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Pope Gregory Vii And Pope Innocent Iii: A Comparative Study

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Throughout the central Middle Ages, Europe was characterized by the power struggle between the secular and the ecclesiastic. The question of rule by God or by man was one which arose with unwavering frequency among scholars, clergy, and nobility alike. The line which separated church and state was blurry at best, leading to the development of the Investiture Conflict in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, and the attempts to undermine the heir to the throne in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Four men stand out among dozens in this effort to define the powers of the lay versus that of the spiritual: Emperor/kings Henry IV and John of England, and the popes who aggressively challenged their exertions of authority, Pope Gregory VII and Pope Innocent III, respectively. The years and conditions through which the worldly battled the holy for the command of the people differed, but the themes and events which emerged amidst the strife bore striking similarities. Alteration of names and faces had no effect on the emotive, and at times bitter, struggle between the two poles of authority; even time could not change the tenuous relationships between the papacy and the secular powers.

Pope Gregory VII was born Hildebrand circa 1025 in Sovana, a small town in Tuscany. "At an early age, he was sent to Rome--where his uncle served as abbot of the convent of St. Mary on the Aventine--to receive an education." He followed Gregory VI into his exile to Germany, continuing his studies in Cologne before ultimately departing for Rome with Pope Leo IX. There, he enthusiastically pursued a clerical life, becoming a subdeacon and steward in the Roman Catholic Church, and later as a legate in France. Over the decades which followed, he garnered the support of the church through his conduction of negotiations regarding the successor of Leo IX. Pope Stephen X was elected under questionable circumstances, but died shortly after, leading to "the hasty elevation of Bishop Johannes of Velletri, [which] reflected a desperate effort of the Roman aristocracy to recover their influence on the papal throne. This course of action was dangerous to the Church, as it implied a renewal of the disastrous patrician rйgime; that the crisis was overcome was essentially the work of [Gregory VII]." Gregory VII gave his support to Pope Nicholas II in lieu of the aristocratic nominee, choosing to favor

a leader who was strongly influential on the policy of the Curia during the next two decades. Under this papal rule, the College of Cardinals was granted responsibility for papal elections, thus undermining the power of the nobility of Rome and reduciing the influence of the German emperial power on the election. Nicholas II died, succeeded by Pope Alexander II, and finally, Gregory VII himself. By now, Gregory VII was viewed "in the eyes of his contemporaries as the soul of Curial policy," using them with notable wisdom. He went on to be remembered as one of the great reforming popes, marked in history by his role in the Investiture Contest against Henry IV before his bitter end in exile.

Pope Innocent III's rise to command in the Roman Catholic Church was not as dramatic as that of Gregory VII, though it was profound in its own right. Born Lothar of Segni circa 1160, he was the son of "an important landowner in the Roman Campagna...his mother from the Scotti family [which] had man connections with the patriciate of the city." Raised and academically groomed in Rome, he went on to study theology in Paris. There, he was heavily infuenced by Peter the Chanter, which shaped Innocent III's outlook: Peter the Chanter "concentrated on practical issues such as preaching and penance, for which moral and sacramental theology was the appropriate intellectual preparation." This contrasted with Peter the Chanter's predaccessors, who pressed the importance of studying dialectic and Trinitarian theology. Innocent III thus "embodied two of the greatest forces in the medieval church, the Roman nobility and the Paris intelligentsia." His education was apparent through his deeds and conduct; though no evidence existed that he had formal training as a canonist, he "enjoyed a great reputation for Judicial wisdom" and "was a frequent subscriber to papal acts and was active in administration." His articulation of the mass was exceptional and he wrote a number of surviving texts. In January of 1198, after holding office during the relatively short reigns of four popes and achieving the position of Cardinal Deacon, he succeeded Pope Celestine III. Innocent III was thirty-seven years of age.

The reigns of Gregory VII and Innocent III were remarkably similar in their attempts to exert ecclesiastic power over secular rulers. Gregory's outlook was characterized by his reformist behavior, supporting the notion of challenging the sacred character of kings. "Implicit in the concept of 'lay investiture' was the idea that kings were layman. Yet kings were anointed, and in the eleventh century most people, including ecclesiastics, viewed royal consecration as akin to priestly ordination." Gregory intelligently avoided being named a radical, whereby he took a more complicated position: he did not comment directly on the status of kings, but he believed them semi-laymen, placing their rank below that of the minor clerical order and therefore not in a position to elect or invest bishops or other ecclesiastic officials. He articulated his beliefs through a decree, the Dictatus Papae, which succinctly and articulately stated his demands of secular kings and emperors, such as the power to depose rulers at will. While this document did not lead to the enforcement of his orders, it did lead to an important turning point in the definition of separation of church and state: it created a hostile relationship with the Henry IV through the 1070s. By 1070, attempts at reform of practices such as simony were not progressing quickly enough, so the powers in Rome turned their attention to a different matter: the control of Episcopal appointments, bringing the papacy into "direct conflict with temporal rulers." Gregory attacked Henry IV's imperial role by attempting to depose him for nominating an archbishop of Milan. Henry IV's reaction was a counterattack, which led to Gregory's excommunication of Henry IV. Henry IV ultimately threw himself at Gregory's mercy, pleading for help with his spiritual well-being. Gregory had no choice but to absolve him, as it was his role to aid those seeking salvation. The peace did not last for long, and Gregory and Henry again came to a head whereby hostile German

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