|Pope Gregory VII|
Born: c. 1020
Birthplace: Sovana, Italy
Location of death: Salerno, Italy
Cause of death: unspecified
Religion: Roman Catholic
Race or Ethnicity: White
Executive summary: Lost power struggle with Henry IV
Gregory VII, pope from 1073 to 1085. Hildebrand (the future pope) would seem to have been born in Tuscany -- perhaps Raovacum -- early in the third decade of the 11th century. The son of a plain citizen, Bunicus or Bonizo, he came to Rome at an early age for his education; an uncle of his being abbot of the convent of St. Mary on the Aventine. His instructors appear to have included the archpriest Johannes Gratianus, who, by disbursing a considerable sum to Benedict IX, smoothed his way to the papal throne and actually ascended it as Gregory VI. But when the emperor Henry III, on his expedition to Rome (1046), terminated the scandalous impasse in which three popes laid claim to the chair of Peter by deposing all three, Gregory VI was banished to Germany, and Hildebrand found himself obliged to accompany him. As he himself afterwards admitted, it was with extreme reluctance that he crossed the Alps. But his residence in Germany was of great educative value, and full of significance for his later official activity. In Cologne he was enabled to pursue his studies; he came into touch with the circles of Lorraine where interest in the elevation of the Church and her life was highest, and gained acquaintance with the political and ecclesiastical circumstances of that country which was destined to figure so largely in his career. Whether, on the death of Gregory VI in the beginning of 1048, Hildebrand proceeded to Cluny is doubtful. His brief residence there, if it actually occurred, is to be regarded as no more than a visit; for he was never a monk of Cluny. His contemporaries indeed describe him as a monk; but his entry into the convent must be assigned to the period preceding or following his German travels and presumably took place in Rome. He returned to that city with Bishop Bruno of Toul, who was nominated pope under the title of Leo IX (1048-54). Under him Hildebrand found his first employment in the ecclesiastical service, becoming a subdeacon and steward in the Roman Church. He acted, moreover, as a legate in France, where he was occupied inter alia with the question of Berengar of Tours, whose views on the Lord's Supper had excited opposition. On the death of Leo IX he was commissioned by the Romans as their envoy to the German court, to conduct the negotiations with regard to his successor. The emperor pronounced in favor of Bishop Gebhard of Eichsätdt, who, in the course of his short reign as Pope Victor II (1055-57), again employed Hildebrand as his legate to France. When Stephen IX (Frederick of Lorraine) was raised to the papacy, without previous consultation with the German court, Hildebrand and Bishop Anselm of Lucca were despatched to Germany to secure a belated recognition, and he succeeded in gaining the consent of the empress Agnes. Stephen, however, died before his return, and, by the hasty elevation of Bishop Johannes of Velletri, the Roman aristocracy made a last attempt to recover their lost influence on the appointment to the papal throne -- a proceeding which was charged with peril to the Church as it implied a renewal of the disastrous patrician regime. That the crisis was surmounted was essentially the work of Hildebrand. To Benedict X, the aristocratic nominee, he opposed a rival pope in the person of Bishop Gerhard of Florence, with whom the victory rested. The reign of Nicholas II (1059-61) was distinguished by events which exercised a potent influence on the policy of the Curia during the next two decades -- the rapprochement with the Normans in the south of Italy, and the alliance with the democratic and, subsequently, anti-German movement of the Patarenes in the north. It was also under his pontificate (1059) that the law was enacted which transferred the papal election to the College of Cardinals, thus withdrawing it from the nobility and populace of Rome and thrusting the German influence on one side. It would be too much to maintain that these measures were due to Hildebrand alone, but it is obvious that he was already a dominant personality on the Curia, through he still held no more exalted office than that of archdeacon, which was indeed only conferred on him in 1059. Again, when Nicholas II died and a new schism broke out, the discomfiture of Honorius II (Bishop Cadalus of Parma) and the success of his rival (Anselm of Lucca) must be ascribed principally, if not entirely, to Hildebrand's opposition to the former. Under the sway of Pope Alexander II (1061-73) this man loomed larger and larger in the eye of his contemporaries as the soul of the Curial policy. It must be confessed the general political conditions, especially in Germany, were at that period exceptionally favorable to the Curia, but to utilize them with the sagacity actually shown was nevertheless no slight achievement, and the position of Alexander at the end of his pontificate was a brilliant justification of the Hildebrandine statecraft.
