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Sermon Podcast | Audio | Video : Christian Books : CHAPTER I THE BEGINNINGS OF CHURCH REFORM

The Church And The Empire by D. J. Medley


Previous to the eleventh century there had been quarrels between Emperor and Pope. Occasional Popes, such as Nicholas I (858-67), had asserted high prerogatives for the successor of St. Peter, but we have seen that the Church herself taught the co-ordinate and the mutual dependence of the ecclesiastical and secular powers. It was the circumstances of the tenth century which caused the Church to assume a less complacent attitude and, in her efforts to prevent her absorption by the State, to attempt the reduction of the State to a mere department of the Church.

[Sidenote: Lay investiture of ecclesiastics.]

With the acceptance of Christianity as the official religion of the Empire the organisation of the Church tended to follow the arrangements for purposes of civil government. And when at a later period civil society was gradually organising itself on that hierarchical model which we know as feudalism, the Church, in the persons of its officers, was tending to become not so much the counterpart of the State as an integral part of it. For the clergy, as being the only educated class, were used by the Kings as civil administrators, and on the great officials of the Church were bestowed extensive estates which should make them a counterpoise to the secular nobles. In theory the clergy and people of the diocese still elected their bishop, but in reality he came to be nominated by the King, at whose hands he received investiture of his office by the symbolic gifts of the ring and the pastoral staff, and to whom he did homage for the lands of the see, since by virtue of them he was a baron of the realm. Thus for all practical purposes the great ecclesiastic was a secular noble, a layman. He had often obtained his high ecclesiastical office as a reward for temporal service, and had not infrequently paid a large sum of money as an earnest of loyal conduct and for the privilege of recouping himself tenfold by unscrupulous use of the local patronage which was his.

[Sidenote: Clerical marriage.]

Furthermore, in contravention of the canons of the Church, the secular clergy, whether bishops or priests, were very frequently married. The Church, it is true, did not consecrate these marriages; but, it is said, they were so entirely recognised that the wife of a bishop was called Episcopissa. There was an imminent danger that the ecclesiastical order would shortly lapse into an hereditary social caste, and that the sons of priests inheriting their fathers' benefices would merely become another order of landowners.

[Sidenote: Church reform.]

Thus the two evils of traffic in ecclesiastical offices, shortly stigmatised as simony and concubinage -- for the laws of the Church forbade any more decent description of the relationship -- threatened to absorb the Church within the State. Professional interests and considerations of morality alike demanded that these evils should be dealt with. Ecclesiastical reformers perceived that the only lasting reformation was one which should proceed from the Church herself. It was among the secular clergy, the parish priests, that these evils were most rife. The monasteries had also gone far away from their original ideals; but the tenth century had witnessed the establishment of a reformed Benedictine rule in the Congregation of Cluny, and, in any case, it was in monastic life alone that the conditions seemed suitable for working out any scheme of spiritual improvement. The Congregation of Cluny was based upon the idea of centralisation; unlike the Abbot of the ordinary Benedictine monastery, who was concerned with the affairs of a single house, the Abbot of Cluny presided over a number of monasteries, each of which was entrusted only to a Prior. Moreover, the Congregation of Cluny was free from the visitation of the local bishops and was immediately under the papal jurisdiction. What more natural than that the monks of Cluny should advocate the application to the Church at large of those principles of organisation which had formed so successful a departure from previous arrangements in the smaller sphere of Cluny? Thus the advocates of Church reform evolved both a negative and a positive policy: the abolition of lay investiture and the utter extirpation of the practice of clerical marriages were to shake the Church free from the numbing control of secular interests, and these were to be accomplished by a centralisation of the ecclesiastical organisation in the hands of the Pope, which would make him more than a match for the greatest secular potentate, the successor of Caesar himself.

[Sidenote: Chances of reform.]

