Papal Politics: How about a 12th-Century Scandal?
Originally Posted on Tuesday, August 07, 2012 9:31 AM
Today, let's get back to Arnulf of Lisieux, who began to shape his own reputation during a papal schism. After the death of Pope Honorius in 1130, a disputed election and a split in the College of Cardinals led to the consecration of two popes. One of them was a Roman and a Benedictine monk by the name of Pietro Pierleone. Thirty cardinals supported his election. He took the name Anacletus II and soon won the support of southern Germany, the people of Rome and almost all of Italy, and a few Frenchmen, including Gerard of Angouleme.
The second pope was a reluctant cardinal, Gregory Papareschi. A faction of only eight cardinals elected him and seated him on the papal throne, but they had the advantage of being seen as the "older and wiser" members of the College. Gregory became known as Innocent Ii, but he was soon driven out of Rome to take refuge in France, where he had the support of such young reformers as Peter the Venerable and Bernard of Clairvaux, along with almost all of northern Europe.
Now enter Arnulf. He was still a minor clergyman, just learning his trade, but he was highly skilled in the use of words as weapons. My book reveals that St. Bernard hired him to write a particularly nasty article addressed to Gerard of Angouleme. In it, Arnulf demanded to know how Gerard could possibly support a man as evil as Anacletus II. The accusations go on and on: he led a debauched youth, full of sinful indiscretions -- he raped his own sister and fathered her children, so that his nephews were really his sons. He also kept a mistress in the Vatican, hiding her by having her dress like a man. Were those charges true? Probably. The transvestite mistress is pretty well documented, and the sons/nephews were ever favored by their doting father/uncle.
Then came the nastiest charge of all, one that Arnulf formed as a denial, saying that he refused to mention the fact that . . . (wait for it! ) . . . Anacletus was really a Jew and the son of a Jew. How could such a man now lead the church? Arnulf thus played right into the hands of a rising wave of dangerous anti-Semitism that was sweeping through Europe.
Was the charge true? It may have been true that one of Pietro Perleoni's eight great-grandparents was a converted Jew. But Pietro was a Benedictine monk, and there was no evidence that he had ever practiced Judaism. It was simply character assassination in one of its ugliest forms.
In the end, Pope Innocent II won. Anacletus II died in 1138, and St. Bernard argued so emotionally about the saintly character of Innocent that the schism failed to elect another anti-pope, As for Arnulf, he had achieved one important goal -- he wanted fame. Almost all of Europe now recognized his name as the author of that vicious piece of invective. But he was also labelled as a man you did not want as your enemy. People knew that he would not hesitate to lie, exaggerate, and attack from behind. He would do and say whatever it took to achieve his purposes.
But now he faced another hurdle. Could he prove himself to be worthy of a bishopric?