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About this book

During the Middle Ages, the popes of Rome claimed both spiritual authority and worldly powers, vying with emperors for supremacy, ruling over the Papal States, and legislating the norms of Christian society. They also faced profound challenges to their proclaimed primacy over Christendom.

The Medieval Papacy explores the unique role that the Roman Church and its papal leadership played in the historical development of medieval Europe. Brett Edward Whalen pays special attention to the religious, intellectual and political significance of the papacy from the first century through to the Reformation in the sixteenth century.

Ideal for students, scholars and general readers alike, this approachable survey helps us to understand the origins of an idea and institution that continue to shape our modern world.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Abstract
Around the year 317, the Roman Emperor Constantine fell ill with leprosy. Desperate for a cure, the stricken ruler turned to pagan priests, who instructed him to bathe in the blood of slaughtered infants. Constantine refused this abhorrent act. That night, the Christian apostles Peter and Paul appeared to the emperor in a dream. The two saints told him to find Sylvester, bishop of the Christian community in Rome, who had taken refuge outside the city due to the persecution of his people by Roman authorities. Constantine summoned Sylvester, who baptized the emperor after he had rejected Satan and confessed his faith in God the Father and the Son, Jesus Christ, born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary. Immersed three times in baptismal waters, Constantine emerged free of his leprosy. Out of gratitude, the now Christian emperor exalted the Roman Church above his “empire and earthly throne,” giving to it “imperial power, the dignity of glory, vigor, and honor.” Constantine also decreed that the bishop of Rome should enjoy primacy over the other principal churches of the world. In addition, he granted Rome’s chief priest the use of imperial vestments, the diadem, tiara, and purple robe, surrendering control over the western regions of the Roman Empire to the “universal pope,” Sylvester, along with his successors. Finally, recognizing that the city of Rome belonged to the heavenly authority of the Church rather than a worldly ruler, Constantine transferred the capital of his empire to a new location at Constantinople.
Brett Edward Whalen

Chapter 1. The Memory of Saint Peter

Abstract
The story of the Roman papacy begins in blood — the blood of Christian martyrs, above all the apostles Peter and Paul. The modern historian searching for reassuring facts about the first-century preaching and martyrdom of those two saints at Rome faces inevitable disappointment. Almost everything we know about their presence in the capital of the Roman Empire derives from later traditions and traces, ranging from learned ecclesiastical histories to graffiti scrawled on the walls of the apostles’ shrines. Through such remembrance of the past, the first generations of Christians firmly fixed the historical foundations of their Church in the imperial city: Saints Peter and Paul had established the Christian community in Rome before dying there, victims of pagan persecution. Their holy remains stayed in the city, forming a focal point of Christian devotion. Before his death, Peter had delegated his office as the first bishop of Rome to his successor, initiating a chain of apostolic succession from bishop to bishop down through the generations. Peter, moreover, was no ordinary apostle or bishop. According to the Gospels, Christ himself had given Peter the “keys of the kingdom of Heaven,” saying to him, “whatsoever you shall bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in Heaven, and whatsoever you shall loose upon earth, it shall be loosed also in Heaven” (Mt. 16: 18–19). As Peter’s heirs, enjoying his power to “loosen and bind,” Rome’s bishops held a place of preeminence over believers everywhere, making their city into the head of the Christian faith.
Brett Edward Whalen

Chapter 2. Empire and Christendom

Abstract
In 410, the Visigothic warlord Alaric and his barbarian army plundered the city of Rome. Associated with this particular episode, the word “barbarian” might conjure images of brutish outsiders, bent on the destruction of Roman civilization, a process famously described by the eighteenth-century English historian Edward Gibbon as the “decline and fall of the Roman Empire.”1 The truth of the matter was somewhat more complicated. Like many of the barbarian peoples from the margins of the Roman world, the Goths hardly represented strangers, living along the imperial frontier of the Danube for years. They were also Christians, albeit Arians. Threatened by the marauding Huns, another barbarian people from the Asian steppes, the Visigoths first entered the empire in 376 as settlers and military allies. Famine and abuse by Roman officials soon led to their uprising, culminating in the battle of Adrianople in 378, when the defeated Roman ruler Valens lost his life. An uneasy peace followed between imperial authorities and Alaric, who served as a “master of soldiers” in the Roman army. Rather than a capricious act of savagery, his sack of Rome in 410 is perhaps best understood as a protest against the Roman Empire’s broken promises, taking what he felt was rightfully owed to him.
Brett Edward Whalen