It is true that at the beginning of the eleventh century there seemed little chance of the accomplishment of these reforms. If the great secular potentates were likely to cling to the practice of investiture in order to keep a hold over a body of landowners which, whatever their other obligations, controlled perhaps one-third of the lands in Western Christendom; yet the Kings of the time were not unsympathetic to ecclesiastical reform as interpreted by Cluny. In France both Hugh Capet (987-96) and Robert (996-1031) appealed to the Abbot of Cluny for help in the improvement of their monasteries, and this example was followed by some of their great nobles. In Germany reigned Henry II (1002-24), the last of the Saxon line, who was canonised a century after his death by a Church penetrated by the influences of Cluny. It was the condition of the Papacy which for nearly half a century postponed any attempt at a comprehensive scheme of reform. Twice already in the course of the tenth century had the intervention of the German King, acting as Emperor, rescued the see of Rome from unspeakable degradation. But for nearly 150 years (904-1046), with a few short interludes, the Papacy was the sport of local factions. At the beginning of the eleventh century the leaders of these factions were descended from the two daughters of the notorious Theodora; the Crescentines who were responsible for three Popes between 1004 and 1012, owing their influence to the younger Theodora, while the Counts of Tusculum were the descendants of the first of the four husbands who got such power as they possessed from the infamous Marozia. The first Tusculan Pope, Benedict VIII (1012-24), by simulating an interest in reform, won the support of Henry II of Germany, whom he crowned Emperor; but in 1033 the same faction set up the son of the Count of Tusculum, a child of twelve, as Benedict IX. It suited the Emperor, Conrad II, to use him and therefore to acknowledge him; but twice the scandalised Romans drove out the youthful debauchee and murderer, and on the second occasion they elected another Pope in his place. But the Tusculan influence was not to be gainsaid. Benedict, however, sold the Papacy to John Gratian, who was reputed a man of piety, and whose accession as Gregory VI, even though it was a simoniacal transaction, was welcomed by the party of reform. But Benedict changed his mind and attempted to resume his power. Thus there were three persons in Rome who had been consecrated to the papal office. The Archdeacon of Rome appealed to the Emperor Conrad's successor, Henry III, who caused Pope Gregory to summon a Council to Sutri. Here, or shortly afterwards at Rome, all three Popes were deposed, and although Benedict IX made another attempt on the papal throne, and even as late as 1058 his party set up an anti-pope, the influence of the local factions was superseded by that of a stronger power.

[Sidenote: Imperial influence.]

But the alternative offered by the German Kings was no more favourable in itself to the schemes of the reformers than the purely local influences of the last 150 years. As Otto I in 963, so Henry III in 1046 obtained from the Romans the recognition of his right, as patrician or princeps, to nominate a candidate who should be formally elected as their bishop by the Roman people; and as Otto III in 996, so Henry III now used his office to nominate a succession of men, suitable indeed and distinguished, but of German birth. This was not that freedom of the Church from lay control nor the exaltation of the papal office through which that freedom was to be maintained. Indeed, so long as fear of the Tusculan influence remained, deference to the wishes of the German King, who was also Emperor, was indispensable, and when that King was as powerful as Henry III it was unwise to challenge unnecessarily and directly the exercise of his powers.

[Sidenote: Leo IX (1048-54).]

But Henry, although, like St. Henry at the beginning of the century, he kept a strong hand on his own clergy, was yet thoroughly in sympathy with what may be distinguished as the moral objects of the reformers; and, indeed, the men whom he promoted to the Papacy were drawn from the class of higher ecclesiastics who were touched by the Cluniac spirit. Henry's first two nominees were short-lived. His third choice was his own cousin, Bruno, Bishop of Toul, who accepted with reluctance and only on condition that he should go through the canonical form of election by the clergy and people of Rome. On his way to Rome, which he entered as a pilgrim, he was joined by the late chaplain of Pope Gregory VI, Hildebrand, who had been in retirement at Cluny since his master's death. Not only did the new Pope, Leo IX, take this inflexible advocate of the Church's claims as his chief adviser, but he surrounded himself with reforming ecclesiastics from beyond the Alps. Thus fortified he issued edicts against simoniacal and married clergy; but finding that their literal fulfilment would have emptied all existing offices, he was obliged to tone down his original threats and to allow clergy guilty of simony to atone their fault by an ample penance. But Leo's contribution to the building up of the papal power was his personal appearance, not as a suppliant but as a judge, beyond the Alps. Three times in his six years' rule he passed the confines of Rome and Italy. On the first occasion he even held a Council at Rheims, despite the unfriendly attitude of Henry I of France, whose efforts, moreover, to keep the French bishops from attendance at the Council met with signal failure. Here and elsewhere Pope Leo exercised all kinds of powers, forcing bishops and abbots to clear themselves by oath from charges of simony and other faults, and excommunicating and degrading those who had offended. And while he reduced the hierarchy to recognise the papal authority, he overawed the people by assuming the central part in stately ceremonies such as the consecration of new churches and the exaltation of relics of martyrs. All this was possible because the Emperor Henry III supported him and welcomed him to a Council at Mainz. Nor was it a matter of less importance that these visits taught the people of Western Europe to regard the Papacy as the embodiment of justice and the representative of a higher morality than that maintained by the local Church.

