Vol. 5, Chapter II. Gregory VII, 1073-1085

See literature in § 3.

10. Hildebrand Elected Pope. His Views on the Situation

Alexander II. died April 21, 1073, and was buried in the basilica of St. John in Lateran on the following day. The city, usually so turbulent after the death of a pope, was tranquil. Hildebrand ordered a three days’ fast with litanies and prayers for the dead, after which the cardinals were to proceed to an election. Before the funeral service was closed, the people shouted, “Hildebrand shall be pope!” He attempted to ascend the pulpit and to quiet the crowd, but Cardinal Hugo Candidus anticipated him, and declared:, “Men and brethren, ye know how since the days of Leo IX. Hildebrand has exalted the holy Roman Church, and defended the freedom of our city. And as we cannot find for the papacy a better man, or even one that is his equal, let us elect him, a clergyman of our Church, well known and thoroughly approved amongst us.” The cardinals and clergy exclaimed in the usual formula, “St. Peter elects Gregory (Hildebrand) pope.”

This tumultuary election was at once legalized by the cardinals. He was carried by the people as in triumph to the church of S. Petrus ad Vincula, clothed with the purple robe and tiara, and declared elected, as “a man eminent in piety and learning, a lover of equity and justice, firm in adversity, temperate in prosperity, according to the apostolic precept (1Ti_3:2), ‘without reproach … temperate, soberminded, chaste, given to hospitality, ruling his house well’ … already well brought up and educated in the bosom of this mother Church, for his merits advanced to the office of archdeacon, whom now and henceforth we will to be called Gregory, Pope, and Apostolic Primate.”

It was eminently proper that the man who for nearly a quarter of a century had been the power behind the throne, should at last be pope in name as well as in fact. He might have attained the dignity long before, if he had desired it. He was then about sixty years old, when busy men begin to long for rest. He chose the name Gregory in memory of his departed friend whom he had accompanied as chaplain into exile, and as a protest against the interference of the empire in the affairs of the Church. He did not ask the previous confirmation of the emperor, but he informed him of his election, and delayed his consecration long enough to receive the consent of Henry IV., who in the meantime had become emperor. This was the last case of an imperial confirmation of a papal election.

Hildebrand was ordained priest, May 22, and consecrated pope, June 29, without any opposition. Bishop Gregory of Vercelli, the German chancellor of Italy, attended the consecration. The pope informed his friends, distinguished abbots, bishops, and princes of his election; gave expression to his feelings and views on his responsible position, and begged for their sympathy and prayers.

He was overwhelmed, as he wrote to Duke Godfrey of Lorraine (May 6, 1073), by the prospect of the task before him; he would rather have died than live in the midst of such perils; nothing but trust in God and the prayers of good men could save him from despair; for the whole world was lying in wickedness; even the high officers of the Church, in their thirst for gain and glory, were the enemies rather than the friends of religion and justice. In the second year of his pontificate, he assured his friend Hugo of Cluny (Jan. 22, 1075) that he often prayed God either to release him from the present life, or to use him for the good of mother Church, and thus describes the lamentable condition of the times: — 

“The Eastern Church fallen from the faith, and attacked by the infidels from without. In the West, South, or North, scarcely any bishops who have obtained their office regularly, or whose life and conduct correspond to their calling, and who are actuated by the love of Christ instead of worldly ambition. Nowhere princes who prefer God’s honor to their own, and justice to gain. The Romans, Longobards, and Normans among whom I live, as I often told them, are worse than Jews and heathens. And when I look to myself, I feel oppressed by such a burden of sin that no other hope of salvation is left me but in the mercy of Christ alone.”

This picture is true, and we need not wonder that he often longed to retire to the quiet retreat of a convent. He adds in the same letter that, if it were not for his desire to serve the holy Church, he would not remain in Rome, where he had spent twenty years against his wish. He was thus suspended between sorrow and hope, seized by a thousand storms, living as a dying man. He compared himself to a sailor on the high seas surrounded by darkness. And he wrote to William the Conqueror, that unwillingly he had ascended into the ship which was tossed on a billowy sea, with the violence of the winds and the fury of storms with hidden rocks beneath and other dangers rising high in air in the distance.

The two features which distinguished Gregory’s administration were the advocacy of papal absolutism and the promotion of moral reforms. In both these respects Gregory left an abiding impression upon the thought and practice of Latin Christendom. Even where we do not share his views we cannot help but admire his moral force and invincible courage.


11. The Gregorian Theocracy

The Hildebrandian or Gregorian Church ideal is a theocracy based upon the Mosaic model and the canon law. It is the absolute sovereignty of the Church in this world, commanding respect and obedience by her moral purity and ascetic piety. By the Church is meant the Roman Catholic organization headed by the pope as the vicar of Christ; and this hierarchical organization is identified with the Kingdom of God, in which men are saved from sin and death, and outside of which there is no ordinary salvation. No distinction is made between the Church and the Kingdom, nor between the visible and invisible Church. The Holy, Catholic, Apostolic, Roman Church has been to popes as visible and tangible as the German Empire, or the Kingdom of France, or the Republic of Venice. Besides this Church no other is recognized, not even the Greek, except as a schismatic branch of the Roman.

This ideal is the growth of ages. It was prepared for by pseudo-Isidor in the ninth, and by St. Augustine in the fifth century.

St. Augustine, the greatest theological authority of the Middle Ages, first identified the visible Catholic Church with the City or Kingdom of God. In his great apologetic work, De Civitate Dei, he traced the relation of this Kingdom to the changing and passing kingdoms of this world, and furnished, we may say, the programme of the medieval theocracy which, in theory, is adhered to by the Roman Church to this day. But Augustine was not an ecclesiastic like Cyprian and the popes. He was more interested in theology than Church policy; he had little to say about the papacy, and made a suggestive distinction between “the true body of Christ” and “the mixed body of Christ,” which led the way to the Protestant distinction (first made by Zwingli) between the visible and invisible Church. In the Hildebrandian controversy he is quoted by both parties, and more frequently than any other father; but neither Gregory nor his most zealous adherents could quote Augustine in favor of their hierocratic theory of the apostolic right to depose temporal sovereigns.

The pseudo-Isidorian Decretals went further: they identified the Catholic Church with the dominion of the papal hierarchy, and by a series of literary fictions carried this system back to the second century; notwithstanding the fact that the Oriental Church never recognized the claims of the bishops of Rome beyond that of a mere primacy of honor among equal patriarchs.

Gregory VII. actualized this politico-ecclesiastical system more fully than any previous pope, and as far as human energy and prudence would admit. The glory of the Church was the all-controlling passion of his life. He held fast to it in the darkest hours, and he was greatest in adversity. Of earlier popes, Nicolas I. and Leo I. came nearest to him in lofty pretensions. But in him papal absolutism assumed flesh and blood. He was every inch a pope. He anticipated the Vatican system of 1870; in one point he fell short of it, in another point he went beyond it. He did not claim infallibility in theory, though he assumed it in fact; but he did claim and exercise, as far as he could, an absolute authority over the temporal powers of Christendom, which the popes have long since lost, and can never regain.

Hildebrand was convinced that, however unworthy personally, he was, in his official character, the successor of Peter, and as such the vicar of Christ in the militant Church. He entirely identified himself with Peter as the head of the apostolic college, and the keeper of the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven; but he forgot that in temporal affairs Peter was an humble subject under a hostile government, and exhorted the Christians to honor the king (1Pe_2:17) at a time when a Nero sat on the throne. He constantly appealed to the famous words of Christ, Mat_16:18, Mat_16:19, as if they were said to himself. The pope inherits the lofty position of Peter. He is the Rock of the Church. He is the universal bishop, a title against which the first Gregory protested as an anti-Christian presumption. He is intrusted with the care of all Christendom (including the Greek Church, which never acknowledged him). He has absolute and final jurisdiction, and is responsible only to God, and to no earthly tribunal. He alone can depose and reinstate bishops, and his legates take precedence of all bishops. He is the supreme arbiter in questions of right and wrong in the whole Christian world. He is above all earthly sovereigns. He can wear the imperial insignia. He can depose kings and emperors, and absolve subjects from their oath of allegiance to unworthy sovereigns.

These and similar claims are formulated in a document of twenty-seven brief propositions preserved among Gregory’s letters, which are of doubtful genuineness, but correctly express his views, and in a famous letter to Hermann, bishop of Metz.

Among his favorite Scripture quotations, besides the prophecy about Peter (Mat_16:18, Mat_16:19), are two passages from the Old Testament: the words of the prophet Samuel to Saul, which suited his attitude to rebellious kings (1Sa_15:23): “Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as idolatry and teraphim; because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, he has also rejected thee from being king;” and the words of the prophet Jeremiah (Jer_48:10): “Cursed be he that doeth the work of the Lord negligently, and cursed be he that keepeth back his sword from blood.” He meant the spiritual sword chiefly, but also the temporal, if necessary. He would have liked to lead an army of soldiers of St. Peter for the conquest of the Holy Land, and the subjection of all rebellious monarchs. He projected the first crusade, which his second successor carried out.

We must consider more particularly his views on the relation of Church and State. Public opinion in the Middle Ages believed neither in co-ordination nor separation of the two powers, but in the subordination of one to the other on the basis of union. Church and State were inseparably interwoven from the days of Charlemagne and even of Constantine, and both together constituted the Christian commonwealth, respublica Christiana. There was also a general agreement that the Church was the spiritual, the State, the temporal power.

But the parties divided on the question of the precise boundary line. The papal party maintained the theocratic superiority of the Church over the State: the imperial party maintained the caesaropapistic superiority of the State, or at least the equality of the two powers. It was a conflict between priestcraft and statecraft, between sacerdotium and imperium, the clergy and the laity. The imperialists emphasized the divine origin and superior antiquity of the civil government, to which even Christ and the Apostles were subject; the hierarchical party disparaged the State, and put the Church above it even in temporal affairs, when they conflicted with the spiritual. Emperors like Otto I. and Henry III. deposed and elected popes; while popes like Gregory VII. and Innocent III. deposed and elected emperors.

Gregory compares the Church to the sun, the State to the moon, which borrows her light from the sun. The episcopal dignity is above the kingly and imperial dignity, as heaven is above the earth. He admits the necessity of the State for the temporal government of men; but in his conflict with the civil power he takes the pessimistic view that the State is the product of robbery, murder, and all sorts of crimes, and a disturbance of the original equality, which must be restored by the priestly power. He combined the highest view of the Church and the papacy with the lowest view of the State and the empire.

His theory of the papal power could not have been more explicitly stated than when, writing to Sancho, king of Aragon, he said that Jesus, the king of glory, had made Peter lord over the kingdoms of the world. This principle he consistently acted upon. Henry IV. of Germany he twice deposed and absolved his subjects from allegiance to him. He concluded his second excommunication of Henry IV., at the synod in Lent, March 7, 1080, with this startling peroration: — 

“And now, O ye princes and fathers, most holy Apostles Peter and Paul, deal ye with us in such wise that all the world may know and understand that, having the power to bind and to loose in heaven, you have the like power to take away empires, kingdoms, principalities, duchies, marquisates, earldoms, and all manner of human rights and properties …. Having such mighty power in spiritual things, what is there on earth that may transcend your authority in temporal things? And if ye judge the angels, who are high above the proudest of princes, what may ye not do unto those beneath them? Let the kings and princes of the earth know and feel how great ye are — how exalted your power! Let them tremble to despise the commands of your Church!

“But upon the said Henry do judgment quickly, that all men may know that it is not by fortune or chance, but by your power, that he has fallen! May he thus be confounded unto repentance, that his soul may be saved in the day of the Lord!”

This is the extreme of hierarchical arrogance and severity. Gregory always assumed the air of supreme authority over kings and nobles as well as bishops and abbots, and expects from them absolute obedience.

Sardinia and Corsica he treated as fiefs. To the Spanish princes, in 1073, he wrote that from of old Spain had belonged to St. Peter, and that it belonged to no mortal man but to the Apostolic see. For had not the Holy See made a grant of Spanish territory to a certain Evulus on condition of his conquering it from pagan hands? Alfonso of Castile and Sancho of Aragon, he reminded that St. Paul had gone to Spain and that seven bishops, sent by Paul and Peter, had founded the Christian Church in Spain. Philip I., king of France, he coolly told, that every house in his kingdom owed Peter’s Pence, and he threatened the king, in case he did not desist from simony, to place his realm under the interdict. A few months later in a letter to Manasses, archbishop of Rheims, he called the king a rapacious wolf, the enemy of God and religion. He summoned the king of Denmark, Sueno, to recognize the dependence of his kingdom upon Rome and to send his son to Rome that he might draw the sword against the enemies of God, promising the son a certain rich province in Italy for his services. Boleslav, duke of Poland, he admonished to pay certain monies to the king of Russia, whose son, as we are informed in another letter, had come to Rome, to secure his throne from the pope. The Hungarian king, Solomon, was reminded that King Stephen had given his kingdom to St. Peter and that it belonged of right to Rome, and he was sharply rebuked for having received his crown from the king of the Germans as a fief and not having sought it from Rome. On Demetrius, duke of Dalmatia, Gregory conferred the royal title on condition of his rendering a yearly payment of two hundred pieces of silver to himself and his papal successors. To Michael, Byzantine emperor, he wrote, expressing the hope that the Church of Constantinople as a true daughter might be reconciled to its mother, the Church of Rome. In other communications to the emperor, Gregory made propositions concerning a crusade to rescue the Holy Land.

For William the Conqueror, Gregory expressed great affection, addressing him as “best beloved,” carissime, but solemnly reminded him that he owed his promotion to the throne of England to the favor of the Roman see and bidding him be prompt in the payment of Peter’s Pence. The proud Englishman replied that he owed his crown to God and his own sword, not to the pope. He was willing to pay Peter’s Pence which his predecessors had paid, but fealty he refused to pay as his predecessors had refused to pay it.

Unbiblical and intolerable as is Hildebrand’s scheme of papal absolutism as a theory of abiding validity, for the Middle Ages it was better that the papacy should rule. It was, indeed, a spiritual despotism; but it checked a military despotism which was the only alternative, and would have been far worse. The Church, after all, represented the moral and intellectual interests over against rude force and passions. She could not discharge her full duty unless she was free and independent. The princes of the Middle Ages were mostly ignorant and licentious despots; while the popes, in their official character, advocated the cause of learning, the sanctity of marriage, and the rights of the people. It was a conflict of moral with physical power, of intelligence with ignorance, of religion with vice.

The theocratic system made religion the ruling factor in medieval Europe, and gave the Catholic Church an opportunity to do her best. Her influence was, upon the whole, beneficial. The enthusiasm for religion inspired the crusades, carried Christianity to heathen savages, built the cathedrals and innumerable churches, founded the universities and scholastic theology, multiplied monastic orders and charitable institutions, checked wild passions, softened manners, stimulated discoveries and inventions, preserved ancient classical and Christian literature, and promoted civilization. The papacy struck its roots deep in the past, even as far back as the second century. But it was based in part on pious frauds, as the pseudo-Isidorian Decretals and the false Donation of Constantine.

The medieval theocracy was at best a carnal anticipation of the millennial reign, when all the kingdoms of this world shall obey the peaceful sceptre of Christ. The papacy degenerated more and more into a worldly institution and an intolerable tyranny over the hearts and minds of men. Human nature is too noble to be ruled by despotism, and too weak to resist its temptations. The State has divine authority as well as the Church, and the laity have rights as well as the clergy. These rights came to the front as civilization advanced and as the hierarchy abused its power. It was the abuse of priestly authority for the enslavement of men, the worldliness of the Church, and the degradation and profanation of religion in the traffic of indulgences, which provoked the judgment of the Reformation.