Chapter 3. The Reordering of the West

Abstract
In the winter and spring of 754, Pope Stephen II (752-7) met with the Frankish ruler, Pippin, not far from Paris, first at Ponthion and later at Quierzy. Beleaguered by the Lombards, at odds with the iconoclastic Byzantines, Stephen had come to seek Pippin’s protection and assistance. During his stay, the pope anointed Pippin with holy oil, marking him as a sacral king in the style of Old Testament rulers. Pippin no doubt appreciated this ritual stamp of approval, since he had only become king of the Franks three years earlier after deposing the final Merovingian ruler and packing him off to a monastery. According to some accounts of the meeting, he promised to subdue the Lombards and restore lands that they had stolen from the papal patrimonies. Pippin took his promise seriously, putting military pressure on the Lombard kingdom to make peace with Rome. His son Charles, known as Charlemagne, finally destroyed Lombard rule in northern Italy in 774, confirming Pippin’s donation of Italian territories to the popes of Rome. On Christmas day in 800, this decades-old relationship between the Carolingians and the Roman popes reached its apotheosis. When Charles attended mass at the Church of Saint Peter, Pope Leo III (795-816) placed an imperial crown upon his head while the assembled onlookers cried out three times: “To Charles, pious Augustus, crowned by God, great and pacific emperor, life and victory!” In a new guise, the power of empire had reemerged in the West, reborn in the sacred precincts of Saint Peter’s basilica.1
Brett Edward Whalen

Chapter 4. Reform and Crusade

Abstract
Late in 1044, a faction of Romans drove the Tusculan Pope Benedict IX (1032-44) from office and chose a new pope, Sylvester III, elected in January 1045. Undaunted, Benedict expelled Sylvester from the city, but then decided to retire his office to yet another pope, Gregory VI (1045-46). Apparently, Benedict soon regretted his decision and tried to regain his position; not to be forgotten, Sylvester III refused to drop his claim to the papal office. In December 1046, the Salian Emperor Henry III intervened in this less than ideal situation, assembling a council at Sutri that deposed Benedict IX and Sylvester III, accepted Gregory VI’s resignation, and approved the installation of a new pope, Clement II (1046-47). When Clement died the following year, Henry arranged for the appointment of the briefly lived Damasus II (July–August 1048), followed by Bruno of Toul, who took the name Leo IX (1049-54). Not long after the emperor selected him as pope, however, Leo insisted upon having the Roman clergy and people confirm his election. According to the contemporary Life of Leo IX, the new pope arrived in Rome in the manner of a pilgrim, entering the city barefoot and offering to leave if the Romans decided he was not fit to be their bishop. In response, the assembled clergy and people unanimously acclaimed him as pope.1
Brett Edward Whalen

Chapter 5. Papal Monarchy

Abstract
In his book On Consideration, the charismatic Cistercian abbot Bernard of Clairvaux reflected on the powers, obligations, and burdens of the papal office for Pope Eugene III (1143–53). Writing to his former pupil, Bernard emphasized the unique position of Rome’s bishop as the heir of Saint Peter: “Others are called to share part of the responsibility for souls,” Bernard addressed to the pope, “you are called to the fullness of power.” Saint Peter, the Cistercian monk continued, showed himself to be the unique “vicar of Christ,” as seen in the Gospels when Peter walked on the many waters of the storm-tossed sea beside the Lord (Mt. 14: 29). The “many waters,” Bernard explained, “signifies ‘many peoples.’ Thus, although each of the others has his own ship, to you is entrusted the greatest of all, made from all others, the universal Church which is spread throughout the whole world.” The key to holding this exalted position, however, lay with humility. Carrying such an awesome burden, Bernard reminded Eugene, the pope must act as the servant for the downtrodden, avoiding pride in order to exercise a spiritual dominion. Unimpressed by all the lawsuits reaching Rome, he decried the fact that the Supreme Pontiff had to “sweat over such affairs” for the likes of lawyers and litigants. “Clearly your power is over sin and not property,” he wryly addressed Pope Eugene,” since it is because of sin that you have received the keys of the heavenly kingdom.”
Brett Edward Whalen