On the death of Alexander II (April 21, 1073), Hildebrand became pope and took the style of Gregory VII. The mode of his election was bitterly assailed by his opponents. True, many of the charges preferred are obviously the emanations of scandal and personal dislike, liable to suspicion from the very fact that they were not raised to impugn his promotion until several years had elapsed (circa 1076); still it is plain from his own account of the circumstances of his elevation that it was conducted in extremely irregular fashion, and that the forms prescribed by the law of 1059 were not observed. But the sequel justified his election -- of which the worst that can be said is that there was no general suffrage. And this sequel again owed none of its success to chance, but was the fruit of his own exertions. In his character were united wide experience and great energy tested in difficult situations. It is proof of the popular faith in his qualifications that, although the circumstances of his election invited assault in 1073, no sort of attempt was then made to set up a rival pontiff. When, however, the opposition which took head against him had gone so far as to produce a pretender to the chair, his long and undisputed possession tended to prove the original legality of his papacy; and the appeal to irregularities at its beginning not only lost all cogency but assumed the appearance of a mere biased attack. On the 22nd of May he received sacerdotal ordination, and on the 30th of June episcopal consecration; the empress Agnes and the Duchess Beatrice of Tuscany being present at the ceremony, in addition to Bishop Gregory of Vercelli, the chancellor of the German king, to whom Gregory would thus seem to have communicated the result of the election.
The focus of the ecclesiastico-political projects of Gregory VII is to be found in his relationship with Germany. Since the death of Henry III the strength of the monarchy in that country had been seriously impaired, and his son Henry IV had to contend with great internal difficulties. This state of affairs was of material assistance to the pope. His advantage was still further accentuated by the fact that in 1073 Henry was but twenty-three years of age and by temperament inclined to precipitate action. Many sharp lessons were needful before he learned to bridle his impetuosity, and he lacked the support and advice of a disinterested and experienced statesman. Such being the conditions, a conflict between Gregory VII and Henry IV could have only one issue -- the victory of the former.
In the two following years Henry was compelled by the Saxon rebellion to come to amicable terms with the pope at any cost. Consequently in May 1074 he did penance at Nuremberg in presence of the legates to expiate his continued intimacy with the members of his council banned by Gregory, took an oath of obedience, and promised his support in the work of reforming the Church. This attitude, however, which at first won him the confidence of the pope, he abandoned so soon as he gained the upper hand of the Saxons: this he achieved by his victory at Hohenburg on the Unstrut (June 9, 1075). He now attempted to reassert his rights of suzerain in upper Italy without delay.
He sent Count Eberhard to Lombardy to combat the Patarenes; nominated the cleric Tedaldo to the archbishopric of Milan, thus settling a prolonged and contentious question; and finally endeavored to establish relations with the Norman duke, Robert Guiscard. Gregory VII answered with a rough letter, dated December 8, in which -- among other charges -- he reproached the German king with breach of his word and with his further countenance of the excommunicated councillors; while at the same time he sent by word of mouth a brusque message intimating that the enormous crimes which would be laid to his account rendered him liable, not only to the ban of the church, but to the deprivation of his crown. Gregory ventured on these audacious measures at a time when he himself was confronted by a reckless opponent in the person of Cencius, who on Christmas-night did not scruple to surprise him in church and carry him off as a prisoner, though on the following day he was obliged to surrender his captive. The reprimands of the pope, couched as they were in such an unprecedented form, infuriated Henry and his court, and their answer was the hastily convened national council in Worms, which met on the 24th of January 1076. In the higher ranks of the German clergy Gregory had many enemies, and a Roman cardinal, Hugo Candidus, once on intimate terms with him but now at variance, had made a hurried expedition to Germany for the occasion and appeared at Worms with the rest. All the gross scandals with regard to the pontiff that this prelate could utter were greedily received by the assembly, which committed itself to the ill-considered and disastrous resolution that Gregory had forfeited his papal dignity. In a document full of accusations the bishops renounced their allegiance. In another King Henry pronounced him deposed, and the Romans were required to choose a new occupant for the vacant chair of St. Peter. With the utmost haste