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§ 4. Hildebrand and his Training.


The history of the period begins with a survey of the papacy as the controlling power of Western Christendom. It embraces six stages: 1. The Hildebrandian popes, 1049–1073. 2. Gregory VII., 1073–1085, or the assertion of the supreme authority of the papacy in human affairs. 3. From Gregory’s death to the Concordat of Worms, 1122, or the settlement of the controversy over investiture. 4. From the Concordat of Worms to Innocent III., 1198. 5. The Pontificate of Innocent III., 1198–1216, or the papacy at its height. 6. From Innocent III. to Boniface VIII., 1216–1294, or the struggle of the papacy with Frederick II. and the restoration of peace between the papacy and the empire.

The papacy had reached its lowest stage of weakness and degeneracy when at Sutri in 1046, under the influence of Henry III., two popes were deposed and a third was forced to abdicate.44    Vol. IV. § 66, pp. 299 sqq.ld overthrow the Jewish monarchy, or wicked emperors the Roman Empire. In the public opinion of Europe, the papacy was still a necessary institution established by Christ in the primacy of Peter for the government and administration of the church. There was nothing to take its place. It needed only a radical reformation in its head, which would be followed by a reformation of the members. Good men all over Europe anxiously desired and hoped that Providence would intervene and rescue the chair of Peter from the hands of thieves and robbers, and turn it once more into a blessing. The idea of abolishing the papacy did not occur to the mind of the Christians of that age as possible or desirable.

At last the providential man for effecting this necessary reformation appeared in the person of Hildebrand, who controlled five successive papal administrations for twenty-four years, 1049–1073, then occupied the papal chair himself for twelve years, 1073–1085, and was followed by like-minded successors. He is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, of popes, and one of the most remarkable men in history. He excited in his age the highest admiration and the bitterest hatred. Opinions about his principles and policy are still divided; but it is impossible to deny his ability, energy, earnestness, and achievements.

Hildebrand was of humble and obscure origin, but foreordained to be a prince of the Church. He was of small stature, and hence called "Hildebrandellus" by his enemies, but a giant in intellect and character. His figure was ungainly and his voice feeble; but his eyes were bright and piercing, bespeaking penetration, a fiery spirit, and restless activity. His early life is involved in obscurity. He only incidentally alludes to it in his later Epistles, and loved to connect it with the supernatural protection of St. Peter and the Holy Virgin. With a monkish disregard of earthly relations, he never mentions his family. The year of his birth is unknown. The veneration of friends and the malice of enemies surrounded his youth with legends and lies. He was the son of a peasant or goatherd, Bonizo, living near Soana, a village in the marshes of Tuscany, a few miles from Orbitello. The oft-repeated tradition that he was the son of a carpenter seems to have originated in the desire to draw a parallel between him and Jesus of Nazareth. Of his mother we know nothing. His name points to Lombard or German origin, and was explained by his contemporaries as hell-brand or fire-brand.55    The contemporary spellings are: Yldibrandus, Heldebrandus, Ildebrandus, Oldeprandus. William of Malmesbury calls him homuncio exilis staturae.uing from his raiment, and predicted that, like John the Baptist, he would be "great in the sight of the Lord."

He entered the Benedictine order in the convent of St. Mary on the Aventine at Rome, of which his maternal uncle was abbot. Here he had a magnificent view of the eternal city.66    Giesebrecht (III. 12 sq.): "Das Marienkloster auf dem Aventin, jetzt unter dem Namen des Priorats von Malta bekannt, bietet eine entzückende Aussicht ... ein hochbegabter Knabe, der hier erwuchs, musste die verschiedensten und mächtigsten Eindrücke erhalten, die sich kaum in einem anderen Gedanken zusammenschliessen konnten, als in dem der unvergleichlichen Hoheit des ewigen Roms."77    So Martens, etc. Gregory speaks of having been brought up from childhood a pueritia by the prince of the apostles and "in the Roman palace."discipline, and in austerity and rigor he remained a monk all his life. He cherished an enthusiastic veneration for the Virgin Mary. The personal contemplation of the scandalous contentions of the three rival popes and the fearful immorality in the capital of Christendom must have raised in his earnest soul a deep disgust. He associated himself with the party which prepared for a reformation of the hierarchy.

His sympathies were with his teacher and friend, Gregory VI. This pope had himself bought the papal dignity from, the wretched Benedict IX., but he did it for the benefit of the Church, and voluntarily abdicated on the arrival of Henry III. at the Synod of Sutri, 1046. It is strange that Hildebrand, who abhorred simony, should begin his public career in the service of a simonist; but he regarded Gregory as the only legitimate pope among the three rivals, and followed him, as his chaplain, to Germany into exile.


"Victrix causa Deis placuit, sed victa Catoni."88    The German historian, Otto von Freisingen, aptly applies this verse of Luican to the relation of the two popes, thus comparing Hildebrand to Cato.-


He visited Worms, Spires, Cologne, Aix-la-Chapelle, the old seats of the empire, and spent much time at the court of Henry III., where he was very kindly treated. After the death of Gregory at Cologne, 1048, Hildebrand went to Cluny, the nursery of a moral reformation of monasticism. According to some reports, he had been there before. He zealously gave himself to ascetic exercises and ecclesiastical studies under the excellent abbot Hugo, and became prior of the convent. He often said afterwards that he wished to spend his life in prayer and contemplation within the walls of this sacred retreat.

But the election of Bishop Bruno of Toul, the cousin of Emperor Henry III., to the papal chair, at the Diet of Worms, brought him on the stage of public action. "Reluctantly," he said, "I crossed the Alps; more reluctantly I returned to Rome." He advised Bruno (either at Cluny or at Besancon) not to accept the triple crown from the hands of the emperor, but to await canonical election by the clergy and people of Rome. He thus clearly asserted, for the first time, his principle of the supremacy of the Church over the State.

Bruno, accompanied by Hildebrand, travelled to Rome as a pilgrim, entered the city barefoot, was received with acclamations, canonically elected, and ascended the papal chair on Feb. 12, 1049, as Leo IX.

From this time on, Hildebrand was the reigning spirit of the papacy. He understood the art of ruling through others, and making them feel that they ruled themselves. He used as his aide-de-camp Peter Damiani, the severe monk and fearless censor of the immoralities of the age, who had conquered the world within and helped him to conquer it without, in the crusade against simony and concubinage, but died, 1072, a year before Hildebrand became pope.99    See vol. IV. 787 sqq.



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