Innocent III (c.1160/1 - 1216)
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Synopsis

INNOCENT III. (Lothair, or, in full, Ciovanni Lotario Conti), Pope 1198-1216; a member of the distinguished family of the Scotti; b. 1160. His education, begun in Rome, was completed at Paris and Bologna. Returning to Rome, he was made canon of St. Peter, and, by the aid of his relatives among the cardinals, rapidly mounted the ecclesiastical stairs. Appointed a sub-deacon by Gregory VIII., he in 1190 exchanged this position for that of cardinal-deacon at the wish of his uncle, Clement 111., iii order, that, as the Pope’s nephew, he might act a distinguished part among the cardinals, while as yet not thirty years old. Owing, probably, to family jealousies, he was, under Celestine III., seldom called to the business of the curia. The leisure thus afforded he employed in composing various treatises. - one in three books (De contemptu mundi, sice de miseria humanæ conditionis), another in six books (Mysteriorum evangelicæ legis ac sacramenti euchariastæ), another, on ecclesiastical law (De quadrupartita specie nuptiarum). The first two only are extant.

At the death of Celestirie III. (Jane. 8, 1198) Lothair was elected pope, in the thirty-seventh year of his life; then, rapidly passing through priestly and episcopal orders, he was crowned Feb. 22. Before entering on the world-wide problems of his position, it devolved on him to restore the papal seat to Rome, secure the respect of the Italians, induce the city prefect to recognize his superiority, and secure the resignation of the senator chosen by the people, and hitherto independent of papal authority. lie then stepped forth as the deliverer of italy from the dominion of the German princes appointed by Henry VI. He plundered Spoleto, subjected Perugia, took a commanding position in Tuscany, placed his rectors in patrimonies, and soon became the acknowledged defender of national independence. Sicily, too, contributed to his good fortune. Here ruled Constance, the widow of Henry VI., as guardian of her minor son Frederic. Pressed by contending factions, she renounced the privileges of the Norman rule in relation to the Church, and took the oath of allegiance to Innocent as his feudatory. Dying in 1198, she by will named Innocent regent of the kingdom, and protector of her son. At once the Pope entered with zeal upon his new duties, subjecting the German princes to his young ward, and taking care of his education.

