Pageant of the Popes, by John Farrow, , at sacred-texts.com
Even yet the obstinate Romans were not subdued and though armies were lacking there remained subtler weapons. The wearisome narrative of bloodshed and violence must continue and as the last year of the tenth century ebbed it was stained by the murder of another Pope as Gregory succumbed in the convulsions of poison.
Disillusionment was mixed with his sorrow as the tearful Otto knelt beside the prostrate body. Gone now were the lofty dreams born of his idealism wherein youth, in the form of his cousin and himself, were to bring an era of harmony and hope to a united Empire. He realized that the next Pope must be a man not only of virtue but of worldly wisdom, one who could with equal clarity discern the deeds of saints or the plots of villains. With such thoughts in mind it was only natural that the Emperor should turn to his ex-teacher, Gerbert, Archbishop of Ravenna, for here was a prelate familiar with the intrigues of courts and yet a scholar of such ability as in an age of almost universal ignorance had earned for him a reputation for necromancy. The prodigious education of this remarkable man had begun in a Benedictine monastery at Aurillac, then schools in Spain and Italy and finally at
[paragraph continues] Rheims had fed a genius which excelled with an equal facility in the arts of literature, music, mathematics, and astronomy. At a time when bishoprics were reserved almost entirely for the kin of kings and nobles he had fought his way up from a humble birth to a position where the ailing Archbishop of Rheims had nominated him as his successor. Hugh Capet, King of France, had in turn objected, approved, and objected again, to this move, and there had been trouble for some years but now the Emperor, the boy whom he had dazzled with the glories of Charlemagne's dreams, was offering him the highest position of all. He accepted and was consecrated Pope with the style of Sylvester II. Fervour, ability, and severity characterized his efforts at reforming the clergy. "Sylvester, Bishop, Servant of the Servants of God," he wrote to one unruly bishop. "Be not astonished that you do not find at the head of our letter either greeting or apostolic benediction. Bearing the name of bishop, you have, by your misdeeds, ceased to be a man. If fidelity lifts a man up to God, treachery brings him down to the level of brutes." Schools were founded and favoured under his rule for he knew well the value of learning. "The just man liveth by faith" was his message to another prelate "but it is meet to join knowledge thereto." Kings received from him favors or rebukes as the occasion demanded. Stephen, ruler of Hungary, received the hereditary title of "Apostolic Majesty" but to the French King went a sentence of penance for his transgression of the matrimonial law.
Otto established residence in Rome and together he and the Pope talked of the future and of Charlemagne. The great dream would be realized and across the splendid conversations a prophecy of the Crusades would flit for Sylvester's vision was not confined to boundaries and he had plans to liberate the Holy Sepulchre. But before any
such schemes could be attempted Rome itself would have to be tamed for neither the learning and charm of the Pope, nor the force of the Emperor, had yet thawed the chill hostility of the Romans. The turbulent Marozian blood ran strong in two rival factions, headed by John Crescentius, son of the executed Patrician, and his cousins the Counts of Tusculum. Neither branch of the tempestuous and greedy family was lacking the ancestral ambitions, avarices, or audacity, and Otto was forced to give battle to their defiance at Tivoli. Finally even the gates of his palace in Rome were not inviolate against their insults and under such conditions it became increasingly evident to the young Prince that his plans would never grow to success. A melancholia gradually replaced his hopes and, abandoning his bright majestic mirages, he took to prayers and alms-giving and talked of entering a monastery. His spirit was gone and he died, only twenty-two years old, in the early Spring of 1003. The Marozian clan crowded nearer as the royal corpse was anointed by the sad Sylvester before being despatched across the Alps to its resting place alongside the great Charlemagne. The Pope was grief stricken but in three months he too was dead, and against these deaths, so close together, some historians have levelled suspicion and hinted of murder.
The Imperial title passed to Henry, duke of Bavaria, whose own troubles were to prevent him from coming to Italy for eleven years. John Crescentius, outwitting his cousins, assumed control of Rome and his influence secured the election of the next three popes. John XVII lived only six months after his consecration. Then came John XVIII, simple and pious, who devoted himself to bringing harmony to ecclesiastical affairs and whose soothing influence seems to have won Constantinople; for again the papal name appeared on the diptychs of that Church.
[paragraph continues] He was an earnest patron of the monastic institutions and indeed, preferring the simpler life, he abdicated in 1009 to enter the cloisters of St. Paul's near Rome. Sergius IV, who was the son of a Roman cobbler, was of the same mold as his predecessor and after earning a splendid reputation as a friend of the poor he died in the May of 1012.
Just a few weeks previous to his own death he had celebrated the funeral mass of his patron, John Crescentius, and then the stage was set for another unedifying contest as the Count of Tusculum presented one of his sons, Theophylact, as a candidate for the papacy. The Crescentii did not agree with their cousins and announced as their own choice a certain Gregory. Both branches of the ancient family could support their opinions by private armies and each conducted a separate election. Two Popes claimed the title and while the Crescentii held the city, the Tusculans prowled the provinces. It was an insufferable deadlock and the only way to solve it was by appeal to other authority. Henry II was now safely ensconced and once again couriers sped north to enlist Imperial support and sympathy. Henry, a wise and good ruler, gave his decision in favor of Theophylact who as Pope took the name of Benedict VIII. Victory for the Tusculans meant that the pretentions of Gregory were soon to be abandoned and the new Pope was left unhindered to his responsibilities. Although he owed his elevation to the efforts of his father he quickly proved it was to be his own will which would govern his policies. Peace in Italy and reform throughout the Church were the immediate goals of a vigorous energy.
