Pope Celestine: The Fifteen-Day Conclave Pope Installment Sixty
Though Pope Gregory IX died on August 22, 1241, it wasn't until October 28th later that year that a Pope was finally selected. The reasons are many. First of all, Gregory's stand against the Emperor Frederick II came to an end with his death but not the fear. Frederick had marched on Rome and was ready to overthrow the Holy See when he learned of Gregory's death. Since his quarrel had been solely with Gregory, he spared the Vatican and pulled back to Southern Italy. But he had wreaked enough damage to throw a scare into the College of Cardinals, many of whom Frederick had incarcerated rather than allowing them to travel to Rome for the synod called by Gregory before his death for the specific purpose of enforcing his excommunication ban against Frederick in hopes the word would get out to all nations and the people would either overthrow the rascal or he would repent. Neither happened at the time because Frederick had played his cards right and trumped when Gregory died of old age. With the College of Cardinals depleted by prison and detainment, there were only ten available to meet to choose the next pontiff. However these ten men were so divided in who they thought should lead the Church that they could not reach a decision. It was divided into two camps - those who favored Gregory's harsh punishment of Frederick for his disobedience and military tricks that had caused the deaths of many in the crusades when the Emperor did not come to their rescue; the second were sympathetic to the Emperor, feeling Gregory was too rough on him and greatly jeopardized Rome's position in Europe. Thus a stalemate was the result. Time and again they tried, but no results. Some traveled back to their dioceses during this time and that prevented a quorum, thus no vote, no Pope. The time allowed Frederick to gain strength and his troops to recoup from any injuries they had suffered. Fearing a reprisal, the Roman Senate, headed by Matteo Rosso Orsini who was the strong no-nonsense leader of Rome at the time, ordered the cardinals to stay put and he put them under lock and key in the Setizonium - crumbling palace whose conditions were less than ideal. He borrowed the idea from religious orders who sequestered their voters in a monastery with just the bare necessities in order to reach a quick decision. This was Orsini's rationale for bringing them all together once and for all so they could elect a pope. On the first ballot more voted for one who was pro-Frederick, but not enough to make it a majority quorum. On the second ballot, still no success. They discussed electing someone now within the ranks of the college but Orsini shot that down as a cop-out on the cardinals' part. Orsini pestered them and deprived them day and night until their pride was broken and they finally came together, agreeing on Cardinal Goffredo da Castiglione of Milan who had been made a cardinal by Gregory. Some even believe he was a nephew of Pope Urban III as well as having been a Cistercian monk. Nevertheless, this aristocrat was well-versed in theology and politics and because of these attributes, was finally a compromise choice among the cardinals. Because he was the first pontiff elected in this "conclave" fashion, he is forever called the "Conclave Pope." From this time on, except for a few exceptions, elections of the next Vicar of Christ have been conducted in conclave, most recently in the last few centuries in the Sistine Chapel. After sixty days in confinement, white smoke finally curled up from the chimney and the cardinals emerged worn and temperamental. Many feel they chose Castiglione in order to escape their two month conclave prison, knowing that Castiglione was getting on in age and the most ill of all cardinals in attendance. They felt he would not last long, but at least it would give them time to recoup and to find other candidates for the next election when it occurred. They also felt they could add to their numbers with a new conclave, something Orsini would not allow with this one. Castiglione took the name Pope Celestine IV but he wasn't in office two days when he fell seriously ill. Though there was a Pope in name, in all likelihood things didn't change since no official act had been enacted by Celestine other than his coronation Mass. Celestine died fifteen days after taking the tiarra, succumbing on November 10, 1241.
Once again the Holy See had been thrown into turmoil as the crown was vacant. That vacancy would last for one and a half years as the cardinals, fearing to get sucked into "conclave" again and with no strong candidate in mind, and totally forgetting or letting the Holy Spirit guide them, opted for cowardice and catering to Frederick II. Their patronizing of the Emperor was for a two-fold purpose; one, that they could entice the German king to release some of their colleagues in order to form a more cohesive group of voters, and two, to get his assurance he would not retaliate against them or their constituents after a Pope was elected. On the other side of the coin, Frederick, who never did anything quickly, dilly-dallied for a year, playing the cardinals for everything he could. Yet at the same time he had an invested interest in having a pope elected that would be sympathetic to his cause and lift his extradiction which he had hoped Celestine would do, but he died before any negotiations could begin. Thus, he cajoled all the cardinals into being as understanding of his cause as possible, even feigning repentance so that when they went into conclave they would be influenced subconsciously toward one of Frederick's choices. In the next installment we shall see who the cardinals chose and whether the results were favorable to Frederick or went against the Emperor's ambitious agenda.
Next installment: Pope Innocent IV - outlasting Frederick while initiating the Council of Lyons and the Seventh Crusade
To review all past installments of this on-going series, go to Archives beginning with the inaugural A CALL TO PEACE internet issue in January 1996. volume 7, no. 1.