Pope Innocent III

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Innocent III
Bishop of Rome
Papacy began8 January 1198
Papacy ended16 July 1216
Predecessor Celestine III
Successor Honorius III
Ordination21 February 1198
Consecration22 February 1198
Created cardinalSeptember 1190
by Clement III
Personal details
Birth nameLotario de' Conti di Segni
Born1160 or 1161
Gavignano, Papal States
Died16 July 1216 (aged 55–56)
Perugia, Papal States
Other popes named Innocent
Papal styles of
Pope Innocent III
C o a Innocenzo III.svg
Reference style His Holiness
Spoken styleYour Holiness
Religious styleHoly Father
Posthumous styleNone

Pope Innocent III (Latin : Innocentius III; 1160 or 1161 – 16 July 1216), born Lotario dei Conti di Segni (anglicized as Lothar of Segni) reigned from 8 January 1198 to his death in 1216.


Pope Innocent was one of the most powerful and influential of the medieval popes. He exerted a wide influence over the Christian states of Europe, claiming supremacy over all of Europe's kings. He was central in supporting the Catholic Church's reforms of ecclesiastical affairs through his decretals and the Fourth Lateran Council. This resulted in a considerable refinement of Western canon law. He is furthermore notable for using interdict and other censures to compel princes to obey his decisions, although these measures were not uniformly successful.

Innocent greatly extended the scope of the crusades, directing crusades against Muslim Spain and the Holy Land as well as the Albigensian Crusade against the Cathars in southern France. He organized the Fourth Crusade of 12021204, which ended in the disastrous sack of Constantinople. Although the attack on Constantinople went against his explicit orders, and the Crusaders were subsequently excommunicated, Innocent reluctantly accepted this result, seeing it as the will of God to reunite the Latin and Orthodox Churches. In the event, the sack of Constantinople and the subsequent period of Frankokratia heightened the hostility between the Latin and Greek churches. (The Byzantine empire was restored in 1261 but never regained its former strength, finally falling in 1453. [1] )


Early life

Lotario de' Conti was born in Gavignano, Italy, near Anagni. [2] His father Count Trasimund of Segni was a member of a famous house, Conti di Segni (Earl of Segni), which produced nine popes including Gregory IX, Alexander IV and Innocent XIII. Lotario was the nephew of Pope Clement III; his mother, Claricia Scotti (Romani de Scotti), was from the same noble Roman family. [3]

Lotario received his early education in Rome, probably at the Benedictine abbey of St Andrea al Celio, under Peter Ismael; [4] he studied theology in Paris under the theologians Peter of Poitiers, Melior of Pisa, and Peter of Corbeil, [5] and (possibly) jurisprudence in Bologna, according to the Gesta (between 1187 and 1189). [6] As Pope, Lotario was to play a major role in the shaping of canon law through conciliar canons and decretal letters. [2]

Shortly after the death of Alexander III (30 August 1181) Lotario returned to Rome and held various ecclesiastical offices during the short reigns of Lucius III, Urban III, Gregory VIII, and Clement III, reaching the rank of Cardinal-Deacon in 1190.

As a cardinal, Lotario wrote De miseria humanae conditionis (On the Misery of the Human Condition). [7] [8] The work was very popular for centuries, surviving in more than 700 manuscripts. [9] Although he never returned to the complementary work he intended to write, On the Dignity of Human Nature, Bartolomeo Facio (1400–1457) took up the task writing De excellentia ac praestantia hominis. [10]

Election to the papacy

Celestine III died on 8 January 1198. Before his death he had urged the College of Cardinals to elect Giovanni di San Paolo as his successor, but Lotario de' Conti was elected pope in the ruins of the ancient Septizodium, near the Circus Maximus in Rome after only two ballots on the very day on which Celestine III died. He was only thirty-seven years old at the time. [2] He took the name Innocent III, maybe as a reference to his predecessor Innocent II (1130–1143), who had succeeded in asserting the Papacy's authority over the emperor (in contrast with Celestine III's recent policy). [11]

