§ 44. The First Council of Lyons and the Close of Frederick’s Career. 1241–1250.
Gregory’s successor, Coelestin IV., survived his election less than three weeks. A papal vacancy followed, lasting the unprecedented period of twenty months. The next pope, Innocent IV., a Genoese, was an expert in the canon law and proved himself to be more than the equal of Frederick in shrewdness and quickness of action. At his election the emperor is reported to have exclaimed that among the cardinals he had lost a friend and in the pope gained an enemy. Frederick refused to enter into negotiations looking to an agreement of peace until he should be released from the ban. Innocent was prepared to take up Gregory’s conflict with great energy. All the weapons at the command of the papacy were brought into requisition: excommunication, the decree of a general council, deposition, the election of a rival emperor, and the active fomenting of rebellion in Frederick’s dominions. Under this accumulation of burdens Frederick, like a giant, attempted to bear up, but in vain.254 All Western Christendom was about to be disturbed by the conflict. Innocent’s first move was to out-general his antagonist by secretly leaving Rome. Alexander III. had set the precedent of delivering himself by flight. In the garb of a knight he reached Civita Vecchia, and there met by a Genoese galley proceeded to Genoa, where he was received with the ringing of bells and the acclamation, "Our soul is escaped like a bird out of the snare of the fowler." Joined by cardinals, he continued his journey to Lyons, which, though nominally a city of the empire, was by reason of its proximity to France a place of safe retreat.
The pope’s policy proved to be a master stroke. A deep impression in his favor was made upon the Christian world by the sight of the supreme pontiff in exile.255 The division of European sentiment is shown by the method which a priest of Paris resorted to in publishing Innocent’s sentence of excommunication against the emperor. "I am not ignorant," he said, "of the serious controversy and unquenchable hatred that has arisen between the emperor and the pope. I also know that one has done harm to the other, but which is the offender I do not know. Him, however, as far as my authority goes, I denounce and excommunicate, that is, the one who harms the other, whichever of the two it be, and I absolve the one which suffers under the injury which is so hurtful to the cause of Christendom."
Innocent was now free to convoke again the council which Frederick’s forcible measures had prevented from assembling in Rome. It is known as the First Council of Lyons, or the Thirteenth Oecumenical Council, and met in Lyons, 1245. The measures the papal letter mentioned as calling for action were the provision of relief for the Holy Land and of resistance to the Mongols whose ravages had extended to Hungary, and the settlement of matters in dispute between the Apostolic see and the emperor. One hundred and forty prelates were present. With the exception of a few representatives from England and one or two bishops from Germany, the attendance was confined to ecclesiastics from Southern Europe.256 Baldwin, emperor of Constantinople, was there to plead his dismal cause. Frederick was represented by his able counsellor, Thaddeus of Suessa.
Thaddeus promised for his master to restore Greece to the Roman communion and proceed to the Holy Land in person. Innocent rejected the promises as intended to deceive and to break up the council. The axe, he said, was laid at the root, and the stroke was not to be delayed. When Thaddeus offered the kings of England and France as sureties that the emperor would keep his promise, the pope sagaciously replied that in that case he would be in danger of having three princes to antagonize. Innocent was plainly master of the situation. The council was in sympathy with him. Many of its members had a grudge against Frederick for having been subjected to the outrage of capture and imprisonment by him.
