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Previous to the eleventh century there had been quarrels between Emperor and Pope. Occasional Popes, such as Nicholas I (858-67), had asserted high prerogatives for the successor of St. Peter, but we have seen that the Church herself taught the co-ordinate and the mutual dependence of the ecclesiastical and secular powers. It was the circumstances of the tenth century which caused the Church to assume a less complacent attitude and, in her efforts to prevent her absorption by the State, to attempt the reduction of the State to a mere department of the Church. With the acceptance of Christianity as the official religion of the Empire the organisation of the Church tended to follow the arrangements for purposes of civil government. And when at a later period civil society was gradually organising itself on that hierarchical model which we know as feudalism, the Church, in the persons of its officers, was tending to become not so much the counterpart of the State as an integral part of it. For the clergy, as being the only educated class, were used by the Kings as civil administrators, and on the great officials of the Church were bestowed extensive estates which should make them a counterpoise to the secular nobles. In theory the clergy and people of the diocese still elected their bishop, but in reality he came to be nominated by the King, at whose hands he received investiture of his office by the symbolic gifts of the ring and the pastoral staff, and to whom he did homage for the lands of the see, since by virtue of them he was a baron of the realm. Thus for all practical purposes the great ecclesiastic was a secular noble, a layman. He had often obtained his high ecclesiastical office as a reward for temporal service, and had not infrequently paid a large sum of money as an earnest of loyal conduct and for the privilege of recouping himself tenfold by unscrupulous use of the local patronage which was his. Furthermore, in contravention of the canons of the Church, the secular clergy, whether bishops or priests, were very frequently married. The Church, it is true, did not consecrate these marriages; but, it is said, they were so entirely recognised that the wife of a bishop was called Episcopissa. There was an imminent danger that the ecclesiastical order would shortly lapse into an hereditary social caste, and that the sons of priests inheriting their fathers' benefices would merely become another order of landowners...
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THE BEGINNINGS OF CHURCH REFORM
GREGORY VII AND LAY INVESTITURE
THE END OF THE QUARREL
THE SECULAR CLERGY
CANONS AND MONKS
THE SCHOOLMEN AND THEOLOGY
GUELF AND GHIBELLINE. (I)
THE PAPAL POWER IN THE CHURCH
DOCTRINE AND DISCIPLINE OF THE CHURCH
THE MENDICANT ORDERS
THE CHURCH AND THE HEATHEN
GUELF AND GHIBELLINE. (II)
THE FALL OF THE EMPIRE AND OF THE PAPACY
THE CHURCHES OF THE EAST
PREVIOUS TO THE ELEVENTH century there had been quarrels between Emperor and Pope. Occasional Popes, such as Nicholas I (858-67), had asserted high prerogatives for the successor of St. Peter, but we have seen that the Church herself taught the co-ordinate and the mutual dependence of the ecclesiastical and secular powers. It was the circumstances of the tenth century which caused the Church to assume a less complacent attitude and, in her efforts to prevent her absorption by the State, to attempt the reduction of the State to a mere department of the Church.
With the acceptance of Christianity as the official religion of the Empire the organisation of the Church tended to follow the arrangements for purposes of civil government. And when at a later period civil society was gradually organising itself on that hierarchical model which we know as feudalism, the Church, in the persons of its officers, was tending to become not so much the counterpart of the State as an integral part of it. For the clergy, as being the only educated class, were used by the Kings as civil administrators, and on the great officials of the Church were bestowed extensive estates which should make them a counterpoise to the secular nobles. In theory the clergy and people of the diocese still elected their bishop, but in reality he came to be nominated by the King, at whose hands he received investiture of his office by the symbolic gifts of the ring and the pastoral staff, and to whom he did homage for the lands of the see, since by virtue of them he was a baron of the realm. Thus for all practical purposes the great ecclesiastic was a secular noble, a layman. He had often obtained his high ecclesiastical office as a reward for temporal service, and had not infrequently paid a large sum of money as an earnest of loyal conduct and for the privilege of recouping himself tenfold by unscrupulous use of the local patronage which was his.
Furthermore, in contravention of the canons of the Church, the secular clergy, whether bishops or priests, were very frequently married. The Church, it is true, did not consecrate these marriages; but, it is said, they were so entirely recognised that the wife of a bishop was called Episcopissa. There was an imminent danger that the ecclesiastical order would shortly lapse into an hereditary social caste, and that the sons of priests inheriting their fathers’ benefices would merely become another order of landowners.
