Your RDA of Irony

Cardinal Sins

September 24, 1143:  Pope Innocent II Dies and Henceforth Lives Up To His Name

At one time, picking a Pope was simple.  The congregation convened in a catacomb and elected whoever wanted his name on the top of the to-be martyred list.  In the fourth century Constantine at least prolonged the Pope’s lifespan if not his  job security.  Until the 8th century, the Pope was a third-string bureaucrat subject to the whims of Constantinople; some Popes “retired” to Byzantine prisons–although they probably were more comfortable than anything still in standing in Rome.  But Pepin the Short, his boy Charlie, and a surprisingly efficient French army improved the status of the Papacy, making the Pope the biggest landholder in Rome.

And with that extra incentive, every robber baron in the vicinity now wanted to be Pope.  A Pope was chosen by the people of Rome; in other words, who ever had the toughest mob.  Criminal gangs were establishing dynasties of Popes.  In response to the chronic scandal, German Emperors would periodically march into Rome, oust the Italian scoundrel and replace him with a (surprise) German bureaucrat who, by no coincidence, was the Emperor’s relative.  Of course,when the German Army left, the ousted Italian scoundrel usually returned and drove out his German replacement.  This frequently left the Church with two Popes.

In the mid-11th century, with a German army in the vicinity, the reformers in Church established new rules for the election of the Pope.  The Pontiff would no longer be the choice of the Roman gangs but elected by a group of Church prelates, establishing specifically for this responsibility.  They would be known as Cardinals.  In the original rules, the Cardinals’ choice would require the approval of the Holy Roman Emperor.  (Remember that nearby German army; as soon as it left, that specific rule was forgotten.)  Oh, yes, the Pope had to be dead for three days before the Cardinals could elect his successor.

But in 1130, the papal election did not quite observe that waiting period.  It had been obvious that Pope Honorius II was dying.  It was also obvious that the majority of Cardinals would elect the rich, charming, reputable Pier Pierleoni the next Pope.  However, his chief rival Gregorio Papareschi had a very effective campaign strategy.  His allies kidnapped the dying Pope.  Since they would be the first to know when Honorius became the late Pope, the Papareschi Party would also be the first to have a Papal election.  They did, and guess who won?  Papareschi now was, however ironically, Pope Innocent II.

Of course, Pierleoni and his allies did not recognize Papareschi’s usurpation.  They had their own Papal election and Pierleoni became, at least to a majority of the Cardinals, Pope Anacletus II.  (Pierleoni evidently did not use a focus group for that name.)  Rome’s populace sided with Pope Anacletus, and Innocent was driven from the city.  In fact, he left Italy, going first to France to plead his cause with the most powerful man in the realm.

Bernard of Clairvaux would have had a deceivingly simple resume:  Oh, he was just a simple monk.  In fact, he was the type of person who would join a committee and within 30 minutes be running it.    And Bernard liked to join lots of committees, especially royal counsels and church councils.  Mesmerizing and manipulating, Bernard ran France and much of the Church.  He definitely was the man whom Innocent had to win over.

And Innocent had one very persuasive argument.  Pierleoni was half-Jewish.  True, the Pierleonis were not only nouveau riche but nouveau Christian.  Grandpa had been the most successful usurer in Rome; even the Popes owed him.  Pope Leo IX (really Bruno von Eguisheim-Dagsburg, cousin of Emperor Conrad II)  coaxed his favorite creditor into becoming a Christian noble.  Now, the grandson of the usurer was claiming to be Pope.  Bernard of Clairvaux wouldn’t stand for that:  “It is an injury to Christ that the offspring of a Jew should have seized for himself the throne of St. Peter.”

Of course, Christ was the offspring of a Jew and so was St. Peter,  but you didn’t try contradicting Bernard with logic.  Pierre Abelard had and was condemned for heresy.  Bernard declared his support for Pope Innocent, which then determined the decisions of French and German church councils, and their respective monarchs went along.  The German Emperor led an army into Italy in 1132 (a now familiar itinerary) to establish Innocent in Rome.  Anacletus was relegated to the quaint category of Anti-Pope, but he was still more popular in Rome than Innocent.  The Pope was only safe there in the company of a German garrison.  In 1139, Innocent did become the uncontested Pope by outliving Anacletus.

On this day in 1143, Innocent II died.  He was never made a saint…but Bernard of Clairvaux was.

  1. Cindy Starks says:

    Eugene — What’s to say? You made it all up, that’s all I know. 🙁

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