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Biography - Pope Gregory IX - The Papal Library

by Catherine Frakas 17 Mar 2021

Gregory IX

Ugolini Conti born 1147

Gregory assumed the name because he was created pope at the monastery of Saint Gregory ad Septem Solia. His former name was Hugh or Hugolin, and he was of the family of the Cencis, counts of Segni.

In 1198 his cousin, Innocent III, remarked him in the congregation of Saint Mary del Reno, and created him successively cardinal-deacon of Saint Eustace, Bishop of Ostia, and archpriest of the Vatican Basilica. Various Iegations were confided to him; he was sent to Naples, France, Tuscany, and Lombardy. Novaes bestows great praise upon the illustrious negotiator: purity of religious sentiment, prudence, sagacity, knowledge in every branch of literature, dexterity in business, and persuasive eloquence–all those lofty qualities were combined in him with noble manners and an elegant and majestic figure. He was appreciated all over Europe and beloved in Rome. He was deeply versed in the affairs of the Holy See, and though he was eighty-three, age had diminished none of the gifts of nature and study. He was elected pope, in spite of his strong resistance, on the 19th of March, 1227; blessed for consecration on the 21st; and, finally, crowned on the Easter Tuesday, April 3, 1227. He took possession at Saint John Lateran on the 30th of the same month. Saint Francis of Assisi, who had chosen him as the first cardinal protector of the Franciscan order, had foretold his elevation by often addressing letters to him with the superscription, "to the Most Reverend Father and Lord Hugo, future bishop of all the universe, and father of the nations." This pope greatly loved Saint Francis, and, as we shall see canonized him in 1228.

In the conclave which elected Gregory, the cardinals were divided in opinion. Being unable to agree, they agreed to a compromise, voting for the one chosen by three compromisers. Among the cardinals selected as compromisers was Cardinal d'Urach. Two of the compromisers instantly declared in his favor, but with uncommon generosity and with earnest remonstrance he proposed Cardinal Conti; and he pressed that choice so earnestly, proving, too, the justice of the selection by so many arguments, that the other two compromisers yielded, and Conti was elected. By this conduct and by other virtues, Cardinal d'Urach has merited the title of saint in the Cistercian calendar, and in the Gallican Martyrology of Saussay.

Fleury, on the authority of Rainaldi, gives the following account of the ceremonies then celebrated:

"On the day of his coronation, Gregory, proceeding to Saint Peter's, accompanied by many prelates, received the pallium according to the custom, and, after saying Mass, walked to the Lateran Palace, covered with gold and precious stones, and returned with the crown on his head. On Monday, having said Mass at Saint Peter's, he issued forth wearing two crowns, mounted on a richly caparisoned horse, surrounded by cardinals clad in purple and by a numerous clergy; the streets were hung with tapestry ornamented with gold and silver–the finest work of Egypt and the finest colors of India–and perfumed with various aromatics. The people sang the Kyrie eleison and hymns of joy, accompanied by the sound of trumpets. The judges and officers attended, resplendent with gold and silver and silken copes. Greeks and Jews, in their respective languages, sang the praises of the pope. An innumerable crowd, bearing palm branches and flowers, led the procession; the senator and the prefect of Rome walked beside the pope, holding his bridle. And thus he was conducted to the palace of the Lateran."

Gregory, after the possesso, ordered the Emperor Frederic to set out, according to his promise, for the Holy Land. Frederic bluntly refused to comply with the pontifical behest, and maintained that he would not fulfill his oath.

On the 29th of September, 1227, the pope, attired in his pontifical robes, pronounced, in the cathedral of Anagni, that the emperor was cut off from the Catholic communion. On Holy Thursday the emperor, in his anger, induced the Frangipani and other Roman nobles to conspire against the pope, whom they attacked while he was celebrating Mass at Saint Peter's on Easter Tuesday, thus renewing the sacrilege committed upon Gregory VII. Abandoned by a part of his guards, Gregory IX was compelled to retire hastily from Rome to Rieti, a city of his own States, whence he repaired to Spoleto, and finally to Assisi.

Before entering the last-named city, he halted at Saint Damian, where he visited Saint Clare, and advised her, in order to avoid various inconveniences, to have some property, and he offered her an abundant supply. She firmly declined the offer, saying that a holy poverty was preferable to all property, and that having that, she could find no more secure possession. The pope then said: "If it is your vow that restrains you, my daughter, I will absolve you from it." "Holy Father," she replied, "I desire absolution only from my sins."

