In the adjudication of cases brought before episcopal tribunals the popes likewise counseled the tempering of severity with kindliness. Honorius III delineated the qualities and procedure that should characterize the ecclesiastical judge: with all patience and concern, as sitting on the throne and dispensing equity in tranquillity, ministers should proceed with mature consideration to judge the cases of those subject to their jurisdiction, not passing judgment indiscriminately, but with understanding, moderation, and diligent deliberation; only reluctantly should judges lay censures on their subjects and then in such a way that they appear to do this from love of justice and not out of spiteful vengeance, wishing rather to recall the erring sheep to the fold than to eject the fallen from the flock. This exposition of Christian jurisprudence was evoked by a report reaching Rome of a hasty and highly irregular condemnation inflicted by certain ecclesiastics.

Experience soon taught the popes that a spiritual revitalization of the episcopate was not sufficient; some bishops manifested a singular lack of juridical ability to capably investigate and try heretical suspects. Again and again Innocent III had to instruct individual bishops to provide him with the full particulars of cases involving heresy, to send him not only the interrogations of the accused, but the declaration of the defense as well. Repeatedly he was forced to request re-examination for more complete evidence, since the Holy See based its decisions on the accuracy of the reports made by the episcopate. Honorius III admonished offending judges that jurisdiction must never be construed to the injury of others and that such presumption must cease else of necessity the papal hand would descend heavily upon the delinquents. In an effort to assure just trials the pope forbade the archbishop of Trier and the bishops of Metz, Verdun, and Toul to permit anyone to be tried when there were not enough legal advisers present, for otherwise the nobles served their own interests to the disregard of the laws of justice and equity.

Albert Shannon, The Popes and Heresy in the Thirteenth Century (1949)


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