At one of the first sessions the pope delivered a sermon from the text, "See, ye who pass this way, was ever sorrow like unto my sorrow?" He dwelt upon five sorrows of the Church corresponding to the five wounds of Christ: the savage cruelty of the Mongols or Tartars, the schism of the Greeks, the growth of heresy, the desolation of Jerusalem, and the active persecution of the Church by the emperor. The charges against Frederick were sacrilege and heresy. As for the charge of heresy, Thaddeus maintained that it could be answered only by Frederick in person, and a delay of two weeks was granted that he might have time to appear. When he failed to appear, Innocent pronounced upon him the ban and declared him deposed from his throne. The deliverance set forth four grave offences; namely, the violation of his oath to keep peace with the Church, sacrilege in seizing the prelates on their way to the council, heresy, and withholding the tribute due from Sicily, a papal fief. Among the grounds for the charge of heresy were Frederick’s contempt of the pope’s prerogative of the keys, his treaty with the Sultan on his crusade, allowing the name of Mohammed to be publicly proclaimed day and night in the temple, having intercourse with Saracens, keeping eunuchs over his women, and giving his daughter in marriage to Battacius, an excommunicated prince. The words of the fell sentence ran as follows: —
"Seeing that we, unworthy as we are, hold on earth the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, who said to us in the person of St. Peter, ’whatsoever ye shall bind on earth,’ etc., do hereby declare Frederick, who has rendered himself unworthy of the honors of sovereignty and for his crimes has been deposed from his throne by God, to be bound by his sins and cast off by the Lord and we do hereby sentence and depose him; and all who are in any way bound to him by an oath of allegiance we forever release and absolve from that oath; and by our apostolic authority, we strictly forbid any one obeying him. We decree that any who gives aid to him as emperor or king shall be excommunicated; and those in the empire on whom the selection of an emperor devolves, have full liberty to elect a successor in his place."257
Thaddeus appealed from the decision to another council.258 His master Frederick, on hearing what was done, is said to have asked for his crown and to have placed it more firmly on his head. In vain did the king of France, meeting Innocent at Cluny, make a plea for the emperor, finding, as the English chronicler said, "but very little of that humility which he had hoped for in that servant of the servants of God." Frederick’s manifesto in reply to the council’s act was addressed to the king of England and other princes, and reminded them of the low birth of the prelates who set themselves up against lawful sovereigns, and denied the pope’s temporal authority. He warned them that his fate was likely to be theirs and announced it as his purpose to fight against his oppressors. It had been his aim to recall the clergy from lives of luxury and the use of arms to apostolic simplicity of manners. When this summons was heeded, the world might expect again to see miracles as of old. True as these principles were, and bold and powerful as was their advocate, the time had not yet come for Europe to espouse them, and the character of Frederick was altogether too vulnerable to give moral weight to his words.259
The council’s discussions of measures looking to a new crusade did not have any immediate result. The clergy, besides being called upon to give a twentieth for three years, were instructed to see to it that wills contained bequests for the holy enterprise.
One of the interesting figures at the council was Robert Grosseteste, bishop of Lincoln, who protected against ecclesiastical abuses in England, such as the appointment of unworthy foreigners to benefices, and the exorbitant exactions for the papal exchequer. The pope gave no relief, and the English bishops were commanded to affix their seals confirming King John’s charter of tribute.260 The only notable achievement of the council of Lyons was the defeat of Frederick. Innocent followed it up with vigorous measures. Frederick’s manifesto he answered with the reassertion of the most extravagant claims. The bishop of Rome was intrusted with authority to judge kings. If, in the Old Testament, priests deposed unworthy monarchs, how much more right had the vicar of Christ so to do. Innocent stirred up the flames of rebellion in Sicily and through the mendicant orders fanned the fires of discontent in Germany. Papal legates practically usurped the government of the German Church from 1246 to 1254. In the conflict over the election of bishops to German dioceses, Innocent usually gained his point, and in the year 1247–1248 thirteen of his nominees were elected.261 At the pope’s instigation Henry Raspe, landgrave of Thuringia, was chosen emperor, 1246, to replace Frederick, and at his death, a year later, William of Holland.
