In the previous article regard! was had to the first degradation of the papacy, which occurred in the tenth century. As we saw, the popes of this period with few exceptions were wicked men, the reason being that their election was controlled by political factions in Rome headed by Italian nobles. As was explained, from the tyranny of these nobles the papacy was rescued by Otho I surnamed the Great. Otho and his successors—Otho II (937-983) and Otho III (983- 1002) did the papacy a great service. They delivered it from the power of Roman nobles, restored it to wealth, and placed in the papal throne occupants who were at last not criminals. But the reform of the papacy was only temporal. It was followed by a second period of disgrace that lasted till the middle of the 11th century. After the death of Otho III, the papacy passed under the control of the counts of the powerful Tusculum family in Italy. The next three popes—Benedict VIII (1012-1024) John XIX (1024- 1032), and Benedict IX (1033-1048) were the creations of these counts. All three were unworthy, but the last—Benedict IX—was one of the worst occupants of the papal throne. His two predecessors had bought the papal dignity by open bribery, and his election likewise was a mere money bargain between the Tusculun family and the clergy and the populace of Rome. He was a boy of only ten or twelve years of age when he became pope, but this boy-pope equaled and even surpassed John XII in wickedness. He was childish and vicious, growing worse as he advanced in years. He committed murders and adulteries in open day-light, robbed pilgrims on the graves of martyrs, and converted Rome into a haunt of thieves. And his crimes went unpunished; for a pope could be judged by no man but by God alone. Besides, Gregory was patrician of the city, and Gregory was the brother of this Benedict; and Alberic, the powerful, count of Tusculun, who had spared no money in getting him elected, was his father. Desiderius, afterwards pope under the name of Victor II, speaking of him, styles him Simon the Sorcerer and describes him as abandoned to all manner of crime. It is reported that at one time he wanted to marry his cousin and to seat her in the papal chair; but the father of the woman refused unless he abdicated the papacy. There were at this time two powerful factions in Rome, dividing the city into two hostile camps. The one was headed by the aforesaid counts of Tusculum and the other by the Roman family of the Ptolomies. The latter, making use of the reports of the daily rapines, murders, and abominations of Benedict, stirred up the Roman people against him. The result was that he was expelled from the city and the victorious faction—the family of Ptolomies—placed John, Bishop of Sabina, under the name of Sylvester III, in the papal chair as antipope (Jan. 1044). Perceiving that he had become an object of public contempt and abhorrence, on. account of his enormous wickedness, Benedict decided to part with the popedom, and accordingly sold’ it to John Gratian, who assumed the name of Gregory VI. Regretting the bargain, Benedict claimed the dignity again. Thus, there now were three popes claiming possession of the papal throne—Benedict IX, Sylvester III, and Gregory VI. Their rivalries bespoke the general condition of Italy. The streets of Rome were filled with hired assassins and the whole country with robbers. Henry III, emperor of Germany, of the house of Franconia, hearing of the dreadful disorders that prevailed in Rome, and entreated’ by the advocates of reform to take action, went to Rome in person to enquire upon the spot into the conduct of the popes and the state of the church. Arriving at Sutri, a small town about twenty-five miles north of Rome, he ordered Gregory VI to convoke there a synod to consider the claims of the three rival pontiffs. Benedict IX and Silvester III were declared usurpers, simoniacs, intruders and as such deposed. Gregory VI—likewise had bought the papacy. But as he otherwise was a worthy person—his purpose in buying the papacy was to reform, it—he was allowed to depose himself, which he did in these words, “I, Gregory, bishop, servant of the servants of God, do hereby adjudge myself to be removed from the pontificate of the Holy Roman Church, because of the enormous error which by simoniacal impurity has crept into and vitiated my election.” Then he asked the Council, “Is it your pleasure that so it shall be?” to which the assembled fathers replied, “Your pleasure is our pleasure; therefore, so let it be.” Thereupon he divested himself, in full council, of the pontifical robes, surrendered the pastoral staff, renounced all claim to the papal chair, and begged for forgiveness. Simony is the vile doing of buying the sacred office with a price. But there were few popes in the tenth century whose election was not vitiated by this sin. And as compared with the atrocities of many of these Judases, the sin seemed a small one. Of the three deposed pontiffs, Gregory is the one who is recognized in all the catalogues among the lawful popes. The seat being vacant by the resignation of Gregory, Henry nominated and the clergy and the people chose a new pope, who assumed the name of Clement II and who crowned the king emperor. So was the papacy again rescued by a king of Germany—rescued for the second time from political factions in Rome.
