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.