Chapter 6. The Whole World to Govern

Abstract
On January 8, 1198, the very same day that Pope Celestine III died, the College of Cardinals elected the young and energetic Lothar of Segni as the bishop of Rome. He took the name Innocent III (1198–1216). Lothar came well prepared to the papal throne. Early in his ecclesiastical career he had spent years studying liberal arts and theology in Paris. After that, he probably studied canon law in Bologna. In 1189 or 1190, Clement III elevated him to the status of cardinal deacon, and he later became cardinal priest of Saint Pudentiana. During these years, showing his education and keen mind, Lothar penned a number of influential theological tracts, including The Misery of the Human Condition, which reflected on the turmoil and troubles people face in the world, and The Sacred Mysteries of the Altar, a commentary on the mass and sacraments. In a sermon delivered after his election, Innocent stressed the themes of papal primacy and the pope’s universal responsibilities, invoking what became one of his favorite biblical passages, Jeremiah 1: 10, “I have set you this day over the nations, and over the kingdoms, to root up and pull down, to waste and to destroy, and to build and to plant.” Echoing Bernard of Clairvaux, the new pope — who first began to use the title “Vicar of Christ” with regularity — proclaimed that the Lord had given to the papacy not just the Church, but the “whole world to govern.”
Brett Edward Whalen

Chapter 7. The Papacy in Crisis

Abstract
In 1346, a bridge in Avignon over the Rhone River collapsed. According to the Franciscan prophet John of Rupescissa, this event symbolized the future tribulations facing the papal curia, which had been installed in the city for several decades and showed no signs of returning to Rome. John was also in Avignon at the time, kept under lock and key in a papal prison, viewed as too dangerous to roam about while making his apocalyptic predictions. In his numerous writings about the state of the Roman Church and its place in the world, John criticized the clergy of his day, including the pope, as greedy and corrupt. Soon God would scourge his wayward flock through war, plague, famine, and social unrest, as the lowly would rise up against the mighty and cast them down. The figure of Antichrist would appear on the scene, perhaps more than one of them, wicked rulers in the East and the West, together with an evil “false pope.” Looking beyond these trials, however, the Franciscan friar saw peace and renewal for the Church in the future age of the Holy Spirit. Among other developments, an “angelic” pope would arise from among the Franciscans to combat heretics, console the poor, defeat Islam, and expand the Christian faith to embrace all the peoples of the world.1
Brett Edward Whalen

Chapter 8. Rome at the Close of the Middle Ages

Abstract
In 1440, the Italian scholar Lorenzo Valla finished his work, A Discourse on the Forgery of the Alleged Donation of Constantine. At the time, he was serving in Naples as a secretary to King Alfonso V of Aragon, who laid claim to the kingdom of Sicily despite fervent opposition from the papacy. Writing to support his patron, Valla took aim at the longstanding assertion that Emperor Constantine had yielded his imperial power to the popes of Rome, granting them numerous lands and islands, some of which now rightfully belonged to Alfonso. As we have seen, Valla was hardly the first person to question or dispute the legitimacy of Constantine’s supposed donation to Pope Sylvester and his successors. Valla, however, employing the linguistic skills of his age, cast doubt on the very language of the text. Comparing it with other documents from the fourth century, he highlighted anachronistic words and expressions that did not even exist in the Latin of Constantine’s day, such as the Persian term “satrap” used to denote Roman officials. “Numskull, blockhead!,” he wrote, “Whoever heard of satraps being mentioned in the councils of the Romans? I do not remember ever to have read of any Roman satrap being mentioned, or even of a satrap in any of the Roman provinces.” Based on this sort of evidence, Valla concluded that the famous donation represented a forgery dating from centuries later.1
Brett Edward Whalen

Epilogue

Abstract
In February 2013, Pope Benedict XVI (2005–13) announced that he would retire from the Apostolic See. As the media frequently pointed out, this decision made him the first pontiff to do so since Gregory XII resigned under pressure in 1415, and the first to abdicate voluntarily since Celestine V in 1294. Suddenly, the medieval papacy had surfaced in discussions of the modern one. The news grabbed headlines and attention from every corner of the globe, not just among the world’s Roman Catholic Christians, numbering well over a billion. Crowds gathered in the main square before the Basilica of Saint Peter in Rome when the papal conclave began its deliberations to elect a successor. After two days, on March 13, 2013, the announcement was made from the church’s main balcony overlooking the square, “Habemus papam,” that is, “We have a pope,” the traditional declaration of a successful election since the fifteenth century. The new pope, Argentinian cardinal priest Jorge Mario Bergoglio, took the name Francis (2013–) after the thirteenth-century saint famed for his commitment to poverty, symbolizing Bergoglio’s own concern for the poor in the era of globalization.
Brett Edward Whalen
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