Pope Innocent III

Pope Innocent IIIAlso known as

  • Lotario di Segni
  • Lotario de’ Conti


Italian nobility; his family were the counts of Segni, Italy. Related to Pope Gregory IX and Pope Alexander IV. Nephew of Pope Clement III. Received his basic education in Rome, Italy, theological education in Paris, France, legal training in Bologna, Italy. Created cardinal in 1190 by Pope Clement III.

Innocent brought the doctrine that since the spirit take pre-eminence over the body, and since the Church rules the spirit and earthly monarchs rule the body, earthly monarchs must be subject to the pope. Immediately upon election, he set out to make the pope an ecclesiastical ruler of the world with secular political power.

Innocent recognized the future Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II as king of Sicily after Frederick’s mother, Empress Constance, accepted papal authority over Sicily. On Constance’s death, Innocent took Frederick as his ward. He arbitrated the dispute between Philip of Swabia and Otto IV in Germany in favor of Otto in 1201, then in 1207 in favor of Philip, then after Philip’s murder he crowned Otto emperor in 1209. He excommunicated Otto in 1210, and ordered the election of Frederick as German king in 1212.

In England, Innocent set aside the two rival claimants and had Stephen Langton elected archbishop of Canterbury. King John, seeing a pattern of interference with his authority by pope and clergy, persecuted the Church. Innocent placed England under interdict, excommunicated John in 1209, and threatened to depose him. The people and barons supported the pope, and John submitted, receiving England and Ireland in fief from the pope, and promising annual tribute to the Vatican. The pope stood with John against the barons when they forced him to grant the Magna Carta; Innocent declared it null as exacted by force, and as a vassal’s promise made without his overlord’s approval.

Innocent was the virtual lord of Christian Spain, Scandinavia, Hungary, and the Latin East. Philip II of France resisted his political influence, but bowed to his authority over Philip’s desire for divorce. Innocent reclaimed the Patrimony of Saint Peter, the duchy of Spoleto, the Marches of Ancona, and the Ravenna district, and was recognized as overlord by Tuscany; northern Italian cities maintained their independence.

Innocent called the Fourth Crusade which never made it to the Holy Land, but instead attacked Christians on the island of Zara and in the Byzantine Empire. He excommunicated the crusaders, but used their conquest to spread the Latin rite over the empire of Constantinople. The effort failed, and the schism between East and West worsened.

Innocent initiated the Albigensian mission, dispatching Blessed Peter of Castelnau and Saint Dominic de Guzman to evangelize them, and the Albigensian Crusade following Blessed Peter‘s martyrdom. He supported the Teutonic Knights in the incursions along the Baltic. He called the Fourth Lateran Council on 15 November 1215. He approved and supported the orders and missions founded by Saint Dominic and Saint Francis of Assisi. Approved the Hospitallers of the Holy Ghost on 23 April 1198. Approved the Trinitarians on 17 December 1198. Approved the Humiliati in June 1201. Sent missionaries to Prussia. Built the hospital Santo Spirito in Sassia, which still stands. Constantly held papal court, with a good name for impartiality. Wrote extensively, and his De contemptu mundi (On the Contempt of This World) was widely read in the Middle Ages. His theory of papal monarchy had a profound effect on the development of the papacy.


Papal Ascension


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