Post-classical history


The history of the church is not the history of the papacy. The Christian church was more than its institutional framework, and, even as an institution, the church was more than the papacy. Yet to relegate the papacy to a side-show would be to distort grossly the nature of the church in the high Middle Ages. If any medieval pope dominated the church in the age in which he lived, it was Pope Innocent III (1198– 1216). The period at the end of the twelfth century and the beginning of the thirteenth century tested the advances and reforms of the previous century. There were new challenges and new responses, but these were in the context of a reformed papacy, new religious orders, an increasingly urban population and, in the chair of St Peter, the commanding figure of Innocent III.

His immediate predecessors were in continuing conflict with the German emperor. Although peace had been arranged with Frederick Barbarossa in 1177, the next decades saw disputes, particularly about imperial territorial claims in central Italy, settled in 1189 to the benefit of the papacy. The major problem of the possible union of Sicily and Germany arose and would dominate the political issues of the first years of Innocent’s pontificate. Also, Jerusalem, held since 1099 by Latin Christians, fell in 1187 to the remarkable Saracen leader, Saladin, and the Christian West called for a third crusade, a second crusade having failed in 1147 to recapture the crusader state of Edessa. The Third Crusade (1189–92), although led by the great kings of Europe (Frederick Barbarossa of Germany, Richard the Lion-Hearted of England and Philip Augustus of France), failed to recapture Jerusalem, although they secured a 90 mile coastal strip from Tyre to Jaffa for the kingdom of Jerusalem. Innocent’s immediate predecessor, Celestine III (1191–98), a defender of Peter Abelard at Sens and, indeed, a friend of Thomas Becket, died at the age of 92, having failed on his deathbed to arrange his abdication and the appointment of his favourite cardinal. Instead on the very day of his death the cardinals elected Cardinal Lothario de Segni, who took the name Innocent.

The political Innocent

Lothario’s father was count of Segni, near Rome, and his mother was a member of an even more notable aristocratic family, the Scotti of Rome. Lothario had studied theology at Paris and was to promote his former teacher Peter of Corbeil to the archbishopric of Sens. Later he studied at Bologna, presumably law. A cardinal at 29, Lothario de Segni became pope at 37. In his sermon given on the day when he was consecrated bishop of Rome – and, thus, pope – Innocent gave an indication of what might lie in store:

Only Peter was given fullness of power (plenitudo potestatis). You see, then, who is placed in charge of the household: it is Jesus Christ’s vicar, Peter’s successor, the Lord’s anointed, the Pharaoh’s god. I am placed between God and man, below God but above man; I am less than God but more than man; I am he who will judge all and be judged by none.

He acted swiftly, according to his biographer. He reduced the size of the papal curia and removed from it greedy young nobles. The Prefect of Rome now took an oath of obedience to the pope and not, as hitherto, to the emperor. Oaths to the new pope were given by the powerful men of Rome. Once in control of the city, Innocent undertook to restore the papal lands, lost over time to imperial jurisdiction. Within a year he succeeded in regaining control over the ‘Patrimony of St Peter’. The pope as temporal ruler of significant territory in central Italy faced at once a major political problem.

When the son of Frederick Barbarossa, Emperor Henry VI, died unexpectedly at the age of 32 in 1197 as he was preparing to sail from Sicily on crusade, a serious European crisis was created. Henry was married to Constance, heir to the kingdom of Sicily, which included not only that island but also a considerable part of southern Italy (together generally referred to as the regno). Henry VI left not only a widow but a young son, Frederick of Hohenstaufen, who would be heir to Sicily and, depending on the German election, possibly successor to the kingdom of Germany. The main premise of papal foreign policy held that the German-controlled lands to the north should not be united with the regno. If the Germans had control of both, the popes felt that the Papal States in between would be in real danger of being squeezed, perhaps to the point of extinction, with the loss of papal independence. The papal lands had to be held at all cost, it was argued, for otherwise the popes and the church would not have the freedom to carry out its spiritual mission.

In Sicily Queen Constance became regent for her young son, but she died in November 1198, and Frederick was made a ward of the pope. In Germany the electors were deeply divided as to what they should do. They had, in 1196, taken an oath, at the urging of Henry VI, to recognize the young Frederick as his successor. Few felt constrained to keep that oath. Two factions elected two different men as king, and western Europe took sides, favouring either Otto of Brunswick or Philip of Swabia. The pope supported Otto, and, when Philip protested, Innocent, in March 1202, issued the letter Venerabilem (its first word). Innocent disclaimed any right in the elections in Germany. Yet, since by tradition it was he who would crown a German king as emperor, then he had the right, he argued, to examine that king and judge his fitness. Also,

If there is a divided election, we can support one of the parties, suitable delays for representations being made, particularly when coronation has been requested of us.

This looks very much like the pope making what is essentially a political decision in the temporal – and not spiritual – order. The death of Philip of Swabia in 1208 resolved the immediate crisis, and Otto IV was crowned in October 1209. Yet, in 1210, Innocent excommunicated Otto for violating his coronation promise not to invade Sicily. The focus shifted now to Frederick of Sicily, whom the pope put forward to succeed Otto, and he was supported in this by Philip Augustus, king of France. In December 1212 the electors elected Frederick as king. Otto, supported by his uncle, King John of England, lost any chance of success when he and John were defeated by Philip Augustus at the crucial Battle of Bouvines (27 July 1214). A year later Frederick II, at age 20, was crowned king at Aachen, and his claim to the imperial title was confirmed at the Fourth Lateran Council several months later. He surrendered claims to papal lands in Italy and promised Innocent that he would resign Sicily when he was crowned emperor. Innocent III would have been justified in thinking he had won a victory, having gained uncontested control of central Italy and having thwarted the union of empire and regno. He died (1216) with this conviction. His successors had to deal with the unravelling of the settlement as the pliant Frederick II turned into an enemy.

