[XII. Reformation of the Eleventh Century]



But it is time to return to Hildebrand himself, in whom all the interest of his times centres. A decree of a Lateran Council had been passed under Nicholas II., in 1059, vesting the election of Pope in the College of Cardinals; with the concurrence and ratification of the Emperor; a decree which opened the way to a still greater innovation, upon the first vacancy in the Holy See. The imperial court resisted the appointment of Alexander, who was the choice of the sacred College, and {286} named an antipope, Cadalous; but the contest was terminated in favour of the papalists in 1067, at a Council held in Mantua, in which the Emperor gave up Cadalous and acknowledged Alexander II. Six years afterwards Alexander died. Hildebrand had already on a former occasion been put forward for the papal chair, but he had resisted the proposal, it is said, "with many tears and supplications;" now, however, the following scene took place:

"Alexander II. had no sooner breathed his last, than his archdeacon, in concert with the other leading ecclesiastics of the city, directed that the three following days should be devoted to fasting, to deeds of charity, and to prayer; after which the proper authorities were to proceed, in the hope of the divine blessing upon their counsels, to the election of a successor. But long before the period thus prescribed had elapsed, that election was decided.

"On the day following that of Alexander's decease, the dignified clergy of the Roman Church stood, with the archdeacon, round the bier of the departed pontiff, in the patriarchal church of the Lateran. The funeral rites were in progress, and Hildebrand, it is probable, was taking a part in the celebration of these solemn ceremonies. But suddenly, from the body of the building, which had been filled to overflowing by the lower clergy and people, burst forth the cry of 'Hildebrand.' A thousand voices instantly swelled the sound 'Hildebrand shall be Pope.' 'St. Peter chooses our Archdeacon Hildebrand.' These, and cries like these, rang wildly along the church; the ceremonies were interrupted, and the officiating clergy paused in suspense. The subject of this tumult, recovering from a momentary stupor, rushed into a pulpit, and thence, while his gestures implored silence, attempted to address the agitated assembly."

The attempt was vain; the uproar continued, and it was not until the cardinal presbyter, Hugo Candidus, coming forward, declared Hildebrand to be the unanimous choice of the cardinals, that the multitude suffered their cries to subside.

"Then the joyous cries of the populace arose anew. The cardinal, {287} bishops, and clergy approached the object of their choice to lead him towards the apostolic throne. 'We choose,' they cried to the people, 'for our pastor and pontiff, a devout man; a man skilled in interpreting the Scriptures; a distinguished lover of equity and justice; a man firm in adversity, and temperate in prosperity; a man, according to the saying of the Apostle, of good behaviour, blameless, modest, sober, chaste, given to hospitality, and one that ruleth well in his own house. A man from his childhood generously brought up in the bosom of this mother Church, and for the merit of his life already raised to the archidiaconal dignity. We choose, namely, our archdeacon Hildebrand, to be Pope and successor to the Apostle, and to bear henceforward and for ever the name of Gregory.' The Pope elect, upon this, was forthwith invested by eager hands with the scarlet vestment and tiara of pontifical dignity, and placed, notwithstanding his gestures of reluctance, and even his tears, upon the throne of the Apostle. The cardinals approached him with obeisance, and the people, with shouts yet louder and more joyous than before, repeated the designation of their new pontiff, and tumultuously testified their approbation."—Vol. i., pp. 314-317.

Considering the unparalleled character, or, as we may say, the madness of the plans to which Hildebrand was pledged, and which his spirit within him told him he must attempt at all risks, it is not wonderful at all that he should both have shrunk from the pontificate beforehand, and have been overcome with the burden when it was first put upon him. Power or wealth is pleasant to us when unattended with conditions; but did they involve the necessity of losing limbs, or resigning friends, or risking popularity or good name, they would lose much of their attraction and many of their aspirants. Now Hildebrand was thus circumstanced: while he was a subordinate, he might promote the plans of others, even though short of the best and largest; but when "a dispensation of the Gospel" was committed to him, "necessity was laid on him" to go through all and leave nothing {288} undone. Mr. Bowden tells us, that his election, at the moment unquestionably unexpected by himself, seems to have overwhelmed for a while even his intrepid spirit. In letters written from his couch, he speaks of it in terms of terror, using the language of the Psalms, "I am come into deep waters where the floods overflow me," imploring the intercessions of his friends in his behalf, and expressing a hope that their prayers, though they had not sufficed to prevent his being called to that post of danger, might nevertheless avail to defend him when placed there.

He wrote a letter shortly after his elevation to Lanfranc, to whom he unbosomed himself more entirely than to others, and from this Mr. Bowden gives us some extracts. "The greater," he says, "the peril in which we are placed, the greater our need of the prayers of all good men. For we, if we would escape the sentence of the Divine wrath, must arise against many, and must incense them against our own soul. And thy prudence will alike see, how fearful it must be for us to abstain from opposing such persons, and how difficult for us to oppose them." Such were his feelings, and that they were replete with faith and conscientiousness there can be no doubt, or that he viewed the course which lay before him with awe. Well he might: we shall confine ourselves to two of the projects which he conceived and carried out,—the chief but not the only acts of his pontificate, and amply sufficient in themselves to exemplify the force of will and fortitude of spirit, which has made his name so memorable in Church history. The first was no less than the obliging the clergy either to separate from their wives or resign their preferments. The second was the abasement of the temporal below the spiritual power. And first of his enforcement of clerical celibacy:— {289}


We have already noticed that simony and licentiousness were the two crying sins of the clergy; nor did their practice of taking wives at all diminish the latter. Rather it led to it; for, since they knew that in marrying they were transgressing their duty, they were easily led on, from the recklessness which follows upon the wilful violation of conscience in any matter, from a first sin to a second. The prohibitory rule was one of long standing, and Mr. Bowden, waving the discussion of its abstract propriety, has drawn up a succinct account of it from the time of Pope Nicholas I. (A.D. 858), to the date of Hildebrand, a period of two hundred years. Direct condemnations of the practice are found in Nicholas's reply to the Bulgarians, 860; in the Synod of Worms, 868; in Leo VII.'s epistle to the Gauls and Germans, 938; in the decrees of Augsburg, 952; and in Benedict VIII.'s speech, and the decrees passed at Pavia, about 1020. Hincmar of Rheims in 845, Chrodegang, bishop of Metz, in 750, Councils at Mentz and Metz in 888, and at Nantes at the end of the same century, had confirmed the rule with additional circumstances of strictness. And the association in the case of the clergy between marriage and concubinage, nay, of general laxity of morals, was unhappily so deeply seated, that neither did it occur to the reformers to question their necessary connexion; nor, had they done so, could they have overcome the popular feeling on the subject. Under the circumstances, as Mr. Bowden observes, "the battle which they undertook against their less strict contemporaries, was unquestionably that of purity against impurity, that of holiness against corruption. Seizing the means in their power, they set themselves to achieve, and did achieve, a most important reformation; and we may not think lightly, {290} either of their principles or of their labours, because that reformation was imperfect."

