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Biography - Pope Gregory X - The Papal Library

by Catherine Frakas 17 Mar 2021

Gregory X1271-1276 Theobald Visconti The interval which separates the reign of Clement IV from that of Gregory X was signalized by the death of Louis IX before Tunis. The king was attacked by plague. On Monday, August 25, 1270, the sun had scarcely glinted on the sea when the lilied flags slowly descended. At this announcement the whole camp shuddered. Knights, men at arms, the sick, the wounded, all rushed from their tents in terror; one side of the royal tent was raised, and Louis, supported by attendants made his appearance, clad in haircloth to his feet; his already livid hands bearing a crucifix, and his eyes fixed upon a bed of ashes spread upon the parched earth. The last breath of the head of the army was to be drawn upon that humble couch; it was his last command, and he had scarcely strength enough left to lie down upon it and to motion for the crucifix to be again placed before him. Horrible convulsions seemed to rack his frame, and yet no complaint, no regret, no murmur escaped his lips. All that his dying voice was heard to utter was: Noble Sire, God, have mercy upon this people that has followed me to this shore! Oh, conduct it to its own land, lest it be forced to deny thy holy name. The very last words of the king Jerusalem! We will go to Jerusalem! The legate who should have attended the king had himself perished of plague; but the love of the cross was so deep in the heart of the monarch and of the French that Rome, not withstanding her widowhood, had not to deplore any misfortune to the faith. The throne of Peter was vacant, but, with the aid of Louis IX, religion had no tears to shed. Yet it were not good that the great moderator should often be wanting to his children. Had Gregory X been sooner elected, the expedition against Tunis would probably have been abandoned, and Louis, upon the road to Syria and in the port of Antipatris, would have preserved his strength to lead the Christians a second time. Blessed Gregory X, originally called Theobald Visconti, was of the family of that name at Piacenza, supposed to derive its origin from the Flavia family, to which Constantine the Great belonged. Other authors maintain that the Visconti sprang from Desiderius, king of the Lombards. Theobald, son of Hubert, a brother of Otho Visconti, Archbishop of Milan and lord of that city, was at of Lyons, archdeacon of Liege, and then became legate in Syria. While there he was elected pontiff at Viterbo, on the 1st of September, 1271. The fifteen cardinals who composed the Sacred College could not agree upon a candidate. One of them proposed to authorize six cardinals to name the pope, all promising to recognize the one thus named by compromise. It was necessary to have recourse to such an expedient, for the conclave had lasted three years. Gatti, captain of the city, had already had the roof uncovered so that the inclemency of the weather might dispose the cardinals to make a final choice. In proceeding by compromise, the six cardinals put an end to the longest vacancy of the Holy See that had taken place since the persecutions. At first they thought of Saint Philip Benizi, of the order of Servites, who was then famous for his miracles; but learning the design from Cardinals Ottobuono Fieschi and Ubaldino, who had proposed him, Saint Philip went and hid himself on the top of Mount Tuniato until another was elected. The six cardinals having agreed upon electing Theobald Visconti on the 1st of September, 1271, a courier was despatched to Saint Jean d'Acre, where he was with Prince Edward, eldest son of the King of England, waiting for a favorable moment to go to Jerusalem. Theobald, having received the news on the 27th of October, took the road for Italy, and disembarked at Brindisi on the 1st of January, 1272. Accompanied by Charles, King of the Two Sicilies, he went to Benevento, and thence, by way of Capua, to Viterbo, where he found the cardinals. Thence he proceeded to and was crowned at the Vatican by Cardinal John Orsini on the 27th of March, 1272. On the day of the coronation he took possession at Saint John Lateran, preceded by a magnificent cavalcade; the King of the Two Sicilies held the pontiff's stirrup, and, at the solemn banquet which followed, presented him with water to wash his hands, and served him with the first dish. In 1273 the German electors, excepting the King of Bohemia, elected as king of the Romans Rudolph, Count of Hapsburg, the head of the house of Austria. The Holy Father approved the election, and induced Alphonso X, King of Castile, to renounce his claims upon the imperial diadem, to which he believed himself entitled, which that prince generously and promptly did, to show himself obedient to the Holy Father. The same year Visconti, who had taken the name of Gregory X, wrote to Philip the Bold, King of France, to thank him for restoring to the Holy See the Venaissin, situated between Provence and Dauphiny, which was left to the Roman Church by Raymond, Count of Toulouse, who died in 1249, and which the kings of France had since held. It was a pious, able, and generous thought that led the cardinals to elect a pope whose duties had led him to the Holy Land and who knew the distress of that unfortunate country. The recovery of the Holy Land almost exclusive engaged the thoughts of Gregory. On the 1st of the preceding April he published a decree convoking at Lyons the fourteenth general council, and the second of Lyons, which was celebrated in that city in 1274. The pope was there even in 1273. On his way he crossed Tuscany, and paused at Florence to endeavor to restore peace between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines of that city. History cannot ignore the conduct of Gregory X at Florence. At first he was accompanied by Baldwin II, son of Henry, brother of Baldwin I, and afterwards by Charles of Anjou, King of Naples and brother of Saint Louis. The pope, delighted with the coolness of the water and the purity of the air, proposed to his august companions to pass the summer in that beautiful city. The Guelphs at had exiled the Ghibellines and treated them with undue rigor. On the 2nd of July the pope assembled the people of Florence and vicinity on the banks of the Arno, foot of the Rubaconte