Much of this story belongs to the political history of Italy rather than to the history of the church, yet the involvement of the popes in Italian politics by reason of their temporal possessions was bound to have an influence on the church as an institution, since Christian rulers were spiritual sons of the pope yet, in many cases, his political enemies. This situation was bound to complicate and even to compromise the spiritual nature of the church’s mission. The events can be quickly summarized.

Frederick II dominated the European stage for 35 years after Innocent’s death. His enemies portrayed him as amoral, blasphemous, heretical and ruthless. About his personal beliefs there is no convincing reason to think him other than conventionally orthodox. His personal morals were neither better nor worse than many of his contemporary rulers. But ruthless and headstrong he was beyond doubt, and also one of the most intelligent of medieval kings. In 1220 he had his young son, Henry (VII), elected as German king; then Frededrick II proceeded to Rome, where he was crowned emperor. Frederick had, in fact, established a union in his person of Germany and Sicily, the plan of Innocent now shattered. Frederick’s son proved rebellious towards his father and was imprisoned in Sicily. Some of the Lombard cities in northern Italy resented Frederick’s exercise of imperial power in these imperially held places. Twice was Frederick excommunicated by Pope Gregory IX, in 1227 for failing to go on crusade – he had embarked but was taken ill – and again, in 1239, for failing to secure peace with the Lombard cities. Frederick’s role in the crusades contains a bitter irony. In 1227, although excommunicated and not under papal banner, he set out for the East with a small army. Having married the heiress to the kingdom of Jerusalem, he held claim to that kingship. Once in the East, he entered into negotiations with the sultan of Egypt and gained control of the kingdom of Jerusalem. On 18 March 1229 he processed into the church of the Holy Sepulchre to be crowned, and, with no priest there, the excommunicated Frederick II crowned himself king of Jerusalem. Not a drop of blood had been spilt; Jerusalem, lost to Saladin in 1187 and its recapture the object of three crusades (III, IV, V), was now in Christian hands. (We shall have to visit the Fourth Crusade shortly.) Instead of congratulations, Frederick was vilified on many sides, some critics openly lamenting that it was not by blood and the sword that Jerusalem was regained. In the following year Frederick made his peace with the pope, and the excommunication was lifted. But Pope Innocent IV (1243–54) actually declared Frederick deposed in 1245, and, whatever the official reasons, the real reason was the emperor’s continued efforts to control the Lombard lands. Frederick died five years later, the matter still unresolved. When the pope heard of his death, he said, ‘Let the heavens rejoice and the earth exult’, sounding more like a political adversary than a shepherd of souls.

To return to Innocent III, it was not only with the emperor that he came into conflict but also with other princes of Europe. He was involved with the emerging kingdoms of the Iberian peninsula (see chapter 13). Also, Hungary, since its conversion in the years just prior to the millennium, was pivotal to the aims of the papacy in evangelizing for the Latin, Western Church, yet, in 1203, Innocent III risked this effort by supporting Bulgaria and Bosnia, to the great annoyance of Hungary.

Nowhere outside the empire was Innocent’s involvement in high politics more evident than in England. There King John (1199–1216) became embroiled in a dispute over the election of the archbishop of Canterbury after the death of Hubert Walter in 1205. The monks of Canterbury Cathedral Priory secretly elected their subprior and sent him to Rome. Innocent halted the process, and, back in England, King John intimidated the monks into electing his candidate, the bishop of Norwich. But this election the pope ruled was uncanonical, and he soon ruled the previous election also invalid. A delegation of 15 Canterbury monks travelled to Rome and, no doubt following the papal will, elected as archbishop Cardinal Stephen Langton, an Englishman then lecturing in theology at Paris and probably a former fellow student of the pope. Innocent consecrated Langton as archbishop of Canterbury in 1207 in Italy. King John refused to allow the new archbishop into England, and, like Becket before him, Langton spent six years in exile in France, mostly at Pontigny, the place where Becket had stayed for two years. Innocent threatened an interdict on England, and, when the threat failed to move the king, the pope, in 1208, carried through his threat and placed the kingdom of England under interdict. Public religious ceremonies ceased, the bare essentials of infant baptism and the last rites for the dying and little else surviving the papal penalty. The interdict lasted for six years, its precise effects diffi-cult to measure. At a crucial moment in 1209 negotiations broke down and Innocent excommunicated King John. In 1211, faced with the threat of being deposed as king by the pope and with the prospect of an impending invasion by the French king, John capitulated. He did more than allow Stephen Langton to come to England as archbishop of Canterbury; he handed over the kingdoms of England and Ireland to the papacy and took them back as vassal to the pope. King John faced another problem: the opposition of English barons to his exactions. The king was forced to issue Magna Carta on 15 June 1215, but the king’s new ally, Pope Innocent III, annulled it on 24 August (visitors to the British Library in London can see displayed side by side the charter and the papal bull annulling it):

By violence and fear he [King John] was forced to accept an agreement which is not only shameful and degrading but also illegal and unjust … That charter we declare to be null and void for ever.

