The Rise of the Papacy
"Parallel with growing pretensions increased a system of denying or falsifying historical facts, which was to minister to the glorification of Rome and the power of her bishops. The decrees of the first Council of Nicaea were interpolated. The story was fabricated of the conversion and baptism of Constantine, by Sylvester, and forged writings, like the 'Constitutum Sylvestri,' the 'Gesta Liberii,' and others, were circulated in order to prove the inviolable supremacy of the See of Rome."
AN ecclesiastic, who paid heavily for his benefice at Rome (an offence known as Simony), was once asked if he believed in the story of Peter being the first bishop of that city. He candidly replied "I do not think that Peter was ever there, but I am quite sure that Simon was."
While there is abundant proof of the constant existence of Simon or Simony in Rome, the only evidence of Peter's having ever been in that city is the alleged fact of his having written a letter from Babylon. Forgery and fraud, however, soon supported the tradition that Peter was the first bishop of Rome, a tale which was first put forward in what are called the Clementine Recognitions, a theological romance fraudulently ascribed to Clement of Rome. The story is discountenanced by Justin Martyr, who mentions Simon Magus, whom Peter is said to have followed and confuted, as having been at Rome, but no more mentions Peter as having been there than does the Acts of the Apostles.
Being at the opulent seat of the empire, the early Church of Rome assumed considerable dignity after the destruction of Jerusalem, the primitive Holy City of the faith. But for a long time it had no superior authority, and certainly no jurisdiction, over the churches of Alexandria and Antioch. In the second century, however, Victor, Bishop of Rome, took upon himself to excommunicate the Eastern churches for not conforming to the Roman practice in keeping Easter. But the fulmination was harmless, and it was not until the removal of the capital by Constantine (A.D. 330) that the Roman Church found the opportunity for asserting its predominance. No longer checked by the presence of the civil rulers, the Bishop of Rome had less difficulty in exercising authority.
The constant struggle for precedence among the rival bishops, and the fierce feuds which raged at their synods, showed the necessity for a central head; but, although many cases were referred to Rome for arbitration, a long time lapsed before its predominance was admitted. It was first asserted at the Council of Sardica (A.D. 343) when the oriental bishops protested and left the Council. The decisions of this Council were, however, at Rome, fraudulently ascribed to the first general council of Nice. Archbishop Usher, in his answer to a challenge made by a Jesuit, says:
"Neither hath this corrupting humor stayed itself in forging of whole councils and entire treatises of ancient writers; but hath, like a canker, fretted away divers of their sound parts, and so altered their complexions that they appear not to be the same men they were."
We have seen how, in the time of Theodosius, the bishops of Alexandria and Rome were associated as joint authorities on orthodoxy, but Damasus, the Roman bishop, was the first who took the Pagan title of Pontiff. Already the centralisation of wealth at Rome had made the bishopric so lucrative that when Damasus attempted to convert Praetextatus, the governor of the city, the Pagan answered with a sarcasm which is full of historical instruction: "Make me Bishop of Rome and I will turn Christian directly."
Leo the First (A.D. 440-461), taking advantage of the disturbed state of the African Church, which was divided concerning the Donatian heresy, claimed jurisdiction over its bishops. He also assumed a tone of superiority in a letter to Dioscorus, Bishop of Alexandria. In A.D. 448 the Council of Constantinople, under Flavianus, deposed Eutyches, the friend of Dioscorus; but in the following year the bishops at the Council of Ephesus (called by the Romish Church the Robber Synod) reinstalled him, extolled Dioscorus, who had armed soldiers within and without the church, and kicked Flavianus to death. In A.D. 451 the bishops at the Council of Chalcedon vehemently shouted "Damn Dioscorus, Christ deposes Dioscorus." Yet, although this bishop was obnoxious to Rome, the Council did not give that see any primary power.