Reassertion of papal power

Papal Bulla of Innocent III Papal Bulla of Innocent III (FindID 235228).jpg
Papal Bulla of Innocent III

As pope, Innocent III began with a very wide sense of his responsibility and of his authority. During the reign of Pope Innocent III, the papacy was at the height of its powers. He was considered to be the most powerful person in Europe at the time. [12] In 1198, Innocent wrote to the prefect Acerbius and the nobles of Tuscany expressing his support of the medieval political theory of the sun and the moon. [13] His papacy asserted the absolute spiritual authority of his office, while still respecting the temporal authority of kings. [14]

The Muslim recapture of Jerusalem in 1187 was to him a divine judgment on the moral lapses of Christian princes. He was also determined to protect what he called "the liberty of the Church" from inroads by secular princes. This determination meant, among other things, that princes should not be involved in the selection of bishops, and it was focused especially on the "patrimonium" of the papacy, the section of central Italy claimed by the popes and later called the Papal States. The patrimonium was routinely threatened by Hohenstaufen German kings who, as Roman emperors, claimed it for themselves. The Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI expected to be succeeded by his infant son Frederick as king of Sicily, king of the Germans, and Roman Emperor, a combination that would have brought Germany, Italy, and Sicily under a single ruler and left the patrimonium exceedingly vulnerable. [2]

The early death of Henry VI left his 3-year-old son Frederick II as king. Henry VI's widow Constance of Sicily ruled over Sicily for her young son before he reached the age of majority. She was as eager to remove German power from the kingdom of Sicily as was Innocent III. Before her death in 1198, she named Innocent as guardian of the young Frederick until he reached his maturity. In exchange, Innocent was also able to recover papal rights in Sicily that had been surrendered decades earlier to King William I of Sicily by Pope Adrian IV. The Pope invested the young Frederick II as King of Sicily in November 1198. He also later induced Frederick II to marry the widow of King Emeric of Hungary in 1209. [2]

Painting of the coat of arms of Pope Innocent III, in the "Palazzo del Commendatore", part of the Hospital of the Holy Spirit in Sassia, Rome. Coat of arms of Innocent III.png
Painting of the coat of arms of Pope Innocent III, in the "Palazzo del Commendatore", part of the Hospital of the Holy Spirit in Sassia, Rome.

Involvement in Imperial elections

Innocent was concerned that the marriage of Henry VI and Constance of Sicily gave the Hohenstaufens a claim to all the Italian peninsula with the exception of the Papal States, which would be surrounded by Imperial territory. [14]

After the death of Emperor Henry VI, who had recently also conquered the Kingdom of Sicily, the succession became disputed: as Henry's son Frederick was still a small child, the partisans of the Staufen dynasty elected Henry's brother, Philip, Duke of Swabia, king in March 1198, whereas the princes opposed to the Staufen dynasty elected Otto, Duke of Brunswick, of the House of Welf. King Philip II of France supported Philip's claim, whereas King Richard I of England supported his nephew Otto. [15]

In 1201, the pope openly espoused the side of Otto IV, whose family had always been opposed to the house of Hohenstaufen. [16]

It is the business of the pope to look after the interests of the Roman empire, since the empire derives its origin and its final authority from the papacy; its origin, because it was originally transferred from Greece by and for the sake of the papacy...its final authority, because the emperor is raised to his position by the pope who blesses him, crowns him and invests him with the empire....Therefore, since three persons have lately been elected king by different parties, namely the youth [Frederick, son of Henry VI], Philip [of Hohenstaufen, brother of Henry VI], and Otto [of Brunswick, of the Welf family], so also three things must be taken into account in regard to each one, namely: the legality, the suitability and the expediency of his election......Far be it from us that we should defer to man rather than to God, or that we should fear the countenance of the powerful....On the foregoing grounds, then, we decide that the youth should not at present be given the empire; we utterly reject Philip for his manifest unfitness and we order his usurpation to be resisted by all....since Otto is not only himself devoted to the church, but comes from devout ancestors on both sides.....therefore we decree that he ought to be accepted and supported as king, and ought to be given the crown of empire, after the rights of the Roman church have been secured."Papal Decree on the choice of a German King, 1201" [17]

