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Temporal Power of the Pope

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By this expression, in its generally received sig nification, is understood the sovereign civil rule which was exercised by the popes over the states of the Church with varying vicissitudes from the middle of the 8th century down to the year 1870, when the last remnant of the papal states was annexed to the United Kingdom of Italy.

The formal establishment of the temporal power dates from the year 754, when Pepin, king of the Franks, bestowed upon Pope Stephen II (who had sought his aid against the oppression of the Lombards) independent sov ereignty over some 20 cities, thus constituting what was henceforth known as the state or patrimony of Saint Peter. Though apparently a new departure — one possibly unlooked for on the part of the Pope himself — this addition of a temporal to the spiritual rule of the bishop of Rome was in reality but the natural outcome of pre-existing civil and political conditions. Among these may be mentioned the fact that the Roman Church was already in possession of numerous and extensive landed estates or patrimonies situated for the most part within the bounds of the Italian peninsula, and which were controlled or administered by the popes through their agents.

This state of things had gradually developed from very early beginnings, for we find that even during the period of the persecutions, the local church of Rome (whether organized le gally as a burial society, or simply as a body corporate, holding property under the general laws of the empire) possessed not only the great cemeteries now known as the Catacombs, but also other property, as is clear from the edict of Milan. By a law of 321, the Emperor Constantine granted to all persons capable of making a will the right to bequeath property to the Church, and he himself gave an example of generosity in this respect by endowing munif icently the various basilicas of Rome. Similar bequests in one form or another were made by wealthy Christians throughout the empire, one of the principal uses to which the property thus acquired was applied being to relieve the dis tress occasioned by the depredations of the bar barians who began to overrun Italy from the beginning of the 5th century. In this way the Roman Church had become very wealthy, and the popes were already great landed proprie tors, owning vast estates in various parts of Italy and elsewhere long before any form of political papal sovereignty had been thought of. Meanwhile, through the favorable legislation of the Christian emperors, the political role of the popes and of bishops in general, was assum ing an ever-growing importance. The bishop of a city was not only the official protector of the poor, of prisoners and of slaves; he had also in virtue of his office a voice concerning variou. points of civic administration. Even in pro vincial affairs he enjoyed important rights and privileges. Thus, among other things, we find that appeal could be made from the decision of an imperial magistrate to the tribunal of the bishop. Such being the political status of bish ops generally, it is easy to understand that the powers granted to and exercised by the Roman pontiffs were still more extensive. To them, in particular, recourse was had against the exac tions of the rapacious Byzantine governors who ruled in the different Italian provinces, and in this connection, as well as in other ways, the vigilant protection of the popes proved bene ficial to the people. It must be remembered that during this period the civil and political situation throughout the peninsula was in a con dition bordering on the chaotic. The chronic

state of unrest and insecurity which resulted from the incursions of the barbarians and the deplorable inefficiency of the imperial adminis tration, made the interference of the popes in civil matters a real practical necessity. Theirs was the only authority that commanded gen eral respect, and the common weal demanded that they should look after the material as well as the spiritual interests of their flock. That such was the true condition of affairs is amply shown forth in the papal correspondence of the time, especially in the letters of Gregory the Great (590-604). It is also worth noting that though they had ever-growing reasons to be dissatisfied with Byzantine rule, the popes (even those who succeeded Gregory) continued to remain faithful to the idea of a world-wide Christian empire, and exercised their influence to maintain in Italy its authority and prestige. But, as is well known, many of the emperors of that period were more preoccupied with theology than with matters pertaining to civil administration, and their repeated attempts to impose upon she bishops of the West subtle formulas of orthodoxy led to frequent conflicts, in some of which popes were violently dragged away to prison or death. Thus Silverius and Vigilius, Pelagius and Martin became the victims of imperial tyranny. On the refusal of Sergius I to accept the decrees of the Emperor Justinian II the latter commanded the proto spatharius Zachary to arrest the Pope and bring him a prisoner to Constantinople, but the pub lic spirit in Italy was already in revolt against this arrogant, high-handed policy, and the army interfered to prevent the execution of the im perial mandate. Again, in 727, Leo the Isaurian sent his edict against the use of images to Pope Gregory II with orders for his deposition in case he should refuse to comply. Gregory re sponded by denouncing the edict and excom municating the exarch; again the soldiers arose in his defense, and the efforts of the imperial officers to carry out their instructions cost them . their lives. In 733 the emperor confiscated all the Church's estates in Sicily, Bruttium, cania, Calabria and Naples; others were con fiscated by the Lombards, and no security re mained even for the inhabitants of Rome. The empire was unable to defend its subjects — worse than that, it even oppressed and plundered them. The only refuge left to the Romans and their spiritual as well as actually temporal head was to seek the aid of the friendly king of the Franks. It is not clear whether Pope Stephen II in taking this step had already in view the establishment of a civil principality under. his own rule or not, but be that as it may, just then the relations between the papacy and the emperor were further strained by the publication of a fresh edict against the use of Images emanating from a synod of Constanti nople. A continuation of the old regime seemed no longer possible, the army of Pepin arrived in Italy in the summer of 754, and the independent state of Skint Peter was established, with the Pope as its civil ruler, in the same year. In view of the circumstances, it may be truly said that this distinction was bestowed upon the bishop of Rome in recognition of a twofold prerogative, namely, his prestige as head of the Church and defender of orthodoxy against Eastern aggression, and his character of na tional benefactor.

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