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Sermon Podcast | Audio | Video : Christian Books : CHAPTER IX INNOCENT III

The Church And The Empire by D. J. Medley


[Sidenote: The new Pope.]

Celestine III died less than four months after the Emperor Henry VI, and the centre of interest immediately shifted from the Empire to the Papacy. For, in their desire to shut out the Roman clergy and people from any share in the election, the Cardinals made haste to find a successor. As it happened, the object of their choice was also the favourite of the Roman people. Lothair of Segni was the youngest of the Cardinals, being only thirty-seven years of age. He was sprung from a German family which had settled in the tenth century in the Campagna. He had studied in Paris and Bologna, and had been made Cardinal by his uncle, Clement III. Celestine was of the rival family of Orsini, and during his reign the young Cardinal remained in retirement and consoled himself by writing a book on the Despite of the World. Thus he was young, noble, wealthy, and distinguished. He showed his power of self-control at once by doing nothing to shorten the canonical time before his consecration as priest and bishop; while the magnificence of the coronation ceremonies typified the view which he took of the office and position.

[Sidenote: The condition of Europe.]

The work of Innocent III was European in importance, and he found his opportunity in the disturbed condition of the time. The rivalry of Ghibelline and Guelf in Germany and Italy, and the rivalry of the houses of Capet and Plantagenet in France, forbade any concerted action on the part of Christendom, whether against pagans on the eastern frontier of Germany or against Mohammedans in Spain or Syria. Hungary and Poland were both in a state of ferment; in Spain the Almohades from Morocco were making serious advances. Saladin's death might seem to offer a peculiarly favourable chance of recovering for Christendom what had been so recently lost. But the Empire was divided; England and France neutralised each other, the Eastern Empire was weakened by the success of an usurper, the knightly orders were quarrelling with each other. And this state of disunion was not the most dangerous feature of the moment. The moral condition of Europe was seldom worse. Philip of France had repudiated his Danish wife, Ingebiorg, apparently for no more valid reason than that he liked some one better; Alfonso of Castile took his own half-sister to wife. Oriental manners, imported from Palestine or learnt from commercial intercourse in the Mediterranean, seemed to be invading the furthest regions of the West. Perhaps to the same influence may be attributed the spread of religious heresies. Much of this was provoked by direct antagonism to a powerful and corrupt Church; but the actual form assumed by the positive beliefs of those who organised themselves apart from the Catholic Church were largely Oriental in character.

Everything combined to encourage Innocent's interference, and it may be pointed out at once that his success was largely due to the selfish ambitions and desires of the lay princes, which enabled him to pose as the undoubted representative of moral force organised in the Church. In all his most important acts he was the mouthpiece of popular opinion. Thus his contest with Philip of France in favour of the repudiated Ingebiorg commanded the sympathy of every right-thinking person in Europe; his desire for the separation of Italy and Germany under different rulers was popular in Italy; while to attempt an union of the Churches of East and West, to crush out heresy in the south of France and elsewhere, to promote a new crusade in the East, were all regarded as duties falling strictly within the papal sphere.

[His claim for the Papacy.]