[Sidenote: Effect of Henry III's death.]

Quite unwittingly Henry III's encouragement of Pope Leo's roving propensities began the difficulties for his descendants. It is true he nominated Leo's successor at the request of the clergy and people of Rome; but Henry's death in 1056 left the German throne to a child of six under the regency of a woman and a foreigner who found herself faced by all the hostile forces hitherto kept under by the Emperor's powerful arm. And when Henry's last Pope, Victor II, followed the Emperor to the grave in less than a year, the removal of German influence was complete. The effect was instantaneous. The first Pope elected directly by the Romans was a German indeed by birth, but he was the brother of Duke Godfrey of Lorraine, who, driven from Germany by Henry, had married the widowed Marchioness of Tuscany. and was regarded by a small party as a possible King of Italy and Emperor. Whatever danger there was in the schemes of the Lotharingian brothers was nipped in the bud by the death of Pope Stephen IX seven months after his election. Then it became apparent that the removal of the Emperor's strong hand had freed not only the upholders of ecclesiastical reform but also the old Roman factions. The attempt was easily crushed, but it became clear to the reformers that the papal election must be secured beyond all possibility of outside interference. At Hildebrand's suggestion and with the approval of the German Court, a Burgundian, who was Bishop of Florence, was elected as Nicholas II. The very name was a challenge, for the first Nicholas (858-67) was perhaps the Pope who up to that time had asserted the highest claims for the See of Rome.

[Sidenote: Provision for papal election.]

The short pontificate of the new Nicholas was devoted largely to measures for securing the freedom of papal elections from secular interference. By a decree passed in a numerously attended Council at the Pope's Lateran palace, a College or Corporation was formed of the seven bishops of the sees in the immediate neighbourhood of Rome, together with the priests of the various Roman parish churches and the deacons attendant on them. To the members of this body was now specially arrogated the term Cardinal, a name hitherto applicable to all clergy ordained and appointed to a definite church. To all Roman clergy outside this body and to the people there remained merely the right of assent, and even this was destined to disappear. More important historically was the merely verbal reservation of the imperial right of confirmation, which was further made a matter of individual grant to each Emperor who might seek it from the Pope. In view of the revived influence of the local factions it was also laid down that, although Rome and the Roman clergy had the first claim, yet the election might lawfully take place anywhere and any one otherwise eligible might be chosen; while the Pope so elected might exercise his authority even before he had been enthroned.

[Sidenote: Papacy and Normans.]

But in the presence of a strong Emperor or an unscrupulous faction even these elaborate provisions Papacy might be useless. The Papacy needed a champion in the flesh, who should have nothing to gain and everything to lose by attempting to become its master. Such a protector was ready to hand in the Normans, who, recently settled in Southern Italy, felt themselves insecure in the title by which they held their possessions. Southern Italy was divided between the three Lombard duchies of Benevento, Capua and Salerno, and the districts of Calabria and Apulia, which acknowledged the Viceroy or Katapan of the Eastern Emperor in his seat at Bari. The Saracens, only recently expelled from the mainland, still held Sicily. Norman pilgrims returning from Palestine became, at the instigation of local factions, Norman adventurers, and their leaders obtaining lands from the local Princes in return for help, sought confirmation of their title from some legitimate authority. The Western Empire had never claimed these lands, but none the less Conrad II and Henry III, in return for the acceptance of their suzerainty, acknowledged the titles which the Norman leaders had already gained from Greek or Lombard. Rome was likely to be their next victim, and Leo IX took the opportunity of a dispute over the city of Benevento to try conclusions with them. A humiliating defeat was followed by a mock submission of the conqueror. The danger was in no sense removed. Pope Stephen's schemes for driving them out of Italy were cut short by his death, and meanwhile the Norman power increased. Thus there could be no question of expulsion, nor could the Papacy risk a repetition of the humiliation of Leo IX. It was Hildebrand who conceived the idea of turning a dangerous neighbour into a friend and protector. A meeting was arranged at Melfi between Pope Nicholas and the Norman princes, and there, while on the one side canons were issued against clerical marriage, which was rife in the south of Italy, on the other side Robert Guiscard, the Norman leader, recognised the Pope as his suzerain, and obtained in return the title of Duke of Apulia and Calabria and of Sicily when he should have conquered it. Pope Leo's agreement, six years before, had been made by a defeated and humiliated ecclesiastic with a band of unscrupulous adventurers. Pope Nicholas was dealing with an actual ruler who merely sought legitimate recognition of his title from any whose hostility would make his hold precarious. Thus resting on the shadowy basis of the donation of Constantine the Pope substituted himself for the Emperor, whether of West or of East, over the whole of Southern Italy. Truly the movement for the emancipation of the Church from the State was already shaping itself into an attempt at the formation of a rival power.

