Gregory was, in his own time, and has been since, the subject both of the highest praise and of the severest censure. Modern historians agree in giving him credit for the honesty and courage of his convictions, and concede the purity and loftiness of his motives and aims. He is the typical representative of papal absolutism in the Middle Ages in conflict with imperial absolutism. He combined personal integrity, consummate statesmanship, and monastic contempt of the world. He lived and moved in the idea of the Old Testament theocracy, and had no conception of the free spirit of the gospel. He was a man of blood and iron, an austere monk, inaccessible to feelings of tenderness, when acting in his official capacity as the head of the Roman hierarchy; yet he showed singular liberality in his treatment of Berengar, and protested against the use of torture. His piety was absorbed in devotion to the hierarchy, to St. Peter, and to the Virgin Mary. He was unscrupulous in the choice of means for his end, and approved of civil war for the triumph of the Roman Church.
The lofty principles he espoused he was willing to stake his life upon. No pope has ever used the term “righteousness? more frequently than he used it. No pope has ever employed the figure of warfare to describe the conflict he was engaged in more frequently than he employed it. No man was ever more convinced of the soundness of his cause. He found his authority in the Scriptures and freely used them to convince others, quoting certain passages again and again, such as I Sam. 15:23, which is found quoted in his writings nineteen times (this text reads as follows: “For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, he hath also rejected thee from being, king.”—H.V.). He found in Matt. 16:18 (“And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”—H.V.) the certain warrant for the papal supremacy and excepted no persons from the jurisdiction of Peter’s successors. As, an advocate of papal absolutism and as a moral reformer he has left an abiding impress upon the thought and the practice of Roman Christendom. Even when we are farthest from sharing his views, we may admire the man of fearless courage and moral conviction.
His spirit still moves m the curia (the collective body of officials of the papal government—H.V.), which adheres to the theocratic theory, without the ability of carrying it into practice. The papal Syllabus of 1864 denies that “the Roman pontiffs have exceeded the limits of their power and asserts the superiority of the Church over State in litigated questions of jurisdiction.” The political-ecclesiastical encyclicals of Leo XIII, on Nov. 1, 1885 and on June 20, 1888, reasserted substantially, though moderately and cautiously, the Gregorian theory of Church and State.
Ranke, in his last years, wrote of Gregory: “His hierarchical system rests upon the endeavor to make the clergical order the basis of all human existence. This makes intelligible its two characteristic and fundamental principles, the command of celibacy and the prohibition of lay investiture. By the first it was intended to build up out of the lower clergy a body isolated from all the personal and family relationships of human society. By the second it was intended to insure the higher clergy against all interference from the civil power. The great hierarch thought out well the platform on which he placed himself. He met a demand of the age to see in the priest, as it were, a being belonging to a higher order. All that he says betrays dignity, force, and logical connection. His activity, which left nothing untouched, was of a very human sort, while at the same time it embraced religious ideals. The hierarchical principle constituted his real life.”
Gregorovius, who carried on a sustained comparison between Gregory and Napoleon, praised Gregory’s genius and moral vigor. He says: “Gregory was the heir of the ancient aims of the papacy. But his unexampled genius as ruler and statesman is his own, and no one either ancient Rome or in modern times has ever reached to his revolutionary daring . . . His dying words reveal the fundamental basis of his character, which was great and manly. To this grand spirit, a character almost without and equal, belongs a place among the rulers of the earth, men who have moved the world by a violent yet salutary influence. The religious element, however, raised him to a far higher sphere than that to which secular monarchs belong. Beside Gregory, Napoleon sinks to an utter poverty of ideas. Of Canossa this author had said: “The weaponless victory of the monk Gregory has more claim on the admiration of the world than all the victories of an Alexander, a Caesar, and Napoleon.” Other church historians, however, especially German historians, are inclined to magnify the courage and manly vigor of Henry, and to minimize the integrity and moral uprightness of Gregory.
Let us hope that Gregory felt in his heart some of that Christian love and meekness whose commendation closes one of his letters to Germann, archbishop of Metz, the most drastic expression of papal absolutism he ever made. He wrote: “If the virtue of love be neglected, no matter what good any one may do, he will wholly lack the fruit of salvation. To do these things in humility and to love God and our neighbor as we ought, this presupposes the mercy of him who said, ‘Learn of me for I am meek and lowly of heart.’ Whosoever humbly fellows him shall pass from the kingdom of submission which passes away, to the kingdom of true liberty which abides forever.”
INNOCENT AND THE PAPACY. A.D. 1198-1216
Innocent’s Training and Election.