Arrived at Assisi, the pope directly proceeded to the tomb of Saint Francis, where he prayed for a long time, and recommended to the saint the Church, so greatly disturbed. Then he consulted with the cardinals who accompanied him, as to the canonization; he ordered an exact inquiry into the miracles of the saint, both in the city and in the surrounding country. The witnesses were heard and their depositions reduced to writing, and the evidence was then examined by those cardinals who seemed least favorable to the canonization. Then, returning to Perugia, the pope examined, in full consistory, the validity of the proceedings; and the canonization being unanimously resolved upon, he returned with his court to Assisi, where the tidings of that ceremony had caused a great assemblage of prelates, nobles, and the people of the different provinces.

At length, on Sunday, the 16th of July, 1228, in the Church of Saint George, where the saint was buried, the pope, from a lofty throne, preached a sermon upon the text of these words of Ecciesiasticus: "He shone in the temple of God like the star of the morning, like the full moon, and like the sun." (Ecclesiasticus 1. 7). Then Octavius, cardinal-deacon of Sergius and Bacchus, and a relative of Innocent III, publicly read the account of the miracles; and Rainier Capoccio, also a cardinal-deacon, pronounced a discourse in corroboration. Then the pope rose, and, in a loud tone, said: "To the glory of God, of the Holy Virgin Mary, and the apostles Saint Peter and Saint Paul, and to the honor of the Roman Church, we, by the advice of our brethren, have resolved to place in the catalogue of the saints the Blessed Father Francis, whom God has glorified in heaven; and we decide that his festival shall be celebrated on the anniversary of his death."

Then the cardinals intoned the Te Deum, and the people responded with joyful acclamations. The bull of canonization was expedited three days after, and directed that the festival should be celebrated yearly on the 4th of October. Novaes says: "The body of the saint was for a Iong time exposed to public view; it was erect, had its eyes open, and the stigmata were seen surrounded by blood."

It remained thus during the following reigns; but, at the request of Saint James de la Marca, when at Assisi in 1476, had a wall built before the stairway which led to the subterranean church where the saint was, and thus deprived the people of the sight of the body of Saint Francis. It began to be thought that the body had ceased to exist, but, by the care of Pope Pius VII, it was found, and a detailed account published by his orders. The canonization of Saint Francis had a happy effect upon the Romans, who very tenderly venerated him, and they recalled Gregory, promising to remain faithful subjects. Moreover, they were indignant that Frederic, who had at last resolved upon going to Syria, had ordered Raynald, Duke of Spoleto, to commence hostilities against the Roman court. In fact, Raynald, with some imperial troops and even some Saracens, attacked the patrimony of Saint Peter. The foresight of the popes had constantly taken measures to prevent any important success of the Mussulmans in Italy; but that same sagacity could not anticipate that the Saracens would ever become the allies of an emperor who had sworn to defend and protect the Holy See. The pope sent against this impious army some soldiers hastily raised, and commanded by John de Brienne, the former King of Jerusalem and Frederic's son-in-law, though all good understanding had ceased between them. Great violence was committed on both sides.

Frederic, meanwhile, had arrived near Jerusalem, disembarking at Saint Jean d'Acre. Having with him only two galleys and a hundred knights, he found but little obedience in the country. At this juncture there arrived two friars minor, who presented to the Patriarch of Jerusalem despatches from the pope, announcing the perjury and excommunication of Frederic. The pope, at the same time, forbade the Hospitallers, Templars, and Teutonic Knights to obey any of the orders of Frederic.

The Christians now reasonably thought that such quarrels might be fitly postponed. Marching under the command of the Duke of Limburg, a German by birth, they fortified Caesarea, and thought that, after repairing the walls of Joppa, which they still held, they might march upon Jerusalem.

Frederic approved the design, and placing himself at their head, arrived at Joppa on the 15th of November, 1229. But the Sultan of Egypt, Melik-Camel, was encamped near Gaza a day's march from Joppa, and his nephew, the Sultan of Damascus, at Nablus, at the like distance.

A truce, which was to last ten years, was sworn to by both parties on the 28th of August, 1230. But Gerold, Patriarch of Jerusalem, the Hospitallers, and the Templars took no part in forming it, as they deemed it shameful and disadvantageous to Christendom, and worthy only of an excommunicated emperor. The patriarch even refused to all pilgrims whatsoever permission to enter Jerusalem and visit the Holy Sepulchre, alleging the unrevoked prohibition of Pope Gregory.

