chapter thirty five

The Germanic Papal Line and the Great East-West Schism

The resignation of Pope Benedict IX on July 17, 1048 at the urging of Saint Bartholomew was the final straw that broke the hold of the Roman families over the Popes of Rome. The new German king Henry III who had nominated Pope Clement II, consulted with St. Bartholomew and nominated Aliard Bishop of Lyons who declined the honor. Henry then nominated another German - this time Bishop Poppo of Brixen in Tyrol who accepted. He was elevated on July 17, 1048 and took the name Pope Damasus II. Damasus had been high in Henry's entourage, accompanying him to Rome and taking an active role in the Synod of early January 1047 convened by Clement II. Like Clement, Damasus chose the name of an early pontiff as well, selecting the moniker of the thirty-seventh in the line of Peter who was proclaimed a saint and was responsible for for authorizing the singing of Psalms by alternate choires as well as authorizing the Sacred Scriptures be translated from Hebrew into Greek and Latin. Unlike Saint Damasus I, Damasus II did not enjoy a long tenure. To Henry's dismay Damasus, while on summer retreat at the Palestrina outside Rome trying to escape the searing city heat, contracted malaria and died of heat exhaustion only twenty three days as Pope. His unexpected death left a brief window of hope open for the declining Roman families who sought to regain power by once again railroading through their own candidate Halinard of Lyons, but Henry III stepped in from afar and offered a well-respected and experienced canon named Bishop Bruno of Toul, the son of an Alsacian count and distantly related to the royal German line. Bruno was wise beyond his years and realized if he assumed the throne of Peter on Henry's authority only he would have problems with the people and be weakened in his effort to unify Holy Mother Church who he deeply loved and respected. Thus he entreated Henry to allow the people and Roman clergy to ratify his nomination. Seeing the sincerity of Bruno, Henry agreed. Because of this delay the papacy was vacant from August 9, 1048 until February 12, 1049. In actuality it took that long for both he and Henry to arrive in Rome crossing the Alps during a harsh winter. Bruno, rather than riding triumphantly in with Henry, opted instead to garb himself in the robes of a pilgrim and humbly walked in barefoot a month ahead of Henry. When someone recognized who Bruno truly was, the Roman populace, who had heard rumors of what a holy and wise man Bruno was, went wild and received him with open arms. Like his German predecessors, Bruno selected the name of a great and saintly Pope before him - Pope Saint Leo I who had miraculously stopped the vicious Hun Attila the Scourge of God at the gates of Rome back in the fifth century. Thus Bruno chose to be called Pope Leo IX. We know him today as Pope Saint Leo IX who was elevated to become the 152nd successor in the line of Peter on February 12, 1049 although he was not officially crowned until one month later when Henry III consecrated him. Henry had nominated this holy man largely for his reforming zeal and the way he raised moral standards wherever he went. Immediately Leo launched this same zeal lashing out in his first synod in Rome in early April against simony and the lustfulness of many in the clergy. He deposed several bishops who would not repent and reinforced Clement II's penance imposed on clergy who were knowingly ordained by simoniacal bishops. To reinforce this, he enlisted men who shared his values and spirituality; fellow Germans from Alsace-Lorraine three of whom would go on to be great leaders in the Church. Two would be Pope including Frederick of Liege who would become Pope Stephen IX and the great Hildebrand who would become Pope Saint Gregory VII. Also in this group was Cardinal Humbert of Moyenmoutier who became Leo's closest friend, confident and secretary of state before there was such an office. With the help of these able men, Leo was able to drastically transform the clergy and curia at the papal, diocesan and monastic levels. Reform was the main theme of his early papacy and he called for synods on this at main social and ecclesiastical centers throughout Europe.

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.