Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Saving the Lateran

Initial A with Saint Dominic Saving the Church of Saint John Lateran
From a Dominican gradual
Mid-15th century ( Lombardy)
Tempera, gold, and ink on parchment
4 5/16 x 3 11/16 in. (10.9 x 9.3 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Giotto di Bondone (1267 - 1337)
Legend of St Francis: 6. The Dream of Innocent III
270 x 230 cm
Upper Church, San Francesco, Assisi

There is a story that Pope Innocent III allowed the Dominicans to be established after he dreamed that Saint Dominic saved the Church of Saint John Lateran in Rome - the Pope`s own Church in Rome

There is another story that Pope Innocent III dreamt of Saint Francis being the person who saved the Lateran and then approved the Order of St Francis

In 1215 the year of the Fourth Lateran Council, Dominic and one of his followers, Foulques, went to Rome to secure the approval of the Pope, Innocent III, of their order. It is understood that Dominic did attend the Council himself as a spectator (as apparently did St Francis of Assisi) Dominic returned to Rome a year later, and was finally granted written authority in December 1216 and January 1217 by the new pope, Honorius III for an order to be named "The Order of Preachers"

In 1209, Francis led his first eleven followers to Rome to seek permission from Pope Innocent III to found a new religious order. The story is that although Pope Innocent initially had doubts he had a dream in which he saw Francis holding up the Basilica of St. John Lateran. He then decided to endorse Francis' order on April 16, 1210

Francis later attended the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215

It is interesting to note that there is inscription in the Basilica of St John Lateran which ascribes the dream of Inncoent to St Francis and there is a 17th century fresco on the apse which depicts again the dream of Innocent after meeting St Francis

Unfortunately there is no reliable record of St Francis meeting St Dominic at the Fourth Lateran Council

But what is significant is the linking of the foundation and founders of the two great medieval mendicant orders (the Franciscans and the Dominicans) with Pope Innocent III and his great programme of reform which culminated in the greatest of the medieval Councils - the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215.

The Council is largely forgotten in modern times but its effects still reverberate today.

Norman Tanner, Professor of Church History at the Gregorian University in Rome, in his book The Ages of Faith: Popular Religion in Late Medieval England and Western Europe (2009) wrote of the Council:

"The Fourth Lateran Council of 1215 opens a unique window onto pastoral care in the Middle Ages.

Summoned by Pope Innocent III and meeting in the Lateran basilica in Rome during the month of November 1215, the assembly of several hundred bishops and other prelates from all over western Christendom enacted in its 71 decrees the most impressive and influential legislation of all medieval councils.

Regarding the preparation for the council, the balance between papal input and that of other contributors is difficult to weigh precisely.

Most of the decrees appear to have been drafted by Pope Innocent and the Roman Curia before the beginning of the council, so the task of the latter was largely to rubber-stamp the prepared legislation.

More detailed information about possible amendments introduced by individuals is hard to come by, on account of lack of evidence about the council’s proceedings. On the other hand, the decrees were not invented out of nothing. Several of them are traceable to decrees of earlier councils, and in the letters sent out in April 1213 to announce the forthcoming council, bishops were invited to suggest topics for the council.

In the next two and a half years, moreover, many local councils were held in preparation, at the Pope’s express wish, and it seems likely that these local councils had some influence upon the decrees that were drafted for Lateran IV. In short, while the principal impetus for the decrees came from the Pope and the Roman Curia, they certainly reflect a wider constituency within the Church.

The purpose of the council was set forth by Innocent in his letter of summons:

‘To eradicate vices and plant virtues, to correct faults and reform morals, to remove heresies and strengthen faith, to settle discords and establish peace, to get rid of oppression and foster liberty, to induce princes and Christian people to succour the Holy Land.

A broad programme of what we can recognise as pastoral care is intended and this is reflected in the decrees of the council ...

How influential were the decrees? Was the council the motor of developments in the Church in the thirteenth century – often regarded as the golden age of the Western Church in the Middle Ages – or was it merely an onlooker? No doubt the answer lies somewhere in between.

What is certain is that in almost all the areas of Christian life in which the century saw spectacular achievements, as well as deviations and disasters, the council issued a decree of some relevance: famous saints such as Francis and Clare of Assisi or King Louis IX of France; the four orders of friars – Franciscans, Dominicans, Carmelites and Augustinians – and the beguine movement for women; the universities, pre-eminently Bologna, Paris and Oxford, and theologians of the stature of Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus; mystical writers such as Mechtild of Magdeburg and Gertrude of Helfta; parish churches, cathedrals and works of art; the Christianity of countless individuals, largely unknown; as well as the Inquisition, crusades, continuing schism with the Eastern Church, the expulsion of Jews.

The council did not produce the results single-handed but at least it was a guide, not just a spectator"