The importance of this great activity lies in the fact that it was based upon the most advanced theories of papal power. It was the controversy over lay investiture which first caused the defenders of the Church to formulate their views of the sphere of ecclesiastical influence as against the influence of the secular authority. But the extreme claims put forward for the Papacy as the head of the Church, by Gregory VII and his followers, had provoked the counter definitions of the jurists of Bologna on behalf of the imperial power. But the claim of universal dominion by the Emperor was contradicted by facts, and never rose above the dignity of an academic thesis; whereas in the century which elapsed from the days of Gregory VII to those of Innocent III the papal power was becoming an increasing reality in the Church. It is indeed a little difficult to see wherein it was possible for any successor of Gregory VII to make an advance upon the claims put forward by that Pope. Gregory in fond of pointing out that the power of binding and loosing given to St. Peter was absolutely comprehensive, including all persons and secular as well as spiritual matters. Innocent tells the Patriarch of Constantinople that the Lord left to Peter not only the whole Church, but the whole world to govern. To the Karolingian age it was the Emperor who was the Vicar of God. The Church reformers, while attacking this title, do not seem to have claimed in words for the Pope a higher title than Vicar of St. Peter. Innocent, however, more than once asserts that he is the representative |not of mere man, but of very God.| In fact, such development as is to be found in the papal office during the twelfth century consists merely in making rather more explicit positions which have already been asserted. Gregory, in writing to William the Conqueror, had used the figures of the sun and moon to illustrate the relations of Church and State. Innocent draws out the analogy in much detail: |As God, the builder of the universe, has set up two lights in the firmament of heaven, the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night, so for the firmament of the universal Church, which is called by the name of heaven, He has set up two great dignities, the greater to rule souls, as it were days, and the lesser to rule bodies, as it were nights; and these are priestly authority and royal power. Further, as the moon obtains its light from the sun, seeing that it is really the lesser both in quantity and quality, and also in position and influence, so royal power obtains the splendour of its dignity from priestly authority.| He points out on another occasion that |individual kings have individual kingdoms, but Peter is over all, as in fulness so also in breadth, because he is the Vicar of Him whose is the earth and the fulness thereof, the round world and they that dwell therein. Further, as the priesthood excels in dignity, so it precedes in antiquity. Both kingdom and priesthood,| he allows, |were instituted among the people of God; but,| he adds, |while the priesthood was instituted by divine ordinance, the kingdom came into existence through the importunity of man.| Hence it is not strange that |not only in the Patrimony of the Church, but also in other spheres, we occasionally exercise temporal jurisdiction,| for |he to whom God says in Peter, 'Whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth, etc.', is His Vicar, who is priest for ever after the order of Melchisedek, ordained by God to be judge of the quick and the dead.|

[Sidenote: He secures power in Rome.]

But while the Pope assumed this all-embracing position, a considerable share of his energies was absorbed in a very small and purely selfish matter -- the extension of the temporal dominion of the Papacy; and the use for this personal object of the great powers which men willingly acknowledged in the Pope as the upholder of the standard of morality greatly prejudiced the success of Innocent's policy elsewhere. In its origin this was a policy of self-preservation. The civil government of Rome was in the hands of a prefect representing the Emperor and a senator who was the spokesman of the Commune. The Pope was either a prisoner or a nonentity in his own capital. The Empire being in abeyance, it was not difficult to transform the prefect into a papal officer, but a greater triumph was the nomination of the senator, for it carried the ultimate control over the municipality, and thus undermined the power of the Commune, which had paralysed the papal influence in Rome for nearly sixty years. This signal victory was not gained without a struggle. The democratic party even drove the Pope from the city for a time; but by 1205, Innocent, by apparent concessions and the use of bribery, had won his end.

[Sidenote: Central Italy.]

Meanwhile an even more important movement had been accomplished. The centre of the peninsula outside the Patrimony of St. Peter was in the hands Of Henry VI's German followers. One was driven from Spoleto, another from Ravenna, and both these districts were added to the papal dominions. Tuscany had been made over to Henry VI's brother, Philip; but he went off to secure the German crown, and his subjects did homage to the Pope. There existed, however, a League of Tuscan cities, and the Pope, leaving to them their independence, merely accepted the office of President of the League. It was the addition of these substantial dominions to the lands of the Patrimony which, as between Pope and Emperor, effectually solved the question of the long-contested Matildan inheritance, and laid the foundation of the temporal dominions of the Papacy as they remained until 1860.

[Sidenote: South Italy.]

