Hildebrand as Pope Gregory VII

That successor was Hildebrand. Hildebrand was the sole survivor of the band of able reformers who had gathered about Leo IX, for Peter Damian had died a few weeks before. At the funeral of Alexander II in the great church of St. John Lateran the crowd began to shout "Hildebrand for our Bishop." The mob carried him forcibly across the city to St. Peter's and there, with scant regard for the procedure which had been prescribed by Nicholas II and which he himself had supported, the cardinals hurried through the election with the consent of the bishops, abbots, monks, and laity, and, although only a deacon, Hildebrand was enthroned and took the title of Gregory VII. Not as great a man as Pope Gregory I, of whom he was a student and ardent admirer, he was to make the Papal power more widely felt and more potent in Church and state than had that distinguished predecessor. His reign, which, lasting as it did from 1073 to 1085, was only two years less than that of the latter, was like that other, one of the high-water marks of the Papacy.

Gregory VII's conception of the Papal office was sweeping. In its most inclusive form it is expressed in the Dictatus Papae, which was probably his own work, although it has sometimes been ascribed to others. Whether or not it had Gregory as its author, that document undoubtedly reflected his mind. It defined the Papal position in twenty-seven affirmations. Among them the following stand out: the Roman Church was founded by God; the Roman Pontiff alone deserves the title "universal"; he alone can depose or reinstate bishops; he alone may use the imperial insignia; he is the only man whose feet princes must kiss; he can depose emperors; he may transfer a bishop from one see to another; he may divide rich bishoprics and unite the poor ones; he has the power to ordain a cleric of any church and he who is ordained by him may not receive a higher grade from any other bishop; no synod can be called general without his authorization; a sentence passed by him cannot be reversed by any one except himself; he may be judged by no one; to him should be referred the important cases of every church; the Roman Church has never erred, nor will it err to all eternity; he who is not at peace with the Roman Church shall not be considered Catholic; the Roman Pontiff may absolve subjects from their allegiance to wicked men. Many of these claims were not new, but never had they been expressed in more positive fashion.

It is important and significant that these and the others of the twenty-seven points dealt with what in the broadest sense of that term was the administrative and disciplinary position of the Pope. In other words, in promoting the health of the Catholic Church the Papacy's function was to ensure correctness of doctrine and effective executive and judicial action. The tides of life upon which, in the last analysis, the vitality of the Church, as of any religious budy, depended must be looked for elsewhere. We have seen them coming through monasticism, which the Pope and hierarchy accepted, and through movements which the Papacy and the hierarchy deemed subversive. Some of the Popes, includ ing Hildebrand, were regarded as exemplary Christians and were eventually canonized. Presumably they would be channels for renewals of vigour in the Church. However, they constituted a minority of the Popes and a very small minority of the officially recognized saints. Administration, by an autocratic hierarchy heading up in the Pope, could not produce that vigour. At the most it could remove handicaps to it by the negative procedure of purging the Church of such moral abuses and doctrinal aberrations as were amenable to executive and judicial action.

Gregory put the Papal claims into effect. He compelled archbishops to come to Rome to receive the pallium as the mark of their office and to maintain contact with the Holy See. He strove to keep all bishops dependent on the Pope and stood against their appointment and investiture by lay princes. He not only sent out legates on special missions, as had his predecessors, but he also appointed some men to be his resident representatives in particular regions and countries, thus ensuring closer supervision from Rome and the enforcement of the Papal edicts. He held frequent councils in Rome and through legates encouraged and supervised provincial councils to enforce his measures. He sought to stamp out simony and clerical marriage and concubinage. He ruled the Papal states in Italy. He claimed suzerainty, in the feudal sense of tha term, over some of the Norman princes in Italy, over Aragon in Spain, Hungary, the kingdom of Kiev, and the kingdom of Croatia-Dalmatia. In some instances this suzerainty was created at the request of princes who thereby sought legal recognition for their position. He endeavoured to bring under the control of Rome the churches in the newly converted countries of Denmark, Norway, Poland, Bohemia, and Hungary.

Gregory's greatest and most famous struggle was with Henry IV. It was prolonged and intricate. We must not take the space to go into it in detail, but it was so important that we must note its outstanding features. The issue was central in the programme of the reformers, the independence of the Church from the control of the laity. Its focus was the right of investiture. In Germany, thanks largely to the policy initiated by Otto the Great to offset the power of the hereditary lay princes, the bishops and archbishops had become great territorial magnates. To control them, the monarch insisted upon the right of appointing them and of compelling them to swear fealty to him. This the reformers would not tolerate, for it seemed to them to be diverting the bishops from their proper functions, the spiritual oversight of their flocks, and to make of them secular princes with predominantly secular interests.

The issue between Gregory VII and Henry IV was first joined over the Archbishopric of Milan, a dispute which had begun under Gregory's predecessor. In the spring of 1075 a synod at Rome had come out afresh against lay investiture, thus denying Henry any part in creating bishops. Later in that year Henry made an appointment to the Archbishopric of Milan. In December, 1075, Gregory took him to task not only for this act but also for some other episcopal appointments. In January, 1076, Henry IV, after a council of German nobles and bishops at Worms, denounced Gregory as "not Pope, but false monk," and demanded that he descend from the Papal throne. In this he was joined by a number of German and Italian prelates, who declared that Gregory had perjured himself by not abiding by an oath which he was said to have given to Henry III not to ascend the Papal throne or permit any one else to do so without the consent of that monarch or his son. Accordingly, they renounced their allegiance to him.

Gregory countered, in February, 1076, by deposing Henry, forbidding any one to serve him as king, and anathematizing him. Here was the most drastic step which any Pope had thus far taken in the political realm, the attempted dethroning of the mightiest monarch of Western Christendom. Henry's enemies in Germany seized the occasion to ask Gregory to preside at an assembly of the German notables at Augsburg in February, 1077, for either the condemnation or absolution of Henry. Pope Gregory accepted and prepared to go to Germany, To forestall Gregory and the proposed assembly, Henry hastened to Italy in the dead of winter, sought out the Pope, who, for fear of violence from Henry, had taken refuge in the friendly fortress of Canossa, and there for three days stood barefoot, in a penitent's garb, before the castle gate, asking mercy. Pressed by some of his supporters, including the Abbot of Cluny, Gregory relented and granted Henry absolution in return for the latter's solemn oath to do justice according to the Pope's judgement or to conclude peace according to his counsels. Henry had won a tactical victory, but the memory of his abject submission at Canossa remained as a vivid demonstration of Papal power.

In spite and in part because of the startling episode of Canossa, Henry IV emerged victor. To be sure, Henry's enemies in Germany rose in revolt and elected a rival king, and in 1080 Gregory, reluctantly taking sides, again declared Henry deposed. But Henry had a synod pronounce Hildebrand deposed and elect a Pope in his place, invaded Italy, entered Rome, and had him whom he had made Pope crown him Emperor (1084), while Gregory VII, still unyielding, helplessly kept within the walls of the castle of San Angelo in Rome, Normans from the south came to Gregory's relief, took Rome, and carried him off with them (1084). The following year (1085) Hildebrand died in exile at Salerno, apparently a beaten man.

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