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In broaching the problem of the separation and correlation of the priestly and the imperial powers, Dante bravely, knowingly, and carefully entered a controversy that had simmered in different guises for centuries. By the second decade of the fourteenth century, the question had reached yet one more deplorable crisis not only because certain "modern" theorists argued that the papacy had direct power and jurisdiction over the domain of temporal princes, but because the pope then reigning, John XXII, insisted on the precedent recently reiterated by Clement V that he, in fact, wielded imperial authority in the case of the death or deposition of the emperor. While civil law, especially in the Corpus Authenticorum, clearly designated the two powers that presided over mankind as sacerdotium and imperium, proceeding from the same one, divine, ultimate cause, hierocrats' treatises happily obfuscated what was "kingly" and what was "temporal" in both word and fact. Partisans of papal claims ignored passages in the Decretum that admitted Christ's own division of powers, even passages such as those of Pope Nicholas I (858-867): "Christ separated the right [ius] of both powers by his own acts." Instead, Innocent III, in the bull Venerabilem [fratrem nostrum, Arelatensis archiepiscopum] of 1202, and in a great part of his official writings, had formalized Leo I's, Gelasius's, and St. Bernard's affirmation (in On Consideration 2:15) that the papacy had inherited all of Christ's "royal" (regia) authority as both "priest and king in the order of Melchisedech" (Gn 1438; Ps 1104; Heb 6:20, 7:1ff.) into a sweeping doctrine. As Christ's Vicar, the pope alone thus inherited not only the totality of spiritual power but also-although its exercise and effects were mostly delegated-of temporal, kingly jurisdiction. Innocent IV made it plain that he alone was head of the Christian world, not only Vicar of St. Peter but Vicar of Christ: "The Lord Jesus Christ, as very man and very God, so remaining true King and true Priest, according to the order of Melchisedech ... has established in the apostolic throne not only a pontifical, but also a regal monarchy, committing to the blessed Peter and his successors the government of both an earthly and celestial empire." All high-papalist supporters-to name but a few among the poet's contemporaries, Tolomeo da Lucca (writing ca. 1301), Giles of Rome, and the theologian Giacomo da Viterbo (or James of Viterbo, ca. 1303), broadcast the formula.
In his opening paragraphs Dante is clear about his desire for the palm of success in describing the necessity, legitimacy, and especially the independence of imperial rule; he assumes an attitude of humble duty in prying out truths previously hidden. His insistence on what will turn out to be for some truths invidious and hateful, however, waxes ever bolder, until, in the third book, he foresees the bitterness of his opponents' replies: "The truth of this problem ... cannot emerge without bringing shame to some and will perhaps be the cause of some resentment against me" (Mon. 3:1:2). "The truth of this third question has so much contention surrounding it that, while in other matters, ignorance is usually the cause of strife, so in this, strife is rather the cause of ignorance" (Mon. 3:3:3). Dante, as we shall see, amid political chaos and in a bold and altruistic effort to ward off imminent danger to another, composed a work that was to suffer not only pillorying by the opportunistic Vernani, but official holocaust and centuries of proscription. Hostilities between the Catholic Church and the Holy Roman Empire, Guelphs and Ghibellines, rose to enmesh Dante both in life and in death.
The Church's growing pretensions to temporal hegemony faced awkward biblical precepts. Christ had commanded, according to Matthew 22:21, "Render therefore to Cæsar the things that are Cæsar's; and to God the things that are God's." And in John 18:36, he had admonished, "My kingdom is not of this world.... My kingdom is not from hence." Paul in 2 Timothy 2:4 declared: "No man, being a soldier of God, entangleth himself with secular affairs." Early writers and apologists, such as St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430), had not even referred to any establishment of an ecclesiastical authority, let alone one that could challenge the Roman Empire. After the Edict of Milan of 313, early emperors had increased the prestige of the Church of Rome in order to consolidate their own power amid the turmoil of conflicting claims and doctrines; the emperor Gratian in 378 supported the Roman bishop's claim to authority over all the other bishops in the Western Empire; Theodosius I (ruled 379-395) and his co-emperor son, Valentinian II, recognized the bishop of Rome as the guardian of the true Catholic faith and established Roman Catholicism as the state religion in 380; and in 445, the edict Certum est of the Emperors Valentinian III and Theodosius 11 gave the whole strength of Roman civil law to uphold the primacy of St. Peter's See over others, allowing the bishop of Rome to charge and summon all the rest to Rome for judgment, decreeing, "Let whatever the authority of the Apostolic See decrees, or shall decree, be accepted as law by all." Considerations of prestige and piety through the centuries steadily downplayed and reinterpreted these raw, secular, and adjutative concepts of papal power. Forty-nine years later, Pope Gelasius I, in his letter to the eastern emperor Athanasius (Epistula 12, Ad Imperatorem Anastasium), codified the Church's growing claim that two powers, not one, ruled this world, a royal and a sacred authority, with the priestly power the more important. Gelasius's letter was to tip the balance in favor of the Church's autonomy while affirming the transference of Church jurisdiction from heaven to earth, thus defining the relationship between the papal and the imperial prerogatives; he ironically set the grounds for centuries of contention: "I hope that it will not have to be said of a Roman emperor that he resented the truth being brought home to him. Two there are, August Emperor, by which this world is chiefly ruled, the sacred authority [auctoritas] of the priesthood and the royal power [potestas]. Of these the responsibility of the priests is more weighty in so far as they will answer for the kings and men themselves at the divine judgment." Out of Gelasius's insistence on protecting episcopal independence in spiritual affairs there grew the acceptance that two powers, one priestly and the other earthly, supported Christendom, each divinely ordained and each assisting the other, respecting each other's boundaries of responsibility. Early canon law affirmed the view, but long thereafter papal decretalists from the end of the twelfth century moved the direction of ecclesiastical power to ever greater earthly dominion.
