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Sermon Podcast | Audio | Video : Christian Books : CHAPTER XVI THE FALL OF THE EMPIRE AND OF THE PAPACY

The Church And The Empire by D. J. Medley


[Sidenote: Urban IV (1261-4).]

The date of Alexander's death marks the beginning of a new episode in the history of the mediaval Papacy. His successor, Urban IV, was a Frenchman. With more vigour than his predecessor he pursued the policy of the destruction of the Hohenstaufen. Since the English prince had proved a useless tool and no more money could be wrung from the English people, he obtained the renunciation of the claims of Edmund to the Sicilian crown and turned to his native country for a candidate. Louis IX refused the offer for a son, but it was accepted by his brother, Charles of Anjou, whose wife, the daughter and heiress of Raymond Berengar of Provence, desired to be the equal of her three elder sisters, the Queens, respectively, of France, England, and Germany. For the next twenty years the papal policy centres round the doings of Charles as much as it had centred for thirty years round the aims of Frederick II. The Guelf party in Rome had already elected Charles as senator, or head of the civic commune, in opposition to the Ghibelline Manfred. Thus the Pope and the Italian Guelfs once more combined to betray Italy to the foreign conqueror. Urban was able to obtain a promise that Charles would not accept the senatorship for life, although the need for Charles' presence in Italy as a check upon the victorious Manfred enabled the new King to obtain better terms in regard to Sicily than the Pope had offered at first.

[Sidenote: Clement IV (1265-8).]

Fortune favoured Charles from the outset. Before he could reach Italy Urban had died in Perugia (October, 1264), having never entered Rome during his pontificate. His successor, Clement IV, a Provencal and therefore a subject of Charles, had been overpersuaded to accept the tiara, and naturally continued his predecessor's work. Charles arrived by sea, was welcomed in Rome where he assumed the office of senator, and was invested with the crown of Sicily (June, 1265). But from the very first he showed the arbitrariness and violence which were to characterise his relations with Italy. He came destitute of money; he took possession of the Lateran palace until the Pope's remonstrances forced him to withdraw. His army marched through Italy to join him, plundering as it came. The Pope was helpless; he had not yet even ventured to come to Rome. Charles and his wife were crowned King and Queen of Sicily by a commission of Cardinals; and theirs was the first coronation of any sovereign other than an Emperor, which had taken place in St. Peter's.

[Sidenote: End of the Hohenstaufen.]

Meanwhile Manfred was doing everything to meet the new attack. But there was no patriotism among the Italians of the south. Frederick II in founding his strong monarchy had alienated nobles and the cities; the clergy, of course, were his bitter foes. All seemed to think that Charles' advent would bring freedom and peace. They were soon to be disabused. On Charles' march southwards Manfred, relying solely on Germans and Saracens, met him at Benevento, but was beaten and fell in the fight (February 26, 1266). Charles entered Naples and the papal aims seemed attained. Charles was their vassal for Sicily, and was now obliged to lay down his office of senator. The German influence in Italy was destroyed; the |German| Empire was a thing of the past. But the Romans still kept the Pope at arms' length. In 1252 they had for the first time introduced a foreign senator in the Bolognese Brancaleone who, before his death in 1258, was twice overthrown and restored to power. Thus the election of Charles was no new departure. And as his successor was chosen Henry, brother of Alfonso the Wise of Castile, titular King of the Romans. He maintained the interests of the commune against the Pope, and then, from hatred to Charles, the Ghibelline cause against the papal party. The Ghibellines found a rallying ground in Tuscany, and sent to Germany for Conradin. The boy, now fourteen years of age, was welcomed by the senator in Rome; but his forces were utterly defeated by Charles at Tagliacozzo on August 23, 1268. Conradin fled, but was captured and executed.

[Sidenote: Schemes of Charles.]

