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Pope Gregory VII


The Cluniac monastic reforms had revived the spiritual life of the medieval Church, but reform of the Church hierarchy remained.  That reform reached a turning point during the reign of Pope Gregory VII and the Investiture Controversy.

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Born in the year 1020, probably in Tuscany, Hildebrand was educated in a monastic school in Rome where it is likely he experienced the Cluniac reforms.   He took minor orders and entered the service of John Gratian, who soon became Pope Gregory VI, with Hildebrand serving as his chaplain.  When Gregory VI was forced into exile across the Alps, Hildebrand continued to serve him until his death in 1047.  Hildebrand then took up residence in the monastery at Cluny.  He only left the monastery when Pope Leo IX called him to Rome to be treasurer of the church.  He served in this capacity for many years, bringing order to the Church's finances and administrative structure.

Hildebrand was elected Pope in 1073 and took the name "Gregory VII."    He quickly began his great work of purifying the Church by promulgating a series of decrees to reform the clergy. At his first Lenten Synod (March, 1074) he enacted a series of decrees to prohibit simony (buying of Church offices) and to make celibacy mandatory.

But perhaps the most significant area of reform centered around the appointment of bishops.  The appointment of bishops had largely been in the hands of the Holy Roman Emperor, who used bishops to help administer his realm.  But to keep 'Christ's House' holy and just, Gregory believed it necessary that bishops be appointment by the Pope, not by the Emperor.  This brought the Pope and the Emperor into a conflict that became known as the "Investiture Controversy.".  

In spite of the papal prohibition of lay investiture, when he conquered Saxony and Thuringia in 1075, Henry IV deposed the existing bishops and appointed ones loyal to him.  At this Gregory ordered Henry to appear in Rome to answer for his actions.  The Emperor instead declared Gregory deposed.  In response, Gregory declared Henry excommunicated.  This decree had significant consequences since it released his followers from their oath of allegiance.  

Realizing the difficulty of his situation, Henry decided to appear before the pope to beg forgiveness.  Gregory had taken up winter residence in the castle at Canossa, on his way for a synod across the Alps.  Henry appeared at the castle gate as a repentant sinner, but Gregory kept Henry out in the bitter cold for three days.  Henry was forgiven and the ban of excommunication lifted for a period of three years.   

However, Henry decided not to obey the order set down by Gregory. In 1080 Gregory reissued his order of excommunication and stuck to it this time.  After 4 years of war Henry captured Rome in 1084. Gregory fled thanks to the help of Robert Guiscard who rescued the Pope and brought him to safety. Gregory VII died in May 1085 in Salerno.  He was canonized by Pope Paul V in 1606.







Edited by Farina Y. Chaudry
Research by Craig Neukirch
Written by Joshuah Galvan

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