Frederic nevertheless entered Jerusalem on Saturday, the 17th of March, and on the following day, the third Sunday in Lent, he went in his imperial robes to visit the Holy Sepulchre, accompanied by the Teutonic Knights, his German nobles, and a few of the populace. As he could not find a bishop to give him the crown, he took it from the altar himself. Then the master of the Teutonic order delivered a long discourse, partly in German and partly in French. He eulogized the emperor, complained of the ecclesiastics, and invited the nobles to contribute towards the fortifications that were to be raised around the city. Frederic, as inconsistent in his plans as he had been in signing such a treaty, promptly returned to Acre, without paying the slightest attention to the fortifications for which he had asked the money. In the course of the few days that he had passed at Jerusalem, he wrote triumphant letters to thank God for the great success of his journey, and set forth in grandiloquent language that he had enabled Christians thenceforth to visit the Holy City at pleasure. Rainaldi gives us two of those letters: one to Pope Gregory, which is couched in general terms; the other to Henry, King of England, entering somewhat into details. The Patriarch of Jerusalem wrote, on the same subject, two letters in a very different style, one to the pope, the other to the faithful. In the letter to the pope he set forth the disadvantages to the Christians that resulted from the arrival of the emperor. The prelate complained of the secrecy which the prince had observed in the negotiations for the truce, in contempt of the opinions of the bishops and the nobles; and he reflected upon the precipitate departure of such a conqueror, which looked more like a flight.

Though Gregory was obliged to make war to preserve his States, he could not forget the disturbance caused in France by religious questions.

Raymond, Count of Toulouse, had made his peace with the Church and with the King of France; a treaty had been concluded, in the form of letters patent of Louis IX, setting forth, in substance, that Raymond had submitted, and that he came to ask, not justice but mercy from the Church and from the king, and promised thenceforth to be faithful to them. He was to expel all heretics from his territory and to make strict search after them.

Immediately after his absolution, Raymond was also to fulfill some other conditions: he was to take the cross from the hand of the legate, to cross the sea against the Saracens, and to remain in Palestine five years; and to place his daughter Jane in the king's custody, to become the bride of one of his brothers. By this arrangement the king left to Raymond all the diocese of Toulouse, excepting the property of the marshal.

In the year 1229 the pope confirmed an excommunication pronounced against Frederic, who had declared himself against Rome.

The pope, after quitting Rome, would not return, on account of the plots formed by the nobles, who were partisans of Frederic; but, the Tiber having suddenly overflowed its banks, the people rose in tumult and demanded his return. The emperor, impressed by the event, determined to sign a peace.

On this occasion Frederic agreed to the following terms: "The King of Sicily and of Germany will not, by himself or by others, prevent free course to elections, postulations, or confirmations in the churches and monasteries of the kingdom of Sicily and in Germany." An interview then took place at Anagni between the two sovereigns. When the pope appeared, the prince took off his cloak, threw himself at the pontiff's feet, and received the kiss of peace, and then they ate at the same table. On the following day Frederic returned to Germany.

In the month of June, 1231, Saint Anthony of Padua, of the order of Friars Minor, died in that city at the age of thirty-six. His great reputation, and the miracles which daily occurred at his tomb, hastened his canonization, which the pope pronounced at Spoleto on the 30th of March, 1232.

The Roman court never lost sight of occasions for drawing closer the ties of good understanding with the Greek patriarchs.

The pope sent some Franciscans on a mission to the infidels, with a letter addressed to the Sultan of Damascus, containing a long instruction upon the Christian religion, supported by many passages of the Old and New Testaments. It finished by an exhortation to the sultan to embrace Christianity, with a protestation that the pope had no view but the salvation of the sultan, and was quite free from temporal interests in the matter, and from any desire to diminish that sovereign's power.

The reputation of the Dominicans increased daily, especially in Italy. Brother John of Vicenza was the one of the most renowned of that order. He proposed the canonization of Dominic, and in 1234 the bull was given at Rieti, on the13th of July.

In the year 1233 Louis had asked in marriage Margaret, eldest daughter of Raymond Bérenger, Count of Provence, and as they were related in the fourth degree, he sent to solicit a dispensation from the pope, in consideration of the importance of that marriage in securing to Provence the peace and glory of the Catholic faith.

In 1234, King Louis having entered his twentieth year, his marriage was celebrated at Sens, about the end of March.