This time it was Charles, and not the Pope, whose success was the obvious fact. Whether the Pope interceded for the last of the Hohenstaufens or approved his execution, is a matter of some doubt. But Charles was now elected senator of Rome for life, and Clement offered no opposition to this violation of the original agreement. Moreover, on Clement's death (November, 1268), the divisions among the Cardinals assembled at Viterbo prolonged the vacancy in the papal chair for nearly three years. During that time Charles developed the most ambitious schemes. With the Ghibelline position he took up the Ghibelline aims. Thus the papal plans for reviving the Crusades were nothing to him, but he desired to obtain for himself the crown of Jerusalem; and since Constantinople had been recovered by the Greeks in 1261, while on the one side he make a treaty with the Latin ex-Emperor, Baldwin II, whereby the reversion of the Byzantine throne should go to the King of Sicily, on the other side the papal project for an union of the Greek and Latin Churches was an obstacle to his hostile design. Charles, in fact, began to equip an expedition against Constantinople. Louis IX for the moment checked his brother's schemes and took him off on the crusade from which Louis himself was not to return. The diversion of the expedition from Palestine or Egypt to Tunis is generally attributed to the influence of the King of Sicily, whose Norman predecessors had once held the north coast of Africa: but this charge can scarcely be maintained, for the crusade thither interfered with his schemes against Constantinople, which were resumed immediately on his return to Europe.

[Sidenote: Gregory X (1272-6).]

But again Charles was destined to meet with a serious check. When at length the Church obtained a new Pope it was no servile henchman of Charles who was elected. Gregory X, a Visconti of Piacenza, had spent his life outside Italy, and was with Edward I of England in Palestine when he was chosen. He was the first Pope since Honorius III, who set before himself the promotion of a crusade as his primary object. As an indispensable prerequisite of this be desired to promote the union of the Latin and Greek Churches. It was these unselfish objects of his which enabled him to check both Charles' power and his schemes. There was a still further point. The fall of the Hohenstaufen had destroyed the imperial house, and had left the Papacy not only isolated but face to face with one who was proving himself |a burdensome protector.| The equilibrium of Europe had been seriously shaken. The election of two rival Kings of the Romans had not helped to restore it. But now Richard of Cornwall, who had tried to assert his position, was dead, and Gregory refused to recognise the claims of Alfonso of Castile. But Louis IX was dead also, and Charles would be likely to influence his nephew the new King of France more than he had ever influenced his high-souled brother. It was necessary to find a new King of the Romans who might be a counterpoise in Europe, and perhaps even in Italy, to Charles. Thus encouraged and almost coerced by the Pope, the German princes elected Rudolf Count of Hapsburg (September 1273), a man of |popular qualities| who was not too powerful.

[Sidenote: Second Council of Lyons.]

The success of the papal policy was to be advertised to Europe in a second Council of Lyons (May-July, 1274). This was attended by five hundred bishops and innumerable other clergy. An opportunity was taken to issue a canon, the object of which was to prevent the recurrence of the long vacancy in the papal see which had preceded Gregory's election. It was decreed that ten days after the death of the Pope the Cardinals should meet and should be confined in one conclave until a choice had been made. All intercourse with the outside world was forbidden; the food was to be supplied through a window, the amount of it being diminished after three days; while a further diminution was to take place five days later. The duty of supervision was entrusted to the magistrates of the city in which the election might be held. Despite the stringent resistance of the Cardinals the canon was passed with the aid of the bishops; and although it was more than once suspended, it has continued to direct the procedure at papal elections to the present day.

[Sidenote: Union of Eastern and Western Churches.]

But the real object of the meeting of the Council was that it should witness the reconciliation of the Eastern Church with the Western. More than two centuries earlier (1054) the long jealousy of Rome and Constantinople had ended in the rupture of communion between the Christians of West and East; and the Crusades and the Latin Empire of Constantinople had prevented any real attempt at re-union. But just now circumstances were favourable. Michael Palaologus, who had reconquered Constantinople for the Greeks and made himself Emperor, was in difficulties at home with a section of the clergy, and, threatened by the designs of Charles of Sicily, he coerced the Greek clergy into accepting the union with the Western Church, which gave the only chance of such help as would hold Charles in check. An embassy of Greeks appeared at Lyons; and although Bonaventura and Thomas Aquinas were present to argue the case for the Western Church, no persuasion was needed. The Greeks expressed a readiness to accept the primacy of Rome, the doctrine that the Holy Ghost proceeded from both Father and Son (whereas they had maintained His procession from the Father alone), and all the customs of the Western Church. It seemed as if at length a crusade were really possible. The chief sovereigns of Europe had taken the cross, and Gregory had even persuaded Charles of Sicily and the Greek Emperor to sign a truce.

