Monday, February 22, 2010

The Papacy in the Thirteenth Century

Giotto di Bondone (1267 – January 8, 1337)
Stigmatization of St Francis (detail) with Dream of Innocent III and the Confirmation of the Rule of St Francis
Tempera on wood
Musée du Louvre, Paris
These two little panels representing the Dream of Pope Innocent III and Confirmation of the Rule of the Order form the predella of the altarpiece, which shows the stigmatisation of St. Francis. The left-hand panel depicts the dream of Innocent III: Francis appears to the pope as the most important pillar of the Lateran basilica, which is on the point of collapse.

Fra Angelico (1395 – February 18, 1455)
Dream of Innocent III: Detail of the predella of the Coronation of the Virgin
about 1434
Tempera on panel
Musée du Louvre, Paris

Master Conxolus (Subiaco, 13th century)
Large "parchment" with the Latin text of the bull by which Pope Innocent III (d.1216) donated revenues to the monastery at Subiaco in 1203. The parchment is held up by St. Benedict and Abbot Romanus (d.1216) on the left and Pope Innocent III on the right
San Benedetto Abbey, Subiaco

Parchment, 538/533 x 416/410 mm, pleat: 40 mm, with a gold seal
ASV, A. A., Arm. I-XVIII, 22
Diploma by Otto IV to Pope Innocent III, where the sovereign makes commitments regarding the elections of prelates, the freedom to appeal to the Apostolic See, the battle against heresies and the Holy See’s free possession of the territories occupied by his predecessors.
In the convent near Spira, the Emperor Otto IV of Wittelsbach, (1209-1218), in his own handwriting confirmed to Innocent III (1198-1216) the donations granted by his predecessors to the Holy See

Tomb of Blessed Pope Gregory X, at the Cattedrale di San Donato, Arezzo

Tomb of Saint Pope Celestine V in the Basilica of Santa Maria di Collemaggio in L'Aquila (before the earthquake)

"The thirteenth century holds a significant place in the history of papal monarchy.

This period saw the papacy reach the peak of the effectiveness towards which it had been moving throughout the twelfth century. However, it also saw the beginnings of the decline of that effectiveness, which was to gather momentum in the later Middle Ages.

The papacy was a unique sort of monarchy in that it claimed jurisdiction in both spiritual and temporal affairs. It claimed primacy of jurisdiction as `monarch of all Churches’, headship of the ecclesiastical world. It did not claim a comparable jurisdiction over the secular world because it did not doubt that a division of spiritual and temporal powers had been decreed by God himself.

But it did claim a right to judge lay rulers and, at its own assessment of need, otherwise to intervene authoritatively in the temporal order.

In addition to these two types of jurisdiction, spiritual and temporal, it laid claim to a third: over a state of its own. By virtue of the Patrimony of St Peter, it possessed in its own right territorial jurisdiction over a central Italian state, wherein the pope ruled like any other European monarch.

During the thirteenth century, each of these three types of papal jurisdiction underwent important change.

In the opening decades of the century, especially in the pontificates of Innocent III (1198–1216), Honorius III (1216–27) and Gregory IX (1227–41), the papacy either initiated, or very quickly associated itself with, the new religious and intellectual movements of the age. Papal government extended its range and improved its quality to an extent unprecedented in earlier papal history. In the political sphere, similarly, it was involved more deeply and widely than previously. It sought to expand and effectively to control the Papal State with a vigour which was new.

Increasingly enmeshed in local Italian affairs, however, the papacy appeared by the end of the century to have lost much of its capacity for creating and encouraging innovative forces.

Its political claims were spectacularly rebuffed by kings strong in the support of their Church and nation. As to the success of its policies in the Papal State and Italy, the withdrawal to Avignon in the fourteenth century is commentary enough.

How popes understood the nature of papal authority, how they exercised it and how it was challenged, particularly in the political sphere, must form the main theme of this chapter.

But the papacy was an elective monarchy in this period. The electoral college, the College of Cardinals, was also the papal equivalent of the councils of contemporary kings, the body of ministers and senior officials concerned with the day-to-day conduct of government. The corporate body of pope and cardinals formed the Roman Church; there were oligarchic tendencies in the working of the papal monarchy.

Problems arise in presenting in outline form a theme of such variety and complexity over so long a period. This chapter has as its organising principle a characteristic feature of thirteenth-century papal government: the use of general councils as a major instrument of policy. There were three of them: Lateran IV (1215); Lyons I (1245); Lyons II (1274).

In these assemblies of the bishops of the universal Church, reinforced by other clerical estates and by representatives of lay powers, the papacy confronted crisis, articulated and publicised what it expected of clergy and laity and sought to win minds and hearts to the support of its policies. To assess the nature and implementation of the programmes initiated at these assemblies is to delineate much of the fortune and misfortune of the papal monarchy in our period.

Between the accession of Innocent III in January 1198 and the death of Boniface VIII in October 1303, eighteen popes ruled the Church. Thirteen were Italian, four were French and one was Portuguese. This mixture of nationalities itself indicates that a variety of routes led to the papacy in this period.

Rise to the headship of the Church could be meteoric: after the death of his wife, Gui Foulques (Clement IV) was priest, bishop, archbishop, cardinal and pope all within a decade (1255–65). It could be even more unexpected: Tedaldo Visconti (Gregory X), archdeacon of Liège, though not a priest, was serving with the crusaders in the Holy Land when elected in 1271. It could be more unpredictable still: Pietro Morrone, a hermit-monk with a reputation for miraculous healing, was well advanced into his eighties when brought down from his cave in the Abruzzi mountains and installed as Celestine V in 1294.

The electoral system, then, could spring surprises. For the most part, however, it ran true to form.