bridge. A platform having been erected to afford seats for the two princes, the pope from his throne forbade, on pain of interdict, any distinction to be made in future between Guelph and Ghibelline, and commanded the syndics of the Guelphs to embrace in his presence the syndics of the Ghibellines (the pope was head and protector of the Guelph faction). Gregory in his address to the people said: He is a Ghibelline—yes; but he is a Christian, he is a citizen, and he is your neighbor. Is so much that we have done to bring about a union to be ineffectual? Is the very name of Ghibelline, empty as it is, to be more powerful for hatred than so many clear and substantial reasons for charity? You declare that you have embraced this party spirit in favor of the popes and against their enemies? We, Roman pontiffs, we have received these men to our heart, although they formerly offended us—these men, your fellow-citizens, who have returned to us; we have pardoned their insults, and now regard them as our children. Will you disobey your pontiff, and in his presence? From Florence, which no doubt he secretly blessed, Gregory went to Piacenza, his native city, and arrived there on 3rd of October. He took with him Otho Visconti, made Archbishop of Milan by Pope Urban IV, who had not been able yet to take possession of his see, because the Turriani, a revolted family, desired an archbishop of their own name. Having entered Milan, Gregory could not induce the people accept Otho Visconti, though regularly appointed and the bearer of bulls recently confirmed, and he was obliged to leave Milan in the same grief that had afflicted Florence. The direction of the General Council of Lyons was intrusted to Saint Bonaventure. This fact is attested by the bull of canonization of that saint, issued by Sixtus IV. In that assemblage there were fifteen cardinals, two Latin patriarchs, seventy archbishops, five hundred bishops, and more than a thousand prelates and abbots. Never had there a more numerous council. The Greeks confessed that Holy Ghost proceeded from both Father and Son, and, for the fourteenth time, were reconciled to the Latin Church. It was first decreed that considerable succor should be sent to the Holy Land. It must have been an imposing scene when the pontiff said: We have seen the sufferings of those pilgrims; one by one we have followed all their misfortunes. Their courage never tires, no piety can be more submissive than theirs; they are true children of Jesus Christ, like the companions of Godfrey, but they have not wherewith to support life. Those who had money when they went hence, have been robbed of that money, and even of their clothes. Can our brethren in the desert ask alms of the wild beasts? These give only death. The Turk and the Jew some hearken to a cry of distress; but on that long pilgrimage there are so many cries! It is to the Holy Land that aid must go; there must be no ambition for kingdoms and provinces of Asia; Jerusalem and the Holy Sepulchre must be delivered. The Flagellants, wherever they were not suppressed, asserted that baptism by water was useless; that flagellation alone was effectual, which they called baptism by blood; that all religion consisted in flagellation. Baronius, according to Novaes, reproached Saint Peter Damian with having been, if not the founder, at least the propagator of this sect, so censured by the Church, and so wrong in deducing from a simple ordinary penance the consequences of the Flagellants. This council passed thirty-one canons on ecclesiastical discipline. All except the nineteenth concern the sixth book of the Decretals. It was this council that enjoined every Catholic to bow the head as often as he hears the holy name of Jesus. The Holy Father, remembering the length of the conclave in which he at last had been elected, passed laws to prevent like delays in future. These laws were frequently suspended and then restored whenever there was too long a conclave. During this council the great Saint Thomas Aquinas died in the monastery of Fossa Nuova, whence he was about to repair to Lyons. The council having terminated its sessions, the pontiff set out on the 6th of March, 1275, for Italy. He met Rudolph of Hapsburg, king of the Romans, at Lausanne on the 10th of October, and that prince swore to guarantee to His Holiness the exarchate of Ravenna and other Italian lands belonging to the Roman Church. Gregory had governed four years, four months, and ten months, reckoning from his election, when he died at Arezzo, aged sixty-six years, on the 10th of January, 1276 (a fatal year, in which four pontiffs died), and he was interred in the cathedral of that city. Monsignor Benedict Falconcini de Volterra, Bishop of Arezzo in 1704, solicited and obtained, under Pope Clement in 1713, at his own expense, the beatification of this illustrious pontiff. Gregory had but little learning, but he was endowed with rare prudence. He always was the courageous defender of the faith and of the divine worship, inclined to peace and a conciliatory spirit, and an enemy to all partiality. Platina gives the following judgment upon Gregory: He was a man illustrious in life for prudence in affairs; for the strength of soul with which he disdained money and all low considerations; for his humanity, clemency, benevolence to poor Christians, and especially those who took refuge in the bosom of the Apostolic See. With reference to Saint Thomas Aquinas, Fleury says: the life of this saint, who died at forty-nine years of age, seems short in comparison to his writings. The five first volumes are commentaries on most of the writings of Aristotle; then come the commentaries on Peter Lombard, the master of sentences; then a volume of theological questions, Summa against the Gentiles, the Summa Theologiae, many commentaries on the Holy Scripture, and, finally, short treatises to the number of seventy-three, some of which are doubted. In general, the best critics believe that many works are attributed to Saint Thomas which are only notes of his public lectures, called reportata in those days, and that a similarity of name has confounded with him Thomas the Englishman, or Jorzi, a friar of the same order who lived in the same century and at the beginning next. 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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