1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Innocent/Innocent III (Pope)
Innocent III. (Lotario de’ Conti di Segni), pope from 1198 to 1216, was the son of Trasimondo, count of Segni, and of Claricia, a Roman lady of the noble family of Scotti, and was born at Anagni about 1160. His early education he received at Rome, whence he went to the university of Paris and subsequently to that of Bologna. At Paris, where he attended the lectures of Peter of Corbeil, he laid the foundations of his profound knowledge of the scholastic philosophy; at Bologna he acquired an equally profound knowledge of the canon and civil law. Thus distinguished by birth, intellect and attainments, on his return to Rome he rose rapidly in the church. He at once became a canon of St Peter’s; he was made subdeacon of the Roman Church by Gregory VIII.; and in 1190 his uncle, Pope Clement III., created him cardinal-deacon of Santi Sergio e Baccho. The election of Celestine III. in the following year withdrew Lotario for a while from the active work of the Curia, the new pope belonging to the family of the Orsini, who were at feud with the Scotti. Lotario, however, employed his leisure in writing several works: Mysteriorum evangelicae legis ac sacramenti eucharistiae libri VI., De contemtu mundi, sive de miseria humanae conditionis, and De quadrapartita specie nuptiarum. Of these only the two first are extant; they are written in the scholastic style, a sea of quotations balanced and compared, and they witness at once to the writer’s profound erudition and to the fact that his mind had not yet emancipated itself from the morbid tendencies characteristic of one aspect of medieval thought. Yet Lotario was destined to be above all things a man of action, and, though his activities to the end were inspired by impracticable ideals, they were in their effects intensely practical; and Innocent III. is remembered, not as a great theologian, but as a great ruler and man of affairs.
On the 8th of January 1198 Celestine III. died, and on the same day Lotario, though not even a priest, was unanimously elected pope by the assembled cardinals. He took the name of Innocent III. On the 21st of February he was ordained priest, and on the 22nd consecrated bishop. Innocent was but thirty-seven years old at this time, and the vigour of youth, guided by a master mind, was soon apparent in the policy of the papacy. His first acts were to restore the prestige of the Holy See in Italy, where it had been overshadowed by the power of the emperor Henry VI. As pope it was his object to shake off the imperial yoke, as an Italian prince to clear the land of the hated Germans. The circumstances of the time were highly favourable to him. The early death of Henry VI. (September 1197) had left Germany divided between rival candidates for the crown, Sicily torn by warring factions of native and German barons. It was, then, easy for Innocent to depose the imperial prefect in Rome itself and to oust the German feudatories who held the great Italian fiefs for the Empire. Spoleto fell; Perugia surrendered; Tuscany acknowledged the leadership of the pope; papal rectores once more governed the patrimony of St Peter. Finally, Henry’s widow, Constance, in despair, acknowledged the pope as overlord of the two Sicilies, and on her death (November 27, 1198) appointed him guardian of her infant son Frederick. Thus in the first year of his pontificate Innocent had established himself as the protector of the Italian nation against foreign aggression, and had consolidated in the peninsula a secure basis on which to build up his world-power.
The effective assertion of this world-power is the characteristic feature of Innocent’s pontificate. Other popes before him—from Gregory VII. onwards—had upheld the theory of the supremacy of the spiritual over the temporal authority, with various fortune; it was reserved for Innocent to make it a reality. The history of the processes by which he accomplished this is given elsewhere. Here it will suffice to deal with it in the broadest outline. In Germany his support of Otto IV. against Philip of Swabia, then of Philip against Otto and finally, after Philip’s murder (June 21, 1208), of the young Frederick II. against Otto, effectually prevented the imperial power, during his pontificate, from again becoming a danger to that of the papacy in Italy. Concessions at the cost of the Empire in Italy were in every case the price of his support (see Germany: History). In his relations with the German emperors Innocent acted partly as pope, partly as an Italian prince; his victories over other and more distant potentates he won wholly in his spiritual capacity. Thus he forced the masterful Philip Augustus of France to put away Agnes of Meran and take back his Danish wife Ingeborg, whom he had wrongfully divorced; he compelled Peter of Aragon to forgo his intended marriage with Bianca of Navarre and ultimately (1204) to receive back his kingdom as a fief of the Holy See; he forced Alphonso IX. of Leon to put away his wife Berengaria of Castile, who was related to him within the prohibited degrees, though he pronounced their children legitimate. Sancho of Portugal was compelled to pay the tribute promised by his father to Rome, and Ladislaus of Poland to cease from infringing the rights of the church. Even the distant north felt the weight of Innocent’s power, and the archbishop of Trondhjem was called to order for daring to remove the ban of excommunication from the repentant King Haakon IV., as an infringement of the exclusive right of the pope to impose or remove the ban of the church in the case of sovereigns. So widespread was the prestige of the pope that Kaloyan, prince of Bulgaria, hoping to strengthen himself against internal foes and the aggressions of the Eastern Empire, submitted to Rome and, in November 1204, received the insignia of royalty from the hands of the papal legates as the vassal of the Holy See.
