One of Gregory's greatest passions was his zeal for the mendicant orders. He is known as the "Canonizer" for not only was a personal friend of Saint Dominic and Saint Francis, but he also canonized his dear friends. It was Gregory who presided at the funeral Mass of St. Dominic in 1221 in Bologna. He elevated Francis to sainthood on July 16, 1228 and followed that up the next day by laying the cornerstone for the basilica in Assisi that bears Francis' name and where he is buried in the crypt today. It is the same church which sustained heavy damage during the most recent earthquakes in the Umbria region late last Fall. Gregory is credited as well for fostering the growth of both the Franciscans and Poor Claires, as well as other established orders for he truly realized the importance of these spiritual warriors in the life of the Church. He canonized Francis' most faithful follower Saint Anthony of Padua on May 30, 1232, then Saint Virgil of Salzburg, a bishop known as the Apostle of Carinthia on June 10, 1233. A year later the Pope was privileged to raise his good friend St. Dominic on August 8, 1234 to sainthood. He followed two years later by canonizing Saint Elizabeth of Thuringia at ceremonies in Perugia. Besides being the "canonizer," he encouraged holiness among those who had taken up the robes of religious life, promoting fourteen of them to the rank of cardinal including Saint Francis Nonatus and Saint Mary of Oignies. He staunchly upheld the Holy Rules, initially approved by Innocent and then Honorius, of the Dominicans, Franciscans and Carmelites. He gave great help to the Cistercians and gave approval for the formation of the Religious Order of Our Lady of Mercy, tied in with the Crusades to convert and redeem captured Moslems. In his zeal to bring all into the fold, he opened communications with the Eastern Church and held out feelers about reconciliation of the Western and Eastern Church. It went so far as for the latter to call a synod of patriarchs to vote on the proposal offered by Gregory. For a while things looked hopeful, but at the last minute the Greek church balked at the "Filioque" issue and the question of consecration of the Host. While this prevented the entire Eastern Church from being reunited, a few patriarchs did reconcile with Rome out of respect for Gregory. But in future years and different personality Popes, they would again bolt from Rome. What Gregory had hoped would be his and his Church's finest hour turned into bitter disappointment.
Another disappointment was his dealings with the Emperor Frederick II - that thorn in the side of Honorius whom Frederick had cajoled and patronized. His problems with Frederick would span his entire pontificate with Gregory's death spurred on by Frederick's march on Rome in retaliation. One of Gregory's first major acts as pontiff was to take the lacksadaisacal and mischievous Frederick II to task for his failure to support the Crusades by excommunicating him. Gregory, from his work in promoting the Crusades for Honorius, had seen enough of Frederick's underhandedness. Frederick thought he was untouchable - especially by the Holy See because he had been a personal ward of Innocent III's. But the mild-mannered way of Honorius which Frederick used and manipulated for his own ends while constantly lying to the pontiff had now turned to the stern, no-nonsense policies of Gregory. The final straw was when Frederick concocted a story of a fellow officer getting sick so that he had to withdraw the troops from their intended Crusade three days after starting out. Gregory was no fool and saw right through the lies and deceit of Frederick, a sniveling coward. On September 20, 1227 he issued the bell, book and candle to Frederick II and the repercussions quickly spread throughout Europe. This Pope would take no prisoners! Already people were being extremely cautious with the institution by Honorius of the Inquisition. Yet Frederick, rather than being repentive, flared back at the Pope behind his back by sending an accusatory letter to all the princes condemning Gregory IX. Weaker Popes may have succumbed to his treachery and underhandedness, but Gregory was no weakling. He stood his ground despite protests and insults from insurrectionists in Rome. Fearing for his life, Gregory fled to Perugia. Frederick, showing his immaturity, decided to "show the Pope" and set out once again for the Holy Land in the summer of 1228, but he was not only not given the blesssing by Gregory but his excommunication reinforced and all warriors under Frederick were freed by the Pope of obedience to the Emperor. This finally woke Frederick up that the only way he could remain Emperor with the people's respect would be to peacefully settle with Gregory. Gregory, also a stubborn man, wanted to reject Frederick's advances for he had been at work installing another as Emperor - Otto, Duke of Brunswick, but this met with opposition from the bishops who were not in accord either with each other or Rome. Here God stepped in as He always does. The Roman families were beginning to reassert their power and many feared their dominance they enjoyed with unyielding power a century before would resurface, but God sent a flood of mammoth proportions that caused the Tiber River to swell and threaten homes. The people turned back to God and petitioned Gregory to return to Rome. This he did in 1230 and that same year in late summer Gregory and Frederick reconciled at Anagni after a treaty had been signed by both at San Germano. The agreement was that some of the papal states and territorial possessions in Sicily would be restored to the Vatican. Frederick, who had already defeated Gregory's papal troops in Sicily, could have held out and tried to muscle his way to more power, but as he matured he realized it was politically expedient to compromise in hopes of restoring his prestige and power not only in Germany but throughout all of his kingdom, not to mention all of Europe. But after a few peaceful months, distrust raised its ugly head for Frederick tried to resurrect the age-old crisis of Church vs. state in respect to monarchies interfering in ecclesial matters. This did not sit well with Gregory, not to mention the fact that rather than siding with the Pope in battle, Frederick reverted back to his old tricks of begging off and not being there when he was needed. On top of that, he clandestinely encouraged and provided secrets to the enemies of the Pope's army in hopes the Pope would be soundly defeated and embarrassed. When Gregory was finally able to unravel all the treachery and trickery, he was furious and once again he lowered the ax of excommunication on Frederick II on March 12, 1239. To solidify his ban, Gregory organized a crusade throughout Germany to make sure word got out he was no longer a member of Holy Mother Church. The Pope was hopeful the people would rid themselves of an apostate emperor and elect one who was in union with the Church. Besides, Frederick was associated with the Sicilian link where he was born and raised. However many bishops were in Frederick's pocket and they thwarted Gregory's efforts at every turn they could. Furious, Gregory declared a council would be held in Rome in late March 1241, but those bishops who were loyal were prevented from going, held as prisoners non communicado by Frederick's men and not allowed contact with the people or the Pope. Knowing the Pope was in ill-health and realizing the supreme pontiff would not have a quorum of loyal bishops in Rome because Frederick had detained so many, he decided to mass his troops and lead an assault himself on Rome out of sheer rage and hatred for the man who had dismissed him from the Church. As he marched on Rome, word reached him that Gregory had died. Perhaps he died of a broken heart for he had truly wanted to unite the kingdom and feed the hungry flocks, but was prevented by so many machinations of Frederick and turn-coat bishops. Perhaps he died because of old age for he was at least 86 years old. Whatever reason, God knew it was time to bring His faithful Vicar of Christ home after after a lifetime of loyal service to His Church, capped by the final fourteen as supreme pontiff. It would be left to his successor who was elected by only ten cardinals because of Frederick's incarceration of so many red hats.
Next installment: Pope Celestine IV the "Conclave Pope"
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.