In the Spring of 1014 Henry, defeating some troublesome clans en route, came to receive his crown and with it the Pope presented a significant and symbolical gift, a jewelled orb upon which was attached a cross. The Emperor passed the costly bauble to the monks at Cluny but
the hint was not lost; for with his aid, now tendered, Benedict was able to mass an army and completely defeat a Saracen force which had landed at Luni in Maremma. They were the best of friends and the Pope did not resent Henry's interest in ecclesiastical matters for the Emperor, no less than himself, was distressed at the sad discipline of the clergy and was desirous of ending a sorry state of affairs. Clerical incontinence was an all too familiar evil and with a view to stamping it out an important synod, held under both Imperial and Papal auspices, was convened at Pavia in 1022. This meeting was successful but the exalted partners had greater plans and talked of instituting a great reform throughout all Christendom. It was a laudable but tremendous scheme and careful preparation was needed for the morass of opposition was large and all encompassing. How could simony be abolished when it was the revenue of powerful rulers and how could a married clergy be purged back to chastity when wives dwelt openly and contentedly in many an episcopal palace? Undaunted the Pope and the Emperor set to work but the world was large and their time was short. Two years after Pavia both men, and, alas, their schemes with them, were in their graves.
While Benedict had occupied his time with lofty projects the mundane affairs of the Papal States had been directed by his brother, Romanus, who as he quickly changed from lay to clerical state managed the next election with such dexterity that he was declared Pope with the name of John XIX. With him came a revival of the old abuses and simony flourished again. He held lavish court and with generous gifts, in the manner of the ancient Caesars, kept the good-will of the Roman mobs and with magnificent hospitality entertained Kings or their Ambassadors. Pageantry and splendor enveloped the
ancient city when the new Emperor, Conrad, accompanied by two Kings, Canute of England and Rudolph of Burgundy, arrived for the Imperial coronation in 1027. Sorely taxed were the papal coffers by extravagances; and when envoys, laden with valuable presents and richer promises, arrived from the Byzantine Emperor, Basil II, with suggestions that the Pope should agree that the rule of all the Oriental Churches be under Constantinople, John was inclined to give his sanction. The proposals had been made in secret but somehow the news leaked out and an uproar came from the clergy. One alarmed Abbot wrote "It is a wholly unjustifiable presumption on the part of the Greeks to have claimed the privilege which, it is said, they wished to obtain from you. We beseech you to show greater firmness in correcting abuses and maintaining discipline in the bosom of the Catholic and Apostolic Church." The gifts were hastily rejected and in Constantinople the frustrated Basil had the papal name again erased from the diptychs of the churches. John seems to have been the first pope to have granted indulgences in return for alms bestowed; but offsetting this revenue he abolished the taxes that hitherto under the guise of customs duties had been levied on Danish and English pilgrims. He called together several synods but their fruit was unimportant. Verbose decisions were made concerning the precedence of powerful prelates whilst the splendid ambitions of his dead brother were forgotten.
But although scandals continued and grew and remained unchided from the Lateran the domestic bliss of many a cleric was now being disturbed by the sudden appearance outside his windows of stern-eyed and loud-voiced monks who did not allow any similarity of calling to stifle their accusations or horror. These good men were militantly on the march and at Cluny was their inspiration
in a succession of Abbots renowned for virtue and austerity. That these influences as yet counted for little in Rome was evidenced by the selection of the next Pope, Benedict IX. His name had been Theophylact and he was the nephew of his two predecessors so it can be seen that the Tusculans were still in control. Various historians have claimed Benedict's age at his election to have been anywhere from ten to twenty. Whatever it was does not matter; for he soon proved himself as capable in crime as any veteran of vice and to be as lacking in discretion as the most foolish of adolescents. Together with his brother Gregory, who bore the rank of Prefect, the youthful bandit inflicted on Rome a series of misconducts until in angry desperation the citizens allowed themselves to be incited by his family rivals, the Crescentii, into a revolt which at first seemed successful. Benedict was driven from Rome and the opposite party declared a new Pope in the person of Sylvester III who had been John, Bishop of Sabina. But the Tusculans were quick to rally and soon their troops expelled the usurper and restored the capricious young villain to the Lateran.
Their loyalty was repaid only four months later by the supreme simony of all timethe papal office was sold! For a large amount of money Benedict resigned and attempted to convey the Apostolic Succession to John Gratian, Archpriest of the church of St. John at the Latin Gate. Here was a situation to stun canonists for there was no law to vitiate such a transaction. Actually the practical minded citizens of Rome sighed with relief at the new accession for John Gratian, now taking the name of Gregory VI, was a pious and good man who, along with many others, had been appalled and shocked by the misdeeds of Benedict. Disdaining such means, so common to the age, as the dagger or poison he had resorted to gold
to remove the criminal presence before further chaos ensued. Once installed he began reform and to assist he called from his monastery a zealous and clever Benedictine named Hildebrand. Their labors were promptly obstructed by the reappearance of the anti-Pope Sylvester who backed by the Crescentii loudly called upon the faithful to deliver homage to him as the true Pope. To complicate matters further Benedict whose word was as doubtful as his morals decided to revoke his resignation and, surrounded by Tusculan retainers, loftily announced that of course his had been the only valid consecration. The truly pious gathered in alarm around Gregory and begged him as their only hope for order to stay firm.