Although the significance of Magna Carta in the development of civil liberties has long since been drastically reduced by modern scholars, the significance of the papal annulment needs underlining, for here a pope not only criticized but declared null what was essentially a secular document. Innocent III was exercising a fullness of power (plentitudo potestatis) that would have amazed most of his predecessors and have alarmed some. Yet, when Magna Carta was reissued in 1216, after the deaths of John and Innocent, it bore the seal of the papal legate to England.

The Fourth Crusade (1202–4)

We have already seen the successful regaining of Jerusalem by Frederick II in 1229, in the context of that ruler’s ongoing controversies with the papacy. We must now back up 20 years to look at the tragedy of the crusade called by Pope Innocent III in August 1199, referred to by later historians as the Fourth Crusade. It was the failure of the Fourth Crusade that precipitated the expedition of Frederick II 25 years later. Innocent’s crusade was to be under papal control and its object was to recapture Jerusalem, This did not happen as the pope lost control and as the Christian city of Constantinople, rather than Muslim Jerusalem, was captured by the crusaders. The response to the pope’s call was slow in coming, the target date of departure, March 1199, was not met, but the preaching of Fulk of Neuilly kept the idea alive. Actual recruitment began in November 1199, when knights who had gathered for a tournament at the castle of Thibault, count of Champagne, cast down their weapons for the day’s sport and took oaths to go on the crusade. Soon joining those knights were others: Baldwin of Flanders, Louis of Blois, Geoffrey of Le Perche, Simon de Montfort and other nobles from Flanders and northern France, followed soon by nobles from the Rhineland and northern Italy. Since only the count of Flanders had a fleet, the three leading crusaders, the counts of Flanders, Blois and Champagne, in 1200 sent emissaries to negotiate with Venice for their transport, and, in doing this, the first of many mistakes was made.

Crossing through Alpine passes and the Lombard plain the envoys of the crusaders arrived at Venice in Lent 1201, where they were greeted cordially by the doge (from duce, leader), Dandolo, then 94 years old and blind. An agreement, the Treaty of Venice (1201), was made; it proved disastrous. At the request of the crusaders the Republic of Venice agreed to provide ships to transport 4,500 knights and their horses, 9,000 squires and 20,000 foot soldiers – an army of 33,500 men – for the sum of 85,000 marks to be paid in four instalments by April 1202, when the crusaders would be at Venice, ready to ship out in late June. Venice also agreed to provide an additional 50 war galleys, for which they would receive half the spoils of the expedition. The Republic further agreed to provision the crusading army for one year. This agreement meant that Venice would construct about 450 vessels and would provide those vessels with as many as 14,000 crewmen. In early May 1201 Pope Innocent III confirmed this treaty, although he seems to have added as a condition that the crusade not attack Christians. (He was to make such a prohibition in November 1202.) Indeed, it was not in the plans of the crusade leaders to attack Christians, but it was also not in their plans to go directly to the Holy Land. By a secret agreement the strategy was to attack Egypt, to take the great Muslim city of Alexandria and hold it hostage until the sultan restored Jerusalem to the Christians. It was a strategy which over the preceding decades had many supporters including King Richard I of England. Within a few weeks of Innocent’s approval Thibault of Champagne, the driving force behind the crusade, died aged about 24. In need of a leader, the principal crusaders selected Boniface, marquis of Montferrat in northern Italy, who met them at Soissons, where he took the cross. The pope was not consulted.

By June 1202 the expected 33,500 had not arrived at Venice. The organizers seem to have grossly overestimated the size of their army. Departure dates were repeatedly made and postponed, and, when it became clear that only about 12,000 crusaders had come and no more could be expected, the leaders of the crusade knew that they could not pay the doge the agreed 85,000 marks. The Venetians had built the ships, secured the crews and purchased provisions; they were understandably concerned that only 50,000 marks were being paid them. The crusaders had not fulfilled their part of the treaty. The crusade stood in imminent peril of collapsing. It was a moment of extreme crisis. What happened next sealed the disaster which was the Fourth Crusade.

Two factors now came into play. In the first place, Boniface of Montferrat, the leader of the crusade, was a close friend and ally of Philip of Swabia, who at this time was a contender against Otto of Brunswick for the German throne and, ultimately, for the emperorship (see pp. 172–74). Philip was married to Irene, the daughter of the Eastern emperor, Isaac Angelus, who had lost his throne, shortly after his daughter’s marriage, at the hand of his brother Alexius, who now as Emperor Alexius III imprisoned Isaac and Isaac’s son Alexius and blinded Isaac. The young Alexius escaped and travelled to his sister and brother-in-law in Germany, looking for help.

The second ingredient was the Venetian desire to control the Dalmatian coast of the Adriatic Sea. Its chief port of Zara was then in Hungarian hands. Venetian interests would be served if the crusaders could capture Zara. Two deals were struck. First, the crusaders were told that the Venetians would allow them to defer payment yet sail in the ships with crews and provisions, provided that, on the way, they would take Zara. Apart from aborting the crusade, which some contemporaries thought should have happened, there was little else the crusaders could do. An eye-witness to all this, Robert of Clari, commented,

The barons and the other leaders of the crusade agreed to the doge’s plan, but the rank and file of the army knew nothing about it.