It was service in the Sacred College (as the College of Cardinals came to be called in this period) that counted for most in the choice of popes in this century. The cardinals formed what, from the eleventh century, had been commonly described as the Senate of the Roman Church.

Its role as senate was to counsel and assist the pope in running the affairs of the universal Church. It was aided by this Senate that the popes ordinarily exercised their legislative, judicial and administrative authority. As the Roman senators had been described as part of the body of the emperor, so it became commonplace to describe the College as a member of the pope’s body, sharing his universal pastoral charge, participating in the exercise of the plenitude of his governmental power.

The thirteenth-century cardinals were full-time curial officials. The College was always a relatively small body (some 130 promotions only in the century as a whole; 77 in the period 1198–1268). The cardinals were worked hard in a wide variety of roles. Corporately, they acted with the pope for the despatch of business in consistory.

Individually, they might hold the top ministerial posts, treasurer, penitentiary, vice-chancellor; be commissioned as legates to carry the apostolic authority all over Christendom; be appointed ad hoc to hear legal cases, serve on committees of investigation (of candidates for canonisation, for example), govern provinces of the Papal State, act as protectors of religious orders. They were true sharers in the burden of the papal office (to echo another contemporary description of their role). Convention and common sense dictated that the cardinal-electors should look first for popes from their own ranks, from those with most experience of papal government.

In fact, only three of the eighteen popes of this century had not been cardinals (Urban IV as well as Gregory X and Celestine V). The remaining fifteen had between them amassed an impressive tally of service in the papal curia as cardinals. Nicholas III had been one for thirty-three years, Gregory IX for twenty-nine, Adrian V for twenty-five, Honorius IV for twenty-four, Honorius III for twenty-three, Martin IV for twenty. Five more had between ten and sixteen years. Only four had less than ten years (Innocent III, Clement IV, Innocent V, John XXI). Such figures would lead us to expect an essential continuity of papal policies in this century.

While lengthy membership of the College was the strongest predisposing factor in the making of popes in this period, it was not the only factor at work.

There was a distinct dynastic element in the composition of the College of Cardinals. There was nepotism, if not on any grand scale.

Twelve of the eighteen popes were to create cardinals; eight of them appointed one or two relatives. Innocent III appointed three, as did Boniface VIII. Several of these family creations were to become popes. Innocent III created cardinal the future Gregory IX who promoted the future Alexander IV; all Conti relatives. Innocent IV of the Genoese Fieschi made his brother’s son a cardinal and he was to become Hadrian V. Each of those made cardinal by a relative and subsequently elected pope had proved himself worthy of the office in long curial service.

The prominence in the Sacred College throughout the century of families of the city and Papal State – Conti, Savelli, Orsini, Capocci, Annibaldi, Caetani – was not due simply to popes promoting their own relatives. Among the cardinals created by the French pope Urban IV was an Orsini, a Savelli and an Annibaldi. It was recognised that such families could be of powerful assistance in the papacy’s endemic local problems: the achievement and maintenance of papal security in Rome, the establishment of the authority of the central government in the Papal State.

That there were dangers in these local associations is evident enough. Popes could be tempted to a dynastic policy, subjecting the general good to family aggrandisement. Such, most conspicuously, was the charge against the Orsini, Nicholas III, given its classical form in Dante’s Inferno XIX. More insidious still was the danger of family rivalries springing from purely local and dynastic considerations, escalating into the heart of papal government. Such rivalries would explain electoral delays and no doubt influenced many papal decisions about Italian affairs. The most overt and damaging example of such escalationof family feuding into the papacy itself can be seen, at the end of the century, when Caetani–Colonna quarrels led to the expulsion of the two Colonna cardinals from the Sacred College and their becoming Boniface VIII’s dedicated and ruthless enemies, challenging the legality of his election and even, through a Colonna relative, seriously threatening to take his life.

Nevertheless, despite the importance of family influences within the Sacred College, it can be said with some confidence that no pope in this period was elected as the pawn of any self-interest group or individual. For better or for worse, though the cardinals were rarely totally free from external pressures, occasionally of a severe kind, the real choices were made by the College as a whole and reflect quite closely the composition of the College itself. With the major exception of Celestine V, who abdicated five months after election, they chose men whose quality of life and competence in papal affairs had been well attested in practical experience.

This is not to say that the College, in its capacity as elector of popes, always did its work well. More often than it should have been, it was dilatory in choosing a new pope. There were perhaps extenuating circumstances for the delay of twenty months in finding a successor to Celestine IV (d. 1241), because Frederick II was holding two cardinals captive. There were none, however, for the longest vacancy in papal history – nearly three years between the death of Clement IV in 1268 and the election of Gregory X in 1271. Nor for the vacancy of over two years before finding a successor to Nicholas IV (1292–4). On two other occasions, on the deaths of John XXI (1277) and of Nicholas III (1280), the vacancies lasted six months. These delays, particularly that of 1268–71, led to widespread criticism of the cardinals and a demand for electoral reform which, when introduced in 1274, the cardinals vigorously opposed, thwarting its immediate implementation.

There is one other factor to be considered when examining the making of popes in the thirteenth century: the importance of the accidental. An unusually high proportion of the pontificates of this period were extremely short. Celestine IV died in 1241 before his enthronement, as did Hadrian V in 1276 (even before there was a chance to ordain him priest). Indeed, in the year 1276, no less than four popes held office. Six more popes had reigns of less than four years and a seventh barely achieved a four-year pontificate. Only four pontificates stretched to ten years or more; and all of these fell in the first half of the century."

J.A. Watt The Papacy (Chapter 5) in The New Cambridge Medieval History Volume V (2008)