Pope Innocent III: "A Pope... is not allowed to Resign"?: Does Innocent III teach "that the papacy is a “sacrament,” a spiritual marriage: “until death do us part.” A pope (husband) is not allowed to resign (“seek a release”), he “does not leave her,” his bride, the Church: “It is the Lord who judges”?
The following is from a friend:
And this brings us to the most important teachings of the man many consider the most important pope of the High Middle Ages, Innocent III. In a sermon on the anniversary of his election to the papacy, Innocent taught:
The sacrament between the Roman pontiff and the Roman church perseveres so firm and unshakable that they cannot be separated from one another ever, except by death. The Apostle says that after her husband dies, a wife “is released from the rule of her husband.” A husband joined to his wife, does not seek a release, does not leave her, and cannot be dismissed, for “it is according to his Lord that he either stands or falls—and it is the Lord who judges.’ (emphasis mine)
It could not be clearer. Innocent teaches that the papacy is a “sacrament,” a spiritual marriage: “until death do us part.” A pope (husband) is not allowed to resign (“seek a release”), he “does not leave her,” his bride, the Church: “It is the Lord who judges.”
My discovery of this teaching was somewhat “distressing” to this author since a century later Pope Boniface VIII completely contradicted Innocent III, asserting that popes may resign. Though in his case the conclusion was self-serving, for as we shall see, he himself would otherwise be an antipope.
The question, of course, is who should we believe? The recent remarks of Bishop Athanasius Schneider take on increased significance:
Traditional and constant doctrinal statements of the Magisterium during a centuries-old period have precedence and constitute a criterion of verification regarding the exactness of posterior magisterial statements. New statements of the Magisterium must, in principle, be more exact and clearer, but should never be ambiguous and apparently contrast with previous magisterial statements. (emphasis mine)
 Corinne J. Vause and Frank C. Gardiner, eds., Between God and Man; “…the great number of sermons he did indeed write and deliver during his intensely active and often contentious career, is testimony to the value he placed on his vocation as a preacher. Before Innocent’s time only Leo I and Gregory I, also men deeply engaged in administrative and secular affairs, had left such extensive homiletic legacies.” p. xiii.
 Pope Innocent III, Sermo Three
 Bishop Athanasius Schneider, “Guest Op-Ed - Bishop Schneider: The interpretation of Vatican II and its connection with the current crisis of the Church,” July 21, 2017; https://rorate-caeli.blogspot.com/2017/07/guest-op-ed-bishop-schneider.htmlhttps://isidore.co/CalibreLibrary/Innocent%20III,%20Pope,%201160-1216/Between%20God%20and%20Man_%20Six%20Sermons%20on%20the%20Priestly%20Office%20(7288)/Between%20God%20and%20Man_%20Six%20Sermons%20on%20the%20Pr%20-%20Innocent%20III,%20Pope,%201160-1216.pdf
ON THE FIRST ANNIVERSARY Behind the altar, in the apse of the old Basilica of St. Peter was a mosaic portraying Innocent III as the bridegroom of the Roman church. This stylized picture placed that marriage at the center of salvation history. In the forefront of the picture is Christ, the Lamb of God as described in Revelation :. On one side of Christ, Innocent III, barefoot and wearing a crown, stands facing his bride, the church, who is portrayed as a beautiful woman. At the edges of the picture are the two cities, Bethlehem and Jerusalem, scenes of Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection. Above these the figures of St. Peter and St. Paul preside, while the four rivers of Paradise pour down around the Lamb. Over all is the hand of God the Father, while in a corner Adam and Eve symbolize death coming into the world.1This representation illustrates the message of Innocent’s sermon for the first anniversary of his coronation. From the very early days of his pontificate Innocent III had faced a thorny administrative and constitutional problem: the controversy surrounding the transferral of bishops from one diocese to another. Serious at any time, this issue could not but be exacerbated in the climate of reform being produced by the policies of Innocent’s pontificate. Almost contemporaneously with this sermon Innocent issued on January , , the decretal Inter corporalia, which dealt with this issue. There he addressed the problem by discussing in terms of “spiritual marriage” the indissoluble bonds he believed to exist between bishops and their dioceses.2 The decretal is a well reasoned legal argument, concisely laying out in chancery style the premises upon which the Pope, as the judge of major cases, is making a ruling in a specific situation. When he transposes that argument to the sermon genre, Innocent invests the marriage figure with a new energy, calling upon each bishop