They sailed out of Venice on 8 November 1202 and down the Adriatic, where two days later they attacked the city of Zara, which, after 16 days, they took and thoroughly pillaged. Zara was a Christian city. Pope Innocent III was appalled at this turn of events; excommunication was incurred by all who took part, although it was later removed by Innocent except for the Venetians. What to do now, once in Zara? The agreed strategy had been to set sail for Egypt and take Alexandria, but Philip of Swabia and Boniface of Montferrat approached the Venetians with a tempting proposal. Philip, acting on behalf of his exiled brother-in-law, the young Alexius, promised that, if the crusaders would secure the imperial throne for Alexius at Constantinople, Alexius would pay the outstanding debt owed by the crusaders to the Republic of Venice. After much debate and considerable dissent, it was so agreed. An already greatly upset Innocent became enraged and forbade the crusaders to use the sword against fellow Christians, but the crusade leaders conspired to keep this prohibition from their soldiers. The papal legate issued a bull excommunicating the Venetians, yet, despite defections by such as Simon de Montfort, it was agreed at Corfu, where the crusading army had gone from Zara, that the crusaders would sail for the great Christian city of Constantinople, and Innocent III was helpless to stop them. It was a crusade out of control.

On 25 May 1203, on the eve of the Christian feast of Pentecost, the fleet left Corfu and, stopping to replenish supplies en route, sailed through the narrow passage of the Dardanelles and, unimpeded, into the Sea of Marmora, where they came within sight of Constantinople on 23 June. Their plan was to put ashore on the Asian side of the Bosporus and there wait for the surrender of Constantinople, which the young Alexius had led them to believe would occur once they had arrived. They waited and waited, and his uncle, the usurper, Emperor Alexius III, refused to surrender. An attack, which the crusaders had not expected to have to make, was now necessary. Rather than attack Constantinople directly, the strategists in the crusading army decided that they should attack Galata across from the city on the northern shore of the Golden Horn, Constantinople’s large and secure harbour, the entrance to which was blocked by a mammoth chain. After fierce fighting, Galata was taken and the chain broken by the iron prow of a Venetian ship at full speed. The fleet sailed into the Golden Horn and took up positions at Galata. The army was ready for its attack on the city itself. After two days of fighting, the walls were breached and the emperor fled. Constantinople had been easily taken. The blinded Isaac agreed to return as emperor and to accept his son, the young Alexius, as coemperor. On 1 August 1203 the latter was crowned in Santa Sophia after promising to unite the Eastern Church with Rome. With this diversionary action successfully completed, one might think that the crusaders could now go on to Egypt. This was not to happen.

Simply put, the young Alexius (IV) and his father were unable to raise the promised money for the crusaders to pay their Venetian creditors. Promises by Alexius that he would pay kept the crusaders at their camps across the Golden Horn into early 1204. Discontent was running high not just among the crusaders but also among the Greeks, who were dissatisfied with Alexius IV for his financial exactions and for his overtures to Rome for union of the churches. A palace coup occurred. Isaac died, and the young Alexius was strangled and replaced by Alexius III’s son-in-law (yet another Alexius, the fifth emperor of that name). The crusaders saw their chance of being paid fast slipping away and were convinced that their only option was to take the city by military force and set up their own man as emperor. In their councils the crusaders, no longer really crusaders but adventurers, agreed on the division of the spoils of battle for the eastern empire. The new (Latin) emperor would have one-quarter of the city and empire. The remainder would be divided equally between the Venetians and the knight crusaders. A senior crusader, Villehardouin, acknowledged that the crusade was over:

At the end of March in the following year anyone who wished to leave would be free to go wherever he wished. Those who remained, however, would be subject to the jurisdiction of the emperor.

The first attack on the walled city proved unsuccessful, but then on 12 April 1204, rallied by preachers, the Latin army succeeded in breaching the walls, scattering the ill-trained Greeks, and captured a large section of the city. They then started a fire that wasted a considerable area, and the will of the people of Constantinople to defend themselves vanished. The Latins had taken the most magnificent city in the world, and the leaders allowed their soldiers three day to sack the city.

‘The sack of Constantinople is unparalleled in history’, Sir Steven Runciman sadly comments. The capture of the city was followed by a ruthless, violent, uncontrolled, barbaric pillaging. Nothing and, indeed, no one was safe from these men as they raped nuns, slew in an awful, random brutality, stole jewels and relics, violated churches and monasteries, destroyed priceless art work: an utterly mindless rampage

Map 12 Constantinople in the thirteenth century

of collective insanity. They even entered the magnificent Santa Sophia and denuded it of all its decorations, going so far as to smash the altar for its gems and precious metal and were entertained in the greatest church in Christendom by a prostitute seated on the patriarch’s throne. They entered houses to wreck them, seizing precious stones for their spoils and women for their pleasure. One Cistercian abbot felt left out and decided to join in but to limit himself to stealing only holy relics, which were later prized by his monks in Alsace. Dandolo, the powerful doge of Venice, whose skilful hand has been seen by many behind the destiny of this crusade, stole four bronze horses from the Hippodrome, and they can be seen today above the entrance to St Mark’s Basilica, a symbol now of Venice for the Venetians, but, for many others, a symbol of ineffable hubris and boundless greed. The leaders of the crusade ordered that all booty be brought to a central place – large amounts were concealed by pillagers – for distribution among the conquerors. The debt to Venice, at the centre of this tale, was finally paid.

