Innocent III, Pope
INNOCENT III, POPE
Pontificate: Jan. 8, 1198 to July 16, 1216; b. Lothar, son of Transmundus, of the family of the Lombard counts of Segni, and Clarissa, from the Roman family of Scotti (or Scorta), probably about 1160 or 1161. d. Perugia. He pursued his studies in Rome, Paris, and Bologna. In Rome, he studied at the monastery of St. Andrew with Peter Ismael, whom he later named bishop of Sutri. In Paris, his teacher was Peter of Corbeil, whom he designated bishop of Cambrai and later as archbishop of Sens. Although there is a tradition that he studied with the canonist, Hugucccio, in Bologna and later appointed him bishop of Ferrara, there is no contemporary evidence to support this view. In fact, the failure of the author of the Gesta Innocentii III, a contemporary, to mention Huguccio is sufficient to raise doubt since he mentions both Peters as teachers of the pope.
Prior to his election, Lothar wrote a number of treatises, the most popular of which was the De miseria humane conditionis (On the Misery of the Human Condition), which was widely circulated throughout the Middle Ages. Although modern scholars have often been dismissive of the work, it belonged to a genre that touched deep chords in an age when human suffering was commonplace. He also authored the De missarum mysteriis (1195), and the De quadripartita specie nuptiarum prior to his election. These works were important in gaining him the respect of his fellow cardinals. The author of the Gesta, possibly the canonist and later cardinal Petrus Beneventanus, singled out the oposcula, which he drafted and dictated at various times, as evidence that he surpassed his contemporaries both in philosophy and theology. Recent scholarship has suggested that Innocent's theological work is fundamental to the understanding of his pontificate.
Innocent's pontificate came at a critical moment in the history of the Western Church and of western European societies. Indeed, his personal name as well as his papal designation reminded his contemporaries of the internal conflicts of the 1120s and 1130s in the college of cardinals and the alliance of Pope Innocent II with the Emperor Lothar III. Politically, his reign was marked by consolidation at all levels from communes and counties to grand estates and kingdoms. The European economy was creating new forms of wealth from industry and trade. Europeans were also more conscious of the world beyond their own. The crusades had captured widespread attention with their aim of recovering the Holy Places in the East from Muslims. At the same time, higher education, literature, art, and religious life were all helping in the creation of a pan-European culture. Innocent himself was a product of this changing society. He was elected pope on Jan. 8, 1198, the same day that Celestine III died, and was ordained to the priesthood on Feb. 21, 1198. He was consecrated bishop and crowned as pope on the following day.
His pontificate reflects the manner in which this changing background helped to shape his policies. It may be conveniently divided into two periods, with the dividing point sometime around 1209 or 1210. In the first period, the influence of the schools seems to have been paramount. The pope not only presented his arguments in strong scholastic terms, as is evidenced in the decretal Per venerabilem, for example, but he embraced such reform groups as the humiliati, the Order of the Holy Spirit, the trinitarians, and finally, the followers of St. francis and St. dominic. He canonized St. Homobonus, the humble tailor of Cremona, who had devoted himself to the poor and who, in his close ties to the clergy, represented a kind of counter image to Peter Waldo (Valdes), of Lyons, the founder of the Waldensians. To this period, also, belonged his bitterest disappointment: the failure of the Fourth Crusade. Although he had decreed a tax of a fortieth on all ecclesiastics to support the crusade, he had left its organization and direction in the hands of secular leaders like Boniface of Montferrat and the Venetian Doge. Its diversion, first against the Dalmatian city of Zara, claimed by the Venetians, and then against Constantinople, to restore the deposed Byzantine emperor, Isaac II and his son, Alexis IV, ran counter not merely to the principle that the crusades should not attack Christians, but also to the pope's goal that the Byzantine Emperor, Alexis III, brother of the deposed emperor, might be persuaded to participate in the crusade in a significant way.
To this period also belonged the disputed imperial election following the death of Henry VI in 1197. Ever since the eleventh century, the papacy had pursued a complex relationship with the German king-emperors. Although historians, as well as some contemporaries, have tended to personalize the grounds for disagreement in particular rulers, especially in the Hohenstaufen house in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, in fact, the seeds of most of the disagreement reached back much further. They were based on such factors as imperial interests in Italy and the growing concern of the reform papacy in the second half of the eleventh century that the papacy would become merely an office of State. Increasingly, the popes wanted a territorial jurisdiction that would protect the Patrimony of St. Peter, on which the Roman Church largely depended for economic support. Innocent found himself at a point where the disputed imperial election provided an opportunity to get better terms from the new Emperor. Yet he was reluctant to interfere directly. He took the position that the pope, who crowned the emperor,
could judge the merits of the candidates. He vacillated between Philip of Swabia and Otto of Brunswick, only fully supporting the latter after Philip's assassination in a private quarrel in 1208.
