The death of Clement IV. was followed by the longest interregnum the papacy has known, lasting thirty-three months, Nov. 29, 1268, to Sept. 1, 1271. It was due largely to the conflict between the French and Italian parties in the conclave and was prolonged in spite of the stern measures taken by the municipality of Viterbo, where the election occurred. Cardinals were even imprisoned. The new pope, Gregory X., archdeacon of Liège, was not an ordained priest. The news reached him at Acre while he was engaged in a pilgrimage. A man of peaceful and conciliatory spirit, he is one of the two popes of the thirteenth century who have received canonization. Pursuing the policy of keeping the empire and the kingdom of Southern Italy apart, and setting aside the pretensions of Alfonso of Castile,284 he actively furthered the election of Rudolf of Hapsburg to the imperial throne.
The elevation of Rudolf inaugurated a period of peace in the relations of the papacy and the empire. Gregory X. had gained a brilliant victory. The emperor was crowned at Aachen, Oct. 24, 1273. The place of the Hohenstaufen was thus taken by the Austrian house of Hapsburg, which has continued to this day to be a reigning dynasty and loyal to the Catholic hierarchy. In the present century its power has been eclipsed by the Hohenzollern, whose original birth seat in Württemberg is a short distance from that of the Hohenstaufen.285 The establishment of peace by Rudolf’s election is celebrated by Schiller in the famous lines:286—
Rudolf was a man of decided religious temper, was not ambitious to extend his power, and became a just and safe ruler. He satisfied the claims of the papacy by granting freedom to the chapters in the choice of bishops, by promising to protect the Church in her rights, and by renouncing all claim to Sicily and the State of the Church. In a tone of moderation Gregory wrote: "It is incumbent on princes to protect the liberties and rights of the Church and not to deprive her of her temporal property. It is also the duty of the spiritual ruler to maintain kings in the full integrity of their authority."
The emperor remained on good terms with Gregory’s successors, Innocent V., a Frenchman, Adrian V., a Genoese, who did not live to be consecrated, and John XXI., the only priest from Portugal who has worn the tiara. Their combined reigns lasted only eighteen months. John died from the falling of a ceiling in his palace in Viterbo.
The second Council of Lyons, known also as the Fourteenth Oecumenical Council, was called by Gregory and opened by him with a sermon. It is famous for the attempt made to unite the Greek and Western Churches and the presence of Greek delegates, among them Germanus, formerly patriarch of Constantinople. His successor had temporarily been placed in confinement for expressing himself as opposed to ecclesiastical union. A termination of the schism seemed to be at hand. The delegates announced the Greek emperor’s full acceptance of the Latin creed, including the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Son and the primacy of the bishop of Rome. The Apostles’ Creed was sung in Greek and Latin. Papal delegates were sent to Constantinople to consummate the union; but the agreement was rejected by the Greek clergy. It is more than surmised that the Greek emperor, Michael Palaeologus, was more concerned for the permanency of the Greek occupation of Constantinople than for the ecclesiastical union of the East and the West upon which the hearts of popes had been set so long.
Other important matters before the council were the rule for electing a pope, and the reception of a delegation of Mongols who sought to effect a union against the Mohammedans. Several members of the delegation received baptism. The decree of the Fourth Lateran, prohibiting new religious orders, was reaffirmed.
The firm and statesmanlike administration of Nicolas III. checked the ambition of Charles of Anjou, who was plotting for the Greek crown. He was obliged to abjure the senatorship of Rome, which he had held for ten years, and to renounce the vicariate of Tuscany. Bologna for the first time acknowledged the papal supremacy. Nicolas has been called the father of papal nepotism,287 and it is partly for his generosity to his relatives that, before the generation had passed away, Dante put him in hell:288—
"To enrich my whelps, I laid my schemes aside
My wealth I’ve stowed,—my person here."
Again, in 1281, the tiara passed to a Frenchman, a man of humble birth, Martin IV. Charles was present at Viterbo when the election took place and was active in securing it.289 Martin showed himself completely complaisant to the designs of the Angevin house and Charles was once more elected to the Roman senatorship. Seldom had a pope been so fully the tool of a monarch.290 In Southern Italy Frenchmen were everywhere in the ruling positions. But this national insult was soon to receive a memorable rebuke.
In resentment at the hated French régime, the Sicilians rose up, during Easter week, 1282, and enacted the bloody massacre known as the Sicilian Vespers. All the Normans on the island, together with the Sicilian wives of Normans, were victims of the merciless vengeance. The number that fell is estimated at from eight to twenty thousand. The tragedy gets its name from the tradition that the Sicilians fell to their work at the ringing of the vesper bell.291 Charles’s rule was thenceforward at an end on the Panormic isle. Peter of Aragon, who married Constance, the daughter of Manfred and the granddaughter of Frederick II., was crowned king. For nearly two hundred years thereafter the crowns of Sicily and Naples were kept distinct.
