The Gregorian Reform and the Growth of Papal Supremacy, 1049-1159

Richard Abels


The eleventh- and twelfth-century papacy's attack on the clerical abuses of simony, clerical marriage, and lay investiture is sometimes called the Gregorian Reform (after Pope Gregory VII, 1073-1085), even though this reform movement had begun earlier with Pope Leo IX (1049-1054). "Simony" (named after Simon Magus from the Acts of the Apostles) was the practice of purchasing spiritual offices/church positions. Clerical marriage was the practice of priests marrying. By 1050 both were regarded by monastic reformers as serious abuses among the secular clergy (i.e. the priesthood). Reformers, influenced by the rise of a commercial economy, interpreted as simony the traditional practice of bishops thanking with gifts the kings and princes who had appointed them to their sees. The older view was that it was simply good manners (the reciprocity of gift-giving).

The Gregorian Reform gave rise to the “Investiture Controversy” (1075-1122). Lay investiture was the practice of laypeople (non-clergy) “investing” ecclesiastical (Church) officers with the symbols of their spiritual offices and powers and, by implication, with the offices themselves. ("Invest" in this sense means to give someone the symbols of office; "investiture" is similar to the military practice of “frocking,” in which an officer selected for promotion pins on the symbols of his or her new rank.) The accepted practice in the early middle ages was for a powerful layperson, usually a king or emperor, to confer upon a newly “elected” bishop the symbols of his episcopal office: a crozier (shepherd’s crook), symbolizing his pastoral duties, and a ring, symbolizing his marriage to the Church. According to canon law, bishops were supposed to be elected by the clergy of the diocese and approved by the laity in their diocese. In practice, anointed kings, claiming to be God’s vicars, appointed bishops and“invested” them with the symbols of their spiritual (spiritualia) and temporal (regalia) authority. As Warren Hollister put it, “Gregory attacked this custom of lay investiture as a crucial symbol of inappropriate lay authority over clergy. His attack was a challenge to the social order and a threat to the authority of every ruler in Western Christendom.” (Medieval Europe: A Short History, 9th edn, 2002, p. 208). 

Although the practice of lay investiture was first banned by Pope Nicholas II in 1059, what historians call the Investiture Controversy dates from 1075, when Pope Gregory VII (1073-1085) renewed the ban, along with prohibitions on simony (purchasing church offices) and marriage of priests, in conjunction with a dispute with King Henry IV of Germany (1056-1106) over rival claimants to the episcopal see of Milan.  The underlying issue of the Investiture Controversy was lay control over the appointment of bishops and abbots. Bishops, in particular, possessed jurisdictional authority over extensive territories and lands (symbolized by their regalia). Rulers in the eleventh century (and throughout the middle ages) depended upon them for the administration of their realms. Kings, on the other hand, claimed to rule by grace of God, and insisted that they were God’s temporal vicars, charged with overseeing and protecting His Church.
The Investiture Controversy was not a conflict between “Church and State.” Rather, it was a contest between popes and kings concerning the authority claimed by the latter over the Church and its clergy.

Together the Gregorian and Reform and the Investiture Controversy constituted a sort of 'Frankenstein' story. The 'monster' was Church reform; its creator was Henry III, King of Germany and “Emperor of the Romans”; and the outcome was the destruction of imperial power and authority in Germany and Italy.  The Emperor Henry III, the epitome of the eleventh-century theocratic king, saw the purification of the Church as his duty as a Christian king, and saw his bishops (whom he had appointed from his chapel) as the means by which the clergy would be cleansed.  As “Roman emperor,” Henry III regarded the papacy as under his protection and within his jurisdiction. He believed that it was within his authority to depose unworthy popes and appoint more worthy ones in their place. The war against simony and nicolaitism joined emperor and pope (Leo IX) together as friends and allies; Pope Leo IX looked to Henry III for support, and recognized his patrocinium over the Church (as he had done as bishop of Toul). For Leo IX there was no contradiction between papal supremacy over the Church, ecclesiastical reform, and theocratic kingship.

But the death of Emperor Henry III in 1056 and the succession of a child, Henry IV, as the new king of Germany, coupled with the hostility of the Roman aristocracy toward the reformers, led the papacy to fend for itself. The reform movement that began as an attempt to purify the morals of the clergy and to extend papal supremacy over the episcopacy became directed toward freeing the Church from lay control. In 1059 reformers in the papal curia, led by Cardinal Bishop Humbert of Silva Candida, convinced Pope Nicholas II to condemn the practice of lay investiture.  In 1076 a dispute over succession to the see of Milan brought Pope Gregory VII and King Henry IV into direct conflict over the issue of lay investiture. The the war against simony, which had been supported by German theocratic kings, now became a war against lay investiture, which ideologically was a challenge to the very foundations of German royal/imperial power. The papacy repudiated the Carolingian/Byzantine conception of Christomimetic kingship and substituted in its place a new vision of the spiritual/temporal hierarchy in which the pope rather than the emperor was God's true vicar on earth, a papal theocracy that was first enunciated by Pope Gregory VII in the Dictatus Papae of 1075 and which was achieve its fullest form in the pontificate of Pope Innocent III (1198-1216).

Ironically, the dynamics of the reform movement was also to lead to attacks upon the papacy. Along with the papal reform movement came outburst of lay religious enthusiasm and demands from both the pious laity and the reform clergy for a purer, more spiritual conception of the Church. The Patarini of Milan is instructive here. These Milanese laymen, many of whom were businessmen, began as allies of the papacy in its struggle with the 'corrupt,' worldly clergy of Milan; they ended as a synonym for heresy. The victory of the papacy made it the target, rather than the sponsor, for reform, especially as the development of papal jurisdiction led to the papacy becoming a true ecclesiastical monarchy.



            In the ecclesiastical writings of the High Middle Ages, the 'Church' (Ecclesia) was the community of all baptized Christians, consisting of clergy (those who have dedicated themselves to the profession of religion) and laity (ordinary believers). The clergy included both the secular clergy, whose role was to live in the world and minister to the sacramental and spiritual needs of the laity, and the regular clergy or monks, who lived apart from the world and worshiped God in communities under a rule.
            By the year 1050, the institutional Church (consisting of all the various churches and monasteries) possessed perhaps as much as a fifth of all the landed wealth in Western Europe. This was the result of gifts to 'saints' donated by pious laymen, who saw such donations as a way to remedy their condition with God. Such gifts are best understood as part of a 'gift-giving' society shaped by the ethos of reciprocity, in which each gifts and benefit expected a gift/benefit in return (conversely, injuries had to be paid back with injuries). As expressed in early medieval charters, pious donations of land were given out of thanks to God for having blessed the donor with his wealth and out of hope that by giving God and his saints land, God might reciprocate with an eternal gift of salvation. In the language of the tenth and eleventh centuries, these nobles sought the 'friendship' and 'love' of the monks. Their association with a monastery gave them access to the monks' sanctity; among the returns that the monks gave their noble benefactors were a place for burial and even a place to spend their final months or years.  The general theme is that the goods of this transitory life ought to be used wisely to obtain a heavenly reward: Do ut des ('I give so that you will give').

            Land meant wealth and power. Reluctant to alienate property from their lineage, noble donors often founded proprietary churches, religious foundations that were to be controlled by the donor's family. The donor's family would retain the right of appointing the monastery's abbot, thus retaining effective control over the land (and securing not only the spiritual benefits of the prayers of the monks and Christian burial in land associated with a saint, but a place for younger sons). Manorial lords, similarly, regarded churches on their lands as belonging to them. Thus in 1050 many monasteries and parish churches were effectively in private hands, and laymen often had the hereditary right of bestowing a church with its tithes, burial rights, and revenues to whomever they wishes, often pocketing much of the money themselves. This privatization of religion meant a fragmentation of the 'Church,' much like happened with the 'state' with the passage of royal prerogatives and rights into private hands. The idea of a universal Christian community, the Church, was all but lost. In early 11th-century charters the term ecclesia invariably came to be associated with the actual buildings, the churches. The result was a clergy not only dependent upon the patronage of powerful laymen but also often sharing their secular outlook. Priests usually married or had concubines. Bishops were great nobles in their own right, the lords of episcopal cities, of vast holdings belonging to their sees, of delegated royal rights of justice and revenues (including minting, markets, and tolls), and the masters of magnificent households. Such prince-bishops not only supplied knights to fight for their lords, but often led these warriors into battle. Some were holy men; many were more comfortable on horseback on the hunt or campaign than they were saying the Mass.
            Even the princes of the church, the bishops, were appointed by laymen. Early medieval kings depended upon the support of a literate clergy for the administration of their realms. They also depended upon bishops and the greater abbots to support them with knights owed from their vast landed holdings. A bishop's role as defender of his city meant that he had to concern himself with military matters. Between 886 and 908 ten German bishops fell in battle. In the year 1000 Bishop Bernard commanded forces of Emperor Otto III and fought with lance that contained nail of the true Cross. The admittedly unworthy Pope John XII in 960s fought as armed soldier to defend Rome. It is not surprising, therefore, that kings, dukes, and counts would have controlled the appointment of bishops in their territories. (The eleventh-century Capetian kings of France drew much of their power from their patronage over the French episcopacy.) The kings of Germany in the tenth and eleventh centuries, for instance, would often fill vacant sees with royal chaplains (priests of the royal household) who had distinguished themselves through service to the throne. An ambitious cleric would do well to seek a position in the king's court.
            The theory behind this lay control over clerical appointment derived from a theocratic conception of kingship. Kings were consecrated and anointed to rule (by bishops). They reigned by grace of God and, according to the Bible (Romans 13.1-4), they were God's swords of justice on earth ruling with the power of God. In the Eastern Roman Empire (Constantinople/Byzantium) this conception of kingship developed into the idea that the emperor was the living icon of Christ, possessed with the majesty of God. A similar view was taken by the Frankish king (and emperor) Charlemagne (768-814) and his successors. Though crowned emperor by the pope in 800 A.D., Charlemagne saw himself as entrusted by God with the welfare of his Church and, hence, responsible for its well being.
            The idea that kings stood directly below God in a divine hierarchy of authority gave rise to the practice of Lay Investiture. This was the practice of powerful laymen furnishing newly elected bishops and abbots with the symbols of their spiritual offices. (In the case of bishops this included the bishop's crozier, i.e. shepherd's staff, and his ring.) Kings would also bestow upon the newly created prelates the symbols of the temporal authority that they would now possess along with their episcopal and abbatial offices. These symbols of delegated royal authority (e.g. scepters) were called regalia. Kings did not consider Lay Investiture an 'abuse' but a privilege emanating from the divine nature of kingship.
            The wealth of episcopal sees and abbacies was so great that they became a sort of commodity. Kings would sometimes sell the ecclesiastical offices to clerical followers, who would then recoup their money from the peasants who worked the Church's lands. The sale of spiritual offices was known as simony (see below for further discussion). What complicated matters was the ethos of reciprocity and the confusion between the bishop's role as a spiritual leader and as a feudal noble. As a landed lord, a bishop, like any other vassal, was expected to pay his lord a relief for the right to take up the fief. And by the ethical demands of reciprocity, a new bishop was morally obliged to thank his patron and lord with a suitable gift to show his gratitude. Thus what one man might consider the sin of simony, another might justify as being a proper gift of thanks. With the fragmentation of church authority and the springing up of multitudes of local churches and abbeys, this sort of transaction became ubiquitous. What exacerbated it was the rise of a cash economy, which made the exchange of spiritual office for gift virtually indistinguishable from a market transaction--and in some cases they undoubtedly were sales.

St Ulrich, bishop of Augsburg 923-973, a model pre-reform bishop

            In the tenth and early eleventh centuries, bishops were great nobles, whose landed wealth made them among the most powerful secular lords in their dioceses.  It was possible for a cleric without wealthy and powerful kinsmen to rise to the office of bishop during this period--indeed two of the most renowned intellectuals of the early middle ages, Bishop Fulbert of Chartres (ca. 1020) and Gerbert of Aurillac, who became Pope Sylvester II in 999, had humble origins--, but such men were the exception. Most bishops came from the highest nobility, unsurprising given both the class assumptions of the time and the need in this gift-giving society to make presents to the right people. A bishop's nobility meant that he could enrich his church and monasteries with his familial wealth; a poor bishop, it was thought, was more likely to use his position to help his kinsmen by transferring to them the church's lands, either as gifts or benefices. It was taken for granted that the secular aristocracy would support and foster their clerical kinsmen's rise in the church, and that a bishop would use his position to benefit his blood relations. German bishops were particularly involved in political affairs. Merovingian and Carolingian rulers had claimed the right to “nominate” bishops and abbots, which meant in effect to appoint them. This was a violation of existing canon law that mandated that bishops be freely elected by the clergy and laity of the diocese and that abbots be chosen by the monks, but Carolingian rulers and their successors in France and Germany claimed that they were not mere laymen. Having been anointed kings, they claimed to have spiritual as well as secular authority, and insisted that they were entrusted by God with the protection of His church. As successors of the Carolingians, the Ottonian and Salian kings of Germany retained control over the appointment of German bishops and abbots of royal monasteries. (In tenth-century France, by contrast, this right of nominating bishops had devolved for about half of the episcopacy into the hands of counts and bishops.) The path to a bishopric in tenth- and eleventh-century Germany ran through the court of the king. It was common for kings to fill episcopal vacancies with royal chaplains who had shown ability and loyalty through service as royal chaplains. It is little wonder that when King Otto I the Great (936-974) sought to enhance the power of the German king over the dukes who had elected him, he relied upon bishops and abbots to serve as imperial administrators. Otto and his successors invested bishops and royal abbots with regalian rights over the lands belonging to their churches. These so-called “immunities” gave bishops and abbots the right to exercise high and low justice in their courts (i.e. to fine and punish all criminal activity) and exemption from taxation. They became in effect royal agents and secular rulers. Episcopal and abbatial immunities under the Salian kings of Germany (1024-1125) were territorialized, extending beyond the lands owned by their churches. These prince-bishops and prince-abbots became in effect territorial rulers. By royal grant, they could mint their own coinage, exercise jurisdiction over criminal offenses and breaches of the forest laws, and collect royal dues owed by custom. Some bishops were even invested with entire counties and given the title of count or duke. From 983, the year of Otto III’s death, to Henry III’s death 983, German bishops held at least 36 counties.

The career of Ulrich (or Udalrich), bishop of Augsburg in the first half of the tenth century, was typical (see Heinrich Fichtenau, Living in the Tenth Century). Ulrich was a saint, canonized within fifty years of his death, and we know so much about him because of the Vita, 'saint's life,' written by Gerhard of Augsburg sometime between 982 and 993 to celebrate his holiness. A Vita was by no means a modern biography. The hagiographer's purpose was to glorify his subject. Gerhard of Augsburg intended to present his hero as holy and without blemish. It is therefore interesting how secular Ulrich appears in the Vita Sancti Uodalrici. Ulrich's family was of comital rank, kinsmen of the dukes of Swabia. As was the custom, his parents presented him as an oblate (offering) to the church while he was still a child. He was educated in the monastery of St. Gall and distinguished himself as a student. His uncle Adalbero, the bishop of Augsburg, took him into his household, where he rose through his skills and self-presentation to the office of chamberlain. When his uncle died, Ulrich left because he thought the new bishop came from too lowly a family to serve honorably.  His near kinsman Duke Burchard of Swabia came to his aid, presenting him at court to King Henry I of Germany. Henry showed the young cleric favor because of his noble blood and excellent bearing, making him one of his household retainers (fideles). Both Henry I and Count Burchard supported Ulrich's candidacy for the episcopacy of Augsburg when that see became vacant in 923.

During the civil war that plagued the early years of Otto I's reign, Bishop Ulrich supported Otto by holding for him the castle of Schwabmuenchen. One of Bishop Ulrich's nephews became count of Swabia, and another, Adalbero, succeeded him as bishop of Augsburg. In order to prepare Adalbero for the office, Ulrich took his nephew into his household, first placing him in charge of the bishop's soldiers, then making him the bishop's representative to the royal court. Ulrich even gave Adalbero authority to receive oaths of fidelity to the bishop and to carry the bishop's crozier. This last favor provoked criticism from the other German bishops, who feared that the example would catch on. Ulrich saw the logic of their argument and removed his permission, but on condition that the bishops and clergy would agree to elect Adalbero as his successor on his death. Ulrich's attempt to resign his episcopacy in favor of his nephew led to his condemnation by a Church council at Ingelheim. Ulrich did penance and was forgiven, though notice of his absolution only arrived to him on his deathbed. He was 'canonized' (recognized as a saint) by the pope in 993, which was the first example of papal canonization and led to regularizing the process by which the Church recognized its saints.
            Ulrich's late tenth-century biographer describes his ecclesiastical activities, emphasizing his visitations to the churches and monasteries in his diocese, during which he would give sermons in Latin (presumably with someone translating them into German for the uneducated), preside over episcopal courts, supervise the morals of the clergy under his care, and perform sacraments and liturgies. The bishop's spiritual duty was to ward off evil spirits, and liturgies, prayers calling upon God to bestow blessings, were conceived to be, in Fichtenau's phrase, 'a presentation of the divinely ordained order, with the bishop in the center and his clergy serving him.' A typical liturgy for the dedication of a new church had the bishop rapping on the church door with his crozier three times before the clergy within opened it for him, then drawing the alphabet with his crozier diagonally across the floor of the church. This would be followed by the bishop blessing the church with water mixed with ashes and salt, symbolizing the Christian people (the water), Christian teachings (the salt), and the passion of Christ (the ash). Such liturgical and ritual duties were in the tenth century more deemed to be more important spiritually for the faithful than pastoral care. Ulrich instructed the clergy under him mainly through his own example. A bishop was also expected to care for the poor, and the traditional formula for episcopal finances reserved one-quarter of revenues for the feeding and clothing of the poor.
            Ulrich had other, less spiritual, duties as bishop. Another tenth-century bishop, Rather of Liege, explained his obligations as a newly consecrated bishop: "I was enthroned, I presided over an assembly of clerics, I led my military host against the enemies of the Emperor Otto (I), I returned, I received him who had consecrated me bishop (Bruno of Cologne) and served him, gave him gifts, accompanied him on his journey home as a most devoted servant. Then I turned around, traveled through the diocese, conferred with the most important clerics and laity about what was to be done in order to do justice with everyone" (from Fichtenau, p. 200). An imperial bishop was also expected to attend the “diets” (imperial councils) summoned by the king of Germany and royal judicial courts. Some imperial bishops, including Ulrich, were granted by the king the right to mint their own coinage.

