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Innocent IV

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Innocent IV

Innocent IV
Pope Innocent IV sends Dominicans and Franciscans out to the Tartars
Papacy began 25 June 1243
Papacy ended 7 December 1254
Predecessor Celestine IV
Successor Alexander IV
Consecration 28 June 1243
Created Cardinal 18 September 1227
Personal details
Birth name Sinibaldo Fieschi
Born c. 1195
Genoa or Manarola, Republic of Genoa, Holy Roman Empire
Died 7 December 1254(1254-12-07)
Naples, Kingdom of Sicily
Previous post
Coat of arms
Other popes named Innocent
Papal styles of
Pope Innocent IV
Reference style His Holiness
Spoken style Your Holiness
Religious style Holy Father
Posthumous style None

Pope Innocent IV (Latin: Innocentius IV; c. 1195 – 7 December 1254), born Sinibaldo Fieschi, was the head of the Catholic Church from 25 June 1243 to his death in 1254.[1]

Early life

Born in Genoa (although some sources say Manarola) in an unknown year, Sinibaldo was the son of Brumisan di Grillo and Ugo Fieschi, Count of Lavagna. The Fieschi were a noble merchant family of Liguria. Sinibaldo received his education at the universities of Parma and Bologna and, for a time, taught canon law at Bologna. He was considered one of the best canonists of his time and was called to serve the Pope in the Roman Curia in the year 1226.


Before his elevation to the papacy, Sinibaldo was Vice-Chancellor of the Holy Roman Church (1226–27), being created Cardinal Priest of San Lorenzo in Lucina on 18 September 1227 by Pope Gregory IX, later serving as governor of the March of Ancona from 1235 until 1240.

It is widely repeated from the 17th century on that he became bishop of Albenga in 1235, but there is no foundation to this claim.[2]

Innocent's immediate predecessor was Pope Celestine IV, elected 25 October 1241, whose reign lasted a mere fifteen days. The events of Innocent IV's pontificate are therefore inextricably linked to the policies dominating the reigns of popes Innocent III, Honorius III and Gregory IX.

Gregory had been demanding the return of portions of the Papal States taken over by Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II when he died. The Pope had called a general council so he could depose the emperor with the support of Europe's spiritual leaders, but Frederick had seized two cardinals traveling to the council in hopes of intimidating the curia. The two prelates remained incarcerated and missed the conclave that immediately elected Celestine. The conclave that reconvened after his death fell into camps supporting contradictory policies about how to treat with the emperor.

New pope, same emperor

After a year and a half of contentious debate and coercion, a papal election finally reached a unanimous decision. Cardinal de' Fieschi very reluctantly accepted election as Pope, taking the name Innocent IV as of 25 June 1243. As Cardinal de' Fieschi, Sinibaldo had been on friendly terms with Frederick, even after his excommunication. The Emperor also greatly admired the cardinal's wisdom, having enjoyed discussions with him from time to time.

Following the election the witty Frederick remarked that he had lost the friendship of a cardinal but made up for it by gaining the enmity of a pope.

His jest notwithstanding, Frederick's letter to the new pontiff was couched in respectful terms, offering Innocent congratulations and success, also expressing hope for an amicable settlement of the differences between the empire and the papacy. Negotiations leading to this objective began shortly afterwards, but proved abortive. Innocent refused to back down from his demands, Frederick II refused to acquiesce, and the dispute continued, its major point of contention being the reinstatement of Lombardy to the Patrimony of St Peter.

The Emperor's machinations caused a good deal of anti-papal feeling to rise in Italy, particularly in the Papal States, and imperial agents encouraged plots against papal rule. Realizing how untenable his position in Rome was growing, Innocent IV secretly and hurriedly withdrew to Genoa, his birthplace, in the summer of 1244. Traveling in disguise, Innocent made his way to Sutri and Civitavecchia, thence to France, where he was joyously welcomed. Making his way to Lyon, Innocent was happily greeted by rulers of the city.

