The young, incomparably brilliant and accomplished, courageous and forceful successor of Saint Peter, Innocent III, who was prevailed upon to accept the sublime burden of the papacy despite his protests that his thirty-seven years of life were a too scant preparation for so grave and exalted a position, is acknowledged by the Church to be one of the greatest of all her Popes. And he is acclaimed, even by those who have set out to make of him a mere political dictator of the world, as one of the greatest historical figures of all time, “both in the grandeur of his aims and the force of character which brought him so near to the attainment of them.”
This is extraordinary tribute from men who, without the fruits and the gifts of the Holy Ghost, themselves, with no understanding of the workings of sanctifying grace, let alone the possession of it, pronounce on and judge the Roman Pontiffs, of all men the most graced by God for their sacred and solemn mission and the guardians of the repository of grace. But Pope Innocent III was an extraordinary Pope. He combined a wonderful purity of faith, in belief and in practice, with an indomitable will for the ordering of Christendom to the service and praise of God.
Just as with Pope Saint Gregory the Great, it is almost impossible to keep up with Pope Innocent’s activities, their scope is so encompassing and their range so far-flung. We find him at once a tender and holy pastor of souls, a benevolent and generous ruler of the Papal States, a liberal feudal lord of the vast lands and kingdoms held as fiefs by the Holy See. We see him a just judge, a glorious inspirer of Crusades, an encouraging patron of religious orders, an indefatigable missionary, a sincere diplomat, an experienced peacemaker, a patient and uncompromising hunter and punisher of heretics, and an intrepid defender of the life-giving doctrines of the Faith, both through the safeguards of definition in council and by word of mouth in the pulpit. His sermons, delivered in a voice which reached to every corner of Saint Peter’s, carried his words to those who were not able to read his books.
Pope Innocent, like Charlemagne, believed with all his heart that the beautiful words of the Our Father, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven,” meant the setting up of a royal dynasty in the spiritual order on this earth, and he strove with all his tremendous courage and boundless energy to put Our Lord’s words into practice.
It is difficult for us in the twentieth century – propagandized as we have been by those subversive forces which ever since the French Revolution have been plotting the overthrow of Christianity and fomenting wars and revolutions and financial depressions, and relentlessly reducing, as part of the plan, every lofty Catholic cultural ideal to the lowest common level – to understand Pope Innocent’s extraordinary labor and his influence on the monarchs and governments of the thirteenth century. We have been slowly and deliberately taught, through slanted literature and history, through cleverly supervised education and its system of credits, adjudged not by Catholic standards, even in Catholic schools, but by Mason-Jew controlled boards of education, backed by newspaper and magazine propaganda, that monarchies and kings are bad things, sad papal supervision of any kind in government, even over its morals, is a very bad thing. The obvious truth, that a bad king can be a bad thing, but that a good king is always a blessedly good thing and that the Pope is the divinely constituted guardian of faith and morals for the whole world, is carefully kept from the realization of every school child and man and woman.
Scarcely anyone is ever told any more, that France, under its Saint-King, Louis IX, flowered as never before; that the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry II, who with his Empress, Cunegunda, lived in holy and perpetual virginity, was a constant source of goodness and benevolence toward his people; that Spain and Portugal, Poland and Hungary, England and Sweden, all had kings and queens who were saints, and who ruled their lands gloriously and brought untold happiness and well-being to their subjects.
No one is told that when great monasteries were to be found on almost every hill in Europe – peopled with holy monks, many of them from noble and kingly families – there was never any need of bread lines or soup kitchens, for the hungry could always find food and a night’s lodging with the monks. It was only with the coming of the “Reformation” that poorhouses and poor farms came into being, and that men were forced to go on the dole and huddle together in dirty slums.
And it is only since the free rein given to the forces unleashed on the world by the French Revolution that king after king, in all the Catholic countries of Europe, lost their thrones. The kings were, as we know, replaced by presidents, and the presidents by dictators. And now that the dictators are gone, we suddenly become aware that something exceedingly sinister has been put over on the Christian world in the way of appointment to fill the vacant seats of power, for every single country behind the Iron Curtain, which once had a Christian king, now is ruled by a master who is not only a Communist, but an anti-Christian as well. Every country of Eastern Europe where once the Lord and Savior of mankind, in the Blessed Sacrament, was borne aloft through the streets by His priests in procession, with little girls in their First Holy Communion dresses and white veils strewing flowers before Him, altar boys in cassock and surplice incensing the royal way, is now, directly or indirectly, under the rule of a Jew. There are no more processions, or churches, or priests, or First Communion girls and boys.
Pope Innocent III took very seriously the words of Saint Augustine in the City of God: “. . . if the kings of the earth and all their subjects, if all princes and judges of the earth; if young men and maidens, old and young, every age, and both sexes; if they whom the Baptist addressed, the publicans and the soldiers, were altogether to hearken to and observe the precepts of the Christian religion regarding a just and a virtuous life, then should the republic (the Christian state) adorn the whole earth with its felicity, and attain in life everlasting to the pinnacle of kingly glory.”
Pope Innocent III, when he had, as we shall see, set the countries of Europe in order, ushered in the immortal thirteenth century, which those thinkers of our day who have vision enough to see where we are heading, all say we should return to. Pope Innocent prepared the way for some of the most glorious saints in the Church: for Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Clare, Saint Dominic, Saint Anthony of Padua, Saint Simon Stock – the English General of the Carmelites to whom Our Lady in a vision showed her scapular – Saint Thomas Aquinas, Saint Albert the Great, Saint Bonaventure, Saint Louis, King of France, Saint Ferdinand, cousin of Saint Louis and King of Leon and Castile, and Saint Gertrude the Great.
Pope Innocent III, like Charlemagne, believed that Christ’s Church is the City of God. “A ruler’s duty,” Charlemagne said, “is so to control men in their dealings with one another that they may have leisure and quiet for spiritual things.” Pope Innocent’s control of men gave to them the repose, the tranquillity and the leisure which enabled them, together with the great Catholic religious spirit of the time from which they drew their inspiration, to produce the great masterpieces of architecture and painting, sculpture and poetry, philosophy and, most important of all, commentaries on Holy Scripture, that have confounded by their beauty and their depth all succeeding ages down to our own, and which have been blazing beacons for all to follow. Our “era of scientific progress,” on the other hand, has given us a multiplicity of so-called benefits as prosaic and utilitarian and limited as an electric toaster, but nothing so universal and Catholic and heaven-reaching as a Gothic cathedral.
Instead of expanding men’s souls, as every branch of knowledge in the thirteenth century had the power to do, springing as each did from the source of all Truth, our intellectual offerings have contracted men’s minds and shriveled their souls. Men have been directed to look, in our day, not out beyond themselves to the Immensity and wonder of God, but in upon the workings of their own minds. They have been taught a great deal of distasteful nonsense in the name of psychology and sociology, and treated to a number of myths in an unclean practice called psychiatry, first brewed for the world in the impure mind of an Austrian Jew named Freud.
Our age, which has specialized in every science but that of God, has focused not on the great, but on the tiny; not on the infinite, but on the infinitesimal. On our shield is emblazoned a test tube; our sword is a slide rule. Our age of science has looked not up to the sky and heaven, but down to the neutron, and hell. For we have split the atom, and the way at last is revealed by which, perhaps, the fire which it was prophesied would one day destroy the world may be enkindled.
“Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished.
“But the heavens and the earth which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of the ungodly men.” (2 Peter 3:6, 7.)
Furthermore, and there is no one who will not admit it, our advertised scientific progress – and we have to keep assuring ourselves that it is progress – which gave to the housewife the washing machine to lighten her burdens, also provided the bomb which shattered her son and left his body broken and abandoned on a strangely alien soil. Our cult of mathematics and precision, which figured out the dishwasher and the vacuum cleaner, also took away, by the time-consuming programs of television and motion picture and radio, the intimate thinking upon and the simple converse with God and His Mother, the saints and the angels, which so filled the great silent leisures of the thirteenth-century man, at work in the fields, on foot on the roads, hunting or fishing, wherever he was amid the large horizons of his life.
Saint Thomas Aquinas and Saint Albert the Great thought their great thoughts and composed their great works as they walked across Europe from one monastery to another, from one university to another. And the teeming universities of Europe, God-centered and glorious as they were in the twelve hundreds, by their truly intellectual activity and spiritual achievement, put all the modern universities of America and Europe to shame.