The reaction of Pope Innocent III to the events in Constantinople might seem ambiguous. To the new emperor he wrote without reference to the attack on Christian Constantinople, but to others he was explicitly condemnatory. To Boniface, Marquis of Montferrat, leader of the crusade, he wrote in a very different vein:

You have turned away from the purity of your [crusader] vow … because you fought not against the Saracens but against Christians, not to reconquer Jerusalem but to occupy Constantinople, preferring earthly to heavenly riches, and, what is far more serious, because you spared neither religion, nor age, nor sex, but perpetrated fornications, adulteries, and incests, not only with married women and widows, but also with matrons and virgins dedicated to God.

A more damning judgement it is difficult to imagine. And there can be no doubt that Innocent blamed the Venetians for the failure of the Fourth Crusade.

All that remained was for the conquering Latins to select an emperor. Boniface of Montferrat was passed over in favour of Baldwin of Flanders. And, on 16 May 1204, a Flemish knight was crowned emperor, successor to Constantine and Justinian. And soon a Latin patriarch was appointed. But this Latin empire of the East lasted only until 1261, when Constantinople was recaptured by the Byzantine Greeks. The crusading ideal, preached by Urban II in 1095, was now twisted beyond recognition, and the East has never forgotten the Fourth Crusade, which, instead of relieving the Holy Land, succeeded in making permanent the schism between the Churches of East and West. In 2001 Pope John Paul II apologized to the Greek Orthodox with deep regret for what the Fourth Crusade did at Constantinople in 1204.

The Fourth Lateran Council (1215)

There can be little doubt that the Fourth Lateran Council was the most important general council of the church in the Middle Ages. It was also the crowning achievement of the pontificate of Innocent III. There came to Rome to meet in council not merely representative bishops from Catholic lands but many more. Every bishop was expected to attend, excepting only a few from each province, who were to send delegates to represent them. Every cathedral chapter was to send a representative as was every collegiate church (i.e., a large church with a number of secular canons such as Beverley Minster in Yorkshire). The heads of the new religious orders (Cistercians, Premonstratensians, military orders) were also summoned. Innocent even invited representatives of the Eastern patriarchates to attend. In the event, outraged by the capture of Constantinople in 1204, none came from the East save representatives of the Latin patriarchate of Constantinople and of the patriarch of Alexandria as well as the primate of the Maronite church and proctors from the Latin States. In a move that might have greatly disturbed Gregory VII, Innocent III invited secular rulers to send representatives. Frederick II of Sicily, claimant to the emperorship, sent proctors as did the kings of France and England. Representatives of the kings of Hungary and Aragon attended as did rulers and proctors from the Italian city states. Nothing on this scale had every occurred before: Innocent III, in effect, convoked an assembly of Latin Christendom.

Quietly, at dawn on 11 November 1215, the pope celebrated the opening Mass in the presence only of the cardinals and bishops, about 400 or so. They were then joined by over 800 abbots and religious superiors. When finally the doors of the great basilica of St John, the pope’s cathedral, were thrown open, a flood of people pressed their way in, masses of clergy and others. One eye-witness in agitated enthusiasm said there were ‘thousands of thousands, even ten times a hundred thousand’. The throng pouring into the basilica is said to have crushed a least one bishop to death. The same eye-witness wrote that so great was the din that he could not hear the pope’s address opening the council. He soon secured a copy. Innocent III declared that the aim of the council was twofold: to effect the recapture of Jerusalem and to reform the church. His first aim, as we have seen, proved unsuccessful. What commands our attention is the effort to reinvigorate the spiritual health of the church.

The 70 canons (or decrees), approved by the Fourth Lateran Council, were not debated in council but were presented by the pope. Not a word was changed, not a canon challenged, not an issue debated: the decrees of the council were the work of the pope and his curia. Apart from the first two decrees, which dealt with dogmatic matters, the decrees of the council concerned the practical life of the church. These decrees were to affect the way Christians lived their Christian lives for centuries to come. The most enduring and penetrating actions of the Fourth Lateran Council had nothing to do with crusades or dogmatic niceties but with the pastoral concerns of the church.

A summary of the most significant decrees can only serve to suggest the pastoral dimensions of the council’s work. Central to any attempt to elevate the quality of the Christian life as lived by individual Christians in the hamlets, villages and towns of western Europe was the quality of the clergy charged with the care of souls, which one decree called ‘the art of arts’. It is ‘better to have a few good priests (paucos bonos) than many bad priests (multos malos)’. Bishops either personally or through others should instruct candidates for the priesthood as to how they should perform the sacred rites and sacraments. But more, extending an enactment of the Third Lateran Council (1179), it was decreed that each cathedral should have a master of grammar who will instruct the clergy and poor scholars gratis, and in metropolitan churches there should also be a master of theology, who will teach priests and others ‘in the sacred page’ and who will especially instruct them in those things which pertain to the

Map 13 Representatives at the Fourth Lateran Council (1215)

care of souls. Not quite a modern seminary, itself a creature of the sixteenth century, yet the arrangements provided for the training of the clergy in something more than the mere performance of rituals. More than Mass priests, they were expected to be pastors of souls. The council defined their behaviour in explicit terms:

Clerics shall not hold secular office nor indulge in commerce, especially unseemly commerce. They shall not attend performances of mimes, jesters or plays and shall avoid taverns except only out of necessity while travelling. Nor shall they play with dice; they should not even be present at such games. They should wear the clerical tonsure and be zealous in the performance of their divine offices and in other responsibilities. Moreover, they shall wear their garments clasped and neither too short nor too long. And they shall eschew bright colours such as red and green as well as ornamentation on their gloves and shoes.

