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Pope Honorius III

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(Cencio Savelli)

Born at Rome, date of birth unknown; died at Rome, 18 March, 1227. For a time he was canon at the church of Santa Maria Maggiore, then he became papal chamberlain in 1188 and Cardinal-Deacon of Santa Lucia in Silice in 1193. Under Pope Innocent III he became Cardinal-Priest of Santi Giovanni et Paolo and, in 1197, tutor of the future Emperor Frederick II, who had been given as ward to Innocent III by the Empress-widow Constantia. On 18 July, 1216, nineteen cardinals assembled at Perugia (where Innocent had died two days previously) with the purpose of electing a new pope. The troublous state of affairs in Italy, the threatening attitude of the Tatars, and the fear of a schism, induced the cardinals to agree to an election by compromise. Cardinals Ugolino of Ostia (afterwards Gregory IX) and Guido of Praeneste were empowered to appoint the new pope. Their choice fell upon Cencio Savelli, who accepted the tiara with reluctance and took the name of Honorius III. He was consecrated at Perugia 24 July, was crowned at Rome 31 August, and took possession of the Lateran 3 September. The Roman people were greatly elated at the election, for Honorius III was himself a Roman and by his extreme kindness had endeared himself to the hearts of all.

Though already far advanced in age, his pontificate was one of strenuous activity. Like his famous predecessor Innocent III, he had set his mind on the achievement of two great things, the recovery of the Holy Land and a spiritual reform of the entire Church; but quite in contrast with him he sought these achievements by kindness and indulgence rather than by force and severity. Immediately upon his accession to the papal throne he sent letters to the ecclesiastical and the temporal rulers of Europe in which he admonishes and encourages them to continue in their preparation for the general crusade which, as had been provided at the Lateran Council of 1215, was to be undertaken in 1217. To procure the means necessary for this colossal undertaking, the pope and the cardinals were to contribute the tenth part, and all other ecclesiastics the twentieth part, of their income for three years. The bishops under the supervision of the papal legates in the various countries were entrusted with the collection of these moneys. Honorius III ordered the crusade to be preached in all the churches of Christendom. Though the money thus collected was considerable, it was by no means sufficient for a general crusade as planned by Honorius III. Moreover, in preaching the crusade the great mistake was made of trying to gather as many crusaders as possible, without considering whether they were fit for war.

The result was that cripples, old men, women, also robbers, thieves, adventurers, and others composed a great part of the crusaders. In some instances the uselessness of such soldiers was not thought of until they had been transported to distant seaports at public expense. Most rulers of Europe were engaged in wars of their own and could not leave their country for any length of time. Andrew II of Hungary and, somewhat later, a fleet of crusaders from the region along the Lower Rhine finally departed for the Holy Land, took Damietta and a few other places in Egypt; but lack of unity among the Christians, also rivalry between the leaders and the papal legate Pelagius, to some extent perhaps also the incompetency of the latter, resulted in failure.

Honorius III was aware that there was only one man in Europe who could bring about the recovery of the Holy Land, and that man was his former pupil Frederick II of Germany. Like many other rulers, Frederick II had taken an oath to embark for the Holy Land in 1217. As long as his rival Otto IV was living, the pope did not urge him to fulfil his oath; when, however, his rival had died on 19 May, 1218, Honorius III insisted that he embark as soon as possible and Frederick promised to set sail for the Holy Land on 24 June, 1219. He then obtained permission to postpone his departure repeatedly, first till 29 September, 1219, then successively till 21 March, 1220, 1 May, 1220, August, 1221, June, 1225, and finally, at the meeting of the pope and the emperor at San Germano on 25 July, 1225, till August, 1227. It must not be ascribed merely to weakness on the part of Honorius III that he allowed one postponement after the other.

He knew that without the co-operation of the emperor a successful crusade was impossible and feared that by using harsh measures he would cause a complete break with the emperor and indefinitely destroy the possibility of a crusade. For the same reason he yielded to the emperor in many things which under different circumstances he would have strenuously opposed. Thus he reluctantly approved the election of Frederick's son Henry as King of the Romans, which practically united the Sicilian kingdom and the empire in one person; a union which by its very nature was detrimental to the papacy and which Honorius III had every reason to oppose. Hoping to hasten the departure of Frederick for the Holy Land, he crowned him emperor at Rome on 22 November, 1220. Finally, however, seeing that his extreme indulgence was only abused by the emperor for selfish purposes, he had recourse to severer measures. The emperor's encroachment upon the papal rights in the appointment of bishops in Apulia, and his unworthy treatment of King John of Jerusalem, whom Honorius III had appointed governor over part of the papal patrimony, brought the tension between the pope and the emperor to its height; but the rupture between the emperor and the papacy did not take place until Honorius III had died.