Pope Innocent III, the nephew of Pope Clement III and the uncle of Pope Gregory IX, before his unanimous election to the papacy on the eighth of January, 1198, was Lotario de’ Conti di Segni, son of the famous Italian family of the Conti. He was born at Anagni, in Italy, about the year 1160. His early education he received at Rome. His later education, at the University of Paris in theology, and at the University of Bologna in law, laid the foundation for his profound knowledge of theology and for his reputation as one of the greatest jurists of his time. A good part of his life was to be spent listening to pleadings and pronouncing judgments, and it has been truly said of him that few sovereigns ever worked so industriously or showed such solicitude for the impartial exercise of their judicial office as he. He argued with such profundity that lawyers and judges went to his court merely for the sake of hearing him.
Young Lotario had been created cardinal-deacon by his uncle, Pope Clement III, in 1190, and trusted with the management of affairs of great importance. And even though he was scarcely thirty years old at the time, Cardinal Lotario of Anagni, as he was called, discharged his duties holily and well; thereby disproving – along with Saint Charles Borromeo, the nephew of Pope Pius IV, and Pope Gregory IX, Pope Innocent’s own nephew, and others – the theory that nepotism (favoritism shown to nephews and relatives) has but an evil side, and not another and a happier one. Not all papal and episcopal uncles, in choosing nephews for positions of honor and trust in the Church, have been moved by selfish, natural and greedy motives. Many times the Popes, surrounded on all sides by the enemies of the Church, as well as men seeking worldly prestige and gain at her expense, have felt they could more safely trust those of their own family not to betray them in matters closely connected with the well-being of the Bride of Christ. And the occasions that this confidence has been rewarded are more often forgotten in the listing of the grave tragedies which have undoubtedly come from the appointment, for reasons of family pride and ambition, of unworthy nephews.
In the six years preceding his election to the papacy, during the pontificate of Pope Celestine III – of the powerful Orsini family, long the enemies of the Conti – Cardinal Lotario of Anagni lived in forced retirement. It was during this period that he wrote his famous works: On the Contempt of the World, so revealing of his own deep piety and knowledge of men; On the Sacrifice of the Mass, which is of great importance liturgically; and On the Fourfold Marriage Bond, based entirely on passages from Holy Scripture and showing the indissoluble bond, (1) between man and wife, (2) between Christ and the Church, (3) between God and the just soul, (4) between the divine and human nature in the Word.
After his election, because he was but a cardinal-deacon, it was necessary for Lotario to be ordained a priest before he could be consecrated Bishop of Rome and Vicar of Christ. He was, therefore, duly ordained on the twenty-first of February, 1198, and consecrated on the next day, February 22. In his first encyclical as Pope, he spoke of his “slight qualification for the triple tiara” and implored the faithful to assist him with their prayers. But except for the few – like the German poet who, because of the youth of Pope Innocent, cried out, “Woe to us! we have a stripling for a Pope. O Lord! have mercy on Christendom!” – the majority of the thoughtful, attentively watching, thanked God for the choice of him, agreeing with the writer who said, “He brings a profound knowledge of the interests of the Holy See and of his country, the courage and ambition of a still youthful patrician and a reputation for sanctity and learning, due to a well-ordered life and esteemed writings.”
Every gift with which God had endowed him, however, Pope Innocent would need for the task before him. He had, first of all, to turn his attention not only to the reform of the papal court, but to the restoration of the Pope’s temporal power, again well along in the process of being wrested from him by the wicked and greedy men who owed their rank and all they possessed to the Popes, and who had solemnly sworn, each in his turn, to protect and defend the rights of the Holy See! Pope Innocent was keenly aware of the struggle of his immediate predecessors against the onslaughts of the Emperors, who, in the century since Pope Gregory VII’s death, had stopped at nothing – scheming and plotting, flattering and threatening, and openly invading the Papal States in their efforts to annex them to the Empire.
The most ambitious of all the Emperors, up to that time, had been Frederick I, Barbarossa so-called because of his red beard, whose revival of the old Roman Law had filled his proud mind with visions of himself in the role of the pagan Roman Emperors, possessing absolute power over the souls as well as the bodies of his subjects. It had been Frederick’s dream to restore the Roman Empire of the East and the West, with its capital at Rome. Rome would once again be the seat of the Emperors, and the Popes, robbed of the temporal possessions restored to them by Pepin and Charlemagne, would become the subjects of the Emperors.
It mattered not to Frederick that the Popes would thus be disequipped for the impartial discharge of their holy office; the duties of that office he felt himself not incapable of assuming whenever the occasion, to his way of thinking, called for it. He actually had convoked a synod, in 1160, to which he had sent an invitation to the Pope, Alexander III. Pope Alexander had replied, “We recognize the Emperor as the protector of the Roman Church, and honor him before all other princes; but a still higher honor is due to the King of Kings.
“… To convoke a council, and command us to appear before it, is an act unwarranted, either by the usage of his predecessors, or the scope of his authority. The Roman Church, which is above the authority of man, has received from the Lord a commission to try and pass judgment on the affairs of all other churches…. Hence, the authority of the canons and the tradition of the Fathers alike forbid us to appear before the imperial court….”
Even though Roman Law had been Christianized to some extent in the codification of the Emperor Justinian in the sixth century – with regard to the laws concerning marriage, parental control of children, the criminal code, asylum and slavery – the whole body of Roman jurisprudence had been set up by the pagans on the principle that the Emperor was divine. And although the Justinian code did not on the surface make of the Emperor a god in the old pagan sense, it did claim for him that (a) nothing should be beyond his control, and (b) that he should be the supreme judge of the right or wrong of his own political conduct.
All this the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa knew. The Justinian Code and the old Roman Law suited his purposes perfectly, and he revived them with the willing help of the legists of the famous law center of Europe, the University of Bologna. Death overcame Frederick before his ambitions could be realized, but the new political spirit he bequeathed to Europe. It was the spirit of selfish nationalism, apart from the family of nations under the paternal, spiritual guidance of the Pope. In fact, it was of the essence of the new spirit that the Emperor should dominate, rather than be guided by, the ancient Father of Christendom.
The new spirit was one of lust for power, of greed and aggression. It assured the Emperor, in the words of the old Roman pandects, that he could do no wrong; all lawmaking was his alone to perform; the will of the Emperor was the law, for had not that which was pleasing to the Emperor the force of law? Pope Innocent III would, by the sheer force of his authority, and because the new spirit was yet young, be able during his pontificate to overcome it. Besides, Frederick II’s evil star did not rise until after the death of the great Innocent; once risen, it remained in the ascendancy for thirty years. Frederick II was an even greater threat to the Church than Frederick Barbarossa, and by the end of the thirteenth century, although Pope Boniface VIII, then pontificating, was possessed of tremendous strength and courage and clarity of mind, it was too late. The change had come to stay, and the glorious Pope Boniface was martyred for presuming to defend Saint Peter from the blasphemous and brutal plunder of his sacred rights by the Caesars.
Pope Innocent’s boyhood had been filled with the tales of the struggles of Pope Adrian IV and Pope Alexander III against Frederick Barbarossa, and of the Guelphs (the partisans of the Popes) and the Ghibellines (the partisans of the Emperors). His young heart had thrilled to the words of the great English Pope, Nicholas Breakspear, when he became Pope Adrian IV and was confronted with the heavy burdens awaiting him. “I know that my path is strewn with thorns,” he said, “but this papal mantle, although very tattered, is still heavy enough to weigh down even the strongest.”
Innocent had lived over again many times in his boy’s mind the meeting of Adrian and Barbarossa at Sutri. For Pope Adrian, almost as soon as he was consecrated, had received word that the Emperor had reached Upper Italy and was advancing on Rome. Adrian knew that Barbarossa was taking advantage both of the anarchy prevailing in the Eternal City, because of the inflammatory influence of the rebel priest, Arnold of Brescia, and of what the Emperor considered the weakened condition of the Pope, due to the fact that the papal power and possessions had been reduced to little more than the environs of Rome itself. And so Pope Adrian had gone up to Sutri, some twenty five miles above Rome, to meet Frederick.
That meeting is one of the most dramatic moments in history, and it is no wonder it lived long in the vivid mind of the boy who one day would dominate, for the good of Christendom, all the crowned heads of Europe, both by the power that was his through Peter and the political genius which was his by special endowment from God. The German Emperor, Frederick Barbarossa – who later was to say to the Roman senators, I am the successor of Charlemagne and Otto the Great, and as such the lawful possessor of Rome! Do you think anyone can possibly snatch the club from the hand of Hercules?” – and the great Pope who was to answer him: “The Emperor is supreme in his own domain, but his actions can and must be judged by the Vicar of Christ as supreme judge on earth of the moral law,” came face to face at Sutri.
