Gregory VII

Gregory VII

Gregory VII, Saint, d. 1085, pope (1073-85), an Italian (b. near Rome) named Hildebrand (Ital. Ildebrando); successor of Alexander II. He was one of the greatest popes. Feast: May 25.

Life

Gregory was chaplain to Gregory VI and accompanied him into exile in Cologne in 1046. He returned to Rome with Leo IX (Bruno of Toul) and became administrator of the Patrimony of Peter (see Papal States). Hildebrand quickly became an important figure in reforming circles. He recovered much of the ecclesiastical property held by Italian nobles and restored the papal finances. Hildebrand was instrumental in the election of Pope Nicholas II (1058) and Alexander II (1061).

As Pope Gregory VII (from 1073) he convoked reform synods and issued decrees that forbade, under pain of excommunication, clerical marriage (and concubinage) and simony. Gregory appointed legates, many from among the reforming Cluniac order, to travel throughout Europe and enforce the new laws. They met with opposition and violence almost everywhere. Gregory saw the root of all the evils afflicting the church in the practice of lay investiture, whereby abbacies and bishoprics became virtually the property of secular powers, who used them to their own advantage. In 1078 he condemned such investiture and anyone who practiced it. Gregory's ensuing struggles with the royal houses of Europe, who opposed the decree, dominated the remaining years of his pontificate.

In Germany, Henry IV joined with the nobles against the reform, and in a dispute with Gregory he was excommunicated (1076). The excommunication cost Henry much of his popularity, and in 1077 he humbled himself before the pope at Canossa. Gregory remained neutral in the civil war that followed in Germany but decreed (1079) Henry deposed when it became clear Henry would not cooperate with the forces working for peace in the empire. Henry answered by setting up an imperial antipope, Guibert of Ravenna (Clement III). When the civil war ended in Henry's favor, he marched (1081) into Italy. Gregory led the defense of Rome, but when Henry returned a second time (1083) the Romans, beguiled by Henry's generosity, betrayed Gregory. He fortified himself in the Castel Sant'Angelo until rescued by his Norman ally, Robert Guiscard. The Normans plundered the city. With the antipope and Henry still in Italy, Gregory decided to join the Normans in their withdrawal south. He died a year later at Salerno, shorn of nearly all support but that of the Normans. He was succeeded by Victor III.

Contributions to the Church

Gregory's contribution to the church is very great. His reform was a turning point in the history of the church. His struggle against the sovereignties of Europe is sometimes criticized as a bid for inordinate power, but generally his efforts are recognized as a stubborn and noble defense of the liberty of the church against domination by secular powers. The cause was not won by Gregory, but he had drawn the issue clearly. After the example of his pontificate the moral level of the church rose, and his successors were inspired to carry the investiture struggle to victory at the Concordat of Worms (1122). During all his struggles Gregory kept a watchful eye on the developments of the church in Norway, Denmark, and in the new Slavic nations, and the troubles with the Saracens in the East led Gregory to conceive the first plan for a Crusade against the Turks.

Bibliography

See his Correspondence (tr. 1932, repr. 1969); S. Williams, ed., The Gregorian Epoch (1964); Gregory VII-Church Reformer or World Monarch? (1967); H. E. Cowdrey, The Cluniacs and the Gregorian Reform (1970); U.-R. Blumenthal, The Investiture Controversy (tr. 1988).

Pope Saint Gregory VII (c. 1020/1025 – May 25, 1085), born Hildebrand of Soana (Ildebrando di Soana), was pope from April 22, 1073, until his death. One of the great reforming popes, he is perhaps best known for the part he played in the Investiture Controversy, his dispute with Henry IV, Holy Roman Emperor affirming the primacy of the papal authority and the new canon law governing the election of the pope by the college of cardinals. He was at the forefront of both evolutionary developments in the relationship between the Emperor and the papacy during the years before becoming pope. He was beatified by Gregory XIII in 1584, and canonized in 1728 by Benedict XIII as Pope St. Gregory VII. He twice excommunicated Henry IV, who in the end appointed the Antipope Clement III to oppose him in the hardball political power struggles between church and Empire. Hailed as one of the greatest of the Roman pontiffs and one of the most remarkable men of all times, Gregory was contrastingly described by the atheist anti-Catholic English writer Joseph McCabe as "a rough and violent peasant, enlisting his brute strength in the service of the monastic ideal which he embraced."

