VII. THE PAPACY SUPREME: 1085–1294

The conflict between Church and state over lay investitures did not die with Gregory VII and the apparent triumph of the Empire; it continued for a generation through several pontificates, and reached a compromise in the Concordat of Worms (1122) between Pope Calixtus II and the Emperor Henry V. Henry surrendered to the Church “all investiture by ring and staff,” and agreed that elections of bishops and abbots “shall be conducted canonically”—i.e., be made by the affected clergy or monks—“and shall be free from all interference” and simony. Calixtus conceded that in Germany the elections of bishops or abbots holding lands from the crown should be held in the presence of the king; that in disputed elections the king might decide between the contenders after consulting with the bishops of the province; and that an abbot or bishop holding lands from the king should render to him all feudal obligations due from vassal to suzerain.118 Similar agreements had already been signed for England and France. Each side claimed the victory. The Church had made substantial progress toward autonomy, but the feudal nexus continued to give the kings a predominant voice in the choice of bishops everywhere in Europe.119

In 1130 the college of cardinals divided into factions; one chose Innocent II, the other Anacletus II. Anacletus, though of the noble family of the Pierleoni, had had a Jewish grandfather, a convert to Christianity; his opponents called him “Judaeo-pontifex”; and St. Bernard, who on other occasions was friendly to the Jews, wrote to the Emperor Lothaire II that “to the shame of Christ a man of Jewish origin was come to occupy the chair of St. Peter”—forgetting Peter’s origin. The greater part of the clergy, and all but one of Europe’s kings, upheld Innocent. The populace of Europe amused itself with slanders charging Anacletus with incest, and with plundering Christian churches to enrich his Jewish friends; but the people of Rome supported him till his death (1138). It was probably the story of Anacletus that led to the fourteenth-century legend of Andreas “the Jewish Pope.”119a

Hadrian IV (1154–9) exemplified again the ecclesiastical carrière ouverte aux talents. Born in England of lowly parentage, and coming as a beggar to a monastery, Nicholas Breakspear raised himself by pure ability to be abbot, cardinal, and pope. He bestowed Ireland upon Henry II of England, compelled Barbarossa to kiss his feet, and almost maneuvered the great Emperor into conceding the right of the popes to dispose of royal thrones. When Hadrian died a majority of cardinals chose Alexander III (1159–81), a minority chose Victor IV. Barbarossa, thinking to restore the power once held by German emperors over the papacy, invited both men to lay their claims before him; Alexander refused, Victor agreed; and at the Synod of Pavia (1160) Barbarossa recognized Victor as Pope. Alexander excommunicated Frederick, released the Emperor’s subjects from civil obedience, and helped revolt in Lombardy. The victory of the Lombard League at Legnano (1176) humbled Frederick. He made his peace with Alexander at Venice, and once more kissed papal feet. The same pontiff compelled Henry II of England to repair barefoot to the tomb of Becket, and there receive discipline from the canons of Canterbury. It was Alexander’s long struggle and complete victory that made straight the way for one of the greatest popes.

Innocent III was born at Anagni, near Rome, in 1161. As Lotario dei Conti, son of the count of Segni, he had all the advantages of aristocratic birth and cultured rearing. He studied philosophy and theology at Paris, canon and civil law at Bologna. Back in Rome, by his mastery of both diplomacy and doctrine, and his influential connections, he advanced rapidly on the ecclesiastical ladder; at thirty he was a cardinal deacon; and at thirty-seven, though still not a priest, he was unanimously chosen pope (1198). He was ordained on one day, and consecrated on the next. It was his good fortune that the Emperor Henry VI, who had acquired control of South Italy and Sicily, had died in 1197, leaving the throne to the three-year-old Frederick II. Innocent seized the opportunity vigorously: deposed the German prefect in Rome, ousted the German feudatories from Spoleto and Perugia, received the submission of Tuscany, re-established the rule of the papacy in the Papal States, was recognized by Henry’s widow as overlord of the Two Sicilies, and consented to be the guardian of her son. In ten months Innocent had made himself master of Italy.

