Pope Gregory VII

Pope Gregory VII (1073–85) was an Italian born near Rome on 1085 and named Ildebrando; successor of Alexander II. His Feast Day is May 25.

Gregory was chaplain to Gregory VI and accompanied him into exile in Cologne in 1046. He returned to Rome with Leo IX (Bruno of Toul) and became administrator of the Patrimony of Peter (see Papal States). Hildebrand quickly became an important figure in reforming circles. He recovered much of the ecclesiastical property held by Italian nobles and restored the papal finances. Hildebrand was instrumental in the election of Pope Nicholas II (1058) and Alexander II (1061).

As Pope Gregory VII (from 1073) he convoked reform synods and issued decrees that forbade, under pain of excommunication, clerical marriage (and concubinage) and simony. Gregory appointed legates, many from among the reforming Cluniac order, to travel throughout Europe and enforce the new laws. They met with opposition and violence almost everywhere. Gregory saw the root of all the evils afflicting the church in the practice of lay investiture, whereby abbacies and bishoprics became virtually the property of secular powers, who used them to their own advantage. In 1078 he condemned such investiture and anyone who practiced it. Gregory’s ensuing struggles with the royal houses of Europe, who opposed the decree, dominated the remaining years of his pontificate.

In Germany, Henry IV joined with the nobles against the reform, and in a dispute with Gregory he was excommunicated (1076). The excommunication cost Henry much of his popularity, and in 1077 he humbled himself before the pope at Canossa. Gregory remained neutral in the civil war that followed in Germany but decreed (1079) Henry deposed when it became clear Henry would not cooperate with the forces working for peace in the empire. Henry answered by setting up an imperial antipope, Guibert of Ravenna (Clement III). When the civil war ended in Henry’s favor, he marched (1081) into Italy. Gregory led the defense of Rome, but when Henry returned a second time (1083) the Romans, beguiled by Henry’s generosity, betrayed Gregory. He fortified himself in the Castel Sant’Angelo until rescued by his Norman ally, Robert Guiscard. The Normans plundered the city. With the antipope and Henry still in Italy, Gregory decided to join the Normans in their withdrawal south. He died a year later at Salerno, shorn of nearly all support but that of the Normans. He was succeeded by Victor III.

Gregory’s contribution to the church is very great. His reform was a turning point in the history of the church. His struggle against the sovereignties of Europe is sometimes criticized as a bid for inordinate power, but generally his efforts are recognized as a stubborn and noble defense of the liberty of the church against domination by secular powers. The cause was not won by Gregory, but he had drawn the issue clearly. After the example of his pontificate the moral level of the church rose, and his successors were inspired to carry the investiture struggle to victory at the Concordat of Worms (1122). During all his struggles Gregory kept a watchful eye on the developments of the church in Norway, Denmark, and in the new Slavic nations, and the troubles with the Saracens in the East led Gregory to conceive the first plan for a Crusade against the Turks.


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