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Who's Who in Medieval History and the Renaissance

Pope Innocent III

c. 1160-1216

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Born Lothair of Segni (in Italian, Lotario di Segni), Innocent III was one of the most powerful and influential popes of the Middle Ages. He sponsored the Fourth Crusade and the Albigensian Crusade, he approved the work of Saints Dominic and Francis, he convoked the fourth Lateran Council, and he built the papacy into a more powerful, prestigious institution than it had ever been before. Innocent 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.

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 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 direct interest in matters in France and England, and his influence in Germany and Italy alone was enough to bring the papacy into 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. 

Important Dates

Elected Pope: Jan. 8, 1187
Died: July 16, 1216

On the Web

Pope Innocent III on the Web

In Print

Pope Innocent III in Print

Related Resources

The Papacy
Index of sites regarding the Popes and the political entity of the Papal States, their impact on medieval culture, and the schisms they endured and overcame.

The Crusades
The religious wars, the people who fought them, and the ideologies that drove them.



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Who's Who in Medieval History is copyright © 2000-2013 Melissa Snell. All rights reserved.




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