Sermons of Pope Innocent III: The moral theology of a pastor and pope

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Kenneth Pennington


Innocent III, Pope, Sermons, Moral theology, Pastor

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities | History | History of Religion | Religion


That Pope Innocent III's reign (1198-1216) was the height of papal power in medieval Europe has been a standard assertion by historians, for valid reasons. He exerted papal authority within the church's structures, many times at the expense of other bishops or of Christians holding beliefs and practices different from the papacy's. He extended papal authority, often at the expense of the power of secular rulers. Finally, Innocent was instrumental in shaping medieval European life in terms of individual behavior and judicial process.

This dissertation studies Innocent's sermons from a sermon collection published in 1202-1204, and it assesses the originality and significance of the theology expressed in them. It provides additional evidence for the present consensus among Innocentian scholars that he used his theological training and perspective much more than he used a legal perspective. Seeing himself as the chief pastor of Christendom--with the continuum of gentle nurture to aggressive defense that the general pastoral office included--Innocent applied through his preaching a Christian theology based in the twelfth century to the task of informing and reforming Christendom in the thirteenth century. It concludes that Innocent's originality and importance lay in his ability to (1) appropriate familiar ideas and images from theology and life; (2) apply them creatively to specific situations by means of perceptive pastoral discernment, skillful theological exegesis, and persuasive language; and (3) implement reforms that were called for by his exegesis by means of his papal authority.

This dissertation takes the next steps in Innocentian studies in several areas. First, it makes publicly available an in-depth examination of the construction and purpose of Innocent's sermon collection. Second, it offers a detailed survey of sermon manuscripts from Bavaria, Austria, and Spain--correcting previous studies in several places. Third, it publishes an edition of five of Innocent's sermons, thus establishing a more secure text for these important sermons. Finally, it implements a call for the systematic study of Innocent's theological ideas and for the comparison of those ideas to contemporary intellectuals in order to assess Innocent's originality and importance.


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