St. Vincent Ferrer (1350?-1419) was a Dominican priest caught up in the Great Western Schism — a period of almost forty years in which the Church was divided between two popes, both claiming to be the legitimate successor to St. Peter. Vincent was born in Spain. Entering the Dominican Order, he developed a reputation as a brilliant scholar and powerful preacher.
After being ordained a priest by Cardinal Peter de Luna, Vincent was chosen as prior of the monastery in Valencia. In 1378 an Italian cardinal was elected pope, taking the name Urban VI; however, his heavy-handed efforts at reform alienated some of the French cardinals, who declared his election invalid and chose as pope a different cardinal, who took the name Clement VII. This was very confusing for loyal Catholics; Vincent supported Clement, while St. Catherine of Siena backed Urban. (Most Church scholars today agree that Urban and his successors represented the legitimate line of the papacy.) Vincent tried to organize Spanish support for Clement; when Clement died, Vincent’s mentor Cardinal de Luna was chosen to replace him, and took the name Benedict XIII. Vincent served as Benedict’s confessor, and then spent ten years doing intensive mission work in France, Spain, and elsewhere, all the while promoting reconciliation and unity in the Church.
Efforts were made to resolve the schism, including the election of a compromise pope with the idea of uniting the two factions (though this merely increased the number of claimants to the papal throne from two to three). Finally, a general council was arranged in 1415, with the understanding that all three popes would resign and a new one be officially named. This new pope chose the name Martin V — but Benedict XIII, in spite of Vincent’s urgings, refused to resign as promised.
Vincent finally concluded that Benedict wasn’t the real pope, and publicly withdrew his support from him; this forced Benedict to flee, eventually ending the Great Schism. St. Vincent Ferrer continued preaching throughout Western Europe until his death in 1419.
1. Even saints can disagree (as St. Vincent did with St. Catherine) or be mistaken on important issues.
2. Persons having great influence or prestige must use these gifts for the well-being of the Church, as Vincent did by withdrawing his support from Benedict, even if it means admitting one was mistaken.
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