This he did and thus three Popes, each guarded by his soldiery, held court in a city whose lawless streets were now not thoroughfares but skirmishing grounds for ruffians and brigands. It was the year 1045 and once again history was repeated as a German Emperor, now Henry III, marched south to take command and bring discipline to the Roman scene. With alacrity Gregory accepted the Emperor's suggestion to convene a synod and at Sutri the Fathers assembled against a background of German spears. Sylvester was quickly judged, deposed, and conveyed to a monastery. Attention turned to Gregory who gracefully admitting his own consecration to have been a "shameful and demoniacal heresy" witnessed with signature a decree of his invalidity and was then, accompanied by his faithful secretary Hildebrand, taken to Germany as a state prisoner. Benedict was now ordered to appear and answer for his crimes. And when he refused to attend or recognize the authority of the synod and retreated to wait and brood behind the impregnable walls of the family fortress at Tusculum he was, amidst the solemnity of a ceremonial at St. Peter's, ordered deposed. To the dismay of the jealous
[paragraph continues] Romans who, no matter how villainous a native-born pontiff might be, could seldom stomach the idea of a foreigner, the German bishop, Suidger of Bamberg, now took possession of the Sacred Chair as Clement II. His first act was to crown his Emperor and Empress and sullenly the Roman nobles and their retinues thronged to St. Peter's to listen while northern accents echoed about the High Altar.
In the same dangerous mood the same audience watched Clement give his farewell blessing to Henry as the latter departed for Germany. The Pope was left with a bodyguard of his countrymen; tall, yellow-haired men who had no liking for the prospects of an exile to be spent amidst the sultriness of the approaching Italian summer. These simple northerners were skilled and faithful warriors but fidelity and adept sword play were to prove equally useless against the devices of Roman cunning. From his bulwarked fastness the waiting Benedict watched and commanded, and soon the German Pope was writhing in the tortures of a fatal and obscure poison. Flanked by the troops of the Marquis of Tuscany Benedict swept into Rome, drove out the small German garrison, and once again held possession of the Lateran. There he remained until, nine months later, the Emperor, who had been busy elsewhere, was able to send an expedition sufficiently large to dislodge him. Accompanying this army was the Bishop of Brixen who proudly took the title of Pope Damasus II; an appellation with which he was fated never to become familiar. His sentence was already written in the resentful glare of the mobs that his bodyguards were thrusting back with stern commands and bared steel. Despite the most elaborate precautionsGerman swords were waved at every passing shadow near the papal residence and in the kitchens the most intricate care was taken against poison
[paragraph continues] he was dead within three weeks and an unsurprised Roman clergy were solemnly arranging his funeral. The Emperor received the news with an anger that stiffened his determination. A German must preside as Pontiff.
This time his choice fell on the royal born Bruno, Bishop of Toul. Rome would be no novelty for this pious and courageous cleric who had been there as a simple pilgrim and also as a commander of cavalry with the Emperor Conrad's expedition in 1027. Soldier prelates were no rarity in the Middle Ages but Bruno was also possessed of the talents which make for a successful diplomat. Before accepting the dangerous honor he insisted the Roman clergy should be unanimous in the approval of him and when he made his journey south he took as his adviser the monk named Hildebrand, the same who had been the assistant and friend of John Gratian. Guided by the monk's wisdom Bruno did not enter Rome with the pomp of a great prelate or the splendor of a German prince but instead came as an ordinary pilgrim, barefooted and humble alike in garment and manner. The lack of display did not rob but rather enhanced his imposing appearance for. he was a tall, straight-backed, fair-haired man of vigorous middle age. Nor were his companions vain and quarrelsome nobles. They were devout churchmen and the Romans, displaying less surliness than was their wont, offered no objections when his new name was announced as being Leo IX. That his humility was no subterfuge was evidenced throughout the term of this third German pontiff. The influence of Cluny chastened the Lateran atmosphere and with Hildebrand at his elbow Leo, employing a thoroughness born of military skill and experience, set out to convey the spirit of reform throughout the Church. He ruled five years and was incessantly busy; for in addition to those enormous ecclesiastical problems his ambitions
challenged there were to annoy him the temporal affairs of the Papal States which were in a deplorable condition. And there was war too. The depredations of the Normans in southern Italy, in 1053, forced him to engage them but his troops were outnumbered and, despite great valor, defeated. But not their General. He was taken prisoner and in one of those incidents, bright with honor and kindness and so rare in history, the Normans impressed by the virtues and station of the illustrious captive, fell on their knees and declared themselves to be henceforth his soldiers.