In Germany affairs were most favorable for the extension of the papal power there. Two claimants were contending for the imperial crown, - Philip of Swabia, and Otto IV. The latter at once sought the favor of Innocent by renouncing the rights of the empire in Italy, and surrendering the exarchate of Ravenna, the Pentapolis, and the kingdom of Spoleto. Philip’s followers, on the contrary, showed a strong suspicion of time Pope. While promising him due respect as the head of the Church, they at the same time begged him not to interfere with the rights of the empire. Though naturally inclined to prefer the Guelph to the Hohenstaufen, yet, in a letter of reply to the German princes, the Pope assumed the appearance of an impartial umpire, desirous of preserving the independence of the electoral college, and fearful only, lest, by the choice of Philip, Germany became the hereditary possession of a ruling house. His hope was, that both claimants would submit their pretensions to a tribunal composed of German princes, and that Otto would be elected. In this he was disappointed. His next step was to issue a memorial on the subject, setting forth the superior claims of Otto as descended from a family long devoted to the Roman see, and a friend to the Church. On this ground Guido of Preneste was instructed to go to Germany as legate, and operate. In March, Innocent, by letter, recognized Otto as emperor, and in July secured the excommunication of all members of the opposing faction at an assembly of Otto’s partisans. But this was done only after a renewed pledge given by the Guelph, dated Neuss, June 8, 1201, to concede to the Roman chair all the territories belonging to it, both those "which it now holds and which it may yet hold, and to assist it in obtaining those which it does not now occupy." The significance of this document is evident, furnishing as it did a foundation for the wider extension of the Church state. In the fortune of arms Otto was at first successful; and Philip was induced to try negotiations with the Pope, but on terms which could not be granted. In 1204-05, however, affairs took a decided turn. Several of the strongest partisans of Otto deserted to Philip. The king of France, too, as Philip’s ally, vanquished King John of England, Otto’s confederate, in battle. Thus put in the ascendant, Philip directed a letter to Innocent, offering to submit the matters in debate to a tribunal composed of cardinals, and princes of the empire. The Pope was forced to take account of the changed condition of affairs, and bade Otto resign. But, as the latter remained unmoved, Innocent urged the victorious Hohenstaufen to accede to a tribunal to be constituted by himself at Rome, assuring him at the same time of a decision in his favor. To this both rivals at last yielded; and the consummate statesmanship of Innocent triumphed at last in having the contest referred to Rome. Whether the tribunal was ever held, is uncertain. One thing, however, is known: in spite of all his political shrewdness, the Pope was prevailed upon to pledge the restoration to the empire of all possessions unjustly obtained in Central Italy, provided Philip’s daughter should be given in marriage to his nephew, and the latter, as Philip’s son-in-law, should be made Duke of Tuscany. Even the great Innocent could not withstand the temptation to nepotism. Just at this juncture, Philip was assassinated by Otto of Wittenbach (June 21, 1208), and Otto became the undisputed sovereign of Germany. Innocent again dexterously shifted his tactics. He held up before Otto the imperial crown, and wrote him, "We demand of thee, dearest son, the thing which thou eanst not but grant, because it accords with thy view, and serves for thy soul’s salvation." Otto replied, outdoing all his former pledges. he acknowledged the bounds of the States of the Church as drawn by Innocent, promised help in rooting out heresy, renounced interference in church elections, and, in short, surrendered every thing which had been secured to the empire by the Concordat of Worms. At such a price did Otto purchase his coronation as emperor. In the summer of 1200 he began his march over the Alps with a mighty host, and met the Pope at Viterbo. The interview was one which hardly sustained time Pope’s first greeting, "This is my beloved son, in whom my soul is well pleased." Yet he deemed it not prudent to postpone the coronation, which took place at St. Peter’s, Oct. 4, 1209. Once crowned, Otto ignored all his promises and obligations, and proceeded to deal as best he could for his own and the empire’s advantage. He declared war against the Pope’s protégé, Frederic of Sicily, and seized a part of the patrimony of Peter, and for these acts of violence was put under the papal ban. Nor was Innocent content with anathema alone. lie proceeded to stir up against his quondam pet the Italian nobles and German princes, and treat. ed with the king of France for his dethronement. In these measures he was so far successful as not only to rescue his ward, Frederic, from imminent peril, but also eventually to see him elected to the German throne by the princes of the empire (1212), in place of Otto, and crowned at Main. On July 12, 1213, the emperor elect guaranteed to his protector and benefactor, the Pope, all the realms, rights, and concessions which Otto had formerly pledged. On July 27, 1214, the great battle of Bouvines was fought, which ended in the utter defeat of Otto, and decided the conflict in Frederic’s favor; and in aim imposing council held at Rome in 1215, he was duly proclaimed emperor elect, and his rival once more anathematized. Death spared the Pope the discovery of the enormous blunder, which, from an ecclesiastical point of view, he had committed in thus exalting Frederic II. to the throne.

