The hubris of Innocent III

November 2 2014

This shepherd of souls who was unduly soft and credulous in accepting at their face value the specious protestations of princes, showed himself unduly cold and cautious when he had to appraise the sainthood that shone like the Sun through Francis’ countenance; and here it is difficult to draw the line between obtuseness and ὕβρις. Was Innocent unaware of Francis’ greatness or indifferent to it? Did his aloofness from the deepest spiritual movement of his age reflect the pre-occupation of a man of affairs or the superciliousness of an aristocrat? Even if we give Innocent the benefit of the doubt and acquit him, as Francis himself would have hastened to acquit him, of ὕβρις on Francis’ account, at any rate we must count it for righteousness to Innocent’s great-nephew Ugolino de’ Conti that the future Pope Gregory IX was more sensitive than his relative and predecessor to Francis’ sainthood, though he too was an aristocrat and a man of the world. And there is another count against Innocent III on which the charge of ὕβρις cannot be rebutted. A Pope whose predecessors had been content to style themselves “Vicar of Peter” assumed the style of “Vicar of Christ”. This was an ominous departure from the humility of a Gregory the Great, who had taken the title of Servus Servorum Dei when his colleague John the Faster at Constantinople had proclaimed himself “Oecumenical” Patriarch. In the year of Innocent’s death John’s “Oecumenical” successor was a refugee at Nicaea from a Patriarchal See that was under the heel of Innocent’s truant crusaders. The omen was unfavourable to the successors of the first Roman “Vicar of Christ”. “Woe unto when all men shall speak well of you” [footnote: Luke vi. 26.] is Innocent’s epitaph.

A Study of History, Vol IV, OUP, 1939

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