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"Roundheads and Ramblings"

Papacy

Politics--The Never-Changing Struggle

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?

Papal Elections of the Past

As we wait for the announcement of the new pope's identity, I can't help but remember the stories of medieval popes. Have you wondered what really goes on in the Sistine Chapel once those doors are locked? Have you ever mentally compared the election of the pope and the election of a US president?  Is it possible that the cardinals have as many differences as other politicians?

I can't answer any of those questions, but let me describe for you one 12th-century papal election that always entertained my students.  I won't name the popes, but in this particular election there were two leading candidates, each with a faction of passionate supporters.  When the election finally settled on one of the two and white smoke rose from that very same chimney, it was a moment, like this one, when those outside held their collective breath.  But inside the chamber, chaos reigned.

There are several steps a newly-elected pope must take.  He must humbly refuse the honor, declaring that he is "unworthy." The electors must then reassure him that he is indeed the chosen one and that God will give him the strength he needs to fulfill the office.  Once he accepts, he is formally dressed in the papal robes, and then he goes out onto that very same balcony to receive the acclamation of he crowds outside.  Then he mounts his papal throne, and the deed is done.

In this instance, the elected pope declared,  "I will not.  I cannot.  I am unworthy." And at that moment the number two candidate stepped forward, declaring, "He is unwilling, but I am not. I accept." Suddenly the two candidates both laid hands on the papal robe and engaged in a most undignified tug of war until the robe itself ripped in two.  When #1 tried desperately to pull the pieces together around himself, #2 rushed to a spot where he had hidden another new papal gown.  In his haste to be the first one dressed, he pulled the robe on backwards, so that the hood hung down in front.  Then grasping behind his back to find a hood, he pulled the back of the gown over his head and rushed out onto the balcony -- with his undergarments displayed behind him.

The result of this ridiculous display was a papal schism.  Candidate #2 claimed the Vatican and assembled his cronies around him.  #2 fled for his life, accompanied by his supporters, and established a second papacy at Avignon. The election resulted in a church in chaos, and the split lasted for years beyond the lives of the two original combatants.  (You can read more of the story in my "The Dilemma of Arnulf of Lisieux" by the way.)

Now, do you still wonder what's going on in that locked room?