            In the tenth and the eleventh centuries kings throughout Western Europe relied upon bishops to be administrators and justices. They also relied on them for military service. Though canon law had long forbidden priests to shed blood, bishops nonetheless led troops into battle. The most holy of them, like Ulrich, did so unarmed, relying only on prayer to defend them. Many winked at the restrictions and emulated the model of Turpin in Song of Roland. In the year 1010 the bishops of Vich, Barcelona and Gerona all fell in battle. Popes John X and XII led papal armies in full armor.  According to Gerhard, Bishop Ulrich took the lead in the defense of Augsburg against the invading Hungarians in 955.  On the first day of the attack, Bishop Ulrich rode out to encourage the towns’ soldiers in their frantic defense of the city’s gate. While the battle raged, the bishop, dressed in his ecclesiastical robes without armor or shield to protect him, calmly looked on, protected, according to his biographer, by God’s favor.  His presence inspired his men, who drove off the attackers.  Ulrich returned to the city to direct throughout the night the repair and strengthening of its walls.  As David Bachrach notes, Ulrich also strengthened the “spiritual defenses” of the city. Not only did he pray throughout the night, but he ordered half the women of Augsburg to march in a religious procession around the city and had the other half “cast themselves to the ground, flailing themselves and begging for mercy from the mother of God.” After he celebrated a public morning mass, he gave the soldiers communion before they returned to the fight against the heathen Hungarians. (Bachrach 79). Throughout the siege Ulrich encouraged the defenders with sermons that promised them the support of God.

            Ulrich’s activities in defense of Augsburg against the Hungarians highlights the blurry boundaries between the secular and the spiritual in the tenth and eleventh centuries and the responsibility of bishops both for the material and spiritual welfare of the inhabitants of their sees. Ulrich acted recognizably as a secular commander in directing the repair of the town’s walls.  But undoubtedly he regarded his prayers, sermons, and liturgical duties as his most critical contribution to the successful defense of the city.  Unlike the fictional Archbishop Turpin of the Song of Roland, Ulrich refused to dress in armor even in the presence of the enemy.  He relied upon his ecclesiastical vestments to protect him from God’s enemies. Whether or not God heard the saint’s prayers, Ulrich’s calm demeanor and quiet confidence certainly contributed immeasurably to the morale of his troops and encouraged them to withstand the Hungarian assault until King Otto I arrived with a relief army.

            Ulrich’s participation in combat was not extraordinary for a bishop of his day.  What was more unusual was Ulrich’s careful attention to his liturgical and spiritual duties.  In fact, many tenth and early eleventh century bishops differed little in their lifestyles from their comital kinsmen. The concern of monastic reformers about the falconing, hunting and dicing that went on in bishops' households is evidence of this blurring of distinction between the secular and spiritual aristocracies of the tenth and eleventh centuries.



The Council of Sutri


King Henry III of Germany (reigned 1029-1056) at the Council of Sutri. In 962 King Otto I of Germany was crowned and anointed Roman emperor by Pope John XII. From that point on, kings of Germany maintained that they were the successors of Roman and Carolingian emperors. In a sense, Germany became part of an “empire” that included the kingdoms of Burgundy and Italy. But a German king only could become emperor if he were crowned and anointed such by the pope. In 1046, seven years after the death of his father Emperor Conrad II, King Henry III crossed the Alps into Italy to be consecrated Roman emperor by the pope and to promote reform in the Italian Church.

King Henry III was an extraordinarily pious man who took his duty to be the guardian of the Church deadly seriously—so much so that he fired his father’s court jesters because he believed it against canon law for the clerics in court to enjoy such crude humor. “More than Otto I or Otto III, Henry III symbolizes theocratic rule,” wrote Uta-Renate Blumenthal (49), the guidance of church and state as a single entity by the divinely elected, anointed emperor described by man as vicarius Christi or vicarious Dei.” Henry III embraced the Christian Peace movement that had begun in France. At the Council of Constance in 1043 he issued a Peace edict and publically granted amnesty to all his enemies, asking those present to follow his example, and repeated that gesture in the following year and in 1047. His piety was greatly shaped by the monastic reform movements emanating from Cluny and from Lotharingia. Many of those who served in his chapel and whom he elevated into the ranks of the German episcopacy were reformers.  Because he abhorred the sin of simony, King Henry III abolished the policy of his predecessors of accepting hefty counter-gifts from newly appointed bishops. On the other hand, viewing himself as an anointed ruler endowed with spiritual as well as secular authority, Henry III insisted upon investing those bishops with the symbols of their office, their croziers and rings. (Henry III was the first king to invest bishops with rings.) And after he invested them, Henry III would have them swear fidelity to him. Even more than his predecessors, Henry entrusted his bishops with counties and relied upon them as royal administrators.

Upon arriving in Rome, Henry was immediately confronted with a major problem: the papacy was in shambles, with three rival claimants to the papacy: Benedict IX (1032-1044, 10 March to 1 May 1045, 8 November 1047 to 16 July 1048; d. 1056), Sylvester III (1045), and Gregory VI (1045-1046). Pope Benedict IX was a member of the Tusculum family, which at that time ruled Rome, and was the nephew of his predecessor. Elected while still in his twenties, he had a reputation for violence and sexual laxity. He also pursued a policy of independence from German kings, which was safe as long as the German king remained in Germany. In Sept. 1044 civil war broke out in Rome against rule of the Tusculum family, and the rival Crescentian family had their local bishop, John of Sabina, installed as pope on 20 Jan 1045. He took the papal name Sylvester III. Sylvester III  was promptly excommunicated by Benedict IX, and returned to his diocese when Benedict recaptured Rome in March. Benedict IX returned to power, but was increasingly dissatisfied with the papacy, in part because of the continued hostility of the Romans and in part because (according to rumor) he wished to marry, so he agreed to resign in favor of his godfather John Gratian, archpriest of St John at the Latin Gate, who took the papal name Gregory VI. Gregory VI was a pious man who would have made a good pope, but in order to compensate Benedict and his family for the loss of the revenues that accrued from the papacy, he paid Benedict IX a huge sum of money. This was deemed by contemporaries to be simony.  Nonetheless, Gregory VI had the reputation of being a reformer, and included among his associates and supporters two men who would later be important reform cardinals, Peter Damian and Hildebrand (who would become Pope Gregory VII).

As king of Germany, Henry III regarded the bishop of Rome to be as much his spiritual vassal as any German bishop. He saw it as his duty to heal this breach in the unity of the Church. Consequently, he summoned all three popes to attend a synod at Sutri (20 December 1046.). Gregory VI was the only one to appear. Both he and Sylvester III were formally deposed, the former for the crime of simony and the latter because of his irregular election. Three days later Benedict IX was also deposed by a synod in Rome. King Henry III nominated and the council elected as pope a German bishop, Suidger of Bamberg, who took the papal name Clement II. Pope Clement II spent most of his short pontificate traveling in the entourage of King Henry III, first within Italy, where he placed the city of Benevento near Naples under interdict for refusing to open its gates to the German king, and then back to Germany. Meanwhile, Pope Gregory VI was exiled to Germany and was held in custody in Cologne, where he was accompanied by his chaplain, Hildebrand. Sylvester III returned to being bishop of Sabina. Benedict IX, however, attempted a comeback in 1047 when the new German pope Clement II died (probably of lead poisoning, according to experts who examined the body in 1942) on his journey back to Rome from Germany. Benedict IX gained control of Rome but was expelled in the following year by Count Boniface of Tuscany on orders from King Henry III. Benedict IX retired to his Tusculan family lands and continued to insist that he was pope for the rest of his life.

In 1048 King Henry III chose another member of his entourage, Poppo, the bishop of Brixen, to succeed Clement II as pope. Poppo, who took the papal name Damasus II, promptly died upon arriving in Rome (probably of malaria). Undeterred by the rapid deaths in succession of two German pontiffs, Henry III chose a third, and that proved the charm. This third German pope was his kinsman Bruno, bishop of Toul, a reforming bishop from Lotharingia who chose the name papal name Leo IX.
            Bruno, Bishop of Toul in Lorraine (1027-1051) was the son of a Count in Alsace, and was related to the imperial family. The most notable event of his early life occurred when, as a canon of the cathedral of Toul, he led the bishop's troops in an Italian campaign under King Conrad II (1025/6), who rewarded him by naming him bishop of Toul when the see fell vacant in 1027. As bishop, Bruno was a moving force in the ecclesiastical reform movement then spreading through Lorraine. He reformed the canons of the cathedral chapter of Toul and the monasteries of Moyenmoutier, where the later cardinal Humbert of Silva Candida was a monk, and Saint-Die, emphasizing the necessity of strict moral standards for priests and monks. He also supported Hallinard of Lyons refusal to do homage and fealty to Henry III when he became bishop. When in 1048 Emperor Henry III nominated him as pope, Bruno accepted only on condition that his election be ratified by the Roman clergy and people. He traveled to Rome in the garb of a pilgrim and was consecrated pope on 12 Feb 1049, choosing the name Leo, probably to recall Pope Leo I the Great.