We have already stated what Gregory's proceeding was, and it was carried into effect under circumstances as shocking, as the resolve was ruthless. With a single and severe determination, putting before him the honour of Christ, and the welfare of the Church, like Ezra, the great reformer of Judah, he "said to his father and to his mother, I have not seen him; neither did he acknowledge his brethren, nor knew his own children." Ezra learned, to his deep dismay, that his people had taken to themselves wives of the heathen; "so that the holy seed had mingled themselves with the people of those lands, yea, the hand of the princes and rulers had been chief in this trespass." Upon this he tells us, that he rent his garments and mantle, and plucked off the hair of his head and of his beard, and sat down astonished. So he sat till the evening sacrifice; when he rose from his heaviness, deliberately rent his garment and mantle, fell on his knees, spread out his hands towards heaven, and confessed the sin of his people, and interceded for their forgiveness. One thing only could be done, and Shechaniah, the son of Jehiel, exhorted him to it: to make the people "put away all the wives, and such as were born of them," and added, "Arise, for this matter belongeth unto thee; we also will be with thee; be of good courage, and do it." Such a voice seemed to sound in Gregory's ears; and, in the strength of a pure conscience, he bade those of his brethren, who against their conscience had taken wives, to make the only reparation which could be made by them for their sin.

But it was not so easy to accomplish as to command; he had, as might be supposed, an opposition to encounter, to which no nerve but his could have been equal. {291}

"Vehement was the indignation of the German clergy, when first the intelligence of this obnoxious enactment reached their ears, and when they found that the great moral power, which the papacy had within the last few years attained, was to be wielded in enforcing, as realities, those principles of austere reformation, which, when promulged as they had been by Gregory's predecessors, a few years before, had probably seemed like theoretical notions, based upon views unsuited to the state of things actually existing in the world. The Pope, the clergy exclaimed aloud, was a heretic, and his decree that of a madman. The execution of it was a childish, an impossible notion. Human nature being what it was, the rigour of his laws, the attempt to make men live like angels, would only plunge the clergy, by a necessary reaction, into habits more dissolute than ever. And the letter of holy Scripture, the plain teaching as well of our Lord Himself, as of His inspired Apostle, was directly at variance with this wild, this extravagant enactment. But they defied him to proceed to such an extremity as to enforce its general adoption; and protested that, sooner than resign their domestic enjoyments, they would relinquish the priesthood; and, when he had expelled them, for no other reason than that they were men, he might seek where he could for angels, to minister in the churches in their stead.

"And long, and violently, did this tumult rage. Several bishops, among whom was Otho, of Constance, openly put themselves at the head of the clergy opposed to Gregory's authority. And prelates, who, taking a different course, attempted to promulgate the papal edict in their respective dioceses, were assailed by the refractory members of their churches with insolence and outrage. But Gregory, ever watchful of their proceedings, prevented their zeal from flagging by repeated messages of warning, exhortation, and encouragement. And most especially was he urgent with Siegfried, to assume, on the occasion, the determined tone which became him, as primate of Germany, and to enforce the observance of the mandates of the Church, with the full weight of his authority."—Vol. ii., pp. 20-22.

Siegfried was a most unworthy successor of St. Boniface. He had at an earlier date committed himself to an attempt to introduce a tithe payment among the Thuringians, which he prosecuted at all seasons, with {292} a pertinacity not at all inferior to that of the worthy Trapbois, for his miserable piece of gold. With the hope of effecting this through the royal power, he had even consented to advocate the project of the royal divorce, and summoned a Council for that purpose in his metropolitan city; when Damiani appeared as the Pope's legate and stopped the infamous proceeding, as was mentioned above. The year following he was summoned by Alexander II. to Rome, to defend himself against a charge of simoniacal practices. Roused to a momentary remorse by the remonstrance of the Pope, he expressed a wish to resign his station, and retire to a life of penitence and seclusion. This proposal, however, was strenuously resisted by Alexander and others; and he returned to Germany, to lose his serious thoughts, and to relapse into his former secularity. At the present crisis, he gave his clergy six months to deliberate on Gregory's injunction, and then summoned a Council, in which he put before them the alternative of renouncing either their wives or those offices which they had accepted on the condition of celibacy. The clergy, after hearing his address, quitted the place of assembly, as if for the purpose of private deliberation, and then resolved at once to set out for home, without his leave. Siegfried, however, pacified them, and persuaded them to return, and then temporized with them; but it all ended in his bringing forward, before a mixed assembly of clergy and laity, the old question of his pretensions to the Thuringian tithes, which had already been settled by treaty in favour of the Thuringians. A tumult ensued; the Council was broken up in confusion, the archbishop with difficulty escaped with his life, and betaking himself to Heiligenstadt, he continued there during the remainder of the year, repeating, but in vain, on every festival, his {293} summons to the disturbers of the Council to do penance for the crime, under pain of excommunication.

