Someone, somewhere, reading this post could be an inventor—perhaps even someone who could someday invent a time machine. If so, I’d like to offer a simple suggestion.
Don’t aim your machine in the direction of fourteenth-century Europe.
A move in the direction of the fourteenth or early fifteenth centuries might land you in the middle of any one of several societal catastrophes. Here are just a few of them:
(1) The papacy does the splits: In 1309, a French pope moved to Avignon, near the French border. For 72 years, popes lived it up in Avignon. Bishops openly sold positions of leadership in the churches. Friars freely hawked indulgences—payments that were intended to show authentic sorrow for sin but which, in practice, were perceived as purchases to reduce time in purgatory. When the papacy returned to Rome, the situation still didn’t improve. Some of the cardinal bishops went back to Avignon and elected a second pope. In 1409, cardinals from Avignon and Rome gathered in the village of Pisa, in a cathedral where a nearby tower was already beginning to lean. Their council decreed, “The Church’s oneness does not depend on or come from the Pope’s oneness.” In other words, the church did not need one pope to make a unified decision; a church council can make unified decisions that are binding on the church. The Council of Pisa rejected both the French and the Italian popes and elected a new Roman bishop. Unfortunately, the two previous popes refused to be dismissed. Two popes had been a problem, but now there were three! Each pope excommunicated the other popes’ followers. It wasn’t until 1415 at the Council of Constance—which also executed Jan Hus and ordered John Wycliffe’s bones exhumed and burned—that the Roman Catholic Church one again had one pope.
(2) A Hundred Years’ War: In 1337 King Edward III of England claimed that he was the rightful ruler of France. Not surprisingly, this did not go over well with the French. Thus began the Hundred Years’ War—which actually lasted 116 years, suggesting that no mathematicians were involved in the naming of the conflict. More than three million French and English died during this century of conflict. Two of the best-known battles in the Hundred Years’ War were the Battle of Agincourt—remembered primarily as the climax of William Shakespeare’s play Henry V—and the victory of Joan of Arc at Orleans.
(3) The Black Death: Fleas on rats brought the bubonic plague to Europe, where at least one-third—perhaps as many as two-thirds—of the population of Europe died in the mid-fourteenth century. Here’s a video summary of what happened during the years of the Black Death:
30 Days through Church History: Day 16