The confusion in the Empire allowed Innocent to drive out the imperial feudal lords from Ancona, Spoleto and Perugia, who had been installed by Emperor Henry VI. [18] On 3 July 1201, the papal legate, Cardinal-Bishop Guido of Palestrina announced to the people, in the cathedral of Cologne, that Otto IV had been approved by the pope as Roman king and threatened with excommunication all those who refused to acknowledge him. At the same time, Innocent encouraged the cities in Tuscany to form a league, called the League of San Genesio against German imperial interests in Italy, and they placed themselves under Innocent's protection. [18]

In May 1202, Innocent issued the decree "Venerabilem", addressed to the Duke of Zähringen, in which he explained his thinking on the relation between the papacy and the Empire. This decree was afterwards embodied in the "Corpus Juris Canonici", contained the following items:

Despite papal support, Otto could not oust his rival Philip until the latter was murdered in a private feud. His rule now undisputed, Otto reneged on his earlier promises and now set his sights on reestablishing Imperial power in Italy and claiming even the Kingdom of Sicily. Given the papal interest to keep Germany and Sicily apart, Innocent now supported his ward, King Frederick of Sicily, to resist Otto's advances and restore the Staufen dynasty to the Holy Roman Empire. Frederick was duly elected by the Staufen partisans. [19]

The conflict was decided by the Battle of Bouvines on 27 July 1214, which pitted Otto, allied to King John of England against Philip II Augustus. Otto was defeated by the French and thereafter lost all influence. He died on 19 May 1218, leaving Frederick II the undisputed emperor. Meanwhile, King John was forced to acknowledge the Pope as his feudal lord and accept Stephen Langton as Archbishop of Canterbury. [20] In his turn, Frederick II would later become a bitter oppenent of the papacy once his empire was secure.

John of England signs Magna Carta. Illustration from Cassell's History of England (1902). Joao sem terra assina carta Magna.jpg
John of England signs Magna Carta . Illustration from Cassell's History of England (1902).

Feudal power over Europe

Innocent III played further roles in the politics of Norway, [21] France, Sweden, Bulgaria, Spain and England. [20] At the request of England's King John, Pope Innocent III declared the Magna Carta annulled, resulting in a rebellion by the English Barons who rejected the disenfranchisement. [22]

Crusades and suppression of heresy

Innocent launched the Albigensian Crusade against the Cathars. Albigensian Crusade 01.jpg
Innocent launched the Albigensian Crusade against the Cathars.

Innocent III was a vigorous opponent of religious heresy and undertook campaigns to extirpate it. At the beginning of his pontificate, he focused on the Albigenses (Cathars), a sect that had become widespread in southwestern France, then under the control of local princes such as the Counts of Toulouse. The Cathars rejected the Christian authority and teachings of the Catholic Church, denouncing it as corrupt. [23] In 1198, Innocent III dispatched a monk named Rainier to visit France with the power to excommunicate heretics, and orders to local temporal authorities to confiscate the lands of heretics or "as became Christians to deal with them more severely." [24]

In 1208, Innocent's legate Pierre de Castelnau was murdered by unknown assailants commonly believed to be friends of Count Raymond of Toulouse (who was not a Cathar himself but was seen as supportive of them). This caused Innocent to change his methods from words to weapons, calling upon King Philip II Augustus of France to suppress the Albigenses. Prosecuted primarily by the French crown under the generalship of Simon de Montfort, 5th Earl of Leicester, a campaign was launched. The Albigensian Crusade led to the deaths of approximately 20,000 men, women and children, Cathar and Catholic alike, decimating the number of practising Cathars and diminishing the region's distinct culture. [25] The conflict took on a political flavor, directed not only against heretical Christians, but also the nobility of Toulouse and vassals of the Crown of Aragon, and finally brought the region firmly under the control of the king of France. King Peter II of Aragon, Count of Barcelona, was directly involved in the conflict, and was killed in the course of the Battle of Muret in 1213. The conflict largely ended with the Treaty of Paris of 1229, in which the integration of the Occitan territory in the French crown was agreed upon.