Not to be untrue to Charles, Martin hurled the anathema at the rebels, placed Aragon and Sicily under the interdict, and laid Christendom under a tribute of one-tenth for a crusade against Peter. The measures were in vain, and Charles’s galleys met with defeat off the coast of Calabria. Charles and Martin died the same year, 1285, the latter, like Gregory X., at Perugia.
After an interregnum of ten months, Nicolas IV. ascended the papal throne, the first Franciscan to be elevated to the office. His reign witnessed the evacuation of Ptolemais or Acre, the last possession of the Crusaders in Syria. Nicolas died in the midst of futile plans to recover the Holy Places.
Another interregnum of twenty-seven months followed, April 4, 1292 to July 5, 1294, when the hermit Peter de Murrhone, Coelestin V., was raised to the papal throne, largely at the dictation of Charles II. of Naples. His short reign forms a curious episode in the annals of the papacy. His career shows the extremes of station from the solitude of the mountain cell to the chief dignity of Europe. He enjoyed the fame of sanctity and founded the order of St. Damian, which subsequently honored him by taking the name of Coelestines. The story ran that he had accomplished the unprecedented feat of hanging his cowl on a sunbeam. At the time of his elevation to the papal throne Coelestin was seventy-nine.
An eye-witness, Stefaneschi, has described the journey to the hermit’s retreat by three bishops who were appointed to notify him of his election. They found him in a rude hut in the mountains, furnished with a single barred window, his hair unkempt, his face pale, and his body infirm. After announcing their errand they bent low and kissed his sandals. Had Peter been able to go forth from his anchoret solitude, like Anthony of old, on his visits to Alexandria, and preach repentance and humility, he would have presented an exhilarating spectacle to after generations. As it is, his career arouses pity for his frail and unsophisticated incompetency to meet the demands which his high office involved.
Clad in his monkish habit and riding on an ass, the bridle held by Charles II. and his son, Peter proceeded to Aquila, where he was crowned, only three cardinals being present. Completely under the dominance of the king, Coelestin took up his residence in Naples. Little was he able to battle with the world, to cope with the intrigues of factions, and to resist the greedy scramble for office which besets the path of those high in position. In simple confidence Coelestin gave his ear to this counsellor and to that, and yielded easily to all applicants for favors. His complaisancy to Charles is seen in his appointment of cardinals. Out of twelve whom he created, seven were Frenchmen, and three Neapolitans. It would seem as if he fell into despair at the self-seeking and worldliness of the papal court, and he exclaimed, "O God, while I rule over other men’s souls, I am losing the salvation of my own." He was clearly not equal to the duties of the tiara. In vain did the Neapolitans seek by processions to dissuade him from resigning. Clement I. had abjured his office, as had also Gregory VI. though at the mandate of an, emperor. Peter issued a bull declaring it to be the pope’s right to abdicate. His own abdication he placed on the ground "of his humbleness, the quest of a better life and an easy conscience, on account of his frailty of body and want of knowledge, the badness of men, and a desire to return to the quietness of his former state." The real reason for his resigning is obscure. The story went that the ambitious Cardinal Gaëtani, soon to become Coelestin’s successor, was responsible for it. He played upon the hermit’s credulity by speaking through a reed, inserted through the wall of the hermit’s chamber, and declared it to be heaven’s will that his reign should come to an end.292 As the Italians say, the story, if not true, was well invented, si non è vero è ben trovato.
In abandoning the papacy the departing pontiff forfeited all freedom of movement. He attempted to flee across the Adriatic, but in vain. He was kept in confinement by Boniface VIII. in the castle of Fumone, near Anagni, until his death, May 19, 1296. What a world-wide contrast the simplicity of the hermit’s reign presents to the violent assertion and ambitious designs of Boniface, the first pope of a new period!
Coelestin’s sixth centenary was observed by pious admirers in Italy.293 Opinions have differed about him. Petrarch praised his humility. Dante, with relentless severity held him up as an example of moral cowardice, the one who made the great renunciation.
"Behold! that abject one appeared in view
Who, mean of soul, the great refusal made."294
Vidi e cenobbi la ombra di colui
Che fece per viltate il gran rifuto.
A new era for the papacy was at hand.
Chapter 7. The Crusades.
"No idle fancy was it when of yore
Pilgrims in countless numbers braved the seas,
And legions battled on the farthest shore,
Only to pray at Thy sepulchral bed,
Only in pious gratitude to kiss
The sacred earth on which Thy feet did tread."