We will recall that we concluded our preceding article by calling attention to the treaty which was arranged between Frederick II and Gregory IX at Anagni, Sept. 1, 1230, upon Frederick’s triumphant return from Jerusalem, the holy city. The army of the emperor had been victorious, and the shrewd pontiff evidently considered that prudence was the better part of valor. He deemed it wise to form a truce with the conquering emperor, Frederick II. 

The truce lasted four years, Gregory in the meantime composing, with the emperor’s help, his difficulties with the municipality of Rome. Again he addressed Frederick as “his beloved son in Christ.” But formal terms of endearment did not prevent the renewal of the conflict, this time over Frederick’s resolution to force his authority upon the Lombard cities. This struggle engaged him in war with the papacy from this time forward to his death, 1235-1250. After crushing the rebellion of his son Henry in the North, and seeing his second son Conrad crowned, the emperor hastened South to subdue Lombardy. Henry died in an Italian prison. Conrad, whose mother was Iolanthe, was nine years old at the time of his coronation. In 1235 Frederick married for the third time Isabella, sister of Henry III, of England. This marriage explains Frederick’s repeated appeals to the clergy and people of England. “Italy,” he wrote in answer to the pope’s protests, 1236, “Italy is my heritage, as all the world well knows.” His arms seemed to be completely successful by the battle of Cortenuova, 1237. But Gregory abated none of his opposition. “Priests are fathers and masters of kings and princes,” he wrote, “and to them is given authority over men’s bodies as well as over their souls.” It was his policy to thwart at all hazards Frederick’s designs upon upper Italy, which he wanted to keep independent of Sicily as a protection to the papal state. The accession of the emperor’s favorite son Enzio to the throne of Sardinia, through his marriage with the princess Adelasia, was a new cause of offence to Gregory. For Sardinia was regarded as a papal fief, and the pope had not been consulted in the arrangements leading to the marriage. And so for the fifth time, in 1239, Gregory pronounced upon the emperor the anathema. In view of these repeated fulminations it is no. wonder that the papal legate, Albert of Bohemia, wrote from Bavaria that the clergy did not care a bean for the sentence of excommunication. The sentence charged him with stirring up sedition against the Church in Rome from which Gregory had been forced to flee in the conflicts between the Ghibelline and Guelf parties, with seizing territory belonging to the Holy Sec, and with violence towards prelates and benefices. The Ghibellines were supporters in Italy of the German emperor in the eleventh to the fourteenth centuries. Concerning the Guelf party we have the following. A Guelf was a member of a German royal family, so named from Welf, its original home in Swabia. So a Guelf was a supporter of the house of Guelf which became the royal family of Hanover and also of England; later, a member of the papal and popular party in medieval Italy, opposed to the imperial and aristocratic party of the Ghibellines. 

A conflict with the pen followed which has a unique place in the history of the papacy. Both parties made appeal to public opinion, a thing which was navel up to that time. The pope compared the emperor to the beast in the Book of Revelation which “rose out of the sea full of words of blasphemy and had the feet of a bear and the mouth of a lion, and, like a leopard in its ether parts, opens its mouth in blasphemies against God’s name, his dwelling place, and the saints in heaven. This beast strives to grind everything to pieces with his claws and teeth of iron and to trample with his feet on the universal world.” He accused Frederick of lies and perjuries, and called him “the one of lies, heaping falsehood on falsehood, robber, blasphemer, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, the dragon emitting waters of persecution from his mouth like a river.” He made the famous declaration that “as the king of pestilence, Frederick had openly asserted that the world had been deceived by three impostors,—Jesus, Moses, and Mohammed, two of these having died in glory and Jesus having been suspended on the cross.” Moreover, he had denied the possibility of God’s becoming incarnate of a virgin. This charge was made in an encyclical of Gregory sent forth between May 21 and July 1, 1239. These words, incidentally, are truly terrible words—H.V. The pope here accuses the king of the most terrible heresies, that Jesus was an impostor, and that it was impossible for God to become incarnate of a virgin. This means that the emperor denied that Jesus is the Son of God. 

This extensive document is, no doubt, one of the most vehement personal fulminations which has ever proceeded from Rome. Epithets could go no further. It is a proof of the great influence of Frederick’s personality and the growing spirit of democracy in the Italian cities that the emperor was not wholly shunned by all men and crushed under the dead weight of such fearful condemnations. 