A worthier triumph was achieved by Innocent, over Philip (II) Augustus of France, in forcing him to the correct maintenance of his marriage relations. Under the pretext of a too close connection in blood, but really on the ground of a conceived aversion, this prince had obtained from his bishops a divorce from his wife Ingeburga, and had married Agnes, daughter of Duke Bertholdt III. Against such proceedings Celestine III. had already entered his protest, and now Innocent took up the cause of the rejected queen. His remonstrance being unheeded, he put the whole of France under interdict, stirred up against the king a large portion of the clergy, the nobles, and the common people, and at last, on Sept. 7, 1200, compelled Philip to pledge the restoration of Ingeburga to her position as queen and wife. It was, however, to little purpose. The separation which the king could not effect by law, he sought to accomplish by subjecting his wife to constant vexations and humiliations, which might eventually compel her to leave him of her own accord. In all these trials the Pope remained her friend; and though he relaxed somewhat in the energy of his measures for her relief, when the aid of the king was needed in some of his projects, yet he persevered in refusing his consent to the divorce, and had the satisfaction of knowing at last that the queen, who for seventeen years had been watched and harassed as a prisoner, was received back into full honor by her penitent husband. With like success the Pope interfered in the domestic affairs of Alphonso IX. of Leon, whose wife he constrained to depart from him by the force of an interdict, because of a too close consanguinity; and also in those of Peter of Aragon, whose contemplated espousal of Bianca of Aragon he prevented for the same reason; and then, when, after Peter’s marriage with Maria of Montpellier, the royal libertine wished to put her away, and scorned the papal prohibition of that act, Innocent, by ecclesiastical weapons alone, soon brought the offender to terms, and humbled him even to the surrender of his kingdom, which he accepted back as a papal feof. King Sancho of Portugal, also, he compelled to pay the tribute promised to the papal see by his father, though much against his will; and Ladislaus of Poland, when guilty of robbing the church and bishops of goods and rights, he soon subjected to his requirements. The extent to which Innocent asserted to himself the sole right of putting princes under ban, and of releasing them from it, may be seen in his dealings with Hakon of Sweden. When this king, upon atonement made for his father’s wrongs, was released from the ban which had been put on the kingdom by Archbishop Eric, the Pope wrote to Eric that he had imitated him ape-fashion, and reminded him that such release was valid only when granted by the vicar of St. Peter. In 1204 Innocent succeeded in uniting the Bulgarians, who formerly belonged to the Greek Church, with the Church of Rome by consenting to Prince John’s request for coronation, who desired it for the sake of papal protection against foreign and domestic foes.

But it was in his treatment of John Lackland, the king of England, that Innocent’s assumption of universal power as the "vicar of Christ" fully culminated. The quarrel was occasioned by the king’s interference in the election of a superior over the monks of Canterbury. The Pope, refusing to sanction his choice, made a countermove by convening some members of the convent, who happened to be at Rome, and securing, through theni, election of Stephen Langton, a cardinal priest, to the contested position. This step enraged the king. When threatened with an interdict, he swore, "by God’s teeth," that he would hunt every ecclesiastic who dared to proclaim it, out of the land. The interdict fell, and John sought to make good his oath. A ban followed; and, in spite of all John’s efforts to hinder its publication, it became known. The nobles, who hated his tyranny, rose against him; and fierce the conflict grew, until at last Innocent declared the throne vacant, and instigated Philip Augustus of France to take possession of it, promising to all who engaged in the attempt the title and privilege of crusaders. This extreme measure frightened the king into abject submission; and on May 13, 1213, he concluded a convention with ten papal plenipotentiaries at Dover, pledging the acknowledgment of Stephen Lang. ton as archbishop, and the restoration to the church of all its property which had been seized, and also of all exiles to their homes. Nor was this humiliation sufficient. To secure himself against the threatened invasion of Philip, although under the pretext of atoning for his sins, on May 18 John surrendered his realms "to God and the Pope," and received them back as a papal feudatory, bound to an annual payment of seven hundred miiarks for England, and three hundred for Ireland, Then it was, when prostrate in the dust at the feet of the archbishop as a suppliant for mercy, that he was released from the ban. The interdict was not lifted until July 2, 1214, on the fulfilment of the conditions pledged. But, though now reconciled with the Pope, the quarrel with the barons went on, until by force of arms they extorted from the king the famous Magna Charta, and thus laid the foundation of the Enghish political constitution. No sooner did Innocent learn of these transactions than he pronounced the terms of the charter null and void. It touched too closely upon the royal prerogatives, and indirectly upon the feudal sovereignty of the Pope. But neither declaration nor excommunication had any effect on the nation. One only who took part in the uprising of the barons fell a sacrifice under the power of the Pope: this was Langton. By reason of his refusal to put the insurgents under the ban, he was, while attending a council at Rome in 1215, suspended from his archbishopric. But nothing so damaged the papal cause in England as this opposition of Innocent to the Magna Charta. Here it was where the Pope had at last fully realized his ideal of the true relations between Church and State, and here it was where the papacy began to encounter its most effective opposition.