In Italy civil war broke out. Here the mendicant orders were also against him. He met the elements of revolt in the South and subdued them. Turning to the North, success was at first on his side but soon left him. One fatality followed another. Thaddeus of Suessa fell, 1248. Peter de Vinea, another shrewd counsellor, had abandoned his master. Enzio, the emperor’s favorite son, was in prison.262 Utter defeat fell upon him before Parma and forced him to abandon all Lombardy. As if there had not been cursings enough, Innocent, in 1247, had once more launched the anathema against him. Frederick’s career was at an end. He retired to Southern Italy, a broken man, and died near Lucera, an old Samnite town, Dec. 13, 1250. His tomb is at the side of the tomb of his parents in the cathedral of Palermo. He died absolved by the archbishop of Palermo and clothed in the garb of the Cistercians.263
Stupor mundi, the Wonder of the World—this is the title which Matthew Paris applies to Frederick II.264 Europe had not seen his equal as a ruler since the days of Charlemagne. For his wide outlook, the diversity of his gifts, and the vigor and versatility of his statecraft he is justly compared to the great rulers.265 Morally the inferior of his grandfather, Barbarossa, Frederick surpassed him in intellectual breadth and culture. He is the most conspicuous political figure of his own age and the most cosmopolitan of the Middle Ages. He was warrior, legislator, statesman, man of letters. He won concessions in the East and was the last Christian king of Jerusalem to enter his realm. He brought order out of confusion in Sicily and Southern Italy and substituted the uniform legislation of the Sicilian Constitutions for the irresponsible jurisdiction of ecclesiastical court and baron. It has been said he founded the system of centralized government266 and prepared the way for the monarchies of later times. He struck out a new path by appealing to the judgment of Christendom. With an enlightenment above his age, he gave toleration to Jew and Mohammedan.
In his conflict with the pope, he was governed, not by animosity to the spiritual power, but by the determination to keep it within its own realm. In genuine ideal opposition to the hierarchy he went farther than any of his predecessors.267 Döllinger pronounced him the greatest and most dangerous foe the papacy ever had.268 Gregory and Innocent IV. called him "the great dragon" and declared he deserved the fate of Absalom. And yet he did not resort to his grandfather’s measures and set up an anti-pope.269 Perhaps he refrained from so doing in sheer disdain.
It has been surmised that Frederick was not a Christian. Gregory charged him specifically with blasphemy. But Frederick as specifically disavowed the charge of making Christ an impostor, and swore fealty to the orthodox faith.270 If he actually threw off the statement of the three impostors as charged, it must be regarded as the intemperate expression of a mood.271 Neander expresses the judgment that Frederick denied revealed religion. Schlosser withholds from him all religious and moral faith. Ranke and Freeman leave the question of his religious faith an open one. Hergenröther makes the distinction that as a man he was an unbeliever, as a monarch a strict Catholic. Gregorovius holds that he cherished convictions as sincerely catholic as those professed by the Ghibelline Dante. Fisher emphasizes his singular detachment from the current superstitious of his day.272 Huillard-Bréholles advances the novel theory that his movement was an attempt to usurp the sovereign pontificate and found a lay papacy and to combine in himself royalty and papal functions.
Frederick was highly educated, a friend of art and learning. He was familiar with Greek, Latin, German, French, and Arabic, as well as Italian. He founded the University of Naples. He was a precursor of the Renaissance and was himself given to rhyming. He wrote a book on falconry.273 It was characteristic of the man that while he was besieging Milan in 1239, he was sending orders back to Sicily concerning his forests and household concerns, thus reminding us of Napoleon and his care for his capital while on his Russian and other campaigns. Like other men of the age, he cultivated astrology. Michael Scott was his favorite astrologer. To these worthy traits, Frederick added the luxurious habits and apparently the cruelty of an Oriental despot. Inheriting the island of which the Saracens had once been masters, he showed them favor and did not hesitate to appropriate some of their customs. He surrounded himself with a Saracenic bodyguard274 and kept a harem.275
Freeman’s judgment must be regarded as extravagant when he says that "in mere genius, in mere accomplishments, Frederick was surely the greatest prince that ever wore a crown."276 Bryce pronounces him "one of the greatest personages in history."277 Gregorovius declares that, with all his faults he was the most complete and gifted character of his century." Dante, a half-century after his death, puts the great emperor among the heresiarchs in hell. When the news of his death reached Innocent IV., that pontiff wrote to the Sicilians that heaven and hell rejoiced at it. A juster feeling was expressed by the Freiburger Chronicle when it said, "If he had loved his soul, who would have been his equal?"278