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§ 14. The War over Investiture.


The other great reform-scheme of Gregory aimed at the complete emancipation of the Church from the bondage of the secular power. His conception of the freedom of the Church meant the slavery of the State. The State exercised control over the Church by selling ecclesiastical dignities, or the practice of simony, and by the investiture of bishops and abbots; that is, by the bestowal of the staff and ring.6363    investitura per baculum et annulum.

The feudal system of the Middle Ages, as it developed itself among the new races of Europe from the time of Charlemagne, rested on land tenure and the mutual obligations of lord and vassal, whereby the lord, from the king down to the lowest landed proprietor, was bound to protect his vassal, and the vassal was bound to serve his lord. The Church in many countries owned nearly or fully one-half of the landed estate, with the right of customs, tolls, coinage of money, etc., and was in justice bound to bear part of the burden attached to land tenure. The secular lords regarded themselves as the patrons of the Church, and claimed the right of appointing and investing its officers, and of bestowing upon them, not only their temporalia, but also the insignia of their spiritual power. This was extremely offensive to churchmen. The bishop, invested by the lord, became his vassal, and had to swear an oath of obedience, which implied the duty of serving at court and furnishing troops for the defense of the country. Sometimes a bishop had hardly left the altar when his liege-lord commanded him to gird on the sword. After the death of the bishop, the king or prince used the income of the see till the election of a successor, and often unduly postponed the election for his pecuniary benefit, to the injury of the Church and the poor. In the appointments, the king was influenced by political, social, or pecuniary considerations, and often sold the dignity to the highest bidder, without any regard to intellectual or moral qualifications. The right of investiture was thus closely connected with the crying abuse of simony, and its chief source.

No wonder that Gregory opposed this investiture by laymen with all his might. Cardinal Humbert had attacked it in a special book under Victor II. (1057), and declared it an infamous scandal that lay-hands, above all, female hands, should bestow the ring and crosier. He insisted that investiture was a purely spiritual function, and that secular princes have nothing to do with the performance of functions that have something sacramental about them. They even commit sacrilege by touching the garments of the priest. By the exercise of the right of investiture, princes, who are properly the defenders of the Church, had become its lords and rulers. Great evils had arisen out of this practice, especially in Italy, where ambitious priests lingered about the antechambers of courts and practised the vice of adulation, vitium adulationis.6464    Humbert’s work, adversus simoniacos, is giveninlibelli de lite and Migne, vol. 153. Wido of Arezzo and Damiani expressed the same views. See Mirbt, Publizistik, 463-471. Of those who received lay investiture it began to be said "that they entered not in by the door,"non per ostium intraverant.

The legislation against lay appointments was opened at the Synod of Rheims, 1049, under the influence of Leo IX. It declared that no priest should be promoted to office without the election of clergy and people. Ten years later, 1059, the Synod of Rome pronounced any appointment of cleric or presbyter to benefice invalid, which was made by a layman.6565    ut per laicos nullo modo quilibet clericus aut presbyter obtineat ecclesiam nec gratis nec pretio, Mansi, XIX. 898.

By abolishing this custom, Gregory hoped to emancipate the clergy from the vassalage of the State, and the property of the Church from the feudal supervision of the prince, as well as to make the bishops the obedient servants of the pope.

The contest continued under the following popes, and was at last settled by the compromise of Worms (1122). The emperor yielded only in part; for to surrender the whole property of the Church to the absolute power of the pope, would have reduced civil government to a mere shadow. On the other hand, the partial triumph of the papacy contributed very much to the secularization of the Church.



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