The rising power of the reformed papacy

The new spirit could not tolerate with complacency the continued control of the Papacy by the Holy Roman Emperors. Even though the latter had been largely responsible for putting strong men on the Papal throne, their action represented a domination by lay lords which threatened the secularization of the Church. To the ardent among the reformers this was simony. Their dream was a Christian society in which Church and secular rulers would cooperate, but in which the Church would be independent of the latter and, in case of a conflict of authority, would be supreme. To them this seemed inevitable logic, for, as they saw it, the Church was the custodian of the Gospel, its officers were accountable for the eternal welfare of the souls of their flocks, and in a social structure ordered by Christian principies theirs must be the decisive voice.

A struggle was to ensue, one in which the leaders of the Church, operating in the name of the power displayed in the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, were to utilize the kind of power represented by the state. In so doing, although they acted from what seemed to them the highest of motives, they were to make of the Roman Catholic Church an hierarchical structure which was so nearly captured by this other kind of power that it became an enemy to the power seen in the cross and the empty tomb. Because of the methods which the reformers employed to purify the Church the evils against which they laboured came back with redoubled force. However, we are anticipating our story.

Following Leo IX there came two Popes, both favouring reform but both with too brief a tenure of office to make their purpose effective. On the death of the second, in 1058, the Tusculan faction attempted to reassert their control of the Papacy and put up a Pope of their own.

The return of the old subserviency of the Papacy to one or another of the coteries of Roman families was prevented by the decisive courage of a man who was to be the chief actor in the Papal scene for nearly three decades. This was Hildebrand.

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