[Sidenote: Nicholas III (1277-80).]

But it was not to be. Gregory's death (January 10, 1276) undid all his work. Charles of Sicily alone rejoiced at the vacancy, and made desperate efforts to secure the nomination to the Papacy again. But two nominees died in quick succession; and when on the death of John XXI after a similarly short reign, Charles again interfered, he was met by the election of Nicholas III of the family of Orsini, who returned to Rome and spent the three years of his pontificate in neutralising Charles' power. For this purpose he used the new King of the Romans. Charles was forced to resign the vicariate of Tuscany, which was made over to Rudolf. Charles also resigned the senatorship of Rome which he had held for ten years. To this Nicholas got himself elected, and issued a decree by which he hoped to make it impossible for any foreign prince to be elected, or for anyone to hold the post for more than a year without the papal favour.

[Sidenote: Revival of the Empire.]

But Nicholas was only able to give a German prince once more a footing in Italy because Rudolf had been effectually barred from reviving the Hohenstaufen claims. Already at the Council of Lyons the envoys of Rudolf had appeared and in his name had taken the oaths previously exacted from Otto IV and Frederick II. Rudolf had subsequently met Pope Gregory at Lausanne in 1275, and had confirmed the act of his representatives. Thus Gregory obtained from a crowned German King an acknowledgment of all the claims advanced by the Papacy since the days of Charles the Great. Rudolf was too busy ever to visit Rome; but in negotiations with regard to his coronation as Emperor, Nicholas III exacted the confirmation of all that was promised to Gregory, and this included especially the lands of the old Exarchate and the district of Pentapolis, which had never yet been actually in the hands of papal officers.

[Sidenote: Martin IV (1281-5).]

Dante has banned the memory of Nicholas as the simoniacal Pope. He certainly used his enormous patronage to enrich his own family. But his death (August, 1280) nearly proved fatal to the freedom of Europe; for Charles at length obtained his own nominee to the Papacy in the person of a Frenchman, Martin IV, who proceeded to hand over to the King for life the Roman senatorship conferred upon the Pope. All the work of the preceding Popes was undone. The temporary union of the Churches was dissolved by the excommunication of the Greek Emperor on the pretext that he had not carried out his promises; and Charles, who had obtained a footing in the Greek peninsula and made a league with Venice, prepared to start on his expedition against Constantinople. There seemed every prospect of his success.

[Sidenote: Sicilian Vespers]

But Charles' brutality had been imitated by his French officials; and the rising known as the |Sicilian Vespers| in March, 1282, cleared the French out of Sicily and finally overthrew all Charles' plans. The fleet prepared for Constantinople had to be turned against the rebel islanders. The Pope, thinking to play the game of his royal master, refused to mediate; the Sicilians thereupon declared that from St. Peter they would turn for aid to another Peter, and offered the crown to Peter, King of Aragon, the husband of Manfred's daughter, Constance, who for some years had welcomed Sicilian refugees at his court and had been ready for the summons. The Pope deprived Peter of his hereditary dominions and bestowed them on Charles' great nephew Charles of Valois, a son of Philip III of France; but the Aragonese fleet under Roger di Loria defeated Charles' fleet and captured his son and heir Charles the Lame. On January 7, 1285, Charles himself died, and was followed to the grave very shortly by Pope Martin IV. The same year saw also the death of Philip III of France and of Peter of Aragon. Pope Honorius IV followed the policy of his predecessor, and to him succeeded Nicholas IV. It was during his pontificate that the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem, the result of the First Crusade, was finally wiped out by the capture of Acre (1291), and the little stir made by this event affords a measure of the decay of the crusading spirit.

[Sidenote: Celestine V (1294).]

