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John XXII reigned as the Avignon pope from 1316 to 1334. He was the second pope who lived in the French town of Avignon after Clement V. He was an ally of the French king Philip V, and an enemy of the German king Louis IV of Bavaria. John XXII fell from grace after he rejected the version of the Beatific Vision long supported by the Roman Catholic Church. The cardinals accused him of heresy, and he only acknowledged his “mistake” right before his death in 1334.  These events are recorded on the Biblical Timeline Poster with World History during this time.

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Early Life and Career

Jacques Duese (Dueze or d’Euse), the future Pope John XXII, was born in 1244. His birthplace was the trading and banking town of Cahors in the Quercy region of southern France. Jacques was the eldest son of Arnaud Duese, and he came from a well-to-do family. A brother named Pierre became the consul of Cahors, and he was eventually knighted in 1316. A brother named Guilhem also became a knight, while Jacques’ sisters married into prominent families of France.

The young Jacques studied at the Dominican convent in Cahors. Some years later, he studied civil and canon law in Montpelier where he received his degree. He went to the University of Paris to study theology but left without obtaining his degree. He went to Orleans to study once again, and there he became friends with prominent bishops Barthelemi le Roux and Philip De Cahors. He returned to Cahors where he taught civil law.

In 1295, he relocated to Toulouse and taught canon law at the university. He became a counselor to the son of Charles II of Naples, the Bishop Louis of Toulouse, and stayed there until 1297. In 1300, he was appointed as the canon of Puy but left it when he became the bishop of Frejus. He owed his appointment to his backer Charles II of Naples.

Jacques became Charles’ counselor in 1308 and continued to serve Robert of Naples, son of Charles after the king died in 1309. He left in 1310 after he was appointed by Pope Clement V as bishop of Avignon. He was promoted two years later as the cardinal of San Vitale, and in 1313 as the cardinal-bishop of Porto e Santa Rufina in Rome. He was already 69 years old at that time.

Election as Pope

A cameo of Pope John XXII

On April 20, 1314, the 54-year old Pope Clement V died of an illness. Cardinals from Gascony, Provence, and Italy came together in Avignon to elect a new pope. Among them was Jacques Duese who belonged to the Provence faction. Three of his nephews, meanwhile, belonged to the Gascony faction, and they outnumbered the Italians and Provençals. The Italians and the Provençals had no choice but to make an alliance so that their candidate would be elected. The cardinals could not agree, so the papal seat remained vacant for another two years.

King Philip V of France ran out of patience, so in 1316, he summoned the cardinals to Lyon and forced them to elect a pope. They elected Jacques Duese as the new pope in the July of the same year. The fact that he was supported by influential backers such as Philip V himself, Robert of Naples and Cardinal Napoleone Orsini definitely helped his election on August 7, 1316. He was crowned at Lyon less than one month later, and adopted the name John XXII.

The Italian cardinals immediately asked him to bring the papal seat back to Rome from Avignon. Pope John XXII promised to do so but failed to follow through on his promise because of his conflict with Louis of Bavaria. He never left Avignon during his 28-year reign as pope.

Against Louis IV of Bavaria

The Holy Roman Empire was also troubled with succession issues while the College of Cardinals could not decide on a new pope. In 1314, the supporters of Louis IV of Wittelsbach elected him as the new king. His election, however, was disputed by the Habsburgs who wanted Louis’ cousin Frederick III of Austria to rule as king. The Habsburgs crowned Frederick on the same day his cousin Louis was crowned.

Pope John XXII refused to recognize Louis’ election, and the rival kings also fought wars in the years that followed. Since he did not recognize Louis as rightful king, John XXII took advantage of the situation and appointed Robert of Naples as imperial vicar of Italy. Louis IV retaliated and appointed the Count of Marstetten as his own imperial vicar. The pope protested, but the count was already in Northern Italy so there was nothing that he could do. Louis defied John XXII, so the pope excommunicated him on July 17, 1324.

To put up a united front against the pope, Louis IV was forced to reconcile with Frederick III. Louis made him co-ruler of the Holy Roman Empire to which Frederick agreed. They agreed that Frederick would rule the German part of the empire, while Louis held the Italian half. Pope John XXII also refused to recognize this agreement.

The pope’s refusal to recognize the two kings and his dependence on the French king made him unpopular among the Germans and Italians. They considered his efforts as schemes to place the king of France as Holy Roman Emperor and his authority declined further. The Italian scholar Marsilius of Padua condemned Pope John XXII’s actions in his treatise Defensor Pacis. In his treatise, he rejected the pope as the head of the Holy Roman Empire. He also emphasized that the power of the pope over the state should be limited.

Louis went to Italy and had himself crowned as Holy Roman Emperor twice in 1327 and 1328. Pope John XXII nullified this on March 31, 1328, so Louis declared the pope deposed. The emperor appointed a Franciscan priest as the new pope (antipope) Nicholas V. Louis, however, had also became unpopular in Italy over the years, so he cut his losses and fled to Germany. His antipope knew that he would not last long without a supporter, so he, too, fled Italy. The antipope Nicholas V traveled to Avignon and begged John XXII for forgiveness. The pope granted him forgiveness and allowed the antipope to live in peace.

Beatific Vision Controversy and John XXII’s Death

Pope John XXII made a major misstep in 1331 when he preached about the Beatific Vision on All Saints’ Day. The Beatific Vision is the belief that the righteous would immediately be in God’s presence after their death. The pope preached that this was not true and that the righteous dead would only see God after the Last Judgment. This view became unpopular among the people, and for three years, he fended off accusations of heresy. Louis also took advantage of the controversy and added his voice to those who accused John XXII.

On December 3, 1334, John XXII finally buckled under the weight of pressure and admitted that he made a mistake concerning the Beatific Vision. He was already 85 at that time, and he died the following day.


Picture by: PHGCOM – self-made, photographed at Notre-Dame de Paris, GFDL, Link

Kirsch, Johann Peter. “Pope John XXII.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 8. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. 18 Jan. 2017 <>.

Laux, John Joseph. Church History: A History of the Catholic Church to 1940. TAN Books & Publishers In, 1989.

WEAKLAND, JOHN E. “JOHN XXII BEFORE HIS PONTIFICATE, 1244-1316: JACQUES DUÈSE AND HIS FAMILY.” Archivum Historiae Pontificiae 10 (1972): 161-85.

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