Thus the two evils of traffic in ecclesiastical offices, shortly stigmatised as simony and concubinage—for the laws of the Church forbade any more decent description of the relationship—threatened to absorb the Church within the State. Professional interests and considerations of morality alike demanded that these evils should be dealt with. Ecclesiastical reformers perceived that the only lasting reformation was one which should proceed from the Church herself. It was among the secular clergy, the parish priests, that these evils were most rife. The monasteries had also gone far away from their original ideals; but the tenth century had witnessed the establishment of a reformed Benedictine rule in the Congregation of Cluny, and, in any case, it was in monastic life alone that the conditions seemed suitable for working out any scheme of spiritual improvement. The Congregation of Cluny was based upon the idea of centralisation; unlike the Abbot of the ordinary Benedictine monastery, who was concerned with the affairs of a single house, the Abbot of Cluny presided over a number of monasteries, each of which was entrusted only to a Prior. Moreover, the Congregation of Cluny was free from the visitation of the local bishops and was immediately under the papal jurisdiction. What more natural than that the monks of Cluny should advocate the application to the Church at large of those principles of organisation which had formed so successful a departure from previous arrangements in the smaller sphere of Cluny? Thus the advocates of Church reform evolved both a negative and a positive policy: the abolition of lay investiture and the utter extirpation of the practice of clerical marriages were to shake the Church free from the numbing control of secular interests, and these were to be accomplished by a centralisation of the ecclesiastical organisation in the hands of the Pope, which would make him more than a match for the greatest secular potentate, the successor of Caesar himself.
It is true that at the beginning of the eleventh century there seemed little chance of the accomplishment of these reforms. If the great secular potentates were likely to cling to the practice of investiture in order to keep a hold over a body of landowners which, whatever their other obligations, controlled perhaps one-third of the lands in Western Christendom; yet the Kings of the time were not unsympathetic to ecclesiastical reform as interpreted by Cluny. In France both Hugh Capet (987-96) and Robert (996-1031) appealed to the Abbot of Cluny for help in the improvement of their monasteries, and this example was followed by some of their great nobles. In Germany reigned Henry II (1002-24), the last of the Saxon line, who was canonised a century after his death by a Church penetrated by the influences of Cluny. It was the condition of the Papacy which for nearly half a century postponed any attempt at a comprehensive scheme of reform. Twice already in the course of the tenth century had the intervention of the German King, acting as Emperor, rescued the see of Rome from unspeakable degradation. But for nearly 150 years (904-1046), with a few short interludes, the Papacy was the sport of local factions. At the beginning of the eleventh century the leaders of these factions were descended from the two daughters of the notorious Theodora; the Crescentines who were responsible for three Popes between 1004 and 1012, owing their influence to the younger Theodora, while the Counts of Tusculum were the descendants of the first of the four husbands who got such power as they possessed from the infamous Marozia. The first Tusculan Pope, Benedict VIII (1012-24), by simulating an interest in reform, won the support of Henry II of Germany, whom he crowned Emperor; but in 1033 the same faction set up the son of the Count of Tusculum, a child of twelve, as Benedict IX. It suited the Emperor, Conrad II, to use him and therefore to acknowledge him; but twice the scandalised Romans drove out the youthful debauchee and murderer, and on the second occasion they elected another Pope in his place. But the Tusculan influence was not to be gainsaid. Benedict, however, sold the Papacy to John Gratian, who was reputed a man of piety, and whose accession as Gregory VI, even though it was a simoniacal transaction, was welcomed by the party of reform. But Benedict changed his mind and attempted to resume his power. Thus there were three persons in Rome who had been consecrated to the papal office. The Archdeacon of Rome appealed to the Emperor Conrad’s successor, Henry III, who caused Pope Gregory to summon a Council to Sutri. Here, or shortly afterwards at Rome, all three Popes were deposed, and although Benedict IX made another attempt on the papal throne, and even as late as 1058 his party set up an anti-pope, the influence of the local factions was superseded by that of a stronger power.
But the alternative offered by the German Kings was no more favourable in itself to the schemes of the reformers than the purely local influences of the last 150 years. As Otto I in 963, so Henry III in 1046 obtained from the Romans the recognition of his right, as patrician or princeps, to nominate a candidate who should be formally elected as their bishop by the Roman people; and as Otto III in 996, so Henry III now used his office to nominate a succession of men, suitable indeed and distinguished, but of German birth. This was not that freedom of the Church from lay control nor the exaltation of the papal office through which that freedom was to be maintained. Indeed, so long as fear of the Tusculan influence remained, deference to the wishes of the German King, who was also Emperor, was indispensable, and when that King was as powerful as Henry III it was unwise to challenge unnecessarily and directly the exercise of his powers.