Never dormant were his energies against the seemingly insurmountable and gigantic evils of simony and lay investiture. A series of councils were convened and directed against corrupt clergy and their decrees were conveyed in person by the Pope himself in journeys that took him throughout Germany and on to Rheims where he met "Spaniards, Bretons, Franks, Irish and the English." He charmed and swayed and directed the actions of their rulers; forbidding the marriage of William (soon to be the Conqueror) to Matilda of Flanders but sending friendly letters to Edward the Confessor of England (whose piety produced a generosity that resulted in the erection of Westminster Abbey). Hungary's monarch asked for advice, and to Rome begging for the soothing words of absolution came the King of Scotland, Macbeth, the same whom Shakespeare was to immortalize. But this heavy traffic with Western royalties did not awe the Patriarch of Jerusalem who, adhering to the teachings of Photius, chose at this time to declare all Latin Catholics to be heretics. Latin Churches in the East were closed and their bewildered and frightened congregations hastily made report to Rome. As the altercation was carried to its height Leo was seized by a serious illness and, his exhausted frame offering no resistance, he died amidst a general and sincere
lamentation during the April of 1054. But his will persisted from the grave and on the July following, his legates the Cardinals Humbert and Frederick, in whom he had invested full authority, formally excommunicated the Byzantine Patriarch and all who remained his adherents. Thus the Eastern Church was definitely severed from Rome.
For almost a year after Leo's death there was no Pope. The mood of Rome grew heavy with unrest and anxiety and it was only the delicate diplomacy of Hildebrand that stayed hot tempers from breeding rash actions. It was his caution which restrained the impulsive Roman nobles from staging hasty "elections" before the Emperor had chance to nominate a German candidate. There were not lacking many who declared that the wise monk himself should be Pope but the very virtues which excited their admiration were the same that made him hastily and emphatically discourage their proposals. Personal ambitions played little part in Hildebrand's actions and with history to guide him he saw that in the interests of peace a German should occupy the Papal throne. With rare unselfishness he set out to win the goodwill of the Romans for Gebhard, Bishop of Eichstatt, and in September at Mainz the Emperor met a Roman delegation and it was agreed Gebhard should be Pope. To their surprise their choice refused to accept the honor unlessand here again we discern the hand of Hildebrandthe Emperor guaranteed to restore the duchies of Spoleto and Camerino and also to send troops sufficient to repel the Norman invasions. This last condition was not easy for the German ruler to grant; for now, to bar his soldiers from access to Italy, were the newly consolidated territories of the war-like and hostile Godfrey of Lorraine who had strengthened his position and augmented his power by marrying the widow of the Marquis of Tuscany. The negotiations continued for
months but finally the Emperor acceded to Gebhard's demandssomething he most certainly would not have done with an Italian candidateand the new Pope was formally installed in Rome on the 17th day of April 1055. Victor II was the name he chose and he kept it bright with zeal and honor in a pontificate that endured for the next two years and which continued the policies of Leo and the plans of Hildebrand.
A year after his election Victor was summoned to the death bed of the Emperor and against that gloomy and dramatic background he was, at the dying sovereign's request, made guardian of the six year old princeling, Henry IV, and appointed Regent of Germany. The Emperor died and the Pope was left with heavy responsibilities. He met them well. First he safeguarded the Imperial succession by solemnly crowning and enthroning the Boy-Emperor, then he transferred the regency to the child's mother who was surrounded by a court of loyal and strong vassals. His attention now turned to Godfrey of Lorraine, the late Emperor's enemy, who might be expected to cause trouble. The Pope journeyed south, met this Prince and won him to peace. Alas, he was not destined to enjoy the sweets of his triumph for long. In the hot midsummer of the following year he died suddenly whilst settling a dispute between the bishops of Arenno and Siena.
Who was to be the next Pope? The present Emperor was but a child and his office controlled by an unambitious woman. The German shadow rested but lightly on Rome where there was a sudden stirring amongst old families. Swords were counted as Crescentii and Tusculans took hope again and had it not been for the capable actions of the resolute and incorruptible Hildebrand there would undoubtedly have been a repetition of the old regime of anarchy. Once again we read of his discouraging his own
enthusiastic supporters and swinging their allegiance to a candidate who could steady the Papal throne with the support of a powerful prince and who at the same time would bring no disgrace to the high station. His choice was Cardinal Frederick, cousin of Pope Leo IX, and brother of Godfrey of Lorraine, now the strongest ruler in Italy. Despite his high birth Frederick had proved by long service his ability as a cleric. He had been the Papal librarian and it was he, along with Cardinal Humbert, who had headed the historic embassy to Constantinople at the end of Leo IX's reign. He assumed the style of Stephen X and was consecrated during the August of 1057.
One of his first acts was to dispatch Hildebrand on a mission that had a dual purpose; he was to visit the German court and win the good will of the Emperor-Regent, and he was then to campaign throughout Germany and France on a crusade against the stubborn evils of simony. Reform was still the determined Papal goal but some comprehension of the obstacles greeting the efforts of the reformers can be gleaned from the events which now took place. With Hildebrand across the Alps and only eight months after Stephen's installation the Papal throne became empty again. Some said it was poison, and whether the whispers were true or not the dying Pope was sufficiently apprehensive of what might happen after his death to beg, with his last breath, that there should be no election until after the return of Hildebrand. He died and his wishes were ignored. The suspicion that his end bore the stain of murder was strengthened by the unseemly haste with which the old factions now moved to present their candidates. The Counts of Tusculum were, by a great show of arms and liberal donations of liquor to the fickle mobs, successful with their protégé John Mincius, Bishop
of Villetri, who now took the highly significant name of Benedict X. And, while such worthy prelates as Cardinals Humbert and Peter Damien publicly and courageously but fruitlessly voiced objections, he was installed on the fifth of April 1058.
