Rinaldo di Jenne became pope on December 12, 1254. He was somewhere between 55 and 69 at the time, relatively old for taking on a new life. Matthew of Paris described him as kind and religious, assiduous in prayer and strict in abstinence. Between these characteristics and his relatives on his mother’s side, Pope Innocent III and his uncle Pose Gregory IX, he should have made the ideal pope.
Building up his curriculum vitae, Rinaldo became the cardinal deacon of Sant’ Eustachio and official Protector of the Order of Franciscans in 1227. Then he became camerlengo. Around 1231, he became Bishop of Ostia, a very prestigious role. Ten years later, he was the dean of the College of Cardinals.
Matthew of Paris pointed out the less desirable characteristics of this man. He was easily led away by the whispering of flatterers, and was inclined to listen to the wicked suggestions of avaricious people. And it reflected in his papacy.
To be sure, the man who became Pope Alexander IV had a justifiable goal: to reunite the Eastern Orthodox and Catholics. He had a three-fold plan in mind: include France in the Inquisition, thereby finding and eliminating heretics. However, divination or sorcery, was not to be investigated by the inquisition court. That court, according to his bull dated Sept 27, 1258, was only for heresy. Magic, at the time, was not considered heretical, just based on superstition or erroneous beliefs. He set out to provide favors to the mendicant orders, thereby spreading the prayerful ways of the orders to many. Then, he attempted to organize a crusade after the Tartars had raided Poland twice by 1259. All in the name of unity.
Pope Alexander IV continued Pope Innocent’s policy of extermination of Emperor Frederick’s progeny. In 1254, Innocent had excommunicated Manfred, son of the deceased emperor and granted Sicily to Edmund, the second son of King Henry III of England. Soon after his consecration, Alexander signed a treaty with envoys of Henry III of England. This confirmed Innocent’s grant. But it also guaranteed 2000 ounces of gold per year from the English coffers, promised service of three hundred knights for three months when needed and gave Alexander 135,541 marks to reimburse him for money he had used trying to oust Manfred, regent for the minor child, Conradin, from Sicily.
Henry could not raise the money. The barons had enough of his autocratic ways. Within three years, a civil war of sorts was blazing across England, along with a widespread famine. In 1258, the barons forced Henry to agree to a provision abolishing his absolutist reign and forming a great council to meet every three years to monitor the governing of the country. Edmund never ruled a day in Sicily. Just before he died, Pope Alexander wrote a bull releasing the king from his agreement.
Pope Alexander was the guardian of the child Conradin, the last of the Hohenstaufens, sitting on the throne of Germany and the empire. But that did not stop the pope from conspiring against the child and his uncle Manfred, the former king of Sicily. He threatened excommunication and interdicts to no avail. He could not enlist the English nor the Norwegians to fight Manfred, who had taken the crown of Sicily after a rumor that Conradin had died. Manfred grew stronger, influencing the politics of northern and central Italy.
Alexander no longer felt safe in Rome. He moved to Viterbo, where he died May 25, 1261. He is buried at the cathedral there.
Although, politically, Alexander was not successful, he was successful spiritually. He canonized St. Clare, of the Poor Clares. He supported the mendicant orders. He claimed to have actual knowledge of the stigmata of St. Francis, a questionable thing at the time. He also condemned the theories of Joachim of Fiore who claimed that the world would see the beginning of the Third Age, that of the Holy Spirit, in 1260. Of course, that did not happen.
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