Such were Gregory's proceedings, and such his success with the high prelacy; but he had a new and formidable and, we must add, unjustifiable weapon in his arsenal, which he now brought into the contest. The measure which he was enforcing was founded on four Canons lately passed at Rome in Council, the fourth of which was to the effect that the laity should refuse the ministrations both of simoniacal and of married or licentious clergy. This Canon seemed to oppose the advice of Nicholas I. to the newly converted Bulgarians, who, on asking whether they should receive and honour married priests, had received for answer, that such priests might be in themselves fit subjects for censure, but it was not for them as laymen to pronounce a censure which lay with their bishops only. Gregory, however, seems to have understood that the aversion to a married priesthood, which he felt himself, was shared largely by the multitude, especially as they saw marriage commonly associated with general laxity of life. Another feeling which he had on his side was of a far less defensible character—the opposition to authority, and especially ecclesiastical authority, which is so congenial to human nature. He urged then this canon upon the Germans, and the consequences were dreadful:

"By the last of the four canons above quoted, the laity were thrown into the position,—if not of judges of the priesthood,—at least of punishers of its irregularities. And such invitation, thus made, was of course readily and generally attended to. The occasion seemed,—to the selfish, the irreverent, and the profane,—to legalize the gratification of all the bad feelings with which persons of those dispositions must ever regard the Church and her ministry; and priests, whose disobedience to the papal authority furnished any excuse for such conduct, were openly beaten, abused, {294} and insulted by their rebellious flocks. Some were forced to fly with the loss of all that they possessed, some were deprived of limbs, and some, it is even said, put to death in lingering torments. And to lengths even more horrible than these did the popular violence, thus unhappily, thus criminally sanctioned, proceed. Too many were delighted to find what they could consider a religious excuse for neglecting religion itself, for depriving their children of the inestimable gift conferred in the holy sacrament of baptism, or for making the solemn mysteries of the Church subjects for the most degrading mockery, or of the most atrocious profanation. Deeply is it to be regretted that a pontiff who desired, from the bottom of his heart, the purification of the Church; whose whole life had been devoted to that high and holy cause ... should have evoked, in furtherance of his views, a spirit of so odious a character, as was that which showed itself in these dreadful transactions. But such had been the line marked out for him by those who had gone before him."—Vol. ii., pp. 25-27.

In France the promulgation of Gregory's Canons was received by the clergy with a burst of indignation yet more vehement, if possible, than that which had followed them in Germany. A Council of Paris denounced them, and the only member of the assembly who ventured to defend them was seized, beaten, spit upon, and tumultuously dragged to prison. When the Archbishop of Rouen endeavoured to enforce them upon his clergy, he was pelted with stones and fled for his life. Mr. Bowden tells us that the system of clerical marriage had been so completely established in Normandy, that churches had become property heritable by the sons, and even by the daughters, of their possessors. This fact shows how the two canonical offences of clerical marriage and simony ran together. Indeed it seems that the French king, breaking a promise he had made to Gregory, was practising a simoniacal traffic in bishops and abbeys without remorse or shame; while the holders of dignities thus obtained were not likely {295} to be more scrupulous, in their turn, in their nomination to such inferior benefices and offices as thus fell under their control. In Spain, again, the papal legate was assailed by the clergy with menaces and outrages, when he attempted to enforce the observance of celibacy upon them. When the ill-treated prelates complained to Gregory, they got some such consolation as the following: "Shall it not shame us," he asks, "while every soldier of the world daily hazards his life for his sovereign, if we, priests of the Lord, shrink from the battle of our King, who made all things out of nothing, who scrupled not to lay down His life for us, and who has promised us eternal rewards." In Hungary, twenty years later, the rule had not made greater way than this, that a council under Ladislaus prohibited second marriages among the clergy, but allowed to married presbyters a time of indulgence, "on account of the bond of peace and the unity of the Holy Ghost, until the paternal authority of the Apostolic See should have been consulted on the subject." England, ruled at this time by the Conqueror, Gregory did not attempt; with that judgment and discrimination which he united to vigour, he waited for the influence of the precedent which he was introducing elsewhere. Yet even a few years after this the Council of Winchester enacted that no married persons should be admitted into Orders, though it passed a decree that parish priests who had wives already might retain them; which showed what already was the silent and indirect effect of Gregory's energetic proceedings in the empire. Eventually, the Anglican Church gave its adhesion to the principle of clerical celibacy even more completely than the Church of France.

But at the time Gregory seemed to have success in no {296} quarter, and not the least vexatious opposition was offered him in his own city. Guibert, who in the time of Alexander had been the Imperial Chancellor of Italy, and the supporter of the intruder Cadalous, was at this time Archbishop of Ravenna, having been appointed by the mediation of the Empress Agnes, just at the close of Alexander's life. Alexander himself had seen through the insincerity of his professed repentance, and was reluctant to consecrate him; but Hildebrand, it is said, trusted him and pleaded for him. Upon this, Alexander, with a prescient spirit, said, "I indeed am about to be dissolved; the time of my departure is at hand; but thou shalt feel his bitterness." The prophecy was not long in finding its fulfilment, and he eventually became Anti-Pope in Gregory's later years. "He put himself at the head of that party in Rome," says Mr. Bowden, "who were either alarmed by Gregory's rigour, or conceived themselves aggrieved by his measures of reform; attaching to himself the relatives and friends of the married clergy, as well as those many members of the sacerdotal body who had resigned their benefices in preference to adopting a life of celibacy." And there were other classes in Rome whose enormities were confronted by the reforming pontiff. To the Church of St. Peter belonged more than sixty officers of the class called 'Mansionarii.' They were married laymen, many of dissolute habits; and it was their custom,—such had been the disgraceful laxity of the times,—mitred and dressed in sacerdotal vestments, to keep constant watch at all the altars of the church, excepting only the high altar itself, to proffer, as priests, their services to the simple laity, who came from distant parts of Italy, and to receive their oblations. Relieving each other, they occupied the church day and night, and, as though not {297} content with one description of sacrilege, they disgraced the holy place during the hours of darkness by robberies and licentiousness of the most infamous kind. Nor was it without great difficulty that Gregory, even in his own city, could put an end to this portentous abuse, and replace at the altars these impious laymen by priests canonically ordained. Mr. Bowden adds that "the cardinals themselves were wont, in the same church, to disgrace their office by celebrating the Holy Eucharist at irregular hours for the sake of gain; and Gregory's interference, to put a stop to this abuse by wholesome regulations, is described as having excited against him much odium among certain classes of his flock."— Vol. ii., pp. 42, 43.

Gregory was at this time about sixty years of age, and, tried by cares and by a life of rigid mortification from his boyhood, he gave way in health, and it was thought that he was dying. He recovered however; a circumstance, he says himself, "rather for sorrow than for joy. For our soul was tending towards, and with all desire panting for, that country where He, who observes our labour and our sorrow, prepares for the weary refreshment and repose. But we were yet reserved to our accustomed toils, our infinite anxieties; reserved to suffer, as it were, each hour the pangs of travail, while we feel ourselves unable to save, by any steersmanship, the Church which seems almost foundering before our eyes."