The two, Pope and Emperor, envisaged each other. Both knew that it was customary, at such a meeting, for the Emperor to hold the bridle of the Pope’s horse and present the stirrup to him. Barbarossa, affecting to see in Adrian only the beggar boy from an English village, which once he had been, and to regard his present position as that of a petty king of a single city, Rome, reckoned without the majesty of Adrian, successor of Saint Peter. The Emperor refused to present the stirrup to the Pope. The Pope – in his personal life so filled with the detachment and humility which accompany complete consecration of one’s life to God that he left his mother, for whom he had a real affection, to be taken care of by the charity of the Church at Canterbury – resented with every particle of his being the insult of Frederick to the person of Christ’s Vicar. He refused to give him the kiss of peace. And there they stood.
In the end, it was the gaze of Frederick which fell before the just anger in the eyes of the Pope. Fear came over Frederick, fear more selfish than holy. He feared the effect of an open quarrel with the Roman Pontiff; he feared the inevitable decision of the Pope not to place upon his head the imperial crown, without which anointing he could not be sure of the loyalty of his subjects.
And Barbarossa surrendered. He picked up the bridle of the Pope’s horse and with every outward mark of deference he bent low, and waited, while Adrian placed his pontifical foot in the stirrup which he, Frederick, son of illustrious Guelph and Ghibelline both, presented to him as any equerry. He waited, until the Pope, mounted, sat above him on his horse.
Adrian IV, as one lover of the Popes has remarked, forced Barbarossa to hold the reins of his mule! He also forced him to fear the most fearsome man in this world, when need be – the Vicar of Christ. Every ruler in history who ever has failed to fear the Pope, when reverential fear was called for, has invariably lived to regret it. Frederick Barbarossa died tragically, on the Third Crusade. He was drowned while crossing a river on horseback just after his army had entered Syria.
Pope Innocent III, therefore, brought to the papacy a thorough understanding of the warfare which had been waged against the Church in order to dominate, and even to overthrow her. And no one appreciated more than he the multiple blessings which a holy and enduring union between Church and State would bring to Christendom.
“For through this union,” he said, “is the Faith propagated, heresy overcome, virtue made to flourish, vices rooted out, justice preserved, iniquity held in check, peace secured, persecution abolished, and pagan barbarity subdued. This union insures the prosperity of the Empire and the liberty of the Church. It is a pledge of bodily security and the salvation of the soul . . . and guarantees the rights of the clergy and those of the State.”
It was toward this ideal that the great Pope labored during the eighteen and one-half years of his pontificate. And there was scarcely a country in Europe over which he did not, in the end, assert his paternal and judicial influence, with all the stern and unbending discipline which a good father exercises over the perverse and the mischievous, and all the lavish bounty which he expends upon the good and the industrious. Perhaps it would be well, before we go on to tell of Pope Innocent’s spiritual works, to recount all together his dealings with the monarchs of Christendom, although they did not occur in quite such numerical succession.
Pope Innocent first restored the papal power in Rome, and in the Papal States. He established in Rome a firm authority, and at the same time he brought back to men’s minds great veneration for the things of the Faith. It is beautifully true that an Italian Catholic is never so happy as when both these goods are present in his life.
Italy itself was, by this time, weary of the rule of adventurous German princes, and Pope Innocent was able to extend his political power over the whole country. The death of Barbarossa’s successor, Emperor Henry VI, had left his four-year-old son, Frederick II, King of Sicily. The child’s mother, the Empress Constance, who ruled for him, first allowed Pope Innocent to reassume papal suzerainty over Sicily, and then, just before her death, she appointed him guardian of the little King. For the nine years of his minority, the Pope watched over the young Frederick with tender and anxious care. Even the most bitter enemies of the papacy were forced to admit that Innocent III was a completely unselfish guardian, and that no one else could have ruled for the young King quite so capably or conscientiously.
In Germany, the Pope supported the claims first of Otto IV for the imperial throne against Philip of Swabia; then of Philip against Otto, when Otto completely betrayed the trust both of the Pope and the Empire; and finally, after Philip had been murdered, in 1208, of the young Frederick II, against Otto.
In France, Pope Innocent was obliged almost at once to take up the matter of King Philip Augustus’ pending divorce from his Queen, Ingelburga, whom he had put aside, five years before, for Agnes de Meranie, the daughter of the Duke of Aquitaine. Pope Celestine III had pleaded with Philip and admonished him, but all in vain. “The royal dignity cannot place you above the duties of a Christian,” Pope Innocent III wrote Philip. “The Holy See cannot abandon the defense of persecuted women.”
Philip, although in many other ways an excellent monarch, remained unmoved by this and by every attempt Pope Innocent made to reach him through his papal legates in France. The Pope then warned him that unless he sent Agnes away and restored his wife to her lawful place beside him, he would be forced to put the kingdom under interdict. And on January 14, in the year 1200, the sentence of interdiction was carried out. The administration of the Sacraments – with the exception of Extreme Unction, the Baptism of children, and the confession of those in danger of death – was suspended. All France mourned. When Philip could stand it no longer, he sent Agnes away. And the interdict was lifted. Philip, however, continued, except for a very short period, to keep his wife imprisoned and away from the court, and when, in 1213, he did take her back, it was only for the reason that he needed the support of Pope Innocent in an expedition he was planning against England, and he hoped (vainly) by this concession to gain it.
In Spain, the crusading Pope compelled the King of Leon, Alphonso IX, to break off his marriage with his niece. He gave the crown of Aragon to Peter II, who came to Rome to be crowned by him, in the Vatican Basilica.
In Portugal, he insisted that King Sancho I place his kingdom under the protection of the Holy See, after he had broken the promises of his father, King Alphonso, to Pope Lucius II, deprived his brothers and sisters of their inheritance, ill-treated the Bishop of Porto, usurped the incomes of ecclesiastical benefices, persecuted the monks, and repelled the good offices of the Archbishop of Compostella, whom Pope Innocent had sent to him.
In Poland, Innocent brought about the regeneration of the clergy, defended the claims of the rightful heir to the throne, threatened Duke Ladislaus with excommunication unless he allowed the holy and reforming Archbishop, Henry of Gnesen, whom he had driven out of the country, to come back and perform the duties of papal legate.
In Bulgaria, Pope Innocent made the chief of the Bulgarians their King, and sent him a royal scepter and crown. In Bohemia, he confirmed Primislas as King. He sent a legate to Armenia to crown King Leo. He acted as arbitrator, in Hungary, between two brothers who were contending for the crown, and in Norway, he protected the people against their tyrannical King, Sverri, and after Sverri’s death he was the mediator between the two claimants for the throne. That Hungary was united as a nation during the whole of the thirteenth century, is due to the efforts of Pope Innocent III, a fact which has been acknowledged many times by the grateful Hungarian people.
But the story of Pope Innocent which has most intrigued the minds of men down the ages, is his encounter with the arrogant, insolent, dissolute John of England, and his victory over him. John’s reign had been marked by one outrage after another. He had repudiated his wife, contracted a second marriage, and was strongly suspected of murdering his nephew, Arthur of Brittany, who had a rightful claim to the throne. He had, by his meanness, cruelty, tyranny, lust and physical torture of whomever he chose to fancy his enemy, completely alienated the hearts of his people.
Pope Innocent censured him severely, but to all the Pope’s demands that he make restitution and amend his ways, John paid scant attention. Nor did he listen when the great Pontiff tried to intervene and arbitrate the war in which he was engaged with Philip Augustus. This conflict finally ended with John’s losing to Philip all of his French possessions, including even Normandy. Badly beaten, John returned to England, his heart set upon raising enough money for still another campaign against Philip, in which he hoped to regain his lost lands. When, in 1205, the see of Canterbury became vacant, the English King thought he saw a way out of his difficulties. He ordered the monks to elect John de Gray, Bishop of Norwich, a man entirely devoted to John’s interests, and when the monks protested that they had already elected Reginald, their subprior, the King became violently angry and dispersed the monks.
Pope Innocent, as the feud became every day more bitter, endeavored to settle the whole matter by nominating Cardinal Stephen Langton, the Rector of the University of Paris, as Archbishop of Canterbury. John refused to allow Cardinal Langton to enter the kingdom; and he confiscated the lands and revenues of the English Church. Pope Innocent put all England under interdict, in 1208. John ordered the clergy to disregard the ban. Pope Innocent, in 1209, excommunicated him. John replied by subjecting the monks and secular priests to a reign of terror. In 1212, after three patient and trying years, the Pope declared that John had forfeited his right to rule. He freed his subjects from their oath of allegiance to him, and called upon Philip Augustus, of France, to land in England and execute the sentence of deposition.
At that point, John – hearing that the King of France was, with great alacrity, making elaborate preparations to invade England, and realizing that his people, wearied unto death by his tyranny, had turned against him – surrendered. On May 15, 1213, entirely spontaneously, he placed in the hands of the Pope’s legate a document signed by himself, two bishops, nine earls, and three barons, giving to Pope Innocent and his successors the kingdoms of England and Ireland, to be held by John and his heirs henceforth as fiefs of the Holy See.
