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History of the Christian Church, Volume V: The Middle Ages. A.D. 1049-1294.
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§ 15. Gregory VII. and Henry IV.


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

This synod of 1075 forbade the king and all laymen having anything to do with the appointment of bishops or assuming the right of investiture.6666    This statement is based upon the authority of Arnulf of Milan. The decree itself is lost. See Mirbt, Publizistik, 492. Arnulf says, papa ... palam interdicit regi jus deinde habere aliquod in dandis episcopatibus omnesque laicas personas ab investituris ecclesiarum summovet.actising simony.6767    "Si quis deinceps episcopatum vel abbatiam de manu alicujus laicae personae susceperit, nullatenus inter Episcopos vel Abbates habeatur ...Si quis Imperatorum, Regum, Ducum, Marchionum, Comitum, vel quilibet saecularium potestatum aut personarum investituram episcopatus vel alicujus ecclesiasticae dignitatis dare praesumserit, ejusdem sententiae vinculo se adstrictum sciat." Pagi, Crit. ad ann. 1075, No. 2; Watterich, I. 365; Hefele, V. 47; Reg., VI. 5.

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

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

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

"Henry, king, not by usurpation, but by God’s holy ordinance, to Hildebrand, not pope, but a false monk. How darest thou, who hast won thy power through craft, flattery, bribery, and force, stretch forth thy hand against the Lord’s anointed, despising the precept of the true pope, St. Peter: ’Fear God, honor the king?’ Thou who dost not fear God, dishonorest me whom He has appointed. Condemned by the voice of all our bishops, quit the apostolic chair, and let another take it, who will preach the sound doctrine of St. Peter, and not do violence under the cloak of religion. I, Henry, by the grace of God, king, with all my bishops, say unto thee, Come down, come down!"6868    "Descende, descende." Bruno, De bello Saxonico, in Pertz, VII. 352 sq. There are several variations of the letter of Henry, but the tone of imperious defiance and violence is the same.

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

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

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

"Therefore, relying on this trust, for the honor and security of the Church, in the name of the Almighty Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, I do prohibit Henry, king, son of Henry the emperor, from ruling the kingdom of the Teutons and of Italy, because with unheard-of pride he has lifted himself up against thy Church; and I release all Christians from the oath of allegiance to him which they have taken, or shall take, and I forbid that any shall serve him as king. For it is fitting that he who will touch the dignity of the Church should lose his own. And inasmuch as he has despised obedience by associating with the excommunicate, by many deeds of iniquity, and by spurning the warnings which I have given him for his good, I bind him in the bands of anathema; that all nations of the earth may know that thou art Peter, and that upon thy rock the Son of the living God hath built His Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."6969    Bernried, Vita Greg., c. 68 sq. (in Migne, 148, p. 74); Jaffé, 223;Mirbt, Quellen, 100; Hefele, V. 70 sqq.

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

This was a most critical moment, and the signal for a deadly struggle between the two greatest potentates in Christendom. Never before had such a tremendous sentence been pronounced upon a crowned head. The deposition of Childeric by Pope Zacharias was only the sanction of the actual rule of Pepin. Gregory threatened also King Philip of France with deposition, but did not execute it. Now the heir of the crown of Charlemagne was declared an outlaw by the successor of the Galilean fisherman, and Europe accepted the decision. There were not wanting, indeed, voices of discontent and misgivings about the validity of a sentence which justified the breaking of a solemn oath. All conceded the papal right of excommunication, but not the right of deposition. If Henry had commanded the respect and love of his subjects, he might have defied Gregory. But the religious sentiment of the age sustained the pope, and was far less shocked by the papal excommunication and deposition of the king than by the royal deposition of the pope. It was never forgotten that the pope had crowned Charlemagne, and it seemed natural that his power to bestow implied his power to withhold or to take away.7070    The papal sentence against Henry made a profound impression upon Western Europe. Bonizo says, universus noster romanus orbis contemruit, postquam de banno regis ad aures personuit vulgi. See Mirbt, 139.

Gregory had not a moment’s doubt as to the justice of his act. He invited the faithful to pray, and did not neglect the dictates of worldly prudence. He strengthened his military force in Rome, and reopened negotiations with Robert Guiscard and Roger. In Northern Italy he had a powerful ally in Countess Matilda, who, by the recent death of her husband and her mother, had come into full possession of vast dominions, and furnished a bulwark against the discontented clergy and nobility of Lombardy and an invading army from Germany.7171    The excommunication of Henry in 1076 and again in 1080 called forth a controversial literature of some proportions, Mirbt, Publizistik, 134-239, as did Gregory’s attitude towards simony and clerical celibacy. The anti-Gregorians took the ground that the excommunication was unjust and even called in question the pope’s right to excommunicate a king. Gregory’s letters make reference to these objections. Writing to Hermann of Metz, Reg., IV. 2, Gregory said that there were some who openly declared that a king should not be excommunicated, regem non oportet excommunicari. Gregory justified his act on the ground of the king’s companionship with excommunicated persons, his refusal to offer repentance for crimes, and the rupture of the unity of the Church which resulted from the king’s course, Reg., IV. 1, etc. The Council of Tribur, Oct. 16, 1076, discussed the questions whether a pope might excommunicate a king and whether Gregory had acted justly in excommunicating Henry. It answered both questions in the affirmative. A hundred years after the event, Otto of Freising, Gesta Friderici, I., speaks of the sentence as unheard of before, quo numquam ante haec tempora hujusmodi sententiam in principem romanum promulgatam cognoverat.

When Henry received the tidings of the sentence of excommunication and deposition, he burst into a furious rage, abused Gregory as a hypocrite, heretic, murderer, perjurer, adulterer, and threatened to fling back the anathema upon his head. William, bishop of Utrecht, had no scruples in complying with the king’s wishes, and from the pulpit of his cathedral anathematized Gregory as "a perjured monk who had dared to lift up his head against the Lord’s anointed." Henry summoned a national council to Worms on Whitsunday (May 15) to protest against the attempt of Gregory to unite in one hand the two swords which God had separated.7272    Reg IV. 2; Migne, 148, 455. the popes, who claimed that God had given both swords to the Church,—the spiritual sword, to be borne by her; the temporal, to be wielded by the State for the Church, that is, in subjection and obedience to the Church.

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

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



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