The Church and the Sacraments, Views During the Third Period (750-1517 A.D.), The Supremacy of the Pope, Innocent and the Papacy (1198-1216 A.D.)

In Germany, Innocent became the umpire of the imperial election. The electors were divided between two aspirants to, the throne, Philip of Swabia, the brother of Henry VI, who was Crowned at Mainz, and Otto, the son of Henry the Lion, who was crowned at Aachen by Adolf, archbishop of Cologne. Otto was the nephew of Richard Coeur de Lion and John of England, who supported his claims with their gold and diplomacy. Both parties made their appeal to Rome, and it is not a matter of surprise that Innocent’s sympathies were with the Guelf, Otto, rather than with the Hohenstaufen. Moreover, Philip had given offence by occupying, as duke of Tuscany, the estates of Matilda. 

Innocent made the high claim that the German throne depended for its occupant “from the beginning and ultimately” upon the decision of the papal see. Had not the Church transferred the empire from the East to the West? And had not the Church itself conferred the imperial crown, passing by the claims of Frederick and pronouncing Philip “unworthy of empire?” Innocent decided in 1201 in favor of Otto, “his dearest son in Christ who was himself devoted to the Church and on both sides was descended from devout stock.” The decision inured to Rome’s advantage. By the stipulation of Neuss, subsequently repeated at Spires, 1209, Otto promised obedience to the pope and renounced all claim to dominion in the State of the Church and also to Naples and Sicily. This written document was a dangerous ratification of the real or pretended territorial rights and privileges of the papacy from Constantine and Pepin down. 

Civil war broke out, and when the tide of success turned in Philip’s favor, the pope released him from the sentence of excommunication and was about to acknowledge him as emperor. (The very archbishop of Cologne who had crowned Otto now put the crown on Philip’s head) when the murderous sword of Otto of Wittelsbach, in 1208, brought Philip’s career to a tragic end. The year following Otto was crowned in St. Peter’s, but he forgot his promises and proceeded to act out the independent policy of the rival house of the Hohenstaufen (Otto had sought to join the fortunes of the two, houses by marrying Philip’s daughter, Beatrice, who died soon after the nuptials). He laid heavy hand upon Central Italy, distributing rich estates and provinces among his vassals and sequestrating the revenues of the clergy. He then marched to Southern Italy, the territory of Frederick, and received the surrender of Naples. 

All that Innocent had gained seemed in danger of being lost. Prompt measures showed him equal to the emergency. He wrote that the stone he had erected to be the head of the corner had become a rock of offence. Like Rachel he mourned over his son whom he lamented to have made king Otto was excommunicated and a meeting of magnates at Nurnberg, 1211, declared him deposed, and, pronouncing in favor of Frederick, sent envoys to Palermo to convey to him the intelligence. Otto crossed the Alps to reclaim his power, but it was too late. Frederick started north, stopping at Rome, where Innocent saw him for the first and last time, April, 1212. He was elected and crowned king at Frankfurt, December, 1212, and was recognized by nearly all the princes at Eger the year following. Before setting out from Italy he had again recognized Sicily as a fief of Rome. At Eger he disavowed all imperial right to the State of the Church. 

Otto joined in league with John of England and the Flemish princes against Philip Augustus of France] but his hopes were dashed to the ground on the battlefield of Bouvines, Belgium; 1415. His authority was thenceforth confined to his ancestral estate. He died 1218. Innocent had gained the day. His successors were to be defied by the young king, Frederick, for nearly half a century. (The Roman Catholic Church claims that the power of the pope is spiritual, that he ruled over the nations of the world also by his spiritual power as the vicar of Christ upon this earth. However, how often is it not true that the pope’s power and influence upon and control of worldly monarchs did not lie in his spiritual power but in the fact that he could exercise over them the sword power of this world? This was true of Gregory VII and also of Innocent III. And, incidentally, this lies in the nature of the case. It is simply a fact that he could not have received from Christ his authority and power to rule over earthly monarchs, and this for the simple reason that Christ did not delegate to the pope such powers. Hence, the pope’s power was simply a power which he usurped unto himself and which he therefore could never exercise except with the force of arms.—H.V.).

With equal spirit and decision, Innocent mingled in the affairs of the other states of Europe. In France, the controversy was over the sanctity of the marriage vow. Philip Augustus put away his second wife, a Danish princess, a few months after their marriage, and took the fair Agnes of Meran in her stead. The French bishops, on the plea of remote consanguinity, justified the divorce. But Innocent, listening to the appeals of Ingeborg, and plating France under the interdict, forced the king to take her back. (Notice, once more, that the power of the pope, also in this case, was purely external). 

The Christian states of the Spanish peninsula felt the pontiff’s strong hand. The kingdom of Leon was kept under the interdict five years till Alfonso IX consented to dismiss his wife on account of blood relationship. Pedro, king of Aragon, a model of Spanish chivalry, received his crown at Rome in 1204 and made his realm a fief of the Apostolic see. Sancho, king of the newly, risen kingdom of Portugal, was defeated in his effort to break away from the pope’s suzerainty. 