Well might Gregory say that he was reserved for something, for he had not yet reached his celebrated struggle with Henry, which Fox the martyrologist, if no one else, has made familiar to Protestant ears, and which is the last and longest passage of his history which we propose to trace. {298}


In 1074 he had waged his battle with the clergy; that was enough for one year; but in the very next spring he opened his assault upon the Emperor. No wonder a mind of such incessant energy should complain of nothing but weariness and disappointment; and this seems to have been the habitual feeling under which he went to his work. "Often," he says, at this point of time, "have I implored the Lord, either to remove me from this present life, or to benefit, through me, our common Mother; and yet has He not hitherto removed me from tribulation, nor, as I had hoped, made my life profitable to her in whose chains He has bound me. Vast is the grief, wide-spreading the affliction, which encompasses me. Contemplating east, south, north, I perceive scarcely any bishops lawfully admitted to their office, and leading lives conformable to their sacred character. Nor do I find among the secular princes any who prefer God's honour to their own, or righteousness to gain. Those nations among whom I dwell, the Romans, Lombards, and Normans, I conceive, as I often declare to them, to be in some sense worse than Jews or Pagans. And turning inwards, I find myself so laden with the burden of my own doings, that no hope of salvation remains to me but in the sole mercy of Christ. Did I not trust to attain to a better life and to do service to Holy Church, I would on no account remain in Rome; in which city it has been by compulsion, God is my witness, that I have dwelt these twenty years. Whence it comes to pass, that, between this grief daily renewed in me, and the hope which, alas, is too long deferred, I live as it were in death, shaken by a thousand storms. And I await His coming who has bound me with His chains, led me back again to Rome against my will, and girt me {299} round with countless difficulties." Such were the feelings under which he got ready for his greatest exploit.

It is hardly to our purpose to go into the Pope's quarrel with the Emperor in its early stages; it turned principally on Henry's profligate life, his simoniacal appointments, and his cruelties and perfidies towards his subjects. Besides this, the Pope claimed the right of investiture, feeling that from its very form it was undeniably an ecclesiastical, not a secular act; and that, when exercised by laymen, it was necessarily connected with simony, and involved the principle that the Church was the creature of the State. We will but say that Alexander II., at a Council held about two months before his death, had excommunicated five of Henry's profligate favourites, and had even, as some say, sent a message to Henry himself, to appear before the chair of St. Peter and defend himself against the charge of simony and other offences. On Gregory's accession, the new Pope made friendly overtures to him, and the young king, being in great difficulties with his subjects, accepted them with much profession of humility and repentance.

"Smitten in some degree, through God's mercy, with compunction," he said, "and returning to ourselves, we confess our past transgressions, and throw ourselves on your paternal indulgence, hoping in the Lord to obtain the boon of absolution from your apostolical authority. Criminal we have been, and unhappy, partly through the alluring instincts of youth, partly through the licence of unbridled power, partly through the seductive guidance of others. We have not only invaded the property of churches, but have sold to persons infected with the gall of simony the churches themselves; but now, unable without your authority to reform the abuses of the {300} churches, we implore alike your counsel and your aid, in this as in all things. Your command is, in all things, of authority." Subsequently to this, Henry's mother, sent by Gregory, undertook a journey to him with the papal legate; he complied with their demands, made open confession of his simony and other offences, assisted them in degrading the simoniacal bishops, and received absolution at their hands. But, shortly afterwards, his fortunes taking a favourable turn, he was released from the necessity of keeping terms with the Pope; and, recalling the excommunicated nobles to his court, he provided himself with counsellors whose personal feelings would encourage him in courses directly opposed to the wishes and the principles of Gregory. His tone and conduct, in consequence, underwent an entire change. He appointed bishops to the churches of Fermo and Spoleto without consulting Gregory, and, in spite of his promise, to that of Milan; and the preponderance which he thus gave to the anti-papal party in northern Italy, was extended by Guibert of Ravenna into the south by a correspondence with Robert Guiscard, who happened at this time to be under papal ban. On the other hand, the Saxons, who, having been cruelly oppressed by Henry, had risen in arms and been reduced, appealed to Gregory for protection for their bishops, whom Henry had perfidiously seized, deposed, plundered, and imprisoned; and Gregory, answering to their appeal, took the strong step of not only demanding the liberation of the bishops, but, as Alexander is said to have done before him, of summoning Henry himself to appear before the apostolic tribunal, to clear himself of the charges which had been brought against him.

"All things are double, one against another." Every power, every form of government, every influence strong {301} as it may be, has its natural complement or match, by which it is prevented from doing all things at its will. In constitutional governments men appeal to the law; in absolute monarchies they rise; in military despotisms they assassinate. James the Second is opposed by legal forms; Louis of France by jaqueries; Paul of Russia is strangled. The only remedy for a reforming Pope was to carry him off and lodge him safe in durance. Guibert of Ravenna has the reputation of being concocter of a plot, with the privity of Henry and Robert Guiscard, which developed itself as follows:—Cencius was the instrument of it, a bold and profligate man, a member of the powerful family which was in possession of the castle of St. Angelo, and which had been the main support of the anti-pope Cadalous in his struggle with Alexander.

"The night of Christmas Eve, 1075, was gloomy and tempestuous; the torrents of rain, according to Paul of Bernreid, were such, as to present a lively image of the general deluge; and although Gregory, according to custom, celebrated the Holy Eucharist at midnight, in the church of Sta. Maria Maggiore, the building instead of being as usual thronged with worshippers, was comparatively silent and deserted; few venturing to leave their homes in weather so inclement.

"Gregory and his clergy had partaken of the holy elements, and were engaged in distributing them to the laity, when, on a sudden, Cencius and his confederates burst in arms into the church. Interrupting the holy ceremonial, they seized the pontiff at the altar; one of the ruffians aimed a blow with a sword at his head, inflicting a serious wound on his forehead; and the rest then dragged him, amid insults and blows, from the precincts of the sanctuary. He preserved a perfect composure, lifting up his eyes to heaven, but neither struggling nor speaking, while these abandoned wretches thus vented on him their fury. They stripped him of his pallium and chasuble, and then binding him, still clad in his alb and stole, behind a ruffian on horseback, they hurried him to one of the towers, already mentioned, of Cencius; where preparations had been made for bearing him at once beyond the walls of Rome. But the latter {302} part of this project the conspirators were not able to succeed in accomplishing ... And the first glimpse of dawn showed to the conspirators within it their enemies, provided with ladders, catapults, and every species of engine then used in assaults, and preparing for an immediate and vigorous attack. The sister of Cencius, abandoned as her brother, reviled the illustrious prisoner in the most violent terms; while one of her partizans, drawing a sword, threatened to strike off, on the instant, his head. But the scene was now to change. A lance, or dart, from without, pierced this wretch's throat, and laid him breathless on the ground … The attack was, therefore, carried on with redoubled fury. The walls of the tower soon gave way before their exertions, and Gregory, borne in triumph from amid the ruins to the church from which he had been torn, there concluded the holy service in which he had been interrupted, amid the enthusiastic rejoicings of the people. Cencius, pursued by the execrations of his countrymen, with difficulty escaped from their fury, and fled with his principal confederates to Germany."—Vol. ii., pp. 81-85.

