Popes through the Looking Glass, or «Ceci n’est pas un pape»
By Tommaso di Carpegna Falconieri
Reti Medievali Journal, Vol.13:1 (2012)
Abstract: This paper introduces Clement III (Wibert of Ravenna) in the context of the general phenomenon of the antipopes, a vast and fundamentally medieval subject. The theme can be approached in two substantially different ways: from the well-established, official position, which condemns the antipopes as schismatics and subverters of the divine order; or from the perspective of an observer who attempts to examine the phenomenon from the inside. This study opts for the latter vantage point, as do the three papers that it introduces. In them, the antipopes take shape as historical personages who believed in their own legitimacy as popes, who often had large followings, and who received their mark of infamy—that is, the title of antipope—because they were defeated by their opponents.
With the first of the two methods (the official, well-established one), history is interpreted in reverse, giving events after-the-fact justifications. With the second analytical strategy, the interpreter instead views history in the historical present and tries to comprehend how events unfolded within the dynamics of the myriad possibilities, changes, and inversions of course that life presents. In this sense, the essays in this collection look not at «anti-popes» but rather at «other-popes» reflected in the mirrors of their adversaries—adversaries who won their respective struggles and were thus able to transmit their own visions of events as the sole vehicles of truth. In the same spirit, these essays consider not antipopes but rather individuals who, like the pipe in Magritte’s painting, come down to us not in their authentic dimension but rather through the filters of representation.
Excerpt: Romans have a popular saying: «Morto un papa se ne fa un altro». In short, no one is indispensable, not even the pope. Life goes on, whatever happens. Yet what happens if, when one pope dies, instead of electing one you elect two, and these two popes then begin to fight with one another? What happens if, in place of one clear possibility, the future presents you with two? Between the second century and the fifteenth, the names of roughly forty people have come down to us who declared themselves legitimate popes, bishops of Rome and successors of st. Peter, but who then passed into history as antipopes. The phenomenon was clearly vast.
The cases are so diverse that they are difficult to classify. Some people remembered as antipopes occupied the papal throne only briefly and were rapidly removed in factional struggle. Some were mere pawns moved around by others on the political chessboard. Others, however, and they were not a mere few, were personages of great importance, men who controlled the papacy effectively, sometimes for long periods of time, and who had significant followings. In this final category, one group – the antipopes of the second half of the eleventh century and of the first half of the twelfth, those of the era of the so-called «Investiture Controversy» and the struggle between the empire and the reform papacy – is especially conspicuous. Within that category, moreover, one figure stands out even further: Clement III, Wibert of Correggio, chancellor of the empire and archbishop of Ravenna. Elected pope in 1080 and consecrated in 1084, Clement died in 1100.
See also our page on Tommaso di Carpegna Falconieri’s book The Man Who Believed He Was King of France: A True Medieval Tale