In his retort, not to be behind his antagonist in Scripture quotations, Frederick compared Gregory to the rider on the red horse who destroyed peace on the earth. As the pope had called him a beast, bestia, so he would call him a wild beast, belua, antichrist, a second Balaam, who used the prerogative of Messing and cursing for money. He declares that, as God had placed the greater and lesser lights in the heavens, so he had placed the priesthood,sacerdotium, and the empire, imperium, on the earth. But the pope had sought to put the second light into eclipse by denying the purity of I Frederick’s faith and comparing him to the beast rising out of the sea. Indignantly denying the accusation of the three impostors, he declared his faith in the “only Son of God as coequal with the Father and the Holy Spirit, begotten from the beginning of all worlds. Mohammed’s body is suspended in the air, but his soul is given over to the torments of hell.” And there is apparently no reason whatever to doubt the truthfulness of this claim of the emperor.—H.V. One receives the impression that the one tried to outdo the other in the bitterness of his denunciations of the other. 

Gregory went further than words and offered to the count of Artois the imperial crown, which at the instance of his brother, Louis IX of France, the count declined. The German bishops espoused Frederick’s cause. On the other hand, the mendicant friars proved true allies of, the pope. The emperor drove the papal army behind the walls of Rome. In spite of enemies within the city, the aged pontiff went forth from the Lateran in solemn procession, supplicating heads of the Apostles Peter and Paul. When Frederick retreated, it seemed as if the city had been delivered by a miracle. However, untenable we may regard the assumptions of the Apostolic see, we cannot withhold admiration from the brave old pope. 

Only one source of possible relief was left to Gregory, a council of the whole church, and this he summoned to meet in Rome in 1241. Frederick was equal to the emergency, and with the aid of his son Enzio checkmated the pope by a maneuver which, serious as it was for Gregory, cannot fail to appeal to the sense of the ludicrous. The Genoese fleet conveying the prelates to Rome, most of them from France, Northern Italy, and Spain, was captured by Enzio, and the would-be councilors, numbering, nearly one hundred and including Cardinal Otto, a papal legate, were taken to Naples and held in prison: In his letter of condolence to the imprisoned dignitaries the pope represents them as awaiting their sentence from the new Pharaoh. Brilliant as was the coup de main, it was destined to return to trouble the inventor. And the indignity heaped by Frederick upon the prelates was at a later time made a chief charge against him. 

Gregory died in the summer of 1241, at an age greater than the age of Leo XIII; at that pope’s death. But he died, as it were, with his armor on and with his face turned towards his imperial antagonist, whose army at the time lay within a few hours of the city. He had fought one of the most strenuous conflicts of the Middle Ages. To the last moments his intrepid courage remained unabated. A few weeks before his death he wrote, in sublime confidence in the papal prerogative: “Ye faithful, have trust in God and hear his dispensations with patience. The ship of Peter will for a while be driven through storms and between rocks, but soon, and at a time unexpected, it will rise again above the foaming billows and sail on unharmed, over the placid surface.”

The Roman communion owes to Gregory IX the collection of decretals which became a part of its stature book. He made the Inquisition a permanent institution and saw it enforced in the city of Rome. He accorded the honors of canonization to the founders of the mendicant orders, St. Francis of Assisi and Dominic of Spain. 

Concerning Gregory IX the New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia has the following: “He began his spiritual career under Innocent III, his uncle, who created him cardinal deacon and afterward appointed him cardinal bishop of Ostia. Honorius III honored him with important commissions. His name is likewise intimately connected with the history of the rise of the Franciscan order, while Dominic, the founder of the Dominican order, likewise had his support. Gregory quickly came into strained relations with Frederick II of Germany, although they had previously been on good terms. He also gave attention to crusading plans, and was occupied with thoughts of missions. His early relations with the mendicant orders proved to their advantage, though the division among the Franciscans began even in his time. His converting the battle against heresy, on the conclusion of the Albigension wars, into a permanent institution of the Church came to be of epoch-making significance for the medieval Church, for the laws affecting heresy, as developed in his time, maintained themselves. His importance for medieval philosophy and theology was due to the fact that he approved the study of Aristotle. Finally, Gregory’s pontificate was of the utmost importance in the sphere of canon law, since through his chaplain, Raymond of Pennaforte, he had a collection of decretals compiled which gained universal recognition as a codification of canon law and thus contributed to the victory of the pope’s legislative authority. Gregory died Aug. 22, 1241. He may be called great in his zeal for the Church. That he was blinded by his hatred of Frederick and unscrupulous in his aggressive measures is the blot on his reputation.—end of quote from the New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia. 

Indeed, the use of unscrupulous measures to establish themselves upon the throne of St. Peter characterizes the popes throughout this amazing history of the supremacy of the pope. And we repeat that such unscrupulous use of measures to establish themselves is hardly in harmony with the principles of the Word which they were supposed to guard and to champion. The next time, the Lord willing, we will continue with the reign of Frederick and his struggle with the popes. 

H.V.