This attempt then failed—but, meanwhile, the measures of Gregory proceeded. About the same time that Cencius was playing his part in Rome, the Pope's legates appeared before Henry with his summons to appear, warning him at the same time, that, did he not, a sentence of excommunication would issue against him. Henry dismissed them with ridicule and insult; and since force had failed against their master, he resolved to attack him with his own weapons, and summoned in haste a Council of the German Church at Worms for Septuagesima Sunday, January 24, with the view of obtaining from it the condemnation and deposition of Gregory. It was attended by a numerous assemblage of bishops and abbots; and when the session was opened, Hugo Candidus, who played a conspicuous part in Gregory's election, and who had vacillated from side to side several times, stood forward as his accuser. He laid before the Council a variety of forged letters, purporting {303} to come from different archbishops and bishops, and from the cardinals, senate, and people of Rome, filled with complaints of Gregory's conduct, and with entreaties for his deprivation, and the appointment of a successor. Then, as though in explanation of these epistles, Hugo read a document (which seems to have been subsequently the foundation of Benno's work) professing to give an account of Gregory's life, and filled with the most unfounded and incredible calumnies. It insisted on the lowness of his origin, and described his whole life, before and after his election, which was stated to have been simoniacal, as a tissue of crimes, among which were enumerated murder, necromancy, the profanation of the Holy Eucharist, and the worship of the devil. In consequence, after two days' consultation, without proposing even that Gregory should be heard in his defence, the Council decreed, by its own local act, that he was no longer Pope, and presented to each bishop the following formula for subscription: "I, N., bishop of the city of N., abjure from this hour all subjection and obedience to Hildebrand, and will never more account or style him Pope." All the bishops present seemed to have signed. Messengers were forthwith despatched into Lombardy with the news; the Lombard bishops met forthwith in council at Piacenza, and not only subscribed, but bound themselves by a solemn oath upon the Gospels, to the act of Worms. Roland, a priest of the Church of Parma, was charged with the perilous duty of bearing a copy of the acts of both Councils to Rome, where he arrived in the second week in Lent, just when the Council was assembled to which Henry had been summoned. Much as we have quoted from Mr. Bowden, we must here, as elsewhere, be allowed to prefer his vivid description to any words we could put together ourselves: {304}

"The Council being assembled, and the echoes of the solemn strain, 'Veni Creator Spiritus,' having scarcely died away amid the holy aisles of the Lateran, Roland suddenly stepped forward before the pontiff and his prelates (p. 95) ... Addressing his speech to Gregory, 'The king,' he said, 'and the united bishops, as well of Germany as of Italy, transmit thee this command,—Descend without delay from the throne of St. Peter, and abandon the usurped government of the Roman Church, for to such honours should none aspire, unsanctioned by their general choice, and by the approval of the Emperor.' And then, ere the assembled prelates and clergy had recovered their astonishment, the audacious envoy looked round upon them, and thus addressed them collectively: 'To you, brethren, it is commanded, that you do, at the feast of Pentecost, present yourselves before the king, my master, to receive a Pope and a father from his hands. The pretended pastor before you is detected to be a ravening wolf.'

"'Seize him!' cried John, Bishop of Oporto, a prelate of holy and exalted character, who could no longer contain his indignation. The prefect of the city rushed forward, attended by the guards and attendants of the Council. Swords were brandished, even in that holy place; and the blood of Roland would, on the moment, have expiated his temerity, had not Gregory himself forced his way into the crowd, and restrained, though with difficulty, the fury of his adherents. Having at length succeeded in obtaining comparative tranquillity, the pontiff received from the prisoner the documents which he had been commissioned to deliver; and then, imploring the continued silence of the assembly, he proceeded to read aloud, with his usual composure, the acts of the Councils of Worms and Piacenza, and the following imperial epistle:—

"'Henry, not by usurpation, but by the holy ordinance of God, king, to Hildebrand, no longer the Pope, but the false monk.

"'A greeting like this hast thou for thy confusion deserved; thou who hast left no Order of the Church untouched, but hast brought upon each confusion, not honour,—cursing, not blessing. To speak but of a few of thy most distinguished deeds,—the rulers of the holy Church, the archbishops, bishops, and presbyters, thou hast not only not feared, seeing that they are the Lord's anointed, to touch; but, as though they were servants who know not what their Lord doeth, thou hast trampled them under thy feet. Thou hast obtained favour with the vulgar by their humiliation; and hast thought that they know nothing, and that thou alone knowest all things. Yet, this {305} knowledge of thine thou hast used for the purpose, not of edification, but of destruction, insomuch that we believe the blessed Gregory, whose name thou hast assumed, to have spoken prophetically of thee, when he said, "By the abundance of subjects, the mind of him who is set over them is puffed up, for he supposes that he excels all in knowledge, when he finds that he excels all in power."'"—Vol. ii., pp. 95-99.

We wish we had room to continue this exciting scene, which ends in a majestic address of Gregory to the Council, and the enthusiastic acclamations of the prelates assembled in answer to it.

The next day, in the presence of 110 prelates and of the Empress Agnes, whose sense of duty overcame the affections of a mother, he pronounced sentence in form upon the German and Lombard bishops, and above all upon Henry, whom he declared excommunicated from the Church and suspended from the exercise of his imperial power.