The German influence also threatened to be paramount in the south of the peninsula. For Henry VI, while giving to Queen Constance the nominal regency during the minority of their son Frederick, took care that the real authority should be in the hands of his German followers. Constance, however, had no desire for the continued union of the German and Sicilian crowns; and here she found a staunch supporter in the Pope. First with Celestine, and then with Innocent, she entered into close relations. Frederick took the old Norman oath of vassalage for his dominions; and when Innocent confirmed the title, he compelled Constance in return to surrender the ecclesiastical privileges connected with elections, legatine visits, appeals, and councils originally granted by Urban II to Count Roger of Sicily, and to promise an annual tribute. The Pope, however, aided her to clear her country of the Germans, many of whom he afterwards again hunted from Central Italy. It was natural, therefore, that on her death in November, 1198, Constance should commend her child to the guardianship of Innocent. Innocent himself was far too much occupied to take the personal direction of affairs, and eight years of incessant warfare (1200-8) were necessary before the German influence could be finally got rid of, and then Innocent secured his influence through a regency of native nobles under the presidency of his own brother.

[Sidenote: The contest in Germany.]

Even on the German side there was little need to anticipate that the two crowns of Germany and Sicily would remain united. The nobles were scarcely likely to keep their promise of crowning Henry's young son. He was a mere child, three years of age; not yet baptised, perhaps because his father was excommunicate; brought up in Italy and in the hands of Italians; a protege of the Pope. Thus his uncle Philip was easily persuaded by the Hohenstaufen supporters in Germany to take the place intended for his nephew, and was chosen and crowned as King of Germany (March, 1198). But the enemies of the Hohenstaufen could not let the opportunity go by, and three months later, at the suggestion of Richard of England, they elected and crowned his nephew, Otto of Brunswick, a son of Henry the Lion of Saxony, whom Richard had made Count of Poitou and York. Thus was revived the struggle between Ghibelline and Guelf.

[Sidenote: Innocent's decision.]

Innocent undertook the decision of the question as a matter belonging to his sphere, |chiefly because it was the Apostolic See which transferred the Empire from the east to the west, and lastly because the same See grants the crown of the Empire.| In the divided condition of Germany much depended on his attitude. It was scarcely likely that he would accept a Hohenstaufen who was lord of Tuscany. But Philip was the nominee of the most numerous and important section of the German nobles, while the death of Richard of England (1199) deprived Otto of his chief supporter. As Gregory VII on a similar occasion, so now Innocent delayed his decision between the rivals until he could make up his mind that Otto had some chance of success. Meanwhile he did everything to prejudice the minds of the German people against Philip, who, as the holder of lands claimed by the Papacy, was already excommunicate. After three years of deliberation Innocent declared himself. Otto paid a heavy price for the decision in his favour. By the Capitulation of Neuss (June, 1201) he swore to protect to the utmost all the possessions, honours, and rights of the Roman Church, both those which it already held and those which he would help it to recover. The extent of land was defined as including not only the Patrimony of St. Peter (from Radicofani to Ceperano), but also the Exarchate, the Pentapolis, the March of Ancona, the Duchy of Spoleto, and the territories of the Countess Matilda.

[Sidenote: Innocent III and Philip Augustus of France.]

But in the course of the next few years Innocent was obliged to take up a totally different attitude in this struggle in consequence of disappointments elsewhere. There were two such which fell especially heavily upon him during the first half of his reign. He inherited from his predecessor a quarrel with Philip Augustus of France. Philip lost his first wife in 1190; in 1193 his designs against England caused him to marry Ingebiorg, a sister of the King of Denmark. Immediately after the marriage he took a dislike to her, refused to live with her, and obtained from an assembly of his own clergy a sentence of divorce, founded on an allegation of some very distant relationship between him and his new wife. Ingebiorg and her brother appealed to Pope Celestine III, who declared the sentence of divorce illegal and null. Philip not only paid no attention to the numerous letters and legates of the Pope, but he tried to make the divorce irrevocable by taking a new wife. After several rebuffs he found in Agnes of Meran, the daughter of a Bavarian noble, one who was willing to accept the dubious position (1196). Innocent III at once took up an uncompromising attitude, and instructed his legates that if Philip refused to send away Agnes and to restore Ingebiorg, they should put the kingdom under an interdict preparatory to a sentence of personal excommunication against Philip and Agnes themselves. Those bishops who dared to publish the interdict were seriously maltreated by the King; but after nine months of resistance the distress of his people at the cessation of religious services caused him to submit; he pretended to take back Ingebiorg, and the interdict was raised (1200). But he did not send away Agnes, and a renewal of the interdict was only averted by Agnes' death in 1201. Innocent, desiring to be conciliatory, actually declared Agnes' two children legitimate. Philip still, however, pressed for a divorce from Ingebiorg, declaring that he was bewitched by her. After his victory over John of England in 1204 he became more than ever obdurate to papal remonstrances, and he even contemplated a new marriage. Innocent was not in a position to drive him to extremes, and was obliged to temporise for a time. Eventually, however, he reduced Philip to submission.