Early years

Hildebrand was born in Soana (modern Sovana), a small town in southern Tuscany. He belonged to the noble Aldobrandeschi family. Important sources say that his name was Hildebrand Bonizi and that he was the son of a blacksmith. See: Johann Georg Estor

He was sent to Rome, where his uncle was abbot of the monastery of St. Mary on the Aventine hill, and his experience in the city was a formative influence on his character. Pope Gregory VI may have been among his instructors.

When Emperor Henry III deposed Gregory VI, Hildebrand followed him in exile to Germany. Though he initially had no desire to cross the Alps, his residence in Germany was of great educational value and significant in his later life. He pursued his studies in Cologne before eventually returning to Rome with Pope Leo IX. Under his guidance, Hildebrand first began work in the ecclesiastical service and became a subdeacon and steward in the Roman Catholic Church.

Upon the death of Leo IX, Hildebrand was sent as a Roman envoy to the German court to conduct negotiations regarding Leo's successor. Hildebrand encouraged the Emperor to support Gebhard of Calw, who, as Pope Victor II (served as the Pope from 1055-1057), employed Hildebrand as his legate to France. In France, Hildebrand addressed the question of Berengar of Tours, whose views on the Eucharist had caused controversy. When Pope Stephen IX was elected in 1057 without previous consultation with the German court, Hildebrand and Bishop Anselm of Lucca were sent to Germany to secure a belated recognition and succeeded in gaining the consent of the empress, Agnes de Poitou. Stephen, however, died early the next year, before Hildebrand's return to France.

In a desperate effort to recover their influence on the papal throne, the Roman aristocracy managed the hasty elevation of Bishop Johannes of Velletri as Pope Benedict X in 1058. This course of action was dangerous to the Church as it implied a renewal of the disastrous patrician régime—wherein the secular ruler appointed the pope; that the crisis was overcome was essentially the work of Hildebrand. With Hildebrand's support, Benedict was supplanted by Pope Nicholas II in 1059, a leader who strongly influenced the policy of the Curia during the next two decades, including the rapprochement with the Normans in the south of Italy and the alliance with the populist quasi-democratic and, subsequently, anti-German movement of the Patarenes in the north. Most importantly it was also under this pontificate that the canon law was enacted transferring the papal election to the College of Cardinals vice by being appointed by the Holy Roman Emperor, thus withdrawing it from the nobility of Rome and diminishing German influence on the election.

When Nicholas II died and was succeeded by Pope Alexander II in 1061, Hildebrand loomed larger in the eyes of his contemporaries as the soul of Curial policy, as the Archdeacon in charge of the routine administration of the Roman see during Alexander's frequent absences in Lucca, where he retained his see. The general political conditions, especially in Germany, were at that time very favorable to the Curia, but to use them with the wisdom actually shown was nevertheless a great achievement, and the position of Alexander at the end of his pontificate in 1073 was a brilliant justification of Hildebrandine statecraft.