Meanwhile Innocent had been zealous in promoting the crusade which ultimately, under the Doge Dandolo, led to the Latin occupation of Constantinople (see Crusades). This diversion from its original object was at first severely censured by Innocent; but an event which seemed to put an end to the schism of East and West came to wear a different aspect; he was the first pope to nominate a patriarch of Constantinople, and he expressed the hope that henceforth the church would be “one fold under one shepherd.” By a bull of October 12, 1204, moreover, Innocent proclaimed the same indulgences for a crusade to Livonia as the Holy Land. The result was the “conversion” of the Livonians (1206) and the Letts (1208) by the crusaders headed by the knights of the Teutonic Order. The organization of the new provinces thus won for the church Innocent kept in his own hands, instituting the new archbishopric of Riga and defining the respective jurisdictions of the archbishops and the Teutonic Knights, a process which, owing to the ignorance at Rome of the local geography, led to curious confusion.
Another crusade, horrible in its incidents and momentous in its consequences, was that proclaimed by Innocent in 1207 against the Albigenses. In this connexion all that can be said in his favour is that he acted from supreme conviction; that the heresies against which he appealed to the sword were really subversive of Christian civilization; and that he did not use force until for ten years he had tried all the arts of persuasion in vain (see Albigenses).
Of all Innocent’s triumphs, however, the greatest was his victory over King John of England. The quarrel between the pope and the English king arose out of a dispute as to the election to the vacant see of Canterbury, which Innocent had settled by nominating Stephen Langton over the heads of both candidates. John refusing to submit, Innocent imposed an interdict on the kingdom and threatened him with a crusade; and, to avert a worse fate, the English king not only consented to recognize Langton but also to hold England and Ireland as fiefs of the Holy See, subject to an annual tribute (May 1213). The submission was no idle form; for years the pope virtually ruled England through his legates (see English History and John, king of England). So great had the secular power of the papacy become that a Byzantine visitor to Rome declared Innocent to be “the successor not of Peter but of Constantine.”
As in the affairs of the world at large, so also in those of the church itself, Innocent’s authority exceeded that of all his predecessors. Under him the centralization of the ecclesiastical administration at Rome received a great impulse, and the independent jurisdiction of metropolitans and bishops was greatly curtailed. In carrying out this policy his unrivalled knowledge of the canon law gave him a great advantage. To his desire to organize the discipline of the church was due the most questionable of his expedients: the introduction of the system of provisions and reservations, by which he sought to bring the patronage of sees and benefices into his own hands—a system which led later to intolerable abuses.
The year before Innocent’s death the twelfth ecumenical council assembled at the Lateran under his presidency. It was a wonderful proof at once of the world-power of the pope and of his undisputed personal ascendancy. It was attended by the plenipotentiaries of the emperor, of kings and of princes, and by some 1500 archbishops, bishops, abbots and other dignitaries. The business before it, the disciplining of heretics and Jews, and the proclamation of a new crusade, &c., vitally concerned the states represented; yet there was virtually no debate and the function of the great assembly was little more than to listen to and endorse the decretals read by the pope (see Lateran Councils). Shortly after this crowning exhibition of his power the great pope died on the 16th of July 1216.
