Thursday, October 12, 2017
A Brief Word on Faith & Frederick Barbarossa
Did Emperor Frederick I have problems with the Church in his time? Most would say, "yes" but I would add that his problems were more with the papacy than with the Church as a whole. Problems there certainly were though and ultimately this stemmed from the fact that the First German Reich, referred to officially as the "Holy Roman Empire" had a very different beginning than the original Roman Empire which preceded it. It all came down to the fact that this new entity had begun with the Pope, St Leo III, crowning Charlemagne "Emperor of the Romans" and, as such, the papal view was that the imperial crown was theirs to give and theirs to take away. Emperor Frederick I, as with many of his fellow kaisers, needless to say, did not tend to share this view. There was also a territorial dispute which originated from, basically, the Pope giving land to the King of Sicily which Frederick regarded as being part of the empire without checking with the emperor first and after the Emperor had signed an agreement with a previous pope that promised there would be no such agreement between the Emperor and the King of Sicily without papal approval, so it seemed like a double-cross to the Germans.
Especially in these dishonest and disjointed times we live in, I think it is important to keep a few things in mind before being too hard on Emperor Frederick. He was one of the few German emperors to actually be crowned by the Pope (in 1155) with his troops killing off the Roman republicans who had been antagonizing the pontiff while he was there. Emperor Frederick, though he was excommunicated along with anti-Pope Victor IV, only had a problem with that because from his first day to his last he considered himself a staunch Roman Catholic and never considered being anything else. Indeed, he was widely considered a very devout and pious man who wanted the papal and imperial powers to work together but did insist that the pope recognize the imperial power which he wielded in secular matters. He was not some raving, unorthodox, heretic who was, for example, trying to argue that mothers could kill their children or that two men can get married. Finally, it is also worth remembering that even after all of his trials and difficulties, Emperor Frederick I died while going on Crusade to retake the Holy Land from Islam. In short, while not denying or covering up the very real differences Frederick Barbarossa had with the papacy, I think Catholics should not be too hard on him. The first view of him that comes to mind should not be that of a villain.