Gregory VII, Pope
GREGORY VII, POPE
Pontificate: April 22, 1073, to May 25, 1085; b. Hildebrand, probably at Sovana (Tuscany) c. 1015; d. Salerno.
He became a monk, probably at S. Maria on the Aventine at Rome where he had relatives, and there he seems to have attracted the attention of the papal household in the Lateran palace—the household of St. Peter to whom he always professed an overriding loyalty. It is improbable that he was ever a monk at cluny, although its great abbot, hugh of semur (1049–1109), was his friend and confidant. In 1046 he accompanied gregory vi into exile, going to Cologne and then encountering the Lorraine circle of reformers. When Bp. Bruno of Toul in 1049 became Pope leo ix, he took to Rome with him a number of personally and morally outstanding churchmen; amongst them was Hildebrand, whom Leo made subdeacon and also economus (administrator) of the basilica of st. paul-outside-the-walls. From this time Hildebrand's activities multiplied both in Rome and more widely. In 1054, he presided as papal legate over the synod of tours which considered the eucharistic teaching of berengarius. Visits to Germany established a strong link with the Salian royal house. Hildebrand was concerned in the elections of nicholas ii in December 1058 and of alexander ii in 1061. Probably in 1059 he became archdeacon of the Roman church; in the same year he was present at Melfi when Nicholas concluded an alliance with the South Italian Normans. Under Alexander, Hildebrand seemed to many to be the power behind the papal throne. As his own register shows, his eventual election as pope was a tumultuous affair which bore no resemblance to the procedure envisaged in the papal election decree (1059); he was promoted by popular acclamation. The considerable delay before his consecration (he was ordained priest on May 22, 1073, and raised to the episcopate and to the full exercise of the papal office on June 30) had nothing to do with a wish to obtain confirmation of his election from the German king, henry iv, who had in fact incurred excommunication by association with counselors banned by Alexander II.; he postponed his consecration until the Sunday after the feast of St. Peter (June 29), thereby emphasizing his life-long devotion to the Prince of the Apostles.
The Program of Reform. Gregory took his papal name, and in many respects his vision of the papal office, from Pope gregory the great. Yet in him, a man of exceptional caliber, wisdom, vision, and single-mindedness ascended the throne of St. Peter (Gregory habitually referred to himself as vicar of St. Peter, never as vicar of Christ); in many respects he is unique among the popes, and with much justification has been called "the great innovator who stands alone" (E. Caspar). Such a preeminence is reflected in the style of his letters and decrees, many of which are preserved in his register but some only elsewhere (his epistolae vagante ). As W. Peitz showed and others have confirmed, the register is the original working record of the papal household; it is the earliest entire and contemporary papal register to survive, and many letters both in and outside it bear the marks of Gregory's personal dictation. His letters testify to the profoundly spiritual and religious motivation of his pontificate. In the spirit of Gregory the Great he aspired to preach the claims of Christianity to all peoples, near and far, and to revive the pristine fervor of a church in which the faith of its early years had become tarnished. Near the end of his life he declared that "I have above all sought that holy church, the bride of God and our mistress and mother, should return to her proper glory and should stand free, chaste, and catholic" (Ep. vag. 54).
In such terms, few popes have had so clear a vision of their duty and of their program; but much remained to be done in order both to establish and warrant assured principles of papal authority and to apply them in practice and reality. Gregory's thinking developed over the years. While archdeacon, he asked Cardinal peter damian to work through the decrees of ancient popes and to abstract and arrange systematically whatever seemed especially to bear upon the authority of the apostolic see. The 27 lapidary formulations of papal prerogatives inserted in the register in 1075 and headed Dictatus papae (II. 55a) are perhaps best understood as headings under which ancient canonical material might usefully be sought, deployed, and appraised. Progressively more assured and documented statements occur in the letters in which Gregory justified to Bp. Hermann of Metz his sentences of 1076 and 1080 against King Henry IV (Reg. IV.2, VIII.21). In the second letter especially, Gregory proclaimed the immeasurable superiority of the priestly dignity (sacerdotium ) over the kingly (regnum ) on account of the powers that they respectively exercised. He also drew a moral contrast between secular rulers as driven by human pride and religious popes made holy by the merits of St. Peter. Kings like bishops owed a duty of obedience to the pope as the upholder of a Christian righteousness (justicia ) which was the power and purpose of God in action upon a fallen world. The force of Gregory's thought led him, in the case of Henry IV, to deviate from his usual advocacy of strong and hereditary—and obedient— monarchy into an argument for election.
A necessary condition for the realization of Gregory's vision of a renewed church which should be "free, chaste, and catholic" was the moral purification of both clergy and laity. Especially at his Lent synods of 1074 and 1075, he reinforced the requirement that all clerks in major orders (subdeacons and above) should refrain from marriage and practice chastity (see celibacy, clericalhistory of). Laity were to marry only within the permitted degrees of kinship. (For Gregory, this was a safeguard of the vitality of princely lineages.) Upon clergy and laity alike, Gregory rigorously imposed a duty of refraining from simony (the buying and selling of orders and offices in the church); this was an aspect of Gregory's progressively intensified concern for "free" ecclesiastical elections, i.e. elections from which improper lay intervention was excluded. Such demands upon clergy and laity had been made during preceding pontificates, but especially in Germany and France Gregory's requirement of strict clerical chastity gave rise to anger and resistance.
