THE HISTORY OF THE MASS AND HOLY MOTHER CHURCH

chapter thirty six

A time when politics make strange bedfellows and the Sacred College of Cardinals is established

On the heels of the great East-West Schism and the death of both the Holy Roman Emperor Henry III and Pope Victor II a semblance of sanity and sacred was once again thrown to the wolves as the once powerful Roman families connived to regain control of the Vatican, something that Henry and Victor's predecessors had prevented. However before they could muster support for one candidate, Victor's entourage consulted the abbot of Monte Cassino Frederick of Lorraine who offered five names, one of which was a wise and holy monk who came from Tuscany, had been educated in the Lateran Palace, became a learned teacher there and counseled popes. His name was Hildebrand who would eventually become the great Saint Gregory VII in 1073 who we will cover in the next installment. Though Hildebrand was well-qualified, the followers of Victor, fearing the Roman families would usurp their choice, discarded the list and opted for Frederick himself. Frederick accepted and, on August 2, 1058, in honor of the saint whose feast day fell on the same day he was elected, he took the name Pope Stephen IX. Stephen continued the policies of Victor, calling for a higher conscience of moral standards within the clergy. It's interesting to note here that no one contacted the German imperial family of Stephen's election for their confirmation. Some historians conject it was because Henry III's heir Henry IV was still a young boy and his mother the Empress Agnes knew very little of the political savvy of her late husband. However, there is also strong sentiment that the reason they were not contacted was the fear of the aristocratic Roman families gaining time in retaking the Vatican. Time was of the essence for Stephen and his cohorts. Besides, Stephen could rely on his brother Godfrey, duke of Lorraine and count of Tuscany to bail him out if trouble occurred military-wise. Remember it was Godfrey who was an enemy of Henry III and Frederick (Stephen), though one of the top men in the curia, felt it was prudent to retire to Monte Cassino. Yet it was Hildebrand who carried out the protocol to inform the imperial family in December of 1058. Because of his manner, the royal family concurred with the selection of Stephen who had been reconciled to the family after Henry's death. It had been Victor, Henry's appointee, who had strongly lobbied for Stephen to become abbot of the famed Benedictine monastery. After his election as supreme pontiff Stephen remained abbot of Monte Cassino and many believed that is why he pushed so hard for reform of the monasteries - to pattern all of them after his. He sought to restore the holy rule of poverty, stressing the vow of obedience. He had already made great strides with the vow of celibacy, denouncing all clerical marriages and defrocking those clerics who had married in addition to forbidding marriages between blood relations of any kind. He also had depended heavily on Hildebrand's advice and that served him well. Stephen had detailed a well-thought out plan to fend off the Normans in the southern part of Italy, financing the military effort through built-up proceeds at Monte Cassino. Some believe that is why he stressed so much the rule of poverty at the monastery - to free up even more funds, but there is no historical fact to that. There is however historical documents that verify he had planned to not only appoint his brother Godfrey as head of the campaign, but to crown him emperor of Italy. It was March when he arrived in Florence to meet with Godfrey. He must have known he was growing more and more seriously ill for he had left implicit instructions, under oath, to the clergy and his entourage in Rome that, if anything should happen to him, they would not elect a new pope until Hildebrand had returned from his mission to the royal family in Saxony. Stephen was far wiser than many thought for he realized the underground power of the aristocratic families and, wishing to continue the work of reform, practically named Hildebrand as his successor. However it did not happen that way. True, Stephen died on March 29, 1058 as he instinctively knew he would away from Rome and in his brother's arms at Florence where he was buried in San Reparata. The papacy was without a pope for Hildebrand was still on the other side of the Alps.

