The Papal Monarchy: The Western Church from 1050 to 1250

By Colin Morris | Go to book overview

9
THE GOVERNMENT OF THE CHURCH IN THE TWELFTH CENTURY

i. Concepts of Papal Authority

The opening address at the Third Lateran Council in March 1179 was delivered by the canonist Bishop Rufinus of Assisi, and we may safely assume that the description of papal authority was one which Alexander III wished the bishops to take to their home churches:

There are many things to wonder at in the sight of an assembly of such noble fathers, and as I look I see this blessed gathering of prelates as presenting the image of a magnificent city, where there is the king, nobles, consuls and also a crowd of people. Is not the chief pontiff the king? The nobles or magnates are his brothers and flanks, the lord cardinals; the archbishops are the consuls; and we other bishops and abbots are not ashamed in so noble a city to take the place of the people. 1

It is clear that we are presented here with an image of papal monarchy in the government of the church; the question is what sense the thinkers of the twelfth century gave to that idea. In a diverse culture, there were different assumptions. Theologians glorified the papal office by the rhetorical use of Biblical symbolism, led by the need to find in Rome protection for privileges or leadership in the struggle against abuses. Canonists came to see the pope as the supreme judge. At the same time the ancient texts on which both disciplines were founded expressed limitations which created a complex pattern within which papal supremacy was at once affirmed and restricted.

The twelfth century introduced some important innovations in the vocabulary of papal monarchy, which were to reach their full significance under Innocent III. For the first time, leaving aside a few precedents in the distant past, the pope came to be addressed as the

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1
G. Morin, "Le discours d'ouverture du concile général du Latran (1179)", Memorie della pontificia Accademia Romana di Archeologia, III. 2 ( 1928), 116-17.

-205-

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