Innocent III

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Innocent III,

b. 1160 or 1161, d. 1216, pope (1198–1216), an Italian, b. Anagni, named Lotario di Segni; successor of Celestine III. Innocent III was succeeded by Honorius III.


Innocent came from an important family, the counts of Segni, to which belonged also Gregory IX and Alexander IV. He was trained as a theologian and perhaps as a jurist, and under Celestine III (his uncle) he became (1190) a cardinal. At the time of his election as pope, Innocent seems already to have formed his ecclesiastico-political doctrine that since things of the spirit take preeminence over things of the body, and since the church rules the spirit and earthly monarchs rule the body, earthly monarchs must be in all things subject to the pope; the doctrine that the sphere of the church was limited had no real place in Innocent's idea. He set out immediately after his election to realize his ideal of the pope as ecclesiastical ruler of the world with some secular political power.

Political Successes

In imperial affairs he was constantly active. He acknowledged as king of Sicily the future Holy Roman Emperor Frederick IIFrederick II,
1194–1250, Holy Roman emperor (1220–50) and German king (1212–20), king of Sicily (1197–1250), and king of Jerusalem (1229–50), son of Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI and of Constance, heiress of Sicily.
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 after Frederick's mother, the Empress ConstanceConstance,
1154–98, Holy Roman empress, wife of Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI; daughter of King Roger II of Sicily. She was named heiress of Sicily by her nephew King William II.
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, had accepted papal suzerainty over Sicily and given up certain ecclesiastical privileges; on Constance's death, Innocent accepted Frederick as his ward, a trust he faithfully executed, as even his enemies admitted. In Germany the dispute between Philip of SwabiaPhilip of Swabia
, 1176?–1208, German king (1198–1208), son of Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I. After the death (1197) of his brother, German King and Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI, he unsuccessfully attempted to secure the succession in Germany of his infant nephew,
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 and Otto IVOtto IV,
1175?–1218, Holy Roman emperor (1209–15) and German king, son of Henry the Lion, duke of Saxony. He was brought up at the court of his uncle King Richard I of England, who secured his election (1198) as antiking to Philip of Swabia after the death of Holy
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 was arbitrated by the pope in favor of Otto (1201). Later (1207–8) the pope favored Philip, but after Philip's murder, Innocent crowned Otto (1209) as emperor, only to excommunicate him (1210) and dictate the election of the papal ward, Frederick, as German king (1212). Frederick made elaborate promises (as had Otto) favorable to the Holy See.

Innocent's relations with England proceeded to the same political end, but this was hastened by a purely ecclesiastical quarrel over the election of an archbishop of Canterbury. Innocent set aside the two rival claimants and procured the election of Stephen LangtonLangton, Stephen,
c.1155–1228, English prelate, cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church. He was educated at Paris. Innocent III named him cardinal in 1206, and he became archbishop of Canterbury the following year.
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; King JohnJohn,
1167–1216, king of England (1199–1216), son of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. Early Life

The king's youngest son, John was left out of Henry's original division of territory among his sons and was nicknamed John Lackland.
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, enraged at what he felt was unwarrantable interference by the pope and at the obduracy of the clergy in opposing the demands of the king, persecuted the church. As a result the pope laid England under the interdict, excommunicated John (1209), and even considered deposing him. The people and the barons supported the church, and John had to submit; he received England and Ireland in fief from the pope, promising annual tribute to the Holy See. Subsequently the pope stood by John after the barons coerced him into granting the Magna Carta, for Innocent declared it null as a forcibly exacted promise and also as a vassal's promise made without his overlord's knowledge. PandulfPandulf
, Ital. Pandolfo, d. 1226, Italian churchman. He was first sent to England in 1211 by Pope Innocent III on an unsuccessful mission to settle the pope's dispute with King John.
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 became Innocent's legate in England.

Innocent was also the virtual overlord of Christian Spain, Scandinavia, Hungary, and the Latin East. Philip II of France remained independent of Innocent politically. On the moral question of Philip's divorce, however, Innocent forced the king to bow to the canon law.

Political Failures

The great failures of Innocent's policy were the Fourth Crusade (see CrusadesCrusades
, series of wars undertaken by European Christians between the 11th and 14th cent. to recover the Holy Land from the Muslims. First Crusade

In the 7th cent., Jerusalem was taken by the caliph Umar.
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) and the conduct of Italy. That crusade, proclaimed and blessed by Innocent, never went to the Holy Land, but attacked instead Christians on the island of Zara and in the Byzantine Empire. Innocent excommunicated the disobedient crusaders, but later accepted the fait accompli and tried to spread the Latin rite over the Latin Empire of Constantinople; in spite of a new Latin patriarchate, these efforts were futile, and the schism of East and West was only exacerbated.