John, ever afterward called John Lackland, attested that he acted of his own volition and that he had the approval of the barons of England. It is true that, as far as anyone could find out, John had had no suggestions for his act from any outside influence, but it is also true that the barons acted in an endeavor to safeguard their country against the tyranny of the King, and that John himself acted to save his crown from Philip Augustus, who was only too eager for an opportunity to seize it.
John, by his act, had made himself the vassal of the Pope; he had, that is, placed himself under the Pope’s protection and acknowledged him as his feudal lord. We find it difficult, in our time, to understand all this, and we are apt to put a connotation upon it which is neither fair nor true. Pope Innocent and King John lived in feudal times, when vassalage was a common and an accepted thing. Richard the Lion-hearted, the brother of King John, had resigned his crown into the hands of the Holy Roman Emperor, and received it back as a fief. It then became the duty of the Emperor to protect the crown of Richard. Peter II of Aragon voluntarily gave up his domains to the Holy See, and received them back as fiefs. He did this for the sake of the greater security he would receive. The King of Scotland was, at this time, the vassal of the King of England.
And so it came about that John’s excommunication was removed and the interdict upon his country lifted. But John’s ways remained unchanged. His tyranny and his unspeakable conduct became so unbearable, finally, that the English barons revolted. They refused any longer to pay the heavy taxes imposed on them, or to obey John’s unjust laws. They formed an organization which they called the “Army of God and Holy Church,” and they waged war upon the King and decisively defeated his armies.
And then, in 1215, with Cardinal Stephen Langton at their head, the “Army of God and Holy Church” compelled King John, at Runnymede, to sign the Magna Charta, or Great Charter, of the liberties of the Church and of the people, regarded by the English as the basis of their political and personal liberties and of their constitutional law. The Magna Charta is the basis also of other modern state constitutions, including our own. One of its fruits is the famous law of habeas corpus. It should not be forgotten that the Magna Charta was won for the English people by the Catholic hierarchy – the Catholic Archbishop of Canterbury and the English bishops.
King John, however, declaring that the Magna Charta had been forced on him by violence, that his signature had been obtained under duress, and that therefore the charter was without validity, appealed to his feudal lord, Pope Innocent, who, as such, was bound to protect his rights. John asked the Pope to annul the Great Charter. And this Pope Innocent, in all justice, was forced to do, because, as he pointed out with perfect judicial reasoning: (l) the barons had violated John’s rights by rising in rebellion and forcing him to concede to their demands without having exhausted the constitutional remedies at their disposal; they could, along with these remedies, have appealed to the Pope to adjust their grievances, both in his capacity as their spiritual head and as John’s feudal lord, and this they had neglected to do; (2) they violated the rights of the Holy See in compelling John to yield up many privileges of the crown without referring the matter to and securing the consent of his lord suzerain, the Holy See; (3) John had, before the uprising, “taken the cross,” that is, he had put on his breast the cross of the Crusaders, thus signifying his intention of setting out upon the Crusade to the Holy Land. He was, therefore, protected by a general law of the Church which forbade the property and rights of the Crusaders to be interfered with until their return from Jerusalem.
Pope Innocent, consequently, annulled the Great Charter, not because of its contents, but because of the illegality of the means by which “it had been wrung from the sovereign.” After the death of Pope Innocent, however, the Charter was reissued under John’s successor, Henry III, and confirmed several times by him and by King Edward I.
We might add, to this long list of Pope Innocent’s conquests and adjustments toward the more perfect ordering of Christendom in the temporal sphere, one more successful and one partially successful achievement. The great Pontiff, alarmed at the rising Mohammedan influence, prepared a Crusade against the Moors in Spain, united the Catholics of the whole country under the kings of Aragon and Castile, and had the supreme satisfaction of seeing the power of the age-old enemies of Christ broken in the Battle of Navas de Tolosa, in 1212. The final expulsion of the Moors from Spain would not come until 1442, but the victory of Navas de Tolosa was one of the glorious signposts along the way.
His partially successful achievement was his attempt to unite once more the Greek with the Latin Church, which, had it been fully realized, would have been a most blessed good. The reunion which the Pope for a short time seemed to have effected was more apparent than real, and soon even the pretense was dropped.
And so we pass on to Pope Innocent’s labors in the sheerly spiritual and doctrinal order. However, so beautifully integral was he, and so every-inch-a-priest, that it would be going far beyond any real understanding of him to say that he himself made any separation between his temporal and his spiritual and doctrinal work. All three had for him but one aim. His words to King John of England best reveal what it was he was striving to implant in the hearts of his royal sons, the monarchs of Christendom. “The King of Kings,” he wrote, “. . . so established the kingship and the priesthood in the Church, that the kingship should be priestly, and the priesthood royal….”
Innocent, Christ’s Vicar, would lift the kings of the world not only to a royal, but to a divine kingship. He would lift them to the Kingship of Christ. “Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” It was for this that Jesus prayed; it was for this that Innocent labored.
On the spiritual front, there was much to worry and much to console Pope Innocent III. Early in his pontificate, he launched the Fourth Crusade.
The Crusades of the Middle Ages – the great expeditions on foot and on horseback across Europe, not once but seven times, not for the length of a single generation, but for almost two hundred years – are the most glorious manifestation of faith the world has ever seen. The Crusades were undertaken to protect the Christians of the East from the cruel and fanatical oppression of the infidels: the Mohammedans and, secretly supporting them, the Jews. The Crusading Christians also marched to reclaim for the Bride of Christ the places forever hallowed and the land evermore made holy by the presence and the touch of the Son of God, the Divine Bridegroom. The sands and the stones upon which His step had rested, as he halted to bless and to heal, the privileged earth which had received His bloody footprints on His way to Calvary, the cave which had housed His Mother as she bore Him, the tomb which had opened to receive His crucified body, all cried out across a continent to be rescued from the profane and blasphemous hands into which they had fallen.
The cry struck a response in the hearts of the grateful young Western nations which so staunchly had received the Faith of Christ. It inflamed their hearts with a fire it took two centuries to quench. The Catholic West rose as one man, to deliver the Holy Sepulcher from the enemies of Mary.
“Go forth,” Blessed Pope Urban II had cried at the Council of Clermont in 1095, after the fiery preaching of the French monk, Peter the Hermit (who had witnessed the misery of the Christians and the profanation of the Holy Places) had prepared the people for the Crusade. “Go forth, and God will be with you. Turn against the enemies of the Christian name the weapons which you have stained with mutual slaughter. Redeem your sins – your rapine, your burnings, your bloodshed – by your obedience. Let the famous nation of the Franks display their valor in a cause where death is the pledge of bliss. Esteem it a privilege to die for Christ where Christ died for you. Think not of kindred or home. You owe God a higher love. For a Christian, every place is exile; every place is home and country.
“That land in which the light of truth first shone, where the Son of God, in human guise, deigned to walk as man among men, where the Lord taught and suffered, died, and rose again, where the work of man’s redemption was consummated – this land, consecrated by so many holy memories, has passed into the hands of the impious. The temple of God has been profaned, His saints slain, and their bodies cast out upon the plains for the fowls of the air and the beasts of the field to feed upon. The blood of Christians flows like water in and about Jerusalem, and there is none to do the poor service of giving burial to their remains. Strong in our trust in the Divine Mercy, and by virtue of the authority of Saints Peter and Paul, of whose fullness we are the depositary, we hereby grant full remission of any canonical penalties whatever to all the faithful of Christ who from motives of earnest and sincere devotion shall take up arms against the infidel. Should anyone die while engaged in this holy pilgrimage, let him be assured that, if he be truly penitent, he shall have his sins fully remitted, and pass to the joys of eternal life.”
The great congregation arose when the Pope finished speaking. “It is the will of God!” they cried as with one voice. “It is the will of God!” Thousands took the crosses which the holy Pope had blessed and distributed. “Wear it upon your shoulders and upon your breasts,” he said. “Let it shine upon your arms and upon your standards. It will be to you the surety of victory, or the palm of martyrdom. It will unceasingly remind you that Christ died for you, and that it is your duty to die for Him!”
They went forth, “a grand and immortal movement, where hundreds of nations advanced to certain death – not in the pursuit of a miserable self-interest; not to find an abode in milder and more fertile countries; not for an ardent desire to obtain for themselves earthly advantages; but inspired only by a religious idea, by a jealous desire to possess the tomb of Him who expired on the Cross for the salvation of the human race.”
The spirit of a Crusader, if not in deed, at least in desire, is essential to every Catholic heart, made by Sacrament a soldier of Jesus Christ.