In the same year Gregory published the collection of Decretals which bears his name and has since been of the highest authority. There were already five collections of the decretal epistles of the popes, all made subsequent to the work of Gratian.

From all these collections Pope Gregory had his own compiled by Saint Raymond of Pennaforte, a Dominican, who was then subchaplain of his penitentiary. The decretals in that collection are divided into five books, each containing many titles in chronological order, which had not been attended to in the former collections. They commenced at Alexander III; it was at the commencement of that reign that the decretal of Gratian terminated, and the decretals are given only in extract, according to the matter of each title, but preserve the first words by which they were already known.

Pope Gregory addressed this collection to the doctors and scholars of Bologna, by a letter in which he said that he had published in one book the constitutions of his predecessors, previously dispersed through many volumes, and that he had done this to avoid the confusion arising from their resemblance and their apparent contradiction. Moreover, as some of them were to be found nowhere but in these volumes, their authority had been questioned. He added that he had omitted whatever was needless in the ancient constitutions, and added his own on some doubtful questions, and he ordered this collection alone to be used in the tribunals and schools, and that no other should be made without the authority of the Holy See. The pope wrote a similar letter to the doctors of Paris, dated from Spoleto on the 5th of September, 1234. His design was fulfilled, and his constitution so well received that it has since been referred to simply as "the" Decretals.

While the pope was at Spoleto, the Emperor Frederic II arrived, having been preceded by the Latin patriarchs of Constantinople, Antioch, and Jerusalem. It was agreed that preparations should be made for war, as the truce with the infidels terminated in four years.

Then the crusade for the year 1238 was published. The letter, especially addressed to Louis IX, bears the date of the 6th of November, 1234. The pope exhorts him to prepare to assist the Holy Land, either personally or by his troops. At the same time there was a renewal of the excommunication by the last Lateran Council against all who should furnish the infidels with arms or vessels.

The pope now demanded from all parts aid against the revolted Romans who had driven him from Rome. Romans, however, taking wiser counsel, made their peace with the pontiff in the month of March, 1235.

In Syria the citizens of Acre would not submit to the authority of the Archbishop of Ravenna, papal legate in Palestine, who was directed to defend the interests of Conrad, son of Frederic, and heir, through his mother, to the kingdom of Jerusalem. The Archbishop of Ravenna, therefore, laid the inhabitants of Acre under interdict. Gregory reflected that that city was inhabited by Christians of different rites, who, on account of that censure, might refuse obedience to the Holy See and give rise to heresy, ever ready to make its appearance. The pope, therefore, raised the interdict, after receiving from the inhabitants of Acre their promise to obey his orders; and he became their mediator with the emperor.

In Spain, after the battle of Navas de Tolosa, the arms of the Christians continued to prosper. In 1236 took Cordova.

Numbers of crusaders assembled in great excitement; they tormented the Jews and baptized them by force. Gregory addressed a letter to several prelates, in which he said that the crusaders ought to war against the infidels in the fear of God, purity of heart, and charity; and that, although our Lord excludes no one from baptism, he shows mercy to whom he will. No one ought to be compelled to receive that sacrament; for, as man fell by his free will, so he should rise again by his free will, being called thereto by grace. The pope wrote to Louis IX on the same subject, and the pious king replied that he had given orders that in his kingdom every one should obey the wise and prudent decision of His Holiness.

The pope received a letter from Philip, prior of the Dominicans in the Holy Land, in which he said that "the patriarch of the Jacobites, a man venerable for age, knowledge, and virtue, came this year (1237) to pray at Jerusalem, with a numerous attendance of bishops and monks of his nation. We have explained the Catholic faith to him, and with the grace of God we have so far convinced him that on Palm Sunday, at the solemn procession to the Mount of Olives at Jerusalem, he promised obedience to the Roman Church, abjuring all sorts of heresy, and he gave us his confession, written in Chaldee and in Arabic; and, on leaving, he even assumed our dress. He has in obedience to him the Chaldeans, the Medes, the Persians, and the Armenians, whose countries are already ravaged, for the most part, by the Tartars. His sway extends over seventy provinces, inhabited by an innumerable multitude of Christians, who, however, are subject and tributary to the Saracens, with the exception of the monks, who pay no tribute. Two archbishops have made the same submission: the one a Jacobite, of Egypt, the other a Nestorian, of the East, who are recognized as superior in Syria and Phoenicia; and we have already sent four brethren into Armenia to learn the language, thus complying with the earnest entreaties of the king and the nobles.

