Alexander III, Pope
ALEXANDER III, POPE
Pontificate: Sept. 7, 1159 (consecrated and crowned at Ninfa, Sept. 20, 1159) to Aug. 30, 1181; born Rolandus, son of Ranutius (Bandinelli is a late attribution), Siena c. 1100–05; died "of old age" at Civita Castellana; buried in St. John Lateran, in the right aisle before the pulpit. For more than a century, scholars erroneously confused the Sienese Rolandus with another Master Rolandus, probably from Modena and now identified as disciple of abelard, critic of St. bernard, teacher of canon law in Bologna and author of both the Stroma Rolandi, a commentary on the Decretum of gratian, and the Sententiae Rolandi, a theological treatise. Little is known of the early career of the Rolandus who became pope: he studied theology and possibly canon law at Bologna but it was his subsequent high profile as a canon in Pisa that recommended him to Eugenius III for rapid promotion to curial office (?1148); cardinal deacon of SS. Cosma e Damiano (by Oct. 23, 1150); created cardinal priest of S. Marco (by March 30, 1151); legate and negotiator at the Treaty of Constance (March 23, 1153); Chancellor of the Roman Church (before May 1153). Retaining office as trusted advisor to Adrian IV, he helped to negotiate the Treaty of Benevento (June 1156) with William of Sicily and challenged Frederick Barbarossa at the Diet of Besançon (October 1157). As chancellor, together with Boso, the papal Chamberlain, he witnessed many charters (1155–59), establishing castra specialia throughout the patrimony and bringing the local feudal nobility under the special protection of the Holy See.
On Adrian IV's death, the cardinals' three-day deliberation at St. Peter's (Sept. 4–7, 1159) over his successor achieved a large majority for Rolandus, who took the name of Alexander III. Meanwhile, a small but vociferous minority, including cardinals Guy of S. Callisto and John of S. Martino, forcibly claimed the election for Octavian of Sta. Cecilia, named Victor IV. Boso chronicled the dramatic events of the schism in his Vita of Alexander, beginning with the papal conclave imprisoned for two weeks by the Roman mob in the Leonine City and Trastevere; the pope's escape, consecration and coronation at Ninfa (Sept. 20, 1159) by the cardinal bishop of Ostia; and Barbarossa's support for Victor, the antipope, whose consecration at Farfa (Oct. 4, 1159) was subsequently endorsed by the imperial councils of Pavia (February 1160) and Lodi (June 1161). Alexander risked danger by excommunicating Victor and his followers (March 24, 1160), but he was fortunate in being served by loyal and exceptionally able legates who won wide support for him throughout Christendom. The episcopal councils of London (June 1160) and Neufmarché (July 1160) jointly declared for Alexander at Beauvais (July 22, 1160), while Louis VII of France and Henry II of England pronounced formally in his favor at the Council of Toulouse (October 1160).
Alexander was forced to spend much of his pontificate outside Rome; his weak position requiring the exercise of consummate diplomacy, his penury forcing him to seek money gifts in order to survive. During this period, two further anti-popes were elected: Paschal III on Victor's death (April 20, 1164), and on Paschal's death (Sept. 20, 1168), Callixtus III, who was finally abandoned in 1176 by Barbarossa. Imperial hostility caused Alexander to flee the Italian peninsula to France (by April 12, 1162), where he summoned a council at Montpellier (May 15–17, 1162) to remind secular rulers of their duties towards the Church. He conducted the normal business of the Curia from Sens (1163–65) and presided over an important episcopal Council at Tours (May 19, 1163), also attended by legates of the Byzantine emperor. This council recognized Alexander as the legitimate pope, not only in France and England, but also in Iberia, Hungary, Scotland and Ireland; nine new decrees were promulgated, particularly in relation to the treatment of heretical groups in Languedoc, and a long debate was held on Peter Lombard's Christology.
In November 1165, the Romans invited Alexander to return to the city, receiving him with customary honor
in an adventus ceremony, but within the year, just as the desperate financial situation of the Curia was beginning to improve through papal exploitation of Patrimonial revenues, Barbarossa mounted his fourth invasion of the Italian peninsula (November 1166). An imperial victory at Monteporzio (May 29, 1167) and the occupation of Monte Mario permitted the capture of St. Peter's, where Barbarossa and Beatrice, his wife, had themselves crowned by the anti-pope, Paschal III (July 30, 1167). Almost immediately, plague decimated the imperial troops and incidentally killed Rainald of Dassell, the emperor's chancellor. Alexander, who had bravely resisted the occupation of Rome, was eventually forced to escape to Benevento. At the same time, Manuel I Comnenus offered aid against Barbarossa in return for coronation as universal emperor. His offer was declined but the respective legates of both sides continued to discuss the possibility of reunion between Greek and Latin churches.
Alexander supported the anti-imperial Lombard League, whose strength lay in certain north Italian cities, and he was rewarded when the new town of Alessandria was named in his honor (1168). The League's victory at Legnano (May 29, 1176) made possible the Peace of Venice (July 24, 1177), by which Alexander's canonical election was at last recognized by Barbarossa after almost 18 years, and the emperor's excommunication withdrawn. On his return to Rome, the pope experienced a second and even more impressive adventus ceremony (March 12, 1178), led by clergy with banners and crosses, all chanting the papal laudes, and citizens bearing olive branches. Boso's Vita of Alexander reaches its triumphant conclusion at this point. The Peace, however, proved distasteful to a group of dissident nobles who elected Lando of Sezze as Innocent III (Sept. 29, 1179). Although this fourth anti-pope of the pontificate was rapidly dispatched to a papal fortress, Alexander left Rome, choosing to spend his last two years in the patrimony, and died in August 1181 at Civita Castellana.