Leo excommunicated Dioscorus, who boldly retorted the excommunication; but his defeat broke the power of Alexandria, and left Rome and Constantinople face to face. Rome took to appointing legates, otherwise spies and informers, at Constantinople. The strife between the rival Churches was bitter and prolonged. Felix II of Rome (483-493) went to the length of excommunicating Acacius, the patriarch of Constantinople, and as this had come to imply not only expulsion from the Church, but eternal perdition, it was no light sentence. "A difficulty," says Draper, "arose as to the manner in which the process should be served; but an adventurous monk fastened it to the robe of Acacius as he entered the church. Acacius, undismayed, proceeded with his services, and, pausing deliberately, ordered the name of Felix, the Bishop of Rome, to be struck from the roll of bishops in communion with the East. Constantinople and Rome thus mutually excommunicated each other." The result was a complete schism which lasted over thirty years. Gelasius I (492-496) mockingly called the patriarch of Constantinople bishop of the parish of Heraclea. In a Council at Rome he asserted the primacy of the eternal city as founded on Christ's remark to Peter, and proclaimed that the Pope's authority was higher than that of kings and emperors. Addressing the emperor, he said, "There are two powers which rule the world, the imperial and pontifical. You are the sovereign of the human race, but you bow your neck to those who preside over things divine. The priesthood is the greater of the two powers; it has to render an account in the last day for the acts of kings."
The break-up of the Western empire (A.D. 476) contributed to Romish supremacy. The Papacy throve on the confusion of Italy. The decay of the imperial power gave freer scope to the bishops, and led the credulous people to look to them as their natural protectors. The memories of the ancient empire still hung round the walls of Rome, and even her barbarian conquerors bowed in awe before the glories of her mighty past. Hobbes has well observed that the Catholic Church is but the ghost of the dead Roman empire sitting throned and crowned on the grave thereof.
The conquest of Italy by Theodoric, the Ostrogoth, (493) gave to the bishops of Rome an Arian sovereign. A heretic appointed God's vicar on earth. He clipped the secular prerogatives of the Church, but allowed the election of the Bishop of Rome to follow its ordinary course. There was a contest between two rival candidates, whose factions "filled the city with murder." Symmachus triumphed in the struggle and became Pope. In A.D. 503, being accused of adultery and other offences, he was acquitted by a Council at Rome. His partisans even went to the length of declaring that the Council could not pass judgment on the successor of St. Peter; and one Eunodius (subsequently Bishop of Padua) vindicated this decision in a work, asserting that the Roman bishop was above every human tribunal, and responsible only to God.
Professor Heinrich Geffcken, in his great work on Church and State, says:
"Parallel with these growing pretensions increased that system of denying or falsifying historical facts, which was to minister to the glorification of Rome and the power of her bishops. The decrees of the first Council of Nicaea were interpolated. The story was fabricated of the conversion and baptism of Constantine, by Sylvester, and forged writings, like the 'Constitutum Sylvestri,' the 'Gesta Liberii,' and others, were circulated in order to prove the inviolable supremacy of the See of Rome."
The ignorance and corruption of the ages we have rapidly traversed enabled the Papacy to exalt its power by contrivances that could only impose on a credulous and degraded people. One of these was auricular confession. It was introduced by Pope Leo, and its object, in which it succeeded, was to give the Church possession of domestic secrets, and to place the communicants and their relatives at the mercy of the priests. Prior to this time confession had been public as in Buddhism.
Another circumstance that contributed to the authority of Rome was its constant censure and suppression of the multitudinous "heresies" that distracted the less practical and more speculative provinces of the empire. The influence of Rome, as well as its policy, in such matters was more ecclesiastical than doctrinal. While the Eastern Church concerned itself with dogmatic subtleties, the Western Church was concerned with priestly power. "Rome," as Heine remarks, "always desired to rule; when her legions fell she sent dogmas into the provinces. Every discussion on matters of faith had reference to Roman usurpations; it was a question of consolidating the supremacy of the Bishop of Rome, who was always very tolerant regarding mere articles of faith, but fretted and fumed whenever the rights of the Church Were assailed." The Latin genius was one of government; it did not invent Christianity, but it naturally gained an ascendancy in the spiritual organisation. Yet the supremacy of Rome was not gained till the empire had been shaken, and sometimes desolated, by repeated struggles between the great Western Bishop and the sees of Constantinople and Alexandria.
