DAILY CATHOLIC    TUESDAY     June 9, 1998     vol. 9, no. 111


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          Within months of being elected the 189th successor of Peter, Pope Martin IV, undid most everything  Pope Nicholas III had accomplished.   Though he had never wanted to become the Supreme Pontiff, he was powerless to absolutely refuse the position because of his dependence on Charles of Anjou who used the Pope as a puppet to forge his own plans in Sicily and beyond.  If Nicholas, condemned by the Italian poet Dante in his famous "Inferno" for nepotism, was guilty of that, Martin was guilty of pandering to every whim and wish of the Angevin king who had no consideration for Holy Mother Church.  Thus, the wholesale changes Martin made in acquiescing to Charles' agenda of all French appointments not only led to distrust and angst throughout Europe, but contributed greatly to the bitter tones of the "Sicilian Vespers" when the Sicilians revolted against the French and turned to the King of Aragon, Peter III to protect them.  His price for coming to their rescue: unfair excommunication from the Church because of Charles' undue influence - an influence that would greatly hurt the efforts of Holy Mother Church for many years to come.

Installment Seventy-One

Pope Martin IV:
The bitter tones of the Sicilian Vespers

         The difference between Pope Nicholas III and his successor were like night and day.  Upon the former's death on August 22, 1280, the conclave met at Viterbo to select the next Pope. Falling into their stubborn custom of taking their sweet time, they haggled for six months amid intrigue and infighting that once again threatened the very process.  It would be six months before they would finally come up with a compromise candidate.  In the meantime Rome was once again thrown into turmoil as angry citizens turned on the Orsini family of which Nicholas had not only been a member of, but bestowed numerous wealthy favors and appointments on.  This uprise eventually spread to Viterbo where the citizens, as in the past, stormed the Papal Palace there in a revolt against the cardinals who had taken so much time to elect the next pontiff.  During the attack they kidnapped two of the red hats from the Orsini family and therein, with the Orsini block removed, the deadlock was broken.  The remaining conclave elected Cardinal Simon de Brie, a French-born priest who Saint Louis IX, monarch of France, elevated to chancellor of his country.  On Louis' recommendation he was made a cardinal by Pope Urban IV and assigned the task of convincing Charles of Anjou to take over Sicily.   Because of his closeness to the latter,   it was a fait accomplis that de Brie would not follow in the mold of Nicholas III.   In actuality, he did not want to become Pope, realizing he was not a strong enough leader, but Charles' closest advisors convinced him it was the right thing to do, and so Cardinal de Brie reluctantly accepted the throne, taking the name Pope Martin IV because he had been treasurer of St. Martin's in Tours.

          Unlike his predecessor's strong political prowess, Martin was weak and indecisive, by his own admission. Whereas Nicholas had kept Charles in check, now  Martin was putty in the Angevin's hands.  Charles went ahead with plans to invade Constantinople and the strong rebuke by Byzantine emperor Michael VIII Palaeologus caused Martin to hastily excommunicate the latter because he stood in Charles' way.  Charles, in fact, was at the heart of the uprising that would go down in history as the "Sicilian Vespers." This evolved from the resentment of the Sicilian people to Charles and his arrogant soldiers - all foreigners, all French.  Add to this a French Pope in an Italian environment and this made the citizens of Sicily and Southern Italy all the more embittered.  The final straw came when Martin began wholesale changes, replacing almost all of Nicholas' appointments with French designations from Charles' recommendations.  Charles' agenda was clear, he was looking to expand his rule not just in Sicily and Constantinople, but also to the Papal States.   The excommunication of Michael and Martin's near Crusade-like campaign to drum up support for Charles' marching on the Byzantine empire undid all that Nicholas had accomplished at the Second Council of Lyons when, for the first time in nearly two centuries it seemed there would be a unification of East and West.  With Martin's actions all that was flushed down the drain.  The people of Sicily beseeched Martin IV to curb Charles, but their pleas fell on deaf ears.   Incensed, feeling betrayed and working through a well-oiled underground, the Sicilians signaled the beginning of the revolt when the bells rang throughout Sicily for evening vespers on March 30, 1282. The gutters of Palermo and other villages of Sicily ran thick with the blood of the French soldiers that Spring evening and soon it spread to Southern Italy.  Sicilian leaders again prevailed to the Pope, offering the entire island of Sicily to the Holy See as a Papal State.  But Martin, so beholden to and suckered by Charles, foolishly refused their generous offer, insisting they make peace with Charles.  With no intention of ever aligning with the hated man of Anjou and to prevent a retaliation, the Sicilians turned to the Spanish king King Peter III of Aragon to protect them.  Peter was a natural ally since he was married to Constance, daughter of Manfred, the illegitimate son of Frederick II Hohenstauffen who were constantly at odds with the papal rulers of their time.   Peter came to their aid and incurred the wrath of Charles and therefore Martin reacted by excommunicating the Aragon king as well as all of Sicily.  Charles, fearing for his life and hurting in numbers because of the great toll of troops slaughtered in the Vesper uprising, convinced Martin to transfer the funds set aside for the Crusades and protecting the fragile Christian stronghold in Palestine.  The Crusades were thus depleted, enabling the Saracens to swallow up the rest of the Holy Land.  To make matters worse, Martin ordered a crusade preached against the Aragon monarch.  Europeans, used to rallying against a common opponent such as the infidels, were greatly confused and resented the political abuse the Pope had pushed on them.    If some thought Martin was not well-liked in most of Italy and Sicily, it was the same in most of Europe outside of France where Martin and Charles were favorite sons.   Because of this resistance to Charles' selfish campaign, the Angevin king was unable to make any headway in his quest to unseat Peter.  To this day the Aragon lineage can be found in Sicily. 

             While Martin's papacy was a dismal failure on the political front, he was not as inept in spiritual matters where he should have focused his efforts full time.   Though his pro-French stance alienated many, he was more than fair to the mendicant orders, issuing a papal bull on December 13, 1281 Ad fructus uberes which clarified their preaching and confessor rights in the face of diocesan resistance.  However, because of some vague loopholes that caused upheaval among the secular clergy, it would have to be revised in 1300 by Pope Boniface VIII.   Though Martin strove to unite the kings and lords of his time in the bond of charity, his overt French leanings and dependence on Charles hindered his efforts.  The degree of just how much Martin relied on Charles was most evident in 1285.  The Angevin king died on January 7th and Martin was lost after that, himself contracting a fever just a few months later. Historians claim that after Charles' death, Martin showed no resolve to continue as Pope and welcomed death.  It came on March 28, 1285 ending a four-year regime that had taken the Holy See from the heights envisioned by Nicholas III to the depths. It would be a while before Rome would recover.

    Next installment: Pope Honorius IV: Inheriting the rubble of revolt.


June 9, 1998       volume 9, no. 111


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