Innocent II, Saint Lawrence, and Saint Callixtus (Apse mosaic detail from Church of Santa Maria in Trastevere) by Unknown Italian artist

Unknown Italian artist

Innocent II, Saint Lawrence, and Saint Callixtus (Apse mosaic detail from Church of Santa Maria in Trastevere), 12th century, Mosaic, Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere, Rome, Scala / Art Resource, NY

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The Treasures of the Church

Commentary by

What virtues should bishops and deacons embody? And how might first-century instructions to the Church’s earliest ‘overseers’, recorded in 1 Timothy 3, speak down the centuries to their powerful and wealthy successors in episcopal office?

The election of Innocent II as pope in 1130 was controversial and he was ousted by a rival pope, Anacletus II. Upon his return to Rome, eight years later, Innocent II had to strengthen his position. The building campaign at Santa Maria in Trastevere, the title church of his rival before he seized the papal throne, was part of this project. In addition, Trastevere was the area of Rome in which Innocent II grew up.

The church of Santa Maria was completely rebuilt by the pope in the early 1140s. He had the new apse decorated with a spectacular mosaic depicting Christ and the Virgin seated on the same throne and surrounded by figures belonging to different ecclesiastical ranks. Innocent II himself appears holding the model of the basilica at the far left next to St Lawrence, a third-century Roman deacon, and St Callixtus I, a third-century pope who was associated with this very church.

The presence of St Lawrence in this group, though he did not have a direct link with Trastevere, is not surprising. He was a third-century Roman deacon whose dedication to the charitable work of his office earned him popularity among the faithful of Rome. As a deacon at the Lateran, his duty was to manage its material goods and distribute alms. When the city’s prefect requested, he hand over to him the treasures of the church, St Lawrence gave them to the needy as alms. He then presented the poor to the prefect and said, ‘These are the treasures of the Church’ (Ambrose of Milan, De officiis 2.140).

It was his embodiment of not being ‘greedy for gain’ (1 Timothy 3:8)—a virtue required of deacons—that made St Lawrence good company for Pope Innocent II, who had to prove himself to the locals.

 

References

Davidson, Ivor J. (ed.). 2002. Ambrose of Milan: De officiis, vol. 1/2 (Oxford: Oxford University Press), p. 347

Kinney, Dale. 2016. ‘The Image of a Building: Santa Maria in Trastevere’, California Italian Studies, 6.1, available: https://escholarship.org/uc/item/3fp5z3gz [accessed 20 July 2020]