Unhappy and miserable must have been the mood of the absent Hildebrand when the news reached him. A puppet Pope had been proclaimed to the world and Tusculan soldiers, with the firm tread of possessors, were striding the streets of Rome. But, unhappy as he was at these facts, Hildebrand was neither daunted nor intimidated. Despair at the seeming collapse of his reforms was no brake to his energies. Rather it acted as a spur to his indomitable will for resourcefully he turned to the German court and successfully pleaded for support. The aid of Godfrey of Lorraine was also won and so with a mixed army behind him the zealous monk marched on Rome. At Sutri, under his auspices, an election was held and chosen to bear the supreme but dangerous honor was Gerard, Bishop of Florence. Rome was then invaded and the Tusculan dispossessed. The anti-Pope fled and Gerard was canonically installed amidst the cheers of the relieved citizens. This Pope took the name of Nicholas II and ruled well until his death eighteen months later. The most important act of his reign was the promulgation of a new electoral law. Guarding against the abuses which had preceded his own elevation Nicholas assembled some hundred and thirteen important prelates who formulated the Constitution on the Election of the Sovereign Pontiff which amongst other resolutions, provided that: The election is to take place in Rome; but if for some reason it cannot be held there, the electors may repair elsewhere. The candidate must be a member of the Roman clergy, if there is a suitable one; if not, the electors must look elsewhere
for one. The Cardinal-bishops, that is, the bishops of certain sees close to Rome, take the lead by choosing a candidate after which the other Cardinals are called in to vote. The rest of the Roman clergy and people are then given the opportunity to express their consent by acclamation. King Henry of Germany, the future Emperor, and those of his successors who shall have obtained this privilege personally from the Apostolic See, shall be asked to confirm the election.
It is important to grasp what the Cardinals were and why they chose the Bishop of Rome. From the late fifth century the term was applied to the senior priest of each of the Churches of the city of Rome, also to the deacons in charge of the seven regions into which for various administrative purposes Rome was divided, and later to the bishops of the Sees adjacent to Rome. The Cardinals really were in that sense the local clergy of Rome, to whom it naturally fell to elect the Bishop of Rome. Later the title of Cardinal was given to distinguished Churchmen resident in various parts of the world. With the title, they were made titular priests of this or that Roman church, thus members of the clergy of Rome. It is as such that these foreign Cardinals too take part in the election of the Bishop of Rome. A Cardinal is called Cardinal Bishop, Cardinal Priest or Cardinal Deacon according to the See near Rome or church in Rome to which he is appointed.
The new law was a determined effort of the Church to free the Papal elections from lay influences; a fact instantly perceived by both the German court and interested Italian factions. There was a loud outcry from these sources and it seemed perhaps that the new regulations had rashly deprived the Papacy of all temporal protection, and therefore it would be at the mercy of and subject to the whims of any tyrant who might wish to invade Rome.
[paragraph continues] But Hildebrand had foreseen this situation and guided by him the Pope made a treaty with those Normans who were strongly ensconced in their own colony in southern Italy. In return for various privileges of recognition their Duke, Richard Guiscard, promised to provide an army of protection for the Holy See and to guarantee the freedom of the Papal elections. When the news of the treaty was made known the anti-Pope Benedict who had been persisting in his claims while hiding in one of the Tusculan retreats now made his formal submission to the real Pope. Nicholas died in the summer of 1061 at Florence and as Hildebrand assembled the Cardinal-bishops to select his successor a curious thing happened. The Roman nobles, frustrated in their schemes and prevented from violence by the presence of the Normans, sent emissaries to the German court where they had no trouble in arousing indignation and resentment at the exercise of the new electoral law. But while the smooth-tongued Italians were inciting the suspicious of the credulous and often foolish Empress Regent the Cardinals at Rome, free from temporal influences, quickly and unanimously elected the austere Bishop of Lucca, Anselm, who became Pope Alexander II.
The news, as the constitution provided, was then sent to Germany where it was received with scorn and anger. Indeed, the royal widow, firmly convinced that the Imperial prerogatives had been encroached upon, assembled a group of intimidated and political-minded churchmen who obediently declared a new pontiff in the person of the Bishop of Palma. This man, by no accident, was the candidate advanced by the Italian nobility; and when the boy Emperor, Henry IV, under the prompting of his mother and amidst the smiles of the Italians, ratified the "election," he took the name of Honorius II. An army escorted his person and pretentions to Rome and it appeared
for a while as though success was with him. His troops defeated the Normans and took possession of St. Peter's. Dismal indeed was the outlook for Alexander until help came from Godfrey of Lorraine who was jealous of German intrusion in Italy. Finally the sad spectacle of two claimants attempting to administer the Church was solved by the seizure from the Empress of the Imperial Regency by the Archbishop of Cologne. This stern prelate, Hanno by name, with his German prejudices, had little sympathy for the Norman alliance with the Papacy but there could be no doubt as to the legitimacy of Alexander's election. At the suggestion of Peter Damien, Hanno convened a general council which after deliberation acknowledged the true Pope and condemned the contender. Thus ended the stormy circumstances that arose from the first effort to exercise the new electoral regulations.
The troubles of inauguration did not prevent the twelve year pontificate of Alexander II from becoming a splendid record of unremitting reform and courage. The Pope was well endowed with this latter virtue and fearlessly he deposed powerful ecclesiastics who had the protection of rulers but had acquired their rank by simoniacal means.
When the young Emperor on reaching manhood showed disposition to be a libertine he was suitably reproved and his request for a divorce sternly rejected. To William, Duke of Normandy, a Prince of far different nature, about to embark on his historic invasion of England, he sent, as a token of his regard, a consecrated banner. Harold, William's enemy, had accepted the authority of Stigand, Archbishop of Canterbury, who was regarded by Rome as being a schismatic; for, after receiving the pallium from Benedict X, this prelate had never since bowed to the rule of the lawful Pope.
Standing by and serving Alexander during his twelve-year
term with the same genius and fidelity he had given the previous pontiffs was Hildebrand, now Chancellor of the Apostolic See. For twenty years the inspired monk had been the outstanding figure in the ecclesiastical world. Physically he was puny and sickly, small of stature and wan of face, but the frailness of a vessel is not indicative of the strength of its contents. To that august station which he had so assiduously avoided he had helped direct far healthier men than himself and had outlived them all. Some men in history have been given the title of kingmaker but the humble monk was even more than that, and when Pope Alexander died on the twenty-first of April 1073, it must have been with heavy heart that his friend Hildebrand pondered on the problem of succession as he labored over the burial arrangements. But for the people and clergy of Rome there was no problem. For them there was only one candidate and as the Chancellor turned from Alexander's tomb on the day of the funeral he was startled and horrified to hear on every side a steady chant "Let Hildebrand be Pope!" "Blessed Peter has chosen Hildebrand!" "Let Hildebrand be Pope!"
There could be no evasion this time. Both clergy and people were overwhelmingly insistent and the Cardinals voted accordingly. The reluctant Hildebrand, who up to this time had deemed himself worthy only to hold the minor orders of the priesthood, was fully ordained and a few weeks later consecrated Bishop of Rome. He took the name of Gregory VII and following the directions of the electoral regulations he hastened to inform the profligate Henry IV of his elevation. In this same communication he warned the young Emperor, whose court was fast becoming infamous as a market for simony, that his policy would be even more stern than had been those of his predecessors. It was a bold letter but Henry seemed
to bear no resentment and answered as a dutiful son, admitting error and swearing repentance.
The new Pope surveyed his problems and found them many and grave. Past popes had issued decrees of reform and the monastic elements had worked unceasingly but that which they opposed remained undislodged and undefeated. Two years after his election found the depressed Pontiff writing to his friend, Hugh, Abbot of Cluny: "Wherever I turn my eyesto the west, to the north, or to the southI find everywhere Bishops who have obtained their office in an irregular way, whose lives and conversation are strangely at variance with their sacred calling; who go through their duties not for the love of Christ but for motives of worldly gain. There are no longer Princes who set God's honor before their own selfish ends, or who allow justice to stand in the way of their ambitions. . ."
Beyond the scenes of these vexations he had lofty plans for once again uniting Christendom by restoring peace between the Eastern and Western Churches and he also harbored ambitions to commence a crusade and free from the Mohammedan yoke the site of the Holy Sepulchre. But beyond the preliminary stages of the splendid schemes he could not advance because of the evils that flourished so near to Rome, evils that kept his wits and energies occupied to their fullest capacity. Finally he saw that it was useless to thunder against erring ecclesiastics when they had the protection and encouragement of rulers. There was only one weapon that he could use effectively against the latter class and that was the sentence of excommunication. This he promised to do whilst addressing a Roman synod in 1075: "Whoever in the future receives a bishopric or an abbacy from the hands of a layman, shall not be regarded as a bishop or an abbot. Similarly if an Emperor,
a duke, a marquis, or a count dares to confer an investiture in connection with a bishopric or any other ecclesiastical office, he shall be cut off from the communion of Blessed Peter."
The warning was received in Germany with sullenness and opposition by a well-beneficed and incontinent clergy and with rage by Henry, who chose to regard it as a direct insult to the Imperial Majesty of his person. There was no mistaking the direct words of rebuke for there was only one Emperor and despite his previous letter, so filial and submissive to the Pope, he deemed the practice of lay investiture to be one of his inherited privileges. We have already seen this matter of investiture as troubling the Popes. It had become very much the custom within the Empire that on the death of a bishop or abbot, the Emperor should appoint his successor and bestow on him the ring and staff of office. It was obviously unfitting that the lay power should appoint to spiritual office, yet one can see the Emperor's point of view. Bishops of important sees (more so in the Empire than in the rest of Christendom) and the abbots of rich monasteries were of a necessity great temporal lords. In the feudal system their territories were of vital economic and military importance. It was unthinkable, reasoned Henry, for the bestowal of such powerful offices not to be vested in him who was the highest temporal authority. To counter the threat of excommunication he invoked at Worms a convention of German bishops, all of whom were linked by feudal ties, and most of whom were married. Their defence in this respect was that the laws enjoining celibacy had no basis in scriptural teachings. They quoted St. Paul that "It is better to marry than to burn" and "It behoveth therefore a bishop to be blameless, the husband of one wife." Clergy of this type declared they were men, not the angels that
[paragraph continues] Gregory's standards required, and to emphasize their opinion they treated his legates with open and oft times dangerous hostility. With such a spirit animating high prelates revolt against Rome flared fiercely and spread quickly. The Archbishop of Rouen whilst trying to enforce celibacy among his clergy was stoned and forced to flee, while the Abbot of Pontoise was for the same reason hurled into prison and threatened with death. Such was the respect shown to Gregory's commands! But not even content with this brand of lawlessness the Emperor's churchmen at Worms brought a series of absurd and outrageous charges against the Pontiff and then proceeded to "depose" him. To Gregory came a preposterous message: "Henry, king, not by usurpation but by the will of God, to Hildebrand who is no longer pope but a false monk. Having been condemned by the sentence of our bishops and by our sentence, vacate the place which you have usurped."
At the Lateran Gregory calmly read the outrageous missive to the assembled Roman clergy and the next morning made his effective reply: "Hearken, O Blessed Peter. . . . In thy place, and by thy favor, God has given me authority to bind and to loose upon earth. Wherefore, filled with this confidence, for the honor and defence of thy Church, in the name of God Almighty, by thy power and thy authority, I deprive Henry the king, son of Henry the Emperor, who with unheard of pride has risen against thy Church, of all authority in the kingdom of the Teutons and in Italy. I release all Christians from their oaths of fidelity sworn to him or that they shall swear to him. I forbid any person to do him any of the service due to kings. . . . I bind him with the chain of anathema. . . ."
The sentence was as formidable as it was unprecedented and it served its purpose well. The potent words from the
[paragraph continues] Vatican were to defeat the presumptuous monarch far more quickly and more completely than any army would have done. In the dangerously balanced feudal structure that was Germany, the Papal decree was an excellent and timely pretext for secession by many of the Imperial vassals who already were disgusted with a corrupt reign. Tumult and dissension swept through the land like fire through dry timber and even those Churchmen who had behaved so basely at Worms now quickly changed their minds and policies. Suddenly the alarmed Henry found himself without friends or allies, without authority or even a court, and surrounded by menacing princes who threatened to depose him.
It was obvious that there was only one person who could save him his precarious position and to that source of mercy, the Pope whom he had so lately and so arrogantly reviled, he now turned. Although it was harsh winter he commenced the arduous journey south, accompanied only by his wife and child and one servant. His goal was the castle of Canossa where Gregory was in residence as the guest of Mathilde, Countess of Tuscany. The once proud Emperor arrived outside the walls of the fortress on the morning of January 25, 1077. There he sought entrance not as a consecrated monarch but as a penitent pilgrim, barefooted, clad wretchedly, speaking lowly, and weeping copiously. For three days his tears fell in the snow and his wails drifted up to the turreted battlements. Perhaps he was playing the hypocrite. Later events certainly support that theory and Gregory, with his vast understanding of human nature, must have allowed such suspicion to visit his mind. But Gregory was also a priest and the charity of his vocation triumphed over the cynicism which might have been expected of so astute a diplomatist. Finally he succumbed to the entreaties and re-admitted
the wailing sovereign to the communion of the Church. Absolution was given on condition that Henry should, on his return to Germany, perform no act of Government until he had appeared before and appeased a Diet of those princes who had harbored charges against him.
The papal act of mercy was ill received in Germany and Henry's return was viewed with well founded suspicion. Surely enough he broke his pledges and avoided the Diet. These exasperated princes considered such duplicity to be abdication and elected Duke Rudolph of Swabia to his place. But another party, swayed by extravagant promises, rallied to the sovereign and soon a savage civil war was in progress. Gregory was forced to remain neutral and his efforts to effect a peace only served to make him unpopular with both sides. Eventually the persistent villainies of Henry made further papal neutrality impossible and the sentence of excommunication was once again pronounced. This time Henry was not intimidated. In the civil war his troops were gathering victory after victory and this circumstance was sufficient to ensure him of the good will of those odious and conscienceless feudatory churchmen who once before had so brazenly supported his antipapal scheme. At Brixen, in 1080, these creatures assembled and with a great showing of the pomp of their rank but with little evidence of honor they announced that henceforth Guibert, the excommunicated and simoniacal Archbishop of Ravenna, was to be called Pope under the title of Clement III. The fortunes of war continued to favor Henry. His rival, Rudolph, was defeated and mortally wounded and the Emperor, who had never forgotten the humiliation of Canossa, prepared his revenge. His triumphant armies began the long march south to storm Rome and capture the Pope. But it was three years before they finally forced entrance to the city and by that time
the pontiff was behind the impregnable walls of Saint Angelo. With a typical and blatant treachery Henry now tried to negotiate, even promising to deliver as a prisoner his protégé, the anti-pope, if his demands were met. For answer came a re-affirmation of his sentence of excommunication. Angrily he turned back to Rome and there solaced his disappointment by having his puppet crown him Emperor. But not for long was the royal criminal to enjoy the city for to avenge the Pope came the Norman, Robert Guiscard, with six thousand knights and thirty thousand foot soldiers, many of whom were Saracens. Henry fled and the rescuers took possession, bringing back Gregory in triumphant procession.
Once again the Pope held the Lateran but it was only to be for a brief and unhappy tenure. Fighting soon broke out between the Roman citizens and the hot blooded Normans. Cavalry charged the streets and ancient residences were put to the torch. Rapine and bloodshed plunged the city into chaos and the unhappy pontiff was forced to retreat to a monastery. The peace so long denied to him then approached. In the pangs of his constant illness and disappointments he had often cried. "Lord, take me away from this world. Make no long delay." At last his wishes were heeded and on the 25th May, 1085, the frail and pain-wracked frame reached its final exhaustion. Near his death the great champion wrote: "I have loved justice and hated iniquity, therefore, I die in exile." And one of his Cardinals wrote back in splendid answer, "In exile, Holy Father, thou canst not die; behold I have given thee the heathen for thine inheritance and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession."