[Sidenote: Alexander II (1061-73) and Milan.]

The value of this new alliance to the Papacy was put to the test almost immediately. On the death of Pope Nicholas (1061) the papal and imperial parties proceeded to measure their strength against each other. The reformers, acting under the leadership of Hildebrand, chose as his successor a noble Milanese, Anselm of Baggio, Bishop of Lucca, who now became Alexander II. He was elected in accordance with the provisions of the recent Lateran decree, and no imperial ratification was asked. On the purely ecclesiastical side this choice was a strong manifesto against clerical marriage. The city of Milan as the capital of the Lombard kingdom of Italy had for many centuries held itself in rivalry with Rome. Moreover, it was the stronghold of an aristocratic and a married clergy, which based its practice on a supposed privilege granted by its Apostle St. Ambrose. But this produced a reforming democracy which, perhaps from the quarter whence it gained its chief support, was contemptuously named by its opponents the Patarins or Rag-pickers. The first leader of this democratic party had been Anselm of Baggio. Nicholas II sent thither the fanatical Peter Damiani as papal legate, and a fierce struggle ended in the abject submission of the Archbishop of Milan, who attended a synod at Rome and promised obedience to the Pope.

[Sidenote: German opposition.]

The weak point in the decree of Nicholas II had been that the German clergy were not represented at the Council which issued it, and it was construed in Germany as a manifest attempt of the reforming party to secure the Papacy for Italy as against the German influence maintained by Henry III. The Roman nobles also had seen in the decree the design of excluding them from any share in the election. It was only by the introduction of Norman troops into Rome that the new Pope could be installed at the Lateran. A few weeks later a synod met at Basle in the presence of the Empress-Regent and the young Henry IV. The latter was invested with the title of Patrician, and the election of Alexander having been pronounced invalid, a new Pope was chosen in the person of another Lombard, Cadalus Bishop of Parma, who had led the opposition to the Patarins in the province of Milan. The Normans were recalled to their dominions, and the imperialist Pope, Honorius II, was installed in Rome. The struggle between the rival Popes lasted for three years (1061-4), and fluctuated with the fluctuations of power at the German court. Here the young King had fallen under the influence of Archbishop Hanno of Koln, who, surrounded by enemies in Germany, hoped to gain a party by the betrayal of imperial interests in the recognition of the decree of Nicholas II and of the claims of Alexander. Again by the help of a Norman force Alexander was installed in Rome, where he remained even when Hanno's influence at the German court gave way to that of Archbishop Adalbert of Bremen. Honorius, however, despite the desertion by the imperialist party, found supporters until his death in 1072, and it was only by the arms of Duke Godfrey of Tuscany acting for the imperialists and those of his own Norman allies that Alexander held Rome until his death.

[Sidenote: Steps towards reformation.]

Meanwhile the ecclesiastical reformation went steadily on under the direction of Hildebrand. The young King Henry endeavoured to free himself from the great German ecclesiastics who held him in thrall, by repudiating the wife whom they had forced upon him. He was checked by the austere and resolute papal legate, Peter Damiani, and was obliged to accept Bertha of Savoy, to whom subsequently he became much attached. Peter Darniani's visit, however, brought him relief in another way, for the legate took back such a report of the prevalence of simony that the archbishops of Mainz and Koln were summoned to Rome, whence they returned so humiliated that their political influence was gone. It is almost equally remarkable that the two English Archbishops also appeared at Rome during this Pontificate, Lanfranc of Canterbury in order that he might obtain the pall without which he could not exercise his functions as Archbishop, and Thomas of York, who referred to the Pope his contention that the primacy of England should alternate between Canterbury and York. In France, too, we are told that the envoys of Alexander interfered in the smallest details of the ecclesiastical administration and punished without mercy all clergy guilty of simony or of matrimony. Almost the last public act of Pope Alexander was to excommunicate five counsellors of the young King of Germany, to whom were attributed responsibility for his acts, and to summon Henry himself to answer charges of simony and other evil deeds.

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