two bishops were despatched to Italy in company with Count Eberhard under commission of the council, and they succeeded in procuring a similar act of deposition from the Lombard bishops in the synod of Piacenza. The communication of these decisions to the pope was undertaken by the priest Roland of Parma, and he was fortunate enough to gain an opportunity for speech in the synod, which had barely assembled in the Lateran church, and there to deliver his message announcing the dethronement of the pontiff. For the moment the members were petrified with horror, but soon such a storm of indignation was aroused that it was only due to the moderation of Gregory himself that the envoy was not cut down on the spot. On the following day the pope pronounced the sentence of excommunication against the German king with all formal solemnity, divested him of his royal dignity and absolved his subjects from the oaths they had sworn to him. This sentence purported to eject the king from the church and to strip him of his crown. Whether it would produce this effect, or whether it would remain an idle threat, depended not on the author of the verdict, but on the subjects of Henry -- before all, on the German princes. We know from contemporary evidence that the excommunication of the king made a profound impression both in Germany and Italy. Thirty years before, Henry III had deposed three popes, and thereby rendered a great and acknowledged service to the church. When Henry IV attempted to copy this summary procedure he came to grief, for he lacked the support of the people. In Germany there was a speedy and general revulsion of sentiment in favor of Gregory, and the particularism of the princes utilized the auspicious moment for prosecuting their anti-regal policy under the cloak of respect for the papal decision. When at Whitsuntide the king proposed to discuss the measures to be taken against Gregory in a council of his nobles at Mainz, only a few made their appearance; the Saxons snatched at the golden opportunity for renewing their insurrection and the anti-royalist party grew in strength from month to month. The situation now became extremely critical for Henry. As a result of the agitation, which was zealously fostered by the papal legate Bishop Altmann of Passau, the princes met in October at Tribur to elect a new German king, and Henry, who was stationed at Oppenheim on the left bank of the Rhine, was only saved from the loss of his sceptre by the failure of the assembled princes to agree on the question of his successor. Their dissension, however, merely induced them to postpone the verdict. Henry, they declared, must make reparation to the pope and pledge himself to obedience; and they settled that, if, on the anniversary of his excommunication, he still lay under the ban, the throne should be considered vacant. At the same time they determined to invite Gregory to Augsburg, there to decide the conflict. These arrangements showed Henry the course to be pursued. It was imperative, under any circumstances and at any price, to secure his absolution from Gregory before the period named, otherwise he could scarcely foil his opponents in their intention to pursue their attack against himself and justify their measures by an appeal to his excommunication. At first he attempted to attain his ends by an embassy, but when Gregory rejected his overtures he took the celebrated step of going to Italy in person. The pope had already left Rome, and had intimated to the German princes that he would expect their escort for his journey on January 8 in Mantua. But this escort had not appeared when he received the news of the king's arrival. Henry, who travelled through Burgundy, had been greeted with wild enthusiasm by the Lombards, but resisted the temptation to employ force against Gregory. He chose instead the unexpected and unusual, but, as events proved, the safest course, and determined to compel the pope to grant him absolution by doing penance before him at Canossa, where he had taken refuge. This occurrence was quickly embellished and inwoven by legend, and great uncertainty still prevails with regard to several important points. The reconciliation was only effected after prolonged negotiations and definite pledges on the part of the king, and it was with reluctance that Gregory at length gave way, for, if he conferred his absolution, the diet of princes in Augsburg, in which he might reasonably hope to act as arbitrator, would either be rendered purposeless, or, if it met at all, would wear an entirely different character. It was impossible, however, to deny the penitent re-entrance into the church, and the politician had in this case to be subordinated to the priest. Still the removal of the ban did not imply a genuine reconciliation, and no basis was gained for a settlement of the great questions at issue -- notably that of investiture, A new conflict was indeed inevitable from the very fact that Henry IV naturally considered the sentence of deposition repealed with that of excommunication; while Gregory on the other hand, intent on reserving his freedom of action, gave no hint on the subject at Canossa.