"We have received many letters from the patriarch of the Nestorians, whose authority extends into the great Indies, the kingdom of Prester John, and the neighboring eastern States; and he has promised Father William of Montferrat, who sometime resided with him, to join the Church. We have also sent some of our brethren into Egypt, to the patriarch of the Jacobites of that country, whose errors are greater than those of the Orientals, for they add circumcision, like the Saracens. That patriarch, also, has professed to us his willingness to return to the unity of the Church. He has already done away with several errors, and has forbidden circumcision within the limits of his authority, which extends into the little Indies, Ethiopia, and Libya, besides Egypt; but the Ethiopians and Libyans are not subject to the Saracens.

"As regards the Maronites of Mount Libanus, they long since returned to obedience to the Church, and still persevere in it. All those nations accept the doctrine of the Trinity and our preaching. The Greeks alone persevere in their malice; everywhere they either openly or covertly oppose the Roman Church. They blaspheme all the sacraments, and treat as evil and heretical every opinion which differs from their own.

"Seeing so wide a door opened for the admission of the Gospel, we have set ourselves to learning those languages, for which we have established a school in each of our convents, and already we have brothers who preach in various languages, principally the Arabic, which is the most common language of the country."

On the 23rd of March, in the year 1237, John de Brienne, Emperor of Constantinople, died of grief, while young Baldwin was in Flanders, occupied in the recovery of his lands and in borrowing money to sustain his tottering empire. Many of the best qualified French nobles had already taken the cross to aid him, which deprived the Holy Land of just so much aid. The Knights Hospitallers of Saint John of Jerusalem had unhappily been gained over by Vatatzes, John III (Ducas), Greek Emperor of Nice(1238), who had given them lands and revenues, on condition that they should follow him even against the Latins. Moreover, they were accused of indulging in deplorable excesses. These complaints having reached Pope Gregory, he wrote thus to the master of the order:

"We have learned with grief that you retain on your lands, on certain conditions, abandoned women; that you possess individual property; that you take the defence of all who embrace your fraternity and pay an annual fee; and that you receive among you thieves, murderers, pilgrims, and heretics. You are not ashamed to aid with horses and arms Vatatzes, that enemy of God and the Church. You diminish your ordinary alms, you alter the wills of those who die in your hospital, and you do not allow the patients to confess, without your permission, to any other priests but those who are of your order or in your pay. It is even said that many of your brothers are suspected of heresy."

In Spain, James, King of Aragon, besieged and took Valencia.

In 1240 the animosity of Frederic II against the pope was at its height. The emperor recriminated by enumerating the services that he had rendered to the Church; and on this occasion no one attempted to reconcile so mischievous a difference.

Cardinal James, Bishop of Palestrina, having arrived in France, published throughout that kingdom the bull of excommunication pronounced by Gregory against Frederic; the legate was at the same time directed to offer the empire to Count Robert, brother of the king. Louis refused the offer in most firm and prudent terms. The French ambassadors, who were sent to Frederic to ask if he held religious sentiments different from those of other Catholics, were told by him that the emperor had never departed from the faith of his fathers and of his predecessors. After this assurance had been given by Frederic himself, the ambassadors replied: "God forbid that we should attack any Christiann prince without legitimate cause! It is not ambition that moves us. We esteem the king our master, who came to the throne by the right of birth; we esteem him beyond any elective prince. As for Count Robert, it is sufficient for him to be brother of so great a prince."

The pontifical legates endeavored to excite some of the German princes against Frederic, but no consideration could alter the fidelity of the electors.

Gregory wished to assemble a council; Frederic opposed it and marched upon Rome. He approached Grotta-Ferrata, when he learned the death of the pope, who sank under so many troubles on the 20th of April, aged nearly a hundred years, after governing the Church fourteen years, five months, and a few days.

Novaes says of Gregory IX: "He was a man of sagacious intellect, endowed with most happy memory, skilled in the liberal arts, distinguished for his knowledge of jurisprudence and sacred literature. He was the flower of Ciceronian eloquence, the ever-ready friend of the poor, the zealous defender of the faith and of ecclesiastical liberty; a model of the most shining virtues.

He was interred at the Vatican.

This biographical data is from "The Lives and Times of the Popes" by The Chevalier Artaud De Montor. Published by The Catholic Publication Society of New York in ten volumes in 1911. The pictures, included in the volumes, were reproduced from " Effigies Pontificum Romanorum Dominici Basae."

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