Popes in a Year
#178 - Pope Gregory IX
Pope from March 19, 1227 - August 22, 1241
Lived: c. 1145 - August 22, 1241
Birth name: Ugolino de Conti
Who was this guy before he was pope?
A nephew of Pope Innocent III, Ugolino de Conti was born in Anagni, Italy around the year 1145. Over the course of his career in service to the Church, Ugolino batted for the cycle, serving time as deacon, priest, and bishop before ascending to the papacy. He was made a cardinal in 1206 and soon was sent to Germany as legate to referee Philip & Otto’s boxing match over the crown there. On the way back, he heard Philip had been murdered. So, Ugolino basically turned around and headed back to exhort Germans to recognize Otto as king. After Uncle Innocent’s death in 1198, as dean of the College of Cardinals, Ugolino was entrusted with appointing his successor, the eventual Honorius III.
Give me the scoop on Gregory IX.
Gregory was elected the day after Honorius died, March 19, 1227, and was the unanimous selection of his brother cardinals. At over 80 years old, Gregory is easily one of the oldest men to be elected pope (for reference, both Pope Francis and Pope Benedict XVI were younger than 80 at their elections). Gregory was a huge fan of religious orders, handing support out like candy to the newly-approved Dominicans, Franciscans, and Poor Clares while continuing to build up the older orders as well.
Gregory, himself a talented lawyer, compiled every papal pronouncement from the last several decades into a new compendium of canon law in 1234. Gregory followed the lead of his predecessors in being tough on heresy, and also canonized many now-famous saints. He also founded what’s become known as The Inquisition in 1233 (
for a good overview). Gregory IX died August 22, 1241 in Rome after a papacy of 13 years and four months. He was almost 100 years old (dang).
What was he known for?
Gregory’s first act as pope, and what ended up setting the tone for his papacy, was ordering the wishy-washy Emperor Frederick II, who spent a decade dodging Honorius’ charge, to finally take up arms and head to the Holy Land on crusade. The order fell flat, as Frederick returned three days later feigning illness, so Pope Gregory IX, knowing that this was the
ninth or tenth time
the emperor had dodged the Successor of Peter, put him under the ban of excommunication. Ironically, and despite Frederick raising a holy stink in Rome that forced Gregory to flee to Perugia, the pope’s action lit a fire under the emperor enough to make him go to the Holy Land after all. The excommunication was lifted in 1230 when pope and emperor reached a truce.
It wouldn’t last. The emperor’s ambition to run the world (literally, pretty much) and the pope’s tiresome efforts to stop young whipper snappers from being so darn disrespectful meant that Gregory’s entire papacy would be wrapped up in a fight with Frederick. Gregory at one point even commanded that a crusade be preached against the unruly leader in Germany, which seemed to only cause more of a rift among clergy there. Incredibly, a general council called by Gregory in 1241 was thwarted by Frederick taking any bishop prisoner who ventured toward Rome, and the pope died soon after.
The great St. Francis of Assisi, who Pope Gregory IX would later canonize, had tremendous respect and affection for this pope. When still a cardinal, Gregory would reportedly sometimes put on Franciscan attire and walk barefoot in the streets with the saint, serving the poor and conversing about all of the (holy) things. Honorius III appointed Gregory as protector of the Franciscan order in 1220. After his elevation to the Chair of Peter, Francis himself referred to Gregory as, “the bishop of the whole world and the father of all nations.”
What else was going on in the world at the time?
That whole “Tony, Tony come around; Something’s lost and needs to be found” thing got its start, when Gregory IX canonized St. Anthony of Padua in Spoleto on May 30, 1232, less than a year after his death, naming him the patron of lost items.
Coming Tomorrow...Pope Celestine IV
SOURCES (and further reading)
John, E. (1964). The Popes: A concise biographical history. New York: Hawthorn Books.
Guruge, A. (2010). The Next Pope. New Hampshire: WOWNH
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Sent by Matthew Sewell on Wednesday, August 30 at 2:00AM