lived a couple years longer. Conclave was held once again, and this time, with the election of Pope Martin V in 1417, the schism was finally at an end.

In the next section, we will see how the people were disillusioned and desperately wanting reform within the church, and we'll get to know the early reformers.

Daniel 8:9-12

9 Out of one of them came another horn, which started small but grew in power to the south and to the east and toward the Beautiful Land. 10 It grew until it reached the host of the heavens, and it threw some of the starry host down to the earth and trampled on them. 11 It set itself up to be as great as the commander of the army of the LORD; it took away the daily sacrifice from the LORD, and his sanctuary was thrown down. 12 Because of rebellion, the LORD’s people and the daily sacrifice were given over to it. It prospered in everything it did, and truth was thrown to the ground.

Daniel 8:23-25

23 “In the latter part of their reign, when rebels have become completely wicked, a fierce-looking king, a master of intrigue, will arise. 24 He will become very strong, but not by his own power. He will cause astounding devastation and will succeed in whatever he does. He will destroy those who are mighty, the holy people. 25 He will cause deceit to prosper, and he will consider himself superior. When they feel secure, he will destroy many and take his stand against the Prince of princes. Yet he will be destroyed, but not by human power.

Daniel 7:7-8

7 “After that, in my vision at night I looked, and there before me was a fourth beast—terrifying and frightening and very powerful. It had large iron teeth; it crushed and devoured its victims and trampled underfoot whatever was left. It was different from all the former beasts, and it had ten horns. 8 “While I was thinking about the horns, there before me was another horn, a little one, which came up among them; and three of the first horns were uprooted before it. This horn had eyes like the eyes of a human being and a mouth that spoke boastfully.

Daniel 7:19-25

19 “Then I wanted to know the meaning of the fourth beast, which was different from all the others and most terrifying, with its iron teeth and bronze claws—the beast that crushed and devoured its victims and trampled underfoot whatever was left. 20 I also wanted to know about the ten horns on its head and about the other horn that came up, before which three of them fell—the horn that looked more imposing than the others and that had eyes and a mouth that spoke boastfully. 21 As I watched, this horn was waging war against the holy people and defeating them, 22 until the Ancient of Days came and pronounced judgment in favor of the holy people of the Most High, and the time came when they possessed the kingdom. 23 “He gave me this explanation: ‘The fourth beast is a fourth kingdom that will appear on earth. It will be different from all the other kingdoms and will devour the whole earth, trampling it down and crushing it. 24 The ten horns are ten kings who will come from this kingdom. After them another king will arise, different from the earlier ones; he will subdue three kings. 25 He will speak against the Most High and oppress his holy people and try to change the set times and the laws. The holy people will be delivered into his hands for a time, times and half a time.

Revelation 12:1-9

1 A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. 2 She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. 3 Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads. 4 Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour her child the moment he was born. 5 She gave birth to a son, a male child, who “will rule all the nations with an iron scepter.” And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne. 6 The woman fled into the wilderness to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days. 7 Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. 8 But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. 9 The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.

Revelation 13:1-8

1 The dragon stood on the shore of the sea. And I saw a beast coming out of the sea. It had ten horns and seven heads, with ten crowns on its horns, and on each head a blasphemous name. 2 The beast I saw resembled a leopard, but had feet like those of a bear and a mouth like that of a lion. The dragon gave the beast his power and his throne and great authority. 3 One of the heads of the beast seemed to have had a fatal wound, but the fatal wound had been healed. The whole world was filled with wonder and followed the beast. 4 People worshiped the dragon because he had given authority to the beast, and they also worshiped the beast and asked, “Who is like the beast? Who can wage war against it?” 5 The beast was given a mouth to utter proud words and blasphemies and to exercise its authority for forty-two months. 6 It opened its mouth to blaspheme God, and to slander his name and his dwelling place and those who live in heaven. 7 It was given power to wage war against God’s holy people and to conquer them. And it was given authority over every tribe, people, language and nation. 8 All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast—all whose names have not been written in the Lamb’s book of life, the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world.

Revelation 17:1-18

1 One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the punishment of the great prostitute, who sits by many waters. 2 With her the kings of the earth committed adultery, and the inhabitants of the earth were intoxicated with the wine of her adulteries.” 3 Then the angel carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness. There I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was covered with blasphemous names and had seven heads and ten horns. 4 The woman was dressed in purple and scarlet, and was glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls. She held a golden cup in her hand, filled with abominable things and the filth of her adulteries. 5 The name written on her forehead was a mystery: BABYLON THE GREAT THE MOTHER OF PROSTITUTES AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH. 6 I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of God’s holy people, the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus. When I saw her, I was greatly astonished. 7 Then the angel said to me: “Why are you astonished? I will explain to you the mystery of the woman and of the beast she rides, which has the seven heads and ten horns. 8 The beast, which you saw, once was, now is not, and yet will come up out of the Abyss and go to its destruction. The inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the creation of the world will be astonished when they see the beast, because it once was, now is not, and yet will come. 9 “This calls for a mind with wisdom. The seven heads are seven hills on which the woman sits. 10 They are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; but when he does come, he must remain for only a little while. 11 The beast who once was, and now is not, is an eighth king. He belongs to the seven and is going to his destruction. 12 “The ten horns you saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but who for one hour will receive authority as kings along with the beast. 13 They have one purpose and will give their power and authority to the beast. 14 They will wage war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will triumph over them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings—and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers.” 15 Then the angel said to me, “The waters you saw, where the prostitute sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations and languages. 16 The beast and the ten horns you saw will hate the prostitute. They will bring her to ruin and leave her naked; they will eat her flesh and burn her with fire. 17 For God has put it into their hearts to accomplish his purpose by agreeing to hand over to the beast their royal authority, until God’s words are fulfilled. 18 The woman you saw is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth.”

Daniel 2:33

33 its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of baked clay.

Luke 9:46-48

46 An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest. 47 Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and had him stand beside him. 48 Then he said to them, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.”

Mark 9:33-37

33 They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” 34 But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. 35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” 36 He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

Matthew 18:1-4

1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2 He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. 3 And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

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