Research areas

The project is broken up into three areas, which will each form the basis of a peer-reviewed article.

1. Tears, weeping, and sorrow at the curia of Innocent III

This area examines how references to tears, weeping, and sorrow were used as narrative and rhetorical devices to communicate papal authority in Innocent III’s texts. I have chosen two related cases: the crusades and the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215 which, among other matters, was called to discuss the Fifth Crusade and major reform of the Church. The material consists of papal letters promoting the Fourth Crusade (1202–4) and Fifth Crusade (1217–21) and the Fourth Lateran Council; the opening sermons for the council; and the Gesta Innocentii. In all of these sources, Innocent places himself — or is portrayed as doing so — in situations in which he is trying to move others, of all occupations and social ranks, to take laborious action for the faith, and thus situations in which his authority might be tested. In this research area, I test the framework from studies of episcopal tears in the central Middle Ages on the Innocentian material, in particular the idea that episcopal weeping was often framed as a battle against sin, and demonstrated the righteousness of episcopal intervention at times during which the Church was felt to be in grave danger. My project also compares writings on and by Innocent to those of his predecessors in order to determine the significance of Innocent III’s use of weeping and sorrow as a device which contributed to the cementing of his authority. An examination of the use of tears in these particularly emotive works lends an innovative insight into how weeping and sorrow contributes to the meaningful communication of authority during a time of perceived crisis.  

2. Anger, masculinity, and performance of the papal office at the curia of Innocent III (1198–1216)

This area explores how and to what extent Innocent III and his curia used papal anger as a trope, focusing on how this was employed in situations in which Innocent experienced a challenge to his authority. The chosen cases are the German Emperor, King John of England, and the leaders of the failed Fourth Crusade who all, in different forms and at different times, challenged or defied papal authority. As part of this aspect of the project, Iben Fonnesberg-Schmidt and I will examine curial letters to these groups as well as the Gesta Innocentii — which contains several central scenes in which Innocent expresses anger — in order to explore curial ideas about rational versus irrational anger, about the use of anger in the communication of papal authority, and about masculine authority. The analysis will explore whether Innocent’s controlled anger was a quality associated with ‘correct’ and respectable masculinity, and thus was used by the curia to reassert papal authority as the highest ecclesiastical authority in the face of serious direct challenges.

3. Shepherd and father: authority and the ideal pope in the writings of Innocent III

This area assesses how the papacy used emotions in constructing an ideal image of papal authority modelled closely on the pastor bonus (good shepherd) motif, and how the curia created a pastor bonus for Innocent’s time. It focusses on four of Innocent’s sermons relating to the papal office: his sermon for the feast of Pope Gregory I, his sermons on the pastor bonus, on the consecration of the supreme pontiff, and on the consecration of pontiffs. I examine the use of emotions within these sermons in the context of the development of pastoral care by the papal curia. It contends that an analysis of emotions in relation to how specific pastoral roles were gendered can yield new insights into the communication of papal authority, and will examine in particular how the papal curia characterised certain roles as maternal or paternal. Reading Innocent’s use of emotions in his sermons on the papal office within the context of debates over pastoral care, changing ideas of paternal and maternal roles in the wake of long-term clerical reform, and Innocent’s use of Pope Gregory I (590–604) as role model for pastoral care, will help historians to understand how emotions and their gendering informed the ways in which Innocent and his curia imagined ideal papal authority.


Project co-ordinator: Kirsty Day

Phone: +45 99408386