Two years went by before there was another Pope and because of this procrastination there was confusion. It took a full year before the fancies of the Cardinals could
unite in a choice and it took as much time again before Victor III could be persuaded to accept consecration. His name had been Desiderius and he was noble by birth and nature. As a young man his family had shown a violent opposition when he had announced his vocation for a monastic career. But the cloisters did not hide his ability as a scholar or leader and for thirty successful years he presided as Abbot of Monte Cassino. The world outside his walls held no allure for him and it was with trepidation and reluctance that he finally bowed to persuasion and accepted the supreme honor. When the pretender Clement III promptly contested his election and appeared outside Rome with an army of mercenaries, the new pontiff sped back to his monastery with a celerity that evidenced little regret. These events happened quietly, for Victor was an old and sick man and only survived his installation by four months.
A friend of Gregory VII and recommended by Pope Victor was their successor Urban II. He was French by birth and was the unanimous selection of the Cardinals. His given name was Odo and his record as an ecclesiastic was brilliant. While still in his thirties he had achieved the position of Archdeacon of Rheims but this honour he had renounced to bury himself as a monk at Cluny. At the monastery his talents were recognized and employed and he became Prior. But neither peace nor security was to be his lot and from the contemplative life Pope Gregory summoned him to be Cardinal Archbishop of Ostia. Six months elapsed after Victor's death before he was elected. He was then Pope but he was also a bishop denied his See. A strong force of Imperial soldiery held Rome and "Clement III" paraded schism at St. Peter's. The affairs of the Papacy were in a truly lamentable state and because of the absence, during the past few years, of a strong and
guiding hand, most of the gains won so valiantly by Gregory had been lost. Had Urban been a lesser man an "arrangement" would probably have been made with Henry IV but fortunately compromise was not his way and, as if to give challenge and allow of no intrigues, he reiterated the sentence of excommunication against the Emperor. German troops plundered afresh in Italy after this latest hurt to their master's pride and Urban was forced to the south and Norman protection; but gradually favor returned to sweeten his destiny as a series of disasters afflicted the papal antagonist. Troubles were coming to the pugnacious Emperor from unexpected sources, avenues indeed upon which he would find it difficult to unloosen his usual savageries. His favorite son, Conrad, weary of the shame and sycophancy and evil of his father's court, had deserted that sad scene and had joined forces with the proven and good friend of several Popes, the Countess Matilda and her new husband Guelf of Bavaria. With their support and Urban's approval the German prince was crowned King of Italy at Milan. Meanwhile Henry's second wife chose to deliver an impassioned account of her grievances and his sins before a synod of sympathetic churchmen and while the Emperor's mind was occupied by his misfortunes an apathy seems to have incapacitated his warriors. The anti-Pope fled from Rome and to Urban came a torrent of sudden power. The papal dominions were enlarged and from all sides the papal authority was sought.
To the country of his birth, seven years after his election, the pontiff proceeded with the confidence of a victor. Acting truly as a Father of Kings he rebuked and chastized on his own soil the wretched Philip, King of France, whose only evidence of strength was the tenacity or obstinacy he displayed in adhering to a scandalous and
adulterous union with the Countess Bertrada of Anjou. But while in France the Pope delivered a speech far more important both in content and result than a rebuke to a monarch. It was at Clermont where, before a Council of several hundred prelates and thousands of clergy and laymen, he delivered a plea for united Christendom, a holy unity which would liberate the precious Shrine of the Holy Sepulchre, a Christendom which would defeat and throw off the shameful yoke of oppression. He spoke well, his theme was magnificent, and the moment was propitious. "Altars are profaned and broken, Christians tortured, women violated. . . . Who will avenge these wrongs? On you, rests this duty, on you. . . . That which above all other thoughts should stir you most is the Holy Sepulchre of the Savior and the Holy Places, ravaged and profaned by an impure race. Valiant soldiers, descendants of those who never know defeat, make your way to the Holy Sepulchre and tear the Holy Land from the grasp of this abominable nation."
His audience wept and groaned in sympathy and with the vast sorrow and deep anger a mighty enthusiasm was born. Their Pope was not the first to tell them of Jerusalem's plight. There had been rumors, for always, despite insult and hardship, there had been pilgrims. And lately, travelling throughout Europe, stirring city and hamlet alike to compassion and indignation had been a returned pilgrim, a holy hermit, Peter of Amiens, who made it his vocation to tell of Christian disgraces and Turkish profanities. "Who will avenge these wrongs?" cried the Pope with all the power of a flaming conscience. "On you rests this duty . . . on you!"
"God wills it!" shouted his audience in wild excitement. "God wills it." The First Crusade was born but its story cannot be told in these pages. It is a history, like
most narrative of human endeavor, of shame and honor, of pain and ecstasy. More even than the beginning of a gigantic adventure it marked the definite formation of a great Christian confederation. Princes and peasants alike were enthralled again to the Christian spirit by its splendid ideals and before its enthusiasm chivalry took form, feuds ceased, and schisms wilted. Three years after Urban's speech at Clermont, Godfrey de Bouillon set up his standard, splendid and poignant, scarlet and white, at Jerusalem. In Rome the joy this triumph brought was subdued by the solemnity of a Pope's Requiem. Urban II was dead.