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Career of Charlemagne, by Guizot, Francois P. G.

Life of Charlemagne

World History Center

Holy Roman Empire, The
Book: Chapter X: Struggle Of The Empire And The Papacy.
Author: Bryce, James
Date: 1901

Page Eleven

Chapter X: Struggle Of The Empire And The Papacy.

Reformed by the Emperors and their Teutonic nominees, the Papacy had
resumed in the middle of the eleventh century the schemes of polity shadowed
forth by Nicholas I, and which the degradation of the last age had only
suspended. Under the guidance of her greatest mind, Hildebrand, the
archdeacon of Rome, she now advanced to their completion, and proclaimed that
war of the ecclesiastical power against the civil power in the person of the
Emperor, which became the centre of the subsequent history of both. While the
nature of the struggle cannot be understood without a glance at their previous
connection, the vastness of the subject warns one from the attempt to draw
even its outlines, and restricts our view to those relations of Popedom and
Empire which arise directly out of their respective positions as heads
spiritual and temporal of the universal Christian state.

The eagerness of Christianity in the age immediately following her
political establishment to purchase by submission the support of the civil
power, has been already remarked. The change from independence to supremacy
was gradual. The tale we smile at, how Constantine, healed of his leprosy,
granted the West to bishop Sylvester, and retired to Byzantium that no secular
prince might interfere with the jurisdiction or profane the neighbourhood of
Peter's chair, worked great effects through the belief it commanded for many
centuries. Nay more, its groundwork was true. It was the removal of the seat
of government from the Tiber to the Bosphorus that made the Pope the greatest
personage in the city, and in the prostration after Alaric's invasion he was
seen to be so. Henceforth he alone was a permanent and effective, though
still unacknowledged power, as truly superior to the revived senate and
consuls of the phantom republic as Augustus and Tiberius had been to the faint
continuance of their earlier prototypes. Pope Leo the First asserted the
universal jurisdiction of his see ^1, and his persevering successors slowly
enthralled Italy, Illyricum, Gaul, Spain, Africa, dexterously confounding
their undoubted metropolitan and patriarchal rights with those of oecumenical
bishop, in which they were finally merged. By his writings and the fame of
his personal sanctity, by the conversion of England and the introduction of an
impressive ritual, Gregory the Great did more than any other pontiff to
advance Rome's ecclesiastical authority. Yet his tone to Maurice of
Constantinople was deferential, to Phocas adulatory; his successors were not
consecrated till confirmed by the Emperor or the Exarch; one of them was
dragged in chains to the Bosphorus, and banished thence to Scythia. When the
iconoclastic controversy and the intervention of Pipin broke the allegiance of
the Popes to the East, the Franks, as patricians and Emperors, seemed to step
into the position which Byzantium had lost ^2. At Charles's coronation, says
the Saxon poet,

'Et summus eundem
Praesul adoravit, sicut mos debitus olim
Principibus fuit antiquis.'