That the excommunication of Henry IV was simply a pretext -- not a motive -- for the opposition of the rebellious German nobles is manifest. For not only did they persist in their policy after his absolution, but they took the more decided step of setting up a rival king in the person of Duke Rudolph of Swabia (Forchheim, March 1077). At the election the papal legates present observed the appearance of neutrality, and Gregory himself sought to maintain this attitude during the following years. His task was the easier in that the two parties were of fairly equal strength, each endeavoring to gain the upper hand by the accession of the pope to their side. But his hopes and labors, with the object of receiving an appeal to act as arbitrator in the dynastic strife, were fruitless, and the result of his noncommittal policy was that he forfeited in large measure the confidence of both parties. Finally he decided for Rudolph of Swabia in consequence of his victory at Flarchheim (January 27, 1080). Under pressure from the Saxons, and misinformed as to the significance of this battle, Gregory abandoned his waiting policy and again pronounced the excommunication and deposition of King Henry (March 7, 1080), unloosing at the same time all oaths sworn to him in the past or the future. But the papal censure now proved a very different thing from the papal censure four years previously. In wide circles it was felt to be an injustice, and men began to put the question -- so dangerous to the prestige of the pope -- whether an excommunication pronounced on frivolous grounds was entitled to respect. To make matters worse, Rudolph of Swabia died on the 16th of October of the same year. True, a new claimant -- Hermann of Luxemburg -- was put forward in August 1081, but his personality was ill adapted for a leader of the Gregorian party in Germany, and the power of Henry IV was in the ascendant. The king, who had now been schooled by experience, took up the struggle thus forced upon him with great vigor. He refused to acknowledge the ban on the ground of illegality. A council had been summoned at Brixen, and on the 25th of June 1080 it pronounced Gregory deposed and nominated the archbishop Guibert of Ravenna as his successor -- a policy of anti-king, anti-pope. In 1081 Henry opened the conflict against Gregory in Italy. The latter had now fallen on evil days, and he lived to see thirteen cardinals desert him, Rome surrendered by the Romans to the German king, Guibert of Ravenna enthroned as Pope Clement III (March 24, 1084), and Henry crowned emperor by his rival, while he himself was constrained to flee from Rome.
The relations of Gregory to the remaining European states were powerfully influenced by his German policy; for Germany, by engrossing the bulk of his powers, not infrequently compelled him to show to other rulers that moderation and forbearance which he withheld from the German king. The attitude of the Normans brought him a rude awakening. The great concessions made to them under Nicholas II were not only powerless to stem their advance into central Italy but failed to secure even the expected protection for the papacy. When Gregory was hard pressed by Henry IV, Robert Guiscard left him to his fate, and only interfered when he himself was menaced with the German arms. Then, on the capture of Rome, he abandoned the city to the tender mercies of his warriors, and by the popular indignation evoked by his act brought about the banishment of Gregory.
In the case of several countries, Gregory attempted to establish a claim of suzerainty on the part of the see of St. Peter, and to secure the recognition of its self-asserted rights of possession. On the ground of "immemorial usage" Corsica and Sardinia were assumed to belong to the Roman Church. Spain and Hungary were also claimed as her property, and an attempt was made to induce the King of Denmark to hold his realm as a fief from the pope. Philip I of France, by his simony and the violence of his proceedings against the church, provoked a threat of summary measures; and excommunication, deposition and the interdict, appeared to be imminent in 1074. Gregory, however, refrained from translating his menaces into actions, although the attitude of the king showed no change, for he wished to avoid a dispersion of his strength in the conflict soon to break out in Germany. In England, again, William the Conqueror derived no less benefit from this state of affairs. He felt himself so safe that he interfered autocratically with the management of the church, forbade the bishops to visit Rome, filled bishoprics and abbeys, and evinced little anxiety when the pope expatiated to him on the different principles which he entertained as to the relationship of church and state, or when he prohibited him from commerce or commanded him to acknowledge himself a vassal of the apostolic chair. Gregory had no power to compel the English king to an alteration in his ecclesiastical policy, so chose to ignore what he could not approve, and even considered it advisable to assure him of his particular affection.