As Dante was well aware, references to the emperor's authority as ordained directly by God punctuate the Corpus iuris civilis, consisting of Justinian's Code, Novella, Digest, and Institutes. Justinian, in his supplemental constitution of A.D. 535, the Novellæ VI, formulated the classical Byzantine theory of Church and State relations, affirming that God in his mercy had granted man two supreme gifts, the sacerdotium, caring for his divine part, and the regnum, directing the earthly part; both proceeded from one single God, and while the two were mutually interdependent, neither was subordinated to the other. In the Monarchia, the poet agrees fundamentally with this civil tradition and insists on the de jure legitimacy of Roman imperial power throughout. We must remember, however, that the encoding of Roman law is itself historically post-Gelasian, and that this fact is essential for an understanding of Dante's final paragraph of Monarchia 3:16 concerning the spiritual, filial reverence that the emperor must ultimately bear toward the sacramental office of the pope. Though he expresses utter contempt for those who had betrayed their sacred office, the poet never, of course, writes against the Church itself, but strives to turn its governance back toward the spiritual purpose of its origins; he aimed always to renew the Church's primal apostolic integrity, sullied and compromised, as he saw it, by the unworthy involvements of incumbents in earthly greed and corruption. We must concede that the poet's vision ultimately exceeds any simplistic conception of the separation of powers and actually defies our attempts to define him narrowly: for Dante the Holy Roman Empire itself was as sacred and divine as the Church of Christ and both must return to their primitive purity.
Historically, once a concept of two powers had entered the picture, thereafter their separation remained a muddy issue and antipathy inevitably grew as both canonists and civil legal minds set forth their theories of a double regulation of Christendom. From the start the temporal and the papal defenders had warily defined their positions. The split between them grew into a gulf as each asserted plenitude of dominion for itself. Both imperialists and papalists counterclaimed and justified their directly divine origin and the direct power of their respective authorities. By Dante's time the question finally became reduced to one critical question: Did power descend from the Godhead directly to both the independent Church and the independent Holy Roman empire at once, or did power only come to a subordinate empire by way of the Church?
Although the Church was to exercise, unquestioned, the greater spiritual force, ironically, its real practical, earthly power grew enormously in the legal sphere. A short time before 1140, the great "Father of Canon Law," Franciscus Gratianus (Grattan), whom Dante places in Paradiso 10:103-5, then a mere Camaldulese monk of San Felice of Bologna, codified some four thousand patristic texts, conciliar decrees, and papal edicts into his Concordantia discordatium canonum (The Concord of Discordant Canons), which became known as the Decreta, or the Decretum Gratiani. Though Grattan intended it as a private com- pilation, it became the basic text of schools of canon law that grew up around it and upon which the masters-that is, the decretists-of the universities of Bologna, Oxford, and Paris lectured. The compilation formed the first part of the body of canon law, the Corpus iuris canonici, and created the conditions for the great jurist-popes of the thirteenth century to build their system of pontifical rescripts and constitutions that shifted authority from the old canons to the new decretals.
