« Prev Chapter 8. Pope Gregory the Seventh Next »



In the times of which I have been lately speaking, the power of the popes had grown far beyond what it was in the days of Gregory the Great.

I have told you Gregory was very much displeased because a patriarch of Constantinople had styled himself “Universal Bishop” (p 159). But since that time the popes had taken to calling themselves by this very title, and they meant a great deal more by it than the patriarchs of Constantinople had meant; for people in the East are fond of big words, so that, when a patriarch called himself “Universal Bishop,” he did not mean anything in particular, but merely to give himself a title which would sound grand. And thus, although he claimed to be universal, he would have allowed the bishops of Rome to be universal too. But when the popes called themselves “Universal Bishops,” they meant that they were bishops of the whole Church, and that all other bishops were under them.

They had friends, too, who were ready to say anything 192to raise their power and greatness. Thus, about the year 800, when the popes had begun to get some land of their own, through the gifts of Pipin and Charlemagne (p 178), a story was got up that the first Christian emperor, Constantine, when he built his city of Constantinople, and went to live in the East, made over Rome to the pope, and gave him also all Italy, with other countries of the West, and the right of wearing a golden crown. And this story of Constantine's gift (or “Donation”, as it was called), although it was quite false, was commonly believed in those days of ignorance.

About fifty years later another monstrous falsehood was put forth, which helped the popes greatly. Somebody, who took the name of Isidore, a famous Spanish bishop who had been dead more than two hundred years, made a collection of Church law and of popes' letters; and he mixed up with the true letters a quantity which he had himself forged, but which pretended to have been written by bishops of Rome from the very time of the Apostles. And in these letters it was made to appear that the pope had been appointed by our Lord Himself to be head of the whole Church, and to govern it as he liked; and that the popes had always used this power from the beginning. This collection of laws is known by the name of the “False Decretals”; but nobody in those times had any notion that they were false, and so they were believed by every one, and the pope got all that they claimed for him.

But in course of time the popes would not he contented even with this. In former ages nobody could be made pope without the emperor's consent, and we have seen how Otho the Great, his grandson, Otho III, and afterwards Henry III, had thought that they might call popes to account for their conduct; now these emperors brought some popes before councils for trial, and turned them out of their office when they misbehaved (p 184f). But just after Henry III, as we have read, had got rid of three 193popes at once, a great change began, which was meant to set the popes above the emperors. The chief mover in this change was Hildebrand, who is said to have been the son of a carpenter in a little Tuscan town and was born between the years 1010 and 1020.


Hildebrand became a monk of the strictest kind, and soon showed a wonderful power of swaying the minds of other men. Thus, when a German named Bruno, bishop of Toul, had been chosen as pope by Henry III, to whom he was related and as he was on his way to Rome that he might take possession of his office, his thoughts were entirely changed by some talk with Hildebrand, whom he happened to meet. Hildebrand told him that popes, instead of being appointed by emperors, ought to be freely chosen by the Roman clergy and people; and thereupon Bruno, putting off his fine robes, went on to Rome in company with Hildebrand, whose lessons he listened to all the way, so that he took up the monk's notions as to all matters which concerned the Church. On arriving at Rome, he told the Romans that he did not consider himself to be pope on account of the emperor's favour, but that if they should think fit to choose him he was willing to be pope. On this he was elected by them with great joy, and took the name of Leo IX (AD 1048). But, although Leo was called pope, it was Hildebrand who really took the management of everything.

When Leo died (AD 1054), the Romans wished to put Hildebrand into his place; but he did not yet feel himself ready to take the papacy, and instead of this he contrived to get one after another of his party elected, until at length, after having really directed everything for no less than five-and-twenty years, and under the names of five popes in succession, he allowed himself to be chosen in 1073, and styled himself Gregory VII.

The empire was then in a very sad state. Henry III 194had died in 1056, leaving a boy less than six years old to succeed him; and this poor boy, who became Henry IV, was very badly used by those who were about him. One day, as he was on an island in the river Rhine, Hanno, archbishop of Cologne, gave him such an account of a beautiful new boat which had been built for the Archbishop, that the young prince naturally wished to see it; and as soon as he was safe on board, Hanno carried him off to Cologne, away from his mother, the empress Agnes. Thus the poor young Henry has in the hands of people who meant no good by him; and, although he was naturally a bright clever, amiable lad, they did what they could to spoil him, and to make him unfit for his office, by educating him badly, and by throwing in his way temptations to which he was only too ready to yield. And when they had done this, and he had made himself hated by many of his people on account of his misbehaviour, the very persons who had done the most to cause his faults took advantage of them, and tried to get rid of him as king of Germany, and emperor. In the meantime Hildebrand (or Gregory, as we must now call him) and his friends had been well pleased to look on the troubles of Germany; for they hoped to turn the discontent of the Germans to their own purpose.

Gregory had higher notions as to the papacy than any one who had gone before him. He thought that all power of every kind belonged to the pope; that kings had their authority from him; that all kingdoms were held under him as the chief lord; that popes were as much greater than kings or emperors as the sun is greater than the moon; that popes could make or unmake kings just as they pleased; and although he had asked the emperor to confirm his election, as had been usual, he was resolved that such a thing should never again be asked of an emperor by any pope in the time to come.