Gregory, in fact, established relations -- if no more -- with every land in Christendom; though these relations did not invariably realize the ecclesiasiico-political hopes connected with them. His correspondence extended to Poland, Russia and Bohemia. He wrote in friendly terms to the Saracen king of Mauretania in North Africa, and attempted, though without success, to bring the Armenians into closer contact with Rome. The East, especially, claimed his interest. The ecclesiastical rupture between the bishops of Rome and Byzantium was a severe blow to him, and he labored hard to restore the former amicable relationship. At that period it was impossible to suspect that the schism implied a definite separation, for prolonged schisms had existed in past centuries, but had always been surmounted in the end. Both sides, moreover, had an interest in repairing the breach between the churches. Thus, immediately on his accession to the pontificate, Gregory sought to come into touch with the emperor Michael VII and succeeded. When the news of the Saracenic outrages on the Christians in the East filtered to Rome, and the political embarrassments of the Byzantine emperor increased, he conceived the project of a great military expedition and exhorted the faithful to participation in the task of recovering the sepulchre of the Lord (1074). Thus the idea of a crusade to the Holy Land already floated before Gregory's vision, and his intention was to place himself at the head. But the hour for such a gigantic enterprise was not yet come, and the impending struggle with Henry IV turned his energies into another channel.
In his treatment of ecclesiastical policy and ecclesiastical reform, Gregory did not stand alone, but on the contrary found powerful support. Since the middle of the 11th century the tendency -- mainly represented by Cluny -- towards a stricter morality and a more earnest attitude to life, especially on the part of the clergy, had converted the papacy; and, from Leo IX onward, the popes had taken the lead in the movement. Even before his election, Gregory had gained the confidence of these circles, and, when he assumed the guidance of the church, they labored for him with extreme devotion. From his letters we see how he fostered his connection with them and stimulated their zeal, how he strove to awake the consciousness that his cause was the cause of God and that to further it was to render service to God. By this means he created a personal party, unconditionally attached to himself, and he had his confidants in every country. In Italy Bishop Anselm of Lucca, to take an example, belonged to their number. Again, the Duchess Beatrice of Tuscany and her daughter the Margravine Matilda, who put her great wealth at his disposal, were of inestimable service. The empress Agnes also adhered to his cause. In upper Italy the Patarenes had worked for him in many ways, and all who stood for their objects stood for the pope. In Germany at the beginning of his reign the higher ranks of the clergy stood aloof from him and were confirmed in their attitude by some of his regulations. But Bishop Altmann of Passau, who has already been mentioned, and Archbishop Gebhard of Salzburg, were among his most zealous followers. That the convent of Hirschau in Swabia was held by Gregory was a fact of much significance, for its monks spread over the land as itinerant agitators and accomplished much for him in southern Germany. In England Archbishop Lanfranc of Canterbury probably stood closest to him; in France his champion was Bishop Hugo of Dié, who afterwards ascended the archiepiscopal chair of Lyons.
The whole life work of Gregory VII was based on his conviction that the church has been founded by God and entrusted with the task of embracing all mankind in a single society in which His will is the only law; that, in her capacity as a divine institution, she outtops all human structures; and that the pope, qua head of the church, is the vice-regent of God on earth, so that disobedience to him implies disobedience to God -- or, in other words, a defection from Christianity. Elaborating an idea discoverable in St. Augustine, he looked on the worldly state -- a purely human creation -- as an unhallowed edifice whose character is sufficiently manifest from the fact that it abolishes the equality of man, and that it is built up by violence and injustice. He developed these views in a famous series of letters to Bishop Hermann of Metz. But it is clear from the outset that we are only dealing with reflections of strictly theoretical importance; for any attempt to interpret them in terms of action would have bound the church to annihilate not merely a single definite state, but all states. Thus Gregory, as a politician desirous of achieving some result, was driven in practice to adopt a different standpoint. He acknowledged the existence of the state as a dispensation of Providence, described the coexistence of church and state as a divine ordinance, and emphasized the necessity of union between the sacerdotium and the imperium. But at no period would he have dreamed of putting the two powers on an equality; the superiority of church to state was to him a fact which admitted of no discussion and which he had never doubted. Again, this very superiority of the church implied in his eyes a superiority of the papacy, and he did not shrink from drawing the extreme conclusions from these premises. In other words, he claimed the right of excommunicating and deposing incapable monarchs, and of confirming the choice of their successors. This habit of thought needs to be appreciated in order to understand his efforts to bring individual states into feudal subjection to the chair of St. Peter. It was no mere question of formality, but the first step to the realization of his ideal theocracy comprising each and every state.
