3. INNOCENT III. TO ALEXANDER IV. Under the pontificates of Innocent III. (1198-1216) and his five immediate successors the Roman monarchy seemed to have reached the pinnacle of its moral prestige, religious authority and temporal power, and this development was due in great measure to Innocent III. himself. Innocent was an eminent jurist and canon ist, and never ceased to use his immense power in the service of the law. Indeed, a great part of his life was passed in hearing pleadings and pronouncing judgments, and few sovereigns have ever worked so industriously or shown such solicitude for the im partial exercise of their judicial functions. It is difficult to com prehend Innocent's extraordinary activity. Over and above the weight of political affairs, he bore resolutely for 18 years the over whelming burden of the presidency of a tribunal before which the whole of Europe came to plead. To him, also, in his capacity of theologian, the whole of Europe submitted every obscure, delicate or controverted question, whether legal problem or case of con science. This, undoubtedly, was the part of his task that Innocent preferred, and it was to this, as well as to his much overrated moral 'and theological treatises, that he owed his enormous contemporary prestige. As a statesman, he certainly committed grave faults— through excess of diplomatic subtlety, lack of forethought, and sometimes even through ingenuousness; but it must with justice be admitted that, in spite of his reputation for pugnacity and obstinacy, he never failed, either by temperament or on principle, to exhaust every peaceful expedient in settling questions. He was averse from violence, and never resorted to bellicose acts or to the employment of force save in the last extremity. If his policy miscarried in several quarters it was eminently successful in others; and if we consider the sum of his efforts to achieve the programme of the mediaeval papacy, it cannot be denied that the extent of his rule and the profound influence he exerted on his times entitle him to be regarded as the most perfect type of mediaeval pope and one of the most powerful figures in history.
A superficial glance at Innocent's correspondence is sufficient to convince us that he was pre-eminently concerned for the reformation and moral welfare of the Church, and was animated by the best intentions for the re-establishment in the ecclesiastical body of order, peace and respect for the hierarchy. This was
one of the principal objects of his activity, and this important side of his work received decisive sanction by the promulgation of the decrees of the fourth Lateran Council (1215). At this council almost all the questions at issue related to reform, and many give evidence of great breadth of mind, as well as of a very acute sense of contemporary necessities. Innocent's letters, however, not only reveal that superior wisdom which can take into account practical needs and relax severity of principle at the right moment, as well as that spirit of tolerance and equity which is opposed to the excess of zeal and intellectual narrowness of subordinates, but they also prove that, in the internal govern ment of the' Church, he was bent on gathering into his hands all the motive threads, and that he stretched the absolutist tradition to its furthest limits, intervening in the most trifling acts in the lives of the clergy, and regarding it as an obligation of his office to act and think for all. The heretic peril, which increased during his pontificate, forced him to take decisive measures against the Albigenses in the south of France, but before proscribing them he spent ten years (1198-1208) in endeavouring to convert the misbelievers, and history should not forget the pacific character of these early efforts. It was because they did not succeed that necessity and the violence of human passions subsequently forced him into a course of action which he had not chosen and which led him further than he wished to go. When he was compelled to decree the Albigensian crusade he endeavoured more than once to discontinue the work, which had become perverted, and to curb the crusading ardour of Simon de Montfort. Failing in his attempt to maintain the religious char acter of the crusade, he wished to prevent it from ending secularly in its extreme consequence and logical outcome.