"The history of the time is a record of the desperate struggles of the three chief bishops for supremacy. In this conflict Rome possessed many advantages; the two others were more immediately under the control of the Imperial Government, the clashing of interests between them more frequent, their rivalry more bitter. The control of ecclesiastical power was hence perpetual in Rome, though she was, both politically and intellectually, inferior to her competitors."
Gregory the First (A.D. 590-604) was, next to Leo the First, the greatest of the early Roman pontiffs. He stoutly repudiated the claim of the patriarch of Constantinople to be called universal bishop. This title, which in the next century was taken by his successors, he maintained to be blasphemous and diabolical, and he called himself "servant of the servants of God." None the less, he aimed at establishing the power of the Church, which he did much to promote by political intrigues as well as by the establishment of the doctrine of purgatory. Shortly before his death the Emperor Maurice and his five sons were barbarously murdered by Phocas, who, heading a rebellion, usurped the throne of Constantinople. Gregory, rejoicing at the overthrow of an emperor who supported the pretensions of the rival primacy, no sooner heard the news than he had the statues of Phocas and his wife carried through Rome in triumph, and wrote to congratulate him on his success. This Phocas was a monster of vice - lewd, drunken, and sanguinary. Dean Milman says:
"It is astonishing that even common prudence did not temper the language of the triumphant pontiff, who launches out into a panegyric on the mercy and benignity of the usurper, calls on earth and heaven to rejoice at his accession, augurs peace and prosperity to the empire from his pious acts, and even seems to anticipate the return of the old republican freedom under the rule of the devout and gentle Phocas."
But the reward was to come. The patriarch of Constantinople having angered the devout and gentle Phocas by not delivering the murdered emperor's wife and daughters to his cruelty, he acceded to the request of Pope Boniface the Third and decreed (A.D. 606) the Romish See as head of all the Churches."
Another potent instrument in the fight for supremacy was the assumption of the power of excommunication, and afterwards of interdict. The conversion of the barbarians, who had been used to the exercise of this power in Druidism, facilitated the use of the weapon. When Christianity was predominant, there was no refuge for the person excommunicated, unless he could take shelter with Mohammedans or heathens. In time it became generally recognised in the jurisprudence of all Europe, that the civil power was bound to aid in enforcing ecclesiastical censures. Providence was always supposed to vindicate the anathemas of the Church; and if temporal visitations were insufficient, there was always the authority of the saints, to whom the secrets of futurity were revealed, for asserting that the most terrible of all the fires of hell was reserved for those who died excommunicate. The Church took care to supplement this with earthly penalties and disabilities. The excommunicate could not marry, and was outlawed from all civil rights and social intercourse.
"The liability to share the punishment of an excommunicate, for the simplest office or greeting tendered to him, was universally admitted. No one was even to salute him, and the confessor was instructed, among the regular questions addressed to his penitents, to inquire whether they had exchanged a word or a greeting with anyone under the ban of the Church. Worse than a leper, he was to die like a dog, and all the promptings of humanity on his behalf were to be sternly repressed... The excommunicate thus shed around him a contagion, which cut him off from all human society, and left him to perish in misery and starvation. This was no mere theoretical infliction, but a law enforced with all the power of the Church, and applied so liberally that it became almost impossible for the innocent to escape its effects."
The truth of this is illustrated by the fact that Popes granted, as a special privilege, the right not to be excommunicated without cause. A bull of this nature is extant, issued by Pope Celestin, in favor of a monastery, and another by Innocent III., for the protection of an archbishop.
An English historian of the Papacy tells us that:
"When a crime bad been committed against the Church, for which no satisfaction could be obtained on account of the power of some haughty offender, or for any other reason, then the bishop put the whole place in which the offender lived, or the whole district to which that place belonged under an interdict - that is to say, he caused all offices of public worship to cease or be suspended. All the churches of that place were closed, and all relics which they contained were withdrawn from public view; all crucifixes and images of saints were shrouded; no bells were rung; no sacraments were administered; no corpse was buried in consecrated ground; and notice had been given that this state of things would be continued until the demands of the Church should have been fully satisfied, and the alleged injury repaired. By this means such a ferment was raised in a whole population, that even the most powerful were at length obliged to yield."
