The Papal Monarchy: The Western Church from 1050 to 1250

By Colin Morris | Go to book overview

17
THE PONTIFICATE OF INNOCENT III (1198-1216)

In the spring of 1216 a German observer wrote home about the recently concluded Fourth Lateran Council. He reported that

it is beyond my power to describe to you everything at Rome which seems worthy of, indeed beyond, admiration; but I tell you that no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived so many different languages, so many ranks of distinguished people, from every nation which is under heaven, who have gathered at present at the apostolic see: Parthians and Medes and Elamites, with those who dwell at Jerusalem.1

The Council was the most dramatic expression of the monarchical power of the medieval papacy. Under the presidency of the pope there were representatives from all the ancient patriarchates as well as a huge attendance from the churches of the west, and the business done there covered many aspects of ecclesiastical and political life. The reform of the pastoral ministry, the definition of the faith, the uprooting of heresy, the settlement of southern France after the Albigensian Crusade, the civil conflicts in England, and the succession to the empire, were all topics for discussion and papal enactment. Innocent's policy closed one chapter and opened another in many aspects of papal history. The change was the more striking because it followed the period of twenty years in which the popes had been overshadowed by Hohenstaufen power. In looking at this pontificate, we must however beware of an optical illusion. Innocent is the first pope since Gregory VII whose register survives almost complete, and if we had access to a fuller range of his predecessors' correspondence we would be able to judge better the breadth of vision which they brought to the papal office and the extent of the change under Innocent. Yet, this warning being noted, the importance of the years after 1198 in the history of the western church is unquestionable. The papacy was given an unique opportunity with the collapse of German rule in Italy, and its powers were in the hands of a remarkable man.

____________________
1
S. Kuttner and A. Garcia y Garcia, Traditio 20 ( 1964) 123, citing 1 Cor. 2: 9 and Acts 2: 9.

-417-

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