What Innocent’s ideal was may be learned from what he wrote to King John: "Jesus Christ wills that the kingdom should be priestly, and the priesthood kingly. Over all, he has set me as his vicar upon earth, so that, as before Jesus 'every knee shall bow,' in like manner to his vicar all shall be obedient, and there shall be one fold and one shepherd. Pondering this truth, thou, as a secular prince, hast subjected thy realm to Him to whom all is spiritually subject." Accordingly, in entertaining this view of his position, Innocent naturally felt, when defending the rights of the Roman chair before princes and peoples, that whatsoever he did was wrought in and through the influence of Him whose vièar he was. Moreover, he applied to himself the word of Jesus: "All power is given unto me in heaven and earth." Peter’s miraculous walk upon the sea was to him a sign of how the nations of the earth were to be subdued under the feet of himself and his successors. Like Melchizedek, the Pope, he conceived, united in one person the offices of king and high priest. And as, in the ark of the covenant, the rod was placed beside the tables of the law, so he considered, that, in the heart of the Pope, there resided together both the fearful power of destruction and the right to bestow grace. The parallel already drawn by Gregory VII., comparing the Church and State to the sun and moon severally, Innocent expanded into an illustration for showing how the State was actually dependent on the Church for its true lustre and glory. A frequent declaration of his was it, that the priesthood alone (i.e., the Church) sprang from the divine appointment, while the State originated "from human extortions." Hence, in all cases where a heinous sin was in question, he claimed the right to test the decisions of the secular tribunals, and if necessary to quash them. Both the secular and the spiritual swords, he affirmed, belonged to the Pope; and, while he reserved to himself the latter, the former he gave over to the princes.

In discharging his duty as the vicar of Christ, Innocent now, as at the beginning of his pontificate, felt it obligatory on him to summon the kings and peoples of the earth to a holy war for the recovery of Palestine. in this movement he was largely aided by the rare eloquence of two men, Fulk of Neuilly, who wrought effectually among the French nobles, and Abbot Martin, who was no less influential with those of South Germany. But the crusading host encamping near Venice was early turned aside from its undertaking by the craft of the Doge Dandolo, who employed it for the recovery of Zara from the king of Hungary. In vain did Innocent use warning and threatening to divert them from this attempt. The doge’s work was done. Hardly was this difficulty adjusted, when the crusaders engaged in another enterprise, equally foreign to their original purpose, and no less contrary to the will of the Pope. Influenced by the persuasions of Philip of Germany, they lent their assistance to his brother-in-Jaw, Alexius Angelus, in his project of regaining his ancestral inheritance from the usurper, Alexis III. Constantinople was captured. But by this event the relations between the Greeks and Latius became so disturbed, that, in a popular insurrection, Alexius was caught, imprisoned, and finally strangled. Thereupon the crusaders took possession of the city, and set up there a Latin empire. On May 16, 1204, Baldwin of Flanders was crowned emperor. This event, opening as it did to the Pope a prospect of uniting the Greek and Latin churches, reconciled him to the course pursued by the crusaders, and in a letter to them he expressed the joyful hope that henceforth there would be but one fold and one shepherd. And now was vouchsafed to him that which his predecessors had sighed for in vain; viz., the nomination of a Catholic patriarch for Constantinople.

On Oct. 12, 1204, Innocent issued a bull for raising a crusading expedition into Livonia. The leader of the several enterprises which followed was Albert, Bishop of Livonia, who succeeded in baptizing the Livonians in 1206, and also the neighboring Letti in 1208, and subjecting both to the chair of Peter. In reward for this, Albert was released from the control of his metropolitan at Bremen, and made, in a measure, independent. But, on his becoming involved in a conflict with the "Knighthood of Christ in Livonia," Innocent sought to adjust the difficulty by a compromise, the conflicting terms of which soon made it evident how impracticable it was for a church power centralized at Rome to manage wisely the conditions and relations of remote ecclesiastical provinces.

