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Popes Through the Ages

Pope Innocent IV

When after a stormy interval of over seventeen months, the cardinals managed to hold an election at Anagni in June 1243, they quickly elected Sinibaldo de' Fieschi. He chose to be called Innocent IV. With the Emperor still hostile, Sinibaldo seemed a good choice. He had been friendly with Frederick, yet his character indicated that he would be nobody's puppet. Sinibaldo was born in Genoa, the son of the count of Lavagna. After teaching canon law at his alma mater, Bologna, he joined the papal court and rose to be vice-chancellor of Rome, cardinal and bishop of Albenga.

 The first problem facing Innocent was to end, if possible, the struggle with Frederick. Hope rose as the Emperor congratulated the new pope and peace negotiations got under way. Soon Innocent released Frederick from censure and Frederick agreed to evacuate the Papal States and release his clerical prisoners. Peace was restored--and high time, for the Mongols threatened Eastern Europe, and in 1244 the Moslems recaptured Jerusalem.

 The peace, however, was momentary. Frederick, slow to keep promises, exasperated Innocent by holding on to his clerical prisoners, and still more by stirring up trouble at Rome. His patience exhausted, Innocent fled to Lyons and called a council to meet there in 1245. This First Council of Lyons, the thirteenth ecumenical, passed some reform decrees, but the outstanding event was the condemnation and deposition of Frederick II.

 When Frederick heard of his deposition, he is said to have placed a crown on his head and defied the Pope to knock it off. Innocent tried to do just that. He ordered the German nobles to elect a new king, but neither Henry of Thuringia nor William of Holland was able to do much against Frederick's son Conrad. Innocent preached a crusade against Frederick, but St. Louis of France, the only monarch powerful enough, had no stomach for such a crusade. He did go on a crusade, but it was against the Moslems. Though St. Louis protected the Pope at Lyons against imperialist attack, he would go no farther.

 Even Frederick's death in 1250 did not bring peace. His son Conrad IV continued the quarrel. Innocent, as suzerain of Sicily, hawked the Sicilian crown around Europe, but with Conrad's halfbrother Manfred holding Sicily in arms, there was no rush of takers. At last at Conrad's death in 1254 hopes rose. Conrad left his baby son to the Pope's guardianship, and Innocent recognized the rights of the little Conrad to Sicily. But Innocent's stormy pontificate was not to end in peace. Manfred revolted and routed a papal army at Foggia. Once more war was kindled. Innocent, gravely ill from pleurisy, died shortly after on December 7, 1254.

 This fight of the papacy with the Hohenstaufen might have been necessary to safeguard freedom; it was certainly disastrous. Italy was desolated; papal taxation grew and grew, and with it a loud chorus of complaint. Abuses increased while Innocent was preoccupied with the struggle.

 Yet Innocent IV did accomplish something positive. He added significantly to church law. He did a great deal for the rising universities. He sent missionaries to the Mongols, and he defended the Jews from the ridiculous charge of ritual murder.

 Excerpted from "Popes Through the Ages" by Joseph Brusher, S.J. Electronic version copyright © 1996 New Advent, Inc.

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