(Canon 16)

The council went on to condemn the conduct of some priests:

We regret that not only some clerics in minor orders but also some prelates of churches spend half the night eating and talking, not to mention other things they are doing, and get to sleep so late that they are scarcely wakened by the birds singing and they mumble their way hurriedly through morning prayers. There are some clerics who celebrate Mass only four times a year and, what is worse, they disdain even attending Mass. And, if they happen to be present at Mass, they flee the silence of the choir to go outside to talk with laymen, preferring things frivolous to things divine. These and similar practices we totally forbid under penalty of suspension.

(Canon 17)

The clergy are commanded to abstain from drunkenness and the drinking custom in which each drinker matches the other drinkers drink for drink until only one is standing. They are to live chastely, and offenders are threatened with suspension. Bishops should institute only worthy clerics to benefices, and the bishops too are threatened with sanctions.

Decency requires that the clergy have nothing to do with the spilling of blood. They are forbidden to be surgeons and soldiers. Not only may they not condemn anyone to death – ‘sentence of blood’ – but they may not be present where blood is shed in punishment. And, in a noteworthy provision which was to eliminate a longstanding practice, clerics were forbidden to be involved in ordeals by water and fire. The guilty, many believed, would be rejected by the water (i.e., float to the surface), when they were thrown into blessed cold water, and the innocent would not be affected when they took a blessed hot iron in their hands. Since priests hereafter could bless neither the water nor the iron, these methods of criminal judgement could only fade away, which they did. Similarly, priests were forbidden to engage in hunting and fowling. The priestly life, in short, must be shred of incongruities and irrelevancies and imbued with a commitment to the service of souls.

More than any other provision of the council, none touched more people more personally than canon 21, often referred to by its opening words, ‘Omnis utriusque sexus’. ‘All Catholics of either sex’ shall confess their sins to their local parish priest at least once a year and receive holy communion at Easter. Failure to do so would mean exclusion from the Christian community during one’s lifetime and from Christian burial at life’s end. Annual confession, although urged before this time, now became an absolute requirement, and this decree was to be one of the most influential conciliar decrees of the Middle Ages in its consequences for the devotional lives of ordinary people.

Another matter touching the lives of most Christians concerned marriage. Wedding ceremonies must be performed at church and preceded by the publication of banns; clandestine (i.e., private) marriages were absolutely forbidden. The council, while forbidding clandestine marriages, did not declare them null and void: the parties may commit a sin, even a grave sin, by the clandestine marriage, but they are nonetheless married. It would be many centuries before such marriages would be declared invalid. The complex question of marrying relatives was somewhat simplified. Henceforward, one could marry beyond the fourth degree of kinship, which meant that what was now prohibited was marriage between a man and a woman sharing a common great-greatgrandparent or a closer ancestor (i.e., a third cousin or closer). Consanguinity (kinship) was an impediment to marriage based on blood relationship. Affinity was another matter: it was effected by relationship through marriage. When John married Mary, he had a relationship of affinity with Mary’s family and she with his. Thus, if Mary were to die, could John marry Mary’s sister Catherine or, for that matter, Mary’s mother, Maud? These are questions concerning the affect of affinity on the validity of marriage. Hitherto, affinity was an impediment to marriage within the third degree, thus forbidding, in this case, John from marrying his late wife’s mother and sister (first degree) and her nieces (second degree) but also her niece’s daughter (third degree). Hereafter, only the first degree was forbidden. In a rural society made up of small villages and tiny hamlets with little chance of travel, the choice of a partner was, in the nature of things, limited even with these somewhat relaxed provisions of the council. The new provision regarding affinity would probably have had more practical impact than those relating to consanguinity, given the shortness of life, particularly for women, the small circle of prospective second wives and the involvement of rural properties in these matters. The arrangements were still imperfect but a major improvement on the status quo ante.

Pope Innocent, concerned about the multiplication of religious orders and problems of papal oversight, forbade through the council the founding of new rules; new orders would have to adopt existing rules. How this impacted on the newly emerging orders of friars remains to be seen (chapter 11). Also, existing religious orders should follow the example of the Cistercians and hold general chapters in each province at three-year intervals in order to ensure the observance of the letter and spirit of their respective rules.

Four decrees dealt with the Jews. They are the last four of the 70 conciliar decrees, and one wonders if they were an afterthought and, if so, why they were added. In the first place, those Jewish money-lenders who charge usurious rates of interest need not be paid until they make reparations for their usury. Secondly, in a justly famous decree, distinctive dress was required of Jews and Muslims and deserves to be quoted:

In some places, it is not possible to distinguish Jews and Muslims from Christians. It happens now and then that through error Christian men com-mingle with Jewish and Muslim women and, conversely, Jewish and Muslim men with Christian women. In order to avoid such commingling in the future under the excuse of error as to religious identity, we decree that Jews and Muslims of both sexes, when in public in Christian regions, should always be distinguished from other people by their dress, since even Moses insisted on this [Lev. 19, 19; Deut. 22, 5, 11].

(Canon 68)

They were further forbidden to appear in public during certain days in Holy Week, since, the decree stated, it has been reported that some Jews offend mourning Christians by wearing more ornate clothes than they wear at other times. The two remaining decrees about the Jews can be summarized. Since, the council said, it is offensive for Jews to have power over Christians, they should be excluded from public office. And, further, Jews who have voluntarily converted to Christianity should not continue to observe rituals and observances of the Jewish religion.