The brilliant pontificate of Innocent III, 1198-1216, lasted as long as the combined and uneventful reigns of his five predecessors: Lucius III, 1181-1185; Urban III, 1185-1187; Gregory VIII less than two months, 1187; Clement III, 1187-1191; Collestin III, 1191-1198. It marks the golden age of the mediaeval papacy and one of the most important eras in the history of the Catholic Church. No other mortal bas before or since wielded such extensive power. As the spiritual sovereign of Latin Christendom, he had no rival. At the same time he was the acknowledged arbiter of the political destinies of Europe from Constantinople to Scotland. He successfully carried into execution the highest theory of the papal theocracy and anticipated the Vatican dogmas of papal absolutism and infallibility. To the papal title “vicar of Christ,” Innocent added for the first time the title “vicar of God.” He set aside the decisions of bishops and provincial councils, and lifted up and cast down kings. He summoned and guided one of the most important of the councils of the Western Church, the Fourth Lateran, 1215, whose acts established the Inquisition and fixed transubstantiation as a dogma. He set on foot the Fourth Crusade, and died making preparation for another. On the other hand he set Christian against Christian, and by undertaking to extirpate religious dissent by force drenched parts of Europe in Christian blood.
Lothario, Innocent’s baptismal name, was born about 1160 at Anagni, a favorite summer resort of the popes. He was the son of Count Trasmondo of the house of the Conti de Segni, and of the ruling families of the Latium. Like Hildebrand; Innocent may have combined Germanic with Italian blood. Upon the basis of such family names among the Conti as Lothaire and Richard, Gregorovius finds evidence of Lombard origin. This ruling family furnished nine popes, of whom Innocent XIII was the last. He studied theology and canon law at Paris and Bologna, and became proficient in scholastic learning. Through the influence of three uncles, who were cardinals, he was rapidly promoted, and in 1190, at the age of twenty-nine, was appointed cardinal-deacon by one of them, Pope Clement III. Though the youngest member of the curia, he was at once assigned a place of responsibility.
During the pontificate of Coelestin III, a member of the house of the Orsini which was unfriendly to the Conti, Lothario withdrew into retirement and devoted himself to literature. The chief fruit of this seclusion is the work entitled The Contempt of the World or the Misery of the Mortal Estate. It might well have been followed, as the author says in the prologue, by a second treatise on the dignity of man’s estate. To this time belongs also a work on the sacrifice of the mass. After his elevation to the papal throne, Innocent composed an Exposition of the Seven Penitential Psalms. While pope he preached often both in Rome and on his journeys. His sermons abound in mystical and allegorical figures. On his letters more than five hundred are preserved.
The Contempt of the World is an ascetic plaint over the sinfulness and woes of this present life. It proceeds upon the basis of Augustine’s theory of total depravity. The misery of man is described from the helplessness of infancy to the decrepitude of age and the sufferings of the future estate. Pessimistic passages are quoted from Jeremiah, Ecclesiastes, and Job, and also from Horace, Ovid, and Juvenal. Three master passions are constantly tormenting man,—avarice, lust, and ambition,—to which are added the innumerable ailments of the body and troubles of the soul: The author deplores the fate of masters and servants, of the married and the unmarried, of the good and the bad, the rich and the poor. “It is just and natural that the wicked should suffer; but are the righteous one whit better off? Here below is their prison, not their home or their final destiny. As soon as a man rises to a station of dignity, cares and trouble increase, fasting is abridged, night watches are prolonged, nature’s constitution is undermined, sleep and appetite flee, the vigor of the body give way to weakness, and a sorrowful end is the close of a sorrowful life.” In the case of the impenitent, eternal damnation perpetuates the woes of time. With a description of these woes the work closes, reminding the reader of the solemn cadences of the Dies Irae of Thomas of Celano and Dante’s Inferno.
Called forth from retirement to the chief office in ChrÃ¯stendom, Innocent had an opportunity to show his contempt of the world by ruling it with a strong and iron hand. The careers of the best of the popes of the Middle Ages, as well as of ecclesiastics like Bernard of Clairvaux and Thomas of Canterbury, reveal the intimate connection between the hierarchical and ascetic tendencies. Innocent likewise displayed these two tendencies. In his treatise on the mass he anticipated the haughty assumption of the papacy, based on the rock foundation, of Peters’ primacy, which as pope he afterwards displayed.
On the very day of Coelestin’s burial, the college of cardinals unanimously chose Lothario pope. Like Gregory I, Gregory VII, Alexander III, and other popes, he made a show of yielding reluctantly to the election. He was ordained priest, and the next day, February 22, he was consecrated bishop and formally ascended the throne in St. Peter’s.”