Election to the Papacy

On the death of Alexander II (April 21, 1073), as the obsequies were being performed in the Lateran basilica, there arose a loud outcry from the whole multitude of clergy and people: "Let Hildebrand be pope!" "Blessed Peter has chosen Hildebrand the Archdeacon!" All remonstrances on the part of the archdeacon were vain, his protestations fruitless. Later, on the same day, Hildebrand was conducted to the church of San Pietro in Vincoli, and there elected in legal form by the assembled cardinals, with the due consent of the Roman clergy and amid the repeated acclamations of the people. That this extraordinary outburst on the part of the clergy and people in favour of Hildebrand could have been the result of some preconcerted arrangements, as is sometimes alleged, does not appear likely. Hildebrand became pope and took the name of Gregory VII. The mode of his election was highly criticized by his opponents. Many of the charges brought may have been expressions of personal dislike, liable to suspicion from the very fact that they were not raised to attack his promotion until several years later; but it is clear from his own account of the circumstances of his election that it was conducted in a very irregular fashion, and that the forms prescribed by the law of 1059 were not observed, namely, the command of Nicholas II that the German emperor be consulted in the matter. However, what ultimately turned the tide in favor of validity of Gregory's election was the fact that near universal acclaim of the populus Romanus was undeniable. In this sense, his election hearkened back to the earliest centuries of the Church of Rome, regardless of later canonical legislation. Gregory's earliest pontifical letters clearly acknowledge this fact, and thus helped defuse any doubt about his election as immensely popular. On May 22 he received sacerdotal ordination, and on June 30 episcopal consecration.

In the decree of election those who had chosen him as pontiff proclaimed him "a devout man, a man mighty in human and divine knowledge, a distinguished lover of equity and justice, a man firm in adversity and temperate in prosperity, a man, according to the saying of the Apostle, of good behaviour, blameless, modest, sober, chaste, given to hospitality, and one that ruleth well his own house; a man from his childhood generously brought up in the bosom of this Mother Church, and for the merit of his life already raised to the archidiaconal dignity". "We choose then", they said to the people, "our Archdeacon Hildebrand to be pope and successor to the Apostle, and to bear henceforward and forever the name of Gregory" (April 22, 1073).

The focus of the ecclesiastico-political projects of Gregory VII is to be found in his relationship with Germany. Since the death of Henry III the strength of the German monarchy had been seriously weakened, and his son Henry IV had to contend with great internal difficulties. This state of affairs was of material assistance to the pope. His advantage was still further accentuated by the fact that in 1073 Henry was only twenty-three and inexperienced.

In the two following years Henry was forced by the Saxon rebellion to come to amicable terms with the pope at any cost. Consequently in May 1074 he did penance at Nuremberg in the presence of the papal legates to atone for his continued friendship with the members of his council who had been banned by Gregory, took an oath of obedience, and promised his support in the work of reforming the Church. This attitude, however, which at first won him the confidence of the pope, was abandoned as soon as he defeated the Saxons by his victory at the Battle of Hohenburg (June 9, 1075). He now tried to reassert his rights as the sovereign of northern Italy without delay.

He sent Count Eberhard to Lombardy to combat the Patarenes; nominated the cleric Tedaldo to the archbishopric of Milan, thus settling a prolonged and contentious question; and finally tried to establish relations with the Norman duke, Robert Guiscard. Gregory VII replied with a rough letter, dated December 8, in which, among other charges, he accused the German king of breaching his word and with his continued support of the excommunicated councillors; while at the same time he sent a verbal message suggesting that the enormous crimes which would be laid to his account rendered him liable, not only to the ban of the church, but to the deprivation of his crown. Gregory did this at a time when he himself was confronted by a reckless opponent in the person of Cencio I Frangipane, who on Christmas-night surprised him in church and carried him off as a prisoner, though on the following day Gregory was released.

Conflict with the Emperor

The reprimands of the pope, couched as they were in such an unprecedented form, infuriated Henry and his court, and their answer was the hastily convened national council in Worms, Germany (synod of Worms), which met on January 24 1076. In the higher ranks of the German clergy Gregory had many enemies, and a Roman cardinal, Hugo Candidus, once on intimate terms with him but now his opponent, had hurried to Germany for the occasion and appeared at Worms. All the accusations with regard to the pope that Candidus could come up with were well received by the assembly, which committed itself to the resolution that Gregory had forfeited the papacy. In one document full of accusations, the bishops renounced their allegiance. In another King Henry pronounced him deposed, and the Romans were required to choose a new pope The council sent two bishops to Italy, and they procured a similar act of deposition from the Lombard bishops in the synod of Piacenza. Roland of Parma informed the pope of these decisions, and he was fortunate enough to gain an opportunity for speech in the synod, which had just assembled in the Lateran church, and he delivered his message there announcing the dethronement. For the moment the members were frightened, but soon such a storm of indignation was aroused that it was only due to the moderation of Gregory himself that the envoy was not murdered.