But Henry, although, like St. Henry at the beginning of the century, he kept a strong hand on his own clergy, was yet thoroughly in sympathy with what may be distinguished as the moral objects of the reformers; and, indeed, the men whom he promoted to the Papacy were drawn from the class of higher ecclesiastics who were touched by the Cluniac spirit. Henry’s first two nominees were short-lived. His third choice was his own cousin, Bruno, Bishop of Toul, who accepted with reluctance and only on condition that he should go through the canonical form of election by the clergy and people of Rome. On his way to Rome, which he entered as a pilgrim, he was joined by the late chaplain of Pope Gregory VI, Hildebrand, who had been in retirement at Cluny since his master’s death. Not only did the new Pope, Leo IX, take this inflexible advocate of the Church’s claims as his chief adviser, but he surrounded himself with reforming ecclesiastics from beyond the Alps. Thus fortified he issued edicts against simoniacal and married clergy; but finding that their literal fulfilment would have emptied all existing offices, he was obliged to tone down his original threats and to allow clergy guilty of simony to atone their fault by an ample penance. But Leo’s contribution to the building up of the papal power was his personal appearance, not as a suppliant but as a judge, beyond the Alps. Three times in his six years’ rule he passed the confines of Rome and Italy. On the first occasion he even held a Council at Rheims, despite the unfriendly attitude of Henry I of France, whose efforts, moreover, to keep the French bishops from attendance at the Council met with signal failure. Here and elsewhere Pope Leo exercised all kinds of powers, forcing bishops and abbots to clear themselves by oath from charges of simony and other faults, and excommunicating and degrading those who had offended. And while he reduced the hierarchy to recognise the papal authority, he overawed the people by assuming the central part in stately ceremonies such as the consecration of new churches and the exaltation of relics of martyrs. All this was possible because the Emperor Henry III supported him and welcomed him to a Council at Mainz. Nor was it a matter of less importance that these visits taught the people of Western Europe to regard the Papacy as the embodiment of justice and the representative of a higher morality than that maintained by the local Church.
Quite unwittingly Henry III’s encouragement of Pope Leo’s roving propensities began the difficulties for his descendants. It is true he nominated Leo’s successor at the request of the clergy and people of Rome; but Henry’s death in 1056 left the German throne to a child of six under the regency of a woman and a foreigner who found herself faced by all the hostile forces hitherto kept under by the Emperor’s powerful arm. And when Henry’s last Pope, Victor II, followed the Emperor to the grave in less than a year, the removal of German influence was complete. The effect was instantaneous. The first Pope elected directly by the Romans was a German indeed by birth, but he was the brother of Duke Godfrey of Lorraine, who, driven from Germany by Henry, had married the widowed Marchioness of Tuscany. and was regarded by a small party as a possible King of Italy and Emperor. Whatever danger there was in the schemes of the Lotharingian brothers was nipped in the bud by the death of Pope Stephen IX seven months after his election. Then it became apparent that the removal of the Emperor’s strong hand had freed not only the upholders of ecclesiastical reform but also the old Roman factions. The attempt was easily crushed, but it became clear to the reformers that the papal election must be secured beyond all possibility of outside interference. At Hildebrand’s suggestion and with the approval of the German Court, a Burgundian, who was Bishop of Florence, was elected as Nicholas II. The very name was a challenge, for the first Nicholas (858-67) was perhaps the Pope who up to that time had asserted the highest claims for the See of Rome.
The short pontificate of the new Nicholas was devoted largely to measures for securing the freedom of papal elections from secular interference. By a decree passed in a numerously attended Council at the Pope’s Lateran palace, a College or Corporation was formed of the seven bishops of the sees in the immediate neighbourhood of Rome, together with the priests of the various Roman parish churches and the deacons attendant on them. To the members of this body was now specially arrogated the term Cardinal, a name hitherto applicable to all clergy ordained and appointed to a definite church. To all Roman clergy outside this body and to the people there remained merely the right of assent, and even this was destined to disappear. More important historically was the merely verbal reservation of the imperial right of confirmation, which was further made a matter of individual grant to each Emperor who might seek it from the Pope. In view of the revived influence of the local factions it was also laid down that, although Rome and the Roman clergy had the first claim, yet the election might lawfully take place anywhere and any one otherwise eligible might be chosen; while the Pope so elected might exercise his authority even before he had been enthroned.