The pontificate of Leo IX (1049-1054) proved to be a watershed in the history of the Papacy. As pope, Leo IX  initiated what was to be called the Gregorian Reform (unfairly named for Pope Gregory VII).  His was also a pivotal pontificate for the growth of papal authority and power, and for the development of the papal bureaucracy and the cardinalate. Among the things that distinguished Leo IX from his predecessors was his frequent travels. He spent much of his pontificate traveling through Germany and Italy, which brought the presence of the papacy to the various diocese.


The Council of Reims, 1049 (from Southern, Making of the Middle Ages, based on report given by Anselm, a monk of Reims).

As noted by the eminent British medieval history Sir Richard Southern, Leo IX fired the opening salvo of the Gregorian Reform at the Council of Reims in 1049 After his consecration as pope Leo IX left Rome to return to his diocese of Toul. He took the opportunity to attend the translation of the bones of St. Remigius to a new cathedral in Reims on 1 October 1049. Leo IX was to consecrate the newly built church of the monastery of St Remigius and to transfer the bones of the saint to the high altar. He also took the opportunity to summon the bishops of France to a council that was to commence after the translation. Only 20 bishops responded (1 from England, 5 from Normandy), because King Henry I of France, fearful of being condemned by the papacy for simony and perhaps hostile to a prelate whom he viewed as a servant of the German king, had ordered his bishops to accompany him on a military campaign.

After the formal procession, Leo placed the bones of the saint on the altar rather than inter them in the tomb. The saint himself was to preside over the council. Leo's chancellor, the cardinal deacon Peter, announced that the synod was to begin, and asked who among the bishops and abbots present had purchased their offices. A tumult ensued, with the Archbishop.. of Reims receiving permission to delay his answer. (He was granted a private audience in Rome in the following April.) The papal chancellor pressed the matter over the next few days. The proceedings ended up by focusing on one representative simonist, the bishop of Langres, a man of education and breeding. He was to be defended by two archbishops; one of them, however, found himself incapable of speech; the other ended up by admitting his client's guilt. Judgment was deferred to the following day, and the bishop of Langres took off in the night. He was excommunicated in absentia. The pope led the synod singing Sancte Remigi, then received confessions from the other bishops. Some he removed, but most he forgave, giving them each a new crozier.

The council ended with Pope Leo IX carrying the body of the saint to the crypt.

Policies of Leo IX.

Leo faced three main problems as pope.

1. realization of church reform

2. protection of papal states from Normans in southern Italy (Naples and to the south)

3. resolution of disputes with Byzantium 


The papacy and the Normans: southern Italy in 1049 was marked by divided lordship. In the early eleventh century the Byzantines claimed all of s.Italy and Sicily as part of their empire. They didn't control the land though. Sicily was in the hands of Arabs; Amalfi and Naples were independent cities; Salerno, Capua and Benevento were centers of Lombard principalities. In 1016, according to legend, Norman pilgrims returning from Jerusalem landed in s.Italy, and from the 1020s on, Norman mercenaries began to play a crucial role in the political landscape. The most successful of these adventurers were the sons of Tancred of Hauteville, and the most successful of these was Robert Guiscard, who arrived in the late 1040s. In 1053, with the death of his elder brother, Robert emerged as the chief of the Normans. In 1059 his success was to be granted legitimacy by Pope Nicholas II who formally invested him with the duchies of Apulia, Calabria, and Sicily; and by his death in 1085 Robert controlled all of south Italy, and a scourge to the Byzantines in Greece.

The rising power of these Norman bandits in the south was regarded with hostility by Pope Leo IX, who saw them as a threat to the papal states. In 1053 Leo IX led a small papal army against the Normans; he was hampered by a lack of support from the emperor, whose chancellor Gebhard of Eichstatt opposed the expedition, and by his inability to link up with Byzantine forces in the south. His army was destroyed at Civitate, and he himself was captured and held prisoner for nine months (though the Normans permitted him to maintain contact with the outside world; while he was in captivity he sent Humbert to Constantinople on his disastrous mission). He died in 1054, some after being released from captivity.

The solution to the Norman problem was not to be force but cooptation, and this was to be used by Nicholas II in 1059, when he recognized Robert Guiscard's de facto control over the south. At the council of Melfi in Aug 1059 Nicholas II invested Guiscard and Richard of Capua with the territories they already held and received them as vassal of the Roman church. Robert G was also enfeoffed with all future possessions he could take from the Saracens in Sicily (the conquest of S began in 1061 w/the taking of Messina and 1072 w/ Palermo). The claims of the Byzantines, who had lost their last holding in 1071 when they had been driven from Bari, were to be ignored.

The oath of fealty taken by Robert Guiscard (preserved in a collection of canons of Cardinal Deusdedit) promised that he, as duke of Apulia and Calabria and future duke of Sicily by the grace and aid of St Peter and God, would be a faithful vassal of the Roman Church and the pope. He promised to protect the pope and to aid him in regaining and preserving regalia and lands of St Peter and in maintaining him in the papal office. He was to support and aid the better cardinals and Roman clergy in the election of a new pope. Robert Guiscard also promised to restrain his subjects from raiding papal territories (except by request of the pope), and to pay an annual recognition fee. The fruit of this policy was to be seen in 1084, when Robert rescued Gregory VII from the Germans in Rome.

The problem of Byzantium. Here Leo IX's policies proved disastrous. Leo's attempt to deal with the Normans (and particularly his holding of a council in Byzantine territory and his naming Humbert Archbishop. of Sicily) created suspicion and hostility in Byzantium, where he was considered to be meddling with what properly belonged to the empire and to the Patriarch. The result was that the Patriarch of Constantinople Michael Cerularius (1043-1058) shut down the Latin Churches in Byzantium and attacked western religious practices, notably use of unleavened bread for the eucharist, and the use of  the term 'filioque' in the Latin mass. (The “filioque” controversy was a dispute over the nature of the Holy Trinity. Latin versions of the Nicene Creed had the Holy Spirit proceed from “the Father and the Son [filioque],” whereas Greek versions had the Holy Spirit proceed only from the Father.)

While a captive, Leo IX sent the cantankerous Humbert of Silva Candida to deal with the Byzantines. Humbert carried a conciliatory letter to the emperor (which played down Henry III's imperial claims) and an inflammatory reproach against the Patriarch. This letter described Rome as a suffering, patient, persecuted Mother and the eastern Church as lost 'in pleasure and lasciviousness, in the dissipation of a long leisure, refusing to take part in the fight waged on her behalf by the pious Mother, repaying her efforts by mocking her Mother's old age and her body worn out by long labors,' etc.). The letter was received with anger. Humbert lost his temper and on 16 July 1054 (3 months after the death of Leo, of which Humbert was ignorant) he placed upon the altar of Hagia Sophia in full view of the congregation a bull excommunicating the patriarch and his followers. The patriarch responded in kind, and the result was a formal schism.


Church reform: attacks on simony and clericial unchastity: Because of the support of King Henry III, Leo IX was most successful in his attempt to reform the morals of the clergy. As bishop of Toul, Bruno had been an ardent supporter of the reform movement promoted by the monks of Cluny and the reform monasteries of Lorraine.  This reform movement was an attempt to renew the secular church by applying to it the standards and ideals of the reformed monasticism of the period.  As Pope Leo IX, Bruno was able to promote clerical reform on a larger stage. The abuses that Leo, with the enthusiastic support of Emperor Henry III, targeted were 1) simony (purchase or sale of church offices and sacraments for cash, services, or by intercession, from Simon Magus who offered St Peter money for the Holy Spirit. Acts of Apostles 8:9-24), which increasingly became viewed as a problem with the growth of a cash economy and a market society in Italy in the eleventh century, and 2) nicolaitism (clerical marriage). The latter touched most directly on the lives of parish priests, as can be seen in the memoirs of Guibert of Nogent (1115).

Leo IX attacked nicolaitism as one of his first acts. He not only condemned fornicating clerics, but he declared their wives, concubines, and children to be serfs of the church. (This eliminated the problem of a hereditary clergy, since serfs could not be ordained as priests.)

Simony was a very difficult problem, in part because of the vagueness of the definition of the abuse. German kings before Henry III demanded the payment of money from newly elected bishops in recognition of the king's lordship and as payment for the bishop's regalia. The payment of money and goods was also conceived as a proper gift to the king, showing the friendship of the new prelate. Under Henry III this practice was abandoned as simoniacal, but it underscores the practical reason why simony was so prevalent: episcopal and abbatial offices carried with them landed wealth and political power as well as spiritual authority. Leo IX's first synod, held in the Lateran in April 1049, deposed all bishops guilty of simony, and declared consecrations by simoniacs to be invalid (position of Humbert of Silva Candida). At Rheims in the same year Leo IX used the occasion of the translation of the bones of St. Remi to attack once again simony, this time trying the bishop of Langres to make his point, and reordaining the penitent.

The extreme position, held by Humbert but attacked by Peter Damian, that all simoniacal consecrations were invalid, would have created extreme havoc in the Church. Leo's eventual position was to adopt a penance of 40 days for those who knowingly allowed themselves to be consecrated by a simonist.

Reform of the papal curia: the creation of a college of cardinals.