On the following day the pope pronounced the sentence of excommunication against the German king Henry IV with all due solemnity, divested him of his royal dignity and absolved his subjects from the oaths they had sworn to him. Gregory was the first pope to stand up to a king, and the first pope that excommunicated him. He was not the last however, as Pope Innocent III would later do the same thing. This sentence purported to eject the king from the church and to strip him of his crown. Whether it would produce this effect, or whether it would remain an idle threat, depended not so much on Gregory as on Henry's subjects, and, above all, on the German princes. Contemporary evidence suggests that the excommunication of the king made a profound impression both in Germany and Italy. Thirty years before, Henry III had deposed three popes, and thereby rendered an acknowledged service to the church. When Henry IV tried to copy this procedure he was less successful, as he lacked the support of the people. In Germany there was a rapid and general revulsion of feeling in favour of Gregory, and the princes took the opportunity to carry out their anti-regal policy under the cloak of respect for the papal decision. When at Whitsun the king proposed to discuss the measures to be taken against Gregory in a council of his nobles, only a few made their appearance; the Saxons snatched at the golden opportunity for renewing their rebellion, and the anti-royalist party grew in strength from month to month.

To Canossa

The situation now became extremely critical for Henry. As a result of the agitation, which was zealously fostered by the papal legate Bishop Altmann of Passau, the princes met in October at Trebur to elect a new German king, and Henry, who was stationed at Oppenheim on the left bank of the Rhine, was only saved from the loss of his throne by the failure of the assembled princes to agree on the question of his successor. Their dissension, however, merely induced them to postpone the verdict. Henry, they declared, must make reparation to the pope and pledge himself to obedience; and they decided that, if, on the anniversary of his excommunication, he still lay under the ban, the throne should be considered vacant. At the same time they decided to invite Gregory to Augsburg to decide the conflict. These arrangements showed Henry the course to be pursued. It was imperative, under any circumstances and at any price, to secure his absolution from Gregory before the period named, otherwise he could scarcely foil his opponents in their intention to pursue their attack against him and justify their measures by an appeal to his excommunication. At first he attempted to attain his ends by an embassy, but when Gregory rejected his overtures he took the celebrated step of going to Italy in person.

The pope had already left Rome, and had intimated to the German princes that he would expect their escort for his journey on January 8 in Mantua. But this escort had not appeared when he received the news of the king's arrival. Henry, who had traveled through Burgundy, had been greeted with enthusiasm by the Lombards, but resisted the temptation to employ force against Gregory. He chose instead the unexpected course of forcing the pope to grant him absolution by doing penance before him at Canossa, where he had taken refuge. This event soon became legendary. The reconciliation was only effected after prolonged negotiations and definite pledges on the part of the king, and it was with reluctance that Gregory at length gave way, for, if he gave his absolution, the diet of princes in Augsburg, in which he might reasonably hope to act as arbitrator, would either become useless, or, if it met at all, would change completely in character. It was impossible, however, to deny the penitent re-entrance into the church, and his religious obligations overrode his political interests.

The removal of the ban did not imply a genuine reconciliation, and no basis was gained for a settlement of the great questions at issue: notably that of investiture. A new conflict was inevitable from the very fact that Henry IV naturally considered the sentence of deposition repealed along with that of excommunication; while Gregory on the other hand was intent on reserving his freedom of action and gave no hint on the subject at Canossa.