There were eventually abuses and great failures connected with the Crusades, for to keep the spirit of a Christian Crusader requires a burning faith, a lively hope and a most ardent charity. But the selfless spirit of the Crusaders – except for those who “took the cross” out of avarice, ambition or other unworthy motives – nothing could crush. The Fourth Crusade (1202-1204), launched by the indefatigable efforts of the great Pope Innocent III – when its sacred purpose had been diverted by selfish and designing leaders, who first gave their services to the Doge of Venice and then to one of the claimants for the throne of Constantinople – was perhaps the greatest failure of them all. Certainly the blood shed and the willful pillage of Constantinople ruined every hope Pope Innocent had for the return of the Greeks to the See of Peter, one of the principal aims of his pontificate.
The valiant Pontiff, saddened beyond words by the news of his Crusade, wrote to the traitorous Crusaders: “You have lightly broken your vow, since, having sworn in your obedience to the Crucified that you would deliver the Holy Land from the hands of the infidel, you have attacked, in defiance of threats of excommunication, a Christian country…. You have wielded the sword, not against the Saracens, but against Christians; you have conquered, not Jerusalem, but Constantinople; you have preferred earthly wealth to the treasures of Heaven. But what renders you still more guilty is the fact that you have spared neither age nor sex; you have publicly abandoned yourselves to wickedness…. Accordingly, notwithstanding the exertions directed towards the Greek Church, she begins to refuse obedience to the Holy See because she has seen amongst the Latins only treachery and the works of darkness, and she flies from them as from dogs.”
We know, from everything that went before and everything which came after in the tragic story of the Greek Schism, that wicked traitors and cruel men among the Crusaders was not the true reason that kept the Schismatics from submitting to the Holy Father as the Primate in Honor and in Jurisdiction over the whole Church. It was, rather, the excuse they were looking for. But Pope Innocent III was right in wishing the excuse had not been given.
Anti-Catholic writers have always been anxious to put forth the defects of the Crusades and to minimize their great value and shining deeds. The glorious Pontiff, Pope Innocent III, who could scourge so thoroughly the bad Crusaders, and whose letters reveal his awareness of defects unknown even to the suspicion-inspired scholarship of the Church’s critics, could still remain unshaken in his belief in the value of a true Crusade, just as his Lord and Savior was not discouraged from sending Apostles into the world despite the fact that He had found one traitorous one at the Last Supper table. Pope Innocent began at once to make even greater efforts to prepare the Fifth Crusade, and though he did not live to send it off with his blessing, his plans for it were carefully carried out by his successor, Pope Honorius III.
All of Europe lived, in the early 1200’s, as one family in Christ. The dark shadow of approaching nationalism, with its calculating self-interest, would not cast itself upon Europe until the end of the century. Tragic and evident signs of it would appear in the pontificate of Pope Boniface VIII, as we shall see, for after the reign of Emperor Frederick II, the monarch who was more often oriental than occidental, Mohammedan than Christian, and who not only failed to realize all of Pope Innocent’s hopes for him but proved to be one of the most terrible foes the Church has ever had, things, as we have said, were never again the same.
When the thirty-year struggle of the Church with Frederick II was over – and we must not forget that it shook the papacy to its foundations – Frederick’s house, the House of Hohenstaufen, was also at an end, brought about, not by the direct action of the Popes, but by the chastising hand of Divine Providence. The Holy Roman Emperors henceforth would come from other houses of Germany; from the middle of the fifteenth century on, with but two exceptions, the Empire would be ruled by the Hapsburgs. Frederick II had set out to persecute and possess the Roman Pontiffs, only to find this, as well as all his hopes, dashed against the divinely invulnerable rock which is Peter. The papacy has weathered many a storm since Frederick. Emperors have come and dynasties have gone, but the Vicar of Christ goes on forever, sustained by the promise of the Son of God that the gates of Hell shall never prevail against His Church.
The Crusades perpetually bear witness to the tremendous and glorious Catholic spirit of the Middle Ages, when the Faith of Jesus Christ came first, above all things else, in the generous hearts of strong men and holy women and consecrated children. The golden age of chivalry and Christian knighthood entered Europe with the Crusades. The Crusader who vowed, as “a brave and gentle knight to defend the Church, to believe her doctrines and keep her commandments, to protect all women, come to the relief of the distressed, of widows and orphans and all the servants of God, never to retreat before the enemy, but to make unremitting war on the infidels, never to lie but to remain ever faithful to his word, always to strive to do all that is good and to combat all that is evil,” became not only a valiant and holy Christian soldier, but he was, be he peasant or king, of such stature that he filled the world with words which he had made to live. He filled it with song and story of knights and fair ladies, of courtesy and honor and trust and pledge and troth. The shining sword of his gallant spirit was ever unsheathed.
The Crusades brought back to the Church a great host of sinners, and of Catholics grown cold in their love. The Catholic Faith is such a precious thing, and our God such a jealous lover, that it is not enough just to have been given the Faith. Its wondrous bequeathal is ours both to have and to hold, and in the performance of it, to stand still is to regress; not to advance is to fall back.
The Crusades were, in the light of their lofty purpose and sublime dedication, the most sacred and just wars that ever were undertaken. They brought in their wake untold practical good to Western Europe; they saved it also from the mastery of the Turks, put off for four centuries the Mohammedan conquest of the Eastern Empire, secured the protection of pilgrims to the Holy Land, rescued the Holy Sepulcher – at least for a time – and, most glorious of all, obtained for millions of Catholics the crown of martyrdom and immediate entrance into the Beatific Vision of God. The Crusades were, in fact, one of the most sublime triumphs of Christendom.
The glorious Pontiff, Innocent III, was ever and always an uncompromising opponent of heresy. He was a tireless guardian of the precious Deposit of Faith and its life-giving Catholic doctrines – the commission given by Christ Jesus, through Peter, to all the Popes. And so we find Innocent, in the midst of his plans for another Crusade to the Holy Land, obliged to divert his efforts to the gathering of a Crusade not to war on the infidels but on heretics, on so-called Christians – the Albigenses – after his many attempts to convert them had failed and when they had taken to adding to their ranks by the forceful use of the sword.
The terrible Albigensian heresy, named after its headquarters in the prosperous town of Albi in southern France, actually had worked its diabolical way into the West from Asia – through Bulgaria and across southern Europe to the cities of Lombardy, in northern Italy, and Languedoc, in southern France. The south of France, sunny and warm and fertile, was, not unlike our own Southern California, a refuge for followers of strange sects. There had for centuries been flourishing there communities of Saracens and Jews, and what more natural than that this new arrival, this equally Asiatic cult, should find encouragement and sympathy in their midst?
The dark and sinister and unspeakably impure doctrines of the Albigenses gradually spread until, Pope Innocent tells us in his letters, they had infected every corner of a thousand cities of Europe, and endangered, not only the Church and the priesthood but the Christian state and Christian society. The Albigenses taught that the Christian Faith was vain, and Christ’s Redemption a monstrous deceit. Evil, they said, as did the Manicheans centuries before them, was an eternal principle, just as good was an eternal principle. The created world, even the glory of its splendors, was the work not of the good, but of the evil principle. The soul, the work of the good god, had been enticed into the body of man by the seductions of the evil god, and there it remained, imprisoned. Its only hope was, at any cost, to leave the body.
And so, under this devil’s structure of dark myth and darker heresy, all life – being the work of the bad god – was evil. Marriage, of course, was the greatest of all evils, since it begot children. Suicide was a religious act, since it liberated the soul from the body. And two methods of suicide were advocated; one, by suffocation, offered instant release and earned for the partaker the title of “martyr”; the other, by starvation, was a gradual deliverance and its participant was ever more known as a “confessor.” A woman with child was abhorred as one possessed by the devil, and babies were brutally murdered.
A convert was forced, in order to join this satanic cult – which, hard as it is for us to believe it, was being embraced by the majority of the nobles in the south of France and even by some abbots and canons – to renounce the Catholic Church, to declare the Mass an idolatry, the Holy Eucharist an abomination (bread and wine were creations of the evil spirit), the Church of Rome the whore of Babylon, and the Pope, Antichrist. The Cathari, or The Pure, was the name they gave themselves, while their impurities, hideous and vile and revolting, rose as a foul stench in the nostrils of all decent men.
When, after his ten years of effort to convert the Albigenses had failed, and after the heretics had murdered his legate, the Cistercian monk Pierre de Castelnau, Pope Innocent, in 1208, called at last for a Crusade against them. But even this succeeded only in creating new difficulties for the great Pope, for the Crusade, under Simon de Montfort, got out of hand and degenerated into a bloody conquest for land. All Pope Innocent’s attempts to keep it true to its purpose, and even to recall it, failed. However, just when the valiant Pontiff was tempted to despair the whole matter, heaven-sent help arrived in the person of a holy friar who for years had walked barefoot, clad in the raiment of the poor, through the streets of the cities and towns of the Cathari country, preaching, working miracles, and making practically all of the conversions which were lasting.