In Italy, Innocent reclaimed the Patrimony of St. Peter (see Papal StatesPapal States,
Ital. Lo Stato della Chiesa, from 754 to 1870 an independent territory under the temporal rule of the popes, also called the States of the Church and the Pontifical States. The territory varied in size at different times; in 1859 it included c.
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), the duchy of Spoleto, the March of Ancona, and the Ravenna district; he was recognized as temporal overlord by Tuscany, but northern Italian cities were unruly and maintained their independence throughout Innocent's pontificate. Innocent initiated the Albigensian mission and the Albigensian Crusade (see under AlbigensesAlbigenses
[Lat.,=people of Albi, one of their centers], religious sect of S France in the Middle Ages. Beliefs and Practices

Officially known as heretics, they were actually Cathari, Provençal adherents of a doctrine similar to the Manichaean dualistic
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); when he heard of the misbehavior of the crusaders of Simon de MontfortMontfort, Simon de
, c.1160–1218, count of Montfort and earl of Leicester. A participant in the Fourth Crusade (1202–4), he did not join in the sack of Constantinople, but instead proceeded to Syria. He later led the crusade against the Albigenses.
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, he protested in vain. He supported the Teutonic Knights in the incursions along the Baltic.

Influence on the Church

Amid all his political activity Innocent was most energetic in the administration of the church. In this direction the triumph of his pontificate was the Fourth Lateran CouncilLateran Council, Fourth,
1215, 12th ecumenical council of the Roman Catholic Church, convened at the Lateran Palace, Rome, by Pope Innocent III to crown the work of his pontificate.
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 (1215), one of the greatest of councils. His was the original impetus behind St. Dominic's mission, and he provided the first approbation of the institute of St. Francis. Innocent's interest in law was ever active; thus as pope he constantly held court, with a good name for impartiality. He wrote extensively; his tract De contemptu mundi [on the contempt of this world] was widely read in the Middle Ages. Innocent's theories of the papal monarchy had a profound effect on the development of the papacy.


See C. E. Smith, Innocent III, Church Defender (1951, repr. 1971); S. R. Packard, Europe and the Church under Innocent III (rev. ed. 1968); H. Tillman, Pope Innocent III (tr. W. Sax, 1980).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Innocent III


(secular name, Lotario di Segni). Born 1160 or 1161, in Anagni; died July 16, 1216, in Perugia. Pope from 1198. Son of the wealthy count of Segni.

The time of Innocent Ill’s pontificate was the period of the medieval papacy’s greatest power. Innocent III strove to establish the supremacy of papal authority over secular government. He interfered in the internal affairs of European states. In 1198 he became guardian of Frederick II, the heir to the Sicilian throne, and he temporarily subordinated the Kingdom of Sicily to his own power. By instigating a struggle for the imperial throne between the Welfs and Hohenstaufens in Germany, Innocent weakened its central authority. The kings of England, Aragon, and Portugal, as well as the tsar of Bulgaria, all acknowledged themselves to be vassals of the pope.

Innocent III abolished Rome’s urban autonomy and restored the power of the pope over the entire territory of the papal state. He was the initiator of the Fourth Crusade. In striving to extend the domination of the Catholic Church to all of Eastern Europe he sanctioned the founding of the Order of the Knights of the Sword in 1202; in 1215 he organized the Crusade of the Teutonic knights against the Prussians. In 1209 he called for a crusade against the Albigensians. He persecuted heresy mercilessly and facilitated the organization of the Inquisition. Innocent III converted the mendicant orders that were coming into being at that time (especially the Franciscan Order) into a powerful weapon of papal policy.


Luchaire, A. Innocent III, vols. 1–6. Paris, 1904–08.
Haller, I. Innozenz III (Meister der Politik), 2nd ed., vol. 1. Stuttgart, 1923.
Tillmann, H. Papst Innozenz III. Bonn, 1954.
Schneider, R. Innozenz der Dritte. Cologne-Olten, 1960.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Innocent III

original name Giovanni Lotario de' Conti. ?1161--1216, pope (1198--1216), under whom the temporal power of the papacy reached its height. He instituted the Fourth Crusade (1202) and a crusade against the Albigenses (1208), and called the fourth Lateran Council (1215)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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