But in the presence of a strong Emperor or an unscrupulous faction even these elaborate provisions Papacy might be useless. The Papacy needed a champion in the flesh, who should have nothing to gain and everything to lose by attempting to become its master. Such a protector was ready to hand in the Normans, who, recently settled in Southern Italy, felt themselves insecure in the title by which they held their possessions. Southern Italy was divided between the three Lombard duchies of Benevento, Capua and Salerno, and the districts of Calabria and Apulia, which acknowledged the Viceroy or Katapan of the Eastern Emperor in his seat at Bari. The Saracens, only recently expelled from the mainland, still held Sicily. Norman pilgrims returning from Palestine became, at the instigation of local factions, Norman adventurers, and their leaders obtaining lands from the local Princes in return for help, sought confirmation of their title from some legitimate authority. The Western Empire had never claimed these lands, but none the less Conrad II and Henry III, in return for the acceptance of their suzerainty, acknowledged the titles which the Norman leaders had already gained from Greek or Lombard. Rome was likely to be their next victim, and Leo IX took the opportunity of a dispute over the city of Benevento to try conclusions with them. A humiliating defeat was followed by a mock submission of the conqueror. The danger was in no sense removed. Pope Stephen’s schemes for driving them out of Italy were cut short by his death, and meanwhile the Norman power increased. Thus there could be no question of expulsion, nor could the Papacy risk a repetition of the humiliation of Leo IX. It was Hildebrand who conceived the idea of turning a dangerous neighbour into a friend and protector. A meeting was arranged at Melfi between Pope Nicholas and the Norman princes, and there, while on the one side canons were issued against clerical marriage, which was rife in the south of Italy, on the other side Robert Guiscard, the Norman leader, recognised the Pope as his suzerain, and obtained in return the title of Duke of Apulia and Calabria and of Sicily when he should have conquered it. Pope Leo’s agreement, six years before, had been made by a defeated and humiliated ecclesiastic with a band of unscrupulous adventurers. Pope Nicholas was dealing with an actual ruler who merely sought legitimate recognition of his title from any whose hostility would make his hold precarious. Thus resting on the shadowy basis of the donation of Constantine the Pope substituted himself for the Emperor, whether of West or of East, over the whole of Southern Italy. Truly the movement for the emancipation of the Church from the State was already shaping itself into an attempt at the formation of a rival power.
The value of this new alliance to the Papacy was put to the test almost immediately. On the death of Pope Nicholas (1061) the papal and imperial parties proceeded to measure their strength against each other. The reformers, acting under the leadership of Hildebrand, chose as his successor a noble Milanese, Anselm of Baggio, Bishop of Lucca, who now became Alexander II. He was elected in accordance with the provisions of the recent Lateran decree, and no imperial ratification was asked. On the purely ecclesiastical side this choice was a strong manifesto against clerical marriage. The city of Milan as the capital of the Lombard kingdom of Italy had for many centuries held itself in rivalry with Rome. Moreover, it was the stronghold of an aristocratic and a married clergy, which based its practice on a supposed privilege granted by its Apostle St. Ambrose. But this produced a reforming democracy which, perhaps from the quarter whence it gained its chief support, was contemptuously named by its opponents the Patarins or Rag-pickers. The first leader of this democratic party had been Anselm of Baggio. Nicholas II sent thither the fanatical Peter Damiani as papal legate, and a fierce struggle ended in the abject submission of the Archbishop of Milan, who attended a synod at Rome and promised obedience to the Pope.
The weak point in the decree of Nicholas II had been that the German clergy were not represented at the Council which issued it, and it was construed in Germany as a manifest attempt of the reforming party to secure the Papacy for Italy as against the German influence maintained by Henry III. The Roman nobles also had seen in the decree the design of excluding them from any share in the election. It was only by the introduction of Norman troops into Rome that the new Pope could be installed at the Lateran. A few weeks later a synod met at Basle in the presence of the Empress-Regent and the young Henry IV. The latter was invested with the title of Patrician, and the election of Alexander having been pronounced invalid, a new Pope was chosen in the person of another Lombard, Cadalus Bishop of Parma, who had led the opposition to the Patarins in the province of Milan. The Normans were recalled to their dominions, and the imperialist Pope, Honorius II, was installed in Rome. The struggle between the rival Popes lasted for three years (1061-4), and fluctuated with the fluctuations of power at the German court. Here the young King had fallen under the influence of Archbishop Hanno of Köln, who, surrounded by enemies in Germany, hoped to gain a party by the betrayal of imperial interests in the recognition of the decree of Nicholas II and of the claims of Alexander. Again by the help of a Norman force Alexander was installed in Rome, where he remained even when Hanno’s influence at the German court gave way to that of Archbishop Adalbert of Bremen. Honorius, however, despite the desertion by the imperialist party, found supporters until his death in 1072, and it was only by the arms of Duke Godfrey of Tuscany acting for the imperialists and those of his own Norman allies that Alexander held Rome until his death.
