The second millennium dawned with Pope Sylvester II, who was elected in 999, leading Holy Mother Church into the next one thousand years. It was the medieval times, often referred to as the "Dark Ages." But it would be the Church which would lead the world out of the darkness and illuminate millions with the light of Christ through evangelization and the tireless efforts of saints - both recognized and unrecognized who comprised the laity and religious ranks.
Eighteen popes ruled during the eleventh century. Pope John XVII became the 140th in the line of St. Peter upon Sylvester's death in 1003. He lived less than a year and was followed by: Pope John XVIII (1004-1009), Pope Sergius IV (1009-1012), and Pope Benedict VIII (1012-1024). The latter was driven out by the antipope Gregory but through the intercession of Saint Henry II, who was crowned Emperor of Germany in 1014, Benedict was reinstated. He was followed on the chair of Peter by Pope John XVIII (1024-1032), Pope Benedict IX (1032-1044, 1047-1048), Pope Sylvester III (1045), Pope Gregory VI (1045-1046), Pope Clement II (1046-1047), Pope Damasus II (1048), and Pope Saint Leo IX (1049-1054). The year the latter died the doctrine of the real presence raised its ugly head when Michel Cerularius, Patriarch of the Eastern Church completed the severence of the Greek Church from Rome. It was a schism that would continue through to this present day. Pope Victor II succeeded St. Leo, until 1057 and he was followed by Pope Stephen X (1057-1058), Pope Benedict X (1058-1059). In 1059 it was decreed that, from henceforth, the College of Cardinals would have the exclusive right of electing the Popes and emperors or outside influences could not take part. This would become a bone of contention over the next several centuries as a tug of war would ensue over ecclesiastical powers. Pope Nicholas II followed Benedict until 1061 when the keys of the Kingdom were handed to Pope Alexander II from 1061-1073.
On April 22, 1073 one of those who strengthened that ecclesial presence and brought the Christian world more into the light was a man named Hildebrand who would become the holy Pope Saint Gregory VII. He had been a monk from the great abbey of Cluny in France and, for 33 years had exercised a powerful influence in the government of the Church. In 1073 he was elected the 157th successor of Peter. As supreme pontiff he convened a council which issued a "Dictatus Papiae" which decreed that only the Pope is universal and that no one can judge him; he alone can dispense others from vows. He worked with equal energy for the advancement of learning and piety among the clergy and for the liberation of the Church from civil encroachments. During his twelve year pontificate scholasticism rose as universities began to flourish under the special influence and protection of the Church. It was also during his papacy that he literally took the bull by the horns and issued an excommunication of the German emperor Henry IV. The issue involved the Investiture Controversy - a quarrel between the Pope and Holy Roman Emperor over who owned the right to confer authority on bishops and abbots. Even though this would not be settled until the Concordat of Worms in 1122, when push came to shove Henry blinked and traveled humbly to Canossa in 1077 to implore pardon of the Pope. The precedent had been set that the Pope wielded the greatest power and the reverberations were felt throughout Europe. Gregory died in 1085, a year after Saint Bruno had established the Carthusians.
After a full year's vacancy, the chair of Peter was filled by Pope Blessed Victor III who ruled for one year. He was followed by Pope Blessed Urban II from 1088 to 1099. The year Urban became Pope, the heretic Berengarius died. It was he who had spread the denial of the real presence. In 1095 Peter the Hermit rallied enthusiasm throughout Europe as he preached the First Crusade which was implemented by Urban II in 1095 at the Council of Clermont and culminated three years later when Godfrey de Bouillon captured Jerusalem for the Christian cause.
The Crusades were major military campaigns that lasted over 200 years. They were not only promoted by the Popes but partly financed as well. The fervor against Islam invasion of the Holy Land would reach fever pitches throughout Europe, motivating kings and peasants to fight together as we shall see in the next installment when we cover the twelfth century.