Burning of the Waldensians. Toulouse in the 13th century. Burning of the Waldensians.jpg
Burning of the Waldensians . Toulouse in the 13th century.

Pope Innocent III spent a majority of his tenure as Pope (1198–1216) preparing for a great crusade on the Holy Land. His first attempt was the Fourth Crusade (1202–1204) which he decreed by the papal bull Post miserabile in 1198. [26] [27] Unlike past popes, Innocent III displayed interest in leading the crusade himself, rather than simply instigating it and allowing secular leaders to organize the expedition according to their own aspirations. [25]

Innocent III's first order of business in preaching the crusade was to send missionaries to every Catholic state to endorse the campaign. He sent Peter of Capua to the kings of France and England with specific instructions to convince them to settle their differences, resulting in a truce of five years between the two nations, beginning in 1199. The intent of the truce was not to allow the two kings to lead the crusade, but rather to free their resources to assist the Crusade. For the army's leadership, Innocent aimed his pleas at the knights and nobles of Europe, [25] succeeding in France, where many lords answered the pope's call, including the army's two eventual leaders, Theobald of Champagne and Boniface, marquis of Montferrat. The pope's calls to action were not received with as much enthusiasm in England or Germany, and the expedition became mainly a French affair. [28]

The Fourth Crusade was an expensive endeavor. Innocent III chose to raise funds with a new approach: requiring all clergy to donate one fortieth of their income. This marked the first time a pope ever imposed a direct tax on the clergy. He faced many difficulties in collecting this tax, including corrupt tax collectors and disregard in England. He also sent envoys to King John of England and King Philip of France, who pledged to contribute to the campaign,[ citation needed ] and John also declared his support for the clerical tax in his kingdom. The crusaders themselves also contributed funds: Innocent declared that those who took the crusader's vow, but could no longer fulfill it, could be released by a contribution of funds. The pope put Archbishop Hubert Walter in charge of collecting these dues. [25] [29]

At the onset of the crusade, the intended destination was Egypt, as the Christians and Muslims were under a truce at the time. [28] An agreement was made between the French Crusaders and the Venetians. The Venetians would supply vessels and supplies for the crusaders and in return, the crusaders would pay 85,000 marks (£200,000). [30] Innocent gave his approval of this agreement under two conditions: a representative of the pope must accompany the crusade, and the attack of any other Christians was strictly forbidden. The French failed to raise sufficient funds for payment of the Venetians. As a result, the Crusaders diverted the crusade to the Christian city of Zara at the will of the Venetians to subsidize the debt. This diversion was adopted without the consent of Innocent III, who threatened excommunication to any who took part in the attack. A majority of the French ignored the threat and attacked Zara, and were excommunicated by Innocent III, but soon were forgiven so as to continue the crusade. A second diversion then occurred when the crusaders decided to conquer Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire. This diversion was taken without any knowledge by Innocent III, and he did not learn of it until after the city had been captured. [31]

Innocent viewed the capture of Constantinople as a way to reunite the schismatic Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches. The pope excommunicated the Crusaders who attacked Christian cities, but was unable to halt or overturn their actions. Erroneously, he felt that the Latin presence would bring about a reconciliation between the Eastern and Western Churches. His tactics ultimately failed due to the significant differences between the two churches. The crusade did lead to the start of the Latin Empire's rule of Constantinople, which lasted for the next sixty years. [32]