Second excommunication of Henry

That the excommunication of Henry IV was simply a pretext, not a motive, for the opposition of the rebellious German nobles is transparent. Not only did they persist in their policy after his absolution, but they took the more decided step of setting up a rival king in the person of Duke Rudolph of Swabia (Forchheim, March 1077). At the election the papal legates present observed the appearance of neutrality, and Gregory himself sought to maintain this attitude during the following years. His task was made easier in that the two parties were of fairly equal strength, each trying to gain the upper hand by getting the pope on their side. But the result of his non-committal policy was that he largely lost the confidence of both parties. Finally he decided for Rudolph of Swabia after his victory at Flarchheim (January 27, 1080). Under pressure from the Saxons, and misinformed as to the significance of this battle, Gregory abandoned his waiting policy and again pronounced the excommunication and deposition of King Henry (March 7, 1080).

But the papal censure now proved a very different thing from the papal censure four years before. It was widely felt to be an injustice, and people began to ask whether an excommunication pronounced on frivolous grounds was entitled to respect. To make matters worse, Rudolph of Swabia died on October 16 of the same year. A new claimant, Hermann of Luxembourg, was put forward in August 1081, but his personality was not suitable for a leader of the Gregorian party in Germany, and the power of Henry IV was at its peak. The king, now more experienced, took up the struggle with great vigour. He refused to acknowledge the ban on the ground of its illegality. A council had been summoned at Brixen, and on June 16 it pronounced Gregory deposed and nominated the archbishop Guibert of Ravenna as his successor. In 1081 Henry opened the conflict against Gregory in Italy. The latter had now become less powerful, and thirteen cardinals deserted him. Rome surrendered to the German king in 1084, and Gregory thereupon retired into the exile of Sant' Angelo, and refused to entertain Henry's overtures, although the latter promised to hand over Guibert as a prisoner, if the sovereign pontiff would only consent to crown him emperor. Gregory, however, insisted as a necessary preliminary that Henry should appear before a council and do penance. The emperor, while pretending to submit to these terms, tried hard to prevent the meeting of the bishops. A small number however assembled, and, in accordance with their wishes, Gregory again excommunicated Henry. Henry upon receipt of this news again entered Rome on March 21 to see that Guibert of Ravenna be enthroned as Clement III (March 24, 1084). Henry was crowned emperor by his creature, but Robert Guiscard, Duke of Normandy, with whom Gregory had formed an alliance, was already marching on the city, and Henry fled towards Citta Castellana. The pope was liberated, but, the people becoming incensed by the excesses of his Norman allies, he was compelled to withdraw to Monte Cassino, and later to the castle of Salerno by the sea, where he died in the following year. Three days before his death he withdrew all the censures of excommunication that he had pronounced, except those against the two chief offenders—Henry and Guibert.

Papal policy to the rest of Europe

The relationship of Gregory to other European states was strongly influenced by his German policy; as Germany, by taking up most of his powers, often forced him to show to other rulers the very moderation which he withheld from the German king. The attitude of the Normans brought him a rude awakening. The great concessions made to them under Nicholas II were not only powerless to stem their advance into central Italy but failed to secure even the expected protection for the papacy. When Gregory was hard pressed by Henry IV, Robert Guiscard left him to his fate, and only intervened when he himself was threatened with German arms. Then, on the capture of Rome, he abandoned the city to his troops, and the popular indignation evoked by his act brought about Gregory's exile.

In the case of several countries, Gregory tried to establish a claim of sovereignty on the part of the Papacy, and to secure the recognition of its self-asserted rights of possession. On the ground of "immemorial usage"; Corsica and Sardinia were assumed to belong to the Roman Church. Spain and Hungary were also claimed as her property, and an attempt was made to induce the king of Denmark to hold his realm as a fief from the pope. Philip I of France, by his practice of simony and the violence of his proceedings against the Church, provoked a threat of summary measures; and excommunication, deposition and the interdict appeared to be imminent in 1074. Gregory, however, refrained from translating his threats into actions, although the attitude of the king showed no change, for he wished to avoid a dispersion of his strength in the conflict soon to break out in Germany. In England, William the Conqueror also derived benefits from this state of affairs. He felt himself so safe that he interfered autocratically with the management of the church, forbade the bishops to visit Rome, made appointments to bishoprics and abbeys, and showed little anxiety when the pope lectured him on the different principles which he had as to the relationship of spiritual and temporal powers, or when he prohibited him from commerce or commanded him to acknowledge himself a vassal of the apostolic chair. Gregory had no power to compel the English king to an alteration in his ecclesiastical policy, so he chose to ignore what he could not approve, and even considered it advisable to assure him of his particular affection.