and electus to understand his union with a diocese not only as a canonical procedure, but also as a bond built upon the more radical structure of loyalty, watchfulness, loving support, and indissolubility, that is, on the structure of the ideal marital bond. It follows for Innocent that any violation of that indissoluble bond was as serious and to be as rarely permitted as any violation of the bonds of matrimony. If bishops are indissolubly united with their sees as husbands are with their wives, then just as the marriage bonds can be dissolved only by God, so the bishops’ bonds with their sees can, in Innocent’s view, be dissolved only by God’s Vicar, the Pope. Pennington has pointed out that “juristically Innocent involved himself in a morass of contradictions” by this explanation, yet he and Imkamp have nonetheless shown that it is central to Innocent’s ecclesiology.3 As Innocent prepares his argument within the sermon, he refers to his treatise on marriage, De quadripartita specie nuptiarum. 4There he had described four kinds of nuptials: between husband and wife, between Christ and the church, between the individual soul and God, and between God and mankind in the Incarnation. De quad. follows each marriage from the initial betrothal of human spouses through to the wedding banquet, where is sung the “Wedding Song in Praise of the Sponsus and Sponsa,” Psalm , which Innocent explicates as especially praising the nuptials of the church of Christ. It is a fifth kind of “marriage,” that of a church with its bishop, including, of course, that of the Church of Rome and its bishop, the Pope, that is the central topic of this sermon. The figure of a spiritual marriage between a church and its bishop had already held a certain validity for almost a thousand years. As early as the time of St. Cyprian (d. ) there existed a tradition that churches allegorically “married” their bishops, so that once consecrated for a see, a bishop was to remain there for the rest of his life.5 One benefit of this custom was that bishops could not be expelled from their sees or transferred without their consent. Practicality would sometimes override this ideal, of course, and bishops did in fact transfer, but such a practice was problematic. As Innocent uses the term, “marriage” is a metaphor of relationships, focusing first on the bride who is choosing her groom, and then on the groom, the one who says “yes” to her choice. This mutuality produces the “election” of the bishop. Specifically, a church chose its bishop; the electus consented to the choice; and the agreement was confirmed by the archbishop or other competent authority. As in marriage, at each stage of this canonical process the partners acquired rights and duties. Therefore, both practically and canonically, perhaps even theologically, a bishop was not free to move at will from one elected position to another, lest the structural integrity of the church be in doubt as to who was bishop or bishop-elect. Moreover, the “marriage” produced comparable “goods,” or benefits resulting from the intimacies of the relationship: fidelity (monogamy), progeny, sacrament (indissolubility).6The Bishop of Rome is, of course, unique in that there is no higher authority to confirm the election of the Pope; thus the papal accepto, “I accept,” spoken in acknowledgment of the electors’ choice, made that election binding.7 “Through his election, therefore, the Roman pontiff-elect instantly acquires full jurisdictional powers and the exercise of those powers, both potestas (authority) and executio (administration).”8 Innocent cites the Election Decree of confirming that the Pope was to administer the church even before his consecration and coronation, especially if conditions in Rome were unsettled, as they often were.9 He makes it clear that the mutual agreement between the cardinalelectors and himself on his election day was indeed the moment of his marriage to the church. What this establishes is the authority any pope must have, from the moment of his election, over the translation (transferral) of bishops. The rhetorical form Innocent chose for the presentation of his case is an unusual and ingeniously contrived quasi-legal argument. In it he advances, bit-by-bit, the evidence that proves the identity of the church’s bridegroom, rather like an attorney providing material to establish the identity of the participant in a legal action. Innocent neither explains the pericope verse-by-verse nor divides it into topics for analysis. Instead he repeatedly delivers the assertion, “He who has the bride is the bridegroom.” Each repetition brings with it a requisite of the bridegroom that obviously applies to Innocent. First, the groom (Christ) has made Peter/ Innocent “head” of his church. This is an office held by the husband over his wife. Next, promising to be doctrinally chaste, thus “faithful,” to fulfill his office “indissolubly,” and to be spiritually “fruitful,” he shares the “goods” of marriage