With Alexander III. (1159–1181) the conflict between Caesarism and sacerdotalism, which had begun under Adrian, assumed a more serious character. It was not a war for destruction, but for supremacy on the one hand and submission on the other. "Who shall be the greater?" that was the question. It was the old contention between Church and State under a new phase. Caesar and pope were alike Catholic Christians as far as they had any religion at all. They were indispensable to each other. The emperor or king needed a pope, as a kind of chief chaplain and father confessor for the control of the consciences of his subjects; the pope needed the secular arm of an emperor for the protection of the property and rights of the Church and the prosecution of heretics. The emperors elected anti-popes, and the popes supported rival emperors. It was the ambition of the Hohenstaufen to keep Germany and Italy united; it was the interest of the popes to keep them separated, and to foment division in Germany and in Italy, according to the maxim. "Divide et impera."
On the 7th of September, 1159, Cardinal Roland, the chancellor of the Roman curia and a distinguished canonist, ascended the papal chair as Alexander III. He had previously been professor at Bologna, and written the first work on the Decretum Gratiani. He had been created cardinal by Eugene III. He had once offended Barbarossa by the question: "From whom does the emperor receive his dignity if not from the pope?" He had also advised Adrian to excommunicate the emperor. He was a scholar, a statesman, and a vigorous champion of the Hildebrandian theocracy. He had an unusually long pontificate of twenty-one years, and is the most conspicuous pope between Gregory VII. and Innocent III. He had a checkered career of fortune and misfortune in a conflict with the emperor and four anti-popes; but he consistently adhered to his principles, and at last triumphed over his enemies by moral force and the material aid of the Normans in the south and the Lombards in the north.
The election of Roland by fourteen cardinals was immediately followed by the election of Cardinal Octavian of St. Cecilia, the imperial anti-pope, who called himself Victor IV., and at once took possession of the Vatican. Roland was consecrated at Ninfa, Octavian in the convent of Farfa. They were quartered in the Campagna, a few miles distant from each other, and published contradictory reports with charges of disgraceful violence at the election.135
The emperor, who was then besieging the city of Cremona, being appealed to by both parties (though with different feelings), and using a right exercised by Constantine, Theodosius, Justinian, Charlemagne, and Otto, summoned a council at Pavia to investigate and decide the case, 1160.136 The rival popes were invited by messengers to appear in person. Octavian, who was always an imperialist, accepted the invitation. Roland distrusted the emperor, and protested against his right to call a council without his permission. He said that he honored him as a special defender of the Church above all other princes, but that God had placed the pope above kings.
The partisan council, which consisted chiefly of bishops from Germany and North Italy, after a grave debate, unanimously decided in favor of Octavian, and excommunicated Roland, Feb. 11, 1160. The emperor paid the customary honors to Victor IV., held his stirrup and kissed his toe. Alexander issued from Anagni a counter-excommunication against the anti-pope and the emperor, March 24, 1160. He thereby encouraged revolt in Lombardy and division in Germany. Another schism rent the Church.
The rival popes dispatched legates to all the courts of Europe. France, Spain, and England sided with Alexander. He took refuge in France for three years (1162–1165), and was received with enthusiasm. The kings of France and England, Louis VII. and Henry II., walked on either side of his horse, holding the bridle, and conducting him into the town of Courcy on the Loire. Germany, Hungary, Bohemia, Norway, and Sweden supported Victor. Italy was divided: Rome and Tuscany were under the power of the emperor; Sicily favored the Gregorian pope; the flourishing commercial and manufacturing cities of Lombardy were discontented with the despotic rule of Barbarossa, who was called the destroyer of cities. He put down the revolt with an iron hand; he razed Milan to the ground after a long and atrocious siege, scattered the population, and sent the venerated relics of the Magi to the cathedral of Cologne, March, 1162.
Victor IV. died in April, 1164. Pascal III. was elected his successor without regard to the canonical rules. At the request of the emperor, he canonized Charles the Great (1165).
Alexander III. put himself at the head of the Lombard league against the emperor; city after city declared itself for him. In September, 1165, he returned to Italy with the help of Sicily, and French and English gold, and took possession of Rome.
In November, 1166, Frederick crossed the Alps a fourth time, with a strong army, marched to Rome, captured the Leonine city, put Pascal III. in possession of St. Peter’s, and was crowned again, with Beatrice, Aug. 1, 1167. Alexander defended the city on the other side of the Tiber, but soon withdrew to Benevento. The emperor, victorious over armies, found a more formidable enemy in the Roman fever, which made fearful ravages among his bishops, noblemen, and soldiers. He lost in a few weeks his bravest knights and two thousand men by the plague. He broke up his camp in great haste, and marched to Pavia (September, 1167).137 He found all Lombardy in league against him, and recrossed the Alps for safety, alone and almost a fugitive, but with unbroken spirit and a determination to return.
The second anti-pope died, Sept. 20, 1168, and with him the power of the schism collapsed. Calixtus III. was elected his successor, but he was a mere shadow, 1168–1178.138
Barbarossa undertook a fifth campaign to Italy in 1174. He destroyed Susa, and, descending through Piedmont, besieged the new city of Alessandria, which was named in honor of Alexander III., and strongly fortified. Here he found determined resistance. His forces were weakened by a severe winter. He was forsaken by his strongest ally, the Saxon duke, Henry the Lion. He fought a pitched battle against the Lombards, near Legnano, May 29, 1176. He rushed, as usual, into the thickest of the fight, but was defeated after terrible slaughter, and lost his shield, banner, cross, lance, and coffers of silver and gold. He retired with the remnant of his army to Pavia. He was left without a single ally, and threatened in Germany by the dangerous rivalry of Henry the Lion. He now took serious steps towards a reconciliation with Alexander, the spiritual head of his enemies.
The emperor sent Archbishop Christian of Mainz (his chancellor, ablest general, and diplomat), Archbishop Wichmann of Magdeburg, Bishop Conrad of Worms, and Protonotary Wortwin to Anagni, with full powers to treat with the pope (October, 1176). Alexander received the commissioners with marked respect, and in private conferences, lasting over a fortnight, he arranged with them the preliminary terms of peace, which were to be ratified at Venice during a personal interview between him and the emperor.
The pope, provided with a safe-conduct by the emperor, left Anagni on Christmas, 1176, in company with his cardinals and the two commissioners of the kingdom of Sicily, Archbishop Romuald of Salerno and Count Roger of Andria, and arrived at Venice, March 24, 1177. The emperor tarried at Chioggia, near Venice, till July 23. The peace negotiations between the pope and the imperial commissioners began in May and lasted till July. They were conducted on the basis of the previous negotiations in Anagni.