This was the opening the scheming Roman aristocrats had been hoping for. Spearheaded by the powerful clique of Gerard of Galeria and Gregory of Tusculum, they bribed the people to elect their man Cardinal John Mincius, bishop of Velletri. He chose the name Benedict X. Though his name had been one of those proposed by Frederick, Stephen's followers would have nothing to do with Benedict and refused to take part in his consecration. Fearing reprisal, they fled Rome declaring Benedict an anathema. Yet for the nine months Benedict sat on the chair as antipope, he tried to be a good pope. Despite his good intentions, a large body of cardinals, led by Hildebrand, gathered in Siena in December 1058 to elect the French-born bishop of Florence Gerard as the true pope. He took the name Pope Nicholas II as the one hundred and fifty-fifth lawful successor of Peter on December 6, 1058. One of his first actions was to hold an early January synod in Sutri where, in the presence of the royal chancellor Guibert, the body unanimously excommunicated Benedict because he had broken a solemn oath not to participate in the election of a pope until Hildebrand's return. He not only participated, he accepted the position. For this he was banished. He fled to Galeria to take shelter in Gerard's castle. Escorted by Godfrey's soldiers, Nicholas was taken to Rome where on January 24, 1059 he was rightfully placed on the papal throne. He depended greatly on Hildebrand as well as the holy Saint Peter Damiani. Through their influence and keeping with the reformers platform, Nicholas called for a Lateran Synod on April 13, 1059.

This landmark synod broke ground for the election process of the popes that still, thankfully, exists today. Nicholas decreed that from henceforth papal elections would be conducted only by authorized cardinals. This would not only shut out the influence of the Roman aristocrats, but preserve the papacy from outside interference and prevent simony in the future. No more selling the papacy. The papal decree enthusiastically supported by the members of the synod, set down for the proper procedure for electing the supreme pontiff. Once a majority had settled on the candidate, the cardinal clerks would be brought in and the rest of the clergy, along with the people, would give their endorsement. It was also noted by Nicholas that if it were necessary, elections could be held outside of Rome. To appease the Empress there was a brief passage that the Holy Roman imperial ruler had a right to approve but it was not in perpetuity but could be reviewed by each papal successor depending on the political climate. As we shall see this clause became a bone of contention that would lead to more antipopes in the future. Nicholas also forbade the investiture of bishops without papal approval. This also included prohibiting lay investiture and setting ground rules for the clergy to share a common life, a strong contention of the reformers who had taken their cue from Hildebrand. Another aspect of this synod was to bring the apostate Berenger of Tours before the assembly where he was told, in no uncertain terms, to sign a document attesting to the the true presence of Jesus Christ, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, in the Eucharistic bread.