12. Gregory VII. as a Moral Reformer. Simony and Clerical Marriage

Gregory VII. must be viewed not only as a papal absolutist, but also as a moral reformer. It is the close connection of these two characters that gives him such pre-eminence in history, and it is his zeal for moral reform that entitles him to real respect; while his pretension to absolute power he shares with the most worthless popes.

His Church ideal formed a striking contrast to the actual condition of the Church, and he could not actualize it without raising the clergy from the deep slough of demoralization to a purer and higher plane.

His reforms were directed against simony and Nicolaitism. What he had done as Hildebrand, by way of advice, he now carried out by official authority.

In the war on simony he was altogether right from the standpoint of Protestant as well as Roman Catholic ethics. The traffic in ecclesiastical dignities was an unmitigated nuisance and scandal, and doubly criminal if exercised by bishops and popes.

In his war on Nicolaitism, Gregory was sustained by ancient laws of the Roman Church, but not by the genuine spirit of Christianity. Enforced clerical celibacy has no foundation in the Bible, and is apt to defeat the sacerdotal ideal which it was intended to promote. The real power and usefulness of the clergy depend upon its moral purity, which is protected and promoted by lawful matrimony, the oldest institution of God, dating from the paradise of innocence.

The motives of Gregory in his zeal for sacerdotal celibacy were partly monkish and partly hierarchical. Celibacy was an essential part of his ascetic ideal of a priest of God, who must be superior to carnal passions and frailties, wholly devoted to the interests of the Church, distracted by no earthly cares, separated from his fellow-men, and commanding their reverence by angelic purity. Celibacy, moreover, was an indispensable condition of the freedom of the hierarchy. He declared that he could not free the Church from the rule of the laity unless the priests were freed from their wives. A married clergy is connected with the world by social ties, and concerned for the support of the family; an unmarried clergy is independent, has no home and aim but the Church, and protects the pope like a standing army.

Another motive for opposing clerical marriage was to prevent the danger of a hereditary caste which might appropriate ecclesiastical property to private uses and impoverish the Church. The ranks of the hierarchy, even the chair of St. Peter, were to be kept open to self-made men of the humblest classes, but closed against hereditary claimants. This was a practical recognition of the democratic principle in contrast with the aristocratic feudalism of the Middle Ages. Hildebrand himself, who rose from the lowest rank without patronage to the papal throne, was the best illustration of this clerical democracy.

The power of the confessional, which is one of the pillars of the priesthood, came to the aid of celibacy. Women are reluctant to intrust their secrets to a priest who is a husband and father of a family.

The married priests brought forward the example of the priests of the Old Testament. This argument Damiani answered by saying that the Hebrew priest was forbidden to eat before offering sacrifices at the altar. How much more unseemly it would be for a priest of the new order to soil himself carnally before offering the sacraments to God! The new order owed its whole time to the office and had none left for marriage and the family life (1Co_7:32). Only an unmarried man who refuses to gratify carnal lusts can fulfil the injunction to be a temple of God and avoid quenching the Spirit (Eph_4:30; 1Th_5:19).

These motives controlled also the followers of Gregory and the whole hierarchy, and secured the ultimate triumph of sacerdotal celibacy. The question of abolishing it has from time to time been agitated, and in the exceptional cases of the Maronites and United Greeks the popes have allowed single marriage in deference to old custom and for prudential reasons. Pope Pius II., before he ascended the papal chair (1458-1464), said that good reasons required the prohibition of clerical marriage, but better reasons required its restoration. The hierarchical interest, however, has always overruled these better reasons. Whatever may have been the advantages of clerical celibacy, its evils were much greater. The sexual immorality of the clergy, more than anything else, undermined the respect of the people for their spiritual guides, and was one of the chief causes of the Reformation, which restored honorable clerical marriage, created a pastoral home with its blessings, and established the supremacy of conscience over hierarchical ambition.

From the standpoint of a zealous reformer like Gregory, the morals of the clergy were certainly in a low condition. No practice did he condemn with such burning words as the open marriage of priests or their secret cohabitation with women who were to all intents and purposes their wives. Contemporary writers like Damiani, d. 1072, in his Gomorrhianus, give dark pictures of the lives of the priests. While descriptions of rigid ascetics are to be accepted with caution, the evidence abounds that in all parts of Latin Christendom the law of priestly celibacy was ignored. Modern Catholic historians, like Hefele and Funk, do not hesitate to adduce the proofs of this state of affairs. The pope Benedict IX., according to friendly testimony, was thinking of taking a wife openly. The legislation, opening with the canons of the Roman synod of 1049 held by Leo IX., and emphasized at the Roman synod of 1059 held under Nicholas II., was given by Gregory VII. such a prominence that one might have supposed the very existence of the Church depended upon the enforcement of clerical celibacy. There were bishops even in Italy who openly permitted the marriage of priests, as was the case with Kunibert of Turin. In Germany, Bishop Poppo of Toul did not conceal his quasi-marital relations which Gregory denounced as fornication, and the bishops of Spires and Lausanne had hard work clearing themselves in public synods from a like charge. Married priests were denominated by synods and by Gregory VII. as “incontinent” or “concubinary priests.” Gregory spoke of Germany as afflicted with the “inveterate disease of clerical fornication.” And what was true of Italy and Germany was true of England.