At the same time, he pursued an aggressive policy of strengthening the papal position in central Italy. He appointed rectors throughout the area and often used members of his own family to create a network of local powers that would support the papacy. He especially worked to strengthen his position in Rome, which had long been a thorn in the side of papal policy. When the Emperor Otto began to push an aggressive imperial agenda in central Italy and the Kingdom of Sicily, Innocent, who was the guardian of Frederick, the son of Henry VI and Constance, opposed him. By 1212, he had joined Philip II Augustus of France in supporting the young Frederick for the German kingship and the imperial throne.
This early period was also marked by the manner in which Innocent attempted to define his views in his important decretals. Many of these found a place in Compilatio tertia, which was compiled by Petrus Beneventanus, a member of his curial family, and approved by the pope for use by the law professors in Bologna. It was the first time that a pope took a direct role in the compilation of canon law, and his example would be followed by his successors, Honorius III and Gregory IX. The latter promulgated the Liber extra which was compiled by Raymond of Peñafort in 1234, and which became the foundation of Canon Law in the Latin Church along with the Decretum of Gratian. Innocent's decretals (judicial decisions) reveal that he was decisive, but cautious. In ecclesiastical matters, he promoted the interests of the papacy over the that of the local church, using the famous Leonine term plenitudo potestatis (fullness of power) with reference to the papal role in the church, while the local bishops had merely a partem sollicitudinis (a sharing in the care of churches).
In secular affairs, Innocent's views were much more complex, depending on the particular circumstances with which he was dealing. Thus, in Per venerabilem (1202), Innocent refused to legitimate the sons of Count William of Montpellier so that they could enter the ranks of the clergy, but he defended the power of the pope to legitimize in the secular field. He argued that he would not use this power where there was a superior secular power with that same authority. He was, however, claiming a superior jurisdiction for the papacy. That Innocent was essentially asserting the position of Pope Gelasius I, though in rather extravagant language, is shown by the argument he advanced in Novit ille (1204). It was addressed to the French bishops and defended the right of the pope to act in a secular dispute where sin was involved (ratione peccati ). It clearly followed the Gelasian principle that bishops are superior to secular rulers because they are responsible to God for the souls of kings. In Venerabilem (1202) and Solitae (late 1200 or early 1201), it is impossible to separate secular from ecclesiastic concerns.
There is no doubt, however, that these decretals helped to create an image of the papacy moving strongly into the secular sphere. But historians have become increasingly reluctant to view Innocent III as ambitious to wield temporal power. Indeed, there is a kind of ambivalence that separates Innocent from some of his successors, notably Innocent IV. Recent scholarship has put much more emphasis on the pastoral and theological aspects of Innocent's pontificate. Indeed, theological imagery is central in his writings, not merely in the opuscula and sermons but in his letters as well. In dealing with heresy, the decretal Vergentis (1200), promulgated against heretics in Viterbo at the beginning of his pontificate, taken by itself, creates a somewhat false impression of the manner in which Innocent dealt with heresy. His approach was more pastoral than juridical. Taken together, the efforts of these years provided a foundational experience for the efforts of the pope during the second part of his pontificate.
Two endeavors denote the character of this second period. They are summarized by Innocent himself under the terms reform and crusade. The first culminated in the Fourth lateran council, and the second in the planning and preparations for the Fifth crusade. But much remained unresolved from the previous period, and both France and England occupied a great deal of his time, In England he was involved in the conflict over the election of the archbishop of Canterbury. In France he refused to allow Philip II Augustus to reject Ingeborg of Denmark as his wife and queen and to marry Agnes of Meran, whose father had supported Philip of Swabia. Ultimately, the resolution of conflicts between France and England also threatened his plan for the crusade. Yet, the assassination in 1208 of the papal legate, Peter of Castelnau, who was directing missionary efforts against the Cathars in the Midi, triggered his summons of military support against them, the Albigensian Crusade.