With this synod completed, Nicholas took action that astounded many. Rather than continuing the fight against the Normans in the south he sought reconciliation with them on the wise advice of Hildebrand and Desiderius. Thus, on August 23, 1059 at the synod of Melfi in the heart of the Norman stronghold in the south, Nicholas locked in the alliance thus strengthening the Church in Italy and opening the door for feudal power in the south. With this alliance the Pope entreated the Normans to aid him in ridding Gerard of Galeria. Thus in April 1060 the combined papal and Norman armies stormed the castle and took Benedict X prisoner. He was turned over to Nicholas who deposed and degraded him for perjury and disobedience. Meanwhile Nicholas dispatched St. Peter Damiani along with Anselm of Lucca, a future pope, to northern Italy where the two succeeded in converting the Archbishop of Milan and his followers. The success Nicholas enjoyed in reform and his alliance with the Normans caused ill-will with the German imperial house. This was confirmed in 1061 when the royal family refused to see the papal legate sent by Nicholas. To make matters worse the German bishops held their own synod shortly thereafter declaring null and void all that Nicholas had decreed and broke off relations with the papacy. Nicholas never received the sad news for while on a visit to Florence on July 27, 1061 he fell seriously ill and died there, placed to rest in the monastery of San Reparata just as his predecessor Stephen IX had been. Hearing of Nicholas' death St. Peter Damiani and Anselm returned to Rome where the latter was elected by the newly-formed College of Cardinals as Pope Alexander II, the first to take that name since Saint Alexander - the sixth pontiff in the early church in 105. Alexander II had been born in Milan and was well-received by the Romans, but not by the Germans who, brooding that the imperial court had not been consulted, followed through on the selection of their own pope Cadalus of Parma who took the name of Pope Honorius II. He had been nominated by the Empress Agnes on the announcement of Nicholas II's death, but was not implemented until word arrived that the cardinals had chosen Alexander II. Reluctant at first to appoint another pope while one sat on the throne, Agnes was eventually persuaded by a contingent of Roman aristocrats who traveled to the German court to court the support of the Holy Roman Empire. These were the same ones who vehemently opposed the German influence a decade earlier; now they were striving to align with the imperial court. Politics indeed has strange bedfellows. Their motive, of course, was to offset the iron-clad decision of the Lateran synod instituting the Sacred College of Cardinals. Their only outlet was to turn to their enemy to keep alive any hope of regaining power over the papacy. The German bishops concurred with their dissent and this played right into the hands of the Roman families. Their choice also, was a natural since Cadalus, founder of the monastery of San Giorgio at Verona had been a strong opponent of Nicholas' reform movement. Honorius, after defeating his rival's troops, assumed the papal throne in April, 1062. There were now two pontiffs in Rome and Rome wasn't big enough for both. In May Godfrey descended on Rome and ordered both popes to return to their respective dioceses until the German court could sort out who was the true pontiff. Both popes were agreeable to this compromise since Agnes had been replaced as imperial regent by Archbishop Anno of Cologne with whom the decision rested. After intensive study of both sides first at Augsburg in Germany and later the same year in Rome, Anno ruled in favor of Alexander as the true pope. Honorius did not go quietly into the night. From his headquarters in Parma Honorius attacked Rome, capturing Castel Sant'Angelo which he firmly held through the summer months. Schism ran amok once again, but it was the wise minds and hearts of Hildebrand and St. Peter Damiani that convinced Anno to hold a joint synod of both Roman and German bishops to resolve their differences at the Synod of Mantua in May 1064. Both Alexander and Honorius were also invited, the latter steadfastly refusing. The former accepted and he was declared the sole heir to the papal throne after taking an oath against simony. The synod then anathematized Honorius who was forced to return to Parma as archbishop their until his death in early 1072, though twice hin 1065 and again in 1068 he appealed to the German court in hopes they would rescind their earlier decision. This Anno would not do, thus clearing the way for Alexander to resume his papal duties. Alexander was much more interested in religious matters than political intrigue and that explains his interference into France's ecclesial problems. Angels rush in where fools fear to tread and this is exactly what Alexander did. He held a number of synods and inquisitions in which he pushed for reform. This did not sit well with the French but their rival to the south - the Spaniards enveloped the Holy Father's reforms prompting King Sancho V Ramirez of Aragon to place Spain under the feudal protection of the supreme pontiff in 1068. This shocked France into realizing they were now vulnerable to the south, to the east and to the west where England's King Harold threatened to attack. Thus, following the same avenue as their counterpart countrymen in southern Italy, they sought reconciliation with Rome and gained the support of Alexander through the intercession of Hildebrand. The result was a victory for France as Duke William of Normandy, carrying the banner of St. Peter, soundly defeated England in the great battle of Hastings in 1066. With this victory French Norman knights became ever more valiant in their campaign against the Muslims in Sicily and Spain, and even more solidly behind Rome. In 1068, France and Spain formed an alliance to fight the Moors and King Sancho V instituted the Roman liturgy to replace the Mozarabic liturgy.

Meanwhile in Germany King Henry IV had come of age and married a young girl named Bertha. When the luster wore off he sought to divorce her, but was rebuffed by Rome. Realizing the military and religious strength Alexander had mustered and the strong objections of St. Peter Damiani and Hildebrand, men the German king had come to admire, Henry thought better of sacking his wife. However all was not rosy in the imperial court. When the Archbishop of Milan died, Henry IV had sought to elevate his man Godfrey, not to be mistaken with Frederick's brother Godfrey. When the Milanese people rejected Henry's choice and chose instead their own priest Archbishop Atto, schism again broke out. Alexander would have no nonsense and immediately excommunicated five of the king's royal counselors who had advised him. The balance of power was now firmly in Rome's court and Alexander was in control. That control, however, would not last long as death took him on April 21, 1073. Not having to confer with the German imperial house, the Sacred College of Cardinals convened immediately and the next day unanimously chose the man everyone knew should be pope - Hildebrand. In the next issue we will deal with the papacy of this holy man who would not only become a pope, but a saint as well: Saint Gregory VII.


  • Previous chapters of this series

  • Back to Front Page of this issue of A CALL TO PEACE