Francis of Assisi

In 1209, Francis of Assisi led his first eleven followers to Rome to seek permission from Pope Innocent III to found a new religious Order, which was ultimately granted. [33] Upon entry to Rome, the brothers encountered Bishop Guido of Assisi, who had in his company Giovanni di San Paolo, the Cardinal Bishop of Sabina. The Cardinal, who was the confessor of Pope Innocent III, was immediately sympathetic to Francis and agreed to represent Francis to the pope. Reluctantly, Pope Innocent agreed to meet with Francis and the brothers the next day. After several days, the pope agreed to admit the group informally, adding that when God increased the group in grace and number, they could return for an official admittance. The group was tonsured. [34] This was important in part because it recognized Church authority and protected his followers from possible accusations of heresy, as had happened to the Waldensians decades earlier. Though Pope Innocent initially had his doubts, following a dream in which he saw Francis holding up the Basilica of St. John Lateran (the cathedral of Rome, thus the 'home church' of all Christendom), he decided to endorse Francis's Order. This occurred, according to tradition, on 16 April 1210, and constituted the official founding of the Franciscan Order. The group, then the "Lesser Brothers" (Order of Friars Minor also known as the Franciscan Order), preached on the streets and had no possessions. They were centered in Porziuncola, and preached first in Umbria, before expanding throughout Italy. [35]

Fourth Council of the Lateran

On 15 November 1215 Innocent opened the Fourth Lateran Council, considered the most important church council of the Middle Ages. By its conclusion it issued seventy reformatory decrees. Among other things, it encouraged creating schools and holding clergy to a higher standard than the laity. Canon 18 forbade clergymen to participate in the practice of the judicial ordeal, effectively banning its use. [36]

In order to define fundamental doctrines, the council reviewed the nature of the Eucharist, the ordered annual confession of sins, and prescribed detailed procedures for the election of bishops. The council also mandated a strict lifestyle for clergy. Canon 68 states: Jews and Muslims shall wear a special dress to enable them to be distinguished from Christians so that no Christian shall come to marry them ignorant of who they are. [37] Canon 69 forbade "that Jews be given preferment in public office since this offers them the pretext to vent their wrath against the Christians." [38] It assumes that Jews blaspheme Christ, and therefore, as it would be "too absurd for a blasphemer of Christ to exercise power over Christians", [39] Jews should not be appointed to public offices.

Death and legacy

Innocent III honored by the U.S. House of Representatives Innocent III bas-relief in the U.S. House of Representatives chamber.jpg
Innocent III honored by the U.S. House of Representatives

The Council had set the beginning of the Fifth Crusade for 1217, under the direct leadership of the Church. After the Council, in the spring of 1216, Innocent moved to northern Italy in an attempt to reconcile the maritime cities of Pisa and Genoa by removing the excommunication cast over Pisa by his predecessor Celestine III and concluding a pact with Genoa. [40]

Innocent III, however, died suddenly at Perugia [2] on 16 June 1216. He was buried in the cathedral of Perugia, where his body remained until Pope Leo XIII had it transferred to the Lateran in December 1891. [2]


His Latin works include De miseria humanae conditionis , a tract on asceticism that Innocent III wrote before becoming pope, and De sacro altaris mysterio, a description and exegesis of the liturgy. [8]

