Edmond Richer’s Costly Church Politics

Edmund Richer was a doctor of the Sorbonne, Grand Master of the College of Cardinal Le Moine, and trustee of the University of Paris. He became a prisoner and lost his positions after he dared to publish in 1611 Libellus de Ecclesiastica et Politica Potestate (The Book of Ecclesiastical and Political Power ). The bulk of the work was not even his, as it consisted mostly of quotes from theologian Jean Charlier de Gerson (1363–1429) who had been a powerful player at the Council of Constance that deposed Pope John XXII (now labelled an anti-pope).

The work infuriated the pope and many cardinals because it argued that Christian authority resides in the whole body of the church, not with the pope. Christ is the true head of the church. Only the universal church and its councils can promulgate canons (church rules and laws). Popes, cardinals, and other leaders are administrators of the church not its lords. The work was controversial because popes claimed more authority over the French church than many French people were willing to grant.  

Richer was seized and imprisoned. Released through the intercession of his friends and of his university, his troubles were not yet over. A monk invited him to dinner where he found himself surrounded by enemies with drawn daggers who compelled him to retract what he had written. Afterward he was no longer allowed to appear in the college where he had taught, and lived as an exile in his native land, able to study but not to teach.