In the North, Sweden accepted Innocent’s decision in favor of the house of Schwerker, and the Danish king, who was attempting to reduce the tribes along the Baltic to Christianity, was protected by the pope’s threat of interdict upon all molesting his realm. The king of England was humbled to the dust by. Innocent’s word. To the king of Scotland a legate was sent and a valuable sword. Even Iceland is said to have been the subject of Innocent’s thought and action. 

In the Southeast, Johannitius of Bulgaria received from Innocent his crown after bowing before his rebuke for having ventured to accept it from Philip of Swabia. Ottoker, prince of Bohemia, was anointed by the papal legate, and Emmeric of Hungary made a vow to lead a crusade, which his brother Andrew executed. Thus all the states of Europe west of Russian were made to feel the supremacy of the papal power. The conquest of Constantinople and the Holy Land, as we shall see, occupied an equal share of attention from this tireless and masterful ruler, and the establishment of the Latin Empire of Constantinople, 1205, was regarded as a signal triumph for the papal policy. 

Innocent and King John of England. 

Under Innocent, England comes, if possible, into greater prominence in the history of the papacy than during the controversy in the reign of Alexander III, a generation before. Then the English actors were Henry II and Thomas á Becket. Now they are Henry’s, son John and Becket’s successor. Stephen Langton. The pope was victorious, inflicting the deepest humiliation upon the English king; but he afterwards lost the advantage he had gained by supporting John against his barons and denouncing the Magna Charta of English popular rights. The controversy forms one of the most interesting episodes of English history. 

John, surnamed Sansterre or Lackland, 1167-1216, succeeded his brother Richard I on the throne, 1199. A man of decided ability and rapid in action but of ignoble spirit, low morals, and despotic temper, he brought upon his realm such disgrace as England before or since has not suffered. His reign was a succession of wrongs and insults to the English people and the English church. 

John had joined Richard in a revolt against their father, sought to displace his brother on the throne during his captivity after the Third Crusade, and was generally believed by contemporaries to have put to death his brother Geoffrey’s son, Arthur of (Brittany, who would have been Richards successor if the law of primogeniture had been followed. He lost Normandy, Anjou, Maine, and Aquitaine to the English: Perjury was no barrier to the accomplishment of his plans. He set aside one wife and was faithless to another. No woman was too well born to be safe against his advances. He plundered churches’ and convents to pay his debts and satisfy his avarice, and yet he never undertook a journey without hanging charms around his neck. The contemporary annalists know no words too black to describe John’s character. Lingard says, “John stands before us polluted with meanness, cruelty, perjury, murder, and unbridled licentiousness.” Green, after quoting the words “foul as hell is, hell itself is defiled with the foul presence of John,” says, “in his inner soul John was the worst outcome of the Angevins . . . But with the wickedness, of his race he inherited its profound abilities.” Hunt uses these words, “He was mean, false, vindictive, abominably cruel, and scandalously immoral.” 

Innocent came into collision with John over the selection of a successor to Archbishop Hubert of Canterbury, who died 1205. The monks of Canterbury, exercising an ancient privilege, chose Reginald one of their number. With the king’s support, a minority proceeded to another election and chose the king’s nominee; John de Grey, bishop of Norwich. John was recognized by the suffragan bishops and put into possession by the king. 

An appeal was made by both parties to Rome, Reginald appearing there in person. After a delay of a year, Innocent set aside both elections and ordered the Canterbury monks, present in Rome, to proceed to the choice of another candidate. The choice fell upon Stephen Langton, cardinal of Chrysogonus. Born on English soil, Stephen was a man of in disputable learning and moral worth. He had studied in Paris and won by his merits pre-bends in the cathedral churches of Paris and York. The metropolitan dignity could have been entrusted to no shoulders more worthy of wearing it. His scholarly tastes are attested by his sermons, poems, and comments on books of the Bible which still exist in the libraries of Oxford, Cambridge, Lambeth, and of France. He is falsely credited by some with having been the first to divide the entire Bible into chapters. While he has no title to saintship like a Becket, or to theological genius like Anselm, Langton will always occupy a place among the foremost of England’s primates as a faithful administrator and the advocate of English popular liberties. 

The new archbishop received consecration at the pope’s own hand, June 17, 1207, and held his office till his death, 1228. Innocent, in his letter to John of May 26, 1207, declared he would turn neither to the right nor to the left in confirming the election. The English king met the notification with fierce resistance, confiscated the property of the Canterbury chapter, and expelled the monks as guilty of treason. Innocent replied with the threat of the interdict. The king swore by God’s teeth (one of John’s favorite forms of objurgation) to follow the censure, if pronounced, with the mutilation of every Italian in the realm appointed by Innocent, and the expulsion of all the prelates and clergy. The sentence was published by the bishops of London, Ely, and Worcester, March 22, 1208. They then fled the kingdom. 

—H.V.