Since this papal conception of the state involved the exclusion of independence and autonomy, the history of the relationship between church and state is the history of one continued struggle. In the time of Gregory it was the question of appointment to spiritual offices -- the so-called investiture -- which brought the theoretical controversy to a head. The preparatory steps had already been taken by Leo IX, and the subsequent popes had advanced still further on the path he indicated; but it was reserved for Gregory and his enactments to provoke the outbreak of the great conflict which dominated the following decades. By the first law (1075) the right of investiture for churches was in general terms denied to the laity. In 1078 neglect of this prohibition was made punishable by excommunication, and, by a further decree of the same year, every investiture conferred by a layman was declared invalid and its acceptance pronounced liable to penalty. It was, moreover, enacted that every layman should restore, under pain of excommunication, all lands of the church, held by him as fiefs from princes or clerics; and that, henceforward, the assent of the pope, the archbishop, etc., was requisite for any investiture of ecclesiastical property. Finally in 1080 the forms regulating the canonical appointment to a bishopric were promulgated. In case of a vacancy the election was to be conducted by the people and clergy under the auspices of a bishop nominated by the pope or metropolitan; after which the consent of the pope or archbishop was to be procured; if any violation of these injunctions occurred, the election should be null and void and the right of choice pass to the pope or metropolitan. In so legislating, Gregory had two objects: in the first place, to withdraw the appointment to episcopal offices from the influence of the king; in the second, to replace that influence by his own. The intention was not to increase the power of the metropolitan; he simply desired that the nomination of bishops by the pope should be substituted for the prevalent nomination of bishops by the king. But in this course of action Gregory had a still more ambitious goal before his eyes. If he could once succeed in abolishing the lay investiture the king would, ipso facto, be deprived of his control over the great possessions assigned to the church by himself and his predecessors, and he could have no security that the duties and services attached to those possessions would continue to be discharged for the benefit of the Empire. The bishops in fact were to retain their position as princes of the Empire, with all the lands and rights of supremacy pertaining to them in that capacity, but the bond between them and the Empire was to be dissolved; they were to owe allegiance not to the king, but to the pope -- a non-German sovereign who, in consequence of the Italian policy of the German monarchy, found himself in perpetual opposition to Germany. Thus, by his ecclesiastical legislation, Gregory attempted to shake the very foundations on which the constitution of the German empire rested, while completely ignoring the historical development of that constitution.
That energy which Gregory threw into the expansion of the papal authority, and which brought him into collision with the secular powers, was manifested no less in the internal government of the church. He wished to see all important matters of dispute referred to Rome; appeals were to be addressed to himself, and he arrogated the right of legislation. The fact that his laws were usually promulgated by Roman synods which he convened during Lent does not imply that these possessed an independent position; on the contrary, they were entirely dominated by his influence, and were no more than the instruments of his will. The centralization of ecclesiastical government in Rome naturally involved a curtailment of the powers of the bishops and metropolitans. Since these in part refused to submit voluntarily and attempted to assert their traditional independence, the pontificate of Gregory is crowded with struggles against the higher ranks of the prelacy. Among the methods he employed to break their power of resistance, the despatch of legates proved peculiarly effective. The regulation, again, that the metropolitans should apply at Rome in person for the pallium -- pronounced essential to their qualifications for office -- served to school them in humility.
This battle for the foundation of papal omnipotence within the church is connected with his championship of compulsory celibacy among the clergy and his attack on simony. Gregory VII did not introduce the celibacy of the priesthood into the church, for even in antiquity it was enjoined by numerous laws. He was not even the first pope to renew the injunction in the 11th century, for legislation on the question begins as early as in the reign of Leo IX. But he took up the struggle with greater energy and persistence than his predecessors. In 1074 he published an encyclical, requiring all to renounce their obedience to those bishops who showed indulgence to their clergy in the matter of celibacy. In the following year he commanded the laity to accept no official ministrations from married priests and to rise against all such. He further deprived these clerics of their revenues. Wherever these enactments were proclaimed they encountered tenacious opposition, and violent scenes were not infrequent, as the custom of marriage was widely diffused throughout the contemporary priesthood. Other decrees were issued by Gregory in subsequent years, but were now couched in milder terms, since it was no part of his interest to increase the numbers of the German faction. As to the objectionable nature of simony -- the transference or