Meanwhile the ecclesiastical reformation went steadily on under the direction of Hildebrand. The young King Henry endeavoured to free himself from the great German ecclesiastics who held him in thrall, by repudiating the wife whom they had forced upon him. He was checked by the austere and resolute papal legate, Peter Damiani, and was obliged to accept Bertha of Savoy, to whom subsequently he became much attached. Peter Darniani’s visit, however, brought him relief in another way, for the legate took back such a report of the prevalence of simony that the archbishops of Mainz and Köln were summoned to Rome, whence they returned so humiliated that their political influence was gone. It is almost equally remarkable that the two English Archbishops also appeared at Rome during this Pontificate, Lanfranc of Canterbury in order that he might obtain the pall without which he could not exercise his functions as Archbishop, and Thomas of York, who referred to the Pope his contention that the primacy of England should alternate between Canterbury and York. In France, too, we are told that the envoys of Alexander interfered in the smallest details of the ecclesiastical administration and punished without mercy all clergy guilty of simony or of matrimony. Almost the last public act of Pope Alexander was to excommunicate five counsellors of the young King of Germany, to whom were attributed responsibility for his acts, and to summon Henry himself to answer charges of simony and other evil deeds.
THE CROWD WHICH ATTENDED the funeral of Alexander II acclaimed Hildebrand as his successor. The Cardinals formally ratified the choice of the people and contrary to the wish of the German bishops the young King Henry acquiesced.
The new Pope was born a Tuscan peasant and educated in the monastery of St. Mary’s on the Aventine in Rome. His uncle was the Abbot, and the monastery was Roman lodging of the Abbot of Cluny. Hildebrand entered the service of Gregory VI, whom he followed into exile. On his master’s death in 1048 Hildebrand retired to Cluny. Hence he was drawn once more back to Rome by Pope Leo IX. From this moment his rise was continuous. Leo made him a Cardinal and gave him the charge of the papal finances. In 1054 he sent him as legate to France in order to deal with the heresy of Berengar of Tours. Hildebrand was no theologian, and he accepted a very vague explanation of Berengar’s views upon the disputed question of the change of the elements in the Sacrament. On Leo’s death Hildebrand headed the deputation which was sent by the clergy and people of Rome to ask Henry III to nominate his successor; and again, on the death of Victor II, although Hildebrand took no part in the choice of Stephen IX, it was he who went to Germany to obtain a confirmation of the election from the Empress-Regent. On Stephen’s death Hildebrand’s prompt action obtained the election of Nicholas II. It was probably Hildebrand who worded the decree regulating the mode of papal elections, and whose policy turned the Normans from troublesome neighbours into faithful allies and useful instruments of the papal aims. Nicholas rewarded him with the office of Archdeacon of Rome, which made him the chief administrative officer of the Roman see and, next to the Pope, the most important person in the Western Church. Hildebrand was the chief agent in the election of Alexander II; and the ultimate triumph of Alexander meant the reinstatement of Hildebrand at head-quarters. Thus it had long been a question of how soon the maker of Popes would himself assume the papal title, and this was settled for him by the acclamations of the people. In memory of his old master he took the title of Gregory VII. As yet he was only in deacon’s orders. Within a month he was ordained priest; but another month or more elapsed before he was consecrated bishop.
At last the individual who was most identified in men’s minds with the forward movement in the Church was the acknowledged head of the ecclesiastical organisation in the West. For more than twenty years he had been at headquarters intimately knowing and ultimately directing the course of policy. It was mainly by his exertions that the Church was now officially committed to the views of the Cluniac reformers. Yet so much opposition had been called forth as to show that the success of the party hitherto had depended merely on the circumstances of the moment. The time seemed to have arrived when matters should be brought to an issue. The continued existence of the Roman factions and the power of Henry III had made compromise necessary, and the general result of the reformers’ efforts upon the Church had been inappreciable. But the lapse of time had done at least two things—it had cleared the issue and it had brought the opportunity.
The Church was so entirely enmeshed in the feudal notions of the age that at first it was not very clear to the reformers where it would be most effective to begin in the process or cutting her free. But by this time it was seen that the real link which bound the Church to the State was the custom by which princes took it on themselves to give to the new bishop, in return for his oath of homage, investiture of his office and lands by the presentation of the ring which symbolically married him to his Church, and of the pastoral staff which committed to him the spiritual oversight of his diocese. Probably there was not a single prince in Western Europe who pretended to confer on the new bishop any of his spiritual powers; but the two spheres of the episcopal work had become inextricably confused, and in the decay of ecclesiastical authority the lay power had treated the chief ecclesiastics as mainly great officers of State and a special class of feudal baron. In the eyes of the reformers the entire dealing of the King with the bishops was an act of usurpation, nay, of sacrilege. Ecclesiastics owed to the sovereign of the country the oath of fealty demanded of all subjects. But for the rest, neither bishop, abbot, nor parish priest could be a feudal vassal. The land which any ecclesiastic held by virtue of his office had been given to the Church; the utmost claim that any layman could make regarding it was to a right or rather duty of protection. If the Church was to be restored to freedom, investiture with ring and staff, and the control of the lands during vacancy of an ecclesiastical office must all be claimed back for the Church herself. The oath of homage would then naturally disappear, and there would no longer be that confusion of spheres which had resulted in the laicisation and the degradation of the Church.
