The coronation ceremonies were on a splendid scale. But the size of Rome, whose population at this time may not have exceeded thirty-five thousand, must be taken into account when we compare them with the pageants of the ancient city. At the enthronization in St. Peter’s, the tiara was used which Constantine is said to have presented to Sylvester, and the words were said, “Take the tiara and know that thou art the father of princes and kings, the ruler of the world, the vicar on earth of our Savior Jesus Christ, whose honor and glory shall endure throughout all eternity.” Then followed the procession through the city to the Lateran. The pope sat on a white palfrey and was accompanied by the prefect of the city, the senators and other municipal officials, the nobility, the cardinals, archbishops, and other church dignitaries, the lesser clergy and the popular throng all amidst the, ringing of bells, the chanting of psalms, and the acclamations of the people. Along the route a singular scene was presented at the Ghetto by a group of Jews, the rabbi at their head carrying a roll of the Pentateuch, who bowed low as they saluted their new ruler upon whose favor or frown depended their protection from the populace, yea, their very life. Arrived at the Lateran, the pope threw out handfuls of copper coins among the people with the words, “Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have give I thee.” (what a mockery this surely was! Imagine: the pope of this age repeating the words of the apostle, Peter, that he did not have silver or gold, and that at a time when untold riches were at his disposal. In this respect the successor of the apostle, Peter, surely did not walk in the steps of his predecessor.—H.V.) The silver key of the palace and the golden key of the basilica were then put into his hands, and the senate did him homage. A banquet followed, the pope sitting at a table alone. Upon such pomp and show of worldly power the Apostles, whose lot was poverty, would have looked with wonder, if they had been told that the central figure of it all was the chief personality in the Christian world.
When he ascended the fisherman’s throne, Innocent was only thirty-seven years old, the youngest in the line of popes up to that time: Walter von der Vogelweide gave expression to the fear which his youth awakened when he wrote, “Alas! the pope is so young. Help, Lord, thy Christian world.” The new pontiff was well formed, medium in stature, temperate in his habits, clear in perception, resolute in will, and fearless in action: He was a born ruler of men, a keen judge of human nature, demanding unconditional submission to his will, yet considerate in the use of power after submission was once given,—an imperial personality towering high above the contemporary sovereigns in moral force and in magnificent aims of world-wide dominion.
Innocent’s Theory of the Papacy.
The pope with whom Innocent is naturally brought into comparison is Hildebrand. They were equally distinguished for moral force, intellectual energy, and proud assertion of prelatic prerogative (“prelatic prerogative” means: special rights or privileges which belong to a prelate, a church dignitary. In this case, of course, the church dignitary is the pope.—H.V.) Innocent was Hildebrand’s superior is learning, diplomatic tact, and success of administration, but in creative genius and heroic character he was below hit predecessor (hence, what a figure Hildebrand would have been had he enjoyed Innocent’s learning.—H.V.). He stands related to his great predecessor as Augustus to Julius. He was heir to the astounding program of Hildebrand’s scheme and enjoyed the fruits of his struggles. Their personal fortunes were widely different. Gregory was driven from Rome and died in exile. To Innocent’s good fortune there seemed to be no end, and he closed his pontificate in undisputed possession of authority.
Innocent no sooner ascended the papal chair that he began to give expression to his conception of the papal dignity. Throughout his pontificate he forcibly and clearly expounded it in a tone of mingled official pride and personal humility. At his coronation he preached on the faithful and wise servant. “Ye see,” he said, “what manner of servant it is whom the Lord hath set over his people, no other than the vicegerent of Christ, the successor of Peter. He stands in the midst between God and man; below God, above man; less than God, more than man. He judges all and is judged by none. But he, whom the pre-eminence of dignity exalts, is humbled by his vocation as a servant, that so humility may be exalted and pride be cast down; for God is against the high-minded, and to the lowly He shows mercy; and whose exalteth himself shall be abased. (indeed, what a strange mixture of pride and humility! The pope is “less than God and more than man!” Is it not rather true than all comparison between a man (in this case the pope) is absolutely impossible.—H.V.)
Indeed, the papal theocracy was Innocent’s all-absorbing idea. He was fully convinced that it was established of God for the good of the Church and the salvation of the world. As God gave to Christ all power in heaven and on earth, so Christ delegated to Peter and his successors the same authority. Not man but God founded the Apostolic see. In his famous letter to the patriarch of Constantinople, Nov. 12, 1199, he gave an elaborate exposition of the commission to Peter. To him alone the command had been given, “Feed my sheep.” The pope is the vicar of Christ, yea of God himself. Not only is he entrusted with the dominion of the Church, but also with the rule of the whole world? Like Melchizedek, he is at once king and priest. All things in heaven and earth and in hell are subject to Christ. So are they also to his, vicar. He can depose princes and absolve subjects from the oath of allegiance. He may enforce submission by plating whole nation under the interdict. Peter alone went to Jesus on the water and by so doing he gave illustration of the unique privilege of the papacy to govern the whole earth. For the other disciples stayed in the ship and so to them was given rule only over single provinces. And as the waters were many on which Peter walked, so over the many congregations and nations which the waters represent, was Peter given authority—yea over all nations whatsoever (universos populos). In this letter he also clearly teaches papal infallibility and declares that Peter’s successor can never in any way depart from the Catholic faith.