13. The Enforcement of Sacerdotal Celibacy

Literature, special works: Henry C. Lea: A Hist. Sketch of Sacerdotal Celibacy in the Christian Church, Phil. 1867, 2d ed. Boston, 1884. — A. Dresdner: Kultur und Sittengeschichte der italienischen Geistlichkeit im 10 und 11 Jahrhundert, Berlin, 1890. — Mirbt: Publizistik, pp. 239-342; Hefele, V. 20 sqq. The chief contemporary sources are Damiani de coelibatu sacerdotum, addressed to Nicolas II. and Gomorrhianus, commended by Leo IX., and other writings, — Gregory VII.’s Letters. Mirbt gives a survey of this literature, pp. 274-342.

Gregory completed, with increased energy and the weight of official authority, the moral reform of the clergy as a means for securing the freedom and power of the Church. He held synod after synod, which passed summary laws against simony and Nicolaitism, and denounced all carnal connection of priests with women, however legitimate, as sinful and shameful concubinage. Not contented with synodical legislation, he sent letters and legates into all countries with instructions to enforce the decrees. A synod in Rome, March, 1074, opened the war. It deposed the priests who had bought their dignity or benefices, prohibited all future sacerdotal marriage, required married priests to dismiss their wives or cease to read mass, and commanded the laity not to attend their services. The same decrees had been passed under Nicolas II. and Alexander II., but were not enforced. The forbidding of the laity to attend mass said by a married priest, was a most dangerous, despotic measure, which had no precedent in antiquity. In an encyclical of 1079 addressed to the whole realm of Italy and Germany, Gregory used these violent words, “If there are presbyters, deacons, or sub-deacons who are guilty of the crime of fornication (that is, living with women as their wives), we forbid them, in the name of God Almighty and by the authority of St. Peter, entrance into the churches, introitum ecclesiae, until they repent and rectify their conduct.”

These decrees caused a storm of opposition. Many clergymen in Germany, as Lambert of Hersfeld reports, denounced Gregory as a madman and heretic: he had forgotten the words of Christ, Mat_19:11, and of the Apostle, 1Co_7:9; he wanted to compel men to live like angels, and, by doing violence to the law of nature, he opened the door to indiscriminate licentiousness. They would rather give up their calling than their wives, and tauntingly asked him to look out for angels who might take their place. The bishops were placed in a most embarrassing position. Some, like Otto of Constance, sympathized with the married clergy; and he went so far as to bid his clergy marry. Others, like St. Altmann of Passau, were enthusiasts for sacerdotal celibacy. Others, like Siegfrid of Mainz, took a double attitude. Archbishop Anno of Cologne agreed with the Hildebrandian principle, but deemed it impracticable or inopportune. When the bishops lacked in zeal, Gregory stirred up the laity against the simoniacal and concubinary priests. He exhorted a certain Count Albert (October, 1074) to persist in enforcing the papal orders, and commanded Duke Rudolf of Swabia and Duke Bertolf of Carinthia, January, 1075, to prevent by force, if necessary, the rebellious priests from officiating, no matter what the bishops might say who had taken no steps to punish the guilty. He thus openly encouraged rebellion of the laity against the clergy, contrary to his fundamental principle of the absolute rule of the hierarchy. He acted on the maxim that the end sanctifies the means. Bishop Theodoric of Verdun, who at first sided in the main with Gregory, but was afterwards forced into the ranks of his opponents, openly reproached him for these most extraordinary measures as dangerous to the peace of the Church, to the safety of the clerical order, and even to the Christian faith. Bishop Henry of Spires denounced him as having destroyed the episcopal authority, and subjected the Church to the madness of the people. When the bishops, at the Diet of Worms, deposed him, January, 1076, one of the reasons assigned was his surrender of the Church to the laity.

But the princes who were opposed to Henry IV. and deposed him at Tribur (1076), professed great zeal for the Roman Church and moral reform. They were stigmatized with the Milanese name of Patarini. Even Henry IV., though he tacitly protected the simoniacal and concubinary clergy and received their aid, never ventured openly to defend them; and the anti-pope Clement III., whom he elected 1080, expressed with almost Hildebrandian severity his detestation of clerical concubinage, although he threatened with excommunication the presumptuous laymen who refused to take the sacrament from immoral priests. Bishop Benzo, the most bitter of imperialists, did not wish to be identified with the Nicolaitan heretics.

A contemporary writer, probably a priest of Treves, gives a frightful picture of the immediate results of this reform, with which he sympathized in principle. Slaves betrayed masters and masters betrayed slaves, friends informed against friends, faith and truth were violated, the offices of religion were neglected, society was almost dissolved. The peccant priests were exposed to the scorn and contempt of the laity, reduced to extreme poverty, or even mutilated by the populace, tortured and driven into exile. Their wives, who had been legally married with ring and religious rites, were insulted as harlots, and their children branded as bastards. Many of these unfortunate women died from hunger or grief, or committed suicide in despair, and were buried in unconsecrated earth. Peasants burned the tithes on the field lest they should fall into the hands of disobedient priests, trampled the host under foot, and baptized their own children.