Though the general crusade planned by Honorius III was never realized, he deserved the gratitude of the world as the great pacificator of his age. Knowing that the crusade was impossible as long as the Christian princes were at war with one another, he began his pontificate by striving to establish peace throughout Europe. In Italy there was scarcely a city or province at peace with its neighbour. Rome itself rebelled against the rule of Honorius, so that in June, 1219, he found it advisable to leave the city. He went first to Rieti, then to Viterbo, returning to Rome in September, 1220, after the Romans were reconciled to him through the intervention of Frederick II, then on his way to Rome to be crowned emperor. In the war that followed between the Conti and the Savelli, the Romans sided with the Conti, and the pope, being of the family of the Savelli, was again forced to flee to Rieti in June, 1225. He returned to Rome in January, 1226, after Angelo di Benincasa, a friend of Honorius III, was elected senator of Rome. Through his legate Ugolino (afterwards Gregory IX) Honorius effected the reconciliation of Pisa and Genoa in 1217, Milan and Cremona in 1218, Bologna and Pistoia in 1219, and through his notary Pandulf he prevailed upon the Duchy of Spoleto to become papal territory, and upon the cities of Perugia, Assisi, Foligno, Nocera, and Terni, to restore what had formerly belonged to the pope.

In England the authority of the pope was paramount ever since that country had become a fief of the Apostolic See under Innocent III. The cruel King John had died on 16 October, 1216, leaving his ten- year-old son Henry III as successor. The cruelty and faithlessness of King John may have justified the English barons in rebelling against him and offering the English crown to Louis, the son of King Philip of France, but now it became their duty to be loyal to the lawful king, Henry III. Honorius III ordered Gualo, his legate in England, to urge the recalcitrant barons to return to their natural allegiance and gave him power to excommunicate all who continued to adhere to Prince Louis of France. On 19 January, 1217, he wrote to William, Earl of Pembroke, who was the young king's guardian and the regent of England, to prepare for war against Prince Louis and the faithless English barons. It was due to the severe measures taken against the barons by the papal legate that peace was finally restored and that Henry III was acknowledged the undisputed King of England on 11 September, 1217. After the death of Pembroke in May, 1219, the regency of England was nominally in the hands of the king's ministers; actually, however, England was ruled by Honorius III through Pandulf, who had meanwhile succeeded Gualo as papal legate in England. The influence of Honorius III continued to be paramount in England during his entire pontificate, for Henry III was still in his minority, and he as well as the barons and the people acknowledged the pope as the suzerain of the kingdom.

The untiring activity of Honorius III in the interests of justice and peace was felt throughout the Christian world. In Bohemia he safeguarded the rights of the Church against the encroachments of King Ottocar, through his legate Gregorius de Crescentio in 1223. In Hungary he protected King Andrew II against his rebellious son Bela IV by threatening the latter with excommunication. For Denmark he effected in 1224 the liberation of its King Waldemar from the captivity in which he was held by Count Henry of Schwerin. In Sweden he protected the rights of the Church against the encroachments of King John, and urged celibacy upon the clergy. For the Latin Empire in the Orient he crowned Peter of Courtenay as Emperor of Constantinople, in Rome on 12 April, 1217, and protected his successor Robert and King Demetrius of Thessalonica against Theodore Comnenus. In Cyprus he abated the quarrels between the Greeks and the Latins. In Spain he effected a lasting peace Between King Ferdinand III and Alfonso IX of Leon, undertook a crusade against the Moors (1218-1219), and protected the boy-king Jaime of Aragon against Counts Sancho and Fernando. In Portugal he defended Archbishop Estevao Francisco Suárez against the excommunicated King Alfonso II (1220-1223). In France he induced King Louis VIII to undertake a crusade against the Albigenses in 1226. He also assisted Bishop Christian of Prussia in the conversion of the pagan Prussians, and at the bishop's suggestion called upon the ecclesiastical provinces of Mainz, Magdeburg, Cologne, Salzburg, Gnesen, Lund, Bremen, Trier, and Camin in 1222 to prepare a crusade against them.

Honorius III was also a liberal patron of the two great mendicant orders and bestowed numerous privileges upon them. He approved the Rule of St. Dominic in his Bull "Religiosam vitam", dated 22 December, 1216, and that of St. Francis in his Bull "Solet annuere", dated 29 November, 1223. Many authorities maintain that Honorius III had granted the famous Portiuncula indulgence to St. Francis as early as 1216, others hold [Kirsch in "Theologische Quartalschrift", LXXXVIII (Tübingen, 1906), fasc. 1 and 2] that this indulgence is of later origin and that the indulgence which Honorius granted to St. Francis is essentially different from the so-called Portiuncula indulgence. On 30 January, 1226, he approved the Carmelite Order in his Bull "Ut vivendi normam". He also approved the religious congregation "Val des Ecoliers" (Vallis scholarium, Valley of scholars), which had been founded by four pious professors of theology at the University of Paris. The Bull of approbation "Exhibita nobis" is dated 7 March, 1219. The congregation was united with that of St. Genevieve by Innocent X in 1646. It is remarkable that four out the six or seven saints that were canonized by Honorius III were English or Irish. On 17 May, 1218, he canonized William, Archbishop of Bourges (d. 1209); on 18 February, 1220, Hugh, Bishop of Lincoln (d. 1200); on 21 January, 1224, William, Abbot of Roschild in Denmark (d. 1203); on 18 March, 1226, William, Archbishop of York (d. 1154).

