Daily CATHOLIC - March 24, 1998 volume 9, no. 59
THE HISTORY OF THE MASS AND HOLY MOTHER CHURCH
Vendetta was the watchword of Pope Innocent IV's papacy, one filled with many abuses that previous popes had fought so hard to prevent. But the struggle between the Hohenstaufen kings and Innocent took the attention away from the way Innocent wielded his influence, promoted nepotism within the Holy See, and sought personal wealth at the expense of the papal coffers. Into this insanity there was a ray of light and sanity in the holy person of Saint Louis - King of France, who sought to unify the Church both for the cause of the Council of Lyons and the Seventh Crusade, which met with defeat because of the infidels' superior military strategy. In short, it was a bleak time in Church history, and yet, it was a necessary time for had Innocent not been so bullheaded in outlasting the excommunicated Frederick II Hohenstaufen, who's to say what the latter might have done.
Pope Innocent IV: Not as innocent as some may perceive him
After the fifteen-day abbreviated papacy of Pope Celestine IV abruptly ended on November 10, 1241, the world waited a year and a half until a Pope was elected on June 25, 1243. For eighteen months the papal throne was vacant due to the problems with the German King Frederick II who had fought bitterly with Pope Gregory IX and had arrested the majority of cardinals, thus preventing them from forming a quorum to meet in conclave to select the next pontiff. As time passed, Frederick, still excommunicated from the Church by Gregory, sought to weed out a man who would be sympathetic to his side and reinstate him. Frederick thought he had his man in Cardinal Sinibaldo Fieschi, a Genoan born son of Count Hugo of Lavagnia who had been a brilliant lawyer, teacher at the University in Bologna, and, as a cardinal priest, served Gregory as his Vice Chancellor. When assured that he could work something out with the cardinals, he greatly influenced the conclave and the results showed it was man's will, not God's Will that would win out for the Holy Spirit was not truly present when the cardinals nominated Fieschi for Pope. The latter accepted and took the name Pope Innocent IV, but he was a far cry from his namesake Pope Innocent III for the former was one who had always wanted to wield power and in the position of supreme pontiff he abused his privileges, making nepotism a common thing by elevating many of his relatives, buying favors and exercising retaliation for personal reasons, not something one would characterize with one who would be the Vicar of Christ. Innocent was anything but innocent for he wielded power by raising funds by selling spiritual promises - a precursor to simony, and he sanctioned use of torture to squeeze confessions out of his enemies and those he mistrusted. Except for relatives, that was practically everyone! However, this so-called spiritual leader was overshadowed by the shenanigans and selfish deeds of his counterpart in the temporal world - Frederick II Hohenstaufen. The two were meant for each other and at first Frederick offered to evacuate all papal territories and release the rest of the imprisoned clergy in exchange for being readmitted into the Church. Innocent agreed to begin the process, but, having been Vice Chancellor under Gregory, he knew Frederick's habits all too well. Thus he hesitated at the same rate Frederick did and a stalemate resulted. Finally, Frederick was the first to blink and Innocent had had enough. Convening the Thirteenth Ecumenical Council, called the First Council of Lyons in France, Innocent passed various reform measures and tried to influence the body of council fathers with painting Frederick as a despot gone off the deep end. They unanimously agreed he should formally be deposed as the emperor, and gave Innocent approval to re-emphasize the excommunication and for him to dispatch missionaries to preach against him, recruited the German people to elect a new king, and even went so far as to plot a way to murder Frederick. However, that was foiled by the good king of France - Louis IX - better known as Saint Louis who intervened in trying to maintain peace while gaining support for another Crusade which he set out on in 1248, a campaign that did not go well as it followed the pattern of past crusades where the Saracens were dug-in and prepared for the hastily gathered group of Europeans with nothing really in common but their faith.
Meanwhile, when word reached Frederick of the Pope's actions, he was furious and retaliated by reoccupying the papal states and meddling heavily in ecclesial affairs, intimidating many bishops. Before he could do any further damage, Frederick died on December 13, 1250 and the Hohenstaufen throne passed to his second son Conrad IV who was in the same mold as his infamous father. Innocent continued to preach a Crusade as did St. Louis, but their foes were different. While Innocent was obsessed with bringing Frederick down, the holy French king saw the real enemy as the Moslems and pushed for that cause. Because of Louis' influence, Innocent was not able to muster the necessary muscle to push Frederick or Conrad out. Though he tried, the weak candidates he endorsed were too divided to create any progress. Innocent raised the further ire of Conrad when the former began shopping the the throne of Sicily around Europe in hopes of weakening the latter and gaining a strong ally to the south. But, those who might have coveted such a crown, hesitated to come forward for they greatly feared retaliation by Conrad for the new German king had ransacked Italy out of revenge for the Popes' treatment of his father. Yet, in a surprising twist, Conrad bequeathed his own son to Innocent's care when he died on May 21, 1254. With Conrad's death, Frederick's illegitimate son Manfred took control. In deference to his half brother Conrad who had given his only son for the Pope to care for, he did not go after the Pope. This strange and short alliance caused him to proclaim Innocent as overlord of Sicily. But Innocent didn't waste a moment in annexing it into the papal states and this was not Manfred's intent. The new king rebelled by routing the papal troops at Foggia. It seemed to be the last straw for shortly after word of this devasting defeat reached Innocent in residence in Naples and suffering greatly with pluerisy, the crotchety pontiff died on December 7, 1254.
The Church, due to the constant bickering and ego between Frederick/Conrad and Gregory/Innocent was greatly weakened. Though Innocent is still hailed as the "warrior who slayed the Hohenstaufen dragon," and for his contributions to Church Law and contributions to scholastics throughout Europe, he will unfortunately go down in papal annals as one who abused his privileges of the papacy and alienated many Christian leaders and nations throughout the continent. Rather than bringing people together, he had divided them. Save for Saint Louis, who had little time or patience for the method of this pontiff, but was loyal because of the office Innocent held and what it meant, many turned away from the Pope and active participation in the Church. It would make it that much more difficult for future generations of evangelists and missionaries who had to replant the seeds, re-educate the people and assure them of the Church's true intention to serve them, rather than being served as untouchable royalty.
Next installment: Pope Alexander IV - Trying to pick up the pieces and reestablish trust
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.