Pope Gregory IX, born Ugolino of Anagni, was a man of deep moral integrity and dedication. This dedication allowed him to follow Innocent III’s policy of papal supremacy. Unfortunately, his quickness to anger and his impatience with opposition caused tension internationally. This marked the character of his pontificate.
Ugolino was born some time before 1170. His education was at the Universities of Paris and Bologna where he studied theology.
In December 1198, he became Cardinal-Deacon of the Church of Sant’Eustachio under his relative, Pope Innocent III. By 1206, he became Cardinal Bishop of Ostia and Velletri. In this position, he became friends with the Queen of England, Isabella of Agouleme. By 1218, he was the Dean of the Sacred College of Cardinals. In 1220, St. Francis requested that he become the cardinal protector of the Franciscans.
Upon assuming papal office in 1227, Gregory immediately became disenchanted with Emperor Frederick II, who had promised to join a Crusade in 1215 and had not yet begun. In 1225, the emperor had married the child queen, Isabella of Jerusalem and promptly referred to himself as the king of Jerusalem. Eventually, he left for the Holy Land in the summer of 1227. However, he returned in a short time after hearing that the plague was rampant in the Middle East. He feared for his life. Gregory would not listen to excuses for the emperor’s tardiness and quickly excommunicated him.
When Frederick left for the East, again, in 1228, his followers invaded the papal lands. Gregory declared war; he wanted the Kingdom of Sicily back as his rightful fief. He sent two armies into the fray, one in late 1228 and one in early 1229. Hounded by financial difficulties, Gregory tried to tithe most of Europe. Some paid and some did not. Frederick had returned to the East by June 1228. In March 1229, he signed a treaty with el-Kamil to win back Jerusalem, effectively ending the Sixth Crusade. Then, he quickly returned to Italy by June. For a time, the imperial army and the papal armies were embroiled in war, creating a quasi-crusade, referred to as the War of Keys, the emblem that the papal army wore. Rather than invade the papal states, the emperor negotiated. Treaty of San Germano in 1230 released him from excommunication.
Meanwhile, in the rest of Europe, heresy was on the rise in France, Germany and Spain. Pope Lucius III had introduced episcopal inquisitions with little protocol on how to conduct them. There was a haphazard mode of punishment where townspeople mobs often burned the innocent with the guilty. Gregory thought to regularize the prosecution of heretics using courts using due process and objective investigation.
Pope Gregory was a supporter of mendicant orders in an attempt to counteract the love of luxury seen with many ecclesiastics. As a result of his support, he canonized St. Elizabeth of Hungary, St. Dominic, St Anthony of Padua and St. Francis.
In 1231, after student strikes at the university of Paris, Gregory resolved differences between the students and local authorities. His bull on the subject is seen as the “Magna Carta” of universities.
The next year, a war began between the peasants of Stedinger and the archbishop of Bremen. For years, the peasants had been allowed to freehold (own outright) land and found churches. When the archbishop increased taxes and the count tried to turn freehold land into leases, the war broke out. Gregory, after investigating, allowed military into the area to squelch the peasants and offered indulgences to the armies to encourage participation in the anti-peasant assault. This put the Stedingers on a par with Jerusalem, another crusade, so to speak.
Gregory then endorsed crusades in the northern regions around the Baltic Sea.
With all that armed fighting, Gregory, a skillful and learned lawyer, still had time for academic pursuits. He sponsored a new compilation of decretals (pronouncements of the Church). He ordered the large number of decretals to be systematized.
Despite the treaty, Gregory and Emperor Frederick continued to argue. By 1240, Gregory was referring to Frederick as a heretic. He called for a council to meet in Rome to get support. Frederick’s military sunk a number of the ships carrying bishops. In 1241, Frederick’s Council of Regensburg declared Gregory to be the Anti-Christ!
Unfortunately, Pope Gregory died 22 August 1241 before he could defend himself. The fight was still not over.