He also appointed a committee to investigate the alleged miracles of the Cistercian abbot, St. Maurice of Cornoet (d. 1191). The latter was never formally canonized, but his cult dates back to the pontificate of Honorius III. His feast is celebrated by the Cistercians on 13 October. Honorius III probably canonized also St. Raynerius, Bishop of Forconium, now Aquila, in Italy (d. 1077). Being a man of learning, Honorius insisted that the clergy should receive a thorough training, especially in theology. In the case of a certain Hugh whom the chapter of Chartres had elected bishop, he withheld his approbation because the bishop-elect did not possess sufficient knowledge, "quum pateretur in litteratura defectum", as the pope states in a letter dated 8 January, 1219 (Horoy, loc. cit infra, III, 92). Another bishop he even deprived of his office on account of illiteracy (Raynaldus, ad annum 1221). He bestowed various privileges upon the Universities of Paris and Bologna, the two greatest seats of learning during those times. In order to facilitate the study of theology in dioceses that were distant from the great centres of learning, he ordered in his Bull "Super specula Domini" that some talented young men should be sent to a recognized theological school to study theology with the purpose of teaching it afterwards in their own dioceses.

Honorius III acquired some fame as an author. His letters, many of which are of great historical value, and his other literary productions, were collected and edited by Horoy in "Medii aevi bibliotheca patristica", series I (5 vols., Paris, 1879-83). While he was papal chamberlain (whence his general appellation of Cencius Camerarius) he compiled the "Liber censuum Romanae ecclesiae", perhaps the most valuable source for the history of papal economics during the Middle Ages. It comprises a list of the revenues of the Apostolic See, a record of donations received, privileges granted, and contracts made with cities and rulers. It was begun under Clement III and completed in 1192 under Celestine III. Muratori inserted it in his "Antiquitates Italicae medii aevi", V (Milan, 1739-43), 851-908. A new edition was prepared for the "Bibliotheque des ecoles francaises d'Athene et de Rome" by Fabre and Duchesne, fasc. i (Paris, 1889), fasc. ii and iii (1902), fasc. iv (1903). The original manuscript of the "Liber Censuum", which is still in existence (Vaticanus, 8486), concludes with a catalogue of the Roman pontiffs and the emperors from St. Peter to Celestine III in 1101. It was edited separately by Weiland in "Archiv der Gesellschaft fur altere deutsche Geschichtskunde", XII (Hanover, 1874), 60-77. Honorius III wrote also a life of Celestine III (Horoy, loc. cit., I, 567-592); a life of Gregory VII (ibid., I, 568-586); an "Ordo Romanus", which is a sort of ceremonial containing the rites of the Church for various occasions (ibid., I, 35-94, and Mabillon, in "Museum Italicum", II, 167-220); and 34 sermons (Horoy, I, 593-976). His collection of decretals known as "Compilatio quinta" has been treated under DECRETALS.


PRESSUTI, Regesta Honorii III (2 vols., Rome, 1888-95); CLAUSEN, Papst Honorius III (Bonn, 1895). The preceding work is not sufficiently critical and has been corrected and supplemented by KNEBEL, Kaiser Friedrich II. und Papst Honorius III. in ihren gegenseitigen Beziehungen von der Kaiserkronung Friedrichs bis zum Tode der Legaten des Papstes, 1220-27 (Munster, 1905); POKORNY, Die Wirksamkeit der Legaten des Papstes Honorius III. in Frankreich und Deutschland (Krems, 1886); MASETTI, I pontefici Onori III, Gregorio IX ed Innocenzo IV a fronte dell' imperatore Federico II (Rome, 1884); CAILLEMER, Le pape Honorius III et le droit civil (Lyons, 1881); VERNET, Etudes sur les sermons d'Honorius III, these (Lyons, 1888). For his relation with England see GASQUET, Henry the Third and the Church (London, 1905), 27-107. See also the bibliography to FREDERICK II.

About this page

APA citation. Ott, M. (1910). Pope Honorius III. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Ott, Michael. "Pope Honorius III." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 7. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Herman F. Holbrook. "Prayer was made without ceasing by the Church unto God for Peter."

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. June 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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