Moreover, the moment was propitious for asserting these views to the fullest extent. The chief represenative of lay authority was no longer a powerful Emperor nor even a minor in the tutelage of others. He was a King of full age whose wayward, not to say vicious, courses had alienated large numbers of his people. It is true that Henry IV never had much chance of becoming a successful ruler. Taken from his mother at the age of twelve, for the next ten years (1062-72) he had been controlled alternately by two guardians, of whom one, Adalbert, Archbishop of Bremen, allowed him every indulgence, while the other, Hanno, Archbishop of Koln, hardly suffered him to have a mind of his own. Since he had become his own master he had plunged into war with his Saxon subjects. Henry, entangled in this war, answered Gregory’s first admonitions in a conciliatory tone; but in 1075 he decisively defeated the Saxons and was in no mood to listen to a suggestion for the diminution of the authority of the German King in his own land, which he had just so triumphantly vindicated. For Henry imitated his predecessors in practising investiture of bishops both in Germany and in Italy; and he realised that the summons of the Pope to the temporal princes that they should give up such investiture would mean the transference to the Papacy of the disposal of the temporal fiefs. This would involve the loss at one blow of half the dominions of the German King. Moreover, he was encouraged in an attitude of resistance by the feeling of the German Church. At the first Lenten Synod held in the Lateran palace after Gregory’s accession canons were issued forbidding all married or simoniacal ecclesiastics to perform ministerial functions and all laity to attend their ministrations. Immediate opposition was raised; the German clergy were especially violent: they declared that this prohibition of marriage was contrary to the teaching of Christ and St. Paul, that it attempted to make men live like angels but would only encourage licence, and that, if it were necessary to choose, they would abandon the priesthood rather than their wives. Gregory, however, sent legates into various districts armed with full powers, and succeeded in rousing the populace against the married clergy.
It was under these circumstances that Gregory determined to bring to an issue the chief question in dispute between Church and State. Hitherto he had said nothing against the practice of lay investiture. Now, however, at the Lenten Synod in 1075, a decree was issued which condemned both the ecclesiastic, high or low, who should take investiture from a layman, and also the layman, however exalted in rank, who should dare to give investiture. The decree had no immediate effect, and at the end of the year Gregory followed it up with a letter to the King, in which he threatened excommunication if before the meeting of the next usual Lenten Synod Henry had not amended his life and got rid of his councillors, who had never freed themselves from the papal ban.
Henry’s answer was given at a Synod of German ecclesiastics at Worms. Cardinal Hugh the White, who for personal reasons had turned against Gregory, accused him of the most incredible crimes, and a letter was despatched in which the bishops renounced their obedience. Henry also addressed a letter to the Pope, which quite surpassed that of the bishops in violence of expression. “Henry, King not by usurpation but by the holy ordination of God, to Hildebrand now no apostolic ruler but a false monk.” It accused him of daring to threaten to take away the royal power, as if Henry owed it to the Pontiff and not to God: and it concluded by a summons to him to descend from his position in favour of some one “who shall not cloak his violence with religion, but shall teach the sound doctrine of St. Peter.” It was nothing new for a Pope to be deposed by a Council presided over by the Emperor. And it is true that the same resolution, transmitted by delegates from Worms, was adopted at Piacenza by a Synod of Italian bishops. But on this occasion the sentence was uttered by an assembly of exclusively German bishops, presided over by a King who was not yet crowned Emperor. If such a sentence was to be effective, Henry should have followed it up by a march to Rome with an adequate army. He merely courted defeat when he gave the Pope the opportunity for a retort in kind. Anathema was the papal weapon, and while the King’s declaration might even be resented by other rulers as an attempt to dictate to them in a matter of common concern to all, the papal sentence on the King was regarded by all as influencing the fate, not of the King only, but of all who remained in communication with him, if not in this world, at any rate in the world to come. Moreover, in this particular case, while no one believed the monstrous charges against Gregory, there was sufficient in Henry’s past conduct to give credibility to anything that might be urged against him.