In England, St. Dunstan, archbishop of Canterbury, d. 988, had anticipated the reforms of Hildebrand, but only with temporary success. William the Conqueror made no effort to enforce sacerdotal celibacy, except that the charge of concubinage was freely used as a pretext for removing Anglo-Saxon prelates to make room for Norman rivals. Lanfranc of Canterbury was a Hildebrandian, but could not prevent a reformatory council at Winchester in 1076 from allowing married priests to retain their wives, and it contented itself with the prohibition of future marriages. This prohibition was repeated at a council held in London, 1102, when Anselm occupied the see of Canterbury. Married priests were required to dismiss their wives, and their children were forbidden to inherit their fathers’ churches. A profession of chastity was to be exacted at ordination to the subdiaconate and the higher orders. But no punishment was prescribed for the violation of these canons. Anselm maintained them vigorously before and after his exile. A new council, called by King Henry at London, 1108, a year before Anselm’s death, passed severe laws against sacerdotal marriage under penalties of deposition, expulsion from the Church, loss of property, and infamy. The temporal power was pledged to enforce this legislation. But Eadmer, the biographer of Anselm, sorrowfully intimates that the result was an increase of shocking crimes of priests with their relatives, and that few preserved that purity with which Anselm had labored to adorn his clergy.

In Spain, which was as much isolated from the Continent by the Pyrenees as England by the sea, clerical celibacy was never enforced before this period. The Saracenic invasion and subsequent struggles of the Christians were unfavorable to discipline. A canon of Compostella, afterwards bishop of Mondonego, describes the contemporary ecclesiastics at the close of the eleventh century as reckless and violent men, ready for any crime, prompt to quarrel, and occasionally indulging in mutual slaughter. The lower priests were generally married; but bishops and monks were forbidden by a council of Compostella, in 1056, all intercourse with women, except with mothers, aunts, and sisters wearing the monastic habit. Gregory VII. sent a legate, a certain Bishop Amandus, to Spain to introduce his reforms, 1077. A council at Girona, 1078, forbade the ordination of sons of priests and the hereditary transmission of ecclesiastical benefices. A council at Burgos, 1080, commanded married priests to put away their wives. But this order seems to have been a dead letter until the thirteenth century, when the code of laws drawn up by Alfonso the Wise, known as “Las Siete Partidas,” punished sacerdotal marriage with deprivation of function and benefice, and authorized the prelates to command the assistance of the secular power in enforcing this punishment. “After this we hear little of regular marriage, which was replaced by promiscuous concubinage or by permanent irregular unions.”

In France the efforts of reform made by the predecessors of Gregory had little effect. A Paris synod of 1074 declared Gregory’s decrees unbearable and unreasonable. At a stormy synod at Poitiers, in 1078, his legate obtained the adoption of a canon which threatened with excommunication all who should listen to mass by a priest whom they knew to be guilty of simony or concubinage. But the bishops were unable to carry out the canon without the aid of the secular arm. The Norman clergy in 1072 drove the archbishop of Rouen from a council with a shower of stones. William the Conqueror came to his aid in 1080 at a synod of Lillebonne, which forbade ordained persons to keep women in their houses. But clerical marriages continued, the nuptials were made public, and male children succeeded to benefices by a recognized right of primogeniture. William the Conqueror, who assisted the hopeless reform in Normandy, prevented it in his subject province of Britanny, where the clergy, as described by Pascal II., in the early part of the twelfth century, were setting the canons at defiance and indulging in enormities hateful to God and man.

At last, the Gregorian enforcement of sacerdotal celibacy triumphed in the whole Roman Church, but at the fearful sacrifice of sacerdotal chastity. The hierarchical aim was attained, but not the angelic purity of the priesthood. The private morals of the priest were sacrificed to hierarchical ambition. Concubinage and licentiousness took the place of holy matrimony. The acts of councils abound in complaints of clerical immorality and the vices of unchastity and drunkenness. “The records of the Middle Ages are full of the evidences that indiscriminate license of the worst kind prevailed throughout every rank of the hierarchy.” The corruption again reached the papacy, especially in the fifteenth century. John XXIII. and Alexander VI. rivaled in wickedness and lewdness the worst popes of the tenth and eleventh centuries.


14. The War over Investiture

The other great reform-scheme of Gregory aimed at the complete emancipation of the Church from the bondage of the secular power. His conception of the freedom of the Church meant the slavery of the State. The State exercised control over the Church by selling ecclesiastical dignities, or the practice of simony, and by the investiture of bishops and abbots; that is, by the bestowal of the staff and ring. These were the insignia of ecclesiastical authority; the staff or crosier was the symbol of the spiritual rule of the bishop, the ring the symbol of his mystical marriage with the Church.

The feudal system of the Middle Ages, as it developed itself among the new races of Europe from the time of Charlemagne, rested on land tenure and the mutual obligations of lord and vassal, whereby the lord, from the king down to the lowest landed proprietor, was bound to protect his vassal, and the vassal was bound to serve his lord. The Church in many countries owned nearly or fully one-half of the landed estate, with the right of customs, tolls, coinage of money, etc., and was in justice bound to bear part of the burden attached to land tenure. The secular lords regarded themselves as the patrons of the Church, and claimed the right of appointing and investing its officers, and of bestowing upon them, not only their temporalia, but also the insignia of their spiritual power. This was extremely offensive to churchmen. The bishop, invested by the lord, became his vassal, and had to swear an oath of obedience, which implied the duty of serving at court and furnishing troops for the defense of the country. Sometimes a bishop had hardly left the altar when his liege-lord commanded him to gird on the sword. After the death of the bishop, the king or prince used the income of the see till the election of a successor, and often unduly postponed the election for his pecuniary benefit, to the injury of the Church and the poor. In the appointments, the king was influenced by political, social, or pecuniary considerations, and often sold the dignity to the highest bidder, without any regard to intellectual or moral qualifications. The right of investiture was thus closely connected with the crying abuse of simony, and its chief source.