acquisition of a spiritual office for monetary considerations -- no doubt could exist in the mind of an earnest Christian, and no theoretical justification was ever attempted. The practice, however, had attained great dimensions both among the clergy and the laity, and the sharp campaign, which had been waged since the days of Leo IX, had done little to limit its scope. The reason was that in many cases it had assumed an extremely subtle form, and detection was difficult when the simony took the character of a tax or an honorarium. The fact, again, that lay investiture was described as simony, inevitably brought with it an element of confusion, and, in the case of a charge of simoniacal practices, enormously accentuates the difficulty of determining the actual state of affairs. The war against simony in its original form was undoubtedly necessary, but it led to highly complicated and problematic issues. Was the priest or bishop, whose ordination was due to simony, actually in the possession of the sacerdotal or episcopal power or not? If the answer was in the affirmative, it would seem possible to buy the Holy Ghost; if in the negative, then obviously all the official acts of the respective priest or bishop -- which, according to the doctrine of the church, presupposed the possession of a spiritual quality -- were invalid. And, since the number of simoniacal bishops was at that period extremely large, incalculable consequences resulted. The difficulty of the problem accounts for the diversity of solutions propounded. The perplexity of the situation was aggravated by the fact that, if the stricter view was adopted, it followed that the sacrament of ordination must be pronounced invalid, even in the cases where it had been unconsciously sought at the hands of a simoniac, for the dispenser was in point of fact no bishop, although he exercised the episcopal functions and his transgressions were unknown, and consequently it was impossible for him to ordain others. In the time of Gregory the conflict was still swaying to and fro, and he himself in 1078 declared consecration by a simoniac null and void.
The pontificate of Gregory VII came to a melancholy close, for he died an exile in Salerno; the Romans and a number of his most trusted coadjutors had renounced him, and the faithful band in Germany had shrunk to scant proportions. Too much the politician, too rough in his methods, too exclusively the representative of the Roman see and its interests, he had gained more enemies than friends. He was of course a master of statecraft; he had pursued political ends with consummate skill, causing them to masquerade as requirements of religion; but he forgot that incitement to civil war, the preaching of rebellion, and the release of subjects from their oaths, were methods which must infallibly lead to moral anarchy, and tend, with justice, to stifle the confidence once felt in him. The more he accustomed his contemporaries to the belief that any and every measure -- so long as it opened up some prospect of success -- was good in his sight, no matter how dangerous the fruits it might mature, the fainter grew their perception of the fact that he was not only a statesman but primarily the head of the Christian Church. That the frail bonds of piety and religious veneration for the chair of St. Peter had given way in the struggle for power was obvious to all, when he himself lost that power and the star of his opponent was in the ascendant. He had given the rein to his splendid gifts as a ruler, and in his capacity of pope he omitted to provide an equivalent counterpoise. We are told that he was once an impressive preacher, and he could write to his faithful countesses in terms which prove that he was not wanting in religious feeling; but in the whirlpool of secular politics this phase of his character was never sufficiently developed to allow the vice-gerent of Christ to be heard instead of the hierarch in his official acts.
But to estimate the pontificate of Gregory by the disasters of its closing years would be to misconceive its significance for the history of the papacy entirely. On the contrary, his reign forms an important chapter in the history of the popedom as an institution; it contains the germs of far-reaching modifications of the church, and it gave new impulses to both theory and practice, the value of which may indeed be differently estimated, but of which the effects are indubitable. It was he who conceived and formulated the ideal of the papacy as a structure embracing all peoples and lands. He took the first step towards the codification of ecclesiastical law and the definite ratification of the claims of the apostolic chair as cornerstones in the church's foundation. He educated the clergy and the lay world in obedience to Rome; and, finally, it was due to his efforts that the duty of the priest with regard to sexual abstinence was never afterwards a matter of doubt in the Catholic Christianity of the West.
On the 25th of May 1085 he died, unbroken by the misfortunes of his last years, and unshaken in his self-certainty. Dilexi justitiam et odivi iniquitatem: propterea morior in exilio -- are said to have been his last words. In 1584 Gregory XIII received him into the Martyrologium Romanum; in 1606 he was canonized by Paul V. The words dedicated to him in the Breviarium Romanum, for May 25, contain such an apotheosis of his pontificate that in the 18th and 19th centuries they were prohibited by the governments of several countries with Roman Catholic populations.
Roman Catholic Pope (30-Jun-1073 to 1085)
Canonization by Paul V (1606)
Canonization by Benedict XIII (1728)
Do you know something we don't?
Submit a correction or make a comment about this profile
Copyright ©2014 Soylent Communications