Their relations were, however, no longer the same. If the Frank vaunted
conquest, the priest spoke only of free gift. What Christendom saw was that
Charles was crowned by the Pope's hands, and undertook as his principal duty
the protection and advancement of the Holy Roman Church. The circumstances of
Otto the Great's coronation gave an even more favourable opening to sacerdotal
claims, for it was a Pope who summoned him to Rome and a Pope who received
from him an oath of fidelity and aid. In the conflict of three powers, the
Emperor, the pontiff, and the people - represented by their senate and
consuls, or by the demagogue of the hour - the most steady, prudent, and
far-sighted was sure eventually to prevail. The Popedom had no minorities, as
yet few disputed successions, few revolts within its own army - the host of
churchmen through Europe. Boniface's conversion of Germany under its direct
sanction, gave it a hold on the rising hierarchy of the greatest European
state; the extension of the rule of Charles and Otto diffused in the same
measure its emissaries and pretensions. The first disputes turned on the
right of the prince to confirm the elected pontiff, which was afterwards
supposed to have been granted by Hadrian I to Charles, in the decree quoted as
'Hadrianus Papa ^3.' This 'ius eligendi et ordinandi summum pontificem,' which
Lewis I appears as yielding by the 'Ego Ludovicus ^4,' was claimed by the
Carolingians whenever they felt themselves strong enough, and having fallen
into desuetude in the troublous times of the Italian Emperors, was formally
renewed to Otto the Great by his nominee Leo VIII. We have seen it used, and
used in the purest spirit, by Otto himself, by his grandson Otto III, last of
all, and most despotically, by Henry III. Along with it there had grown up a
bold counter-assumption of the Papal chair to be itself the source of the
imperial dignity. In submitting to a fresh coronation, Lewis the Pious
admitted the invalidity of his former self-performed one: Charles the Bald did
not scout the arrogant declaration of John VIII ^5, that to him alone the
Emperor owed his crown; and the council of Pavia ^6, when it chose him king of
Italy, repeated the assertion. Subsequent Popes knew better than to apply to
the chiefs of Saxon and Franconian chivalry language which the feeble
Neustrian had not resented; but the precedent remained, the weapon was only
hid behind the pontifical robe to be flashed out with effect when the moment
should come. There were also two other great steps which papal power had
taken. By the invention and adoption of the False Decretals it had provided
itself with a legal system suited to any emergency, and which gave it
unlimited authority through the Christian world in causes spiritual and over
persons ecclesiastical. Canonistical ingenuity found it easy in one way or
another to make this include all causes and persons whatsoever: for crime is
always and wrong is often sin, nor can aught be anywhere done which may not
affect the clergy. On the gift of Pipin and Charles, repeated and confirmed
by Lewis I, Charles II, Otto I and III, and now made to rest on the more
venerable authority of the first Christian Emperor, it could found claims to
the sovereignty of Rome, Tuscany, and all else that had belonged to the
exarchate. Indefinite in their terms, these grants were never meant by the
donors to convey full dominion over the districts - that belonged to the head
of the Empire - but only as in the case of other church estates, a sort of
perpetual usufruct, a beneficial enjoyment which had nothing to do with
sovereignty. They were, in fact, mere endowments. Nor had the gifts been
ever actually reduced into possession: the Pope had been hitherto the victim,
not the lord, of the neighbouring barons. They were not, however, denied, and
might be made a formidable engine of attack: appealing to them, the Pope could
brand his opponents as unjust and impious; and could summon nobles and cities
to defend him as their liege lord, just as, with no better original right, he
invoked the help of the Norman conquerors of Naples and Sicily.

[Footnote 1: 'Roma per sedem Beati Petri caput orbis effecta.' - See note f,
p. 32.]

[Footnote 2: 'Claves tibi ad regnum dimisimus.' - Pope Stephen to Charles
Martel, in Codex Carolinus, ap. Muratori, S.R.I. iii. Some, however, prefer
to read 'ad rogum.']

[Footnote 3: Corpus Iuris Canonici, Dist. lxiii. c. 22.]

[Footnote 4: Dist. lxiii. c. 30. This decree is, however, in all probability

[Footnote 5: 'Nos elegimus merito et approbavimus una cum annisu et voto
patrum amplique senatus et gentis togatae,' &c., ap. Baron, Ann. Eccl. ad ann.

[Footnote 6: 'Divina vos pietas B. principum apostolorum Petri et Pauli
interventione per vicarium ipsorum dominum Ioannem summum pontificem . . . .
ad imperiale culmen S. Spiritus iudicio provexit.' - Concil. Ticinense, in
Mur. S.R.I. ii.]

The attitude of the Roman Church to the imperial power at Henry the
Third's death was externally respectful. The right of a German king to the
crown of the city was undoubted, and the Pope was his lawful subject. Hitherto
the initiative in reform had come from the civil magistrate. But the secret
of the pontiff's strength lay in this: he, and he alone, could confer the
crown, and had therefore the right of imposing conditions on its recipient.
Frequent interregna had weakened the claim of the Transalpine monarch and
prevented his power from taking firm root; his title was never by law
hereditary: the holy Church had before sought and might again seek a defender
elsewhere. And since the need of such defence had originated this
transference of the Empire from the Greeks to the Franks, since to render it
was the Emperor's chief function, it was surely the Pope's duty as well as his
right to see that the candidate was capable of fulfilling his task, to degrade
him if he rejected or misperformed it.