with the bride. Moreover, the bride/ church has pledged reverence for him, and he has promised to care for her. This is the contract by which a man accepts the bride who has chosen him, thus coming into possession of her, and thereby becoming her groom. Finally, the bride has given Innocent a dowry, the concrete sign of her espousals. At each step the conclusion is obvious and inevitable, “He who has the bride is the bridegroom,” no one other than Innocent himself. The case appears to him to be airtight. Yet, beneath the legal maneuvering of the argument, there can also be felt the true empathy so many medieval religious writers had for human love and desire, especially as it unfolds in exegesis.10 Given Innocent’s stunning comprehension of Scriptural resonance, it is not difficult to hear him evoking the affectionate ardor of human spouses, a true love which Innocent believed should bind the bishop to his see, the Pope to the church. It is not for himself alone that Innocent makes this case, but for his successors. In the sermon he makes much of the fact that, as Pope, he had been chosen from among the bridegroom’s friends, that is, from among his brothers in the clergy of Rome. Moreover the detailed section on establishing who are the “kin” to be included or excluded from contracting marriage is a reassuring guarantee that the rights of the clerical “family” will be honored. The example he offers is his own status among the clergy he is addressing. He was chosen from among the cardinals of Rome, the “friends of the bridegroom.” Any one of them might have been in his place, and any one of them may yet succeed him. The “voice” of the Christ the Bridegroom has called him to “go up higher,” but the commission he “rejoices” to hear is that of strengthening his brethren, even while he relies upon their brotherly comradeship for his own moral support. Innocent’s argument for the Pope’s rights is well-crafted and rhetorically elegant. However, despite his effort, the questions surrounding the issue of the translation of bishops were not to be finally resolved until the time of Urban V ().11 For Innocent him- self, however, the case was closed. He and the popes who followed him were to be joined to the church by marriage bonds that were indissoluble. The memorial of the nuptial was the mosaic in Peter’s own basilica where the inscription beneath the picture proclaimed: This is the supreme See of Peter, the beautiful and splendid Mother of all the churches, which is the sacred temple of the High Priest. May the one designated by Christ, whom he serves in this very temple, receive the flowers of virtues and the fruits of salvation.12 O N T H E F I R S T A N N I V E R S A RY He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices with joy because of the bridegroom’s voice. 13 It is the groomsman who says these words about the bridegroom; the voice speaks of the Word; the lamp, of the Sun; John, of Christ.14 For the bridegroom is Christ, and the bride he has is the church.15 David said of him, “He pitched his tent in the sun, [and like a bridegroom coming out of his bridal chamber, he exults like a giant to run his race].”16 Solomon says to the bride, “You have wounded my heart, my sister, my spouse.”17 Indeed we recall that we defined the four types of nuptials in the little book we published on the fourfold figure of marriage.18 First, between a husband and his lawful wife; second, between Christ and holy church; third, between God and the just soul; fourth, between the Word and human nature. Of the first type of nuptials the first man, waking, prophesied, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother, [and cling to his wife and they shall be two in one flesh].”19 Of the second nuptials John speaks in the Apocalypse, “Come, I will show you the new bride, the spouse of the Lamb.”20 Of the third nuptials the Lord speaks through the Prophet, “I will espouse you to me in justice and judgment, in mercy and compassion.”21 Of the fourth nuptials the bride says in the Song of Songs, “Go out, daughters of Jerusalem, and see King Solomon in the diadem [with which his mother crowned him in the day of his heart’s joy].”22 In this fourfold configuration of marriages something can be found that is very worthy of both admiration and veneration. Through the first it comes to pass that there are two persons in one flesh; through the second it comes to pass that there are two in one body; through the third it comes to pass that there are two in one spirit; and through the fourth it comes to pass that there are two in one Person. Of the first, Scripture declares, “They will be two in one flesh.”23 For that reason Truth (himself) added, “Therefore they are no longer two, but one flesh.”24 Of the second the Apostle (Paul) says, “All the members of the body, although they are many, yet are one body in Christ,”25 and in regard to this same union he adds elsewhere, “Truly we are all baptized into one body.”26 Of the third, Scripture