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§ 66. Henry III and the Synod of Sutri. Deposition of three rival Popes. a.d. 1046.


Bonizo (or Bonitho, bishop of Sutri, afterwards of Piacenza, and friend of Gregory VII., d. 1089): Liber ad amicum, s. de persecutione Ecclesiae (in Oefelii Scriptores rerum Boicarum II., 794, and better in Jaffe’s Monumenta Gregoriana, 1865). Contains in lib. V. a history, of the popes from Benedict IX. to Gregory VII., with many errors.

Rodulfus Glaber (or Glaber Radulfus, monk of Cluny, about 1046): Historia sui temporis (in Migne, Tom. 142).

Desiderius (Abbot of M. Cassino, afterwards pope Victor III., d. 1080): De Miraculis a S. Benedicto aliisque monachis Cassiniensibus gestis Dialog., in “Bibl. Patr.” Lugd. XVIII. 853.

Annales Romani in Pertz, Mon. Germ. VII.

Annales Corbeienses, in Pertz, Mon. Germ. V.; and in Jaffé, Monumenta Corbeiensia, Berlin, 1864.

Ernst Steindorff: Jahrbucher des deutschen Reichs unter Heinrich III. Leipzig, 1874.

Hefele: Conciliengesch. IV. 706 sqq. (2d ed.).

See Lit. in § 64, especially Höfler and Will.


Emperor Henry III., of the house of Franconia, was appealed to by the advocates of reform, and felt deeply the sad state of the church. He was only twenty-two years old, but ripe in intellect, full of energy and zeal, and aimed at a reformation of the church under the control of the empire, as Hildebrand afterwards labored for a reformation of the church under the control of the papacy.

On his way to Rome for the coronation he held (Dec. 20, 1046) a synod at Sutri, a small town about twenty-five miles north of Rome, and a few days afterwards another synod at Rome which completed the work.301301    The sources differ in the distribution of the work between the two synods: some assign it to Sutri, others to Rome, others divide it. Steindorff and Hefele (IV. 710) assume that Gregory and Sylvester were deposed at Sutri; Benedict (who did not appear at Sutri) was deposed in Rome. All agree that the new pope was elected in Rome. Gregory VI. presided at first. The claims of the three rival pontiffs were considered. Benedict IX. and Sylvester III. were soon disposed of, the first having twice resigned, the second being a mere intruder. Gregory VI. deserved likewise deposition for the sin of simony in buying the papacy; but as he had convoked the synod by order of the emperor and was otherwise a worthy person, he was allowed to depose himself or to abdicate. He did it 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 assembled fathers: “Is it your pleasure that so it shall be?” to which they unanimously replied: “Your pleasure is our pleasure; therefore so let it be.” As soon as the humble pope had pronounced his own sentence, he descended from the throne, divested himself of his pontifical robes, and implored pardon on his knees for the usurpation of the highest dignity in Christendom. He acted as pope de facto, and pronounced himself no pope de jure. He was used by the synod for deposing his two rivals, and then for deposing himself. In that way the synod saved the principle that the pope was above every human tribunal, and responsible to God alone. This view of the case of Gregory, rests on the reports of Bonitho and Desiderius. According to other reports in the Annales Corbeienses and Peter Damiani, who was present at Sutri, Gregory was deposed directly by the Synod.302302    See Jaffé, Steindorff, and Hefele (IV. 711 sq.). At all events, the deposition was real and final, and the cause was the sin of simony.

But if simony vitiated an election, there were probably few legitimate popes in the tenth century when everything was venal and corrupt in Rome. Moreover bribery seems a small sin compared with the enormous crimes of several of these Judases. Hildebrand recognized Gregory VI. by adopting his pontifical name in honor of his memory, and yet he made relentless war the sin of simony. He followed the self-deposed pope as upon chaplain across the Alps into exile, and buried him in peace on the banks of the Rhine.

Henry III. adjourned the Synod of Sutri to St. Peter’s in Rome for the election of a new pope (Dec. 23 and 24, 1046). The synod was to elect, but no Roman clergyman could be found free of the pollution of “simony and fornication.” Then the king, vested by the synod with the green mantle of the patriciate and the plenary authority of the electors, descended from his throne, and seated Suidger, bishop of Bamberg, a man of spotless character, on the vacant chair of St. Peter amid the loud hosannas of the assembly.303303    According to the Annal. Corb., Suidger was elected ”canonice as synodice … unanimi cleri et populi electione. The new pope assumed the name of Clement II., and crowned Henry emperor on the festival of Christmas, on which Charlemagne had been crowned. The name was a reminder of the conflict of the first Clement of Rome with Simon Magus. But he outlived his election only nine months, and his body was transferred to his beloved Bamberg. The wretched Benedict IX. again took possession of the Lateran (till July 16, 1048). He died afterwards in Grotto Ferrata, according to one report as a penitent saint, according to another as a hardened sinner whose ghost frightened the living. A third German pontiff, Poppo, bishop of Brixen, called Damasus II., was elected, but died twenty-three days after his consecration (Aug. 10, 1048), of the Roman fever, if not of poison.

The emperor, at the request of the Romans, appointed at Worms in December, 1048, Bruno, bishop of Toul, to the papal chair. He was a man of noble birth, fine appearance, considerable learning, unblemished character, and sincere piety, in full sympathy with the spirit of reform which emanated from Cluny. He accepted the appointment in presence of the Roman deputies, subject to the consent of the clergy and people of Rome.304304    So says Wibert, his friend and biographer, but Bonitho reports that Hildebrand induced him to submit first to a Roman election, since a pope elected by the emperor was not an apostolicus, but an apostaticus. See Baxmann, II. 215-217. Comp. also Hunkler: Leo IX. und seine Zeit. Mainz, 1851 He invited the monk Hildebrand to accompany him in his pilgrimage to Rome. Hildebrand refused at first, because Bruno had not been canonically elected, but by the secular and royal power; but he was persuaded to follow him.

Bruno reached Rome in the month of February, 1049, in the dress of a pilgrim, barefoot, weeping, regardless of the hymns of welcome. His election was unanimously confirmed by the Roman clergy and people, and he was solemnly consecrated Feb. 12, as Leo IX. He found the papal treasury empty, and his own means were soon exhausted. He chose Hildebrand as his subdeacon, financier, and confidential adviser, who hereafter was the soul of the papal reform, till he himself ascended the papal throne in 1073.

We stand here at the close of the deepest degradation and on the threshold of the highest elevation of the papacy. The synod of Sutri and the reign of Leo IX. mark the beginning of a disciplinary reform. Simony or the sale and purchase of ecclesiastical dignities, and Nicolaitism or the carnal sins of the clergy, including marriage, concubinage and unnatural vices, were the crying evils of the church in the eyes of the most serious men, especially the disciples of Cluny and of St. Romuald. A reformation therefore from the hierarchical standpoint of the middle ages was essentially a suppression of these two abuses. And as the corruption had reached its climax in the papal chair, the reformation had to begin at the head before it could reach the members. It was the work chiefly of Hildebrand or Gregory VII., with whom the next period opens.




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