He was Dominic, of the noble Spanish family of Guzman, born in 1170, and founder of the illustrious Order which bears his name. His mother, while she was with child, dreamed that she brought forth a little whelp dog with a lighted torch in his mouth, and that he set all the world on fire. And certainly the intense and shining light of Dominic’s holiness and the power of doctrine by which he burned out heresy and enkindled godliness throughout whole nations bore out the dream which his holy mother had of him before his birth.
When he was thirty-three years old, and an Augustinian canon regular at the Cathedral of Osma, in Old Castile, Dominic was chosen to accompany his bishop, Blessed Diego de Azevedo, to southern France to negotiate, as ambassadors of King Alphonsus IX of Castile, the marriage of Prince Ferdinand with the daughter of the Earl of La Marche. When all arrangements had been made for the marriage, the young bride-to-be died, and instead of returning to Spain, Bishop Diego and Father Dominic, now fully aware of the depth of the wickedness of the Albigenses, went on to Rome, to ask Pope Innocent’s permission either to stay at Languedoc – to labor among the depraved heretics – or to preach the gospel to the infidels in the north. Pope Innocent, captivated by their zeal and holiness, told them to choose the neighboring harvest, and begged them to work with all their strength to save the Church from the loathsome heresy which was threatening her children with such diabolic fury.
And thus was answered Saint Dominic’s prayer that he be allowed to labor for the salvation of infidels and sinners. For this, he had often spent whole nights in the church in prayer; for this, he had scourged his body and fasted until his Bishop, fearing for his health, implored him to take more nourishment and to mix a little wine with the water which he drank. There remained ever before his eyes the horror of the offenses being given to God and the vast numbers of souls being lost as the heresy and impieties of the Albigenses multiplied and spread, and no penance which he might inflict on himself ever seemed too great a price to pay for the deliverance of the Church from such a scourges.
For seven years, he labored. In 1206, he succeeded in opening at Prouille a convent for nuns, converts from Albigensianism, an unheard of and scarcely hoped for thing. This was the very faint beginning of his Order, but beginning it none the less was, and in ten years, so rapid was its growth, that Saint Dominic journeyed to Rome, to the Fourth Lateran Council along with the Bishop of Toulouse, to ask upon his Order Pope Innocent’s confirmation. The great Pope did not live to confirm the Order officially, but his verbal encouragement and constant protection were an unfailing source of strength to Saint Dominic, as Dominic’s holy life and wondrous works were a deep consolation to the wise and brave Pope, borne down as he was on all sides by problems, and hungering, as he ever did, for signs of pure love of God and true sanctity in his people.
This last, Saint Dominic offered his Holy Father in abundance. So carried away with love of God was he that as he said Mass tears flooded from his eyes, and his body, as he elevated in his hands the Sacred Body of his Savior, was lifted in ecstasy high above the ground. During his lifetime he raised three men from the dead.
It was Pope Innocent III who bestowed on Saint Dominic’s Order the name by which it has been known throughout the centuries. It seems that the Holy Father had dictated a note to Dominic, and he wished to enclose with it some papers for the holy friar. He asked one of his secretaries to dispatch the packet.
“To whom shall I address it?” the secretary asked.
“Address it: ‘To Brother Dominic and his companions,”‘ the Pope answered. And then, after a pause, he added, “No! Do not write that. Let it be, ‘To Brother Dominic and those who preach with him in the country of Toulouse.”‘
“No!” he recalled the secretary a third time. “Write thus: ‘To Master Dominic and the Brothers Preachers.”‘ And the Friars Preachers they became from that day on.
Before Saint Dominic’s death, in 1221, the Order of Friars Preachers had sixty monasteries in eight provinces: in Provence, Spain, France, Lombardy, Rome, England, Germany and Hungary! Fifty years later, the houses of the Order numbered three hundred and twenty, and the Scandinavian countries, Poland, Greece and Palestine had been added to the list. Before the end of the century there were, in the country of the terrible Albigenses, one hundred and forty monasteries of the barefoot, poor friar who had wept as he walked their roads, sighing with love for God and praying with great desire for their conversion. Saint Dominic left as his legacy to his brethren, “love, lowliness and poverty.”
Saint Dominic left to the world a legacy whose value is beyond computing. For he left to every Catholic – from the tiniest lisping young child to the oldest whispering bent child, to the girl praying for her lover and the boy holding vigil for his wife, to the father afraid for his son and the mother anxious for her daughter – to all of all ages, he left that singular devotion by which they have climbed, as by so many stairs, to the throne of the gracious and generous Queen of Heaven, the Mother of God.
Saint Dominic left to the world what Mary gave to him; he left to the world – the Rosary. The Rosary, in its power over the Prince of Darkness, has been likened to the slingshot by which David slew Goliath. The Rosary, on the lips of the faithful, has turned the tide of battle, lifted the scourge of pestilence, freed the captive. It has won, in the fingers of a Pope, Pius V, the saving victory of Lepanto. It has brought rain to parched lands, children to childless mothers, work to idle fathers. Found in the pockets of stricken men, it has brought the priest, with his absolving hand. Held in the clasp of Catholic women, it has changed the destiny of empires. The Rosary, in the hands of the sons of Saint Dominic, overcame the Albigenses.
Pope Innocent III knew also, in his lifetime, Saint Francis of Assisi, the other little poor man of God, and he approved, at least by word of mouth, his Order, as he had Saint Dominic’s. When Saint Francis stood before Pope Innocent, in 1209, clothed in the coarse serge garment tied about the waist with a cord, which was his habit, and asked the great Pontiff, in the midst of his cardinals, to approve his Order, Pope Innocent at first dismissed him. He said, as did the cardinals, that the religious orders already in existence in the Church needed reforming much more than being added to.
But while the Pope – worn out with care and full of anxiety as how best to overcome the vices of luxury and sloth which were infecting not only the nobles and the people, but the clergy as well – lay sleeping one night after his meeting with Saint Francis, he saw in a dream the great Church of the Lateran falling, and a poor beggar holding it up with his shoulders. The poor beggar he recognized. It was Francis of Assisi, and the grateful Pontiff was given to understand that the new Order would be a pillar of the Church. (Pope Innocent saw Saint Dominic in a similar vision five years later.) The next day the Pope sent for Saint Francis, welcomed him warmly, approved his Rule, and ordained him deacon.
Saint Francis called his Order the Friars Minor, or “the lesser brethren”; lesser, he would have us know, than the Friars of Saint Dominic. He would be poor even in his name, for the spirit of holy poverty was the foundation of his Order. “Poverty is the way to salvation,” he explained to an age grown lax in luxury. “It is the nurse of humility, and the root of perfection.” And so much did he apply this precept both to himself and to his spiritual sons that he was known to have ordered houses already built for his friars to be pulled down, because he thought them too large and too sumptuous for their state of evangelical poverty.
It is told that he returned one day from an apostolic journey and found a new building at the Portiuncula – the little ruined church belonging to the Benedictines of Subiaco, about a mile out of Assisi, which he had repaired in 1207, named for Our Lady of the Angels and, with the addition of several extremely simple wooden dwellings, made the mother house of his Order. He looked now with disapproving eyes upon the new construction. He considered it much too neat and imposing for his friars, and he ordered that it be torn down. It was some days before the citizens of Assisi were able to prevail upon him to leave it standing, even though they explained that it was in no way meant for the use of the Friars Minor. They themselves had built it, they said, for the lodging of strangers, who were arriving daily in increasing numbers, drawn, as is ever the way, by the irresistible attraction of sanctity. Saint Francis at last relented when it was pointed out to him that without the shelter of the new building the pilgrims must sleep on the ground, in the open fields.
Similarly, when vocations to his Order were being received in extraordinary numbers and his hut-like little houses were multiplying with miraculous rapidity over the countrysides and even in the cities, Saint Francis chose one day to visit his brethren recently established in Bologna. When he arrived, he found them living, not in a small, poor house, but in a large, spacious dwelling. He was inconsolable. And he was indignant. He ordered his sons to leave the place before sundown, and he took himself off to the lowly quarters of the Friars Preachers, which “he found more to his taste and where he passed some days with his friend, Saint Dominic.”
Saint Francis called his body Brother Ass, because it was to carry heavy burdens, to be beaten, and to eat little and coarsely. When he saw anyone idle and “eating of other men’s labors, he called him Brother Fly, because he did no good, but spoiled the good which others did, and was troublesome to them.”