clearly says, “Whoever clings to God is one spirit with him.”27 Of that union John the Apostle says, “Whoever abides in love abides in God, and God in him.”28 Of the fourth, the Catholic faith firmly avows that “As the rational spirit and the flesh is one human being, one Christ is God and man.”29 Of that ineffable union the Evangelist attests, “The Word was made flesh, and lived among us.”30The first union, then, is carnal, the second sacramental,31 the third spiritual, and the fourth personal: carnal, as we have said, between a husband and his lawful wife, sacramental between Christ and holy church, spiritual between God and the just soul, personal between the Word and human nature. Therefore, he who has the bride is the bridegroom. But the bridegroom’s friend stands, and rejoices with joy because of the bridegroom’s voice. I have become that friend of the bridegroom to whom the bridegroom said lovingly, “Friend, go up higher.”32 I have been made the successor of him who in his triple response to the bridegroom said, “Lord, You know that I love You.”33 Would that I might love the bridegroom just as I am loved by the bridegroom! For what more could he do for me to love me more? Certainly he has heaped up the good things34 of nature in me; he has multiplied in me the gifts of grace; he has brought me spiritual blessings; he has added temporal ones over and above, and I hope that he will grant me eternal ones. “If I were to boast, it would certainly not be advantageous for me,”35 because “The one to whom more is entrusted will have more demanded from him,” according to the law of Truth [himself].36 And so standing, I rejoice because of his voice—but for which “voice?” Is it the one by which he said to me in Peter, “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound also in heaven”?37 Or is it that by which he said to me through the Prophet, “I have constituted you over nations, so that you may tear out and destroy, and build and plant”?38 But because of this “voice” there is more for me to fear in this than to rejoice in. For I know the one who said, “There shall be a severe judgment on those who rule.”39 On the same point Scripture warns and says, “The greater you are, humble yourself in all things.”40 “They have constituted you as the leader. Do not be arrogant; be among them as one of them.”41 And the Lord in the Gospel: “He who is greater among you, let him be the servant of all, and he who is the superior, be the one who serves.”42 So then, for which “voice” should I rejoice? Certainly for that in which the Lord said to the apostles, “I will be with you all days, even to the consummation of the world,”43 and specifically to Peter, “Simon, behold, Satan has demanded that he may sift you like wheat: [but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail: and you, being once converted, confirm your brothers].”44 This is the bridegroom’s voice for which I rejoice: for just as he who predicts the fight to Simon promises the victory, so he who imposes the duty is he who provides the help. He foretells the fight when he says, “Satan has demanded that he may sift you like wheat.” He promises victory when he adds, “But I have prayed for you, so that your faith may not fail.” For “This is the victory which overcomes the world, our faith.”45 He imposes the office when he says, “Confirm your brothers.” He provides his help when he says, “I have prayed for you, Peter.” For “He is heard in all things because of his reverence.”46 “The Lord is my helper, I will not fear what man may do to me.”47 Therefore, he who has the bride is the bridegroom. But am I not the bridegroom and each of you a friend of the bridegroom? Certainly I am the bridegroom, since I have as my bride48 the noble, rich, sublime, beautiful, chaste, beloved, sacrosanct Roman church, which is instituted by God to be the mother and teacher49 of all the faithful. She is Sarah more mature, Rebecca more prudent, Leah more fruitful, Rachel more pleasing, Hanna more devoted, Susanna more chaste, Judith more courageous, Esther more beautiful. “Many daughters have amassed riches; this one alone has surpassed them all.”50 My sacramental union is with her,51 with her my nuptial consummation. A wondrous thing, that I who promised celibacy have contracted marriage. But this union does not hinder celibacy, nor does the fruitfulness of this union take away the chastity of virginity. John was pleasing in celibacy; Abraham was pleasing in marriage.52Would that I may be pleasing in both, so that I may joyfully carry home the harvest53 of both! It is customary to say of carnal marriage between a man and a woman that it is initiated, ratified, and consummated: initiated in betrothal, ratified in consent, consummated in intercourse. So also the spiritual marriage, which is between a bishop and his church, is said to be initiated in election, ratified in confirmation, consummated in consecration. However, the marriage which I the bridegroom have contracted with this