Benedict Xii., Pope

, whose name was James Fournier, was a native of Saverdun, in the diocese of Pamier, the son of a miller, or of an obscure person; but some are of opinion that he was descended of a noble family. He embraced a religious Hie when young, among the Cistertians, and having afterwards received the degree of master of divinity in the university of Paris, he was made abbot of Fontfroide, in Narbonne, and when he had governed that monastery for six years, with great applause, he was made first bishop of Pamiers, and nine years after translated to Mirepoix. In December 1327, pope John XXII. created him cardinal presbyter of St. Prisca, and in 1334, he was elected pope, contrary to all expectation. The conclave had chosen Comminge, cardinal bishop of Porto, as the most proper person, but the French cardinal insisting that he should promise never to go to Rome, he refused to accept the office on a condition so prejudicial to the church. In this dilemma, the cardinals being at a loss whom to nominate, some of them proposed James Fournier, the most inconsiderable of the whole college, “omnium infimus,” and he was unanimously elected: this unexpected turn gave occasion to some of the writers of his days to attribute the whole to divine inspiration, with as good reason, no doubt, as in the case of any of his predecessors or successors.

Benedict was as much surprised as any of his brethren, and either out of humility, or because he was conscious he knew little of public affairs, candidly told them that they had elected an ass. His actions, however, did not justify this comparison. He was indeed a stranger to the arts of the court, but he was a learned divine, well versed in the civil and canon law, and a man of exemplary life and probity. His first act was that of liberality. The day after his election, he distributed among the cardinals 100,000 florins out of the treasure left by his predecessor; and a few days after gave 50,000 for repairing the churches of Rome. In nis first public sermon he preached on the beatific vision, and maintained that the just on their death saw God face to face, before the day of the general resurrection, contrary to the doctrine held by his predecessor; and he was so impressed with the necessity of establishing this doctrine, that he published in 1336 a constitution, as it was called, directly in opposition to the notion of | purgatory in any shape. The whole of his political administration appears to have been of the pacific kind, and in providing for the interests of the church, he preferred men of merit to vacant benefices, and was an enemy to pluralities; and in some of the religious orders he introduced reformations which we may be certain were beneficial and wise, because they raised the indignation of the monks, who have on that account painted his character in, the blackest colours. His last effort for the peace of Europe was to reconcile the kings of France and England, then at war, but while employed on this, he died of a short illness, the consequence of suppressed evacuation, April 25, 1342. Like his predecessor, he avoided aggrandizing his family, as most other popes had done, and could scarcely be prevailed upon to admit his relatives into his presence, when they came to congratulate him on his promotion. He used to say “James Fournier had relations, but pope Benedict has none,” and contented himself with ordering the expences of their journey to be defrayed out of the apostolic chamber. The monks whom he had reformed, however, contrary to all contemporary evidence, have accused him of avarice, debauchery, and in particular, of an intrigue with the sister of the celebrated Petrarch. On the other hand, all the best historians havei extolled him as a man of sanctity and a pattern of every virtue. He wrote two volumes on the state of the soul before the general judgment; eleven questions upon the same subject sermons for the chief festivals of the year; all which are in ms. in the Vatican library. He wrote, likewise, several constitutions relating to the reformation of some religious orders, commentaries upon the psalms, various letters, and some poetical pieces.1


Bower’s Lives of the Popes.—Dupin.—Walch’s Lives of the Popes.