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 rôle, 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 last 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 Constance, 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.233 He preferred to hold his court at Palermo, which in his letters he called "the Happy City." The Romans elected him king in 1196, and at his father’s death a year later he became king 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.
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.234 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.235 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 clerics 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. 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,236 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.237 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’s 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.
§ 43. 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,238 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, 1220.239 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.240 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 defence 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.241
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 refuse at Perugia.
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 Sepulchre. 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 one 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.
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.
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.242 "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.243 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.244 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 See, and with violence towards prelates and benefices.245
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 novel up to that time. The pope compared246 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 other 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 son 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,247 — 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."248
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,249 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 blessing and cursing for money. He declared 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 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."
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 deliverance and accompanied by all the clergy, carrying the heads of the Apostles Peter and Paul.250 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 manoeuvre 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 councillors, numbering nearly one hundred and including Cardinal Otto, a papal legate, were taken to Naples and held in prison.251 In his letter of condolence to the imprisoned dignitaries the pope represents them as awaiting their sentence from the new Pharaoh.252 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 moment 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 statute book.253 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.