Some comment is in order. Strictures against usury were not limited to Jews but against usury per se, no matter who the usurer. Ecclesiastical penalties were imposed on Christian usurers and the return of excess interest ordered by church courts. Some may see in this provision of the council an extension of this policy to non-Christian (i.e., Jewish) money-lenders. The exclusion of Jews from public office was first ordered at the Council of Toledo in 589 and was frequently repeated. Jews who were converted to Christianity and who continued to live in Jewish communities where social and religious practices were almost inextricably intertwined must frequently have had to make accommodations, which to the council could appear as compromises and even betrayals. Yet it is the dress provisions which linger in the memory long after the others have been forgotten or have become vague. Jews were required to be recognizable as Jews, as different, ostensibly to avoid sexual mingling with Christians. Whether darker motives lay hidden here it is not possible to say. Muslim rulers frequently required non-Muslims to dress distinctively. This requirement of the council regarding Jewish dress was not immediately adopted, but, in the course of the thirteenth century, a cloth badge of gold or crimson was required in England, France and Germany, and in some places a distinctive hat (Judenhut) was to be worn. Although laws of dress often required other groups to wear specific dress – priests, prostitutes, physicians, servants – the provision regarding the Jews singled out a group already prone to misunderstanding and raw prejudice. The massacre of over 150 Jews at York in 1190 was but a recent memory. Historians may dispute the severity and impact of the legislation about Jews from the Fourth Lateran Council, yet, to say the least, it further isolated a largely isolated sub-community and further fuelled existing attitudes.

On 30 November 1215 Innocent III blessed the fathers of the council with a relic of the true cross; he was to die within eight months. The bishops and others returned home, copies of the decrees in their baggage. Lest they remain mere mementoes of a Roman holiday, the council itself had provided that in every ecclesiastical province (e.g. Canterbury, Cologne, Rouen, Milan) an annual synod should be held to ensure observance of the conciliar decrees and to further the movement for reform. What happened? While annual synods were not necessarily observed in all the Christian lands, synods were convoked almost everywhere to publicize the pastoral aspects of the work of the council. In the provinces of France and Germany – in the latter the situation was complicated by continuing civil unrest – meetings were fairly promptly held. In Ireland the clergy met at Dublin in 1217. The Scots, deprived of their archbishop, did not meet until 1225. In England the bishops of the Canterbury province met at Oxford in 1222, and its decrees were frequently copied: some 60 manuscripts survive. Yet, even before 1222, the bishop of Salisbury, Richard Poore, had issued influential statutes. The Oxford and Salisbury decrees, reflecting the provisions of the Fourth Lateran Council, were incorporated into later provincial and diocesan synodal legislation. Yet equally, if not more importantly, nearly all the Lateran decrees were incorporated into the greatest medieval law book, the collection of decretals issued by Pope Gregory IX in 1234. Called simply the Decretals or the Liber Extra, this law book was promulgated as the sole, exclusive collection of general church law: any other general ecclesiastical laws previously in force were no longer in force. It was the law book studied at the universities, commented on by generations of legal scholars, used in the administration of the church and applied in the church courts. The inclusion of the Lateran decrees gave the decrees of that council a life beyond their repetition in local synods. With some later modifications, theDecretals remained the principal text of church law throughout the rest of the Middle Ages and even, in many places, into the twentieth century.

The emphasis on the care of souls cannot be measured solely by legislation, local or general. Manuals and directives of a practical sort were soon issued in the wake of the council to help the parochial clergy to carry out their duties to the souls entrusted to their care. Some took the form of instructions for hearing confession, now a pressing need in view of the decree mandating annual confession. Others dealt with preaching. Still others dealt with the manner of teaching their flocks the essentials of the Christian religion. The bishop of the diocese of Coventry and Lichfield, about 1230, appended to the usual pastoral canons of a diocesan synod two treatises for his clergy. A treatise on the seven deadly sins, in the form of a sermon to be given to their parishioners, explained the dangers to the soul of the sins of pride, envy, anger, sloth, avarice, lust and gluttony. A treatise on confession insisted, above all, that God forgives no sins unless there is true repentance, and it also was meant as an aid in helping penitents examine their consciences. At about the same time, the bishop of Lincoln, the learned pastor of souls Robert Grosseteste, composed Templum dei (Temple of God) for his parish priests. He made use of diagrams and tables, providing an easily accessible guide for his priests. For example, with remarkable clarity, Grosseteste shows that all virtue is the mean between two vices: faith between the vices of scepticism and credulity, hope between the vices of presumption and despair, charity between the vices of indiscrimination and hatred. He listed the ten impediments to marriage, the five sins requiring restitution, the three kinds of excommunication and so forth. That the Templum dei survives in over 90 manuscripts is testimony to its wide popularity. In the south of France, another learned bishop, Guillaume Durand, in 1291 furnished his clergy with a small book containing instructions for administering the sacraments as well as canons to govern their mission as priests. In this tradition, which grew out of the council’s pastoral emphasis, none is more representative than the explicit instructions given in 1281 by John Pecham, archbishop of Canterbury:

The ignorance of priests casts the people headlong into the pit of error, and the folly and stupidity of the clergy, who are obliged to teach the faithful in Catholic doctrine, occasionally lead them more to error than to sound teaching. To remedy such dangers we hereby order that every priest with the care of souls shall four times each year (once each quarter), on one solemn day or several, either personally or by another, instruct the people using simple English, as follows:

14 articles of faith

10 commandments

2 commandments of the gospels about love

7 works of mercy

7 capital [deadly] sins and their offspring

7 principal virtues

7 sacraments of grace.