The synods in the Lateran at which decrees for reform were often passed were held during Lent during most years of Gregory's pontificate, and occasionally also in the autumn. They were usually well attended by clergy and laity who experienced Gregory's reforming zeal first hand and their decrees were widely disseminated. If the Lateran synods brought many from throughout Latin Christendom to Gregory in Rome, an increased use of papal legates who represented the apostolic see brought its authority to bear in localities of Christendom. Gregory often dispatched legates, in pairs, to perform and report back on specific matters. Of especial usefulness to Gregory were the standing papal vicars who represented his authority in extensive areas for periods of years, especially Bp. hugh of die (later Abp. of Lyons) and Bp. Amatus of Oloron in France, Bp. anselm ii of lucca in Lombardy, and Bp. altmann of passau in South Germany; all were staunch Gregorians who did much to implement and commend Gregory's reforming purposes. As for archbishops, Gregory expected them normally to come to Rome for their pallium—the vestment which signified their participation in the pope's pastoral office. They were also expected to pay regular visits to Rome and thus to confirm their solidarity with papal purposes; when paid, such visits anticipated the ad limina journeys which later would become general practice. By such means as these Gregory sought to add effectiveness to his apostolic authority over the church.
Gregory and Henry IV of Germany. At the outset of his pontificate, Gregory wished to build upon his regard for the Salian royal family by training Henry IV not only for the royal but also for the imperial office; this was despite Henry's youthful peccadilloes and Alexander II's excommunication of his five counselors. But a major problem arose over filling the Lombard metropolitan see of Milan: when Henry nominated a royal candidate, the patarines of the city elected a rival whom the papacy warmly supported. At his Lent synod of 1075 and in the context of Milanese affairs, Gregory probably passed the first of his decrees against lay investiture, to which he had not hitherto in principle objected. Henry persisted with his establishment of bishops, not only at Milan, but at Fermo and Spoleto. Upon receiving a menacing rebuke from Gregory in December 1075 (Reg. III. 10), Henry sought to seize the initiative by summoning an assembly at Worms for the end of January 1076; an assembly of 26 bishops initiated a series of impassioned Henrician manifestos which denounced "the monk Hildebrand," calling for his deposition. Soon after, at his Lent synod, Gregory suspended Henry from the government of the Kingdom of Germany and Italy, absolving all Christians from their oaths to him and forbidding them to serve him; thereafter he excommunicated him. The falling away of his support in Germany compelled Henry to seek and receive absolution from Gregory at Canossa in January 1077, though Gregory did not consider that he had restored him to the exercise of the kingship. Matters were greatly complicated when, on March 15, 1077, without Gregory's permission, an assembly of German princes elected an antiking, Duke Rudolf of Swabia. In Germany there followed a complex period of civil war, propaganda, and negotiation. Gregory sought to act as arbitrator. His desired means was an assembly or colloquium over which he or his legate would preside; its aim would be to establish which of the rival kings divine righteousness favoured (cui parti magis justicia faveat ). However, by 1080, Gregory became convinced that by renewed disobedience Henry had revived the sentence of excommunication against himself. At his Lent council he himself excommunicated Henry and then took from him his whole kingdom and office; the reversal of order of the sentence and its intensification by comparison with 1076 should be noted. He proclaimed Rudolf of Swabia for his proven humility and obedience to be king of the Germans.
Henry's response came on June 25, 1080, when his synod of Brixen chose Abp. guibert of ravenna to be antipope; this betokened a papal schism. In an age that deemed the outcome of battle to be a judgement of God, it was a grave blow to Gregory when, on the following October 25, Rudolf of Swabia suffered mortal injuries in the battle of Hohenmölsen; it was some nine months before a new antiking was elected—the unimpressive Count Hermann of Salm. The upshot of the momentous events of 1080 was that from being a would-be arbiter in the settlement of the German kingdom Gregory became a protagonist: Gregory against Henry. Henry had learned some of the skills of kinship, and to a papal sacrality patronized by St. Peter, prince of the Apostles, he sought to oppose a royal sacrality under the yet more exalted patronage of Mary, Queen of Heaven. In a Germany racked by war and war-weariness, the rival parties contended by words and by arms with results that, by 1085, were not to Gregory's advantage—this despite a heroic effort by Cardinal-Bp. Odo of Ostia, later Pope urban ii, to rally the Gregorian cause. In 1081, 1082, and 1083–4, Henry undertook campaigns in Italy. In 1084, after the defection from Gregory of 12 or 13 cardinals, Henry entered Rome. He declared "Hildebrand" deposed; Guibert was acclaimed pope with the name Clement III, and on Easter Day (March 31) he crowned Henry as emperor. Gregory took refuge in the Castel Sant'Angelo whence he was rescued by the Norman duke Robert Guiscard. The Normans sacked the city so savagely that Gregory accompanied Guiscard home to Salerno where he spent his last months in active furtherance of his cause. His reported last words, "I have loved righteousness (justicia ) and hated iniquity, therefore I die in exile," are probably to be regarded as expressing, not bitterness and disillusion, but invincible confidence in the blessedness of those who suffer persecution for righteousness' sake (Mt 5.10).