See also


  1. Moore, John (2003). Pope Innocent III (1160/61 – 1216): To Root Up and to Plant. Leiden, Boston: Brill. pp. 102–134. ISBN   90 04 12925 1.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 "Catholic Encyclopedia: Pope Innocent III". Newadvent.org. 1 October 1910. Retrieved 17 February 2010.
  3. Jane Sayers, 'Innocent III: Leader of Europe 1199–1216' London 1994, p. 16
  4. Jane Sayers, 'Innocent III: Leader of Europe 1199–1216' London 1994, p. 17
  5. Jane Sayers, 'Innocent III: Leader of Europe 1199–1216' London 1994, p. 18
  6. Jane Sayers, 'Innocent III: Leader of Europe 1199–1216' London 1994, p. 21
  7. Innocentius III. "On the misery of the human condition, De miseria humane conditions". Open Library. Retrieved 23 August 2012.
  8. 1 2 Moore, John C. (1981). "Innocent III's 'De Miseria Humanae Conditions: A Speculum Curiae?'". The Catholic Historical Review. 67 (4): 553–564. JSTOR   25021212.
  9. "LOTARIO DEI CONTI DEI SEGNI [POPE INNOCENT III], De miseria humanae conditionis [On the Misery of Human Condition] In Latin, manuscript on parchment likely Italy, c. 1250" (PDF). LES ENLUMINURES, LTD. 2006. Retrieved 13 January 2011.
  10. Schmitt, C. B. (1988). The Cambridge history of Renaissance ... – Google Books. ISBN   9780521397483 . Retrieved 17 February 2010.
  11. See Julien Théry-Astruc, "Introduction", in Innocent III et le Midi (Cahiers de Fanjeaux, 50), Toulouse, Privat, 2015, pp. 11–35, at pp. 13–14.
  12. Civilization in the West, Kishlansky, Geary, O'Brien, Volume A to 1500, Seventh Edition, p. 278
  13. Medieval Sourcebook: Innocent III: Letters on Papal Polices. Fordham.edu
  14. 1 2 Muldoon, James. Empire and Order, Springer, 1999, p. 81 ISBN   9780230512238
  15. Comyn, p. 275
  16. Bryce, p. 206
  17. 1 2 Medieval Sourcebook: Innocent III: Letters on Papal Polices. Fordham.edu
  18. 1 2 Comyn, p. 277
  19. "Innocent, III". Encyclopedia of World Biography. 1998 via Gale.(registration required)
  20. 1 2 Powell, James M. Innocent III: Vicar of Christ or Lord of the World? Washington: Catholic University of American Press, 2nd ed., 1994. ISBN   0-8132-0783-5
  21. "Diplomatarium Norvegicum".
  22. "Magna Carta: people and society". British Library. Retrieved 23 January 2017.
  23. "Fourth Lateran Council: 1215". Papal Encyclicals Online.
  24. Powell, James M. (1994). Innocent III: Vivar of Christ or lord of the world?. Catholic University of America Press. p. 47. ISBN   978-0813207834. Washington DC
  25. 1 2 3 4 Cheney, Christopher R. (1976). Innocent III and England. Stuttgart: Anton Hiersemann.
  26. Packard, Sidney Raymond (1927). Europe and the Church under Innocent III. New York: H. Holt.
  27. Innocent III, Pope (1969). On the Misery of the Human Condition. De Miseria Humane Conditionis, trans. Donald Roy Howard. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill.
  28. 1 2 Clayton, Joseph (1941). Pope Innocent III and His Times. Milwaukee: Bruce Pub.
  29. Migne, Jacques Paul (1849–1855). Patrologia Latina. Vol. 214–217. Paris: S.I.
  30. Villhardouin, Geoffrey De (1908). Memoirs or Chronicle of the Fourth Crusade and The Conquest of Constantinople, trans. Frank T. Marzials. London: J.M. Dent.
  31. Elliott-Binns, Leonard (1931). Innocent III. Hamden, Conn: Archon.
  32. Roscher, Helmut (1969). Papst Innocenz III. Und Die Kreuzzuge. Gottingen: Vandenhoeck U. Ruprecht.
  33. Chesterton (1924), pp. 107–108
  34. Galli (2002), pp. 74–80
  35. Robinson, Paschal. "St. Francis of Assisi." The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 6. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909. 16 December 2018
  36. Pennington, Kenneth. "The Fourth Lateran Council, its Legislation, and the Development of Legal Procedure", CUA
  37. Gottheil, Richard and Vogelstein, Hermann. "Church councils", Jewish Encyclopedia
  38. "Medieval Sourcebook: Twelfth Ecumenical Council: Lateran IV 1215". Fordham.edu. Retrieved 17 February 2010.
  39. "Lateran 4 – 1215".
  40. "School of Theology". Sthweb.bu.edu. 2 September 2009. Archived from the original on 3 July 2009. Retrieved 17 February 2010.


Further reading

Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Celestine III
Succeeded by
Honorius III

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