Apostolica Legatia (Apostolic Legation)

Tancred d’Hauteville

     The last expansionistic move, which determined the future political balance of Europe, was that of the Norwegian, called the Norsmen (men of the North) and later, Normans. Up to about the year 1000 Europe was controlled by three powers: The Byzantine, an extension of the Roman Empire, and two Caliphates: the Fatemid, which extended from Egypt to Sicily and the Cordoba, which controlled great part of Spain and Northern Africa up to Mauritania

     Even before the year 1000, the Vikings, that had contained their incursions in the Northern territory, including England, had started now assaulting Europe’s south-western territories, reaching even Paris. In 911 the king of France, Charles the Simple, to stop them, gave them a big territory, what was later called Normandy. This territory though had to be subject to the crown and they had to consent to become Christians.

     This territory was divided in Counties and the County D’Hauteville was given to Tancred, who became Count D’Hauteville. Some of the knights of the Normans became mercenaries for lack of territory and wealth. The mercenaries we want to talk about here are the sons of Tancred D’Hauteville: William Iron Arm, Robert the Guiscard and his brothers, among whom Roger. They came in Southern Italy and established themselves there to be hired by the best paying Warlords.

     It was not long when, fighting for the Longobards, because of the sudden desertion of Argyrus, leader of the Longobards, to the Byzantine forces, William Iron Arm found himself count and leader of that army. He defeated the Byzantines and conquered all the Apulian region and surrounding lands. At William’s death, Robert became count and in 1058 he had a call for help in the controversy between Benedict X and Nicholas II, both aspiring to the papacy. The Normans took Benedict X prisoner allowing Nicholas to be pope. Nicholas gave legal status to the Normans, nominating Robert Duke of Apulia and Calabria, conceded them ownership of all the territories they would occupy as long as they agreed to remain vassals to the pope.

    In 1059 with the help of his brother Robert, Roger landed in Messina, Sicily, to try and take Sicily away from the Moslems. Soon after Robert had to leave Roger to fight for himself in Sicily. It took Roger thirty years for the complete conquest of Sicily. The great reformer Pope Gregory VII, who fought against simony, came in conflict with the interest of Henry IV of Germany, who wanted, personally, without church interference, to confer titles over the clergy.

Roger Grand Count of Sicily

    To counter Henry IV of Germany, the Normans, elected Pope Victor III, an abbot of Monte Cassino, who was forced by Clement III to spend his papacy almost entirely in Cassino. At his death, in 1088, the Normans elected Urban II pope. However he could not take office officially because of the interference of Henry IV. Urban II traveled to Sicily, as a guest in Troina at the court of Roger, for two reasons: a) he wanted to see firsthand that the Moslems were on their way out for the effort of count Roger; b) he needed Roger’s help to get rid of Henry IV once and for all. As prize for his help, Roger asked the pontiff to make him Apostolic Legate for all Sicily for religious matters and to nominate him Grand Count of Sicily.

     As for the former, he already had taken that privilege on his own, because he wanted to replace with his own people, that he could trust, like the French and the English, the charges occupied by the Byzantines in the ecclesiastical hierarchy. Now, he wanted the pope to make it official. In 1094 Robert the Guiscard, took Urban II to Rome and, with his army, moved against Henry IV driving him out of Rome and out of Italy. Urban II did not want to give Roger the authority over the Church in Sicily, he nominated him Grand Count of Sicily but no more than that. But when the pope nominated monsignor Robert bishop of Messina and Troina, Roger had him arrested while celebrating mass. The impasse lasted eight months.

     Finally pressed by the necessity for help Urban II consented to what no other Christian ruler had in all of Europe, and with the bull Quia Propter Prudentiam Tuam (Because of Your Prudence) gave Roger the Apostolica Legatia (Apostolic Legation), with the rights of succession “…quod omni vitae tuae tempori, vel filii tui Simonis, aut alterius, qui legitimus tui haeres… legatum Romanae Ecclesiae statumus…” (…that for the time of your life, as for that of your son Simon or any other, who is your legitimate heir…we make legate of the Roman Church…), recognizing Roger sole and supreme authority in Sicily over temporal and spiritual matters, as long as he would not interfere with the salvation of the soul and the dogmas of the Church. With this mandate Roger could now officially establish dioceses, nominate bishops, in other words he will be like the pope in Sicily.

     To this end Roger formed the Tribunal of the monarchy, which dealt with religious legal problems, such as disputes, claims, crimes and such within the church, involving both laypeople and clergy, with no interference from the pope. This bull did not always have smooth sailing; on the contrary, throughout the centuries the Roman Curia tried time and again to erase what they thought was an indignity for the church. More than once different popes tried to render Sicily a vassal of Rome with the pope as supreme authority, but they always failed. The fight was at times harsh between Rome and Frederick II, but even with more than one excommunication against Frederick, the Church did not get anywhere.
The fight lasted for centuries.

      On January 27, 1711. The bishop of the island of Lipari sent a lot of chickpeas, fruit of alms from the community, to the market to be sold. The guards of the treasury, always on hand, required the usual payment or tax for the sale of those goods. The bishop of Lipari, Monsignor Tedeschi, complained that his chickpeas were In Coena Domini (alms from the community), that is, protected by the famous bull of Pius V of 1568, which threatened of excommunication whomever would tax church property, those were alms, property of the church and therefore exempt from any tax (the dioceses of Lipari had been founded in the 1300s, and therefore was not under the Tribunal of the Monarchy, but under the jurisdiction of the Vatican).

     The Sicilian authority recognized the mistake made by the guards and reimbursed the bishop the amount withheld (which was about two pounds of chickpeas). The bishop was not happy and asked for a public apology from the viceroy, who flatly refused. The bishop then, made angry, excommunicated the two guards, who scared for their souls, went and pleaded with the viceroy, who, applying the rules of the Apostolica Legatia had the Tribunal of the monarchy made void the excommunication of the two officials.

     Monsignor Tedeschi made recourse to the pope who sent a letter to the Church in Sicily confirming the excommunication of the two guards and ordering that copy of said letter be posted on each church. But this order could not have had any effect without the authorization of the king, who was still the Apostolic Legate in Sicily. Therefore the king reacted in ordering the arrest and/or exile of those bishops and priests who were loyal to Rome and confiscating their properties. In time the quarrel became so exacerbated that in 1715 Clement XI launched the interdiction over all of Sicily.

This event passed in history as the Lipari’s Controversy, and so cried the popular poet:

Lu santu Patri nni livau la missa,
Lu re conza la furca a li parrini,
Scurrunu li funtani a stizza a stizza,
Li terri mancu spicanu luppini!
Domini Diu li casi nni subbissa,
Li iurati nni sucanu li vini,
Sicilia è carni di sasizza,
Cca c’è la liggi di li saracini!

The Holy Father took away our mass,
The king readies gallows for the priests,
The water in the fountains comes by drops,
The earth won’t even sprout lupines!
The Lord God takes down our dwellings,
the taxman all our blood sucks
Sicily meat for sausage has become,
We have now the law of the Saracens!

      In 1728, Pope Benedict XIII, even if somewhat blandly, reaffirmed the rights of the Tribunal of the monarchy in Sicily, and lifted the interdiction. After 17 years the churches in Sicily were opened, the church bells were tolling again and the people could receive the Sacrament without fear from one side or the other. In 1871 the Italian government, even with the opposition of some noted elected officials, abolished the Apostolica Legatia, putting an end to a question, which had lasted for almost eight centuries.

Nino Russo

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