[Sidenote: The Fourth Crusade.]

But Innocent suffered more definite defeat in the matter of the Crusade. The crusading fervour had much diminished, and it has been pointed out as characteristic of the age that a fourth crusade was determined on at a tournament in Champagne in 1199. Celestine III had vainly tried to rouse the interest of Europe, but the preaching of Fulk, the priest of Neuilly, recalled the efforts and the success of Peter the Hermit and St. Bernard. Innocent III lent his whole influence to the enterprise. But from the first everything seemed to go contrary to his wishes. The death of Theobald of Champagne (1201), who was the papal nominee for the leadership, placed at the head of the crusaders Boniface, Marquis of Montserrat, an Italian and kinsman of Philip of France and a typical representative of the worst side of feudalism. From that moment Innocent lost all control over the expedition. Instead of going directly to the Holy Land, the barons decided to attack the Mohammedan power in Egypt -- perhaps the sounder policy. They made an agreement with the Venetians to find the shipping for the host in return for a large sum of money. But the long delay caused many crusaders to set off to the Holy Land; so that when the main force arrived at Venice it was so diminished in numbers that the leaders could not raise the sum for which they had pledged themselves to Venice. Probably there was no deep-laid plot for the diversion of the crusading host from the first. But the Venetians suddenly found themselves with the practical direction of a formidable army; they had enemies in the Adriatic against whom they had hitherto been powerless; they had old causes of rivalry and enmity with Constantinople. At the same time King Philip of Germany was urging the cause of his brother-in-law, who had been deposed from the Byzantine throne. The crusaders, unwilling to disperse and unable to insist, allowed themselves to be diverted, first to an attack upon Zara, a nest of pirates in the Adriatic, although it belonged to the King of Hungary, who was himself a crusader; and then to Constantinople, which they ultimately captured (1204), and where they set up a Latin Empire. Innocent did everything to prevent this diversion of his cherished scheme. He forbade the attack upon Zara, he excommunicated the Venetians for going to Constantinople, and threatened the whole host with the same penalty. But he was powerless. The few in the army who were moved by some of the crusading spirit were overruled; and when the papal legates for the expedition to Palestine joined the army at Constantinople, all thought of going on to Palestine was abandoned. Innocent was forced to accept what was done and to console himself with the thought of the blow thus dealt to the Eastern Church.

[Sidenote: Innocent's difficulty.]

These rebuffs seriously diminished Innocent's influence in Europe for a time. Moreover, Innocent soon had reason to regret his championship of Otto. Philip was wealthy and personally popular, while Otto's brusquerie and selfishness alienated many supporters. Consequently from 1203 Philip distinctly obtained the upper hand, and at length in 1207 Innocent opened negotiations with him. But these were rendered futile when Philip fell victim to the assassin's knife in June, 1208. Otto's acceptance now became inevitable, and he did everything to conciliate his opponents. He submitted himself to a fresh election by the German nobles, and won the Hohenstaufen by marrying Beatrice, the daughter of his late rival. He made new concessions to the Pope, which practically amounted to a renunciation of the powers confirmed to the Emperor in the matter of elections by the Concordat of Worms; he undertook to give up the right of spoils and to help in the eradication of heresy. And all this he promised because he was |King of the Romans by the grace of God and of the Pope.|

[Sidenote: Otto's designs.]