Gregory’s rejoinder was delivered at the Lenten Synod of 1076. As against the twenty-six German bishops assembled at Worms, this Council contained over a hundred bishops drawn from all parts of Christendom, while among the laity present was Henry’s own mother, the Empress Agnes. Gregory used his opportunity to the full. In the most solemn strain he appealed to St. Peter, to the Virgin Mary, to St. Paul and all the saints, to bear witness that he himself had unwillingly taken the Papacy. To him, as representative of the Apostle, God had entrusted the Christian people, and in reliance on this he now withdrew from Henry, as a rebel against the Church, the rule over the kingdoms of the Teutons and of Italy, and released all Christians from any present or future oath made to him. Finally, for his omissions and commissions alike, Henry is bound in the bonds of anathema “in order that people may know and acknowledge that thou art Peter, and upon thy rock the Son of the living God has built His Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
The rhetorical flourish of the King’s pronouncement against the Pope withers before the tremendous appeal of the Pope to his divinely delegated power to judge the King. Gregory’s procedure was little less revolutionary than that of the King, but the claim to depose might appear as only a concomitant to the power already wielded by Popes in bestowing crowns, while for Gregory it had by this time become the copingstone in the fabric of those relations between Church and State which he and his party were building up.
Gregory’s position was not devoid of difficulties. Numerous protests were raised against this assertion of papal power. But events concurred to justify Gregory’s bold action. At the beginning of his pontificate the Normans were quarrelling among themselves; but in Tuscany the Countess Matilda had just become complete mistress of the great inheritance which included a large part of Central Italy. She was an enthusiastic supporter of the Papacy, and secured North Italy by a revival of the Patarine party against the Italian bishops who had repudiated Gregory at Piacenza.
But Gregory’s most effective allies were Henry’s rebellious subjects. The Saxons broke out again into rebellion in the north, while the nobles of Southern Germany with the concurrence of the Pope met at Tribur, near Mainz, in October, 1076. Henry was forced to accept the most abject terms. He was to submit to the Pope, and the nobles further agreed among themselves that the Pope should be invited to pronounce the decisive judgment at a diet to be held at Augsburg a year later. If by that time Henry had not obtained the papal absolution, the kingdom would be considered forfeit, and they would proceed to the election of a new King without waiting for permission of the Pope. The nobles were hampered by the rivalry of those who hoped each to be Henry’s successor, and they did not wish to found the election of the new King on the acknowledgment of the papal power of deposition. They acted, therefore, as if so far, apart from the excommunication, the papal sentence of deposition had been only provisional.
Henry saw that to be reinstated by the Pope in an assembly of his rebellious subjects would be even more damaging for his prestige than the original deposition, and, knowing nothing of the agreement of the nobles for a new election, he determined to go and get his absolution from the Pope at Rome. He treated the points in dispute between himself and his opponents as practically settled by his promise of submission, whereas the Pope desired to pose as arbiter between the contending parties in Germany; while the nobles aimed at electing a new King. Quite unconsciously Henry was forcing the hands of both parties of his opponents, whose obvious interests were in favour of delay. It was necessary that he should drink the cup of humiliation to the dregs; but the astute King preferred that it should be at his own time and place—at once and in Italy, instead of a year hence in Germany.
Henry carried out his design, even though it was in the middle of winter; and neglecting the welcome of the imperialists of North Italy, he ultimately tracked the Pope to the Countess Matilda’s fortress of Canossa, in the Apennines, above Modena. But Gregory would listen to no mediation, and demanded absolute submission to his judgment. So Henry again took the method of procedure into his own hands and appeared at intervals during three successive days before the castle in the garb of a penitent, barefooted and clad in a coarse woollen shirt. The picturesque account of this world-famous scene, which we owe to Lambert of Hersfeld, must be regarded as the monastic version current among the papal partisans. Gregory himself, who was scarcely likely to minimise his own triumph, in his letter to the German nobles says nothing of these details. He only relates that even his own followers exclaimed that “tyrannical ferocity” rather than “apostolic severity” was the characteristic of his act.
Thus Henry forced the hand of the Pope, who as a priest could not refuse his absolution to one who showed himself ready to submit to the severest possible penance for his sins. The only course open to Gregory was to accept the situation on which he had lost the hold, and to try to get some political concessions in the negotiations which must follow. The terms did not differ much from those arranged at Tribur: Henry should accept the decision of the diet of the German nobles, presided over by the Pope, as to his continued right to the crown, while if the judgment was favourable, he should implicitly obey the Pope for the future in all that concerned the Church. But, on the other hand, the papal excommunication and absolute sentence of deposition were removed, and the whole excuse for continued rebellion was thus withdrawn from his German opponents. Henry had undoubtedly been humiliated and had acknowledged the papal arbitration in Germany: but modern feelings probably exaggerate the humiliation of the penitential system, and Henry had at least divided his enemies. The Pope had undertaken to see fair play between Henry and his German subjects: the German nobles had based their action on Henry’s past conduct, for which he had now done penance. Henry had obtained an acknowledgment from the Pope that his right to the kingship was at any rate an open question.
