Bishops Princes and Popes

During the early centuries of Christianity, the clergy and people of a local church picked their own bishop. A famous choice was that of Ambrose of Milan, the governor of the city and region, who had not yet been baptized when the people called for him after Bishop Auxentius died in 373 or 374: 'Ambrose for bishop!' In those centuries neighbouring bishops gave (or

35 This view is sometimes mistakenly attributed to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749—1832). What we find in Goethe's Noten und Abhandlungen is rather a little paragraph appended to the West-östlichen Divan , in which some heavily ironical sentences tell the reader to be grateful for the fanaticism of pilgrims and crusaders, since they preserved our 'cultivated European conditions' from contamination by the East. The whole point of the Noten und Abhandlungen is in fact to represent the non-Christian Orient as vastly more civilized than contemporary Europe. We thank Professor Nicholas Boyle for this information and reference.

36 Dante's Florence, after Paris the second largest city in Europe, had (1) major merchant guilds for bankers, judges, and the like, and (2) medium and minor guilds for bakers, shoemakers, hotel-keepers, and the like—eventually seven of group (1) and fourteen of group (2).

withheld) their assent to the nomination of new bishops. Gradually, however, bishops began playing a bigger role in selecting new bishops, and largely reduced the role of the laity to a formality. This development met with criticism from Augustine of Hippo and a number of popes. Leo the Great, for instance, wrote to the bishops of Gaul, insisting that for the nomination of a bishop there should be 'the written opinion of the clerics, the testimony of the (civil) authority, and the agreement of the people and of the priestly order. He who is to preside over all should be elected by all' (Lettera, 10. 6). Before the ninth century the popes were concerned with the naming of bishops only for the dioceses of central Italy. From the eleventh century, and especially from 1300, the See of Rome became involved in cases of disputed elections of bishops. After 1500 the Holy See was to recognize the 'right' of many sovereign rulers to name bishops, but from the nineteenth century took on more and more the role of naming bishops in the Latin rite. Eventually, with the exception of some dioceses (in Switzerland and some German-speaking areas), the Pope was to have the sole control in the naming of bishops for Western Catholics.

Being considered married to their dioceses, bishops could not be transferred from one diocese to another. The First Council of Nicaea (325) required that bishops (like priests and deacons) should remain in the diocese where they had been ordained (canon 15). It was only in 882 that someone already a bishop was first elected bishop of Rome, Pope Marinus I. The non-transferable state of bishops in the ancient Church contrasts with what regularly happens today in the (Western) Catholic Church, in which a bishop may move from one diocese to another and sometimes even shift on to a third—often thereby 'moving up the episcopal ladder' from a smaller and poorer diocese to a larger and richer one. Or perhaps one should talk about promotion to a more significant diocese following a successful episcopal apprenticeship in a less significant one?

For many centuries, both in the East and in the West, kings and emperors involved themselves in church affairs and could exercise great pressure in the appointment of new bishops. This happened in the case of Anselm, abbot of Bec (in Normandy), and with happy results for the See of Canterbury. Ronald Knox tells the story:

[Anselm], with some misgiving, came over to visit a sick friend in England at a time when the archbishopric of

Canterbury had long been left vacant, so that King William Rufus and his creatures might enjoy the sequestrated revenues of the See.At Christmas 1092, the clergy were allowed to pray for a remedy for the misfortunes of the Church.. .Early in 1093 King William fell sick and was evidently at the point of death ...fortunately for himself, the Norman king was more prompt in seeing the point of the situation. He promised amendment and restitution of every possible kind, and sent for Anselm at once as the obvious person to be elected archbishop. And then began a scene which has been enacted with various results a thousand times in the history of sanctity, but seldom with so much publicity or so much dramatic interest as in Anselm's case. When you try to make a saint accept a bishopric, it is like trying to make a child take medicine; the result is a perfect fury of dissent.In this case not merely the ordinary considerations but the whole welfare of a long-widowed Church and, as seemed probable, the life of a notorious sinner were depending upon St Anselm's acceptance, and he simply refused.It was only by the use of physical force that they dragged the saint to the King's bedside; and there, pressing the crozier against the knuckles that would not open so as to hold it, they elected the Archbishop of Canterbury.37

King William II recovered and, even before Anselm was consecrated archbishop in December 1093, initiated violent disputes with him over property and over relations with the papacy. After William II eventually died in 1100, Anselm ran into conflicts with the new king, Henry I, who wanted him to consecrate bishops whom Henry had 'invested'—that is to say, given the symbols of their office, the ring and crozier. Controversies between lay rulers and popes over such 'investiture' by kings and emperors flared up during the papacy of St Gregory VII (pope 1073—85) and lasted for decades in England, France, and Germany.

