DAILY CATHOLIC for January 6
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no. 4

The History of the Mass and Holy Mother Church
INTRODUCTION:      Probably no pontiff in the history of the Popes accomplished more in the shortest time. Pope Gregory VIII was only Pope for less than three months, but in this short span of time he was able to bring stability to the papacy, reconcile with the powerful German king and emperor Frederick Barbarossa convincing him to lead the Third Crusade in the aftermath of the disaster of Jerusalem. While Gregory VIIIís legacy is for launching the Third Crusade, he was first and foremost a peacemaker whose philosophy was that the only way to defeat the Saracen threat in the Mid East was through a unified Christian world. Therefore, everywhere he sought reconciliation and peace among European nations, princes, dukedoms and kings. He was hailed by many as the man who could deal with Frederick with honey rather than vinegar. It was the beginning of restoring the Holy See to prominence that would come into focus in the ensuing centuries. This holy manís short tenure marked a definite end to the dark ages and memories of popes whose agenda was not in accord with Godís Will. The Christian world rallied behind him and mourned greatly at his unexpected death in Pisa on December 11, 1187.
Pope Gregory VIII: The start of reconciliation and restoration
Installment Fifty-two
      As the College of Cardinals met at Ferrara the day after the death of Pope Urban III they realized they could not afford to make the same mistakes they had made in the past. Their selection of Urban had turned out to be a disaster and they looked toward the stable Cardinal Henry of Albano as their next leader, but the holy and aging prelate declined and offered in his stead his colleague from the curia - the papal chancellor Cardinal Albert de Mora. They concurred and on October 21 he was elected on the first ballot. He chose the name Pope Gregory VIII in honor of his predecessor a century ago Pope Saint Gregory VII - a saint named Hildebrand who would not be canonized until 1606 by Pope Paul V. But the new pontiff knew the saintly things Gregory VII had accomplished and sought to follow in his footsteps and distance himself and Holy Mother Church from the poor excuses for leaders the Church had suffered during the personal feuds with the German Emperor Frederick Barbarossa. The Pope was no stranger to dealing with royalty or appeasing heads of state and investigating wrong-doing. He had been appointed Papal Chancellor by Pope Alexander III who had held that same title before becoming supreme pontiff in 1159. He had been the best papal leader up until Gregory VIII. In fact, before Alexander became Pope Cardinal de Mora had served as vice chancellor under him. It was de Mora who Alexander dispatched to look into the bizarre circumstances surrounding the murder of Saint Thomas Beckett and it was he who counseled and absolved King Henry of the deed.

     In this same vein he began his papacy by calling on Frederick to be a staunch ally and to take the reins in leading the Third Crusade. Gregory had realized all of Christian Europe needed to be united in a cause and time was of the essence. The longer he waited, the more power was attributed to the Infidel forces both psychologically and in actuality. Frederick, anxious to wield his power, was only too willing to comply. Within weeks the zeal for launching a Third Crusade, one of massive forces that would crush the Moslem military, reached a fever pitch. In every country dukes, princes and their knights rallied to the cause, signing up in droves. Gregoryís call to holiness and repentance touched hearts everywhere. He had dispatched papal legates to every country with the clarion that the only way to be victorious was to repent for past sins by doing penance, alms-giving and putting on penitential garb. Through his wise advice, the people realized the defeats in the Holy Lands were because Christians were not acting Christ-like and to truly win each must strive towards holiness. Though Gregory himself may have wanted to accompany the crusaders in their quest to recover the Holy Land, he realized there was too much work at home. He also realized the value of the clergy in a peacemaker role and thus declared that clergy should devote their efforts to the people, take up alms-giving, and spend their remaining time in prayer. He assigned designated chaplains to the Crusade but instructed them not to take up arms. He was also adamant that the clergy must be the pacesetters in displaying holiness and forbade them to wear elegant clothes of any kind, lest they would cause scandal. It is much the same plea Archbishop Charles Chaput made at the recent Synod of the Americas in December at St. Peterís, entreating his fellow bishops that they could only be unified and lead by working first on their own personal holiness.

 &nbps;   Having clearly sent his message to all corners of the Christian world, Gregory then set out to bring peace between Genoa and Pisa. He realized that if he could get these two feuding cities to reconcile, they could be a valuable asset to the Crusades. Enroute to Pisa, Gregory VIII called a council in Parma specifically for making final preparations for the Third Crusade. While there he traveled to the nearby village of Lucca where he commanded the local bishop to remove the remains of the antipope Victor IV from the cathedral there at once and give it a common burial, nothing special. He announced that no one who was not loyal to Godís Will would be afforded any honor in Godís Church. Because of the holiness, sincerity and determination this supreme pontiff exemplified, his efforts met with success. He was able to bring the heads of the Genoese families and Pisan clans to the peace table, but he was not able to complete the peace settlement for he caught the fever in early December and within days it took its toll and this beloved and popular pontiff from the people. Gregory expired on December 17, 1188. The entire Christian world mourned their loss of this holy leader and resolved to dedicate the Third Crusade to the memory of Gregory VIII. It would be left to Gregoryís successor to bring this to reality and further the reform begun by Gregory in finally bringing peace to Rome as well.

NEXT ISSUE: Pope Clement III: The realization of the Third Crusade and Roman peace.

To review all past installments of this on-going series, go to Archives beginning with the inaugural A CALL TO PEACE internet issue in January 1996. volume 7, no. 1.


January 6, 1998     volume 9, no. 4
History of the Mass and Holy Mother Church






January 1998