Thursday, October 6, 2016

Fredrick II - Total Combat

The struggle of Frederick II with the papacy was the culmination of the battle between the medieval church organization and the state. At this point it had degenerated into a power struggle. Fredrick was the heir to the Holy Roman Empire, which covered Germany and the nations immediately around it . He was also the heir of the kingdom of Naples, which covered southern Italy and Sicily. Possessing both these kingdoms, he had the potential of gaining control of almost all Italy, hindering the pope's political independence. The papacy felt it must prevent this at all cost. First, it tried to pull political strings to make someone else emperor. When this failed, they made Frederick pledge to go on crusade as a condition of receiving the empire, thereby getting him to spend his time and effort overseas.

It is difficult from this distance to objectively evaluate Fredrick. The papacy accused him of all manner of impiety and denial of Christian teaching. Frederick protested his orthodoxy and maintained the clergy needed to learn to be humble and stay out of politics. Frederick was probably cynical of the papacy's political scheming. At the very least, he was more interested in furthering his political interests than simply going along with what the pope wanted. He put off going on crusade and worked to consolidate his territories in Italy. When the pope threatened Frederick with excommunication if he did not go on crusade, Frederick went, but immediately returned. (Frederick claimed it was due to circumstances beyond his control, but the pope claimed he was just making excuses.)   Therefore, Frederick was excommunicated for not going on crusade. He then went on crusade and was excommunicated for going on crusade while excommunicated. He regained Jerusalem by negotiating and purchasing it with money rather than fighting and was excommunicated for that. This resulted in a long propaganda war, each party trying to make their case to the other leaders of Europe. It also became became full scale warfare, as the pope voided the oaths of allegiance of Frederick's subjects and urged people to revolt against him. Frederick put up a good fight, but in the end he lost. And while he was able to remain in control during his lifetime, his heirs were removed from office and put to death. The Holy Roman Empire was greatly weakened, the emperor ending up being chosen by the great lords (called electors), who retained for themselves much of the real power.

But ultimately the papacy lost too. This whole episode was so obviously political it made people cynical of it. It also meant that later at the time of the Reformation, the emperor, being weak, was not able to suppress the growth of Protestantism. The use of political power may seem attractive in promoting the power of the church organization. But in the end it can boomerang, and even if you win, it can ruin your reputation.  

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