Lest any priest excuse himself, saying that he is ignorant of these, although all ministers of the church are bound to know them, we shall summarize them briefly.

Pecham, the Paris-trained theologian, then did exactly that, not in the language of the universities but in simple, easy-to-understand language. This decree became separated from the other decrees issued in 1281 and had a life of its own: it became an important teaching guide for priests well into the sixteenth century. As a schema for popular instruction in the Catholic faith, it had the great merit of clarity, comprehensiveness, practicality and, above all, susceptibility to easy memorizing. Subsequent books of instruction have little improved on Pecham’s outline. Through it and similar instructional manuals used elsewhere in western Europe the effects of the Fourth Lateran Council were felt for centuries.

The provisions of that council were the greatest legacy of Innocent III to the universal church, not to the church as an institution, but to the church of the faithful, of men and women who looked to religion to give ultimate meaning to their lives. The canons of that council, in a practical way, strove to address the needs of these souls, and, in the centuries that followed, the impact was felt in almost every parish in Christendom.

Further reading

John C. Moore’s Pope Innocent III (1160/61–1216): To Root Up and to Plant (Leiden and Boston, 2003) provides an introduction. More analytical is Jane Sayers, Innocent III: Leader of Europe, 1198–1216 (London and New York, 1994). Also useful is James M. Powell, Innocent III: Vicar of Christ or Lord of the World (2nd edn; Washington, DC, 1994). For a primary source there is The Deeds of Pope Innocent III (Washington, 2004) with an important introduction by the translator, James M. Powell. For a specific region see Damian J. Smith, Innocent III and the Crown of Aragon: The Limits of Papal Authority (Aldershot and Burlington, VT, 2004). The reader should also consult T.C. Van Cleve, The Emperor Frederic II of Hohenstaufen: Immutator Mundi (Oxford, 1972).

For the Fourth Crusade, in addition to the general works on the crusades (see p. 120–121), see Jonathan Phillips, The Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constantinople (London, 2004) and D.E. Queller and T.F. Madden, The Fourth Crusade: The Conquest of Constantinople (2nd edn; Philadelphia, 1997), which makes a strong if not entirely persuasive case for the Venetians. Three contemporary accounts are available in English: Robert of Clari, The Conquest of Constantinople (tr. E.H. McNeal; Toronto, 1996); Villehardouin, ‘The Conquest of Constantinople’, in Joinville and Villehardouin, Chronicles of the Crusades (tr. M.R.B. Shaw; Harmondsworth, Mddsx, 1963); and Gunther of Pairis, The Capture of Constantinople: The Hystoria Constantinopolitana (ed. and tr. Alfred J. Andrea; Philadelphia, 1997). Most comprehensive is the compilation made by Alfred J. Andrea, Contemporary Sources for the Fourth Crusade (Leiden, 2000). For the complex situation in the East at this time see Charles M. Brand, Byzantium Confronts the West, 1180–1204 (Cambridge, MA, 1968).

The decrees of the Fourth Lateran Council can be found conveniently in H.J. Shroeder (ed. and tr.), Disciplinary Decrees of the General Councils: Text, Translation, and Commentary (St Louis, MO, and London, 1937), in English Historical Documents, 1189–1327 (ed. Harry Rothwell; London, 1975) and in Norman P. Tanner, ed., Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils (Washington, 1990). A fascinating account of the council can be found in Stephan Kuttner and Antonio García y García, ‘A New Eyewitness Account of the Fourth Lateran Council’, Traditio 20 (1964), 115–78. For the ordeal see Robert Bartlett, Trial by Fire and Water: The Medieval Judicial Ordeal (Oxford, 1986). On reception of the conciliar decrees see Marion Gibbs and Jane Lang, Bishops and Reform, 1215–1272: With Special Reference to the Lateran Council of 1215 (Oxford, 1934), and Paul B. Pixton, The German Episcopacy and the Implementation of the Decrees of the Fourth Lateran Council, 1216–1245 (Leiden, 1995). Robert Chazan has published two books on the Jews in the Middle Ages: in a textbook series there is The Jews of Medieval Western Christendom, 1000–1500 (Cambridge, 2006), and a revisionist book which stresses the positive experience of medieval Jews, Reassessing Jewish Life in Medieval Europe(Cambridge, 2010). For the practice of the confession of sins see Alexander Murray, ‘Confession before 1215’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 6th series, 3 (1993), 51–81, and Sarah Hamilton, The Practice of Penance, 900–1050(Woodbridge, Suffolk, and Rochester, NY, 2001). For pastoral manuals see Leonard E. Boyle, Pastoral Care, Clerical Education and Canon Law, 1200–1400 (London, 1981) and John Shinners and William J. Dohar, eds, Pastors and the Care of Souls in Medieval England(Notre Dame, IN, 1998). A useful example is Robert Grosseteste, Templum Dei (eds. J. Goering and F.A.C. Mantello; Toronto, 1984). Decima Douie discusses Pecham’s constitution in Archbishop Pecham (Oxford, 1952).

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