The priestly pretensions were supported not only by the dread powers of excommunication, which was even held in terror over the dead, but by the doctrine of the immunity of priests from the jurisdiction of secular tribunals. Thus a peculiar sanctity and personal inviolability were given them, which proved an enormous advantage in all contests with the civil power. According to Rufinus, Constantine, at the first Council of Nice, declared that the priests could not be judged by men. "For you are gods, given us by God, and it is not fitting that man should pronounce judgment on gods." It is not to be supposed that Constantine really said this, or that the civil power so readily acknowledged such a monstrous claim; yet it was continually put forward, and was soon asserted in the forged Decretals. Justinian conceded to the bishops the right to have episcopal judges, and the overthrow of the empire facilitated the privilege. The Frank, the Roman, the Goth, and the Burgundian, however intermingled, had each a right to be tried by his own code, and it seemed natural that the ecclesiastic should have the benefit of the canon law, which could not be expounded by the secular courts. As early as A.D. 538 the third Council of Orleans enacted that episcopal assent was 'necessary before a cleric could appear in a secular court, either as plaintiff or defendant, and many following Church Councils anathematised judges who tried and condemned ecclesiastics. Pope Nicholas, in a rescript to the Bulgarians, said to them: "You who are laymen ought not to judge either priest or clerk; they must be left to the judgment of their prelates." Thus the members of the clerical body, to the lowest degree, were freed from the secular jurisdiction.
Mohammedanism exercised an important influence over the Papacy. The Saracenic armies wrested from Christendom its Asiatic and African possessions. The sees of Carthage, Alexandria, Jerusalem, and Antioch disappeared from the Christian system. Constantinople and Rome only were left, and centuries of ecclesiastical dispute were terminated by the swords of Islam. As the Greek emperors were pressed by the Infidels, they were forced to leave to the Papacy the chief defence of their Italian provinces, and the independence of Rome was soon displayed in its refusal to obey the heretic emperor Bardanes.
In converting the Pagans, Christianity became completely paganised, and it was only after the rise of a rival religion that any attempts at reform were made. They were, however, most strenuously resisted by the Popes. When Leo, the Isaurian, who had associated much with the Mohammedans, published an edict prohibiting the worship of images (A.D. 726), Pope Gregory the Second absolved the people from their allegiance. This occasioned a civil war both in the East and in the West. Draper observes, however, that the issue was fictitious; the Papacy simply took the opportunity of revolting from a weak master.
The Iconoclasts went about destroying images, and were violently opposed by the monks. Milman remarks:"Nor did this open resistance take place in Constantinople alone. A formidable insurrection broke out in Greece and in the Aegean Islands. A fleet was armed, a new emperor, one Cosmos, proclaimed, and Constantinople menaced by the rebels. The monks here, and throughout the empire, the champions of this, as of every other superstition, were the instigators to rebellion."
The opponents of image worship were termed arraigners of Christianity, and considered little better than Saracens. The dispute led to numerous battles by land and water. Constantine, nicknamed Copronymus, carried on the contest inaugurated by his father Leo, and rigorously quelled popular tumults in favor of image worship. In A.D. 751 he convened a Council at Constantinople, which the Greeks call the Seventh General Council, and which anathematised at once all persons making images and all opponents of the religious veneration of Mary and other saints. The monks were violent in opposition to the first of these decrees, and were severely treated in consequence by the emperor. But they were countenanced by Gregory the Third, who excommunicated all who dared to attack the images. The emperor Leo the Fourth (A.D. 775) also issued penal laws against image worshippers, but he was poisoned by his wife, Irene, with whom Pope Adrian the First made an alliance on condition that image worship should be restored. It would require a volume to fully describe the bloodshed and crimes of this prolonged controversy, which distracted the Church for about a hundred and fifty years, when image worship finally prevailed.