In the twelfth century the papacy had based some of its claim to control the empire upon two events: first upon the spurious Donation of Constantine, by which that grateful emperor, cured of leprosy by Pope Sylvester 314-335), was supposed to have given control of the West, including Rome, Italy, and some major islands, to the papacy, and, second, upon the papal transfer (translatio) of the empire from the Greeks to the Germans in the eighth century. According to Honorius Augustodensis's codification in the Summa gloria of circa 1123, the pope set up and constituted the regnum, or earthly power, and chose its emperor; however, Honorius made no specific case for the papacy's divinely holding the authority of both swords, the temporal and the spiritual, and therefore he framed no assertion of the papacy's radical possession of temporal power and of thus being its original source. Even though it was not, in Dante's time, recognized as a clumsy forgery, the Donation was not the main rock upon which the high papalists built a false foundation for their Church: in fact, it provided a most feeble and flawed basis for authority, as both the decretalists and Dante clearly understood (Mon. 3:10). To have any force or practical value, it depended, after all, upon the emperor's having first given his worldly rule over to the papacy: the root of such power would remain imperial. The Donation was fundamentally contradicted by the more substantial Melchisedech doctrine of universal power with which the Church replaced it.
With the competent and businesslike Innocent III, pope from 1198 to 1216, came the climax of medieval ecclesiastical power and the zenith of papal claims to the feudal overlordship of the Roman see. For Innocent, the superiority of the papacy was self-evident: he was the Vicar of Christ who had said in Matthew 28:18 "All power is given to me in heaven and earth." In a letter to the nobles of Tuscany ten months into his pontificate he embellished one of the favorite, novel images he had found (despised and refuted by Dante), that of the sun and the moon, as analogies of pontifical authority and royal power: "Now just as the moon derives its light from the sun and is indeed lower than it in quantity and quality in position and power, so too the royal power derives the splendor of its dignity from the pontifical authority." In 1201, in his letter Solitæ benignitas, he reminded Alexius III, the usurping emperor of Constantinople, that just as the soul excelled the body, so the pope's binding and loosing of souls transcended the empire's earthly jurisdiction, excepting nothing "whatsoever."
Innocent took to heart, perhaps more than any other pope, the enormous charge laid upon him as he accepted the triple crown on February 22, 1198: "Know that Thou art Father of princes and kings, Ruler of the world and on earth Vicar of our savior Jesus Christ." In his extraordinary coronation sermon he reasserted those words, magnifying the title applied to bishops and abbots, none other than "the Vicar of Jesus Christ, the successor of Peter," and thus set over nations, both "King of Kings and Lord of Lords" and "the intermediary between God and man: beneath God, above man: less than God, more than man." The pope exercised "fullness of power"; judging all men, he was judged by none. In his letters he claimed to share authority with the deity, for the pope did not exercise the office of man, but that of the true God on earth. He cut the Gordian knot of all counterclaims by insisting that the popes' right to judge the regnum in temporal affairs depended upon their duty to control the moral conduct of rulers "ratione et occasione peccati," "by reason of, and in case of sin." Since no man was without sin, this obviously meant limitless jurisdiction.
Innocent gave his policy its definitive formulation in his decretal to the bishops of France, Novit, of April 1204, drawn up to defend his interference in the English-French controversies. He was extraordinarily successful not only in expanding the frontiers of his own papal states in central Italy, but also in his spiritual bullying of the emperors and the rulers of the principal states of Europe into vassalage-all those which Barbarossa had earlier haughtily termed the "provincial kingdoms" of the empire-along with the realms of Britain and Scandinavia, and, especially, after the creation of the Latin Empire in Constantinople in 1204, those formerly under the Eastern Church. His recognition of many religious orders-Franciscans, Dominicans, Humiliati, Trinitarians, and Hospitalers of the Holy Spirit-not only crushed the hydra of heresy but was gradually to extend Church influence, particularly with Franciscan missions, to the far coast of China.
Having long delayed his support for the imperial claims of Otto IV of Brunswick (elected in March 1198), he then backed him vigorously, only later to align himself with Otto's opposition, Philip of Swabia (elected in June 1198), the brother of Henry VI. Finally, after the murder of Philip on June 21, 1208, and left with the now anti-papal and apparently rivalless Otto, Innocent excommunicated him on March 31, 1211, and crowned Frederick II of Hohenstaufen, the emperor Henry VI's only son, as king of the Romans in 1212. His twenty-year-long declared crusade against the Cathar-Albigensian heretics in the south of France wiped out entire communities, hamlets, and cities; not even those seeking sanctuary at the feet of their parish priest as he said mass at the altar of Bézier Cathedral were spared.
Excerpted from The Monarchia Controversy by Anthony K. Cassell Copyright © 2004 by The Catholic University of America Press . Excerpted by permission.
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