Gregory VII’s illustration, likening the priestly estate (sacerdotium) to the sun, and the lights, civil estate (regnum or imperium) to the moon, Innocent amplified and emphasized. Two great lights, Innocent said, were placed by God in the firmament of heaven, and to these correspond the “pontifical authority and the regal authority,” the one to rule over souls as the sun rules over the day, the other to rule over the bodies of men as the moon rules over the night. And as the moon gets its light from the sun, and as it is also less than the sun both in quality and in size, and in the effect produced, so the regal power gets its dignity and splendor from the pontifical authority which has in it more inherent virtue. The priest anoints the king, not the king the priest, and superior is he that anoints Jo the anointed. Princes have, authority in separate lands; the pontiff, over all lands. The priesthood came by divine creation; the kingly power by man’s manipulation and violence. “As in the ark of God,” so he wrote to John of England, “the rod and the manna lay beside the tables of the law, so at the side of the knowledge of the law, in the breast of the pope, are lodged the terrible power of destruction and the genial mildness of grace.” Innocent reminded John that if he did not lift his foot from off the Church, nothing would check his punishment and fall. Monarchs throughout Europe listened to Innocent’s exposition and obeyed. His correspondence abounds with letters to the emperor, the kings of Hungary, Bohemia, Sicily, France, England, the Danes, Aragon, and to other princes, teaching them their duty and demanding their submission.
Under Innocent’s rule, the subjection of the entire Christian world to the Roman pontiff seemed to be near realization. But the measures of force which were employed in the Latin conquest of Constantinople, 1204, had the opposite effect from what was intended. The overthrow of the Byzantine empire and the establishment of a Latin empire in its stead and the creation of a new hierarchy of Constantinople only completed the final alienation of the Greek and Latin churches. To Innocent III may not be denied deep concern in the extension of Christendom. But the rigorous system of the Inquisition which he set on foot begat bitterness and war of churchman against Christian dissenter and of Christian, against Mohammedan. More blood was shed at the hand of the Church during the pontificate of Innocent, and under his immediate successors carrying out his policy, than in any other age except during the papal counter-Reformation in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The audacious papal claim to imperialism corrected itself by the policy employed by Innocent and his successors to establish the claim over the souls and bodies of men and the governments of the earth.
Innocent and the German Empire.
The political condition of Europe was favorable to Innocent’s assertion of power. With the sudden death of Henry VI, Sept. 28, 1197, at the early age of thirty-two, the German empire was left without a ruler. Frederick, the Emperor’s only son, was a helpless child. Throughout Italy was a reaction set in against Henry’s hard and oppressive rule: The spirit of national freedom was showing itself, and a general effort was begun to expel the German princes and counts from Italian soil.
Innocent III has been called by Ranke Henry’s real successor. Taking advantage of the rising feeling of Italian nationality, the pope made it his policy to separate middle and lower Italy from the empire, and, in fact, he became the deliverer of the peninsula from foreign agents and mercenaries. He began his reign by abolishing the last vestiges of the authority of the empire in the city of Rome. The city prefect, who had represented the emperor, took the oath of allegiance to the pope, and Innocent invested him with a mantle and silver cup. The senator likewise acknowledged Innocent’s authority and swore to protect the Roman see and the regalia of St. Peter.
The pope quickly pushed his authority beyond the walls of Rome. Spoleto, which for six centuries had been ruled: by a line, of German dukes, Assisi, Perugia, and other cities submitted. Mark of Anweiler, the fierce soldier of Henry VI, could not withstand the fortunate diplomacy and arms of Innocent, and the Romagna, with Ravenna as its centre, yielded. A Tuscan league was formed which was favorably disposed to the papal authority. Florence, Siena, Pisa, and other cities, while refusing to renounce their civic freedom, granted privileges to the pope. Every where Innocent had his legates. Such full exercise of papal power over the State of the Church had not before been known.
To confirm her son Frederich’s title to the crown of Sicily, his mother delivered the kingdom over to the pope as a papal fief. She survived her imperial consort only a year, and left a will appointing Innocent the guardian of her child. The intellectual training and political destinies of the heir of the Hohenstaufen were thus entrusted to the hereditary foe of that august house. Innocent was left a free hand to prosecute his trust as he chose.