The German nobles had been betrayed by the Pope, but they could not afford to quarrel with him. They had been outwitted by Henry, and against him they proceeded as having violated the Agreement of Tribur. A Diet met at Forchheim, in Franconia, in March, 1077. It was chiefly composed of lay nobles, but papal legates were present, whom Gregory instructed to work for a postponement until he himself could come. But the nobles were determined, and Henry’s brother-in-law, Duke Rudolf of Suabia, was chosen King. Gregory, however, did not intend to have his hand forced again, and for three years (1077-80) he refused to acknowledge Rudolf and tried to pose as arbiter between him and Henry. Five times Rudolf’s supporters wrote remonstrating indignantly against this neutrality. Gregory excused himself on the ground that his legates had been deceived and had acted under compulsion in acquiescing in the action of the diet at Forchheim. He had good reasons for his delay. He was determined to secure recognition of the right which he claimed for the Papacy as the real determining force in the dispute, an act which the nobles had deliberately prevented. Moreover, he was a little afraid of a trial of strength with Henry at the moment. For while Henry’s promptness had caused the Pope to break faith with his allies, Gregory’s severity had gathered round Henry a party which made the King more powerful than he yet had been. Thus in Lombardy the Countess Matilda was faced by a revived imperialist party which seriously threatened her dominions, while in Germany the clergy, the lesser nobles and the cities rallied round the King.
So long, then, as the contest seemed doubtful Gregory withheld his decision. At length, in 1080, when, despite two victories, Rudolf was gaining no advantage, Gregory felt that further delay might make Henry too strong to be affected by the papal judgment. Accordingly, at the usual Lenten Synod he renewed the excommunication and deposition of Henry, recognised Rudolf as King of Germany, and even prophesied for the excommunicated monarch a speedy death. One papal partisan afterwards explained this as referring to Henry’s spiritual death! Gregory is further said to have sent a crown to Rudolf, bearing the legend “Petra dedit Petro, Petrus diadema Rudolpho,” but the story is doubtful. The answer of Henry’s party was given in successive synods of German or Italian bishops, who declared Gregory deposed, and elected as his substitute Henry’s Chancellor, Guibert, Archbishop of Ravenna, who took the title of Clement III.
Gregory’s decisive move was a failure. There were now two Kings and two Popes, and all hope of a peaceful settlement was gone. None of the nations of Europe responded to Gregory’s appeal. Robert Guiscard, the Norman leader, was busy with his designs on the Eastern Empire. Gregory’s only chance was a victory in Germany and the fulfilment of his rash prophecy. In October, 1080, Henry was defeated in the heart of Saxony on the Elster, but it was Gregory’s accepted King, Rudolf, who was killed. One chronicler reports Rudolf as acknowledging in his dying moments the iniquity of his conduct. Saxony remained in revolt; but until a new King could be agreed upon Henry was practically safe and could turn to deal with the situation in Italy. There could be no thought of peace. Gregory’s supporters were upheld by the enthusiasm of fanaticism, while by acts and words he had driven his enemies to exasperation, and what had begun as a war of principles had now sunk to a personal struggle between Henry and Hildebrand.
The renewal of the sentence against Henry had caused a reaction in his favour in Northern Italy. Soon after the episode of Canossa, the Countess Matilda, having no heir, had bequeathed her entire possessions to the Roman see and become a papal vassal for the term of her own life. But most of the Tuscan cities declared for Henry and thus entirely neutralised her power. Robert Guiscard was not to be tempted back from his projects against the Eastern Empire, even if it be true that Gregory offered him the Empire of the West. Thus Henry entered Italy unhindered early in 1081, and even the news that his opponents had found a successor to Rudolf in the person of Herman of Luxemburg did not stop his march. The siege of Rome lasted for nearly three years (1081-4), but ultimately he obtained possession of all the city except the castle of St. Angelo. Henry’s Pope, Clement III, was consecrated, and on Easter Day Henry, together with his wife, at length obtained the imperial crown. But meanwhile he had made a fatal move. The Eastern Emperor Alexius persuaded him to make mischief in Apulia. Henry fell into the trap. Robert Guiscard rushed back to defend his own territories, and now determined to carry out his obligations as a papal vassal. Henry was taken unawares and had to retire before the Normans, who forced their way into Rome and cruelly sacked and burnt it. Gregory was rescued, but life for him in Rome was no longer possible. The Romans had betrayed him to Henry, and now his allies had destroyed the city. He retired with the Normans to Salerno, where, a year later, he died (May, 1085), bitterly attributing his failure to his love of righteousness and hatred of iniquity.
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