For one whose prayer was profound and for long hours ecstatic, whose union with God was constant and unbroken, Saint Francis’ directions for the achieving of a life of prayer were of the simplest.
“Recite the Lord’s Prayer,” he would counsel, “over and over and over again, and very slowly, with great relish in each petition and love in every word.”
The Glory be to the Father was his favorite aspiration, and he would repeat it constantly with singular devotion. He advised everyone to do the same. A lay brother once asked him for leave to study.
“Repeat with great care, diligently and attentively, the Glory be to the Father,” he told him, “and you will become very learned in the eyes of God.” The brother eagerly obeyed him, and became in time a spiritual and very holy man.
The Fourth Lateran Council, the Twelfth Ecumenical Council of the Church, was the great culminating point of Pope Innocent’s pontificate. It was at this great Council that Saint Francis and Saint Dominic met each other for the first time. The circumstances preceding their meeting are at once an explanation of their place in the Church and in their century.
It seems that one night during the Council, when Saint Dominic was kneeling in prayer in the Basilica of Saint Peter, he became aware of the figure of Our Lord standing just above him, holding in His sacred hand three arrows, with which he was about to strike the world in punishment for its tremendous wickedness. Then Saint Dominic saw the Immaculate Mother of Jesus prostrate herself before Him, and present to Him two men. The zeal and devotion of these two men, God’s Mother explained, would convert sinners and appease His outraged justice.
Now, one of these men Saint Dominic recognized to be himself; the other he did not know. The next day, however, as he entered a church to pray, he saw the stranger of his vision, dressed in a long coarse garment tied about the waist with a cord, and having every appearance of being a poor beggar. It was Francis, the little poor man of Assisi, and although Saint Dominic did not know that, he did know that here was his companion and brother in the work to which they both were called by the Blessed Mother of God. Dominic ran to Francis, embraced him, and with tears cried out, “You are my comrade! You will go with me. Let us keep together, and nothing shall prevail against us.”
This was the beginning of a friendship which lasted during the rest of their lives. Though their Orders remained separate, each doing the work which God had called upon him to do, from that day on they were as one heart and one soul. Although, in their apostolic approach, Saint Francis’ appeal was to the heart, and Saint Dominic’s to the mind, actually it is true that when the mind is won the heart follows, and when the heart is touched the mind assents. And so in the end their ways were, in all things, very much the same. Each by his perfect dedication to holy poverty and his refusal to be turned from it by gifts, flattery, or appeals to “common sense,” stemmed the tide of sensuous and luxurious living common to the nobles and, alas, to the prelates of that time. Each, by whole nights and days spent in prayer, achieved a love of God so burning and intense that the whole world was lighted by its glow, and entire nations were filled with the irresistible infection of their fervor and holy joy.
Each gave to the Church countless sons and daughters. Each numbered in his ranks popes and bishops, blesseds and saints. And each was encouraged and loved by the wistful and holy Pope who knew them both when their Orders were young. Each warmed the heart and gave hope to the soul of Innocent III.
The work of the sons of Saint Francis in the hospitals, and Saint Dominic’s work with the lepers, were of the greatest interest to the glorious Pontiff who was, along with his other incredible achievements, the founder of the great city hospital system on which our own city hospitals are modeled.
For the modern world owes the institution of city hospitals, as one great American doctor has said, “to the fatherly watchfulness, the kindly foresight and the very practical charity of one of the greatest of the Popes, Innocent III, whose name is usually associated [by the enemies of the Church] with ambitious schemes for making the papacy a great political power in Europe, rather than as the prime mover in what was probably the most far-reaching good work that was ever accomplished.”
When, as one of the results of the Crusades, towns began to spring up all over Europe, where heretofore there had been fertile fields and farm lands, and diseases and epidemics began more frequently to infect the people living so unwontedly close together, Pope Innocent saw the need for hospitals, to take care especially of the ill who were without family to attend them. After he had carefully studied the matter, he asked the Fathers of the Holy Spirit to come to Rome and establish a hospital in the City of the Popes.
The Hospital of the Holy Spirit, as Pope Innocent called his first hospital, soon earned a world-wide reputation for the excellence of its nursing care, the skill of its medical work, and the “discretion with which its surgical cases were treated!” It was a rule that all the sick picked up in the streets should be brought to the hospital, and that all the wounded and injured – all the “accident cases” – should be welcomed and given immediate attention. There were, besides, a corps of attendants whose duty it was to go out into the poorer sections of the city every day to look for the stricken who might be lying neglected or uncared for, in order that they might be brought in for treatment.
Pope Innocent’s hospitals spread, almost at once, to every country in Europe. In France, the Sisters of the Holy Ghost established hospitals on the order of those which the Brothers of the Holy Ghost were founding. We know that all of the famous old English hospitals date from the beginning of the thirteenth century, and were an imitation of the Hospital of the Holy Spirit at Rome; hospitals in every modern sense of the word. In Germany, after Pope Innocent’s example, there were founded in the thirteenth century, hospitals in eighty-two cities or towns.
The secret of the tremendous blessing upon Pope Innocent’s work is revealed in the list of regulations for his hospitals, which happily have been preserved. The regulations of a medieval Catholic hospital ordained that the patients were to be received as Christ the Lord, “Who Himself said, ‘I was a stranger and ye took Me in.'” The patient, moreover, having confessed his sins to the priest and received Holy Communion, was afterward “to be carried to bed and treated there as Our Lord, according to the resources of the house.”
And all this was accorded him after, according to the Rule, he had been received at the door of the hospital by the Prioress herself, who was warned to welcome him “without delay, and if she were not able to go at once, she should send one of the Sisters who was not severe or hard, but kind of countenance.” The number of the sick was not to be set at any definite number, “for the house is theirs, and so all indifferently shall be received as far as the resources allow.”
The regulations for each section of the hospital, and every kind of human affliction, reveal the most minute and exquisite care by those whose transcendent and sublime privilege it was to bind the open wounds and moisten the parched lips of Christ suffering in their stricken brothers and sisters. In Italy, where the passionate devotion of the Italians for the Madonna and her Child is rewarded by an ardent understanding and consuming love of all little children, the part of the hospital set aside for what we harshly speak of as the “infant asylum” or the “foundling home,” was called – with the inimitable Italian intonation, the rise and fall of the voice which bestows a caress on every syllable – the “hospital of the innocents!”
It is no wonder that, after studying Pope Innocent’s glorious work, there was wrung from one modern German scientist the tribute: “It may be recognized and admitted that it was reserved for the Roman Catholic Church, and above all for Innocent III, not only to open the bourse of Christian charity and mercy in all its fullness, but also to guide the life-giving stream into every branch of human life in an ordered manner. For this reason alone, the interest in this man and in this time will never die out….”
But what is of the utmost significance for God, the sick, and the century, this German scientist characteristically missed, and that is the glorious fact that the vast charity of Pope Innocent and his army of religious flowed from the Fountainhead of all charity, the adorable Heart of Jesus tabernacled in the Blessed Sacrament; a Charity that is divinely Personal. No purely human, secular, un-Eucharistified charity can ever approximate it. It is because of this Charity, by which he loved with God’s love, that Saint Dominic was able to kiss the ulcerous sores of lepers, and the joyous sons of Saint Francis could choose for their portion the most offensively afflicted of all God’s poor.
On November 11, 1215, the Twelfth Ecumenical Council assembled in Rome – the fourth general council to be held in the great Lateran Palace, for centuries the residence of the Popes and loved by all Christendom as the “mother and mistress of all churches.” Pope Innocent had convened the Council in order to make further plans for the regaining of the Holy Land and for the reform of the Church.
“I have decided, after the manner of the ancient Fathers,” he had written to his bishops all over the world, “to convoke a general council, by means of which evils may be uprooted, virtues implanted, mistakes corrected, morals reformed, heresies wiped out, the Faith strengthened, disputes adjusted, peace achieved, princes and people won to the cause of aiding the Holy Land, and salutary decrees drawn up for the higher and lower clergy.”
The Fourth Lateran Council, as the Twelfth Ecumenical Council is called, was the greatest and most important council of the Middle Ages. Both the East and West were represented. There were present seventy one primates and archbishops, four hundred and twelve bishops, nine hundred priors and abbots. The Patriarchs of Alexandria and Antioch sent their representatives; the Patriarchs of Jerusalem and Constantinople came in person. There were in attendance ambassadors representing every prince in Christendom. “It would seem,” we are told, “that all the culture, the science, and the learning of the civilized world had their representatives assembled there, under the presidency of the ablest and wisest of the Roman Pontiffs.”