He had, on the existing evidence, the best mind of his time. In his early thirties he had written four works of theology; they were learned and eloquent, but they are lost in the glare of his political fame. His pronouncements as Pope were characterized by a clarity and logic of thought, a fitness and pungency of phrase, that could have made him a brilliant Aquinas or an orthodox Abélard. Despite his small stature he derived a commanding presence from his keen eyes and stern dark face. He was not without humor; he sang well, and composed poetry; he had a tender side, and could be kindly, patient, and personally tolerant. But in doctrine and morals he allowed no deviation from the dogmas or ethics of the Church. The world of Christian faith and hope was the empire that he had been named to protect; and like any king he would guard his realm with the sword when the word did not suffice. Born to riches, he lived in philosophic simplicity; in an age of universal venality he remained incorruptible;120 at once after his consecration he forbade the officials of his Curia to charge for their services. He liked to see the wealth of the world enrich Peter’s See, but he administered the papal funds with a reasonably honest hand. He was a consummate diplomat, and moderately shared in the reluctant unmorality of that distinguished trade.121 As if eleven centuries had fallen away, he was a Roman emperor, Stoic rather than Christian, and never doubting his right to rule the world.

With so many strong popes in the fresh memory of Rome, it was natural that Innocent should base his policies upon a belief in the sanctity and high mission of his office. He carefully maintained the pomp and majesty of papal ceremony, and never stooped in public from imperial dignity. Sincerely believing himself the heir to the powers then generally conceded to have been given by the Son of God to the apostles and the Church, he could hardly recognize any authority as equal to his own. “The Lord left to Peter,” he said, “the government not only of all the Church, but of the whole world.”122 He did not claim supreme power in earthly or purely secular affairs, except in the Papal States;123 but he insisted that where the spiritual conflicted with the secular power the spiritual power should be held as superior to the secular as the sun is to the moon. He shared the ideal of Gregory VII—that all governments should accept a place in a world state of which the pope should be the head, with paramount authority over all matters of justice, morality, and faith; and for a time he almost realized that dream.

In 1204, through the conquest of Constantinople by the Crusaders, he achieved one part of his plans: the Greek Church submitted to the Bishop of Rome, and Innocent could speak with joy of “the seamless garment of Christ.” He brought Serbia and even distant Armenia under the dominion of the Roman See. Gradually he secured control over ecclesiastical appointments, and made the powerful episcopacy the organ and servant of the papacy. Through an astonishing succession of vital conflicts he reduced the potentates of Europe to an unprecedented recognition of his sovereignty. His policies were least effective in Italy: he failed in repeated efforts to end the wars of the Italian city-states; and in Rome his political enemies made life so unsafe for him that for a time he had to shun his capital. King Sverre of Norway (1184–1202) successfully resisted him despite excommunication and interdict.124 Philip II of France ignored his command to make peace with England, but yielded to the Pope’s insistence that he take back his discarded wife. Alfonso IX of Leon was persuaded to put away Berengaria, whom he had married within the forbidden degrees of kinship. Portugal, Aragon, Hungary, and Bulgaria acknowledged themselves as feudal fiefs of the papacy, and sent it tribute yearly. When King John rejected Innocent’s appointment of Langton as archbishop of Canterbury, the Pope drove him by interdict and shrewd diplomacy to add England to the list of papal fiefs. Innocent extended his power in Germany by supporting Otto IV against Philip of Swabia, then Philip against Otto, then Otto against Frederick II, then Frederick against Otto, in each case exacting concessions to the papacy as the price of his favor, and freeing the Papal States from the threat of encirclement. He reminded the emperors that it was a pope who had “translated” the imperium or imperial power from the Greeks to the Franks; that Charlemagne had been made Emperor only by papal anointment and coronation; and that what the popes had given they could take away. A Byzantine visitor to Rome described Innocent as “the successor not of Peter but of Constantine.”125

He repelled all secular efforts to tax the Christian clergy without papal consent. He provided papal funds for necessitous priests, and labored to improve the education of the clergy. He raised the social status of the clergy by defining the Church not as all Christian believers but as all the Christian clergy. He condemned the episcopal or monastic absorption of parochial tithes at the expense of the parish priest.126 To reform monastic laxity he ordered the regular surveillance and visitation of monasteries and convents. His legislation reduced to order the complex relations of clergy and laity, priest and bishop, bishop and pope. He developed the papal Curia to an efficient court of counsel, administration, and judgment; it became now the most competent governing body of its time, and its methods and terminology helped to form the art and technique of diplomacy. Innocent himself was probably the best lawyer of the age, capable of finding legal support, in logic and precedent, for every decision that he made. Lawyers and learned men frequented the “consistory” where he presided over the cardinals as a superior ecclesiastical court, to profit from his discussions and decisions on points of civil or canon law. Some called him Pater iuris, Father of the Law;127 others, in fond humor, called him Solomon III.128

