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Pope Innocent IV, born Sinibaldo Fieschi, was pope from June 28, 1243, to December 7, 1254.

Early life

Born in Genoamarker (although some sources say Manarolamarker) in an unknown year the boy, Sinibaldo was the son of Ugo Fieschi, Count of Lavagnamarker, and his wife Brumisan di Grillo. The Fieschi were a noble family of Liguria. Sinibaldo received his education at the universities of Parmamarker and Bolognamarker 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.

Bishop and Cardinal

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

It is widely repeated from the 17th century on that he became bishop of Albengamarker in 1235, but this information is without foundation.

Coat of Arms of Pope Innocent IV.
His immediate predecessor was Pope Celestine IV, elected October 25, 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 (1198-1216), Honorius III (1216-1227). and Gregory IX (1227-1241).

Gregory had been demanding the return of portions of the Papal States taken over by the 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 other council fathers. The two prelates remained incarcerated, missing the conclave which had immediately elected Celestine. The conclave reconvening 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, arm twisting, and hand wringing, the conclave reached a unanimous decision. Cardinal de' Fieschi very reluctantly accepted election, taking the name Innocent IV (June 25, 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 always 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 but hurriedly withdrew to Genoamarker, his birthplace, in the summer of 1244. Traveling in disguise Innocent made his way to Sutrimarker and Civitavecchiamarker, thence to France where the Pontiff was joyously welcomed. Making his way to Lyonsmarker Innocent was happily greeted by rulers of the city.

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

Council of Lyons

This gathering had the fewest participants of any General Council before it. However three patriarchs and the Latin emperor of Constantinople attended, along with 150 or so 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 and 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 so many times before, but refused to give the guarantees the pope demanded. Unable to end the impassse Taddeo was horrified to hear the fathers of the Council solemmly depose and excommunicate the Emperor on July 17, while absolving all his subjects from allegiance to the Hohenstauffen. The political agitation over these acts convulsed Europe. The turmoil relaxed only with Frederick's death in December 1250, removing the proximate threat to Innocent's life and thus permitting his triumphant return to Italy. From 1251-1253 the Pope stayed at Perugiamarker until it was safe for him to finally bring the papal court back to Romemarker.

Ruler of princes and kings

As had Innocent III before him, Innocent IV saw himself as the Vice-regent of the Almighty, Whose power was above earthly kings. Innocent, therefore, saw no problem intervening in purely secular matters. He appointed Alfonso III administrator of Portugal, and lent his protection to Ottocar, the son of the King of Austria. The Pope even sided with King Henry III against both nobles and bishops of England, despite the king's harassment of St 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 send 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. Papal taxation increased in the Papal States and the complaints of the inhabitants grew loud and hot.

This is not to say that the Pope, himself, the Vicar of Christ on earth, neglected the Faith. He celebrated Mass daily and devoutly. 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 Francs.

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 the Scottish king, Malcolm III, a saint of God. Dominican priest, Peter of Verona, martyred by Albigensian heretics in 1252 was raised to the altars, as was Stanislau, the great Polish Archbishop of Cracow, both in 1253.

Diplomatic relations

Relations with the Portuguese

Innocent IV was responsible for the eventual deposition of Sancho II, at the request of his brother Afonso (later Afonso III, fifth King 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. (H. Fernandes, 2006, p. 82)

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 a letter written in Persian that still rests in the Vatican Librarymarker, demanding the submission of the Pope and the other rulers of Europe.

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 Seamarker 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 Lyonmarker, Aïbeg and Serkis. They met with Innocent IV in 1248, who again appealed to the Mongols to stop their killing of Christians.

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 mission of Giovanni da Pian del Carpine, which left on April 16, 1245 and would reach the Mongol capital Karakorummarker.

Later life and death

The remainder of his life was largely directed to schemes for compassing the overthrow of Manfred, 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 Statesmarker, but he lacked the necessary economical and political power. Therefore, after a failed agreement with Charles of Anjou, he invested that kingdom to Edmund, the nine year old son of Henry III of England (May 14, 1254).

In the same year he 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 Anagnimarker 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 October 27, 1254 he celebrated the feat by entering the city of Naplesmarker.

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

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

He was succeeded by Pope Alexander IV (1254-61). Innocent was also the uncle of Adrian V (1276).



  • 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, Genova : Marietti, 1990.
  • Paravicini Bagliani, Agostino, Cardinali di curia e "familiae" cardinalizie. Dal 1227 al 1254, Padova 1972

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