THE CHURCH CHRIST FOUNDED (7) – Christianity in the thirteenth century

– Joni Cheng

Pope Innocent III (1198-1216) created the most powerful papacy during the 13th century. He not only reformed and centralized church administration, but also became involved in political affairs.  In particular he contributed to the strengthening and renewal of the Church by successfully distancing the papacy from lay investiture by secular rulers. The investiture had some kind of control over the appointment of the pope. Pope Innocent III reclaimed the status of the popes as the “Vicar of Christ”: mediators between God and man, below God but beyond man, and serving as Christ’s representatives on earth.  There were particularly three things in Pope Innocent III’s papacy that were significant in building up the Catholic Church and extending her influence.

Firstly, the launching of the Fourth Crusade to secure the independence of the Crusader states. These sought to give safe passage to pilgrims to the Holy Land and prevent the takeover of these lands from the Seljuk Turks.  However, the fourth Crusade led to the siege and sacking of Constantinople. This was a great blow to the relationship between the Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Church. The attack on Constantinople went against the Pope’s explicit orders, and the Pope excommunicated the Crusaders.

Secondly, Pope Innocent III’s convoked the Fourth Lateran Council, one of the most significant ecumenical councils of the Catholic Church.  It was this council that defined the Doctrine of Transubstantiation, which was a key theological advance.  Owing to his high view of the authority of pope, he repressed heresy and disobedience within the Church and encouraged the council to decree to preserve the purity of the faith.

Thirdly, Pope Innocent III’s approval and encouragement of religious orders brought forth the renewal and reform of the Church.  There were establishments of new religious communities, in particular the Franciscans and various movements of the reforms of monasticism. 

However, Dante Alighieri, a Florentine poet and social critic, was critical of some of the Popes during the century, and other ecclesiastical leaders, who he believed were not wholeheartedly focused on serving God.  Dante portrayed vividly in The Divine Comedy the eternal reward of heretics and saints, of kings, common people, as well as many of these 13th century popes.  Pope Boniface VIII was one of the good popes whom he had falsely criticized.  This was because Pope Boniface VIII opposed the taxation of the Church by Philip the Fair, the King of France, but unfortunately, the Church was locked in this struggle, that in the end, the king tried to defame the memory of Pope Boniface VIII after the pope died.

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