Honorius III Became the Great Pacificator

Dan Graves, MSL

Cencio Savelli became pope with reluctance. Already in his sixties, he must have sighed at the burden he was called to shoulder. Yet he had many years of able administration behind him and his pontificate revealed him to be, by and large, a wise and peaceable man. He took the name Honorius III at his consecration on this day July 24, 1216. This took place at Perugia. Others would give him another name: the Great Pacificator. His eleven-year reign would see some of the church's most significant developments.

To Honorius belongs the honor of approving the rules of three great orders: The Carmelites, the Dominicans and the Franciscans. The university, a phenomenon unknown outside Christendom, began to take shape in the Middle Ages. Honorius granted privileges to two which were destined to become forces of new learning: the universities of Paris and Bologna.

"Blessed are the peacemakers," said Christ. Honorius made peace. He appointed worthy legates to oversee the minority of Henry III of England and kept France from warring on the island nation. He helped arrange peace for several European nations. Bohemia, France, Greece, Hungary Scandinavia and Spain had reason to be grateful for his role in this.

Two things he longed for: the spiritual renewal of the church and the recovery of the Holy Land. To accomplish the latter he arranged the fifth crusade. It quickly captured the Egyptian port of Damietta. Sultan El Kamil offered Jerusalem in exchange for the port. Then Honorius made a regrettable blunder. He refused the offer. His armies were soundly trounced when Frederick II failed to appear according to promise. Another error, related to his goal of spiritual renewal, was his authorization of the inquisition against the Albigenses. They were brutalized. Innocent III had begun the process of suppressing these heretics and Honorius continued it.

A man of erudition, he penned biographies of popes Celestine III and Gregory VII and a number of other works of historical interest. These include tax lists, collections of decretals (a decretal is a papal letter giving an authoritative decision on canon law) and more. His decretals are considered the first official canon law because he issued them under a bull.

Honorius may have been old when he ascended the papal throne, but he ruled more vigorously than many a younger man. Because he was personally gracious he did not create the kind of antagonism less tactful pontiffs had occasioned. Thus he died greatly beloved and respected. Although he is remembered for setting into motion the atrocities against the Albigenses, he was also remembered for acts of personal kindness, such as buying grain for the poor of Rome during a famine when the merchants withheld corn to raise the price. His death came on March 18, 1227.


  1. Brusher, J. Popes Through the Ages. Princeton, New Jersey: Van Nostrand, 1964.
  2. Montor, Chevalier Artaud de. Lives and Times of the Popes. New York: Catholic Publication Society of America, 1911.
  3. Ott, Michael. "Honorius III." The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton, 1914.
  4. Various encyclopedia and internet articles.

Last updated April, 2007.