On the death of Nicholas the division among the Cardinals reflecting the jealousies of the Roman families of Orsini and Colonna, caused a vacancy in the papal office for more than two years. Then by a sudden whim, which in the event of a successful result would have been called an inspiration, the name of a hermit, Peter, whose austerities in his cell on Monte Murrone in the Abruzzi had won him great reverence, was suggested apparently in all sincerity to the wearied and perplexed Cardinals. He was elected and took the title of Celestine V. In accordance with the desire of Charles II of Naples, he took up his abode at Naples. But he was utterly unfit for his high office, and after a pontificate of less than four months (August to December, 1294) he resigned, thus perpetrating that |great refusal| which won Dante's immortal phrase of scorn. How far his act was due to the machinations of Cardinal Gaetani is uncertain. At any rate Gaetani had evidently obtained Charles' sanction beforehand to his own elevation, which took place ten days later. But the new Pope did not intend that anyone should be his master. For the moment he and Charles needed each other, and it was agreed between them that Sicily should be recovered for Charles, while Celestine should be given into the keeping of his successor lest he should become a centre for disaffection.

[Sidenote: Boniface VIII (1294-1303).]

Boniface VIII -- such was the name of the new Pope -- returned to Rome escorted by Charles II and his son, Charles Martel of Hungary; and his coronation surpassed that of all previous Popes in magnificence. The late Pope was soon secured and placed in a tower on the top of a mountain, where he died in 1296. It was not so easy for Boniface to fulfil his part of the compact with regard to Sicily. James, the son of Peter of Aragon, agreed to surrender Sicily on the understanding that the new Pope would withdraw the award of Aragon made by Martin IV to a French prince, and confirm it him. But the Sicilians refused to return to their French ruler and found a champion in James' younger brother Frederick, who was their Governor. He was crowned King of Sicily at Palermo in 1296. Charles II was too feeble to make any real headway against Frederick, and even the title of Standard-bearer of the Church conferred by the Pope on James of Aragon, did not keep Frederick's brother permanently on the papal side. In 1301 Boniface fell back upon the French prince Charles of Valois, to whom Pope Martin had given Aragon, and sent for him to attack |the new Manfred| in Sicily. Charles having first failed in an attempt to appease the Florentine factions, passed on to the south, and here Frederick ultimately forced him to peace and a recognition of his title as King of Sicily (1302). At first Boniface would not ratify a peace from which all reference to Pope or Church had been omitted; but in 1303 circumstances caused him to accept it, though he exacted as a condition that Frederick should acknowledge himself a papal vassal. Frederick, however, never paid any tribute.

[Sidenote: Quarrel with Colonnas.]

Boniface held views of the papal power of the most exalted kind. It was in accordance with these that he once more made Rome the headquarters of the papacy. But he soon found himself involved in a quarrel which, purely local in origin, assumed an European importance. The family of Colonna by favour of Pope Nicholas IV had become one of the most powerful in Rome and the neighbourhood. The centre of the family property was the city of Palestrina. Cardinal Jacopo Colonna, who as the eldest brother administered it, did not distribute it fairly to his brothers, but rather favoured his nephews, the sons of his dead brother John who had been Senator of Rome. One of these was the Cardinal Peter. Uncle and nephew were the most influential members of the Roman Curia, and as Roman nobles they resented Boniface's design of humbling the Roman aristocracy. They refused the papal admonitions to deal justly with the other members of the family; they withdrew from the papal Court, and having already turned from Ghibelline to Guelf, they once more became Ghibelline and made an alliance with Frederick of Sicily. They published a manifesto in which they refused to recognise Boniface on the ground that Pope Celestine's abdication had been unlawful. But Celestine was dead and the Colonnas had voted for his successor. Boniface deposed the Cardinals and excommunicated them, even declaring a crusade against them! The struggle centred round Palestrina, and it is said that the Pope fetched from a Franciscan cloister a once famous Ghibelline general, Guy of Montefeltro, by whose advice he decoyed the Colonnas out of their fortress by promises which he did not intend to keep. Palestrina was levelled to the ground and the Colonnas fled (1298), finding refuge among the enemies of Boniface and preparing the way for the final catastrophe.

