Sunday, August 03, 2008

Pope Gregory VII from the German Perspective

The Character of Pope Gregory
extracted from
The Variations of Popery
Samuel Edgar, D.D.
(1855 ed., pp. 111-12)

Gregory the Seventh, who obtained the papacy in 1073, was another pontifical patron of iniquity. He was elected on the day of his predecessor's funeral, by the populace and soldiery, through force and bribery, without the concurrence of the emperor or the clergy. Desiderius, abbot of Monte Cassino, on this head, accused Hildebrand to his face of precipitation. He obtained the supremacy, in the general opinion, by gross simony.[FN1] He had the hypocrisy or hardihood, nevertheless, to pretend that the dignity was obtruded on him against his will.

Benno has sketched the character of this pontiff in strong colors. This cardinal accused his holiness of simony, sacrilege, epicurism, magic, sorcery, treason, impiety, and murder. The Italians of Lombardy drew nearly as frightful a portrait of his supremacy. These represented his holiness as having gained the pontifical dignity by simony, and stained it by assassination and adultery.

The councils of Worms and Brescia depicted his character with great precision. The council of Worms, comprehending forty-six of the German prelacy, met in 1076, and preferred numerous imputations against Gregory. This synod found his holiness guilty of usurpation, simony, apostasy, treason, schism, heresy, chicanery, dissimulation, fornication, adultery, and perjury. His infallibility, according to this assembly, debased sacred theology by innovation, and scandalized Christendom by his intimacy with the Princess Matilda. His holiness, in the sentence of the German prelacy, preferred harlots to women of character, and adultery and incest to chaste and holy matrimony.[FN2]

The council of Brescia, in 1078, portrayed his supremacy with equal freedom. This assembly, composed of thirty, bishops, and many princes from Italy, France, and Germany, called Gregory a fornicator, an impostor, an assassin, a violator of the canons, a disseminator of discord, a disturber of the Christian commonwealth, and a pestilential patron of all madness, who had sown scandal among friends, dissension among the peaceful, and separation among the married. The Brescian fathers, then declared his holiness guilty of bribery, usurpation, simony, sacrilege, ferocity, vain-glory, ambition, impiety, obstinacy, perverseness, sorcery, divination, necromancy, schism, heresy, Berengarianism, infidelity, assassination, and perjury. The sacred synod having, in this manner, done justice to his character, deposed Gregory from his dignity by the authority of Almighty God.[FN3]

The fathers of Worms and Brescia supported the Emperor Henry against Pope Gregory. Their condemnation of the pontiff therefore has, by Labbé, Alexander, and Binius, been reckoned the effect of personal hostility, and, on this account, unworthy of credit. Their sentence, indeed, is no great evidence of their friendship for his holiness. But these two councils were, in this respect, in the same situation with the other synods who have condemned any of the Roman hierarchs. The Roman synod that condemned John the Twelfth, the Parisian assembly that convicted Boniface, the Pisan and Constantian councils that degraded Gregory, Benedict, and John, all these were placed in similar circumstances, and actuated by similar motives. But their sentences are not, therefore, to be accounted the mere ebullitions of calumny. Gregory's sentence of deposition against Henry was, according to the partizans of popery in the present day, an unlawful act, and beyond the limits of pontifical authority. The fathers of Worms and Brescia, therefore, had a right to withstand Gregory in his assumption and exercise of illegal and unconstitutional power.

[FN1] Du Pin, 2. 210, 215. Bruy. 2. 427.
[FN2] Labb. 12. 517. Cossart. 2. 11, 48. Bruy. 2. 471. Alex. 18. 398.
[FN3] Labb. 12. 646. Alexander. 18. 402.


Edited by TurretinFan (2008) to update spellings and footnote numbering/format. Book available at no charge in electronic form from Google Books (link). It should be noted that obviously the account above is the account from the German perspective, not the Italian perspective (which would praise Gregory). Even the accounts from the Italian perspective, however, acknowledge that Gregory VII had started his career serving a simoniacal pope ("There could be no doubt as to Alexander's successor. Hildebrand [later called Gregory VII] had been virtually Pope during two pontificates. The efforts of the Clugny party against simony and clerical marriage had been inspired by him, though he had begun his career as the chaplain of a simoniacal Pope." The Age of Hildebrand, M. R. Vincent, 1896, p. 64).

Gregory VII is that pope whose intrigues in European politics led to Emperor Henry IV standing standing barefoot in bad weather for three days in a castle courtyard, which (in turn) led to Gregory's own deposition and exile by Henry subsequently. In the development of the papacy and its arrogation over the European church, Gregory's role is significant, although he died defeated and in exile with an appointee of Henry IV on the papal throne.

Thus, even works that essentially write off the German councils make comments such as: "Gregory's character was in many respects a grand and noble one. But impartial history decides that the good he accomplished was far more than counterbalanced by his fanatical enforcement of celibacy (q. v.), which has continued to this day to demoralize the Romanist clergy, and by his semi-blasphemous assertions of almost divine power for the papacy. His earlier efforts for ecclesiastical reform were, no doubt, sincere and earnest; but at a later period he was led astray bу the ambition of exalting his see over all the dignities and powers of the earth, spiritual as well as temporal. Not content with making, as far as in him lay, the Church independent of the empire, and at the same time establishing the control of the papal authority over the princes of the earth, objects which he left to be completed by his successor, Gregory determined to destroy the independence of the various national churches. His object was to raise the pope to supreme power over Church and State throughout Christendom. By a constitution of his predecessor Alexander II, which he dictated, and which he afterwards continued, it was enacted for the first time that no bishop elect should exorcise his functions until lie had received his confirmation from the pope. The Roman see had already, in the 9th century, subverted the authority of the metropolitans, under pretense of affording protection to the bishops; but now it assumed the right of citing the bishops, without distinction, before its tribunal at Rome to receive its dictates, and Gregory obliged the metropolitan to attend in person to receive the pallium. The quarrel of Anselm, archbishop of Canterbury, with William Rufus, was owing to that monarch not choosing to let him go to Rome, whither he had been summoned. The practice of sending apostolic legates to different kingdoms as special commissioners of the pope, with discretionary power over the national hierarchy, originated also with Gregory, and completed the establishment of absolute monarchy in the Church in lieu of its original popular or representative form. This doctrine of papal absolutism in matters of discipline was by prescription and usage so intermixed with the more essential doctrines of faith, that it came to be considered аз a dogma itself, and has defied all the skill of subsequent theologians and statesmen to disentangle it from the rest, while at the same time it has probably been, though at a fearful cost, the means of preserving the unity of the Western
or Roman Church. The measures accomplished and attempted by Gregory were (1) the abolition of the influence of the Roman nobility in the election of the pope; (2) the removal of all authority in the election of the popes from the emperors of Germany; (3) the establishment of the celibacy of the clergy; (4) the freedom of the Church in the matter of investitures." (internal citations omitted) Cyclopaedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, McClintock et al. 1891, pp. 1003-04.

But even leaving aside Gregory VII, if one wanted a more undisputed example of papal simony than this (or than the pope under which Gregory VII got his start), one need only turn to Alexander VI (pope from 1492-1503), formerly Rodrigo Borgia. Of the manner of his election, of the depravity of his life, and of the gruesomeness of his death, I will for now leave the reader to discover for himself. While the ambitions of Gregory VII may have contributed to the Great Schism (1054) (or may simply have been the product of that political defeat), Alexander VI (among other factors) set the stage for Luther.

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