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§ 55. Alliance of the Papacy with the New Monarchy of the Franks. Pepin and the Patrimony of St. Peter. a.d. 741–755.

Pope Zacharias (741–752), a Greek, by the weight of his priestly authority, brought Liutprand to terms of temporary submission. The Lombard king suddenly paused in the career of conquest, and died after a reign of thirty years (743).

But his successor, Astolph, again threatened to incorporate Rome with his kingdom. Zacharias sought the protection of Pepin the Short,234234    Or Pipin, Pippin, Pippinus. The last is the spelling in his documents. the Mayor of the Palace, son of Charles Martel, and father of Charlemagne, and in return for this aid helped him to the crown of France. This was the first step towards the creation of a Western empire and a new political system of Europe with the pope and the German emperor at the head.

Hereditary succession was not yet invested with that religious sanctity among the Teutonic races as in later ages. In the Jewish theocracy unworthy kings were deposed, and new dynasties elevated by the interposition of God’s messengers. The pope claimed and exercised now for the first time the same power. The Mayor, or high steward, of the royal household in France was the prime minister of the sovereign and the chief of the official and territorial nobility. This dignity became hereditary in the family of Pepin of Laudon, who died in 639, and was transmitted from him through six descents to Pepin the Short, a gallant warrior and an experienced statesman. He was on good terms with Boniface, the apostle of Germany and archbishop of Mayence, who, according to the traditional view, acted as negotiator between him and the pope in this political coup d’etat.235235    Rettberg, however (I. 385 sqq.), disconnects Boniface from all participation in the elevation and coronation of Pepin, and represents him as being rather opposed to it. He argues from the silence of some annalists, and from the improbability that the pope should have repeated the consecration if it had been previously performed by his legate.

Childeric III., the last of the hopelessly degenerate Merovingian line, was the mere shadow of a monarch, and forced to retire into a monastery. Pepin, the ruler in fact now assumed the name, was elected at Soissons (March, 752) by the acclamation and clash of arms of the people, and anointed, like the kings of Israel, with holy oil, by Boniface or some other bishop, and two years after by the pope himself, who had decided that the lawful possessor of the royal power may also lawfully assume the royal title. Since that time he called himself “by the grace of God king of the Franks.” The pope conferred on him the title of “Patrician of the Romans” (Patricius Romanorum), which implies a sort of protectorate over the Roman church, and civil sovereignty, over her territory. For the title “Patrician,” which was introduced by Constantine the Great signified the highest rank next to that of the emperor, and since the sixth century was attached to the Byzantine Viceroy, of Italy. On the other hand, this elevation and coronation was made the basis of papal superiority over the crowns of France and Germany.

The pope soon reaped the benefit of his favor. When hard pressed again by the Lombards, he called the new king to his aid.

Stephen III., who succeeded Zacharias in March, 752, and ruled till 757, visited Pepin in person, and implored him to enforce the restoration of the domain of St. Peter. He anointed him again at St. Denys, together with his two sons, and promised to secure the perpetuity of his dynasty by the fearful power of the interdict and excommunication. Pepin accompanied him back to Italy and defeated the Lombards (754). When the Lombards renewed the war, the pope wrote letter upon letter to Pepin, admonishing and commanding him in the name of Peter and the holy Mother of God to save the city of Rome from the detested enemies, and promising him long life and the most glorious mansions in heaven, if he speedily obeyed. To such a height of blasphemous assumption had the papacy risen already as to identify itself with the kingdom of Christ and to claim to be the dispenser of temporal prosperity and eternal salvation.

Pepin crossed the Alps again with his army, defeated the Lombards, and bestowed the conquered territory upon the pope (755). He declared to the ambassadors of the East who demanded the restitution of Ravenna and its territory to the Byzantine empire, that his sole object in the war was to show his veneration for St. Peter. The new papal district embraced the Exarchate and the Pentapolis, East of the Apennines, with the cities of Ravenna, Rimini, Pesaro, Fano, Cesena, Sinigaglia, lesi, Forlimpopoli, Forli, Montefeltro, Acerra, Monte di Lucano, Serra, San Marino, Bobbio, Urbino, Cagli, Luciolo, Gubbio, Comachio, and Narni.236236    This is the enumeration of Baronius ad ann. 755. Others define the extent differently. Comp. Wiltsch, Kirchl. Geographie und Statistik, I. pp. 246 sqq.

This donation of Pepin is the foundation of “the Patrimony of St. Peter.” The pope was already in possession of tracts of land in Italy and elsewhere granted to the church. But by this gift of a foreign conqueror he became a temporal sovereign over a large part of Italy, while claiming to be the successor of Peter who had neither silver nor gold, and the vicar of Christ who said: “My kingdom is not of this world.” The temporal power made the papacy independent in the exercise of its jurisdiction, but at the expense of its spiritual character. It provoked a long conflict with the secular power; it involved it in the political interests, intrigues and wars of Europe, and secularized the church and the hierarchy. Dante, who shared the mediaeval error of dating the donation of Pepin back to Constantine the Great,237237    Constantine bestowed upon the pope a portion of the Lateran palace for his residence, and upon the church the right to hold real estate and to receive bequests of landed property from individuals. This is the slender foundation for the fable of the Donatio Constantini. gave expression to this view in the famous lines:

“Ah, Constantine! of how much ill was mother,

Not thy conversion, but that marriage-dower

Which the first wealthy Father took from thee.”238238    Inferno xix. 115-118:
   “Ahi Costantin, di quanto mal fu matre,

   Non la tua conversion, ma quella dote,

   Che da te presse il primo ricco patre!

Yet Dante places Constantine, who “from good intent produced evil fruit,” in heaven; where

“Now he knows how all the ill deduced

From his good action is not harmful to him,

Although the world thereby may be destroyed.”

And he speaks favorably of Charlemagne’s intervention in behalf of the pope:

“And when the tooth of Lombardy had bitten

The Holy Church, then underneath its wings

Did Charlemagne victorious succor her.”239239    Paradiso XX. 57-60; VI. 94-97. Longfellow’s translation.

The policy of Pepin was followed by Charlemagne, the German, and Austrian emperors, and modern French rulers who interfered in Italian affairs, now as allies, now as enemies, until the temporal power of the papacy was lost under its last protector, Napoleon III., who withdrew his troops from Rome to fight against Germany, and by his defeat prepared the way for Victor Emanuel to take possession of Rome, as the capital of free and united Italy (1870). Since that time the pope who a few weeks before had proclaimed to the world his own infallibility in all matters of faith and morals, is confined to the Vatican, but with no diminution of his spiritual power as the bishop of bishops over two hundred millions of souls.

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