France. The very large number of Gregory's letters that concern France testifies to its importance for him. Broadly, whereas in his dealings with Germany the demands of righteousness were emphasized, with France he gave fuller scope to restraint and to the exercise of apostolic mercy. Except for a tempestuous few months in 1074 when he canvassed the deposition of King philip i, he was conspicuously reticent about his shortcomings; he did not press such decrees as those concerning lay investiture, so that in France there was no "investiture controversy," let alone "contest." He was conspicuously sparing of French bishops. His patience with Abp. manasses i of reims before his eventual deposition in 1080 is remarkable. Accused bishops who appealed to Gregory at Rome found there a mercy that contrasted with the rigor of a legate like Hugh of Die; the effect was to commend Roman authority and to encourage direct recourse to it.
Other Regions. Gregory corresponded with most of the rulers of Christendom; besides the Norman princes of South Italy who were papal vassals, letters were sent to the Spanish kings and to kings of England and Ireland in the west, to the Scandinavian kings in the north, and in the east to rulers of Poland, Russia, Bohemia, Hungary, and lands across the Adriatic. Gregory sought to foster strong, hereditary dynasties which, in obedience to the papacy, built up the church and provided peace and justice for their subjects. He sought good relations with the emperors of Byzantium and the fostering of concord between the Eastern and Western Churches. In 1074, his projected military expedition to the East to defend Christian peoples against the savagery of the Seljuk Turks was part of a re-evaluation of Christian warfare which helped to prepare for the crusade. A somewhat different approach is apparent in Gregory's letters to a subject Christian community and to a well disposed Muslim ruler in North Africa.
Other Concerns. Gregory was zealous in promoting the defense, good order, and well-being of monasteries and monks whose intercessory and other services he valued. His relations were especially strong with monte cassino as a southern bastion of papal security (its great abbot, Desiderius, briefly succeeded him as Pope victor iii) and with Cluny as an exemplar of ecclesiastical liberty. Gregory's support of the hirsau reform was a major feature of his impact upon South Germany. Indirectly he was instrumental in promoting the carthusians, founded by bruno of cologne, who in 1084 started his first community near Grenoble. Of his many other concerns mention may particularly be made of liturgical matters. He defended and promoted the roman rite, especially against the mozarabic (Hispanic) usage in Spain. He permanently fixed the ember days for fasting throughout the Latin Church. He was influential with respect to the practice and understanding of penance.
Conclusion. Gregory undoubtedly ranks amongst the greatest popes of all time and makers of the Middle Ages, but in modern times, no less than his own, the most contrasting judgements have been passed on him. He is perhaps best regarded as a bridge figure between the outstanding popes of Christian antiquity whose pastoral and moral authority he aspired to renew and the papal monarchy of the central Middle Ages. His comprehensive view of Christendom and exploration of the prerogatives of the apostolic see effectively prepared the way in principle and in practice.
From his death until the Reformation, he was referred to surprisingly seldom in sources of all kinds, but in the sixteenth century interest revived amongst both Protestants and Catholics. His canonization, therefore, came slowly: in 1583, Pope Gregory XIII caused him to be included in the Roman Martyrology; in 1609, Pope Paul V authorized his commemoration at Salerno; in 1728, Pope Benedict XIV extended his feast to the whole Church.
Feast: May 25.
Bibliography: l. jaffÉ Regesta pontificum romanorum a condita ecclesia ad annum post Christum natum 1198 (Leipzig 1881–88) 1:594–649. e. caspar ed., Registrum Gregori VII Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Epistolae selectae, 2 (Berlin 1920–3), Eng. tr. h. e. j. cowdrey (2000). h. e. j. cowdrey ed. and tr., The Epistolae vagantes of Pope Gregory VII (1972). l. santifaller ed., Quellen und Forschungen zum Urkundenund Kanzleiwesen Papst Gregors VII, 1: Quellen: Urkunden. Regesten. Facsimilia (Studi e Testi 190). h. e. j. cowdrey Pope Gregory VII, 1073–1085 (Oxford 1998). i. s. robinson, The Papacy, 1073–1198 (Cambridge 1990) Studi gregoriani, ed. g. b. borino. w. ullmann, The Growth of Papal Government in Middle Ages: A Study in the Ideological Relation of Clerical to Lay Power 3d ed. (London 1970).
h. e. j. cowdrey]