As it emancipated itself from the Byzantine empire, the Papacy sought new alliances. Gregory III offered to Charles Martel the sovereignty of Italy if he would drive out the detested Lombards. With the most bare-faced defiance of political morality, Pope Zacharias (A.D. 741-752) sanctioned the dethronement of the weak Merovingian dynasty, by the declaration that "whoever possessed the power should have also the name of king." His successor, Stephen III (A.D. 752-757), anointed the usurper, Pepin the Short, as king of the Franks. In return for these services, Pepin came to the aid of Rome against the Lombards, and gave to the Pope, instead of the emperor, to whom they belonged, the conquered provinces. One inducement to Pepin to support Stephen was the forged letter from St. Peter, to which we have already referred, and which is well worth preserving:
"Pepin, the princes his sons, the Frankish nobility, and the Frankish nation; in the name of the Holy Virgin, the thrones, dominions and powers of heaven; in the name of the army of martyrs, of the cherubim and seraphim, of all the hosts gathered round the throne, and under threat of utter damnation, not to let his peculiar city, Rome, fall into the hands of the hell-brand Longobards."
Charlemagne confirmed and enlarged the donation his father had made, and on December 25, A.D. 800, laid the deed of the enlarged donation on the bogus tomb of St. Peter. Thus the popes became temporal princes; and though Charlemagne was not a monarch to be trifled with, they soon conceived the plan of restoring the ancient empire of the Romans by the universal rule of the Papacy. They availed themselves of the weakness and superstition of Charlemagne's successors to emancipate themselves from their authority; and, in order to efface the recollection of the gift, forged the story that Constantine the Great had given Rome and Italy to Pope Sylvester, and that this was the reason why the seat of empire had been removed to Constantinople. The Papal claims were also supported by the forged Decretals already referred to, the whole purport of which was to make the Church independent of the State, and to establish its universal dominion.
How little trouble it cost a mediaeval Pope to impose on the pious barbarian of his day, may be seen by glancing at a few sentences of this useful forgery:Considering that this terrestrial emperor ruled the Church roundly, called Councils by his own authority, insisted that the orthodox should commune with the Arians, and set up Pagan images at pleasure, one marvels at the ignorance and impudence of the forger of his "donation." Yet "as late as 1478 Christians were burnt alive in Strasburg for doubting its authenticity."
"'We ascribe,' Constantine is represented as saying, 'to the see of St. Peter all dignity, all glory, all imperial power... Besides, we give to Sylvester and his successor our palace of the Lateran, which is beyond question the most beautiful place on earth; we give him our crown, our mitre, our diadem and all our imperial vestments; we remit to him the imperial dignity. We give as a pure gift, to the holy pontiff, the city of Rome and all the western cities of Italy, as well as the western cities of the other countries. In order to give place to him, we yield our dominion over all these provinces by removing the seat of our empire to Byzantium, considering it not right that a terrestrial emperor should preserve the least power where God hath established the head of religion.'"
Even Dante seems to have believed the fable, writing in the bitterness of his noble heart:
"Ah, Constantine, di quanto mal fu matre
Non la tua conversion, ma quelle dote
Che de te prese il primo ricco patre!"
By every kind of trick the popes endeavored to evade acknowledgement of allegiance to the civil power. They were willing enough to crown monarchs but did not want monarchs to crown them. One after another slipped into the chair without waiting for the imperial warranty; and then, in explanation of his irregularity, alleged pressure of circumstances over which he had no control. The experiment could be tried often, for the persons selected to wear the tiara were generally old men, and the pontificates were naturally brief. To secure the supremacy of the throne, Louis the Second caused Pope Nicholas the First to be chosen (A.D. 858) in his own presence. But the emperor committed the blunder of honoring him as never pope had then been honored by prince; he served him as squire, went on foot before him, and led his horse by the bridle. The stirrup was soon dashed in the King's face. How it came about deserves the telling, for it strikingly exhibits how much the establishment and propagation of Christianity had done for the world.