The first step was to remove a blemish in the constitution of the Church,
by fixing a regular body to choose the supreme pontiff. This Nicholas II did
in A.D. 1059, feebly reserving the rights of Henry IV and his successors.
Then the reforming spirit, kindled by the abuses and depravity of the last
century, advanced apace. It had two main objects - the enforcement of
celibacy, especially on the secular clergy, who enjoyed in this respect
considerable freedom; and the extinction of simony. In the former, the
Emperors and a large part of the laity were not unwilling to join: the latter
no one dared to defend in theory. But when Gregory VII declared that it was
sin for the ecclesiastic to receive his benefice under conditions from a
layman, and so condemned the whole system of feudal investitures to the
clergy, he aimed a deadly blow at all secular authority. Half of the land and
wealth of Germany was in the hands of bishops and abbots, who would now be
freed from the monarch's control to pass under that of the Pope. In such a
state of things government itself would be impossible.

Henry and Gregory already mistrusted each other: after this decree war
was inevitable. The Pope cited his opponent to appear and be judged at Rome
for his vices and misgovernment. The Emperor ^1 replied by convoking a synod,
which deposed and insulted Gregory. At once the dauntless monk pronounced
Henry excommunicate, and fixed a day on which, if still unrepentant, he should
cease to reign. Supported by his own princes, the monarch might have defied a
command backed by no external force; but the Saxons, never contented since the
first place had passed from their own dukes to the Franconians, only waited
the signal to burst into a new revolt, whilst through all Germany the
Emperor's tyranny and irregularities of life had sown the seeds of
disaffection. Shunned, betrayed, threatened, he rushed into what seemed the
only course left, and Canosa saw Europe's mightiest prince, titular lord of
the world, a suppliant before the successor of the Apostle. Henry soon found
that his humiliation had not served him; driven back into opposition, he
defied Gregory anew, set up an anti-pope, overthrew the rival whom his
rebellious subjects had raised, and maintained to the end of his sad and
chequered life a power often depressed but never destroyed. Nevertheless had
all other humiliation been spared, that one scene in the yard of the Countess
Matilda's castle, an imperial penitent standing barefoot and woollen-frocked
on the snow three days and nights, till the priest who sat within should admit
and absolve him, was enough to mark a decisive change, and inflict an
irretrievable disgrace on the crown so abased. Its wearer could no more, with
the same lofty confidence, claim to be the highest power on earth, created by
and answerable to God alone. Gregory had extorted the recognition of that
absolute superiority of the spiritual dominion which he was wont to assert so
sternly; proclaiming that to the Pope, as God's Vicar, all mankind are
subject, and all rulers responsible: so that he, the giver of the crown, may
also excommunicate and depose. Writing to William the Conqueror, he says ^2:
'For as for the beauty of this world, that it may be at different seasons
perceived by fleshly eyes, God hath disposed the sun and the moon, lights that
outshine all others; so lest the creature whom His goodness hath formed after
His own image in this world should be drawn astray into fatal dangers, He hath
provided in the apostolic and royal dignities the means of ruling it through
divers offices. . . . If I, therefore, am to answer for thee on the dreadful
day of judgment before the just Judge who cannot lie, the creator of every
creature, bethink thee whether I must not very diligently provide for thy
salvation, and whether, for thine own safety, thou oughtest not without delay
to obey me, that so thou mayest possess the land of the living.'

[Footnote 1: Strictly speaking, Henry was at this time only king of the
Romans: he was not crowned Emperor at Rome till 1084.]

[Footnote 2: Letter of Gregory VII to William I, A.D. 1080. I quote from
Migne, cxlviii. p. 568. [Jaffe, Monumenta Gregoriana, p. 419.]]

Gregory was not the inventor nor the first propounder of these doctrines;
they had been long before a part of mediaeval Christianity, interwoven with
its most vital doctrines. But he was the first who dared to apply them to the
world as he found it. His was that rarest and grandest of gifts, an
intellectual courage and power of imaginative belief which, when it has
convinced itself of aught, accepts it fully with all its consequences, and
shrinks not from acting at once upon it. A perilous gift, as the melancholy
end of his own career proved, for men were found less ready than he had
thought them to follow out with unswerving consistency like his the principles
which all acknowledged. But it was the very suddenness and boldness of his
policy that secured the ultimate triumph of his cause, awing men's minds and
making that seem realized which had been till then a vague theory. His
premises once admitted, - and no one dreamt of denying them, - the reasonings
by which he established the superiority of spiritual to temporal jurisdiction
were unassailable. With his authority, in whose hands are the keys of heaven
and hell, whose word can bestow eternal bliss or plunge in everlasting misery,
no other earthly authority can compete or interfere: if his power extends into
the infinite, how much more must he be supreme over things finite? It was
thus that Gregory and his successors were wont to argue: the wonder is, not
that they were obeyed, but that they were not obeyed more implicitly. In the
second sentence of excommunication which Gregory passed upon Henry the Fourth
are these words: -

'Come now, I beseech you, O most holy and blessed Fathers and Princes,
Peter and Paul, that all the world may understand and know that if ye are able
to bind and to loose in heaven, ye are likewise able on earth, according to
the merits of each man, to give and to take away empires, kingdoms,
princedoms, marquisates, duchies, countships, and the possessions of all men.
For if ye judge spiritual things, what must we believe to be your power over
worldly things? and if ye judge the angels who rule over all proud princes,
what can ye not do to their slaves?'

Doctrines such as these do indeed strike equally at all temporal
governments, nor were the Innocents and Boni-faces of later days slow to apply
them so. On the Empire, however, the blow fell first and heaviest. As when
Alaric entered Rome, the spell of ages was broken, Christendom saw her
greatest and most venerable institution dishonoured and helpless; allegiance
was no longer undivided, for who could presume to fix in each case the limits
of the civil and ecclesiastical jurisdictions? The potentates of Europe
beheld in the Papacy a force which, if dangerous to themselves, could be made
to repel the pretensions and baffle the designs of the strongest and
haughtiest among them. Italy learned how to meet the Teutonic conqueror by
gaining the papal sanction for the leagues of her cities. The German princes,
anxious to narrow the prerogative of their head, were the natural allies of
his enemy, whose spiritual thunders, more terrible than their own lances,
could enable them to depose an aspiring monarch, or extort from him any
concessions they desired. Their altered tone is marked by the promise they
required from Rudolf of Swabia, whom they set up as a rival to Henry, that he
would not endeavour to make the throne hereditary.

It is not possible here to dwell on the details of the great struggle of
the Investitures, rich as it is in the interest of adventure and character,
momentous as were its results for the future. A word or two must suffice to
describe the conclusion, not indeed of the whole drama, which was to extend
over centuries, but of what may be called its first act. Even that act lasted
beyond the lives of the original performers. Gregory the Seventh passed away
at Salerno in A.D. 1085, exclaiming with his last breath 'I have loved justice
and hated iniquity, therefore I die in exile.' Twenty-one years later, in A.D.
1106, Henry IV died, dethroned by an unnatural son whom the hatred of a
relentless pontiff had raised in rebellion against him. But that son, the
Emperor Henry the Fifth, so far from conceding the points in dispute, proved
an antagonist more ruthless and not less able than his father. He claimed for
his crown all the rights over ecclesiastics that his predecessors had ever
enjoyed, and when at his coronation in Rome, A.D. 1111, Pope Paschal II
refused to complete the rite until he should have yielded, Henry seized both
Pope and cardinals and compelled them by a rigorous imprisonment to consent to
a treaty which he dictated. Once set free, the Pope, as was natural,
disavowed his extorted concessions, and the struggle was protracted for ten
years longer, until nearly half a century had elapsed from the first quarrel
between Gregory VII and Henry IV. The Concordat of Worms, concluded in A.D.
1122, was in form a compromise, designed to spare either party the humiliation
of defeat. Yet the Papacy remained master of the field. The Emperor retained
but one-half of those rights of investiture which had formerly been his. He
could never resume the position of Henry III; his wishes or intrigues might
influence the proceedings of a chapter, his oath bound him from open
interference. He had entered the strife in the fulness of dignity; he came
out of it with tarnished glory and shattered power. His wars had been
hitherto carried on with foreign foes, or at worst with a single rebel noble;
now his former ally was turned into his fiercest assailant, and had enlisted
against him half his court, half the magnates of his realm. At any moment his
sceptre might be shivered in his hand by the bolt of anathema, and a host of
enemies spring up from every convent and cathedral.

