Monday, January 27, 2014
Unigenitus Dei filius
One of the most influential popes (though also one of the most overlooked) of the Medieval era was Pope Clement VI. Clement is most notable for being the Pope who reigned during the worst years of the Black Death. As a result, Clement was forced to reconcile the horrors of arguably the greatest challenge the Medieval world ever faced with the heavenly will of God. Was the Black Death a divine punishment for sin? Was is God's wrath being poured out upon a wicked and sinful people? For a world that revolved almost completely on the axis of Catholic primacy, the answers to these and other questions couldn't wait, and Clement was the man who had to stand and deliver.
As one of his first official acts as Pope, Clement issued the now infamous Papal Bull, Unigenitus Dei filius. The Bull was meant as an official declaration to justify the church's use of indulgences as a godly function of the faith.
Indulgences were nothing new to the Catholic world. The first recorded record of indulgences date back all the way to the 5th century, in which the practice was used to justify and absolve small matters like farming rights, etc. Most indulgences insisted upon a period of fasting, prayer and alms as a way to seek forgiveness for various sins. Indulgences took off in the 11th century, in the wake of the Crusades. Crusaders were regularly granted a remission of sin by faithfully fulfilling their role in a given crusade to recapture the Holy Land.
For Clement VI, this Bull was simply a way to "canonize" the already common practice of indulgences. For the Medieval world, however, it was seen, at least by an emerging minority, as a possible cause for the Black Death. Christian reformers of the 14th century, though still relatively small and intentionally obscure in their outward criticism of the Catholic church, were beginning to question some of the decisions made by church leaders. They were also growing tired of what they saw as hypocritical and sinful behavior on the part of the clergy, which was being swept under the rug by the practice of indulgences.
These early reformers, who essentially served as the "grandfathers" of men like Martin Luther, laid the initial groundwork that would later catapult the Protestant Reformation into existence. We can therefore conclude that the Papal Bull Unigenitus Dei filius was a tremendous success...though not for the Catholic church.