Pope Innocent III

Powerful Medieval Pontiff

Pope Innocent III
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Pope Innocent III Was Also Known As Lothair of Segni; in Italian, Lotario di Segni (birth name).

Pope Innocent III Was Known For Calling the Fourth Crusade and the Albigensian Crusade, approving the works of Saint Dominic and Saint Francis of Assisi, and convoking the Fourth Lateran Council. One of the most influential pontiffs of the Middle Ages, Innocent built the papacy into a more powerful, prestigious institution than it had ever been before. He viewed the role of the pope as not merely a spiritual leader but a secular one as well, and while he held the papal office he made that vision a reality.


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Important Dates

Born: c. 1160
Elevated to Cardinal Deacon: 1190
Elected Pope: Jan. 8, 1198
Died: July 16, 1215

About Pope Innocent III

Lothair's mother was nobility, and his aristocratic relatives may have made his studies at the Universities of Paris and Bologna possible. Blood ties to Pope Clement III may also be responsible for his elevation to a cardinal deacon in 1190. However, he didn't get very involved in papal politics at this point, and he had time to write on theology, including the works "On the Miserable Condition of Man" and "On the Mysteries of the Mass."​

Almost immediately upon his election as pope, Innocent sought to reassert papal rights in Rome, bringing about peace among the rival aristocratic factions and gaining the respect of the Roman people within a few years. Innocent also took a direct interest in the German succession. He believed that the pope had the right to approve or reject any election that was questionable on the grounds that the German ruler could claim the title of "Holy" Roman Emperor, a position that affected the spiritual realm. At the same time, Innocent explicitly disclaimed secular power in most of the remainder of Europe; but he still took a direct interest in matters in France and England, and his influence in Germany and Italy alone was enough to bring the papacy to the forefront of medieval politics.

Innocent called the Fourth Crusade, which was diverted to Constantinople. The pope excommunicated the Crusaders who attacked Christian cities, but he made no move to halt or overturn their actions because he felt, erroneously, that the Latin presence would bring about a reconciliation between the Eastern and Western Churches. Innocent also ordered a crusade against the Albigenses, which successfully subdued the Cathar heresy in France but at a great cost in life and blood.

In 1215 Innocent convoked the Fourth Lateran Council, the most successful and well-attended ecumenical council of the Middle Ages. The Council passed several very important decrees, including Canons concerning the dogma of Transubstantiation and reforms of the clergy.

Pope Innocent III died suddenly while preparing for a new Crusade. His papacy stands as an impressive political force of the thirteenth century. 

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Snell, Melissa. "Pope Innocent III." ThoughtCo, Sep. 20, 2021, thoughtco.com/pope-innocent-iii-1789017. Snell, Melissa. (2021, September 20). Pope Innocent III. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/pope-innocent-iii-1789017 Snell, Melissa. "Pope Innocent III." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/pope-innocent-iii-1789017 (accessed June 4, 2023).