In these transactions, we see on both sides what we must account a confusion of the rights of Church and State,—the Emperor in council deposing the Pope, and the Pope deposing the Emperor. Mr. Bowden has some just remarks on the subject, and traces it to the feudalism of the day, which acknowledged but one standard of rank in the community, and forced all powers and offices to measure themselves by it. As in Russia, it is said, that men are only recognized as soldiers, and the clergy take rank as colonels or captains, so in the eleventh century Gregory was forced to place himself in direct relation to the Emperor, and take precedence either above him or beneath him, and with this alternative he put himself above him, as the nearest approximation to the truth. And in like manner, the Emperor, {306} not the present Henry only, but his father before him, and Conrad his grandfather, not to say the Carlovingians, had placed themselves above the Church, because they were supreme in temporals, and had treated the Pope as one of their subjects, just as a naturalist of this day in despair ranks a whale among the mammalia.

On the present occasion, Mr. Bowden considers it a cause of thankfulness that Gregory, with all the incidental defects of his theological system, was in the chair of St. Peter. He considers that the success of the Imperialists would have been the immediate triumph of simony, licentiousness, and the other crying evils of the time, and would have tended to make that triumph perpetual. On the other hand, Gregory was not only engaged in vindicating what he considered his divine authority, but also an ecclesiastical principle essential to the independence and well-being of the Church. The real question was, whether the Church was or was not a creature of the State? Whether she had or had not temporal rights was an excrescence upon the main question; and she needed a champion, such as, through God's providence, she found, who scorned either to be swayed by menaces, or to be bribed by the promise of a temporary peace, into the compromise of her essential principles.

Thus the contest opened; Gregory had on his side many of the leading nobles of Germany, the Saxons, to a certain extent the Swabians, the great mass of the regular and a considerable portion of the secular clergy. And Henry was supported by the Rhenish provinces, by the large towns, as Worms, now rising into some degree of commercial opulence, by a certain number of the nobility, who had felt or feared the papal censures, and the vast body of anti-reforming clergy. It was a moment {307} of extreme excitement, when each of the contending parties had defied his antagonist, and waited to see how the defiance was received by Christendom at large, with whom eventually lay the decision.

As to Henry himself, however, he seems to have thought he had done everything when he had secured the synodal acts of Worms and Piacenza, as if they were to work their effect as a matter of course; he was astounded therefore at the intelligence that the old man, whom he was resisting, far from crouching, had vigorously smitten him in turn with the ban of the Church. For a moment the unfortunate prince seemed overpowered with agitation; then he treated the subject with apparent indifference; then he gave orders that Gregory himself should be publicly excommunicated in turn. He committed this office to Pibo, Bishop of Toul; but Pibo, together with another bishop, set off in the night and left the king to go to the cathedral by himself, where the Bishop of the place (Utrecht) pronounced the sentence. The next thing he heard was, that the German prelates, who had been denounced by Gregory together with himself, were crossing the Alps to make their peace with him; next, the secular princes, who had the charge of the Saxon nobles and bishops, whom Henry had faithlessly seized, having been already shocked at Henry's proceedings in the Council of Worms, on hearing the papal sentence against him, let go their prisoners and sent them off to Saxony. On their arrival there, the Saxons rose in arms, appeared before the strongholds, which the king, in violation of his promise, had rebuilt in their country, took them by assault or capitulation, and then proceeded to resume the lands which had been seized by the royal favourites.

An event occurred which increased the dismay: {308} William, Bishop of Utrecht, who has been mentioned above as excommunicating Gregory in the cathedral, repeated the sentence several times the same Easter, calling the Pope a perjurer, an adulterer, and a false apostle. A month had not passed before he was seized with a violent illness, which carried him off in a few days. In his last moments he cried out that he had forfeited life both here and hereafter, and forbade his friends to pray for him after death, as one destined to perdition. These facts were exaggerated; in addition, stories were circulated that, as he breathed his last sigh, his cathedral and his sovereign's palace were struck with lightning. Other deaths too in the king's party about the same time were interpreted in the light of William's.

Henry appointed a diet at Worms for Whitsuntide; not one of his chief nobles attended: he postponed it to St. Peter's Day at Mentz; even then but a few obeyed the summons. Udo, the venerated Archbishop of Treves, had gone to Rome and received absolution. On his return he refused to hold any intercourse with the Archbishops of Mentz and Cologne. Henry he would only approach for the purpose of counselling; he would not sit at table with him or join in prayer. The more religious members of the king's household withdrew themselves, and withstood Henry's most urgent entreaties to return.

Henry next led a force against the Saxons, and was repelled with loss. At Gregory's suggestion his principal nobles held a solemn Diet of the empire at Worms in the autumn; it was very numerously attended; even Siegfried of Mentz obtained papal absolution and attended; the Patriarch of Aquileia and Bishop of Padua appeared as legates from the Holy See. Henry sent the humblest {309} messages to the Diet in vain: at last they consented to treat with him on these conditions: first, that his continuing to reign should be referred to the Pope; next, that until he could procure reconciliation, he should live as a private individual, neither entering church nor exercising any royal functions; thirdly, that he should renounce the society of all excommunicate persons; and lastly, that, if at the end of a year his own excommunication was not reversed, his right to empire should be lost for ever. A Council was appointed for the beginning of January, to meet at Augsburgh, over which Gregory himself was to preside, and then Henry was to be reconciled. Henry wished to come to Italy, but Gregory forbade him. His anxiety for a release from the anathema inflicted on him increased; he could not bear the suspense. Regardless therefore of Gregory's prohibition, of the season, which was unusually severe, and of the difficulty of crossing the Alps in the winter, he set out to find the Pope in Italy. Mr. Bowden shall set him forward on his journey:

"The winter which closed the year 1076 was a season of unusual severity; the Rhine being frozen over from Martinmas almost to the beginning of April, 1077. The difficulties, therefore, of a journey across the Alps, at the time of Henry's expedition, must, under any circumstances, have been great; and the auspices under which the unfortunate monarch set forth were such as to render the undertaking in his case peculiarly arduous. Deprived of his friends and of his resources, it was not in his power to make any proper provision for the journey. Nor could he venture to prosecute his way along any of the more direct tracts which led from his German dominions into Italy; as Rudolf, Welf, and Berthold, who wished to retain him in Germany, sedulously watched the mountain passes of Swabia, Bavaria, and Carinthia. But Henry felt too strongly the danger of furnishing his enemies with any new pretext for setting him aside, to think of giving up the attempt, desperate as it might be, to procure a timely absolution. {310}