Lothaire, King of Lorraine, who was brother to the Emperor Louis, married in A.D. 856 Teutberga, sister of Hubert, Abbot of St. Maurice, who was accused of incest with her brother. Lothaire also took a mistress, one Walrada, niece of Gunther, Archbishop of Cologne, who called a Council of bishops at Aix-la-Chapelle, which declared that Teutberga was not Lothaire's wife on account of the alleged incest. The queen successfully went through the ordeal of water -- by proxy. Nevertheless, Lothaire insisted on her guilt and she was forced to confess. After the decision of the Council his nuptials with Walrada were immediately celebrated, and Gunther received his reward in the elevation of his niece to the throne. Charles the Bald of France, however, with whom Teutberga had taken refuge, appealed on her behalf to the supreme arbiter at Rome. Nicholas, who had first stamped with pontifical authority the forged decretals of the early popes, seized the occasion with joy. He had said nothing as to Lothaire's concubinage with Walrada, but the marriage he pronounced void. He denounced the Synod of Aix as a brothel of adulterers, deposed the archbishops of Cologne and Trèves, and brandished a sentence of excommunication over the heads of the rest. Mr. Lea remarks that:
"The comparison is instructive between his alacrity and the prudent reticence of Adrian in the previous century. A moralist would find it difficult to draw the line between the connubial irregularities of Charlemagne and those of Lothaire; but Hermengarda found no puissant pope to force her inconstant husband into the paths of dissimulation, or to justify wrong by cruelty. When Charlemagne grew tired of a wife he simply put her aside, nor would Adrian or Leo have thanked the meddling fool who counselled interference."
The Emperor Louis, however, espoused the cause of his royal brother and the German bishops, but being backed up by Charles the Bald, the Pope would not budge. To suppress his insubordination Louis marched on Rome. The fasts and prayers of Nicholas availed little against the soldiery; a massacre ensued, and the Pope, escaping in a boat across the Tiber, lay hidden for two days in the Cathedral of St. Peter. Most opportunely a sudden fever seized the emperor, which was at once attributed to the sacrilege he had committed. Louis therefore sent for Nicholas, made his peace and withdrew, commanding the archbishops to return home and consider themselves degraded. Lothaire, Waldrada, and Charles the Bald, were threatened with excommunication and yielded. Before his triumph was complete Nicholas died, but Adrian the Second received the submission of Lothaire, who was admitted to communion on the oath, which no one believed, that he had obeyed the commands of Nicholas, as though they had been those of heaven, and had abstained from all intercourse with Waldrada. Such was the termination of this trial of strength between the tiara and the crown. The victory of the pope was as complete as the abasement of the king, and the supremacy of the papacy over domestic concerns was firmly established.
The dissolution of the Frankish empire, and the invasion of the Norseman, brought confusion into Italy. The Popes were frequently under the thumb of an aristocratic faction, and sided now with this potentate and now with that, in order to gain their own ends. Legge says:
"During the first half of the tenth century the Papacy sank back into utter confusion and moral impotence. Three dissolute women, Theodora and her daughters Marozia and Theodora, contrived to bring the whole patrimony of St. Peter under their sway, and disposed of the tiara at their pleasure. Crimes too odious to narrate, and before which murder pales, were perpetrated to gratify their lusts. Laymen of infamously notorious character filled the chair of the apostles, which was bought and sold like a piece of merchandise. The Papal palace became a vast seraglio; the very churches echoed to obscene songs and bacchanal festivities."
Hallam also observes:
"This dreary interval is filled up in the annals of the Papacy by a series of revolutions and crimes. Six Popes were deposed, two murdered, one mutilated. Frequently two or even three competitors, among whom it is not always possible by any genuine criticism to distinguish the true shepherd, drove each other alternately from the city."
Throughout the year 1045 Europe witnessed the spectacle of three popes, Silvester III, Benedict IX, and Gregory VI, "disgracing the Papal chair, and rivalling each other in the most disgraceful acts of vice."
A Council was called at Sutry (1046) which affirmed the right of the emperor to nominate to the "holy see," and supported the claims of Gregory VI:But a genius arose who was determined to establish sacredotal supremacy. This was Hildebrand (Gregory VII, A.D. 1073-85), the ablest of the popes. Under his leadership a party grew whose settled purpose was to raise the papacy above all secular control, and to make the Pope supreme arbiter of the world. When Leo IX was chosen as pope by the German emperor, Henry the Third, Hildebrand boldly declared the nomination invalid until confirmed by the superior clergy of Rome, and he induced the pontiff to seek their suffrages. During five pontificates Hildebrand served as prime minister and pope-maker. To strengthen the Church he was resolute that the clergy should have no family ties. At that time a large proportion of the clergy were married, and in Milan and elsewhere they set up an anti-pope, Cadalus, rather than resign their right of marriage. After a long and bloody controversy the policy of Hildebrand was triumphant. He also sought to abolish all simony, by which term he principally understood the bestowal of benefices by the civil power. At the same time he claimed the right of the papacy to dispose of kingdoms, and gave the crown of England to William of Normandy and that of Naples and Sicily to Robert Guiscard.