In his final triumph as legislator and Pope, he presided in 1215 over the Fourth Lateran Council, held in the church of St. John’s Lateran in Rome. To this twelfth ecumenical council came 1500 abbots, bishops, archbishops, and other prelates, and plenipotentiaries from all the important nations of a united Christendom. The Pope’s opening address was a bold admission and challenge: “The corruption of the people has its chief source in the clergy. From this arise the evils of Christendom: faith perishes, religion is defaced… justice is trodden under foot, heretics multiply, schismatics are emboldened, the faithless grow strong, the Saracens triumph.”129 The assembled power and intellect of the Church here allowed itself to be completely dominated by one man. His judgments became the Council’s decrees. It allowed him to redefine the basic dogmas of the Church; now for the first time the doctrine of transubstantiation was officially defined. It accepted his decrees requiring that a distinctive badge be worn by non-Christians in Christian lands. It responded enthusiastically to his call for a war against the Albigensian heretics. But it also followed his lead in recognizing the shortcomings of the Church. It denounced the peddling of fraudulent relics. It severely censured the “indiscreet and superfluous indulgences which some prelates … are not afraid to grant, whereby the Keys of the Church are made contemptible, and the satisfaction of penance is deprived of its force.”130 It attempted a far-reaching reform of monastic life. It denounced clerical drunkenness, immorality, and clandestine marriage, and passed vigorous measures against them; but it condemned the Albigensian claim that all sexual intercourse is sinful. In its attendance, scope, and effects the Fourth Lateran Council was the most important assembly of the Church since the Council of Nicaea.

From that apex of his career Innocent declined rapidly to an early death. He had given himself so unremittingly to the administration and enlargement of his office that at fifty-five he was exhausted. “I have no leisure,” he mourned, “to meditate on supramundane things. Scarce can I breathe. So much must I live for others that almost I am a stranger to myself.”131 Perhaps in his last year he could look back upon his work and judge it more objectively than in the heat of strife. The crusades that he had organized for the reconquest of Palestine had failed; the one that would succeed after his death was the ferocious extermination of the Albigensians in southern France. He had won the admiration of his contemporaries, but not, like Gregory I or Leo IX, their affection. Some churchmen complained that he was too much the king, too little the priest; St. Lutgardis thought he could only by a narrow margin escape hell;132 and the Church herself, though proud of his genius and grateful for his labors, withheld from him that canonization which she had conferred upon lesser and more scrupulous men.

But we must not refuse him the credit of having brought the Church to her greatest height, and close to the realization of her dream of a moral world-state. He was the ablest statesman of his age. He pursued his aims with vision, devotion, flexible persistence, and unbelievable energy. When he died (1216) the Church had reached a height of organization, splendor, repute, and power which she had never known before, and would only rarely and briefly know again.

Honorius III (1216–27) does not rank high in the cruel annals of history, because he was too gentle to carry on with vigor the war between Empire and papacy. Gregory IX (1227–41), though eighty when made Pope, waged that war with almost fanatical tenacity; fought Frederick II so successfully as to postpone the Renaissance for a hundred years; and organized the Inquisition. Yet he too was a man of unquestionable sincerity and heroic devotion, who defended what seemed to him the most precious possession of mankind —its Christ-begotten faith. He could not have been a hard man who, as cardinal, had protected and wisely guided the possibly heretical Francis. Innocent IV (1243–54) destroyed Frederick II, and sanctioned the use of torture by the Inquisition.133 He was a good patron of philosophy, aided the universities, and founded schools of law. Alexander IV (1254–61) was a man of peace, kindly, merciful, and just, who “astounded the world by his freedom from despotism”;134 he deprecated the martial qualities of his predecessors,135preferred piety to politics, and “died of a broken heart,” said a Franciscan chronicler, “considering daily the terrible and increasing strife among Christians.”136 Clement IV (1265–8) returned to war, organized the defeat of Manfred, and ruined the Hohenstaufen dynasty and Imperial Germany. The recapture of Constantinople by the Greeks threatened to end the accord between the Greek and the Roman Church; but Gregory X (1271–6) earned the gratitude of Michael Palaeologus by discountenancing the ambition of Charles of Anjou to conquer Byzantium, the restored Greek Emperor submitted the Eastern Church to Rome; and the papacy was again supreme.

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!