But Otto's acceptance was only the beginning of the end. He knew that he owed his position merely to the accident of Philip's death and to the absence of any eligible Hohenstaufen candidate. He had therefore no feelings of gratitude towards Innocent. Moreover, he was now surrounded by Ghibelline influences, and was anxious to be crowned emperor. Thus, despite his promises of 1201 and 1209, to recover to the Papacy all the lands and rights which it claimed, he began to realise that the task to which he must give himself was the restoration of the connection between Italy and Germany, which had been entirely broken since Henry VI's death. In fact, this Guelf prince took up the work of the Hohenstaufen. When, therefore, Otto and Innocent met in Italy a year later, Otto declined to give more than a verbal promise that after his coronation he would do what was right. Innocent, in return, did not refuse the crown indeed, but made a new departure in naming Otto Emperor without consecrating him as such, and thus denied to him the divinity of the imperial office (October, 1209).

[Sidenote: Otto's success.]

Otto immediately set to work. He recovered for the Empire all the lands of Central Italy which Innocent had already annexed to the papal dominions, including, of course, the Matildan inheritance; he made the Roman Prefect an imperial officer again; and entering into alliance with the German followers of Henry VI, who had never been entirely dislodged from the southern kingdom, he overran Apulia and prepared, by the aid of a fleet lent by Pisa, to pass over into Sicily. Innocent did everything in his power to check the conqueror. He excommunicated him (August, 1210); in conjunction with Philip Augustus of France, the old ally of Henry VI, he roused disaffection against Otto among the German nobles. Innocent was somewhat taken aback when Otto's subjects, finding that the Pope in his anathema had absolved them from their fealty to the King, held Otto as deposed, and proceeded to elect in his place the young Frederick Roger, Henry VI's son and the papal ward, who was already King of Sicily. This choice also threatened to produce that very union of Germany and Italy which Otto was bent on accomplishing. But the need of checking Otto forced Innocent to acquiesce, and Frederick did everything to allay the papal fears.

[Sidenote: Innocent and Frederick.]

Since Frederick could not stop Otto's progress in the south, it was arranged that he should go north to Germany in the hope of drawing Otto away. Before he left, Frederick had his young child Henry crowned, as an earnest that he did not intend to join the kingdom he was going to seek with that which he already held. He passed through Rome on his way north, and Innocent obtained from him a repetition of his liege homage for Sicily and a promise that the two kingdoms should be kept separate. In return Innocent gave him the title of |Emperor elect by the grace of God and of the Pope,| and supplied him with money. Innocent thus hoped that he had taken every precaution to avoid the dangers which he feared, while Frederick, young and inexperienced, seems to have accepted the conditions willingly and to have intended to keep them. His ambition and the unexpected prospects thus opened to him led him on regardless of consequences.

[Sidenote: Otto's failure.]

Frederick's move was perfectly successful. Otto rushed back to Germany, and the death of his wife Beatrice did away with any obligations of loyalty which the partisans of the Hohenstaufen might have felt towards him. Frederick was elected and crowned (December, 1212), and renewed the old Hohenstaufen league with France. Otto turned for help to his uncle, John of England. John was excommunicate, but now made his peace with the Pope. Philip, at first encouraged by Innocent to attack England and then after John's submission forbidden to go, turned his arms against Flanders. A coalition was formed against him, and was joined by John and by Otto; but Philip's victory at Bouvines (July, 1214) broke up the coalition and put an end to Otto's hopes. For the four years of life which remained to him his power was confined to Brunswick.

[Sidenote: Frederick's acceptance.]

Meanwhile Frederick had, as it were, put the crown upon his work of submission to the Papacy. By the Golden Bull (July, 1213), he repeated the promises which Otto had made at Neuss in 1201 with the additions of 1209. In 1215 he went through a second and more formal coronation at Aachen, and took the cross in conjunction with a number of German nobles. In 1216 he further promised, in a formal deed, that in return for the imperial crown his son Henry should become King of Sicily, entirely independently from himself and under the supremacy of the Roman Church. Thus Frederick in his eagerness put himself completely in the hands of the Papacy.

[Sidenote: Innocent and England.]