Leo IX promoted an exalted conception of the papacy as the primate of the Holy Apostolic Church and God’s vicar on earth. In this Leo was aided by an intellectual revival in the eleventh century. The reform papacy's most potent weapons in promoting papal supremacy proved to be the revival of law (notably canon law--study of mid-9th century Pseudo-Isidore decretals) and the transformation of the Roman curia from an organ of local government into the central offices of the world-wide church.  From Leo's pontificate on we see the growth of the cardinals--the clergy of Rome's titular churches (seven bishops, and their priests and deacons)--as a force in papal government.  Leo IX created around him a circle of assistants and helpers, who served him as advisors. This transformed the papal curia (i.e. papal court). Leo IX's reliance on his cardinals as an advisory senate was the embryo of the future college of cardinals. Leo's helpers served him mainly as legates, representatives and ambassadors. These served the pope as sort of missi dominici. Not until Gregory VII, however, was the policy of using permanent, standing legates adopted.

Cardinals. The cardinals in 1073 numbered 7 bishops, 28 priests, 18 deacons and possibly 21 subdeacons. They were the clergy of the cathedral of Rome (Lateran). The bishops stood in the same relationship to the pope as great barons did to a king. They held dual sees, one of the titular (nonresidential) churches of Rome and a see outside of Rome; their chief duty was conducting services in the Lateran church. They didn't take part in the routine government of the church, but acted as the pope’s counselor. After 1059, cardinal bishops became the electoral college of the papacy. They elected and consecrated the pope. Cardinal-priests and cardinal deacons were the personnel of papal government. They served the popes as legates (ambassadors) and as administrative officers (e.g., papal chancellors, chamberlains, etc.). Below the cardinals were the lesser papal officials--notaries--and the papal soldiers.


The most important of Leo IX’s advisers were the Lotharingian monk Humbert, from 1050 cardinal bishop of Silva Candida, and the Italian monks St Peter Damian and Hildebrand. Humbert of Silva Candida was a monk from the abbey of Moyenmoutier in Lorraine, whom Leo IX brought with him to Rome. Leo IX named Humbert cardinal bishop of Silva Candida in 1050, his only appointment of a cardinal bishop. Humbert, the most extreme and intemperate of the reformers, was an unforgiving opponent of simony, nicolaitism, and lay investiture. He regarded sacraments administered by simoniacal bishops as invalid. Humbert argued for the clergy’s independence from the laity, and regarded it as sinful to allow a layman to invest a bishop or an abbot with his holy office. Arguably, Humbert was the individual most responsible for creating the Investiture Controversy.  A scholar, Humbert based his conception of papal supremacy on two forgeries, the Pseudo-Isidorean Decretals and the Donation of Constantine. Humbert served Leo in the secretariat of the papacy, and acted as Leo's legate to Constantinople in 1054, where his blunt manner helped precipitate the great schism when he excommunicated the Patriarch.


St Peter Damian (1007-72) was an Italian monk, bishop and, from 1057, cardinal-bishop. A monk of Ravenna, Peter Damian's chief concern was the purification of the Church. He was particularly opposed to simony and nicolaitism, although he did not reject the validity of a simonist's ordination as did Humbert. There is a revealing story about Peter that provides insight into his conception of simony. While he was a papal legate looking into the Patarine dispute in Milan, he was offered a gift of silver by an abbot. He rejected the gift as improper, but the abbot responded that he sought nothing in return. Peter still resisted, saying that clerics need not exchange gifts after the manner of laymen. Finally, the abbot prevailed by telling Peter to give the silver to a new eremitical establishment. Peter later regretted his acceptance. He experienced dizziness when he tried to say the psalms and suffered a loss of intestinal fortitude--literally--as he felt his insides squirming with vermin. Peter returned the gift. Peter's opposition to simony shows that this part of the reform movement was NOT imported into Italy from Cluny or the Rhineland. The new view of simony in the eleventh century defined it as a commercial transaction, rejecting the idea that it was merely an innocent gift given freely out of love and gratitude. Italian reformers, living in the midst of the commercial revolution of the eleventh century, didn't need foreigner to identify this particular abuse.

Like Humbert, Peter Damian supported papal supremacy, and saw the papacy as being the font that would wash clean the entire Church. Peter Damian's view of man and the clergy is best seen in his Book of Gomorrah. Here the clergy is assigned the superhuman task, possible only because of God's providence of redeeming man from the depravity into which he had fallen because of sin. Peter Damian, however, was not as extreme as Humbert. He accepted the practice of lay investiture, and saw pious laymen as allies in the war against sin, believing that the natural condition between church and state was cooperation. He took the position that ordinations were valid even if simoniacal (anti-Donatist).


Hildebrand (later Pope Gregory VII 1073-1085) proved to be the most important reformer to emerge from Leo IX’s curia. Born c. 1020 of humble parentage in Tuscany, Hildebrand was raised in the Lateran palace as an oblate. He served as a chaplain to the unfortunate reformer Pope Gregory VI and accompanied him in exile to Cologne in 1046 when King Henry III deposed him for simony. Upon his patron's death, Hildebrand entered a Cluniac monastery. He returned to Rome in the entourage of Pope Leo IX, who ordained him subdeacon, and made him treasurer of the Roman church and prior of St Paul's monastery. He became archdeacon under Nicholas II in 1059 and served Nicholas as one of his chief shapers of policy. Although Hildebrand followed Peter Damian on the validity of simoniacal orders, he joined with Humbert on the need for the clergy to be independent from lay control.




When Henry III died in 1056 he left as his heir a six year old son Henry IV. The regent, the widowed Empress Agnes, followed an erratic policy that weakened the crown, appointing as dukes individuals with independent power. In 1062 Archbishop Anno of Cologne abducted Henry and took charge of the regency government. In 1065 Henry was declared of age, but remained under the influence of episcopal advisors, notably bishop Adalbert of Bremen, whose policy was to extend the power of the bishops over monasteries and their possessions. Beginning in 1069, when he actually assumed independent power, Henry followed a consistent, coherent policy of recovering royal rights lost during his minority to the bishops and princes. In Germany Henry IV’s attempts to recover his lost royal rights led to a serious revolt in Saxony (1073-1075). In Italy this struggle centered on the archbishopric of Milan, where the reformers supported by the townspeople (called the Patarenes, ‘rag-pickers,’ by their opponents), had installed a reformer archbishop (Atto) against the wishes of the King and his advisors, who refused to accept Atto and appointed instead a different cleric Godefroy to be archbishop. The reform candidate was militarily driven out of Milan and took refuge with the pope in Rome in 1073. One of Pope Alexander II’s last acts as pope was to excommunicate Godefroy and four of Henry IV's bishops over the Milan affair.

When Hildebrand became Pope Gregory VII in 1073, the papacy and the emperor were already at odds, but it was to be the personality of these two men and the seriousness of the issues that was to transform disagreement into war.

Pope Nicholas II (1058-1061) and the Papal Election Decree of 1059.

The death of Henry III in 1056 created enormous problems for the papacy. The Roman aristocracy, led by the Tusculum family, seized the opportunity and named a pope (Cardinal Bishop John of Velletri, a member of the Tusculum family) Benedict X. The reform cardinals immediately countered by electing the bishop of Florence as Pope Nicholas II. They could do so because they had astutely gained the protection of Pope Stephen IX's brother Duke Godfrey of Lorraine and Tuscany (whose daughter Mathilda was to be a fervent supporter of the papacy), whose troops aided Nicholas in entering Rome. Benedict X fled, and then resigned. (Hildebrand later prosecuted him, and had him formally deposed and imprisoned.)

Nicholas II as pope did three significant acts:

1.      He issues an election decree that placed the election of popes in the hands of the college of cardinals

2.      He condemned the practice of lay investiture

3.      He legitimized the rule of the Normans over southern Italy, recognizing Robert Guiscard as duke of Apulia. Robert, in turn, accepted the pope as his feudal overlord. 


The Election Decree of 1059. Promulgated at the Lateran synod in 1059 the decree ordered that to exclude simony popes were to be elected by CARDINAL BISHOPS, and then acclaimed by cardinal clerks, the remaining clergy, and the people. If necessary, the election could be held outside of Rome and a non-Roman cleric could be elected. The rights of the German king/emperor were recognized, but in a vague fashion that implies that such consent was by concession of the papacy and was to be renewed with each new reign: "Saving due honor and reverence for our beloved son Henry, who is at present king and who, if God wills, is expected to be future emperor; in so far as we have made such concessions to himself and his successors who shall personally have obtained this right from this holy Apostolic See." It seems that the due honor and reverence reserved was merely the courtesy of informing the emperor/king of the election. In 1179 this decree was modified to require a two-thirds majority of the votes of the cardinals.

The decree was revolutionary. Canon law demanded episcopal and abbatial elections 'by clergy and people' to be free, but this had normally meant that the clergy was to acclaim 'freely' a candidate appointed by the local prince in control of the diocese. The papacy had thus been alternately in the hands of the Roman nobles (Tusculum, Crescentian, etc) or the German king. The reformers were to change this. By their definition, a free election meant that a bishop was to be elected by the clergy of his cathedral chapter, and the people's only function was to hear who had been elected and applaud the divinely inspired selection. The Election Decree transformed the cardinals into a body of papal electors that was later to be called the college of cardinals.

At the same synod Nicholas II, apparently inspired by Humbert, issued a condemnation of lay investiture. This was to be the beginning of what has come to be called the Investiture Controversy.

Nicholas II's decrees were directed not against the emperor but against the Roman aristocracy. The pope's willingness to work with lay authorities is underscored by his alliance with both the Normans and, especially, with the Duke of Tuscany, his great protector.