It is not so creditable to Innocent, that he first employed the crusades for the extermination of heresy. In 1207 he enjoined on the French king the duty of annihilating the heretics of Toulouse. The cruelties inflicted on the Albigenses, in consequence, are not to be charged so much on Innocent himself as on his system, which may be traced back to Augustine... The orders of the Pope against heretics were approved at the twelfth general synod (1215), and incorporated in the canon law. They were, in substance, that all rulers should be exhorted to tolerate no heretics in their domains: if a ruler refused to clear his land of heretics at the demand of the Church, and should persist in his refusal, he should be deprived of his authority, and even ejected from it by force: to every one who joined in the expeditions against heretics, like favors should be granted as were granted to crusaders. At the same council the severest enactments were issued against the Jews. Rulers were forbidden to trust them with public offices. In order to be known as Jews, they were to clothe themselves with a peculiar garb. During Holy Week they were not to appear on the streets, lest, in that season of sorrow, Christians should be scandalized by their decorated attire. At this council, also, condemnation was pronounced upon the doctrine of Amalrich of Bena..., and on a treatise against Peter Lombard by Joachim of Flore (sec art.). Moreover, the formation of new monastic orders was discouraged; and alike on Dominic and on Francis, both of whom prayed to have their orders confirmed, was the command of the council imposed, that they should subject their societies to existing rules. The last deliverance of the council was to summon Christendom to a new crusade to the Holy Land, in 1217. At this council, held near the close of Innocent’s pontificate, the Pope showed himself as the unlimited ruler of the great ones of the world and of the church. Emperors, kings, and princes had sent to it their plenipotentiaries; and fifteen hundred archbishops, bishops, and abbots took part in its transactions, or, rather, were present to listen to and record the decrees of Innocent. Deliberations, properly speaking, there were none. Consent followed at once on the reading of the Pope’s decree. But, while the ecclesiastics thus exalted their superior, they virtually voted their own abdication. None of Innocent’s predecessors had so cut down the privileges of bishops and metropolitans as he had done, and none had so largely assumed the right of patronage belonging to local church officers. He was the first to assert the Pope’s right to grant benefices; and he issued countless conimissions in order to secure a productive living for the papal servants and the Romish clergy, and even to his own relatives and intimates. And he did this at the cost of the country clergy, and to the disparagement of the authority of the bishops in the regions where these commissions were executed. This centralization of power was still furthered by a claim laid to the bishops’ chairs, in case any overstepped canonical regulations and privileges. The right to depose bishops was also declared to belong to the Pope alone, who, as the vicar of Christ, had the sole power to annul the marriage between the bishop and his congregation. Large as all these claims were, they were sustained, on the part of Innocent, by rare discernment and profound knowledge. Even during his reign, his bulls and decretals were collected and published at three several times; and a fourth collection, comprising those of the last six years, was issued shortly after his death. But, though thus crowded with work, this Pope found leisure for literary labors. We have from his pen, an exposition of the seven penitential Psalms, evincing a tone of sincere piety. Moreover, he preached frequently, not only at Rome, but also upon his journeys; and those of his sermons which have come down to us bear testimony to his earnest piety and deep humility. Once and again did he utter a sigh for rest from occupations which wore out body and soul. And this rest he found in death (July 16, 1216) at Perugia. Pride can hardly be said to be the ruling element of his character. When he bums, excommunicates, binds, and loosens, he is not seeking his own honor, but the honor of Him whose vicegerent he believed himself to be. The high office of the Papacy, so repugnant to Protestant feeling, he spiritualized and ennobled. In his blameless walk, his brotherly love1 his readiness for self-sacrifice, he showed the devoted Christian. We can hardly call him covetous, since he devoted his whole income to the good of the Church. The only spot that stains his name is that he did once and again endow his relatives and trusted servants with ecclesiastical livings; but this is spot which cleaves almost to the entire Papacy.

Philip Schaff, ed., A Religious Encyclopaedia or Dictionary of Biblical, Historical, Doctrinal, and Practical Theology, 3rd edn, Vol. 2. Toronto, New York & London: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1894. pp.1091-1095.

