John XXII and liturgical chant

After the death of Clement V, with the cardinals divided into factions unable to reach a disagreement, a two-year interregnum followed, stoppered only when Philip, then Count of Poitiers, later King Philip V of France, managed to organise a conclave in Lyons (by locking the cardinals in the Dominican house there in March) in 1316, which elected Jacques Duèze, a compromise candidate, on 7 August, who took the regnal name John XXII. He became the second of seven Avignon Popes.

John XXII (2)
Jean XXII | Calixte Serrur | 1839–1840

John XXII is remembered for many notable things. Head on he confronted the controversy over the so-called Franciscan poverty, hinged on the question whether or not Christ and His apostles, in one way or another, owned property. This controversy provided fodder as well to the row he later had with the political powers of the day inimical to papal supremacy: the French King and the Holy Roman Emperor. In recent years, he received renewed interest, in light of this current papacy, due to his heretical views on the Beatific Vision, teachings he retracted on the eve of his death.

Our interest in him now, however, is not in his teachings as a private theologian.

John XXII is arguably the first pope (after Gregory the Great) to have legislated on sacred music. He reigned in an era when music sailed on the high waters of the ars nova, characterised by a hitherto uncharted level of musical expressiveness created by the confluence of advancements in rhythmic notation, the adoption of polyphony in secular music, and the emergence of new musical forms and techniques.

As commonly happens when the sacred communicates with the profane, they exchange paradigms. Ars nova principles little by little invaded sacred music to such a point when the degree of invasion so moved John XXII to pronounce a condemnation. In the ninth year of his reign, he issued the decretal Docta sanctorum on the life and decency of the clergy. As we do not know the exact date of the promulgation of this document, we unofficially begin this week the commemoration of the 693rd anniversary of the decretal. In the section Resources > Church Documents above, we have uploaded the Latin text of the document and our English translation of it.

Docta Sanctorum ENDocta Sanctorum LT

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