No wonder that Gregory opposed this investiture by laymen with all his might. Cardinal Humbert had attacked it in a special book under Victor II. (1057), and declared it an infamous scandal that lay-hands, above all, female hands, should bestow the ring and crosier. He insisted that investiture was a purely spiritual function, and that secular princes have nothing to do with the performance of functions that have something sacramental about them. They even commit sacrilege by touching the garments of the priest. By the exercise of the right of investiture, princes, who are properly the defenders of the Church, had become its lords and rulers. Great evils had arisen out of this practice, especially in Italy, where ambitious priests lingered about the antechambers of courts and practised the vice of adulation, vitium adulationis.

The legislation against lay appointments was opened at the Synod of Rheims, 1049, under the influence of Leo IX. It declared that no priest should be promoted to office without the election of clergy and people. Ten years later, 1059, the Synod of Rome pronounced any appointment of cleric or presbyter to benefice invalid, which was made by a layman. The following year, 1060, the French synods of Tours and Vienne extended the prohibition to bishops. It remained for Gregory to stir up all Europe over the question who had the right of investiture.

By abolishing this custom, Gregory hoped to emancipate the clergy from the vassalage of the State, and the property of the Church from the feudal supervision of the prince, as well as to make the bishops the obedient servants of the pope.

The contest continued under the following popes, and was at last settled by the compromise of Worms (1122). The emperor yielded only in part; for to surrender the whole property of the Church to the absolute power of the pope, would have reduced civil government to a mere shadow. On the other hand, the partial triumph of the papacy contributed very much to the secularization of the Church.


15. Gregory VII. and Henry IV

The conflict over investiture began at a Roman synod in Lent (Feb. 24-28), 1075, and brought on the famous collision with Henry IV., in which priestcraft and kingcraft strove for mastery. The pope had the combined advantages of superior age, wisdom, and moral character over this unfortunate prince, who, when a mere boy of six years (1056), had lost his worthy father, Henry III., had been removed from the care of his pious but weak mother, Agnes, and was spoilt in his education. Henry had a lively mind and noble impulses, but was despotic and licentious. Prosperity made him proud and overbearing, while adversity cast him down. His life presents striking changes of fortune. He ascended and descended twice the scale of exaltation and humiliation. He first insulted the pope, then craved his pardon; he rebelled again against him, triumphed for a while, was twice excommunicated and deposed; at last, forsaken and persecuted by his own son, he died a miserable death, and was buried in unconsecrated earth. The better class of his own subjects sided against him in his controversy with the pope. The Saxons rose in open revolt against his tyranny on the very day that Hildebrand was consecrated (June 29, 1073).

This synod of 1075 forbade the king and all laymen having anything to do with the appointment of bishops or assuming the right of investiture. A synod held in November, 1075, positively forbade bishops, abbots, and other ecclesiastics receiving ecclesiastical appointments from king or any temporal lord whatsoever. At the same synod, Gregory excommunicated five counsellors of Henry for practising simony.

The king, hard pressed by the rebellious Saxons, at first yielded, and dismissed the five counsellors; but, as soon as he had subdued the rebellion (June 5, 1075), he recalled them, and continued to practice shameful simony. He paid his soldiers from the proceeds of Church property, and adorned his mistresses with the diamonds of sacred vessels. The pope exhorted him by letter and deputation to repent, and threatened him with excommunication. The king received his legates most ungraciously, and assumed the tone of open defiance. Probably with his knowledge, Cencius, a cousin of the imperial prefect in Rome, shamefully maltreated the pope, seized him at the altar the night before Christmas, 1075, and shut him up in a tower; but the people released him and put Cencius to flight.

Henry called the bishops and abbots of the empire to a council at Worms, under the lead of Archbishop Siegfried of Mainz, Jan. 24, 1076. This council deposed Gregory without giving him even a hearing, on the ground of slanderous charges of treason, witchcraft, covenant with the devil, and impurity, which were brought against him by Hugo Blancus (Hugh Leblanc), a deposed cardinal. It was even asserted that he ruled the Church by a senate of women, Beatrix, Matilda of Tuscany, and Agnes, the emperor’s mother. Only two bishops dared to protest against the illegal proceeding. The Ottos and Henry III. had deposed popes, but not in such a manner.

Henry secured the signatures of the disaffected bishops of Upper Italy at a council in Piacenza. He informed Gregory of the decree of Worms in an insulting letter: — 

“Henry, king, not by usurpation, but by God’s holy ordinance, to Hildebrand, not pope, but a false monk. How darest thou, who hast won thy power through craft, flattery, bribery, and force, stretch forth thy hand against the Lord’s anointed, despising the precept of the true pope, St. Peter: ‘Fear God, honor the king?’ Thou who dost not fear God, dishonorest me whom He has appointed. Condemned by the voice of all our bishops, quit the apostolic chair, and let another take it, who will preach the sound doctrine of St. Peter, and not do violence under the cloak of religion. I, Henry, by the grace of God, king, with all my bishops, say unto thee, Come down, come down!”