Finding himself now in secure surroundings, Innocent summoned as many bishops as could get to Lyon to attend what became the 13th General (Ecumenical) Council of the Church, the first in Lyon. The bishops met for three public sessions: 28 June, 5 July, and 17 July 1245. Their business was subjugate Frederick.

Compromise on the Talmud

Prior to Innocent IV's papacy, his predecessor Gregory IX had issued letters calling for the burning of all copies of the Talmud throughout European Christendom. Louis IX, King of France, on account of these letters held a trial in Paris in 1240, which ultimately found the Talmud guilty of 35 alleged charges. Twenty-four cartloads of the Talmud were burned.

After Innocent IV became pope, an argument was presented that this policy was a negation of the Church’s traditional stance of tolerance toward Judaism. The new Pope accepted this argument and in the year 1247, he wrote letters to the effect that the Talmud should be censored rather than burned. Innocent IV’s words were met with disapproval by many of the archbishops (Papal infallibility would not come until six centuries later). Nonetheless, Pope Innocent IV’s persistence persevered and the Talmud was saved.[4]

First Council of Lyon

The First Council of Lyon of 1245 had the fewest participants of any General Council before it. However three patriarchs and the Latin emperor of Constantinople attended, along with about 150 bishops, most of them prelates from France and Spain. They were able to come quickly, and Innocent could rely on their help. Bishops from the rest of Europe outside Spain and France feared retribution from Frederick, while many other bishops were prevented from attending either by the invasions of the Tartars in the Far East or Muslim incursions in the Middle East.

In session, Frederick II's position was defended by Taddeo of Suessa, who renewed in his master's name all the promises made before, but refused to give the guarantees the pope demanded. Unable to end the impasse Taddeo was horrified to hear the fathers of the Council solemmly depose and excommunicate the Emperor on 17 July, while absolving all his subjects from allegiance. The political agitation over these acts convulsed Europe. The turmoil relaxed only with Frederick's death in December 1250, which removed the proximate threat to Innocent's life and permitted his triumphant return to Italy. From 1251–53 the Pope stayed at Perugia until it was safe for him to bring the papal court back to Rome.

Ruler of princes and kings

As Innocent III had before him, Innocent IV saw himself as the Vice-regent of the Almighty, Whose power was above earthly kings. Innocent, therefore, had no objection to intervening in purely secular matters. He appointed Afonso III administrator of Portugal, and lent his protection to Ottokar, the son of the King of Bohemia. The Pope even sided with King Henry III against both nobles and bishops of England, despite the king's harassment of Edmund Rich and his policy of having church money collected in vacant benefices delivered to the royal coffers.

The warlike tendencies of the Tartars also concerned the Pope, and he sent a papal nuncio to the Mongol Empire in an attempt to strike an agreement. Innocent decreed that he, as Vicar of Christ, could make non-Christians accept his dominion and even exact punishment should they violate the non-God centered commands of the Ten Commandments. This policy was held more in theory than in practice and was eventually repudiated centuries later.

Vicar of Christ

The papal preoccupation with imperial matters and secular princes caused the spirituality of the Church to suffer. Taxation increased in the Papal States and the complaints of the inhabitants grew loud and hot.

In August 1253, after much worry about the order's insistence on absolute poverty, Innocent finally approved the rule of the 2nd Order of the Franciscans, the Poor Clares, founded by St. Clare of Assisi, the great friend of St Francis.

In 1246 Edmund Rich, former Archbishop of Canterbury (died 1240), was named a saint. In 1250 Innocent proclaimed the pious Queen Margaret of Edinburgh (died 1093), wife of King Malcolm III of Scotland, a saint of God. The Dominican priest Peter of Verona, martyred by Albigensian heretics in 1252, was raised to the altars, as was Stanislaus of Szczepanów, the great Polish Archbishop of Cracow, both in 1253.