Innocent III. is one of the greatest historical figures, both in the grandeur of his aims and the force of character which brought him so near to their realization. An appreciation of his work and personality will be found in the article Papacy; here it will suffice to say that, whatever judgment posterity may have passed on his aims, opinion is united as to the purity of the motives that inspired them and the tireless self-devotion with which they were pursued. “I have no leisure,” Innocent once sighed, “to meditate on supermundane things; scarce I can breathe. Yea, so much must I live for others, that almost I am a stranger to myself.” Yet he preached frequently, both at Rome and on his journeys—many of his sermons, inspired by a high moral earnestness, have come down to us—and, towards the end of his life, he found time to write a pious exposition of the Psalms. His views on the papal supremacy are best explained in his own words. Writing to the patriarch of Constantinople (Inn. III., lib. ii. ep. 200) he says: “The Lord left to Peter the governance not of the church only but of the whole world;” and again in his letter to King John of England (lib. xvi. ep. 131): “The King of Kings . . . so established the kingship and the priesthood in the church, that the kingship should be priestly, and the priesthood royal (ut sacerdotale sit regnum et sacerdotium sit regale), as is evident from the epistle of Peter and the law of Moses, setting one over all, whom he appointed his vicar on earth.” In his answer to the ambassadors of Philip Augustus he states the premises from which this stupendous claim is logically developed:—
“To princes power is given on earth, but to priests it is attributed also in heaven; to the former only over bodies, to the latter also over souls. Whence it follows that by so much as the soul is superior to the body, the priesthood is superior to the kingship. . . . Single rulers have single provinces, and single kings single kingdoms; but Peter, as in the plenitude, so in the extent of his power is pre-eminent over all, since he is the Vicar of Him whose is the earth and the fullness thereof, the whole wide world and all that dwell therein.”
To the emperor of Constantinople, who quoted 1 Peter ii. 13, 14, to the contrary, he replied in perfect good faith that the apostle’s admonition to obey “the king as supreme was addressed to lay folk and not to the clergy.” The more intelligent laymen of the time were not convinced even when coerced. Even so pious a Catholic as the minnesinger Walther von der Vogelweide, giving voice to the indignation of German laymen, ascribed Innocent’s claims, not to soundness of his scholastic logic, but to the fact that he was “too young” (owê der babest ist ze junc).
The literature on Innocent III. is very extensive; a carefully analysed bibliography will be found in Herzog-Hauck, Realencyklopädie (3rd ed., 1901) s. “Innocenz III.” In A. Potthast, Bibliotheca hist. med. aevi (2nd ed., Berlin, 1896), p. 650, is a bibliography of the literature on Innocent’s writings. In the Corpus juris canonici, ed. Aemilius Friedberg (Leipzig, 1881), vol. ii., pp. xiv.-xvii., are lists of the official documents of Innocent III. excerpted in the Decretales Gregorii IX. The most important later works on Innocent III. are Achille Luchaire’s Innocent III, Rome et l’Italie (Paris, 1904), Innocent III, la croisade des Albigeois (ib. 1905), Innocent III, la papauté et l’empire (ib. 1906), Innocent III, la question d’orient (ib. 1906); Innocent III, les royautés vassales du Saint-Siège (ib. 1908); and Innocent III, la concile de latran et la réforme de l’église (1908); Innocent the Great, by C. H. C. Pirie-Gordon (London, 1907); is the only English monograph on this pope and contains some useful documents, but is otherwise of little value. See also H. H. Milman, History of Latin Christianity, vol. v.; F. Gregorovius, Rome in the Middle Ages, translated by A. Hamilton (1896), vol. v. pp. 5-110; J. C. L. Gieseler, Ecclesiastical Hist., translated by J. W. Hull, vol. iii. (Edinburgh, 1853), which contains numerous excerpts from his letters, &c. Innocent’s works are found in Migne, Patrologiae Cursus Completus, Series Latina, vols. ccxiv.-ccxvii. For a translation of Innocent’s answer to King John on the interdict, and John’s surrender of England and Ireland to Innocent, see Gee and Hardy, Documents illustrative of Church History (London, 1896), pp. 73 et seq. (W. A. P.)