The Papacy of Gregory VII (1073-1085)

Hilderbrand's election was stage managed in 1073 by Hugh Candidus, a cardinal priest who was one of Leo IX's companions from Lorraine (Southern, Making, 144). During the burial of the deceased Pope Alexander II, Hugh rose in the pulpit and addressed the throng of clergy and laity: “Brethren, you know that from the days of Pope Leo it is Hildebrand who has exalted the Holy Roman Church and freed this city. Wherefore, since we cannot have anyone better fitted to be elected as Roman Pontiff, we elect him now--a man ordained in our church, a man known to you all, and approved by all." (Hugh was soon to transfer his loyalty to Henry IV.)  Hildebrand was acclaimed pope without deliberation and discussion by the other cardinals and took the name Gregory VII in honor of his mentor the disgraced Pope Gregory VI. Gregory VII’s election was irregular. It failed to follow the procedures established in 1059; in particular there had been no consultation of the emperor or the imperial court.  The irregularity of the election was later to be cited by Henry IV as evidence of Gregory VII’s illegitimacy as pope.

Hildebrand was a controversial figure, even in his own day. St Hugh of Cluny told an anecdote (that found its way into William of Malmesbury's Gesta Regum, probably via Eadmer) that when Hildebrand was a legate he and Hildebrand were riding together in a large company. Hugh fell back and was thinking about the character of the legate, and especially about his pride and self-seeking, when Hildebrand wheeled his horse about, and said, 'It's a lie; I seek not my own glory, but that of the Holy Apostles [Saints Peter and Paul].'

Hildebrand had grown up as a monk in Rome, and his dual affinities were to the city/see and to the monastic profession. In Rome his allies were the new urban families of financiers and businessmen, the Pierleoni and Frangipani, who used their fortunes in support of the reformers. His most stalwart noble supporter was Mathilda of Tuscany. Unlike his recent predecessors, Gregory VII lived in Rome, and only ventured north once, the journey that was to end at Canossa, and south once, his flight to southern Italy in the company of the Normans (1084) that was to leave him a broken man. (His last words were an ironic and bitter play on a psalm: 'I have loved righteousness and hated iniquity--therefore I die in exile' (Psalm 45: “wherefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above their fellows”).

The key to Gregory VII's policies was the extension of the reform movement to include the independence of the Church from secular authority. His agenda included: 1) prohibition of lay investiture; 2) Attacks on simony and nicolaitism (again purification of church upon the monastic model); 3) promotion of the idea of papal monarchy.

The last is most dramatically revealed in the   DICTATUS PAPAE, a list of 27 title headings entered into the papal register in March 1075. The most important of the articles were those that claimed:

a. the supremacy of the Roman pontiff over the entire Church, including the eastern branch ('That the Roman pontiff alone can with right be called universal/That his name alone shall be spoken in the churches') and rule over the episcopate, which entailed the right of deposing and reinstating bishops (a right that could be exercised even by a legate), the power of organizing diocese, the right to be the ultimate judge in ecclesiastical cases, and a claim to be exempt from human judgment.

b. The power to issue canon law

c. the sanctity of the pope qua pope (through the merits of St Peter)

d. Supremacy over the princes of the earth ('That he alone may use the imperial insignia/That of the pope all princes shall kiss the feet'), with the practical and revolutionary claim 'that he may absolve subjects from their fealty to wicked men.' [There is an indication here of Gregory's view of the pope as the final judge over the entire feudal system; in his treatment of Henry at Canossa there is some indication that he conceived of himself as being the ultimate feudal overlord. The feudal claims of the papacy is a topic that deserves to be explored in more depth.]  

The claim to be the head of the universal church (over all bishops and over the Patriarch) was supplemented by the claims to be beyond judgment, to be imputed with saintliness, to be above all rulers, and to be the ultimate judge of the fitness of kings to rule. This exalted view of the papacy is also revealed in Gregory's preaching of a holy war to recover Palestine in 1074, a project that was to be sidetracked by the outbreak of the Investiture Controvery.

Gregory's claim of papal supremacy inevitably brought him into conflict with Henry IV, whose view of the Church harkened back to that of his father. It also brought him into conflict with the German episcopate and many Italian bishops, whose independence was being threatened by this new definition of primacy. This is most clearly seen in Gregory's treatment of Otto, bishop of Constance, whom Gregory summoned to Rome to answer charges that he had failed to enforce papal strictures against clerical concubines. Gregory viewed the pious laymen of Constance as his allies, and when he excommunicated Otto, he urged them to support his decree, by violence if necessary.


The Problem of Lay Investiture.

Gregory's first decree against the practice of lay investiture was issued in 1075, but it was not until 1078 that he was to make this a defining issue in his pontificate. In 1073-4 Gregory had allowed Henry IV to invest German bishops with ring and crozier, ignoring the decree of 1059. But it is clear that Gregory shared Humbert's views on the matter, and that he viewed lay investiture as a serious affront to the dignity and independence of the church. The issue defined what the Church was and what the source of its authority was. The sacrality of kings was defined in a more limited fashion; their consecration did not confer upon them the sacramental powers of the apostles. Spiritual authority was conferred upon God's clergy through the bride of Christ, the Church. In some ways this is a clarification of Gelasius's doctrine of the two swords (496), one that stressed the monopoly that the clergy had over spiritual power.


The Problem of Milan.

Gregory VII's break with Henry IV was precipitated by the problem of the see of Milan. Milan, the see of St Ambrose and the second most important bishopric in Italy, had been experiencing social and ecclesiastical unrest since 1057, when a lay movement known as the Patarini ('rag-pickers'--a communal movement drawn largely from the new commercial class) had used arms to separate priests from their concubines. The Patarini denounced Archbishop Wido as a simonist, which brought the intervention of the papacy in 1059. The legates (Peter Damian and Anselm of Lucca) found that the charges had substance, but in order to foster harmony--the legates were most concerned with obtaining Milanese acceptance of papal primacy--imposed only a small penance on the offending clergy. Wido remained as archbishop.

In 1072 two rival archbishops were elected, one supported by the Patarini and the papacy, and the other by the German court. Pope Alexander II in connection with this dispute excommunicated five clerical advisors to Henry IV. Gregory VII immediately lifted the excommunications, but conflict broke out once more in 1075 when the Patarini burnt down the cathedral of Milan and the anti-Patarine faction responded by killing the leader of the Patarini. The opponents of reform came to power in Milan and immediately appealed to King Henry IV to set aside the two rival archbishops and invest a new one to end the violence. Henry IV, emboldened by a victory over the rebels of Saxony, responded by investing the Milanese cleric Tedbald as the new archbishop of Milan along with new bishops he appointed to the Sees of Fermo and Spoleto.

Gregory VII responded with a renewed excommunication of the five, and a letter reproaching Henry IV for disobedience and for maintaining contact with men excommunicated by the pope (8 Dec 1075). The German response was a diet held at Worms (24 Jan 1076) in which two archbishops and the majority of the German episcopate, who withdrew their obedience to the pontiff on the grounds of an irregular election and ethics unbecoming a pope. The bishops of northern Italy on 14 Feb 1076 declared their solidarity with the German episcopate and also withdrew their obedience. The decree of Worms formed the substance of the letter that Henry IV sent to Gregory VII on 24 Jan 1076:

Henry, king not through usurpation but through the holy ordination of God, to Hildebrand, at present not pope but false monk....By wiles .... you have achieved money; by money, favor; by the sword, the throne of peace. And from the throne of peace you have disturbed peace [referring to Gregory’s support of the Patarenes of Milan against their bishop], inasmuch as you have armed subjects against those in authority over them; inasmuch as you have taught that our bishops called of God are to be despised; inasmuch as you have usurped for laymen the ministry over their priests, allowing them to depose or condemn those whom they themselves had received as teachers from the hand of God through the laying on of hands of the bishops. You have attacked me, who, unworthy as I am, have yet been appointed to rule among the anointed of God, and who, according to the teaching of the fathers, can be judged by no one save God alone ... St. Peter himself said: 'Fear God, honor the king1 [1 Peter 2:17]. But you, who fear not God, have dishonored me, whom He hath established. ... You, therefore, damned by this curse and by the judgment of all our bishops, and by our own, descend and relinquish the throne of St Peter which you have usurped. Let another ascend the apostolic chair who shall not practice violence under the cloak of religion. ... Henry, king by the grace of God, say unto thee, together with all of our bishops: Descend, descend, to be damned throughout the ages.'

Gregory responded to the letter by declaring Henry IV and the bishops who followed him excommunicated and deposed (22 Feb 1076). Interestingly, the instrument that Gregory used for this was a prayer to St Peter:

O St Peter, chief of the apostles, incline to us, I beg, your holy ears, and hear me your servant whom you have nourished from infancy. ...And especially to me, as your representative and by your favor, has the power been granted by God of binding and loosing in Heaven and on earth. On the strength of this, for the honor and security of your church and in the name of Almighty God, Father, Son and Holy Ghost, I withdraw, through your power and authority, from Henry the King, son of Henry the Emperor, who has risen against your Church with unheard of insolence, rule over the kingdom of the Germans and over Italy. And I absolve all Christians from the bonds of the oath which have made or shall make to him; and I forbid anyone to serve him as king. … And since he has scorned to obey as a Christian, I bind him in your name with the chain of anathema [i.e. he excommunicated Henry]. 