Besides approving the Fifth Crusade to the Holy Land, the great Council issued seventy decrees for the reform of the Church, of the clergy and of the people. The first canon was the famous profession of faith, the creed Firmiter credimus, “Firmly we believe,” which is a statement of Catholic belief infallibly proclaimed by the Pope and all the bishops of the world in ecumenical council. The creed was directed primarily to the Albigenses and Waldenses, but it contains, in clear, unmistakable, simple expression the sacred doctrine which has been, in such wholesale, heartbreaking fashion, denied or explained away in our day by practically three quarters of the Church.
For Pope Innocent III and the Fathers of the Fourth Lateran Council declared, without equivocation, that there is but a single Church for all believers. Outside of it no one at all can be saved. Those, literally, are their words; they added nothing more by way of explanation because no explanation was necessary. That was all there was to it. Nothing, surely, could be more inclusive than “no one at all” can be saved outside the Church. It is clear, final and irrevocable. And because it is the infallible truth, no Pope ever can define the opposite of it. No Pope can ever define that there is salvation outside the Catholic Church.
We can be absolutely sure of one thing from our knowledge of Pope Innocent III, who was so completely a Pope after Saint Peter’s own heart and who was ever the gravely watchful Shepherd on guard against the wolves in heretical clothing perpetually stalking the flock of Christ. We can be absolutely sure that were Pope Innocent III alive today he would at this point call a Crusade of all the orthodox Catholics who are left – even though their numbers may not be overwhelming – and march against every heretical bishop, priest and layman who dares to pervert the holy doctrine he was at so much pains to define.
And that is not all. The Fourth Lateran Council did one other thing which is a direct rebuke to the frightening laxity of doctrine in our time. Pope Innocent and his bishops issued four canons against the Jews and the Saracens. These four canons should have terrible significance for the Catholics today who have in such wholesale fashion taken the Jews to their bosoms, and would undoubtedly in the name of interfaith take the Saracens also were they not thousands of miles away. That the priest historians who know these canons so well are content to sit silently in their studies in the midst of the blasphemy and religious suicide of interfaith which now goes on all around them, along with the increasing monopoly by the Jews of the economic, financial, social (entertainment) and religious life of the nation, and are not out shouting in anguished warning, is a sure sign not only of the general loss of Faith but of the abandonment of the merest sense of self-preservation.
The Fathers of the Fourth Lateran Council had no such fatal blindness. The Fourth Lateran Council prohibited Jews from holding public office, provided for the protection of Christians at the mercy of Jewish moneylenders, laid down conditions under which Christians were forbidden to have commercial intercourse with Jews, decreed – so that no Christian might be deceived as to what they were – that Jews should be distinguished from Christians by their dress, that Jews should, during Holy Week, remain indoors, and so prevent the riots caused by their mockery of the Christians’ sorrow on Good Friday. And Jews who, having been converted to the Faith, were found to be observing also their former rites, were to be constrained by their pastors from so doing, for, “it is less evil not to know the way of the Lord than having known it to turn back.”
In forbidding Jews to hold public office, Canon 69 of the Fourth Lateran Council laid down that, “It is most absurd that a blasphemer of Christ should exercise power over Christians, . . . and we renew the decree forbidding that the Jews be given public offices.” Canon 68 decreed that “Jews of either sex, in every Christian province, and at all times, be distinguished in public from other people by a difference of dress.” The Council also told Jews, “in the days of Lamentation and of Our Lord’s Passion not to come out at all in public, because some of them on such days are not afraid to mock at the Christians who, commemorating the Passion, show forth signs of lamentation. This, we enjoin most severely, lest they presume in some measure to offer insults to Our Redeemer…. We prescribe that those guilty of this crime be punished . . . lest they presume in some measure to blaspheme Him Who was crucified for us.”
Pope Innocent and the Fourth Lateran Council were not the first Pope and council to be obliged to legislate for the protection of the Church and her children against the perfidious infidel, as Pope Benedict XIV brought out in his encyclical letter, A quo primum, of 1751, to the Primate, Archbishops and Bishops of Poland concerning what is forbidden to Jews dwelling in the same towns and districts as Christians. Pope Benedict XIV listed the decretals and constitutions of the Roman Pontiffs up to his time against the Jews, and quoted from the writings of the saints and the Doctors concerning them. He has preserved for us the words of Pope Innocent III, warning Christians that their admission of Jews into their cities should be such as to prevent the Jews from returning evil for good.
“When the Jews,” Pope Innocent said, “are thus admitted out of pity into familiar intercourse with Christians, they repay their hosts, as the proverb says, after the fashion of the rat hidden in the sack, or the snake in the bosom, or the burning brand in one’s lap . . .”!
The restrictions of the Fourth Lateran Council did not, alas, solve the Jewish problem in Europe, and one country after another, by the end of the thirteenth century found it necessary, for its very existence, to expel its entire Jewish population. We in America hear a great deal about the Spanish expulsion of the Jews, but actually Spain was one of the last countries to send beyond its borders the subversive people who form, in whatever country they live, an alien nation within a nation. England was the first, with its ban in 1290, and it was not until the days of Oliver Cromwell, the arch foe of the Catholic Church and close friend of the Freemason magician, Manasseh ben Israel, Rabbi of Amsterdam, that, in 1655, a Jew legally was allowed to re-enter England.
France expelled the Jews in 1306, Saxony in 1349, Hungary in 1360, Belgium in 1370, the city of Prague in 1380, Austria in 1420, the Netherlands in 1444, Spain in 1492, Portugal in 1498, Prussia in 1510, Naples and Sardinia in 1540, Bavaria in 1551. Jews were banned from Sweden until 1782, were not allowed in Denmark before the 1600’s, and were not permitted to enter Norway until 1815.
In April of the year in which the Great Council, as it has been called, ended, Pope Innocent III set out northward, on a mission to make peace between the warring Pisans and Genoese. He became ill on the way, and was able to go only as far as Perugia, where he died a most holy death, on the sixteenth of July, 1216, in the nineteenth year of his pontificate and the fifty-sixth year of his life.
Death had closed the eyes and stilled the voice of the great Pontiff whose indomitable spirit and unwearied fortitude had achieved for the papacy a glory never before and never since attained. This glory he placed at the feet of Peter, upon whose throne he sat and to whom his noble mind and generous heart ever paid eager tribute. His realization of the power which is Peter’s, and of those who rule in his name, is expressed in his words to Philip Augustus of France, to whom he wrote:
“To princes power is given on earth, but to priests it is attributed also in Heaven; to the former only over bodies, to the latter also over souls. Whence it follows that by so much as the soul is superior to the body, the priesthood is superior to the kingship…. Single rulers have single provinces, and single kings single kingdoms; but Peter, as in the plenitude, so in the extent of his power is preeminent over all, since he is the Vicar of Him Whose is the earth and the fullness thereof, the whole wide world and all that dwell therein.”
In this sublime conception of the office of the Vicar of Christ lies the secret of Pope Innocent’s glorious pontificate. The secret of the soul of the great Holy Father, which remained steadfast and unsullied, a young Pope in the midst of the unparalleled grandeurs with which, because of his exceptional gifts of mind and leadership and the opulent spirit of the times, men sought perpetually to surround him, is revealed in the hymns and prayers which he composed. It is said of his hymn to the Holy Spirit, Veni, Sancte Spiritus, sung by the Church on the feast of Pentecost and throughout the octave, that it “could have come only from a heart wholly inflamed with the fire of the Holy Ghost. It is an incomparable hymn, breathing of the sweetness of Paradise.”
The great Pope Innocent III, intrepid judge, unbending guardian of doctrine, disciplinarian of kings and princes, maker of Emperors, founder of universities and hospitals, patron of Religious Orders, diplomat, lawyer, missionary, peacemaker, crusader, poet, writer, preacher, teacher, at heart was, above everything else, a priest. He was, above all, the constant lover of God, the shepherd of His sheep – the faithful priest.
And when he sang to God, or to God’s Mother, even though the words startled the air with the sheer beauty of their exquisite utterance, they were withal the simple cry of a priest, importuning for the needs of his spiritual children.
“Come, Holy Spirit,” he pleaded, “send forth from Heaven the ray of Thy light. Come, Father of the poor. Come, giver of gifts. Come, light of hearts.
“Thou best consoler, sweet guest of the soul, sweet coolness: in labor, rest; in heat, refreshment; in tears, solace.
“O most blessed Light, fill the inmost recesses of the hearts of Thy faithful . . .! Cleanse what is base, bedew what is parched, heal what is wounded, bend what is rigid, warm what is chilled, guide what is astray.
“Give to Thy faithful confiding in Thee Thy sevenfold gifts. Give them reward of virtue, give them a happy death, give them eternal joy.”
In like manner, so watch over and pray for us, dear Holy Father, glorious Vicar of Christ, holy Pope Innocent III!