Otto's cause had been linked with that of his uncle John, over whom Innocent won the greatest of his victories. On a vacancy in the see of Canterbury (1206) the right of election was disputed, as usual, between the monks of the monastery of Christchurch at Canterbury and the bishops of the province. King John thrust in his nominee. Innocent settled the matter by making an appointment of his own. But John refused to accept Stephen Langton; and Innocent proceeded to force his consent. In 1208 the country was laid under an interdict; and John treated the bishops who published it as Philip Augustus had treated the French bishops ten years before. In 1209 Innocent excommunicated John, and in 1212 declared him deposed. Despite the continued obstinacy of Philip of France in the matter of Ingebiorg, Innocent called upon him to execute the papal sentence; and Philip, thinking that the aid of Denmark would be useful, ended the twenty years' dispute and accorded to Ingebiorg the position of Queen for the rest of his reign. It was certainly a measure of the growing strength of the royal power in France that it had been able to defy the Papacy for so long in a matter in which the King was so clearly in the wrong. Philip's threatened attack brought John to his knees; and in 1213 he not only accepted Stephen Langton, but even surrendered his kingdom to the Papacy to receive it back as a papal fief, and undertook to pay an annual tribute. The sequel was not quite so satisfactory for Innocent. The surrender to the Pope and the defeat at Bouvines so enraged the barons and clergy in England that they combined to force John to sign Magna Carta (1215). But John was now under the protection of the Pope; and although Innocent's own archbishop took the lead in the movement against John, Innocent issued a bull in condemnation of the charter; but so long as John lived, even the interdict and excommunication which followed failed to move the barons. Innocent's successors reaped the benefit of his triumph in the influence which they were able to exert in England during the greater part of the reign of Henry III.

[Sidenote: Innocent's successes in Europe.]

Nor was John the only King who laid his crown at the feet of the Pope. Peter, King of Aragon, hoped to escape the claims of the King of Castile and the tyranny of his own barons by making his kingdom tributary to the Papacy. Prince John of Bulgaria actually asked for and obtained a royal crown from Innocent. The struggles of Sancho, King of Portugal, to free himself from the submission made by a predecessor ended in failure. Leo, King of Armenia, sought the papal protection against the crusaders. The King of Denmark appealed to Innocent on behalf of his much-wronged sister. The contending parties in Hungary listened to his mediation.

But we have already seen that Innocent was not always successful, and that most of his successes were won only after a prolonged contest. Their matrimonial irregularities brought him into conflict with nearly all the Christian Kings of Spain, and the kingdom of Leon was struck by an interdict which was not removed for five years. It was a more serious matter for the future that the papal acts for the first time roused the opposition of the people in more than one instance; while it is right to notice that Innocent often got acknowledgment of his claim to adjudicate by accepting what had already been done. But despite some notable failures, he did meet with considerable success; and since he got so much, it is not surprising that he aimed at more. Perhaps the greatest disappointment of his life was the failure of the Fourth Crusade. Innocent found some compensation in the great victory won by the united chivalry of Spain and France over the Almohades on the field of Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212. But he is responsible for inventing a new kind of crusade -- that of Christians against Christians -- in the undoubtedly papal duty of dealing with the Albigensian heretics; and it is, in modern eyes at least, a small condonation that he encouraged the founder of the Dominicans and received Francis of Assisi with sympathy.

[Sidenote: The Fourth Lateran Council.]

Innocent's pontificate ended in a blaze of glory. After the settlement of the strife in Germany he called together a Council which is distinguished as the Fourth Lateran or the Twelfth OEcumenical Council. It met in 1215, and was composed of more than two thousand persons, including envoys from all the chief nations of Europe. Its resolutions were embodied in seventy canons dealing with a vast variety of subjects in the endeavour to bring about a drastic reformation of the Church. This is perhaps Innocent's most solid claim to the name of a great ruler. But it only serves to emphasise the wholly external nature of his rule. And subsequent ages have recognised this limitation to his claims for honour in that, while they have freely accorded to him the name of a great man and a great Pope, if not the greatest of the pontiffs, the Church has never added his name to the role of Christian saints.

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