"A few days, therefore, before the Christmas which closed the year 1076, the king put himself in motion from Spires. His wife and infant child accompanied his steps, and, whatever meaner followers may have formed his escort, it appears that only one person of gentle blood—and he not distinguished by rank or possessions—attended the fallen sovereign ... He set forward, however, and taking his way through Burgundy, halted to observe the festival of Christmas at Besançon. And thence, passing the Jura, he proceeded to Vevay on the shore of the lake of Geneva ... Even the valleys of the Alps, when Henry began to wind his way among them, were white with snow and slippery with ice. Peasants of the country, whose services he had hired, went before him, and cleared, as best they might, a precipitous and rugged road for the advance of the royal party. As the travellers ascended towards the higher regions of the pass, the difficulties of this process increased, of course, with every step. Happily, however, no serious accident occurred: and after long toils, the monarch and his little train found themselves on the summit of a ridge, a descent from which would lead them into Italy. But this descent appeared in prospect more formidable than anything which they had previously accomplished. The whole of the precipitous mountain slope formed one sheet of ice, on which no foot, it seemed, could for a moment maintain its position. The descent, however, was necessarily attempted. Henry and the men of the party crawled carefully down on their hands and knees, placing their feet on whatever points of support they could find; and he whose footing unfortunately failed him rolled far away into the snowy depths below; from which it was often a matter of great difficulty to extricate him. The queen, her child, and her female attendants, were, by the experienced peasants, lowered down the slope enveloped in skins of cattle; and the whole party reached at length the bottom in safety; though of their horses—which were either drawn down the descent with their legs tied together, or lowered on some rude kinds of machines constructed for the purpose—many died, and many more were rendered unfit for further service."—Vol. ii., pp. 161-164.

Thus it was that Henry and the imperial family at last reached the plains of Lombardy.


In Italy the report was at once spread abroad that he {311} had come to take vengeance on the Pope. People recollected or had been told of Henry III.'s visitation of the Papal See thirty years before, when a Council was held at Sutri, and Gregory, the sixth of that name, was made to abdicate. Accordingly, nobles, prelates, and warriors thronged to greet him, and his crowded and brilliant court formed a strange contrast to the neglect, or rather aversion, which he had had to encounter on the other side of the Alps. But Henry was not so dazzled with the scenes, which now surrounded him, as to forget those which he had left. He asked where the Pope was, and finding he was at Canossa, a fortress of the Appennines, belonging to the Countess Matilda, (whither Gregory had taken refuge on the rumour of Henry's having come at the head of a formidable force,) he betook himself thither.

Matilda goes by the name of the Great Countess. She inherited Tuscany from her mother, and was the enthusiastic friend and servant of Gregory; to him and to his principles her energies, her influence, and her treasures were dedicated. Her talents and learning were as remarkable as her rank and her devotion. Amid the various occupations which her extensive territories occasioned, she found time and opportunity to become the encourager, and, in some degree, the restorer, of ancient literature. She was acquainted with the more recent languages spoken in France and Germany, as well as in her own country. She was active and energetic in the enforcement of justice and the maintenance of her authority; nor was she unequal to the task of eliciting the military resources of her territory, and bringing well-disciplined armies into the field. She was munificently charitable to the poor; systematically kind and hospitable to the exile and to the stranger; and the foundress {312} or benefactress of a great number of churches and conventual institutions. Throughout her eventful life she never suffered secular matters to interfere with the frequency or regularity of her exercises of devotion; and in adversity, of which she was allotted her share, she found her consolation in the society of holy men and the perusal of Holy Scripture. "Such," says Mr. Bowden, "was the Great Countess; such was she, who, too proud or too humble to recapitulate the roll of her titles, was wont to subscribe herself,—'Matilda, by the grace of God what I am;'" and at the present moment she was especially fitted to undertake the mediation between Gregory and Henry, being a relative of Henry as well as the host of Gregory.

"Towards Canossa, then, Henry bent his steps, accompanied by his recently formed train of Italian followers. His faithful German adherents, who had, in the preceding month, set out to cross the Alps by different paths, had encountered on the journey a variety of difficulties and sufferings. Dietrich, Bishop of Verdun, was captured by Adelbert, Count of Calw, and plundered of the sums which he had, with much trouble, collected to meet the expenses of his journey. Rupert of Bamberg, being seized by Welf while traversing the Bavarian territory, was kept in strict ward from Christmas until the feast of St. Bartholomew in the following year. But the rest of Henry's excommunicated supporters, having surmounted the dangers of their journey, and made good their way into Italy, appeared before Canossa, while the king himself was yet on his way, and humbly presented themselves before the Pope as supplicants for his absolution. 'From those,' said Gregory, 'who rightly acknowledge and bewail their sin, forgiveness cannot be withheld. The petitioners must, however,' he continued, 'submit to the cauterizing process which is needful for the healing of their wounds, that they may not, by too lightly obtaining absolution, be led too lightly to regard the sin which they have committed by disobedience to apostolical authority.' Prelates and lay-nobles alike professed their readiness to undergo whatever penance their spiritual father might think proper to impose; and the former were, by his directions, {313} confined in separate cells with scanty supplies of food, while to the latter penances were assigned of a severity proportioned to the age and strength of each individual. And when he had thus tried them for several days, Gregory summoned them again before him, and after mildly rebuking them for their past conduct, and admonishing them against such demeanour in future, declared them severally absolved, warning them at the same time, anxiously and repeatedly, against holding any communion with their imperial master until he also should have given satisfaction to the Apostolic See; till that should happen they were to be permitted to hold colloquy with him only for the purpose of inducing him, by their persuasions, to abandon the error of his ways.

"At length the principal offender appeared in person before Canossa, and pitched his camp without the walls of the fortress."—Vol. ii., pp. 167, 168.

