The Papal Conflict with Frederick II Begun

Between the death of Innocent III and the election of Boniface VIII, a period of eighty years, sixteen popes sat on the throne, several of whom were worthy successors of the greatest of the pontiffs. The earlier half of the period, 1216 1250, was filled with the gigantic struggle between the papacy and Frederick II emperor of Germany and king of Sicily. The latter half, 1250-1294, was marked by the establishment of peace between the papacy and empire, and the dominance of the French, or Norman, influence over the papacy. 

Scarcely was Innocent in his grave when Frederick II began to play his distinguished role, and to engage the papacy in its last great struggle with the empire—a desperate struggle, as it proved to be, in which the empire was at la$ completely humbled. The struggle kept Europe in turmoil for nearly forty years, and was waged with three popes,—Honorius III, Gregory IX, and Innocent IV, the last two men of notable ability. During all this time Frederick was the most conspicuous figure in Christendom. The struggle was carried on not only in the usual ways of diplomacy and arms, but by written appeals to the court of European opinion. 

Frederick II, the grandson of Frederick Barbarossa, was born near Ancona, 1194. His father, Henry VI, had joined Sicily to the empire by his marriage with the Norman princess Constante, through whom Frederick inherited the warm blood of the South. By preference and training, as well as birth, he was a thorough Italian. He tarried on German soil only long enough to insure his crown and to put down the rebellion of his son. Ranke calls him a foreigner on German soil. He preferred to hold his court at Palermo, which in his letters he called “the Happy City.” The Romans elected him king in 1194, and at his father’s death a year later he became kink of Sicily. The mother soon followed, and by her will “the child of Apulia,” as Frederick was called, a boy then in his fourth year, passed under the guardian care of Innocent III. After Otto’s star had set, he was crowned king at Frankfurt, 1212, and at Aachen, 1215. Frederick was not twenty when Innocent’s career came to an end. We will recall from preceding articles the might and power to which this Innocent III had attained. 

Honorius III, 1216-1227, was without the ambition or genius of his predecessor Innocent III. He confirmed the rules and witnessed the extraordinary growth of the two great mendicant orders of St. Francis and St. Dominic. He crowned Peter of Courtenay, emperor of Byzantium, the only Byzantine emperor to receive his crown in Rome. The coronation took place outside the walls of the city. Peter died in prison on his way to Constantinople. The pope’s one passion was the deliverance of Jerusalem. To accomplish this, he was forced to look to Frederick. To induce him to fulfill the vow made at his coronation, in 1215, to lead a crusade, was the main effort of his pontificate. The year 1217, the date set for the crusade to start, passed by. Honorius fixed date after date with Frederick, but the emperor had other plans and found excuses for delay. In 1220 he and his wife Constantia received the imperial crown at the hands of the pope in Rome. The coronation ceremonies passed off amidst the general good will of the Roman populace and were interrupted by a single disturbance, a dispute over a dog between the ambassadors of Florence and Pisa which ultimately involved the cities in war. For the second time Frederick took the cross. He also seemed to give proof of piety by ratifying the privileges of the Church, announcing his determination to suppress heresy, and exempting all churches and cleric’s from taxation. In the meantime his son Henry had been elected king of the Romans, and by that act and the pope’s subsequent ratification the very thing was accomplished which it had been Innocent’s shrewd policy to prevent; namely, the renewal of the union of the empire and the kingdom of Sicily in one hand. The pope was always apprehensive of too much power passing into the hand of the emperor, we understand—H.V. Frederick was pursuing his own course, but to appease Honorius he renewed the pledge whereby Sicily was to remain a fief of the papal see. 

The fall of Damietta (Damietta, an important harbor in Egypt, had been chosen by the crusaders as their base of operations against Jerusalem and the point from which Jerusalem was to be reached. We can readily understand this if we look up the position of this. Damietta, or Dumyet, as it is known today—H.V.), in 1221, was adapted to fire a sincere crusader’s zeal; but Frederick was too much engaged in pleasure and absorbed in his scheme for extending his power in Italy to give much attention to the rescue of the holy places. In hope of inflaming his zeal and hastening the departure of the crusade, Honorius encouraged the emperor’s marriage with Iolanthe, daughter of John of Brienne, king of Jerusalem, and heiress of the crown this on the ground that Iolanthe was immediate heir to the crown through her mother (all this is surely a far cry from conducting himself as the representative of the Christ upon the earth. It is difficult to harmonize this political conniving and maneuvering with the spiritual character of the Kingdom of Heaven and its exalted and glorified Lord.—H.V.) The nuptials were no sooner celebrated than Frederick assumed the title of king of Jerusalem; but he continued to show no sign of making haste. His aggravating delays were enough to wear out a more amiable disposition than even Honorius possessed. A final agreement was made between them in 1225, which gave the emperor a respite of two years more, and he swore upon penalty of excommunication to set forth October, 1227. Four, months before the date appointed for the crusade Honorius died.