my spouse was initiated and ratified simultaneously, because the Roman pontiff, “when he is elected, is confirmed, and when confirmed, is elected.”54 Do you not remember what you taught about this in a canon? “Since he is elected, as true Pope he obtains authority for ruling the Roman church and administering all its powers.”55 Certainly, when I entered the contract, the son led the mother into marriage;56 when I concluded the contract, the father (pope) had the daughter as wife. In carnal marriage kindred are excluded, and those not of one’s blood are admitted; but in “spiritual” marriage, prima facie, those not of one’s blood are excluded according to the rule, and kindred are admitted. As for excluding kindred from a carnal marriage, you have taught read the prohibition in the canon: “We forbid all kin related by affinity to approach the conjugal bond.”57 As for excluding those not of one’s blood from the “spiritual” marriage, however, canonical authority hands it down that: “There is for the clergy the faculty of resisting58 if they see themselves being imposed upon; and if it happens that someone is brought in against their will, they should not fear to refuse him.” To that point a caution is found in the canon that, “Only from among the cardinal priests or deacons may anyone be consecrated to the summit of apostleship.”59 And so today you celebrate with me the first anniversary day of my consummation of this spiritual marriage. Although I was consecrated in the apostolic seat on the day of blessed Peter the Apostle being constituted to the episcopal chair,60 just as the light of the sun does not allow the light of a star to be seen, so that greater solemnity does not allow this one to be celebrated at the same time. Therefore, the lesser yields to the greater because the lesser is contingent upon the greater. I contracted the marriage [in election and consent], and I celebrated the nuptials in my consecration.61 Principally there are three goods in marriage: fidelity, offspring, and sacrament. Fidelity refers to chastity, offspring to fruitfulness, sacrament to stability.62 Indeed, such fidelity do the Roman pontiff and the Roman church always safeguard for one another, that the words of Truth [himself] in the Gospel can be fittingly applied to them: “I know my sheep, and mine know me.”63 “They do not follow the stranger, but flee him, since they do not recognize the voice of strangers.”64 “Strangers” are heretics and schismatics, whom the Roman church does not follow, but rather pursues and puts to rout. However, they hear and recognize their own—not the apostate, but the apostolic; not the Cathar, but the Catholic—receiving and returning the conjugal duty; receiving from him the duty of prudent care and returning the duty of reverence. For “a husband has no power over his own body, but his wife does. In the same way the wife has no power over her own body, but her husband does.”65 Further, since the Roman church may give the duty of reverence to no one other than the Roman pontiff, who has no other superior except God, why is it that the Roman pontiff is obliged to render the duty of prudent care not only to the Roman church in particular, but also universally to all the other churches? “To the wise and to the unwise I have a duty,”66 the Apostle says, and “My daily urgency is solicitude for all the churches.”67 Perhaps this can be judged comparable to what is written in the Old Testament: that one [husband] may have many [wives], but a wife may have but one husband?68 Have you not read that Abraham had Sara as his wife, and it was she who brought her maid Hagar to him, but he did not commit adultery by this, but rather fulfilled his duty?69 So also the Roman pontiff has as his spouse the Roman church, which “brings in to him” the churches subject to her, so that they may receive from him the same duty of care, because the more he has been given, the more he must pay out. Now, however, what was previously done in the flesh, is done in the spirit, since “It is the spirit that gives life; while the flesh can gain nothing.”70 But cannot one bishopric have two bishops, and one bishop have two bishoprics? We do not need to look very far for examples: one and the same man is Bishop of Ostia and of Velletri, so that each church “wed” him at the same time.71 Again, the Church of Hippo, which had been “married” to Valerius while he lived, also “wed” blessed Augustine, who did not so much succeed Valerius as accede to him.72 But you who get such pleasure from disputing questions must ask yourselves how these “marriages” can exist without violating the law of marriage.73 For myself there is a greater concern that is uppermost in my mind. It is that this union contracted between bishop and church might raise up74 religious offspring for Christ so that his “wife may be like an abundant vine on the walls of his house; and his children thrive [around his table] like shoots around an olive tree.”75 For the Apostle says, “My