The humiliation to which Gregory put the king himself has always been severely animadverted upon, and has done his character much harm with posterity; but Mr. Bowden bids us recollect that severer penances were not at all uncommon at that time, and that it is very unfair to measure them by the standard of drawing-room propriety, and the judgment of an age of kid gloves and Naples soap. It was a most uncomfortable thing to be kept shivering in the cold from morning to night, and likely to cause rheumatism, of which we have no intention at all of speaking lightly; but Henry III., the king's father, would habitually, before presenting himself in royal robes upon his throne, submit in private to a self-imposed scourging. The magnificent and luxurious Boniface of Tuscany, Matilda's father, submitted on one occasion to a similar discipline before the Altar of St. Mary's at Pomposa, at the suggestion, if not at the hands, of his spiritual adviser, as a penance for some simoniacal transactions; and Godfrey of Lorraine, Matilda's stepfather, in remorse for the burning of the cathedral of Verdun in the course of his warlike operations, not only {314} contributed largely to its rebuilding, but caused himself to be scourged in public, and as publicly took part in the work of building, in the capacity of a common labourer. In the following century took place the well-known scourging of Henry II., by the monks of Canterbury, at the shrine of St. Thomas. Such facts as these must be recollected when we read the following extraordinary scene:

"It was on the morning of the 25th of January, 1077, while the frost reigned in all its intensity, and the ground was white with snow, that the dejected Henry, barefooted, and clad in the usual garb of penance, a garment of white linen, ascended alone to the rocky fortress of Canossa, and entered its outer gate. The place was surrounded by three walls, within the two outer of which the imperial penitent was led, while the portals of the third or inner wall of the fortress were still closed against him. Here he stood, a miserable spectacle, exposed to cold and hunger throughout the day, vainly hoping, with each succeeding hour, that Gregory would consider the penance sufficient, and his fault atoned for. The evening, however, came, and he retired, humbled and dispirited, to return to his station with the returning light.

"On a second day, and on a third, the unhappy prince was still seen standing, starved and miserable, in the court of Canossa, from the morning until the evening. All in the castle, except the Pope, bewailed his condition, and with tears implored his forgiveness; it was said, even in Gregory's presence, that his conduct was more like wanton tyranny than apostolic severity. But the austere pontiff continued obstinately deaf to all entreaties. At length Henry's patience failed him, and, taking refuge in the adjacent chapel dedicated to St. Nicholas, he there besought, with tears, the intercession of the aged abbot of Cluni; Matilda, who was present, seconded the king's entreaty, but the abbot, turning to her, replied, 'It is thou alone who canst undertake this business.' And Henry, upon the word, fell upon his knees before his kinswoman, and besought her, in the most impassioned manner, once more to exert her potent intercession. She promised to use her utmost endeavours, and returned into the castle; and Gregory, feeling that he had now sufficiently vindicated his authority, relaxed at length his rigour, suffering the {315} unfortunate king, still barefooted, and in his linen garment, to be brought into his presence, on the fourth day of his penance.

"The scene, as the suppliant king approached the pontiff, must have been singularly striking. The youthful and vigorous Henry, of lofty stature and commanding features, thus humbling himself before the small, insignificant, and now probably withered, figure of Gregory VII., must have afforded a striking type of that abasement of physical before moral power,—of the sword before the crosier,—which the great struggle then in progress was fated to accomplish."—Vol. ii., pp. 174-176.


Having brought our narrative to this critical point, we must break it off abruptly. What followed upon this, what an immediate triumph to the Pope, what subsequent reverses, what eventual success to his principles after his day; how Henry lapsed again, and how Gregory was at length forced to abandon Rome and died an exile at Salerno,—for these and a multitude of interesting details we must refer the reader to the work itself of which we are availing ourselves. As also for the account of the wonderfully large range of action which Gregory's labours embraced, and the multitude of Churches and States with which he held negotiation, among which were Constantinople, Hippo, Spain, England, Denmark, Russia, and Hungary. On two occasions also we find him directing the attention of the Church to the project of a crusade to the Holy Land, which was taken up in the next generation. But all this we must omit; and shall end our protracted yet incomplete narrative with Mr. Bowden's account of Gregory's death:

"He moved, shortly after his final departure from Rome, to Salerno, where, under the efficient protection of Robert Guiscard, he was enabled to repose in security, and where, while he still kept a watchful eye upon the troublous scenes of the world around him, he sought a solace for its sorrows in assiduous devotion, and in continual {316} meditation on the word of God. As early as in January, 1085, he perceived symptoms of the exhaustion of his powers; the natural consequence of years, and of the arduous and unremitting labours and anxieties in which he had been so long engaged. During the succeeding months his debility increased, and in May it became evident to all around him that from the sick bed, on which he was laid, he was doomed never to rise again. Aware of his approaching end, he summoned around him the cardinals and bishops, who, faithful to his cause, or rather to his principles, had attended him to Salerno. He spoke to them of the events of his past life, and, while he disclaimed any right to glory in anything which he had done, he acknowledged the satisfaction which he derived from the thought that his course had been guided by principle, by a zeal for the right, and by an abhorrence of evil. His auditors, plunged in sincere sorrow, expressed to him their melancholy anticipations of the fate of the Church when deprived of his guiding hand. 'But I,' said he, with eyes and hands upraised to heaven, 'am mounting thitherward; and with supplications the most fervent will I commend your cause to the goodness of the Almighty.'

"Being solicited to express his opinion with respect to the choice of a successor, he mentioned the names of Desiderius, Abbot of Monte Cassino; of Otho, Bishop of Ostia; and of Hugo, Bishop of Lyons; suggesting, as a reason for giving priority to the former of the three, his presence at the moment in Italy.

"Three days before his death, on the question being brought before him of absolving the persons whom he had excommunicated, he replied, 'With the exception of Henry, styled by his followers the king; of Guibert, the usurping claimant of the Roman See; and of whose who, by advice or assistance, favour their evil and ungodly views, I absolve and bless all men who unfeignedly believe me to possess this power, as the representative of St. Peter and St. Paul.' And then, addressing those around him for some time, in the language of warning, he thus impressively concluded: 'In the name of the Almighty God, and by the power of His holy Apostles St. Peter and St. Paul, I adjure you, recognize no one as my successor in the Roman See, who shall not have been duly elected and canonically ordained by Apostolic authority.'

"On the 25th of May, 1085, he peacefully closed his earthly career; just rallying strength, amid the exhaustion of his powers, to utter, with his departing breath, the words, 'I have loved justice and hated iniquity; and therefore I die in exile.' {317}

"'In exile!' said a prelate who stood by his bed, ... in exile thou canst not die! Vicar of Christ and His Apostles, thou hast received the nations for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.'"—Vol. ii., pp. 322, 324.

Gregory thought he had failed: so it is; often a cause seems to decline as its champion grows in years, and to die in his death; but this is to judge hastily; others are destined to complete what he began. No man is given to see his work through. "Man goeth forth unto his work and to his labour until the evening," but the evening falls before it is done. There was One alone who began and finished and died.

April, 1841.

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