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Lectures for A Medieval Survey

Lynn H. Nelson



Innocent III was perhaps the greatest medieval pope but he is difficult to evaluate. Did he save the church or set the stage for its decline? He faced many challenges, and managed to meet them all, but at considerable long-term cost to the church.

  • Popular heresies

    • 1. Problem

      The church was unable to solve the social and economic problems caused by the growth of commerce and manufacture. The church was unable to operate effectively in the towns, and it lacked dedicated and educated clergy. Social discontent was expressed in popular heresies such as the Albigensians and Waldensians. One must remember how dangerous heretics were considered to be.

    • 2. Innocent's solution

      When sending missionaries against the dissidents failed, Innocent called a crusade in which the northern French conquered southern France. When the dissidents went underground, Fnnocent devised the inquisition.

    • 3. When moral suasion failed, Fnnocent used force.

  • The hammer and anvil

    • 1. Problem:

      The church feared a single power controlling southern Italy and Germany. Emperor Henry VI (+ 1197) had accomplished this for the Hohenstaufen family.

    • 2. Innocent's solution

      He encouraged a civil war in Germany over the succession and forged an alliance with England to gain his candidate victory. When his man,Otto of Brunswick, turned against him, he forged another alliance with France to defeat Otto.

    • 3. Innocent dragged the church into power politics and used warfare to gain his political ends.

  • Decline of the crusades

    • 1. The problem

      Innocent wanted a crusade to restore a sense of church leadership, but crusades had become too expensive, western leaders were too involved in their own affairs, and the Muslims had become too strong for an easy victory.

    • 2. Innocent'S solution

      Innocent was willing to support any crusading effort and to call crusades to gain his ends: the Albigensian Crusade, the parody of the Children's Crusade, Walter of Brienne's crusade in southern Italy,the Teutonic Knights in easternGermany, and the under-financed Fourth Crusade that conquered Christian Constantinople.

      3. Innocent used crusades to gain his ends, but cheapened the crusading ideal by making it a political tool.

  • Church corruption

    • 1. The problem

      The church had not been able to meet the needs of the poor and ill; it had used church revenues for political ends; clergy were underpaid, uneducated, and not very effective; the church could not rise to the expectations of the new middle class, who were not satisfied with only words but expected performance.

    • 2. Innocent's solution

      The fourth lateran council.

      • Asserted church authority by extending ecclesiastical protection to the Jews.

      • Tried to improve the level of the clergy by combatting simony and enforcing celibacy (but not improving financing or education).

      • Established the inquisition to strengthen the position of church doctrine and eliminate toleration in this matter.

      • Recognized the Dominicans and Franciscans.

    • 3. Innocent's most successful area, except that his reforms of the clergy were not directed at causes, and the Inquisition eventually became used by secular authorities as a thought police.

    • 4. Innocent was successful at least on the surface. He had guided the church through its crisis, but at a cost. The church had now become rigid and was no longer able to accommodate differences of opinion and approach.It could no longer aspire to be the "moral arbiter of European affairs" because its moral authority was weakened by its entry into the political arena.

      It did not seem like that at the time, however.The Dominicans formed a new and educated force in the church, and the Franciscans provided society with a joyous and wild sense of spirituality that met the needs of the time.There was a resurgence of religious feeling and the Gothic Age had begun.

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Copyright ©1999, Lynn H. Nelson. This file may be copied on the condition that the entire contents,including the header and this copyright notice, remain intact.The contents of ORB are copyright © 1995-1999 Laura V. Blanchard and Carolyn Schriber except as otherwise indicated herein.