Great Popes of the twelfth century

Here is not the place for a complete list of the Pontiffs under whom the Papacy attained its greatest power. We must, however, pause to mention those who were outstanding. Some of them reigned in the twelfth century.

Innocent II (1130-1143), supported by Bernard of Clairvaux, was dominant as against the Holy Roman Emperors of his reign and triumphed over two rivals who claimed the Papacy. He told the bishops that they held their sees of him as vassals held their fiefs of their sovereigns and that they could not retain them without his consent.

Eugene III, a pupil of Bernard of Clairvaux, was in office from 1145 to 1153. It was he who appointed Bernard to preach the Second Crusade. He demonstrated the authority of the Papacy over the Church by deposing the powerful Archbishops of York, Mainz, and Rheims for disobedience. He strengthened the prestige of the Pope in distant Scandinavia. He reformed abuses in France. Yet for a time he was driven from Rome by the republic which had as one of its officials that Arnold of Brescia who had denounced the temporal power of the Papacy.

Adrian IV (1154-1159), who, as we have seen, was the only Englishman to sit on the Papal throne, was able to expel Arnold from Rome and was stout in his maintenance of Papal authority against the mighty Frederick Barbarossa. Frederick I (Barbarossa), who was German King from 1152 to his drowning on a Crusade in 1190, had been crowned Emperor in 1155, emulated Charlemagne, and was one of the strongest of the Holy Roman Emperors. He sought to make good the claims of the Emperors as against the Popes and during much of his reign carried on the traditional struggle.

Alexander III, Pope from 1159 to 1181, was an expert in canon law, and further augmented the power of the Holy See over secular princes and the Church. This he did in spite of the fact that during almost all his reign he had to contend with a succession of rivals who were set up by the opposition and that he came into head on collision with the ambitious and able Frederick Barbarossa. The latter was defeated and in a memorable scene at Venice in 1177 knelt and kissed Alexander's feet. Alexander took advantage of the murder of Thomas Becket to obtain recognition from Henry II of England of some of the Church's claims. Appeals to Rome increased, together with the nomination by the Papal Curia of bishops and holders of benefices in many parts of Europe. At the third Lateran Council (counted as the eleventh ecumenical council by the Western Church), held in Rome in 1179, further measures were taken for reform.

It was Alexander III who commanded that in the future canonization should be only with the authority of the Roman Church. Earlier, individual bishops had formally recognized the cults which had arisen around particular individuals who because of their character, their virtues, and the miracles believed to have been performed through them had become those by whose intercession God was approached. Abuses had crept in, and Alexander decreed that henceforward none should be officially enrolled among the saints without Papal consent. Not all the bishops obeyed and it was the seventeenth century before a Papal bull finally succeeded in reserving canonization to the Holy See.

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