The Fourth Lateran Council was the greatest achievement of Innocent's pontificate. It brought together more than 400 bishops as well as some representatives from the East and as many more abbots from the West. The agenda, based at least in part on responses from local churches, attempted a major overhaul of numerous aspects of religious practice, from annual confession to preaching. The doctrinal decrees condemned the views of Aimery of Bene and David of Dinant, as well as the position of Joachim of Fiore on the Trinity. It also accepted the term transubstantiation to describe the change that occurred in the consecration of bread and wine in the mass. It prohibited the proliferation of new religious rules and forbade the clergy's participation in the judicial ordeal. In Ad liberandam, appended to the seventy constitutions approved by the council and pope, the council wrote a detailed plan for the newly summoned crusade, responding to many of the criticisms and failings aimed at previous crusades. Among the most controversial of the decrees was that requiring a distinctive mode of dress by Jews and Saracens and restricting their external activities during the Christian observances of Lent and Easter. As Robert Chazan has observed, these measures resulted in an intensification of traditional anxiety among the Jews. The decrees of the Fourth Lateran Council were not merely the product of Innocent III's will, nor were the decisions of the council that touched secular affairs always in line with his desires. The French bishops, who probably played the most active role in the council, opposed the pope's position regarding a settlement in the Midi. Innocent favored the rights of the count of Toulouse against Simon de Montfort, the leader of the Albigensian Crusade. In fact, recent scholarship has shown that Innocent compromised on other issues, such as the prohibition of new religious rules, most probably to secure support for his plan for the crusade, especially the tax on the clergy. Rather than viewing the Fourth Lateran Council as the culmination of Innocent' pontificate, though it did in fact turn out that way, it would probably be more accurate to see it as his plan for the future of the church. It combined much of the new spirit of reform with practical measures to meet problems, but it also left many issues, such as the relationship between Christians and non-Christians, in a largely unsatisfactory state from the point of view of all parties.
What especially marked the pontificate of Innocent III was his willingness to deal with the most difficult issues. Though some of his decisions have struck many as too rigid, a careful reading of his letters reveals that even in his strongest decretals, he tempered firmness with a willingness to act as a good shepherd. Indeed, the author of the Gesta makes this point on numerous occasions but never more forcefully than in the case of the attempted self-promotion of the bishop of Würzburg. Innocent exercised both patience and mercy in his role as judge. If history has not attached the word "great" to Innocent, it may well be a result of the complexity of the problems that he faced and that he himself recognized it in his dealing with the world.
Bibliography: Patrologia Latina v. 214–217; Die Register Papst Innocenz III (Graz, 1965–). De Miseria Condicionis Humanae (Athens, Ga. 1978). De quadripartita specie nuptiarum in Patrologia Latina; De missarum mysteriis in Patrologia Latina; Regestum super negotio Romani imperii, ed. f. kempf (Miscellanea historiae pontificiae 12; Rome 1947). c. r. cheney and w. h. semple, eds., Selected Letters of Pope Innocent III concerning England (New York 1953). h. tillmann, Pope Innocent III (Amsterdam 1980; tr. from the German edition, Bonn 1954). d. waley, The Papal State in the Thirteenth Century (London 1961). j. m. powell, Innocent III: Vicar of Christ or Lord of the World? (Boston 1961; revised and enlarged edition, Washington, D.C. 1994). c. r. cheney, Innocent III and England (Stuttgart 1976). m. laufs, Politik und Recht bei Innocenz III (Cologne 1980). w. imkamp, Das Kirchenbild Innocenz III (Stuttgart 1983). k. pennington, Pope and Bishops: The Papal Monarchy in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries (Philadelphia 1984). j. m. powell, Anatomy of a Crusade (Philadelphia 1986). r. foreville, Innocent III et la France (Stuttgart 1992). m. macccarone, Nuovi studi su Innocenzo III ed. r. lambertini (Rome 1995). c. egger, "Papst Innocenz als Theologe. Beiträge zur Kenntnis seines Denkens im Rahmen der Frühscholastik," Archium historiae pontificiae 30:55–123. w. p. mÜller, Huguccio: The Life, Works, and Thought of a Twelfth Century Jurist (Washington, D. C. 1994). b. bolton, Studies on Papal Authority and Pastoral Care (Aldershot 1995). Pope Innocent III and His World, ed. j. c. moore (Aldershot 1999).
[j. m. powell]