DAILY CATHOLIC for January 27
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no. 19

The History of the Mass and Holy Mother Church
INTRODUCTION:      Many in history look at Pope Celestine III as one of the oldest pontiffs to ever be elected. His lack of military acumen hampered him greatly in his problems with King Henry IV but he made up for this lack by outlasting the German/Sicilian emperor, allowing patience and moderation to dictate the course history would take. His tactics proved successful as those who stood in his way died before him, allowing him to end his papacy in peace, reinforce and realign the papal coffers and accounting system, and approve the Order of the Teutonic Knights whose principal duty was to defend the pilgrims in the Holy Land. He began the recruiting for the fourth crusade which would be fulfilled by his successor. Celestine served seven years on the papal throne, dying at 94 years young, one of the oldest pontiffs ever to assume the chair of Peter.
Pope Celestine III: Outlasts them all as God grants him a long life.
Installment Fifty-four
      Just as quarterback John Elway, a relatively old-man for NFL standards at 37, achieved the ultimate with a Super Bowl victory this past Sunday in San Diego, so also eight centuries ago another man reached the ultimate at the ripe old age of 87, ten years older than our present pontiff John Paul II. What's more, while many thought on April 14, 1191 that this man - Cardinal Giacinto Bobo, an aristocrat prelate from the Boboni family that would evolve into the powerful Orsini family begun by his brother Ursus - would last maybe six months, a year at the most. He surprised them all by living until just before the end of the twelfth century, passing away on January 8, 1198 at the tender age of 94. Cardinal Bobo was the odds-on choice of the College of Cardinals when they convened in Rome immediately upon the death of Pope Clement III. Bobo at first refused, but sensed there could be a schism if another was elected because of his refusal to accept, therefore he reluctantly agreed to be the one hundred and seventy fifth successor of Peter. He chose the name Pope Celestine III in deference to his former classmate and the man who elevated him to the red hat - Pope Celestine II back in 1143. Now 48 years later, the new Celestine had proved his mettle, excelling in negotiations with saints and sinners, emperors and Englishmen. Because of his acumen in dealing with the rich and the powerful and his compassion for the weak and the oppressed, he was the logical choice and, as it turned out, a very wise choice. On Easter Sunday he was crowned supreme pontiff in a celebration attended by thousands of Romans to see one of their own.

     His first duty as new pontiff was to appease both King Henry VI who had been waiting outside the gates of Rome for approval from Clement. Now, with a new Bishop of Rome in charge, Henry renewed his efforts, seeking an audience with Celestine. After being assured of Henry's loyalty and guarantees to Holy Mother Church, Celestine officially crowned him Emperor. Now Henry was heading for southern Italy to unite Sicily, but before he left he realized he needed the support of the Romans who were not in his corner. The coup de gras for Henry was to give them permission to sack Tusculum without retaliation by him or his troops. It was carte blanche to do whatever they liked and they fell at his feet in adulation as they sharpened their swords for the attack on their hated neighbor. But Henry's road to victory in Sicily would not be so easy since the self-proclaimed King Tancred pulled a trump card and stole away Henry's wife Constance. To top that off Henry's troops were falling by the thousands to the plague, devastating his military strength. Rather than march right into Tancred's trap in an effort to rescue his wife, Henry played a fatal game of chess - capturing the pawn - the fabled Richard the Lion-Heart who, having returned from the crusades was with Leopold in Austria. Henry's few remaining healthy men snuck in and bound Richard, stealing him away for the purpose of offering this valuable crusader and future king to Tancred in exchange for his wife, Constance. Since Richard was a crusader, he was automatically protected by the Church and the Pope. But Celestine, not a military man, had little recourse for Henry, his supposed ally, had the upper hand and he could not turn to Tancred without raising the further ire of Henry. In short, he was caught in a pickle. But in the Springtime of 1194, Tancred died, Henry and Constance were reunited, Richard was freed and returned to England and Celestine breathed easier. The following Christmas, Henry and Celestine reconciled and the former was crowned once again - this time emperor of Sicily at Palermo. But Henry, always the crafty, deceitful one, worked constantly behind Celestine's back to denigrate the Pope and dividing the bishops by his attempts to meddle in Church affairs in Sicily. Celestine again, both because he was powerless and he was a man of peace, declined to do anything but pray. But when Henry needed something, he went to the Holy Father as if nothing had happened. Such was the case when he wanted the Pope himself to baptize his new-born son Frederick. To convince the Pope, Henry suggested organizing a crusade, something dear to the hearts of pontiffs during these times. Remembering the tactics of Henry from past encounters, Celestine was reluctant but realizing the need for one, agreed to it, capitalizing on Henry's military prowess. The Pope dispatched missionaries and delegatesto preach support for the newest crusade in England, Germany and other nations of Christian Europe. Celestine, in his old age was a wise man equal to Henry's cunning and he used delay tactics to stall Henry and the baptism, telling him once the crusade was formed he would fulfill the emperor's request. When Henry returned to Rome in June of 1196, Celestine cleverly held him at bay and demanded that the emperor clear up such problems as encroachment on papal territories and his incarceration of some bishops who were loyal to the Pope in Sicily. Henry hemmed and hawed, but impatient to fulfill his quest, agreed to renounce all the disputed territories and free the bishops. He also added a clause where the Church would receive financial income from the major cathedrals in exchange for his ruling. Celestine realized the Church would lose its independence in this matter and again stalled the emperor. Time was on his side as he was well aware that Henry's constituents in Germany and Sicily were growing less and less favorable toward a heridtary monarchy. Frustrated and growing old, Henry returned to Messina where he died on September 28, 1197. With his death and a vacancy in the crown, Celestine immediately undertook the task of recovering all the lands Henry had confiscated in central Italy. To solidify this he made a pact with the anti-imperial Tuscan league of Italy so that the emperor could never again do what Henry IV had done.

     While Celestine was a patient and moderate pontiff, he ran into an impatient factor with other countries of Europe such as the skirmish between England and France. The latter forced Celestine's hand when King Philip II Augustus threatened all English possessions and territory in France. Celestine had already annulled Philip's first marriage, but when the French king remarried it did not sit well with the Pope. In addition his special legate to England William of Ely was not popular in the least and this hurt both his image, his popularity, the Church's stature and effectiveness in the British Isles. Farther south in Spain - the Iberian peninsula to be exact - he did all in his power to reunite the Christian princes against the forces of Islam in an effort to recover stolen Spanish territory and in an effort to prevent the Muslims from stealing in the backdoor, so-to-speak, which, in effect, would have cornered Europe on both sides. In Rome Celestine was an adept administrator who streamlined papal treasury department with the help of his trusted chamberlain Cardinal Cencio Savelli. As the years wore on, rumors of his health and age circulated among the people much as the media tries to manipulate today regarding John Paul II's health and age. Celestine went so far as to offer to step down if the cardinals would accept Savelli as his successor. They declined and so did Celestine, staying on until God decided it was time to take him home on January 8, 1198. It would be left to the next pope to take the Church into the thirteenth century and Savelli would not become Pope for eighteen more years, but he would become Pope for the cardinals finally accepted him as we shall see in future installments.

Next installment: Pope Innocent III An productive Pope brings the Church successfully into the next century

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.


January 27, 1998     volume 9, no. 19
History of the Mass and Holy Mother Church






January 1998