[Sidenote: Papal Jubilee.]

Boniface, however, had become his own master at home to an extent attained by none of his predecessors since Innocent III. His reign reached what may be termed its high-water mark in the Papal Jubilee of 1300. The cessation of the Crusades had largely increased the crowds of pilgrims to Rome, until in 1299 there awoke an expectation of special spiritual privileges in connection with the end of the century. Indulgences had been so freely scattered in attempts to promote the Crusades that a craving for them had been created. Boniface recognised the importance of exploiting the popular feeling, and after a mock enquiry he issued a bull promising generous indulgences to all who should visit the Churches of SS. Peter and Paul during the year for so many successive days, and directing that a similar pilgrimage should be proclaimed every hundredth year. Pilgrims flocked to Rome; 30,000 are reckoned to have entered and left daily, while 200,000 were in Rome at any given moment. The amount of the offerings must have been enormous, and the Ghibellines naturally declared that the Jubilee had its origin in the papal need for money. But most of the pilgrims were poor; and even if the size of the crowds were a just measure of the continued hold of the Roman Church upon the people of Western Europe, the absence of all the monarchs except Charles Martel, the claimant of Hungary, was significant. Indeed, Boniface had already experienced a foretaste of the independent attitude of the secular princes, which eventually proved fatal to him. Rudolf of Hapsburg died in 1291, and the German princes, rejecting the claims of his son Albert, elected Adolf of Nassau as their King. But Adolf proved less submissive than his electors had hoped to find him. He was deposed and fell in battle, and Albert was chosen and crowned without any reference to the Pope -- the first occasion on which the German princes had acted without papal authority. Boniface had already barred Albert's claims. He now refused to recognise him, declaring that the Empire owed all its honour and dignity to the papal favour. Nevertheless, in 1303 circumstances forced him to accept Albert, especially since Albert was willing in return to confirm all that his father Rudolf had granted to the Papacy.

[Sidenote: First quarrel with France and England.]

But this quarrel with Germany sinks into insignificance before the great contest of Boniface with France, with which his English dispute was also closely connected. The Hohenstaufen had fallen before the Papacy because their German kingdom and the |German| Empire rested on no solid foundation. But in his attempts to coerce France and England into obedience the Pope found himself face to face with two strong national monarchies. Boniface failed to grasp the position. Edward I of England and Philip IV of France were engaged in war. Each resorted to every available method of raising money for the conduct of the war, and among other ways laid heavy taxes on the clergy. Boniface having failed to make the Kings submit their quarrels to his judgment, issued a bull, Clericis Laicos (February, 1296), by which he forbade, under pain of excommunication, that any prelate or ecclesiastical body should pay or laymen should exact from the clergy any taxes under any pretext without papal leave. Edward I met this manifesto by confiscating the lay fees of all ecclesiastics; while Philip forbade the export of all money from France, thus depriving the Pope and all Italian ecclesiastics endowed with French benefices, of the usual sources of income from France. The English clergy, with the exception of the Archbishop of Canterbury, made their own arrangements with the King. But in order to avoid a rupture with France Boniface issued another bull, Ineffabilis, in which he explained that ecclesiastics were not forbidden to contribute to the needs of the State; and by subsequent letters he allowed that they might pay taxes of their own free will, and even that in cases of necessity the King might take taxes without waiting for the papal leave. He certainly told his legates to excommunicate the King and his officials if they should prevent money coming from France; but in order to gain Philip's favour he granted him the tithe of the French clergy for three years, he placed Louis IX among the recognised saints of the Church, and he promised that Philip's brother, Charles of Valois, should be made German King and Emperor.

Good relations having been established Philip and Edward now agreed to submit their differences to Boniface. Philip, however, stipulated that Boniface should act in the matter not as Pope but in a personal capacity, and the Pope issued his award |as a private person and Master Benedict Gaetani| (June 30,1298). But the judgment was in the form of a bull, and ordered that the lands to be surrendered on either side should be placed in the custody of the papal officers. Philip could not reject the award; but he determined to prepare for a conflict which was clearly inevitable. He gave refuge to some members of the Colonna family, and he made an alliance with Albert of Austria (1299).