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Primary Sources

Book or monograph Brenda Bolton, Innocent III: Selected Documents on the Pontificate 1198-1216. Manchester Medieval Sources. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1999. Pbk. ISBN: 0719050995. pp.320.
Book or monograph C.R. & Mary G. Cheney, The Letters of Pope Innocent III (1198-1216) concerning England and Wales: A Calendar with an Appendix of Texts. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1967. Hbk. ISBN: 0198213565. pp.344.
Book or monograph C.R. Cheney & W.H. Semple, eds., Selected Letters of Pope Innocent III concerning England, 1198-1216. Nelson, 1953. Hbk. ISBN: 0177110554. pp.520.
Book or monograph Original Papal Documents in England and Wales from the Accession of Pope Innocent III to the Death of Pope Benedict XI (1198-1304)Jane E. Sayers, ed., Original Papal Documents in England and Wales from the Accession of Pope Innocent III to the Death of Pope Benedict XI (1198-1304). Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999. Hbk. ISBN: 0198202040. pp.794. {Amazon.com}
Book or monograph Robert Somerville, Scotia Pontificia: Papal Letters to Scotland Before the Pontificate of Innocent III. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982. Hbk. ISBN: 0198224338. pp.192. {Amazon.com}

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Secondary Sources

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Article Leonard E. Boyle, "Innocent II and Vernacular Versions of Scripture," Katherine Walsh & Diana Wood, eds., The Bible in the Medieval World: Essays in Memory of Beryl Smalley, Studies in Church History, Subsidia 4. Oxford: Blackwell, 1985. Hbk. ISBN: 0631142754. pp.97-107. {Amazon.com}
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Article John Gilchrist, "The Lord's War as the Proving Ground of Faith: Pope Innocent III and the Propagation of Violence (1198-1216)," Maya Schatzmiller, ed., Crusaders and Muslims in Twelfth-Century Syria. Leiden / New York / Cologne: Brill, 1993. Hbk. ISBN: 9004097775. pp.65-83. {Amazon.com}
Article Stephen Kuttner, "Universal Pope or Servant of God's Servants: the Canonists, Papal Titles and Innocent III," Revue de droit canonique 32 (1981), reprinted in Kuttner, Studies in the Hsitory of Medieval Canon Law. Hampshire / Brookfield: Variorum, 1990. Hbk. ISBN: 0860782743. Article 8. {Amazon.com}
Book or monograph Logan: A History of the Church in the Middle AgesF. Donald Logan, A History of the Church in the Middle Ages. London & New York: Routledge, 2002. Pbk. ISBN: 0415132894. pp.184-201. {Amazon.com}
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Book or monograph Innocent III: Vicar of Christ or Lord of the World?James M. Powell, ed., Innocent III: Vicar of Christ or Lord of the World? Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1994. Pbk. ISBN: 0813207835. pp.192. {Amazon.com}
Article Fiona Robb, "Who Hath Chosen the Better Part? (Luke 10,42): Pope Innocent III and Joachim of Fiore on the Diverse Forms of Religious Life," Monastic Studies 2 (1991): 157-70.
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Article Constance M. Rousseau, "The Spiritual Relationship: Marital Society and Sexuality in the Letters of Pope Innocent III," Mediaeval Studies 56 (1994): 89-109.
Book or monograph Sayers: Innocent IIIJane Sayers, Innocent III: Leader of Europe 1198-1216. The Medieval World. Longman, 1994. ISBN: 0582083419. pp.240. {Amazon.com}
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Book or monograph Héléne Tillman, Pope Innocent III, Walter Sax, translator. Amsterdam & New York: North-Holland Publishing Company, 1980. Hbk. ISBN: 0444851372. {Amazon.com}
Article D.M. Webb, "The Pope and the cities: anticlericalism and heresy in Innocent III's Italy," Diana Wood, ed., Studies in Church History Subsidia 9: The Church and Sovereignty, ca 590-1918: Essays in Honour of Michael Wilks. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1991. ISBN: 0631180427. pp.135-52. {Amazon.com}

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