"No sooner, however, had this sentence been passed, than the emperor, to Gregory's astonishment, demanded of him an account of the means by which he had procured his appointment; and Gregory, not being able to deny that he had bought the popedom from Benedict, was deposed. It now became manifest that the emperor had left Germany with the design of his predecessor, Otho III, to have a German Pope. He had even fixed upon the man -- Suidger, Bishop of Bamberg, whom he caused to be elected by the Council, and then conducted him into Rome under the title of Clement II."
When elevated to the papal chair Hildebrand issued a decree invalidating all sacraments performed by simoniacal or married priests, and involving in their guilt and anathema whoever received communion from them. This he followed up with another (A.D. 1075), prohibiting sovereigns from granting churchly dignities, deposing every ecclesiastic who accepted a benefice from a layman, declaring such offenders idolators interdicted from communion, and placing under the same ban every potentate who should claim the right of investiture. These proceedings caused a collision with the emperor Henry IV of Germany. The Saxons being in rebellion, Gregory took occasion to admonish the king to abstain from the presentation of benefices. The German ecclesiastics revolted, and a synod at Metz renounced Gregory as pontiff. Another at Brixen pronounced his deposition and elected in his place Guibert, Archbishop of Ravenna, under the title of Clement III. Henry wrote commanding Gregory to vacate the chair. The Pope retorted by excommunicating the emperor, his adherents, and the antipope. The pontiff's curse proved stronger than the prince's sword. The antipope died suddenly, and dread of excommunication seized Henry's followers. Political wavering and disintegration ensued, and Henry was forced to sue for mercy. For three winter days and nights the emperor was kept barefooted, and without food and shelter, in the courtyard of the castle where Gregory was staying, before the pontiff would revoke the dread sentence of excommunication.
Henry's enemies caused Rudolph of Swabia to be elected emperor in his place. The pope's legates confirmed the choice. This was a breach of faith with Henry. Again he took to arms and was a second time excommunicated. Gregory even ventured a prophecy, and declared: "If he be not deposed or dead before the festival of St. Peter, may men cease to believe in me." But Gregory's god, however, was asleep or on a journey this time. Henry overcame his enemies and marched on Rome. Gregory had to send to Robert Guiscard for relief. He raised the siege and kissed the pope's toes, while his followers took to pillaging the citizens and violating their wives and daughters. The Romans rose on the invaders, and Guiscard fired the city, sparing, at the intercession of Gregory, only the churches. Thus commenced the wars of the Investitures, which lasted over fifty years, "costing, without exaggeration, a hundred battles and the lives of two millions of human beings." The wars of the Guelphs and Ghibbelines were essentially a prolongation of the same quarrel. In the second sentence of excommunication, which Gregory passed on Henry IV, are these words:Doctrines such as these struck equally at all civil government. Nor were the successors of Hildebrand slow to apply them. Pope Innocent III -- who excommunicated our king John, absolved England and Ireland from allegiance to him, and even gave the kingdom of England and Ireland to Philip Augustus, King of France -- declares, in his third sermon on consecration, that the vicar of Christ stands midway between God and man -- less than God, but greater than man. The doctrine perhaps found its culmination in the celebrated bull of Boniface (A.D. 1302), which declared that "for every human creature it is a condition of salvation to submit to the Roman pontiff."
"Come now, I beseech you, O most holy and blessed fathers and princes, Peter and Paul, that all the world may understand and know that if ye are able to bind and loose in heaven, ye are likewise able on earth, according to the merits of each man, to give and to take away empires, kingdoms, princedoms, marquisades, duchies, countships, and the possessions of all men."
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The Rise of the Papacy