The control of Henry III over papal elections was complete for the rest of his days. He raised successively to the papal throne four of his own selections—the aforesaid Clement II, who survived his election only nine months; Damascus II, who died twenty-three days after his consecration; Leo IX and Victor II. Leo IX was a man of noble birth, venerable appearance and spotless character, who vigorously addressed himself to the task of reforming the church by holding synods and enforcing papal authority in the condemnation of priestly marriages and simony. Toward the close of his career he undertook a military expedition against the Normans in defense of church property. Defeated and taken prisoner, he gained release again by granting the Normans their conquests. Victor II, who died two years after his election, was the last of these German popes. After his death, the people of Rome, as led by the reformers, elected Stephen IX, Aug. 3, 1057; but he died in the following year. The death of Stephen resulted in a crisis. The corrupt Roman Nobles, from whose overlordship the papacy again had been rescued by Henry III, set up a pope according to their own mind, who named himself Benedict X. The reform party protested, but they could affect nothing against superior force and were obliged to flee. The situation was saved by one man—Hildebrand, the soul and leader of the reform party. He gathered his followers in a small town—Siena—in the vicinity of Rome, and there the bishop of Florence was chosen as Nicholas II. The new pope was made master of Rome by a military force supplied by a lay ruler in Italy—Godfrey of Tuscany.
The most significant event of the pontificate of Nicholas II was the enactment of a special law on the matter of papal elections. Heretofore the popes had been chosen by the clergy and the people of Rome. That was called a canonical election. But in the past, as we have seen, the people often had been bribed to raise to the papal throne the candidate of whatever political party was dominant in Rome. The aim of the new legislation was twofold, namely, to remove that evil and to free the election of the popes from the control of the kings of Germany. Accordingly, it provided that the pope should be chosen by the college of cardinals, which included not all the clergy but the presbyters of the most important churches in Rome, the leading deacons or heads of the charity districts into which Rome was divided, and the suburban bishops. It provided, did the mew legislation, that the selection of this body be submitted to the people for approbation. It refrained from giving the emperor a share in the choice but stipulated that the pope might come from anywhere in the church. The new constitution governs the election of popes to this day. That the papacy, at this juncture, dared to break with the king of Germany can be explained. Henry III had died, 1056, and his son and heir to the throne, Henry IV, then was a boy of six, under the regency of his mother, Agnes. But the papacy was well aware that it could not maintain itself without the military support of some temporal power. It could count on the aid of Godfrey of Tuscany. But this was not enough. The Normans were chaffing under the yoke imposed upon them by the German crown. Aware of this, Nicholas II acknowledged their conquests, freed them from their allegiance to the Emperor and annexed their territory to his own throne. He claimed that right on the ground that, being lord of lords, it, lay also within his power to grant and withhold kingdoms. The Normans did not demur. They were eager to league with the pope in freeing themselves from the shackles of the emperor. The conquests of the Normans included also Lower Italy, where dwelt the Lombards and besides many Greeks and Arabs most of whom were heretics. But Nicholas carefully avoided any interference with heretics, for he did not want to be hindered in his operations for the aggrandizement of the church. The papacy, as it became flesh and blood even in these reform popes, was ready to twist itself into any shape in order to achieve its aims for world dominion. As strengthened by these new alliances, Nicholas II now dared to assert himself which he also did by forbidding lay investure under any circumstances.
Pope Nicholas II died July 27, 1061. Some months later the cardinals under the guidance of Hildebrand, elected a new pope, who took the name Alexander II (1061-1073). But the German bishops, resentful of a method to papal election that excluded’ their king, did not acknowledge him, but chose for their pope at a council held at Basle, bishop of Parma, under the name of Honorius II. The election of this anti-pope was a protest against the new system of church government of these Hildebrandian popes. Especially hated was the ordinance forbidding the clergy to marry. Thus, the opposition included the married clergy and the simonical laity. What was desired is a modification of discipline .and legalization of clerical marriage. All hopes were pinned on the ability of Honorius to maintain himself. Doubtless, he would have won, were it not for a single event. Anno, arch-bishop of Cologne, wrestled the tutorship of Henry IV out of the hands of his mother Agnes and threw his influence on the side of the reform party. This hastened a decision of the contest. A synod of German and Italian bishops, held at Mantus, May 31, declared Alexander the rightful pope and anathematized Honorius, who disappeared from history.
Not only in Rome but throughout the church, the office of bishops had become a matter of traffic and sale. The evil practice is known by the name “simony.” The reason of this abomination, which proceeded from the seat of the pope, will be made plain in the sequence. It will be found that the root of this evil was the acquisition of enormous material wealth by the Roman hierarchy. All during his pontificate, Alexander II, as supported and encouraged by Hildebrand, made relentless war against simony by threatening the offending bishops with excommunication. By the same weapon, he made war also against clerical marriage. But in Germany there again arose a powerful opposition to the Hildebrandian polity, which led to the conflict between Gregory VII (Hildebrand) and Henry IV. Alexander extended papal jurisdiction remarkably. With Hildebrand’s guidance, he sanctioned the piratical expedition of William the Conqueror against England in 1066, knowing William’s plan to bring the English see under papal jurisdiction.
