Pope Innocent III (1160/61-1216): To Root Up and to Plant

Pope Innocent III (1160/61-1216): To Root Up and to Plant

Pope Innocent III (1160/61-1216): To Root Up and to Plant

Pope Innocent III (1160/61-1216): To Root Up and to Plant


This book is a biography of Pope Innocent III. Avoiding the many scholarly controversies concerning the pope, it offers a concise and balanced portrait of the man and his pontificate. Its chronological organization-unusual in biographies of Innocent-enables the reader to see how the pope was usually dealing with many different subjects at the same time, and that the events in one aspect of his life could influence his views of other topics. This structure, together with the thorough documentation, can provide new insights even for scholars well-versed in his pontificate. Written in clear, jargon-free English, the book also gives the students and general reader a good sense of this pope and of the medieval papacy.


In the 1830s, Friedrich Hurter published a laudatory and lengthy biography of Pope Innocent III organized on strictly chronological lines. Although true to the way Innocent experienced his life, the result was, in its abundant detail, somewhat difficult to follow. Later biographers, perhaps learning from Hurter’s experience, have all organized their studies of Innocent’s life topically. In his six volume biography of Innocent, Achille Luchaire devoted each volume to a separate aspect of the pope’s life: Les Royautés Vassales, La Question d’Orient, and so forth. This approach by Luchaire and later students of Innocent, including the distinguished scholars Jane Sayers and Colin Morris, has revealed a great deal about Innocent and his pontificate, but at a cost. Readers can rarely learn from these studies how Innocent experienced his pontificate from day to day and how the events in one area of his experience may have influenced his reaction to events in others. A “sign of God’s favor” in Spain, for example, could play a role in his deciding to try again to organize a great crusade to the Holy Land.

Another common tendency among students of Innocent has been to stress certain of his decretals that were influential in the development of canon law after his death. This approach too has produced a body of very valuable historical literature, but it has also somewhat distorted our understanding of Innocent. A phrase used once or twice by Innocent may be very important to later history without being especially important for understanding Innocent’s mind. He claimed the right to intervene in the conflict between John of England and Philip of France occasione peccati or ratione peccati, by reason of sin, a phrase to assume considerable importance because of its inclusion in canon law. But Innocent used it only on this one occasion and it is not the best entry into his understanding of his office. The same can be said of several of his other decretals.

Innocent III: Leader of Europe 1198–1216 (London, 1994).

The Papal Monarchy: The Western Church from 1050 to 1250 (Oxford, 1989), pp.

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