One way in which Gregory tried to increase his power was by forcing the clergy to live unmarried, or, if they were 195married already, to put away their wives. This was a thing which had not been required either in the New Testament or by the Church in early times. But by degrees a notion had grown up that single life was holier than married life; and many “canons” (or laws of the Church) had been made against the marriage of the clergy. But Gregory carried this further than any one before him, because he saw that to make the clergy different from other men, and to cut them off from wife and children and the usual connexions of family, was a way to unite them more closely into a body by themselves. He saw that it would bind them more firmly to Rome; that it would teach them to look to the pope, rather than to their national sovereign, as their chief; and that he might count on such clergy as sure tools, ready to be at the pope's service in any quarrel with princes. He therefore sent out his orders, forbidding the marriage of the clergy, and he set the people against their spiritual pastors by telling them to have nothing to do with the married clergy, and not to receive the sacraments of the Church from them. The effects of these commands were terrible: the married clergy were insulted in all possible ways, many of them were driven by violence from their parishes, and their unfortunate wives were made objects of scorn for all mankind. So great and scandalous were the disorders which arose, that many persons, in disgust at the evils which distracted the Church, and at the fury with which parties fought within it, forsook it and joined some of the sects which were always on the outlook for converts from it.

Another thing on which Gregory set his heart, as a means of increasing the power of the popes, was to do away with what was called “Investiture.” This was the name of the form by which princes gave bishops possession of the estates and other property belonging to their sees. The custom had been that princes should put the pastoral staff into the hands of a new bishop, and should place a ring on one of his fingers; but now fault was found with these acts, because the staff meant that the bishop had the 196charge of his people as a shepherd has of his flock; and the ring meant that he was joined to his Church as a husband is joined to his wife in marriage. For now it was said to be wrong to use things which are signs of spiritual power, when that which the prince gives is not spiritual power, but only a right to the earthly possessions of the see. Gregory, therefore, ordered that no bishop should take investiture from any sovereign, and that no sovereign should give investiture; and out of this grew a quarrel which lasted fifty years, and was the cause of grievous troubles in the Church.

Gregory had also quarrels with enemies at home. One of these, a tough and lawless man named Cencius, went so far as to seize him when he was at a service about midnight on Christmas Eve, and carried him off to a tower, where the pope was exposed all night to the insults of a gang of ruffians, and of Cencius himself, who even held a sword to his naked throat, in the hope of frightening him into the payment of a large sum as ransom. But Gregory was not a man to be terrified by any violence, and held out firmly. A woman who took pity on him bathed his wounds, and a man gave him some furs to protect him against the cold; and in the morning he was delivered by a party of his friends, by whom Cencius and his ruffians were overpowered, and frightened into giving up their prisoner.


In Germany many of the princes and people threw off their obedience to Henry. They destroyed his castles and reduced him to great distress; they held meetings against him and were strong enough to make him give up his power of government for a time, and leave all questions between him and his subjects to be settled by the pope. Henry was so much afraid of losing his kingdom altogether that, in order to beg the pope's mercy, he crossed the Alps, with his queen and a few others, in the midst of a very hard winter, running great risks among the snow and ice which 197covered the lofty mountains over which his road lay. In the hope of getting the pope's forgiveness, he hastened to Canossa, a castle among the Apennines, at which Gregory then was; but Gregory kept the emperor standing three days outside the gate, dressed as a penitent, and pierced through and through by the bitter cold of that terrible winter, before he would allow himself to be seen. When at last Henry was admitted, the pope treated him very hardly; some say that he even tried to make him take the holy sacrament of our Lord's body, by way of proving whether he were innocent or guilty of the charges which his enemies brought against him. And, after all that Henry had gone through, no peace was made between him and his enemies. The troubles of Germany continued: the other party set up against Henry a king of their own choosing, named Rudolf; and Henry, in return for this, set up another pope in opposition to Gregory.

After a time, Henry was able to put down his enemies in Germany, and he led a large army into Italy, where he got almost all Rome into his hands; and on Easter Day, 1084, he was crowned as emperor, in St. Peter's Church, by Clement III, the pope of his party. Gregory entreated the help of Robert Guiscard, the chief of some Normans who had got possession of the south of Italy; and Guiscard, who was glad to have such an opportunity for interfering, speedily came to his relief and delivered him. But in fighting with the Romans in the streets, these Normans set the city on fire, and a great part of it was destroyed, so that within the walls of Rome there are even in our own day large spaces which were once covered with buildings, but are now given up to cornfields or vineyards. Gregory felt himself unable to bear the sight of his ruined city, and, when the Normans withdrew, he went with them to Salerno, where he died on the 25th of May, 1085. It is said that his last words were, “I have loved righteousness and hated iniquity; therefore I die in exile;” and the meaning seems to be, that by these words he wished to claim the benefit of our Lord's saying, “Blessed are they which are persecuted 198for righteousness' sake; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Of all the popes, Gregory VII was the one who did most to increase the power of the papacy. No doubt he was honest in his intentions: and thought that to carry them out would be the best thing for the whole Church, as well as for the bishops of Rome. But he did not care whether the means which he used were fair or foul; and if his plans had succeeded, they would have brought all mankind into slavery to Rome.

« Prev Chapter 8. Pope Gregory the Seventh Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection