Introducing Holy Roman Emperor Takes Control of the Papacy,
serialized in four total installments, each one 5 minutes long.
After the extinction of the Carlovingian line, A.D. 887, and the division of the empire, the Church of Rome and the Christian world fell into a highly demoralized state, attributable to the destitution to which ecclesiastical bodies were reduced by the frequent predations of bands of robbers, the immorality of the priesthood, and the power of electing the popes falling into the hands of intriguing and licentious patrician females, whom aspirants to the holy see were not ashamed to bribe for their favors. So depraved had the general spirit of the age become that Pope Boniface VII, A.D. 974, robbed St. Peter’s Church and its treasury and fled to Constantinople; while Pope John XVIII, A.D. 1003, was prevented, by general indignation only, from accepting a sum of money from Emperor Basil to recognize the right of the Greek patriarch to the title of “Universal Bishop.”
A child, son of one of the old noble houses, was consecrated pope as Benedict IX, A.D. 1033, according to some authorities, at the age of ten or twelve years. He became noted for his profligacy and was driven from his throne, the Romans electing, as Pope Sylvester III, John, Bishop of Sabina, who is said to have paid a high price for the dignity. Benedict, however, regained the papal seat shortly afterward, and drove Sylvester into a refuge, but later sold the office to John Gratianus, Arch-priest of Rome, who as Gregory VI made laudable attempts to effect a general reformation. He failed in his efforts, and a chaotic state ensued; three popes claiming the triple tiara and reigning in Rome: Gregory at the Vatican, Benedict in the Lateran, and Sylvester in the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore.
On the invitation of the Roman people, Henry the Black, the young and zealous Emperor of Germany, repaired to Italy in 1045 and summoned a great ecclesiastical council at Sutri, which passed a decree deposing the three papal claimants. The same council elected to the tiara the German bishop of Bamberg, who reigned in the holy see as Clement II. One of his first ceremonies, carried out with all the gorgeous pomp of the Roman Church, was the imperial coronation of Henry and his wife Agnes.
But Henry’s action, while “it dragged the Church out of the slough it had fallen into,” startled the ecclesiastical world, and was a prelude to the struggle between pope and emperor which, under St. Hildebrand, Pope Gregory VII, culminated in the independent establishment of the pontificate and papal power.
The selections are from:
- History of the City of Rome in the Middle Ages by Ferdinand Gregorovius published in 1872.
- Histoire de l’Eglise depuis la création by Joseph Darras published in 1877.
For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages. There’s 3 installments by Ferdinand Gregorovius and 1 installment by Joseph Darras.
Ferdinand Gregorovius was a German historian who specialized in the medieval history of Rome.
Joseph Darras was a Catholic historian who wrote a history of the Church on Earth. Both of these author’s books are gigantic in length and scholarship.
We begin with Ferdinand Gregorovius.
Henry III, the son and successor of Conrad, was young, vigorous, and God-fearing; a noble prince called, like Charles and Otto the Great, to restore Rome, to deliver it from tyrants, and to reform the almost annihilated Church. For the papacy had been still further dishonored by Benedict IX. It seemed as if a demon from hell, in the disguise of a priest, occupied the chair of Peter and profaned the sacred mysteries of religion by his insolent courses.
Benedict IX, restored in 1038, protected by his brother Gregory, who ruled the city as senator of the Romans, led unchecked the life of a Turkish sultan in the palace of the Lateran. He and his family filled Rome with robbery and murder; all lawful conditions had ceased. Toward the end of 1044, or in the beginning of the following year, the populace at length rose in furious revolt; the Pope fled, but his vassals defended the Leonina against the attacks of the Romans. The Trasteverines remained faithful to Benedict, and he summoned friends and adherents; Count Gerard of Galeria advanced with a numerous body of horse to the Saxon gate and repulsed the Romans. An earthquake added to the horrors in the revolted city. The ancient chronicle which relates these events does not tell us whether Trastevere was taken by assault after a three-days’ struggle, but merely relates that the Romans unanimously renounced Benedict, and elected Bishop John of the Sabina to the papacy as Sylvester III. John also owed his elevation to the gold with which he bribed the rebels and their leader, Girardo de Saxo. This powerful Roman had first promised his daughter in marriage to the Pope, and afterward refused her; for the Pope had not hesitated, in all seriousness, to sue for the hand of a Roman lady, a relative of his own. Her father lured him on with the hope of winning her, but required that Benedict should in the first place resign the tiara.
The Pope, burning with passion, consented and fulfilled his promise during the revolt of the Romans. He was mastered by the demon of sensuality; it was reported by the superstitious that he associated with devils in the woods and attracted women by means of spells. It was asserted that books of magic, with which he had conjured demons, had been found in the Lateran. His banishment meanwhile aroused the haughty spirit of his house, and anger at Gerard’s treacherous conduct proved a further incentive to revenge. His numerous adherents still held St. Angelo, and his gold acquired him new friends. After a forty-nine days’ reign, Sylvester III was driven from the apostolic chair, which the Tusculan reascended in March, 1045.
Benedict now ruled for some time in Rome, while Sylvester III found safety either within some fortified monument in the city or in some Sabine fortress, and continued to call himself pope. A beneficent darkness veils the horrors of this year. Hated by the Romans, insecure on his throne, in constant terror of the renewal of the revolution, Benedict eventually found himself obliged to abdicate. The abbot Bartholomew of Grotta Ferrata urged him to the step, but he unblushingly sold the papacy for money like a piece of merchandise. In exchange for a considerable income, that is to say, for the revenue of “Peter’s pence” from England, he made over his papal dignities by a formal contract to John Gratianus, a rich archpriest of the Church of St. John at the Latin gate, on May 1, 1045.
Could the holiest office in Christendom be more deeply outraged than by a sale such as this? And yet so general was the traffic in ecclesiastical dignities throughout the world that when a pope finally sold the chair of Peter the scandal did not strike society as specially heinous.
John Gratian, or Gregory VI, set aside the canon law with a defiant courage which perhaps was only understood by the minority of his compatriots; he bought the papacy in order to wrest it from the hands of a criminal, and this remarkable Pope, although regarded as an idiot in that terrible period, was possibly an earnest and high-minded man. Scarcely had Peter Damian knowledge of this traffic when he wrote to Gregory VI on his elevation, rejoicing that the dove with the olive branch had returned to the ark. The Saint may have known the Pope personally and have been persuaded of his spiritual virtues. Even the chroniclers of the time, who represent him — assuredly with injustice — as so rude and simple that he was obliged to appoint a representative, are unable to fasten any crime upon him. The Cluniacs in France and the congregations of Italy all hailed his elevation as the beginning of a better time, and side by side with this simonist Pope a young and brave monk suddenly appears, who, after the heroic exertions of a lifetime, was to raise the degenerate papacy to a height hitherto undreamed of. Hildebrand first issues from obscurity by the side of Gregory VI; he became the Pope’s chaplain, and this fact alone proves that Gregory was no idiot. How far Hildebrand’s activity already extended, whether he had any share in Gregory’s illegal elevation, we do not know; but in the “representative” spoken of by the chronicles, we may easily recognize the gifted young monk who was Gregory’s counsellor, and who later took the name of Gregory VII in grateful recollection of his predecessor.
While Benedict IX pursued his wild career in Tusculum or Rome, Gregory VI remained Pope for nearly two years. His desire was to save the Church, which stood in need of a drastic reform — and which soon afterward obtained it. The papacy, lately a hereditary fief of the counts of Tusculum, was utterly ruined; the dominium temporale, the ominous gift of the Carlovingians, the box of Pandora in the hands of the Pope from which a thousand evils had arisen, had disappeared, since the Church could scarcely command the fortresses in the immediate neighborhood of the city. A hundred lords, the captains or vassals of the Pope, stood ready to fall upon Rome; every road was infested with robbers, every pilgrim was robbed; within the city the churches lay in ruins, while the priests caroused. Daily assassinations made the streets insecure. Roman nobles, sword in hand, forced their way into St. Peter’s itself to snatch the gifts which pious hands still placed upon the altar.
Joseph Darras begins here.
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