little children, with whom I am in labor again until Christ is formed in you.”76 As once Leah, having been given the mandrakes, bribed Jacob to come to her, and she conceived and gave birth.77 Those, however, whom the church raises up in Christ,78 she teaches the doctrines of salvation and directs with instruction in virtue: “She feeds them with the bread of life and understanding, and gives them the water of wholesome wisdom to drink.”79 “Come,” she says, “eat my bread, and drink my wine, which I have prepared for you,”80 the heavenly bread and the chalice of salvation, which, “if anyone tastes them, he shall live in eternity.”81 They have in them “everything delicious, sweetness for every taste.”82 The sacrament between the Roman pontiff and the Roman church perseveres so firm and unshakable that they cannot be separated from one another ever, except by death. The Apostle says that after her husband dies, a wife “is released from the rule of her husband.”83 A husband joined to this wife, does not seek a release, does not leave her, and cannot be dismissed,84 for “it is according to his Lord that he either stands or falls—and it is the Lord who judges.”85 The Roman church can dismiss the Roman pontiff only because of fornication—I mean not carnal, but spiritual fornication, for the marriage is not carnal but spiritual—and this fornication is the sin of heresy. For “Whoever does not believe is already condemned.”86 In that sentence you can understand what is written in the Gospel you have heard, “You are the salt of the earth, if the salt loses its savor, how shall it be salted?”87 I, however, can hardly believe that God would permit the Roman pontiff to sin against faith, because he prayed specifically88 for him in the person of Peter himself. “I,” he said, “have prayed for you, Peter, [that your faith may not fail, and you, being once converted, confirm your brothers].”89 Therefore, he who has the bride is the bridegroom. This bride, however, did not marry empty-handed, but be- stowed on me a dowry, costly beyond price: an abundance of spiritual gifts, and an amplitude of temporal gifts, a magnitude and multitude of both. For while others have been called to a portion of care [for the church], Peter alone has been received into the plenitude of power.90 As a sign of the spiritual gifts she brought me the miter; as a sign of the temporal she gave me the crown:91 miter for priesthood, crown for governance, constituting me as Vicar of the one on whose vestment and on whose thigh is written “king of kings and lord of lords,”92 “a priest forever according to the order of Melchisedech.”93 She gave me a full dowry, but whether I have made her any gift for the nuptials, you may have seen. I do not speak boastfully. She sought out one who was untested; she accepted one who resisted; objecting at first, yet finally consenting, because only consent between persons legally eligible will bring about the marriage. In this way it can be seen to occur—however strange it may seem—that someone can be pontiff of a church before he is its spouse, just as someone can be spouse of a church before he is its pontiff. For when a bishop, through the provision94 of a superior is justly given to those wrongfully rejecting him,95 even before they consent to him, he is truly their pontiff because of the authority of the legal order. But it is probable that he may not yet be their spouse if he lacks their consent, because that church is constrained96 to give consent if it is to enter the marriage bond with him. Once he is accepted97 through election, he unquestionably becomes their spouse, because of the mutual consent of the electors and the elect, especially when the election is confirmed. But before he is consecrated, he will claim neither the name nor the office of pontiff. But our solicitude must question whether this is true. It is possible in spiritual marriages to distinguish between bridegroom and husband, and between bride and wife: the “bridegroom” is called electus before confirmation, namely, before he knows her, that is, before he governs her. However, he is called “husband” after confir- mation, and most of all after consecration, when he at once fully governs her. Or better said: “bridegroom” or “bride” for virginity, “husband” or “wife”98 for fruitfulness. “For I have espoused you,” says the Apostle, “to one husband, so that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.”99 Therefore, He who has the bride is the bridegroom. And you, brothers and sons, who are friends of the bridegroom, who rejoice with joy because of the bridegroom’s voice, may you lift up “pure hands without contention”100 to God “from a pure heart, a good conscience, and sincere faith,”101 begging in prayer, that I so render my conjugal duty to the church, that when the bridegroom comes I may deserve to go in to the nuptial feast with the wise virgins, lamps ablaze,102 where he himself serves,103 who is over all things, God, blessed forever. Amen.