Creation of the concept of persona ficta

Innocent IV is often credited as helping to create the idea of Legal personality, persona ficta as it was originally written, which has let to the idea of corporate personhood. This allowed monasteries and universities the ability to act as a single legal entity, allowing for their existence to be more continuous and for monks pledged to poverty to nonetheless be part of an organization that could own infrastructure, but as "fictional people" they could not be excommunicated or considered guilty of delict, that is, negligence to action that is not contractually required. This meant that punishment of individuals within an organization would reflect less on the organization itself as it would if the person running such an organization was said to own it rather than be a constituent of it, and was meant to provide stability. [5]

Diplomatic relations

Relations with the Portuguese

Innocent IV was responsible for the eventual deposition of King Sancho II of Portugal at the request of his brother Afonso (later King Afonso III of Portugal). One of the arguments he used against Sancho II in his Grandi non immerito text was his status as a minor upon inheriting the throne from his father Afonso II.[6]

Contacts with the Mongols

In 1245, Innocent IV issued bulls and sent an envoy in the person of Giovanni da Pian del Carpine (accompanied by Benedict the Pole) to the "Emperor of the Tartars". The message asked the Mongol ruler to become a Christian and stop his aggression against Europe. The Khan Güyük replied in 1246 in a letter written in Persian that still rests in the Vatican Library, demanding the submission of the Pope and the other rulers of Europe.[7]

In 1245 Innocent had sent another mission, through another route, led by Ascelin of Lombardia, also bearing letters. The mission met with the Mongol ruler Baichu near the Caspian Sea in 1247. The reply of Baichu was in accordance with that of Güyük, but it was accompanied by two Mongolian envoys to the Papal seat in Lyon, Aïbeg and Serkis. They met with Innocent IV in 1248, who again appealed to the Mongols to stop their killing of Christians.[7]

Innocent IV would also send other missions to the Mongols in 1245: the mission of André de Longjumeau, the possibly aborted mission of Laurent de Portugal, and the mission of Giovanni da Pian del Carpine, which left on 16 April 1245 and would reach the Mongol capital Karakorum.[8]

Later life and death

The remainder of Innocent's life was largely directed to schemes for compassing the overthrow of Manfred of Sicily, the natural son of Frederick II, whom the towns and the nobility had for the most part received as his father's successor. Innocent aimed to incorporate the whole Kingdom of Sicily into the Papal States, but he lacked the necessary economic and political power. Therefore, after a failed agreement with Charles of Anjou, he invested that kingdom to Edmund, the nine-year-old son of King Henry III of England, on 14 May 1254.

In the same year, Innocent excommunicated Frederick II's other son, Conrad IV, King of Germany, but the latter died a few days after the investiture of Edmund. Innocent therefore moved to Anagni to wait for Manfred's reaction to the event, especially as Conrad's heir, Conradin, had been entrusted to the Papal tutorage by the King's testament. Manfred submitted, although probably only to gain time and counter the menace from Edmund, and received the title of Papal vicar for southern Italy. Innocent could therefore live a period in which he was the effective sovereign of most of the peninsula, and on 27 October 1254 he celebrated the feat by entering the city of Naples.

However, Manfred had not lost his nerve and organized a resistance supported by his faithful Saracen troops, setting riots against the new authority. It was on a sick bed at Naples that Innocent IV heard of Manfred's victory at Foggia against the Papal forces: the tidings are said to have precipitated his death on 7 December 1254 in Naples.

Innocent's learning gave to the world an Apparatus in quinque libros decretalium. He is also remembered for issuing the papal bull Ad extirpanda, which authorized the use of torture by the Inquisition for eliciting confessions from heretics.

He was succeeded by Pope Alexander IV. Innocent was also the uncle of Adrian V.

In popular culture

Innocent was mentioned on the US comedy programme 30 Rock (episode "Season 4"). His picture had apparently been torn up on television in protest against his taxation policy.



  • Original text from the 9th edition (1880) of an unnamed encyclopedia.
  • Melloni, Alberto, Innocenzo IV: la concezione e l'esperienza della cristianità come regimen unius personae, Genoa: Marietti, 1990.
  • Paravicini Bagliani, Agostino, Cardinali di curia e "familiae" cardinalizie. Dal 1227 al 1254, Padua 1972
Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Celestine IV
Succeeded by
Alexander IV
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