Alexander II died April 21, 1073. After a three days’ fast, ordered by Hildebrand, the cardinals assembled to elect a new pope. Even (during the progress of the funeral service of Alexander the people shouted, “Hildebrand shall be pope.” A bishop ascended the pulpit and declared, “Men and brethren, ye know how since the days of Leo IX Hildebrand has exalted the Holy Roman Church, and defended the freedom of our city. And as we cannot find for the papacy a better man, or even one that is his equal, liet us elect him, a clergyman of our church, well known and thoroughly approved among us.” The cardinals and the clergy replied, “St. Peter elects Gregory (Hildebrand) pope.” The people bore him to the church of St. Peter, where he was clothed with the pontifical robes, and declared elected, as a man eminent in piety and learning, a lover of equity and’ justice, firm in adversity, temperate in prosperity, according to the apostolic precept (I Tim. 3:2), ‘without reproach. . . . temperate, sober-minded, chaste, given to hospitality, ruling his house well’. . . . already well brought up and educated in the bosom of this mother church, for his merits advanced to the office of archdeacon, whom now and henceforth we will call Gregory, pope, and Apostolic Primate.” We must attend to his conception of the relation of church and state. The rulers in those days did not believe in the separation of church and state in the sense that, according to divine ordinance, each must limit itself to its own sphere of operation. Church and State, such was the conception, formed the Christian commonwealth. According to the papal party it is the pope, but according to the imperial party it is the emperor, who forms in this commonwealth the supreme judicial power, and this as the vice-gerent of Christ in church and state. Hence, we see emperors like Otho I, and Henry III depose and elect popes; and popes like Gregory VII and Innocent III depose and elect emperors. Hildebrand’s principles are well set forth in the Dictatus of Cardinal Deusdedit, “The Roman church was founded by God alone. The Roman pontiff alone can with right be called universal. He alone can depose or reinstate bishops. It may be permitted him to depose emperors. He himself may be judged of no one. He may absolve subjects of their fidelity to wicked rulers.” On these primaries Hildebrand, as pope, reigned and’ strove for nothing short of world dominion. And because of the uncommon consistency and vigor of mind and will with which he acted upon these principles, and also because of the success which he achieved, he has been surnamed “The Great”. The war which he waged was at bottom an unholy contest between priest craft and statecraft for all power on earth.
But the prospect of bringing the world at his feet seemed not any too bright to Hildebrand, judging from his lamentation in which he describes the condition of the times:—“The Eastern Church fallen from the faith, and attacked by the infidels from without, in the West, South, or North scarcely any bishops who have obtained their office regularly, or whose life and conduct correspond to their calling, and who are actuated by the love of Christ instead of worldly ambition. Nowhere princes who prefer God’s honor to their own, and justice to gain. The Romans, Longo- bards, and Normans among whom I live, as I often told them, are worse than Jews and heathens. And when I look at myself, I feel oppressed by such a burden of sin that no other hope of salvation is left to me but in the mercy of Christ alone.” How could he, a mere man, even with the weapons at his disposal,—Excommunication and the Interdict—ever succeed in binding a world of such men to his throne! But aside from this, who was Hildebrand to complain about bishops actuated by worldly ambition, and about princes preferring their own honor to that of God and gain to justice l Hie was to them all the shining example of such perfidy. He complains about the people of his patriarchite being worse than heathens; but what else could he expect seeing that what he sought was not the church in the world but very actually the world! What else could he expect considering the methods that were employed in bringing the heathen into the church? And well might he be oppressed by his sins, especially by the sins of usurping Christ’s place in the universe, of using excommunication to frighten men into kissing his toe, and also of inventing the interdict for the aggrandizement of the church. Had he wanted to be of real benefit to the church, he would have renounced his worldly ambition, stepped down from his throne, disposed of his vast estates, and become a common pastor and admonished all the bishops to do likewise. Yet he died May 25, 1085, with these words: “I have loved righteousness and hated iniquity; and therefore I die in exile”, to which one of his bishops replied, “Nay, in exile thou canst not die, who, as the vicar of Christ and his apostles, hast received all the nations for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possessions” (Ps. 2:8). As well as any words could, these words of that bishop set forth the absurd pretention of Gregory. That it ‘was thought that this pope in his dying moments could take comfort from the mention of it, is revealing. We must now attend to the acts of this pontiff by which he sought to secure his power and freedom of the church. This will be done in the article to follow.