In the Year of Our Lord 1378, the Roman Catholic Papacy was split. In what was called the Babylon Captivity, the Catholic Church had two popes vying for power. This split lasted an amazing 68 years. During that time the truly pious were wondering who their actual spiritual authority was. In the end, the papacy was weakened, but united under one pope, back in the city of Rome.
In 1309, Clement V decided that Avignon, France was a better and more centralized position to advise the Christian world from. Actually just outside of France, nonetheless the French king had great influence and power over the pope so near his own lands. He apparently liked the influence he had over the papacy and, when Gregory XI moved the papacy back to Rome, the king wasnâ€™t terribly pleased.
Frustrated that a French cardinal wasn't elected pope and that he no longer had political influence over the sitting pope due to his relocation to Rome, Philip the Fair, King of France, decided to boycott the Italian pope and elected his own Avignise pope. One thing led to another, with the Italian pope excommunicating the Avignise pope and all his followers, and the same happening in reverse. European Christendom was very confused.
As a rule, the Western Europeans followed the pope of Avignon, and the Eastern Europeans followed the Roman pope. The King of France was very desirous to end the situation and asked 54 doctors, masters, etc. to compose different ways to end this sacrilegious schism. All the suggestions were reduced to the three most likely to succeed. The first idea was that both resign and a new pope was to be elected from the College of Cardinals.
The second idea was that if both refused to renounce their claim and resign, they agree on a number of church leaders to decide which pope had the best claim. In the event they couldn't agree on the people or wouldn't follow the decision, a third idea existed. That is that a council get together and be authorized to select a new pope entirely without the aid of the College of Cardinals.
The constant bickering led these ideas which led to a hoped reconciliation in 1409 when the Council of Pisa, under the permission of both popes, elected a new pope to unite the Church again. Unfortunately, neither pope would give up power and for a time there were actually three popes, including the new one elected by the Pisian council. Finally, in 1418 the Council of Constance reunited the two and the Avignon pope was deposed, while the Roman pope resigned.
Another Italian pope was elected and the Roman Catholic Church has been united under a single pope ever since. But for awhile Catholics didn't know who to follow and were afraid to make a mistake. After all, if the legitimate pope excommunicated them they felt it meant condemnation to hell. Understandably the people of Europe were most pleased when they no longer had to chance making the wrong choice.