This day in Jewish history / An anti-pope of Jewish descent dies
Many heads of the Catholic Church have been rumored to be of Jewish lineage, but it is fairly certain that Anacletus was the great-grandson of [an unconverted usurer].
David B. Green - Haaretz
On January 25, 1138, the anti-pope Anacletus II died. Although many heads of the Catholic Church have been rumored over the ages to be of Jewish descent, it is fairly certain that Anacletus, born Pietro Pierleoni (his date of birth is unknown), was the great-grandson of a converted Jew.
The term “anti-pope” has been used in situations where the election of the pontiff has been disputed, so that two candidates have laid claim to the title. The one who in the end achieves recognition is the one who goes down in history as pope, with his opponent being remembered as an “anti-pope.”
Baruch, the great-grandfather of Anacletus, was a Roman moneylender who converted to Christianity and changed his name to Benedict. He married into Roman aristocracy, and it was his grandson, Petrus Leonis, who resolved to have his son enter the priesthood. Petrus studied in Paris and was a Benedictine monk at the abbey Cluny, before returning to Rome. Pope Paschal II appointed him a cardinal in 1111 or 1112.
In February 1130, while Pope Honorius II lay dying, a group of cardinals decided they would promote Cardinal Gregory Papareschi to the papacy. They arranged to elect Papareschi within hours of the death of Honorious, and to install him as Pope Innocent II the following day, on February 14. That same day, however, a majority of cardinals, who included most of those that elected Innocent but now had misgivings over the impropriety of the process, convened and named Pietro Pierleoni as pope.
Pierleoni’s family was still a major banking power in Rome, so it’s little surprise that support for his papacy was complete in that city. But Innocent, who fled Italy for France, was able to line up the political support of the influential Cistercian monk Bernard of Clairvaux, who persuaded both the leaders and the church hierarchy of France, England and Germany to recognize Innocent. Lothair, the Holy Roman Emperor, invaded Rome in 1132, and occupied all but St. Peter’s Basilica and the pope’s castle, St. Angelo, so that it was possible for Innocent to be crowned as pope (again) on June 4, 1133. Nonetheless, Innocent soon had to flee Rome again, this time for Pisa.
The papal schism thus continued, with the enemies of Anacletus making much of his Jewish ancestry. He was accused of robbing the church of much of its wealth, together with Jewish helpers, and of incest. Only after the death of Anacletus, on this day in 1138, did Innocent become the undisputed pope, and that happened only two months later, when the man whom the supporters of Anacletus elected to succeed him, Cardinal Gregory Conti, resign from the papacy.
Though the Pierleoni were conceded to be one of the wealthiest and most powerful senatorial families of Rome, and though they had staunchly supported the Popes throughout the fifty years' war for reform and freedom, yet it was never forgotten that they were of Jewish extraction, and had risen to wealth and power by usury.
The Cardinal's grandfather, named Leo after Pope Leo IX, who baptized him, was a faithful adherent of Gregory VII; Leo's son, Peter, from whom the family acquired the appellation of Pierleoni, became leader of the faction of the Roman nobility which was at enmity with the Frangipani. His marble coffin may still be seen in the cloisters of St. Paul's, with its pompous inscription extolling his wealth and numerous offspring.
His attempt to install his son as Prefect of Rome in 1116, though favoured by the Pope, had been resisted by the opposite party with riot and bloodshed. His second son, the future antipope, was destined for the Church. After finishing his education at Paris, he became a monk in the monastery of Cluny, but before long he was summoned to Rome by Pope Paschal II and created Cardinal-Deacon of SS. Cosmas and Damian.
He accompanied Pope Gelasius on his flight to France, and was employed by successive pontiffs in important affairs, including legations to France and England. If we can believe his enemies, he disgraced his high office by gross immorality and by his greed in the accumulation of lucre. Whatever exaggeration there may be as to other charges, there can be no doubt that he was determined to buy or force his way into the Papal Chair ...
Anacletus maintained his popularity in Rome by the lavish expenditure of his accumulated wealth and the plundered treasures of the churches. His letters and those of the Romans to Lothair of Germany remaining unanswered, he secured a valuable confederate in Duke Roger of Apulia, whose ambition he satisfied by the gift of royalty; on Christmas Day, 1130, a cardinal-legate of Anacletus anointed at Palermo. the first King of the Two Sicilies, a momentous event in the history of Italy.
St. Bernard of Clairvaux, who had come to Rome in the interests of the legitimate pontiff, was the principle agent in persuading the followers of the late anti-pope to return to their allegiance, and even brought in person the chief members of the Pierleone [banking] family, to the feet of Innocent who received them kindly and promoted them to high offices and honors.
The Pierleone, although they had failed in the attempt to set up a pope from among themselves, long continued to be among the Roman nobles; and centuries later, the flatterers of the imperial House of Habsburg sought to exalt its greatness by tracing out for it a connexion with the family of the Jewish usurer.