Kings and emperors had deposed popes before; this was the first time a pope had returned the favor. Even St Ambrose--whom Gregory claimed as a precedent in his letter to Hermann, bishop of Metz--had only excommunicated Theodosius, wielding the spiritual sword entrusted to him. But the deposition was effective. Practically all the powers in Germany abandoned Henry: the dukes saw this as an opportunity to regain the powers they had enjoyed during the minority, and even the bishops, who had urged Henry to confront the pope, scrambled to the side of the pope. Henry could do no more than extract a promise from the magnates that they would delay electing a new king for a year to give Henry a chance to obtain absolution.



The German princes planned an assembly in Augsburg in Feb 1077 and invited Gregory to attend. Henry realized that his only hope was to be reconciled to the pope and to rob his opponents of the legitimacy that they enjoyed, reducing to the level of rebels. He did so by secretly crossing the Alps with his queen and tow year old son and intercepting Gregory at Canossa in Jan 1077. Canossa was a fortress belonging to Mathilda of Tuscany, a stalwart defender of the reform papacy. Gregory took refuge their believing that Henry intended to attack him. But Henry surprised Gregory by coming in the garb of a penitent. Gregory initially hesitated to grant reconciliation, but was persuaded by the pleas of Abbot Hugh of Cluny, Henry's godfather, and Mathilda.

Gregory was to describe in a letter to the German princes what then transpired:


There, on three successive days, standing before the castle gate, laying aside all royal insignia, barefooted and in coarse attire, he ceased not with many tears to beseech the apostolic help and comfort until all who were present or who had heard the story were so moved by pity and compassion that they pleader his cause with prayers and tears....even crying out that we were showing, not the seriousness of apostolic authority, but rather the cruelty of a savage tyrant. At last overcome by his persistent show of penitence and the urgency of all present, we released him from the bonds of anathema and received him into the grace of the Holy Mother Church.


Gregory also demanded an oath from Henry to accept the papal judgment in his dispute with the rebels and to permit Gregory to travel safely to Germany. Henry had been humiliated publicly but he had also won a political battle. Gregory had been forced by his pastoral obligations to accept back the prodigal son, which undercut the rebel position and gave Henry some time to marshal his forces.

The German princes, in defiance of both Henry and his reconciliation with Gregory, proceeded to elect Rudolf of Rheinfelden as their new king. Two papal legates were present who gave their approval, but Gregory refused to recognize Rudolf. The decision was to take place not in the papal court, but on the battlefield, where Henry's troops defeated the rebels. Rudolf died in battle in 1080, and was succeeded by a new anti-king Hermann of Goslar, who wielded no real power outside of his patrimony in Lotharingia. Gregory VII finally decided in favor of Rudolf in 1080, and deposed Henry for a second time. But this excommunication and deposition was without force. Gregory's dithering had allowed Henry to win militarily and politically.

The high point of Gregory VII's pontificate was his deposition of Henry IV and Henry's humiliation at Canossa (1077). The low point was to come in 1084 when a resurgent Henry IV was to enter Rome peacefully, the gates opened to him by the people of Rome. Even some of the reformers had deserted him. The cardinal priest Hugh Candidus, the man who stage-managed Gregory's election, now stage-managed his deposition, drafting a condemnation that accused Gregory of poisoning his predecessors and of subverting the ecclesiastical order (probably a reference to Gregory's deposition of a number of bishops and appointments of their replacements). A synod held at Brixen named Wibert Archbishop. of Ravenna as the new pope--the anti-pope Clement III. With the support of 13 cardinals and other members of the papal curia Wibert was consecrated pope (after a formal Roman election), as Gregory huddled in the great papal fortress of Sant'Angelo. On Easter Day Henry IV was anointed Roman Emperor by his pope.

            Gregory wrote to his Norman “vassals” asking them for military aid, and they responded by attacking Rome, rescuing Gregory, and taking him to safety in the south. Gregory's rescue by the Normans showed the wisdom of his predecessors' policies; it also left bitterness in Rome because of the sacking of the city by his rescuers. Gregory spent his last days as a guest of Robert Guiscard in Salerno. He died an embittered man on 25 May 1085, at the same time that his great opponent Henry IV was forcing all of Germany and Italy to submit to his kingship.


But Gregory did not fail. The reform movement continued, as the reform cardinals gathered together and elected a successor in 1087. The final victor in the battle was to be Pope Gregory VII rather than King Henry IV.   

The Resolution of the Investiture Controversy.  

POPE URBAN II (1088-99).

Urban (born Odo), an aristocratic Frenchman, had been archdeacon of Reims and prior of Cluny before he became cardinal-bishop of Ostia under Gregory VII. In 1089, backed by the soldiers of Mathilda of Tuscany (married by advice of Urban to the 17 year old Welf V, 26 years her junior), Urban succeeded in driving Clement-Wibert from Rome, but it was not until 1094 that he obtained control over the Lateran palace and 1098 the Castello Sant'Angello. He fostered a reconciliation with Clement's supporters by paying them compensation.

King Henry IV's fortunes took a turn for the worse, with a militarily defeat in Tuscany in 1092, and with the rebellion of his son Conrad in 1093. (Urban took advantage of this by recognizing Conrad as king and by arranging a marriage between him and the daughter of Count Roger of Sicily.) Henry even suffered personal humiliation in 1095 at the council of Piacenza when Urban granted Henry's second wife a marital separation on the grounds of her husband's sexual depravity. (At the same time the young Welf V deserted his wife, complaining about her refusal to grant him conjugal rights.)

When Urban II presided over the Council of Clermont in 1095, he was the apex of his authority as pope. Wibert had been discredited along with his patron Henry IV. At this council Urban II renewed Gregory VII's pronouncement against lay investiture, proclaimed a peace of God, prohibited, still again, simony, defined fasting practices, prohibited the laity from possessing tithes or churches, forbade clergy to do homage to kings or other laymen, and, of course, called the First Crusade.

Urban's call for an armed pilgrimage to aid the Byzantines and to liberate the Holy Sepulcher from the Turks recalled Gregory VII's dreams of Holy War. Urban's call represented the papacy as directing the activities of the laity. The response was overwhelming, though it is interesting to observe that no kings went on Crusade, since William Rufus of England was generally hostile to the papacy, Philip I of France was excommunicated because of his adulterous union with Bertrada de Montfort, and Henry IV was not only excommunicated but was holed up in northern Italy, surrounded by his enemies.

Pope Paschal II (1099-1118): two unsuccessful solutions

Neither Henry IV nor Conrad was to emerge as victor; rather in 1104-5 Henry's second son, Henry V, crowned king by his father in 1099, forged an alliance of German nobles against his father. Paschal II took a hand in the matter by absolving Henry V of an oath of fealty he had taken to his father in 1099.

King Henry V presented himself as a friend to the reformed papacy--that is, until the death of his father in 1106. The new king refused to concede the right to investiture with ring and crozier, and Paschal II refused to relax the papal prohibition. In 1110 negotiations failed, and Henry set out for Rome at the head of an army, ostensibly to be crowned emperor. Paschal II then hit upon a compromise, which became public on 12 Feb 1111 on the day that the coronation was to take place. Henry would abandon the right of investiture and would confirm the non-regalian property of the church as belonging to her as allods, in return for the church returning to the king the regalia. In other words, bishops would abandon all rights, jurisdiction powers, and properties they held from the king and would live on the lands given to them freely by the pious and from tithes. They would abandon all political power and jurisdiction and became purely spiritual pastors.

The response from the gathered bishops and clergy was immediate and violent. The cardinals denounced it, and the German bishops refused to be bound by it. Paschal ended up refusing to crown Henry, and Henry responded by taking the pope captive. Two months later the captive pope agreed to the Privilege of Mummolo--the pope granted to Henry the right of investiture before consecration, promised to anoint him emperor, and swore never to excommunicate Henry. Again the response was unanimous rejection, and there was even talk of deposing Paschal. Paschal, freed from captivity, quashed the privilege in 1112.


The English Solution (1105-1107)

The solution to the Investiture Controversy was to be discovered in England, where Archbishop Anselm (1093-9) and King Henry I (1100-1135) came to an agreement. The dispute was heated enough (it also concerned Anselm's claims for the primacy of Canterbury) that Anselm chose to go into exile in 1103, and finally excommunicated the king. In 1105, Henry chose to seek reconciliation so that he could obtain support for his campaign against his elder brother Robert of Normandy. In December 1105 Anselm and Henry hammered out a compromise, that was to be accepted by Pope Paschal II (1099-1121): Henry would accept the ban on lay investiture, Paschal would lift excommunication of bishops who had been so invested, and Henry would continue to receive homage from newly elected bishops in return for the landed fiefs and temporal powers they received from the king.  The last reversed Urban II's decree of 1095 against bishops doing homage to lay men. The agreement was formally ratified by king and archbishop in the “Concordat of London” in 1107. 

In essence, the English solution of 1105/1107 recognized the episcopacy’s “two bodies.” As pastors of the church, bishops received their authority and power from God via the Church’s clergy through apostolic succession. But as magnates of the realm and landholders of fiefs, they received their temporal powers and authority from the king.


 The Concordat of Worms (1122)

Guido, Archbishop of Vienne, the son of Count William of Burgundy and related to the German, French, and English royal houses, was consecrated pope in 1119, taking the name Calixtus II. By this time the controversy over investiture had already been resolved through compromise in England and France. The Emperor Henry V, urged on by the German princes, and Pope Calixtus II agreed to a similar compromise to end the dispute in Germany and Italy. The result was the famous Concordat of Worms.

