Daily CATHOLIC - February 24, 1998    volume 9, no. 39



      While Pope Innocent III initially approved both the rule for the Dominicans and the Franciscans, it was his successor Pope Honorius III who officially ratified the Holy Rules on December 22, 1216 for the Dominicans, December 29, 1223 for the Franciscans, and on January 30, 1226 for the Carmelites. It was Honorius who fosterd the growth of the lay third orders associated with each of these Religious Orders which had their origin early in the thirteenth century - the century of saints. Following a holy and accomplished act like Innocent was no small feat and Honorius paled in comparison in respect to military and political circles, but he excelled in the environs of the scholastic and evangelist and this is where he left his greatest marks creating the first official book of Canon Law and establishing the Inquisition by appointing the kings and princes as executors of the law in curbing all heresy. He brought the faith to Prussia and eastward to the Balkans, sending out his spiritual troops of mendicant orders he had approved.

Pope Honorius III: Institution of the Inquisition

     With the death of the renowned Pope Innocent III, the College of Cardinals wasted little time in electing the 177th successor to Peter. Their choice was another Roman, the cardinal canon of Saint Mary Major - Cardinal Cencio Savelli. While Innocent had been one of the youngest pontiffs ever elected, Savelli was one of the older ones and quite frail in health. Nevertheless he had been a close confidante of Innocent's and possessed the papal make-up and holiness to accept such an august position. Thus, at age 68 he reluctantly acquiesced to the conclave's overwhelming vote for him and ascended the throne of Peter on July 24,1216 in Perugia where he took the name Pope Honorius III. He continued the trend begun by Alexander III, Lucius III, and Urban III - interrupted by Gregory VIII before Clement III, Celestine III, and Innocent III all took the name of a past pope who had been the second, thus establishing a string of "thirds" - seven out of the last eight. Honorius would not be coronated Pope in Rome until the next month on August 16th. Honorius III had been tutor to the young emperor-to-be Frederick II whom his mother the Empress Constance had entrusted to Innocent before her death. This would stand Honorius well in his dealings with other nations. Paramount on Honorius' list was following through on the Fifth Crusade which Innocent had initiated at the Fourth Lateran Counsel. Enlisting Frederick to spearhead the campaign, but, because of his youth and immaturity, he procrastinated and the more he put things off the more the flame of zeal for the crusade flickered and melted. Many historians assume Frederick II feared for his life if he went to the crusades and with a kingdom lying before him in Germany where he would become emperor in 1220, he felt by putting it off, it would spare him the embarassment of going to the Holy Lands and possibly losing control of his power. Honorius, a wise man, must have known the inner intent of Frederick for rather than relying totally on his young pupil, he enlisted the military aid of King Philip II of France and King James I of Aragon (Spain). In order to assure the former's military prowess be directed toward the Crusade, Honorius had to convince Philip not to attack England. Playing mediator with both sides of the channel the Pope played a major role in protecting England's King John's son Henry III who was still a minor so that he could eventually assume the throne. Still Honorius was not a military mastermind and had placed too much trust in young Frederick. Finally, frustrated at the latter's inaction, the Pope appointed King Andrew of Hungary to lead a band of willing knights into battle. Their initial battle was victorious as they won the crucial Egyptian port of Damietta on the Mediterranean. It was so vital to the Saracens that historians claim the Sultan El Kamil made a concession to give up Jerusalem in return for the Christian army giving back Damietta to them. Honorius again erred in listening to those close to him and refused the Sultan's proposal, assuming Frederick would now launch a clinching bid to secure Jerusalem while the infidels were reeling. He guessed wrong. Frederick continued to dally and while Honorius fretted, the Saracens regained strength and when the crusaders marched on Cairo they were surrounded and ambushed in the Nile Valley, being forced to surrender. Those who were able to escape limped back to Europe. Honorius had let it get away and it would haunt him for the rest of his papacy.

     You would think he would have learned by now that Frederick could not be trusted. Like his father Henry, he was cunning and sought to unify Germany, Sicily and Italy which was something the Holy See was totally against. When Honorius broached Frederick who had pledged his loyalty to the Pope, the young emperor denied such ambitions. Yet once crowned in 1220, Frederick began to meddle in Church appointed personnel and affairs and retaliated when Honorius objected, by retaking the duchy of Spoleto and Ancona which had been deeded to Innocent by Frederick's own mother. It was only too late in Honorius' pontificate that the Pope realized the error of his ways in dealing with the young emperor who manipulated the Pope to his own ends, including trapping Honorius into mediating between others and himself.

     While Honorius was admittedly a weak military and political pontiff, he was a strong Pope in spiritual matters and evangelization. He considered the the Dominicans, Franciscans, Carmelites, and Cistercians as well as other orders his special task-force in bringing the gospel to others and assuring that heresy would not creep into the main body of the Church. He gave approval to these mendicant orders who would go out to all corners of Europe and beyond to preach the gospel and warn against heresy. In return their rule mandated that they would own nothing but be at the mercy of the people they ministered to for sustenance of food and shelter. Honorius was so enamored by his spiritual troops that he had no compunction in seeking out and convincing the new king of France King Louis VII to head up the Albigensian crusade and published ordinances of great significance in the evolution of what would become the "Inquisition." In 1226 Louis decreed that any person excommunicated by a bishop or his delegate must receive a due punishment which was called "debita animadversio". In the fight against heretics Frederick was on the same page with Honorius and the former had decreed six years earlier on November 22, 1220 that if convicted, heretics must face punishment. Followers of Manicheaism were the particular target of the emperor and his assigned inquisitors while in France Albigensians were sought out. As in any movement, what may start out as a noble cause - and in this case the inquisition was to uphold and protect the teachings of Holy Mother Church - in the wrong hands it can be abused. This unfortunately happened with some of the zealots under Louis VII and certainly with Frederick and his ambitious henchmen. Yet both emperor and Rome cited the ancient Roman law which brought death for treason and burning at the stake for heresy. Three years after Honorius' death the imperial decrees by Frederick in 1220 and 1224 and Louis' decree in 1226 were all incorporated into ecclesiastical criminal law. Though this was the official beginning of the Inquisition of the Middle Ages, it really began during the reign of Honorius III.

     Throughout his papacy Honorius sought to reach all peoples in Europe as well as to the east in Constantinople where he had crowned Peter Courtenay the Latin Emperor there in hopes of eventually reuniting the Eastern Church back with Rome. He had a fond interest in the universities where he commissioned the Dominicans to preach and felt these institutions could well stem the tide of heresy. He compiled many of the decrees he had made as well as past pontiffs and put them into a book called Compilatio quinta which, in effect, became the first official book of Canon Law. He was a great protector of protocol and established the Liber Censorium - the rights of the popes, and specified the ceremonial for their election. In his latter years, Honorius now well over seventy, turned his attention to the people of Rome who were suffering from pestilence and famine. He berated and exposed merchants who were stockpiling grain and charging exhorbitant prices to those in need. When the hoarders failed to respond, Honorius called upon Frederick to secure grain from Sicily, leaving those Romans who were extorting the people with nothing but left-over surplus that eventually went bad. It was not soon after that Honorius' heart went bad and he died on March 18, 1227 in Rome. His eleven year reign had come to a close, a regime that had given the world three mendicant orders that would forever be linked to the evangelization of the Church. With his death it brought an end to the "third" pontiffs - four who had taken that number. Honorius' successor would revert back to a Gregory - the one who proceeded his four predecessors.

Next installment: Pope Gregory IX the canonizer and excommunicator.

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.