Though St. Leo IX was a holy and learned man, he came up short in military issues and this proved to be an Achilles heel for the papal states in their efforts to dispel the Norman invasions in south Italy. In May 1053, despite the opposition of Henry's imperial chancellor Gebhard of Eichstatt, Leo personally marshalled an overmatched papal army that was badly defeated. When Gebhard had defiantly stood up to the Pope in refusing to call Henry's armies which were too far away, Leo opted instead to go through with it, calling on the Byzantine forces in south Italy to help him. Interestingly it was Gebhard who would succeed Leo as Pope Victor II. The result was the Byzantines stood the Holy Father and his men up; consequently the Normans captured and imprisoned Leo and his troops but treated them all humanely, even allowing the Pope to have contact with the outside world. He would be released after a lengthy incarceration and, many believe, this weakened him so physically that he was never the same. However, during his capture the wars in south Italy not only weakened the military strength of the Papal States, but further infuriated the Constantinople patriarch Michael Cerularius who was incensed that the Pope would venture into his territory in south Italy which had firmly been entrenched with the Byzantine culture. Further, it was no secret that Cerularius was fanatically against the Western Church in every aspect and took this as an opportunity to not only prevent the Byzantine troops from assisting the Pope, but also use it as an excuse to attack Catholic practices such as using unleavened bread for the Eucharist. The Western Church countered by holding a synod in the heart of the Byzantine territory of Italy in Siponto in which Leo's number one man Cardinal Humbert of Silva Candida prepared a ferocious retort to the Eastern patriarch by asserting the primacy of Rome liberally quoting the Donation of Constantine, which was the sacred document of the Eastern Church. Cerularius, refusing to acknowledge the Roman primacy, countered by shutting down all the Latin churches in Constantinople. While still in prison, Leo sent an embassy, headed by Humbert along with a representative of Henry III's, to Constantinople to attempt reconciliation with the East and smooth over the volatile situation. But it was to no avail and thus, on July 16, 1054 before Humbert left Constantinople he proceeded to the altar of St. Sophia's great Cathedral and placed there a papal bull from Leo officially excommunicating Cerularius and his followers. Eight days later the Eastern patriarch retaliated by excommunicating Leo and all his followers. It was a case of counter-anathemas and the final nail in the coffin. The East-West Schism was official; the separation of the Orthodox Churches from unity and obedience to the Pope has remained so from this day forward though recent attempts to reconcile have been made by both Pope John Paul II and the current Eastern patriarch.
All of this weighed heavily on St. Leo IX and when he was released from the Norman prison he was broken in spirit. Carried back to Rome weak and on a stretcher, he died a month later on April 18, 1055. Some accounts say Henry III wasted little time in not only nominating his next candidate but also elevating him to the throne before Leo had passed on, so concerned was the Holy Roman Emperor with restoring a semblance of peace and order in the Vatican, which with Leo in prison and only recently returned but ill during the last month, the Holy See had remained virtually empty for just over a year. There are conflicting historical reports that Leo died in 1054, others that he died in 1057. From all the sources we were able to sift through, we settled on the natural progression of 1055 as the chronological events fall more into line with that date. We believe that while Leo was in prison Henry, after authorizing his legate and Leo's confidante Hildebrand to consult with the Roman curia, selected Gebhard, the last of the four German Popes he nominated, to be the 153rd pontiff. However, and this is another reason time-lines are often confused, Gebhard delayed for some time the decision because Leo was still alive and for political reasons as we shall see. Finally, when he was assured of having territories and properties returned that had been taken from the Holy See, he agreed to be Pope. On April 16th, 1055 he took the name Pope Victor II following in his fellow German popes' tradition of choosing a name from among the early pontiffs, this time going back to the second century in emulating Pope St. Victor I who was renowned for his staunch stance against the East and Egypt in defending the Roman Church. Victor II had tremendous influence which was a carry-over to his sway over the Holy Roman Emperor, evident in denying Leo troops from Henry's armies. On the other hand, Henry III had a motivation to his madness as well since he wanted a strong imperial-type pontiff on the throne, largely to combat his arch enemy the Duke Godfrey of Lorraine who was married to the widow of Count Boniface of Tuscany and whose alliance formed a threat to Henry in central and northern Italy. Once Victor was firmly entrenched as Pope, Henry filed into Italy and chased Godfrey out of the country, but the emperor's men did capture his wife and stepdaughter Matilda who would go on to become the Countess of Tuscany. Though Godfrey was out of harm's way, his brother Frederick, as chancellor of the Church, retreated to Monte Cassino where he took refuge as a monk. Henry, not able to stay in Italy, decided to appoint Victor II duke of Spoleto and count of Fermo in an effort to strengthen his hold in Tuscany and with the Normans in the south. However the latter did not look kindly to Victor's interference and they caused problems for him as they did his predecessor. Ironically, Victor who had opposed Leo's calling in troops from the Holy Roman Empire, did the same by beseeching Henry to send extra troops. But his appeal fell on deaf or should we say dead ears for Henry fell ill and died on October 5, 1056. Realizing it was expedient for him to forego his expansion in southern Italy because of Henry's last wishes, Victor II opted to turn his attention toward Henry's kingdom. Henry had left the empire and his five year-old son Henry IV in hands of Pope Victor II. Much more politically acute than Leo, Victor handled the transition smoothly consoling Henry's wife Agnes whom he appointed regent with the power to designate a successor if her son Henry IV should die. Further Victor, wanting to assure peace, sought and landed a reconciliation with Godfrey, Baldwin - count of Flanders, and the imperial court. With this accomplished Victor returned to Italy in early spring 1057 and called a Lateran synod in April. To ingratiate Godfrey further he endowed the duke with powerful backing from both the Holy See and the Holy Roman Empire in central and northern Italy as well as strongly influencing the election of Godfrey's brother Frederick as abbot at Monte Cassino. Before consecrating Frederick abbot, Victor completed his promise by elevating him to Cardinal of San Crisogono. That summer Victor grew increasingly more ill and, after a late July synod in Arezzo, died on July 28, 1057. It was the end of the line of German popes and the strong imperial presence in Rome for awhile as both Victor II and Henry III, both strong leaders, were gone. In their place was a vacancy in the Vatican and a young child on his mother's lap. More tough times were ahead for the Church and the empire but God, in His infinite wisdom and mercy, would steer her through the troubled waters as we shall see in the next installment on June 23rd.