On 23 Sept 1122, Pope Calixtus II and Emperor Henry V met at Worms in Germany. The Concordat of Worms (“concordat” means agreement) took the form of two, reciprocal documents that were simultaneously issued: a  papal “privilege” granted by Pope Calixtus II to the Emperor Henry V and his successors, and an edict issued by the Emperor Henry V. Under this agreement, the emperor renounced the right to invest newly elected bishops with the symbols of their spiritual offices, the ring and crozier; guaranteed canonical, free elections, and free consecration by bishops; and promised to restore to German bishops all the lands and regalia (temporal powers) that he had taken away from them during the dispute. The emperor was to receive, in return, the right to invest the bishop elect with the symbol of his temporal office, a scepter, and the privileges to be present during elections and to decide disputed elections (in 'favor of the sounder party'). 

In essence, the Concordat of Worms was the German version of the English solution. The language was not as “feudal” as that of the Concordat of Worms. Rather than granting the king the right to take homage from newly elected bishops, Pope Calixtus II granted Emperor Henry V the right to invest bishops with their regalia, their temporal lands and powers delegated to them by the king. By implication, an emperor could also withhold the regalia, which would be a de facto vetoing of the election.  In practice  the concessions that allowed the emperor to confer regalia and to be present during and decide disputed episcopal elections meant that the emperor retained a dominant voice in the selection of German bishops. But, in terms of the central issue of the Investiture Controversy, the question of “lay investiture,” the reform papacy had won. From this point on, kings throughout Christendom could no longer claim to have the authority from God to invest bishops (and abbots) with their spiritual offices. The clergy, in this sense, had won independence from the laity. One might even see in this the beginnings of the separation of Church and State.


One practical result of the papal reform was the growth of papal government and business. The primary function of medieval rulers was organizing justice and pronouncing judgment; this was also to be true of the papacy. The age of Gregory initiates an age of intense ecclesiastical litigation, with papal courts (whether presided over by legates or in Rome itself) being the ultimate source of judgment. The legates served as itinerating justices; the Roman synod served as a supreme court for the church, as well as a council for the pope in which business was conducted. The papacy began to impose order and regulation on the practices within the church. With the creation of Gratian's Decretum (ca. 1140) and the collection of canon law, the papacy systematized and ordered the church, protecting parish priests from eviction and guaranteeing them a minimum income, defining and enforcing clerical discipline and lay moral behavior, defining religious duties, guaranteeing the sanctity of wills and testaments, etc.

Ecumenical Councils. Between 650 and 1000 there were only three ecumenical councils, two in Constantinople and one in Nicaea. Between 1123 (1st Lateran) and 1274 (2nd of Lyons) there were six ecumenical councils, all in the west. In addition there was an explosion of local legatine councils during this same period. In England there were 20 such councils between 1050 and 1300.

Papal bulls/letters. Papal letters were the most important instrument for the conduct of business. They were the mechanism for conveying orders, resolving disputes, issuing decisions on doctrine, etc. Here we see a steady increase in the issuance of letters over the period. Annual average of papal letters in first half of eleventh century was 1-10. Under Leo IX it rose to 35 and stayed at this level until 1130. Innocent II (1130-43) issued annually 72; 130 under Hadrian IV (1154-9), 179 under Alexander III (1159-81), 280 under Innocent III (1198-1215), 730 under Innocent IV (1243-54), and 3646 under John XXII (1316-24) (see Richard Southern, Western Society and the Church, p.109).

Papal justice. The 12th century was a period of litigation, both secular and ecclesiastical. Between 1140 and 1150 papal jurisdiction began to penetrate even the lowest levels of the church as a matter of routine; by 1150 the papal courts were overwhelmed with business. Popes complained about the press of business. Calixtus II (1119-24) commented that as Archbishop. of Vienne, everyone of note in his see was either a kinsmen, a neighbor or a vassal. Now as pope he found the glory of the papacy "a misery and tribulation. ... When I am in Rome I have as many lords as I have cardinals and as many masters as I have citizens." St. Bernard of Clairvaux in 1150 warned his protégé Eugenius III about allowing 'the pressure of business' to waste his time. It is little wonder that from the pontificate of Alexander III (1159) on popes tended to be chosen from among canon lawyers rather than monks (as they had been during the first half century of the Gregorian Reform).

The papacy became the final arbiter for all disputes between ecclesiastical bodies or persons, or between clerics and laity over property, rights, and penalties. To deal with the influx of business the popes began to create ad hoc committees of three local churchmen to hear and decide with the authority of the papacy. Still cases flowed to Rome, as the decisions of these local committees were appealed to Rome. A case over property that brought in less than 10 pounds a year could last for a generation and produce numerous hearings and dozens of letters from and to the pope. Every step of the process required the payment of money or gifts (or promises of future goodies) to secure the favor of the judges and patrons. The pouring of cash to smooth the waters produced a sense of cynicism revealed in a number of twelfth century satires, most notably the Gospel according to the Mark of Silver, in which the pope and his cardinals in a parody of Biblical language fleece the suitors who come to them



At that time, the Pope said to the Romans, "When the son of man comes to the seat of our majesty, first say, `Friend, why have you come?' But if he continues knocking without giving you anything, throw him out into the outer darkness." And it came to pass that a certain poor cleric came to the Curia of the Lord Pope and cried out, saying, "Do you, at least, have mercy on me, you doorkeepers of the Pope, for the hand of poverty has touched me. I am indeed needy and poor. Therefore, I beg you to come to my aid." But when they heard him they were exceeding angry, and they said, "Friend, you and your poverty can go to hell. Get thou behind me, Satan, because you do not smell of money. Amen, amen, I say to you, you shall not enter into the joy of your lord [the Pope] until you pay your last farthing." So the poor man went away and sold his coat and his shirt and everything he owned and gave it to the cardinals and doorkeepers and chamberlains. But they said, "What is this among so many?" They threw him out, and he went off weeping bitterly and inconsolably. Later on, a certain rich cleric came to the Curia. He was gross and fat and swollen, and had committed treacherous murder. He bribed first the doorkeeper, then the chamberlain, then the cardinals. But they put their heads together and demanded more. However, the Lord Pope heard that his cardinals and ministers had been lavishly bribed by the cleric, and he was sick even to death. So the rich man sent him medicine in the form of gold and silver, and straightway he was healed. The Lord pope summoned his cardinals and ministers and said to them, "Brethren, be vigilant lest anyone deceive you with empty words. My example I give unto you, that you might grab just as I grab." (Gospel according to the Mark of silver (c. 1160), from John BalnavesBernard of Morlaix)



The cynicism of the anonymous cleric who wrote the parody is palpable: "Blessed are the rich, for they shall be filled; blessed are they who have, for they shall not go away empty; blessed are the wealthy for theirs in the Court of Rome." The martyrs who mattered, according to these critics, were Albinus and Rufinus--pale silver and red gold, characters who first appear during the pontificate of Gregory VII. The age of 'O Roma Nobilis' was over. The irony here is overwhelming. The reform papacy had lost the prestige enjoyed by the secular popes of the tenth century. Even the Blessed Eugene III, a Cistercian monk, was to be condemned as a 'man of blood' by the radical reformer and papal critic Arnold of Brescia, who led a Roman communal movement reminiscent of the Milanese Patarini--formerly allies of the reform papacy--in its lay criticism of clerical morals and its repudiation of the temporal power of prelates.

In terms of episcopal and abbatial elections, the Investiture Controversy did not result in the removal of lay influence from the selection of bishops and abbots. Kings continued to have a decisive say in the matter, as the “election” of Thomas Becket as archbishop of Canterbury on the insistence of King Henry II in 1162 shows. (Henry II soon came to regret this choice.) King Henry II, citing ancient custom of the realm of England, insisted that free election of abbots was a privilege to be granted by the king, and even a 'free' election was subject to royal scrutiny, as evidenced by Jocelin of Brakelond's description of the election of Abbot Samson to the abbacy of Bury St Edmunds.  Unworthy men who were more adept at secular administration than in pastoral care still rose to the office of bishop. In some cases, unworthy men were elected bishop in full accordance with canon law. According to Guibert of Nogent, this happened in Laon in 1107 when the clergy of the diocese chose Gaudry, chancellor to King Henry I, to be there bishop because they believed him to be wealth. Gaudry, whom Guibert tells us was more comfortable with a lance under his arm than holding a crozier, alienated the townspeople of Laon by engineering the murder of a prominent and popular noble and by attempting to suppress their commune. The latter led to an uprising in which the bishop was murdered and the cathedral burnt. But the Investiture Controversy did produce significant changes in the episcopacy. By the end of the twelfth century the episcopacy had come firmly under the jurisdiction of the papacy. Abbots now tended to rise up from within the ranks of their monastery, as monks exercised their freedom of election to prevent their monasteries from being given under the rule of outsiders. The election of bishops by canons of the cathedral of the See, similarly, led to men of lesser nobility and wealth rising up through the ranks of the church to its highest offices. What was not settled--and was not to be settled in the Middle Ages--was the extent to which kings were subject to papal supervision, or, for that matter, popes and bishops to the authority of kings.


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----- Western Society and the Church in the Middle Ages. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin, 1970

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