At the same time Henry wrote to the cardinals and the Roman people to aid him in the election of a new pope. Roland, a priest of Parma, brought the letter to Rome at the end of February, as Gregory was just holding a synod of a hundred and ten bishops, and concluded his message with the words. “I tell you, brethren, that you must appear at Pentecost before the king to receive from his hands a pope and father; for this man here is not pope, but a ravening wolf.” This produced a storm of indignation. The prelates drew swords and were ready to kill him on the spot; but Gregory remained calm, and protected him against violence.

On the next day (February 22) the pope excommunicated and deposed Henry in the name of St. Peter, and absolved his subjects from their oath of obedience. He published the ban in a letter to all Christians. The sentence of deposition is as follows: — 

“Blessed Peter, prince of the Apostles, incline thine ear unto me, and hear me, thy servant, whom from childhood thou didst nurse and protect against the wicked to this day. Thou and my lady, the mother of God, and thy brother, St. Paul, are my witnesses that the holy Roman Church has drawn me to the helm against my will, and that I have not risen up like a robber to thy seat. Rather would I have been a pilgrim my whole life long than have snatched to myself thy chair on account of temporal glory and in a worldly spirit …. By thy intercession God has intrusted me with the power to bind and to loose on earth and in heaven.

“Therefore, relying on this trust, for the honor and security of the Church, in the name of the Almighty Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, I do prohibit Henry, king, son of Henry the emperor, from ruling the kingdom of the Teutons and of Italy, because with unheard-of pride he has lifted himself up against thy Church; and I release all Christians from the oath of allegiance to him which they have taken, or shall take, and I forbid that any shall serve him as king. For it is fitting that he who will touch the dignity of the Church should lose his own. And inasmuch as he has despised obedience by associating with the excommunicate, by many deeds of iniquity, and by spurning the warnings which I have given him for his good, I bind him in the bands of anathema; that all nations of the earth may know that thou art Peter, and that upon thy rock the Son of the living God hath built His Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

The empress-widow was present when the anathema was pronounced on her son. At the same time the pope excommunicated all the German and Italian bishops who had deposed him at Worms and Piacenza.

This was a most critical moment, and the signal for a deadly struggle between the two greatest potentates in Christendom. Never before had such a tremendous sentence been pronounced upon a crowned head. The deposition of Childeric by Pope Zacharias was only the sanction of the actual rule of Pepin. Gregory threatened also King Philip of France with deposition, but did not execute it. Now the heir of the crown of Charlemagne was declared an outlaw by the successor of the Galilean fisherman, and Europe accepted the decision. There were not wanting, indeed, voices of discontent and misgivings about the validity of a sentence which justified the breaking of a solemn oath. All conceded the papal right of excommunication, but not the right of deposition. If Henry had commanded the respect and love of his subjects, he might have defied Gregory. But the religious sentiment of the age sustained the pope, and was far less shocked by the papal excommunication and deposition of the king than by the royal deposition of the pope. It was never forgotten that the pope had crowned Charlemagne, and it seemed natural that his power to bestow implied his power to withhold or to take away.

Gregory had not a moment’s doubt as to the justice of his act. He invited the faithful to pray, and did not neglect the dictates of worldly prudence. He strengthened his military force in Rome, and reopened negotiations with Robert Guiscard and Roger. In Northern Italy he had a powerful ally in Countess Matilda, who, by the recent death of her husband and her mother, had come into full possession of vast dominions, and furnished a bulwark against the discontented clergy and nobility of Lombardy and an invading army from Germany.

When Henry received the tidings of the sentence of excommunication and deposition, he burst into a furious rage, abused Gregory as a hypocrite, heretic, murderer, perjurer, adulterer, and threatened to fling back the anathema upon his head. William, bishop of Utrecht, had no scruples in complying with the king’s wishes, and from the pulpit of his cathedral anathematized Gregory as “a perjured monk who had dared to lift up his head against the Lord’s anointed.” Henry summoned a national council to Worms on Whitsunday (May 15) to protest against the attempt of Gregory to unite in one hand the two swords which God had separated. This was the famous figure for the spiritual and temporal power afterwards often employed by the popes, who claimed that God had given both swords to the Church, — the spiritual sword, to be borne by her; the temporal, to be wielded by the State for the Church, that is, in subjection and obedience to the Church.

The council at Worms was attended by few bishops, and proved a failure. A council in Mainz, June 29, turned out no better, and Henry found it necessary to negotiate. Saxony was lost; prelates and nobles deserted him. A diet at Tribur, an imperial castle near Mainz, held Oct. 16, 1076, demanded that he should submit to the pope, seek absolution from him within twelve months from the date of excommunication, at the risk of forfeiting his crown. He should then appear at a diet to be held at Augsburg on Feb. 2, 1077, under the presidency of the pope. Meanwhile he was to abide at Spires in strict privacy, in the sole company of his wife, the bishop of Verdun, and a few servants chosen by the nobles. The legates of Gregory were treated with marked respect, and gave absolution to the excommunicated bishops, including Siegfried of Mainz, who submitted to the pope.

Henry spent two dreary months in seclusion at Spires, shut out from the services of the Church and the affairs of the State. At last he made up his mind to seek absolution, as the only means of saving his crown. There was no time to be lost; only a few weeks remained till the Diet of Augsburg, which would decide his fate.