The weakness of his position did not inhibit Alexander from attempting to assert papal authority. At the beginning of the crisis between Becket and Henry II (1164–70), the pope was at Sens in the kingdom of France, unable to respond vigorously either to royal threats or archiepiscopal pleas and constrained to tread a thin line between principle and compromise. Yet he conceded nothing of substance to the English king, for the Constitutions of Clarendon were not confirmed, nor was Becket deposed; instead the pope insisted on reconciliation and, through various legations, an accommodation was finally agreed after Becket's murder (Dec. 29, 1170). In 1178, Alexander had William I of Scotland (1165–1214) excommunicated and his kingdom placed under interdict for interfering in the election to the bishopric of St. Andrews and, in 1179, confirmed Count Alfonso Henriques (1139–79) as Alfonso I of Portugal (1179–85). In return, Alfonso conceded his kingdom as an apostolic fief and promised to pay an annual census.
The image of the pope exercising his legislative authority, however, was most clearly demonstrated at the Third Lateran Council (March 5–17, 1179). In the opening discourse by the famous canonist, Rufinus, bishop of Assisi, the importance of this view was stressed when he revealed that he envisaged the Council as an assembly in which the pope alone made laws for Christendom. Most important of the 27 decrees was the first, henceforth requiring a two-thirds' majority of cardinals at a papal election to avoid any future schism. Other decrees dealt with reform of the Church, action against heretics and the provision of a teacher in each cathedral school. One decree forbade anyone to demand money for the licentia docendi or licence to teach.
Alexander's pontificate was crucial in developing coherent rules in a number of important areas and his decisions passed into more than 700 decretals. Sixty of his marriage decretals appear in the Liber Extra, involving betrothal, mutual marital consent, consummation, consanguinity and legitimization. These made it possible to define as true marriage a wide variety of unions that might otherwise have remained outside the Christian community. He sought equitable solutions to situations as they arose and provided a framework for decisions that were both practical and theologically acceptable. In regard to canonization, the papacy's exclusive prerogative in this matter was becoming more generally accepted and Alexander considered no fewer than 12 cases brought before him. He made three canonizations: Edward the Confessor (Feb. 7, 1161), Thomas Becket (March 10, 1173) and Bernard of Clairvaux (Jan. 18, 1174), deliberating on the other nine candidates but giving no verdict. His decisions took the process further than ever before by requiring the presentation of detailed written evidence: the saint's Life, a catalogue of miracles and official letters attesting to the authenticity of both miracles and virtues.
Although his pontificate occurred at a time of considerable demoralization following the failure of the Second Crusade, Alexander was in agreement with St. Bernard that the requirement to crusade was explicable as God's test for his people and made his own considerable contribution to crusade ideology, particularly in relation to the indulgence. His encyclicals were issued to summon the faithful to crusade in the East in 1165, 1166, 1169, probably 1173 and 1181. The encyclical Inter omnia (July 29, 1169) was significant in referring to the crusade as the expression of God's love while Cor nostrum (Jan. 16, 1181) gave the crusade indulgence its mature form, its unequivocal definition being the remission of all or part of the punishment imposed by God in this world or the next. In 1171 or 1172, Alexander authorized crusading against the Finns and Estonians but offered only a limited indulgence, while his only authorization to a crusade in Iberia was made in 1175.
While unable to advance his crusade to the Holy Land, Alexander realized one project as being of equal value when he approved the mission of Henry de Marcy, abbot of Clairvaux, to the County of Toulouse in 1178, empowering him to preach there. The pope recognized the problem of rapidly spreading Catharism and the urgent need to establish a credible distinction between heresy and popular religion. Indeed, a decree of the Council of 1179 permitted bishops to levy troops and to issue indulgences as if for a crusade against the infidel. Alexander believed that the punishment of heretics should be carried out in a spirit of charity; various forms of persuasion being used to encourage their return to the Church, whether isolation, excommunication, compulsion or confiscation of goods and possessions. In 1162, in dealing with some Flemings who sought papal approval of their way of life, he warned the examining archbishop of Rheims to inquire into them and report to him, significantly preferring to risk absolving the guilty than to risk punishing the innocent. In 1179, he received Valdes, whose popular preaching and vernacular translations had brought a ban from the archbishop of Lyons. The pope approved his voluntary renunciation of property and lifestyle but refused to grant him the right to preach. Alexander, in his conciliar decrees, accepted that similar rigorous behavior by clerics was essential in order to command a fraction of the respect given to groups such as the Waldensians or the Humiliati of Lombardy, yet even he, in the last resort, was unable to keep Valdes and others within the Church.
Throughout a long and difficult pontificate, Alexander III demonstrated focused and inclusive leadership, whether as an innovator, particularly in marriage law, a determined advocate of persuasion and negotiation against excessive discipline, violence or threats, or in his 34 promotions to the cardinalate, most notably, Paolo Scolari, the future pope Clement III.
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[b. m. bolton]