Two other results of this great conflict ought not to pass unnoticed. The
Emperor was alienated from the Church at the most unfortunate of all moments,
the era of the Crusades. To conduct a great religious war against the enemies
of the faith, to head the church militant in her carnal as the Popes were
accustomed to do in her spiritual strife, this was the very purpose for which
an Emperor had been called into being; and it was indeed in these wars, more
particularly in the first three of them, that the ideal of a Christian
commonwealth which the theory of the mediaeval Empire proclaimed, was once for
all and never again realized by the combined action of the great nations of
Europe. Had such an opportunity fallen to the lot of Henry III, he might have
used it to win back a supremacy hardly inferior to that which had belonged to
the first Carolingians. But Henry IV's proscription excluded him from all
share in an enterprise which he must otherwise have led - nay more, committed
it to the guidance of his foes. The religious feeling which the Crusades
evoked - a feeling which became the origin of the great orders of chivalry,
and somewhat later of the two great orders of mendicant friars - turned wholly
against the opponent of ecclesiastical claims, and was made to work the will
of the Holy See, which had blessed and organized the project. A century and a
half later the Pope did not scruple to preach a crusade against the Emperor

Again, it was now that the first seeds were sown of that fear and hatred
wherewith the German people never thenceforth ceased to regard the encroaching
Romish court. Branded by the Church and forsaken by the nobles, Henry IV
retained the affections of the faithful burghers of Worms and Liege. It soon
became the test of Teutonic patriotism to resist Italian priestcraft.

The changes in the internal constitution of Germany which the long
anarchy of Henry IV's reign had produced are seen when the nature of the
prerogative as it stood at the accession of Conrad II, the first Franconian
Emperor, is compared with its state at Henry V's death. All fiefs are now
hereditary, and when vacant can be granted afresh only by consent of the
State; the jurisdiction of the crown is less wide; the idea is beginning to
make progress that the most essential part of the Empire is not its supreme
head but the commonwealth of princes and barons. The greatest triumph of
these feudal magnates is in the establishment of the elective principle, which
when confirmed by the three free elections of Lothar II, Conrad III, and
Frederick I, passes into an undoubted law. The Prince-Electors are mentioned
in A.D. 1156 as a distinct and important body ^1. The clergy, too, whom the
policy of Otto the Great and Henry II had raised, are now not less dangerous
than the dukes, whose power it was hoped they would balance; possibly more so,
since protected by their sacred character and their allegiance to the Pope,
while able at the same time to command the arms of their countless vassals.
Nor were the two succeeding Emperors the men to retrieve those disasters. The
Saxon Lothar the Second is the willing minion of the Pope; performs at his
coronation a menial service unknown before, and takes a more stringent oath to
defend the Holy See, that he may purchase its support against the Swabian
faction in his own dominions. Conrad the Third, the first Emperor of the
great house of Hohenstaufen ^2, represents the anti-papal party; but domestic
troubles and an unfortunate crusade prevented him from effecting anything in
Italy. He never even entered Rome to receive the crown.

[Footnote 1: 'Gradum statim post Principes Electores.' - Frederick I's
Privilege of Austria, in Pertz, M.G.H. legg. ii.]

[Footnote 2: Hohenstaufen is a castle in what is now the kingdom of
Wurtemberg, about four miles from the Goppingen station of the railway from
Stuttgart to Ulm. It stands, or rather stood, on the summit of a steep and
lofty conical hill (visible from several points on the line of railway),
commanding a boundless view over the great limestone plateau of the Rauhe Alp,
the eastern declivities of the Schwartzwald, and the bare and tedious plains
of western Bavaria. Of the castle itself, destroyed in the Peasants' War,
there remain only fragments of the wall-foundations: in a rude chapel lying on
the hill slope below are some strange half-obliterated frescoes; over the arch
of the door is inscribed 'Hic transibat Caesar.' Frederick Barbarossa had
another famous palace at Kaiserslautern, a small town in the Palatinate, on
the railway from Mannheim to Treves, lying in a wide valley at the western
foot of the Hardt mountains. It was destroyed by the French: and a house of
correction has been built upon its site; but in a brewery hard by may be seen
some of the huge low-browed arches of its lower story.]