The reforming spirit captures the Papacy

It was largely through the initiative of the German monarchs of the tenth and eleventh centuries that the Papacy was rescued from the low state into which it had fallen in the latter part of the ninth and the fore part of the tenth century. Like the Carolingians before him, Otto the Great succumbed to the lure of restoring the glories of the Roman Empire. Three times he led an expedition across the mountains. He assumed the throne of Italy and, as we have more than once reminded ourselves, in 962 was crowned Roman Emperor by the Pope. For centuries this imperial will-o'-the-wisp, this ignis fatuus, was to lure German monarchs to dissipate their strength south of the Alps and was to keep them from constructing a unified Germany comparable to the kingdoms of more limited territorial ambitions which were built by royal houses in other parts of Europe.

These German Holy Roman Emperors were a recurring and, indeed, a fairly constant factor in Papal affairs. In theory Christendom was to have two heads, both divinely commissioned, the one civil, the Emperor, and the other spiritual, the Pope. In practice it was the Papacy which exerted the geographically more extensive influence, but for nearly a century it was Otto the Great and those who followed him in the imperial office who were responsible for putting on the Papal throne most of the worthy Pontiffs of that period and who eventually made the revival dominant at the Papal court. However, that control was not quickly achieved. Not until Pope Leo IX, who held office from 1049 to 1054, was reform firmly seated. In the preceding ten decades the record was very chequered.

The details of the story of the steps by which, with the vigorous support of the German Holy Roman Emperors, the new element obtained control of the Papacy are confusing. We need not here attempt to recount them all. However, some of the more important features and incidents, together with a few of the main figures, must claim our attention.

When, in 961, Otto the Great made his second expedition into Italy, it was said to have been in response to an appeal from Pope John XII. John wished the protection of Otto against Berengar II, who as titular King of Italy constituted a threat. John XII was the son of Alberic and the grandson of Marozia, whom we have met earlier as prominent members of a family which for some time had controlled Rome and the Papacy. John XII was only in his teens when he became the head of the Church of Rome and was more de voted to the chase and to pandering to his passions than he was to the duties of the supposed head of Western Christendom. It was John XII who in 962 crowned Otto Roman Emperor. The two concluded an agreement, the Privilegium Ottonis, whereby Otto conceded to the Pope temporal jurisdiction over about three-fourths of Italy and the Romans were not to consecrate any one as Pope who did not take an oath of fealty to the Emperor. John XII soon fell out with Otto and the latter had him deposed and another elected in his place.

There ensued a struggle for the Papacy between the Romans on the one hand and successive German Emperors on the other. The former insisted on their traditional right to elect their bishop. The latter, impatient with the quality of the men so chosen, especially since it was by a populace now shrunk to small dimensions and swayed by local leaders who had scant regard for the Emperors, strove to put their own nominees on the Papal throne. For a time the Roman family Crescentius dominated the city and sought to have their creatures made Popes.

The contest lasted for several reigns with Popes and anti-Popes each claiming to be legitimate. In 985 he who went by the title of Boniface VII died suddenly, perhaps poisoned, and his body was dragged through the streets of Rome and left naked and unbur-ied. In 996 the youthful and ardently religious Otto III had one of his relatives placed on the Papal throne as Gregory V, the first German to hold the office. On the latter's death, in 999, Otto obtained the election of his tutor, Gerbert, a Frenchman, reputed to be the most learned man of his age. As Sylvester II Gerbert laboured to eradicate simony and clerical marriage and concubinage, but the demise of his imperial patron (1002) left him without powerful support and within a few months he too was dead.

After two Crescentian Popes, a faction headed by the nearby Counts of Tusculum was in control in Rome and had its nominees placed in the See of Peter. One of these, Benedict VIII (reigned 1012-1024), who was of the family of the Counts of Tusculum, was a friend of the Abbot of Cluny and favoured reform. Indeed, he and the Holy Roman Emperor Henry II collaborated to that end. However, another of the Tusculan Pontiffs, Benedict IX, nephew of his two predecessors and who became Pope in 1032, is said to have been one of the most profligate ever to occupy the post and degradation seemed again to triumph. Opposition to him arose, partly through the Crescentian faction, and for a time there were three rivals in Rome, each claiming to be the lawful Pope. It is not surprising that earnest leaders in the monastic revival, such as Peter Damian, were scandalized and longed for a cleansing of the Augean stables.

Decisive change came through the intervention of Henry III, soon to be crowned Holy Roman Emperor. As we have seen, Henry III was deeply religious. In 1046 synods held at his instance and under his direction deposed two of the competing Popes and constrained the third to resign. Neither of the first two men whom Henry caused to be placed successively on the Papal throne lived long. The next whose election he obtained was Leo IX, who held the post from 1049 to 1054. Under Leo IX the tide of reform swept into the Papacy and held it.

Leo IX, elected in his mid-forties, was of a noble family of Alsace. As Bishop of Toul in Lorraine, he had already made a record as administrator, organizer and reformer. The integrity of his character is attested by his eventual canonization. Chosen at an assembly at Worms, in Germany, at the instance of Henry III and with the concurrence of delegates from Rome, he would not assume the title and functions of Pope until, after reaching Rome, garbed as a humble pilgrim, his election was confirmed, as long custom required, by the people and clergy of the Eternal City. In other words, he would not consent to the Pope being a mere creature of the Emperor. A friend of the Abbot of Cluny and of Peter Damian, he could be counted on for vigorous measures. He travelled extensively in Italy and beyond the Alps, holding synods which took action against the purchase and sale of Church offices, insisted that bishops should not be appointed by lay lords but he elected by clergy and people, and commanded cicrical celibacy. He did much to restore the prestige of the Papal see.

Leo IX broadened the scope of the Roman cardinalate by appointing to its ranks men of reforming zeal from outside the environs of Rome. He thus made it more representative of the Western Church as a whole and surrounded himself with men whom he could trust. The "cardinals" had been, as the name indicates, the leading clergy in and near Rome. They included the priests in the chief or "title" churches in Rome, the deacons in charge of the districts into which Rome had been divided in the third century for the administration of poor relief, and the bishops in the immediate neighborhood of the city. From them, quire naturally, had come the Pope's advisers. Originally the designation cardinal had not been confined to Rome but had been given to outstanding clergy anywhere in the Catholic Church. The action of Leo IX enhanced the position of the Roman cardinals in the Church at large, for it established the precedent of drawing into the inner circle of the Papal entourage and the central administration men of ability from any part of the Church regardless of their country.

Leo IX had difficulties with the Patriarch of Constantinople of which we are to speak later and which, in 1054, led to another stage in the separation of the Eastern and Western wings of the Catholic Church. He died in 1054 and was soon followed, in 1056, by the Emperor Henry III. The latter's six-year-old son came to the throne as Henry IV under regency.

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