Eugene III, Bl. Pope
EUGENE III, BL. POPE
Pontificate: Feb. 15, 1145, to July 8, 1153; b. Bernardo Pignatelli; d. Tivoli. Bernardo Pignatelli was born near Pisa. He was most likely of humble origin and was probably educated in Pisa. By 1128 he was almost certainly serving as the prior of Saint Zeno. Sometime around 1135 Bernardo met St. bernard, joined the cistercian abbey of clairvaux, and subsequently became the abbot of Saint Anastasio at Rome. In 1145, on the same day that his predecessor Lucius III died, Bernardo became the first Cistercian pope. He was an unexpected choice, and the precarious political climate at the time of his election made his transition to the Holy Office difficult. The popular commune rejected the pope's temporal powers, and Bernardo's refusal to support the Roman senate forced him to flee to Farfa, where he was consecrated. He then took up residence in viterbo and remained there until December 1145, when an agreement with Rome permitted him to enter the city. The compromise with the Romans broke down just after Christmas, and in January 1146 he was forced to flee again to Viterbo.
On Dec. 1, 1145, Eugene had proclaimed the Second crusade in a papal bull, Bulla cruciata. On March 6, 1146, he renewed the bull and commissioned St. Bernard to preach the crusade. The following year, Eugene himself traveled to France in order to promote the cause, returning to Italy in June 1148. Louis VII of France did take up the cross, and through the influence of St. Bernard, King Conrad III of Germany eventually joined the expedition as well. But the crusade, which became bogged in a futile siege of Damascus, never reached the Holy Land and ended in failure. The circumstances surrounding the Second Crusade, however, did generate some development in medieval political thought; it ultimately led to the classic formulation of the two-swords theory, which can be found in St. Bernard's didactic letters to Eugene.
The pope also rejected a proposal for a new crusade, which was marked by anti-Byzantine bias, and which most probably would never have reached the Holy Land. It was sponsored by Louis VII of France and Roger II of Sicily, an inveterate enemy of Byzantium. Although Roger had been responsible for Eugene's return to Rome in 1149, the pope had no intention of breaking his relationship with Conrad III of Germany, an ally of the Greeks.
Following St. Bernard's advice, Eugene worked to elevate the moral life of both the secular and regular clergy. He held synods at Paris in 1147, Trier in the winter of 1147/48, and Rheims in March 1148. While attending the last, Eugene evaluated the orthodoxy of Gilbert de La Porrée, and under the influence of St. Bernard several of Gilbert's propositions were corrected. Eugene also gave guarded approval of the visions of Hildegard of Bingen, the founder and abbess of the convent at Rupertsberg who was also a noted poet and composer. In 1149 he spotted the talented Nicholas Breakspear (the future Pope Adrian IV) and eventually made him papal legate to Scandinavia. At Cremona, on July 15, 1148, Eugene excommunicated the radical reformer arnold of brescia, who had become a leader of the Roman Commune and bore some responsibility for Eugene's earlier exile from Rome. The pope also intervened in England and supported Archbishop Theobald of Canterbury in his relations with King Stephen. In addition he deposed William Fitzherbert from the See of York in 1147. Finally, in 1153, Eugene concluded the Treaty of Constance, an accord in which frederick i barbarossa agreed to defend the papacy in return for an imperial coronation. It outlined an arrangement of mutual assistance for pope and emperor but Eugene did not enjoy even the limited benefits of that agreement, since he died in Rome later that same year. Despite his involvement in both diplomatic and ecclesiastical affairs, Eugene managed to continue a life of deep personal devotion and austere simplicity. His cult was authorized by Pius IX in 1872.
Feast: July 8.
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[j. a. sheppard]