Even after the investiture controversy ended, conflicts continued to break out between rulers and bishops: for instance, between King Henry II and a friend whose election as archbishop of Canterbury Henry had promoted, St Thomas Becket (£1120—70). From 1164 Becket had to live in France. When he returned from exile, he refused to absolve some bishops who had assisted at the coronation of Henry's son unless they agreed to do penance for this illegal act which infringed the rights of Canterbury. Henry exploded with rage and uttered words that led four knights to ride at once to Canterbury and kill Becket in his cathedral. This murder symbolized for later ages, albeit in different political and ecclesiastical contexts, the struggles between lay rulers and bishops that have continued to result in such martyrdoms as that of Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador (1917—80). During his three years as archbishop, he spoke out for the human rights of the poor and the powerless—a

37 R. A. Knox, Occasional Sermons of Ronald A. Knox (London: Burns & Oates, 1960), 30—1.

'crime' for which he was gunned down at the altar while saying Mass. But, over the clash between Henry II and Thomas Becket, we are getting ahead of ourselves. We need to retrace our steps to the 'Gregorian reforms' and their background.

The second thousand years of Catholicism had begun, however, with a pope who was a loyal servant of the German emperor: Sylvester II (pope 999—1003), the first Frenchman to be elected to the papacy. A brilliant scholar, this pope was also deeply involved in promoting Christian life and growth in Poland, Hungary, and Russia. He chose to be called 'Sylvester because he wished to imitate St Sylvester I (pope 314—35), the spiritual collaborator of Emperor Constantine. Just as Sylvester I and Constantine had done in the fourth century, Sylvester II aimed to promote the imperial rule and the healthy state of the Church.

But such friendly relations between popes and rulers hardly remained the norm. Gregory VII, known from childhood as 'Hildebrand', practised an austere, monastic lifestyle and gave himself to reviving the Church morally—in particular, by reforming money-hungry and sexually immoral clergy. He fought against outside influence in the election of bishops and internal corruption in the shape of clerical simony and unchastity. Simony—that is to say, the buying or selling of ecclesiastical privileges—Gregory described as akin to prostitution. It came in three forms: not merely the vulgar a manu where money changed hands, but also in the subtler ab obsequio where some other service or favour paved the way for a nomination, and the more insidious a lingua where support of one kind or another did the trick. The German emperor, Henry IV, opposed some of the papal reforms and went so far as to hold two synods that declared Gregory deposed. In the unprecedented act of a pope excommunicating an emperor, Hildebrand responded by deposing Henry and declaring the Emperor's subjects free of their oath of allegiance to him. A year later Henry submitted to the Pope at Canossa (in Northern Italy), did penance, and was absolved from the censures imposed on him. When Henry failed to keep the promises he made at Canossa, the Pope once more excommunicated him. The Emperor marched on Rome, briefly occupied the city, and set up an antipope, Clement III. Gregory fled south and died at Salerno. His last words are supposed to have been: 'I have loved righteousness and hated iniquity; therefore I died in exile.'38

38 See H. E. J. Cowdrey, Pope Gregory VII, 1073—1085 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998); C. Morris, The Papal Monarchy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991).

The Gregorian reforms, while being on balance very much a 'good thing', suffered from their ambiguities—within the Catholic Church and beyond. Relations with those 'beyond' featured a remarkable letter of 1076 (Epístola, 21) to Anzir, the Muslim king of Mauretania, whom Gregory VII thanked for freeing some prisoners and promising to free some more. Anzir had even sent a candidate to be consecrated a bishop and so take care of his Christian subjects. Nearly nine hundred years later, in its declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions (Nostra Aetate, 3 n. 1), the Second Vatican Council recalled this letter, which recognized how Christians and Muslims honour Abraham and adore one and the same God. Yet two years earlier, in 1074, Gregory had unsuccessfully planned a military campaign against the Turks. Within the Church, Gregory effected a certain shift of power from the local churches to the Roman or Apostolic See. Less than a century later, however, no less an authority than the immensely influential Bernard of Clairvaux forcibly distinguished between the authority of the pope and that of the papal collaborators in Rome: 'the murmuring of the churches' would not stop, he warned, 'unless the Roman Curia ceased to give judgement in untried cases and in the absence of the accused, simply as its members happen to wish' (Epístola, 48). Writing in 1139 to Innocent II (pope 1130—43), Bernard was fearlessly forthright:

Justice is perishing in the Church, episcopal authority is being treated with utter contempt, so long as no bishop is in a position to avenge promptly injuries done to God, or is allowed to punish illicit acts of any kind even in his own diocese. Cases are referred to you and to the Roman Curia. You reverse, so it is said, what has been rightly done; you confirm what has been wrongly done. Shameless and contentious people from among the clergy, even men expelled from monasteries run off to you. On their return they boast and bluster to the effect that they have found protectors, when in fact they ought to have felt the punishment of an avenger. 1 everywhere the bishops are despised and put to shame; and the fact that their right judgements meet with contempt derogates most gravely from your authority also. (Epístola, 178)

The unique dignity of the papal office made this falsely functioning centralism intolerable for Bernard. It was harming bishops, demoralizing clergy and religious, and scandalizing the laity. Shortly before he died in 1153, Bernard finished a treatise (On Consideration), addressed to Eugenius II (pope 1145-53), like Bernard a Cistercian and the first Cistercian to occupy the Chair of Peter. Bernard spoke the truth to his much-loved former student. With pernicious people deliberately and with impunity injuring others by appealing to papal legates and to Rome, justice was not being done: 'to have appealed wrongly and also with impunity is an encouragement to groundless appeals.. .it is allowable to appeal, not in order to oppress others, but only if you are yourself oppressed' (3. 2. 7). Eugenius himself was 'the successor of Peter, not of Constantine'; he should remember that Peter knew 'nothing of going about at any time bedizened with jewels and silks, decked with gold, riding upon a white horse, escorted by soldiery, surrounded by attendants acclaiming him aloud' (ibid. 4. 3. 6).

Some decades later the Fourth Lateran Council, held in 1215 under Innocent III (pope 1198—1216) and attended by more than a thousand bishops, laid down healthy provisions for hearings:

He who is the object of an inquiry should be present at the process, and, unless absent through contumacy, should have the various headings of the inquiry explained to him, so as to allow him the possibility of defending himself. As well, he is to be informed not only of what the various witnesses have accused him of but also of the names of those witnesses. (Constitutions, 8)

Church law, which eventually brought the Code of Canon Law for the Western Church (1983) and the Code of Canons of the Oriental Churches (1990), aimed to protect rights as well as foster good order throughout the Catholic Church. However, right to the end of the twentieth century various offices of the Roman Curia have continued the practice of receiving and acting on secret denunciations. Regularly the 'objects' of inquiries are not given the names of their delators. The problem Bernard put his finger on is far from solved. Nor, for that matter, are the conflicts between secular rulers and popes.

From 1157 the German king and emperor, Frederick I or 'Barbarossa' (emperor 1155—90), insisted on the expression 'holy empire' (sacrum imperium) as a counterpart to the 'holy Church' or spiritual jurisdiction of the popes and so gave rise to the title 'Holy Roman Emperor'. (This title, held by a succession of German rulers, by Charles V (emperor 1519-56), and Hapsburg rulers, was abolished by Napoleon I in 1806.) Barbarossa took offence at claims that the sacrum imperium was a papal gift and insisted on it being a free crown governed by Roman law. Before 1179 he had supported three antipopes and led the German bishops into a schism that lasted seventeen years. Aggressive and grandiose, he wanted to emulate Charlemagne whom he had canonized or declared a saint by Paschal III, one of the three antipopes he had set up. Eventually, joined by Philip II (king of France 1180-1223) and Richard I, called Creur-de-Lion (king of England 1189-99), Barbarossa took a large army on the Third Crusade (1189-92) to recover the Holy Land from the Muslims. He led his troops across the Dardanelles, only to die in Southern Asia Minor, drowned when crossing a river.39 The split Barbarossa caused within the Church did not last long. But within three centuries other rulers were to help trigger long-standing divisions in Christianity.

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