The last year of Honorius’ reign, Frederick entered openly upon the policy which involved him in repeated wars with the papacy and the towns of Northern Italy. He renewed the imperial claims to the Lombard cities. Upon these claims the Apostolic see could not look with complacency, for, if realized, they would have made Frederick the sovereign of Italy and cramped the temporal power of the papacy within a limited and at best an uncertain area. 

Gregory IX and Frederick II. 1227-1241.

An antagonist of different metal was Gregory IX, 1227-1241. Innocent III, whose nephew he was, seemed to have risen again from the grave in him. Although in years he was more than twice as old as the emperor (His exact age is not known. Some say that at the time of his death Le was almost a centenarian), Gregory was clearly his match in vigor of mind and dauntless bravery, and greatly his superior in moral purpose. In asserting the exorbitant claims of the papacy he was not excelled by any of the popes. He was famed for eloquence and was an expert in the canon law. 

Setting aside Frederick’s spurious pretexts for delaying the crusade, Gregory in the first days of his pontificate insisted upon his fulfilling his double pledge made at his coronation in 1215 and his coronation as emperor in Rome, 1220 (Frederick had received. the cross at his coronation in Rome from the hand of Gregory, then Cardinal Ugolino). Frederick at last seemed ready to comply. The crusaders assembled at Brindisi, and Frederick actually set off to sea accompanied by the pope’s prayers. Within three days of leaving port the expedition returned, driven back by an epidemic, as Frederick asserted, or by Frederick’s love of pleasure, as Gregory maintained. 

The pope’s disappointment knew no bounds. He pronounced against Frederick the excommunication threatened by Honorius (The English chronicler, speaking of the pope’s act, uses his favorite expression, “that he might not be like a dog unable to bark.”). As the sentence was being read in the church at Anagni; the clergy dashed their lighted tapers to the floor to indicate the emperor’s going out into darkness. Gregory justified his action in a letter to the Christian princes, and spoke of Frederick as “one whom the Holy See had educated with much care, suckled at its breast, carried on its shoulders, and whom it has frequently rescued from the hands of those seeking his life, whom it has brought up to perfect manhood at much trouble and expense, exalted to the honors of kingly dignity, and finally advanced to the summit of the imperial station, trusting to have him as a wand of defense and the staff of our old age.” He declared the plea of the epidemic a frivolous pretence and charged Frederick with evading his promises, casting aside all fear of God, having no respect for Jesus Christ. Heedless of the censures of the Church, and enticed away to the usual pleasures of his kingdom, he had abandoned the Christian army and left the Holy Land exposed to the infidels. 

In a vigorous counter appeal to Christendom, Frederick made a bold protest against the unbearable assumption of the papacy, and pointed to the case of John of England as a warning to princes of what they might expect. “She who calls herself my mother,” he wrote, “treats me like a stepmother.” He denounced the secularization of the Church, and called upon the bishops and clergy to cultivate the self-denial of the Apostles. 

In 1228 the excommunication was repeated and places put under the interdict where the emperor might be. Gregory was not without his own troubles at Rome, from which he was compelled to flee and seek refuge at Terugia. 

The same year, as if to show his independence of papal dictation and at the same time the sincerity of his crusading purpose, the emperor actually started upon a crusade, usually called the Fifth Crusade. On being informed of the expedition, the pope excommunicated him for the third time and inhibited the patriarch of Jerusalem and the Military Orders from giving him aid. The expedition was successful in spite of the papal malediction, and entering Jerusalem Frederick crowned himself king in the church of the Holy Sepulcher. Thus we have the singular spectacle of the chief monarch of Christendom conducting a crusade in fulfillment of a vow to two popes while resting under the solemn ban of a third. Yea, the second crusader who entered the Holy City as a conqueror, and the last to do so, was at the time not only resting under a triple ban, but was excommunicated a fourth time on his return from his expedition to Europe. He was excommunicated for not going, he was excommunicated for going, and he was excommunicated on coming back, though it was not in disgrace but in triumph. (Besides, how could the emperor’s mission to the holy city possibly be a success without the blessing of the pope resting upon it? The king was under the ban and nevertheless successful in his undertaking.—H.V.) 

The emperor’s troops bearing the cross were met on their return to Europe by the papal army whose banners were inscribed with the keys. Frederick’s army was victorious. Diplomacy, however, prevailed, and emperor and pope dined together at Anagni. (Sept. 1, 1230) and arranged a treaty.