[Sidenote: Second quarrel with England.]

Meanwhile Boniface began a second quarrel with England. Edward I had refused the papal offers of mediation on behalf of Scotland. But after the battle of Falkirk the national representatives of Scotland appealed to Boniface as suzerain of the kingdom. The Pope wrote to Edward claiming that from ancient times the kingdom of Scotland had belonged by full right to the Roman Church, and demanding that Edward should submit all causes of difference between himself and the Scots to the Papacy. The English answer was given in a Parliament called for the purpose to Lincoln (1301), by which a document addressed to the Pope asserted for the English Kings a right over Scotland from the first institution of the English kingdom, and denied that Scotland had ever depended in temporal matters on the Roman Pontiff. Any further action was prevented by the beginning of the final quarrel between Boniface and Philip.

[Sidenote: With France.]

The Pope found it necessary to complain frequently of Philip's misuse of the royal right of regale, and in 1301 relations became so strained that he sent a legate, Bernard of Saisset, Bishop of Pamiers in the south of France. But Bernard was arrogant, and on being claimed by Philip as a subject, he exclaimed that he owned no lord but the Pope. Since Boniface administered no reproof Philip procured the condemnation of the Bishop for treason. The Pope in fury issued four bulls in one day, the most important addressed to Philip and beginning Ausculta fili, in which he asserted that God had set up the Pope over Kings and kingdoms in order to destroy, to scatter, to build and to plant in His name and doctrine. Philip caused the bull to be publicly burnt -- |the first flame which consumed a papal bull| -- and called an Assembly of the Estates of the Realm, in which for the first time the commons were included. The Cardinals, in answering the remonstrances sent by the nobles and commons, denied that the Pope had ever told the King that he should be subject in temporal matters to Rome; and Boniface assured the French clergy that he merely claimed that the King was subject to him |in respect of sin.|

[Sidenote: The final struggle.]

But in July, 1302, the burghers of Flanders inflicted a severe defeat on the French forces in the battle of Courtray; and the Pope, taking advantage of Philip's humiliation before Europe, immediately assumed a more defiant attitude. In a Council at Rome and before the French envoys, he declared that his predecessors had deposed three Kings of France and, if necessary, he would depose the King |like a groom| (garcio). He followed this up by issuing the most famous of his bulls, Unam Sanctam, in which he roundly asserted that the submission of every human creature to Rome was a condition of salvation. Finally, while on the one side he excommunicated Philip (April 13, 1303), he hastened to recognise Albert as King of Germany, and ratified the peace made between Frederick of Sicily and Charles of Valois. Philip on his side abandoned his Scots allies in order to make peace with England (May 20, 1303), and called for a second time an Assembly of the Estates. Before its members the aged Pope was accused of heresy, murder, and even lust; and the appeal to a General Council was now adopted by the representatives of the whole French nation. But it was certain that the excommunication of Philip would be followed by his deposition; and Philip and his councillors determined to forestall this. Urged on by the Colonnas the French King conceived the plan of seizing the person of the Pope and bringing him before a council to be held at Lyons. Boniface was at his native Anagni, and Philip's emissaries, in conjunction with many Italian enemies of the Pope, forced their way into the town and seized the old man (September 3, 1303). He was rescued and taken back to Rome; but the shock of the attack unhinged his reason and hastened his end. He died on October 11 at the age of eighty-six. His foes described his last days in lurid colours; but the violent behaviour of his enemies caused strong disgust throughout Christendom.

To a contemporary, Boniface was |magnanimus peccator,| the great-hearted sinner; while a modern historian describes him as |devoid of every spiritual virtue.| If Canossa was the humiliation for the Empire which the ecclesiastical annalists describe, in the pettiness of the stage and the insignificance of the actors Anagni was an ample revenge of the lay spirit. The Papacy which had worn down the Empire had dashed itself in vain against the new phenomenon of a strong national spirit.

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