Gregory, in fact, established some sort of relations with every country in Christendom; though these relations did not invariably realize the ecclesiastico-political hopes connected with them. His correspondence extended to Poland, Kievan Rus' and Bohemia. He wrote in friendly terms to the Saracen king of Mauretania in north Africa, and unsuccessfully tried to bring Armenia into closer contact with Rome. He was particularly concerned with the East. The schism between Rome and the Byzantine Empire was a severe blow to him, and he worked hard to restore the former amicable relationship. Gregory successfully tried to get in touch with the emperor Michael VII. When the news of the Arab attacks on the Christians in the East filtered through to Rome, and the political embarrassments of the Byzantine emperor increased, he conceived the project of a great military expedition and exhorted the faithful to participate in recovering the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. In his treatment of ecclesiastical policy and ecclesiastical reform, Gregory did not stand alone, but found powerful support: in England Archbishop Lanfranc of Canterbury stood closest to him; in France his champion was Bishop Hugo of Dié, who afterwards became Archbishop of Lyon.

Internal policy and reforms

His life-work was based on his conviction that the Church was founded by God and entrusted with the task of embracing all mankind in a single society in which divine will is the only law; that, in her capacity as a divine institution, she is supreme over all human structures, especially the secular state; and that the pope, in his role as head of the Church, is the vice-regent of God on earth, so that disobedience to him implies disobedience to God: or, in other words, a defection from Christianity. But any attempt to interpret this in terms of action would have bound the Church to annihilate not merely a single state, but all states. Thus Gregory, as a politician wanting to achieve some result, was driven in practice to adopt a different standpoint. He acknowledged the existence of the state as a dispensation of Providence, described the coexistence of church and state as a divine ordinance, and emphasized the necessity of union between the sacerdotium and the imperium. But at no period would he have dreamed of putting the two powers on an equal footing; the superiority of church to state was to him a fact which admitted of no discussion and which he had never doubted.

He wished to see all important matters of dispute referred to Rome; appeals were to be addressed to himself; the centralization of ecclesiastical government in Rome naturally involved a curtailment of the powers of bishops. Since these refused to submit voluntarily and tried to assert their traditional independence, his papacy is full of struggles against the higher ranks of the clergy.

This battle for the foundation of papal supremacy is connected with his championship of compulsory celibacy among the clergy and his attack on simony. Gregory VII did not introduce the celibacy of the priesthood into the Church, but he took up the struggle with greater energy than his predecessors. In 1074 he published an encyclical, absolving the people from their obedience to bishops who allowed married priests. The next year he enjoined them to take action against married priests, and deprived these clerics of their revenues. Both the campaign against priestly marriage and that against simony provoked widespread resistance.

His writings treat mainly of the principles and practice of Church government. They may be found under the title "Gregorii VII registri sive epistolarum libri.

Death

He died an exile in Salerno; his last words were: "Amavi iustiam et odivi iniquitatem; propterea, morior in exilio" ("I have loved justice and hated iniquity; therefore, I [now] die in exile."). The Romans and a number of his most trusted helpers had renounced him, and the faithful band in Germany had shrunk to small numbers. Curiously for more than 900 years, the people of Salerno have zealously guarded Gregory's mortal remains and refused to permit him to be taken back for burial in St. Peter's, the traditional resting place of an overwhelming number of popes. Today, his beautiful sarcophagus lies in perpetual testament to his struggles and sanctity in the cathedral church of Salerno, Italy.

References

Further reading

  • Cowdrey, H.E.J. (1998). Pope Gregory VII: 1073–1085. Oxford and New York: Clarendon Press.

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