History Of The Christian Church (1892) Philip Schaff

§ 18. Death of Gregory VII


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§ 18. Death of Gregory VII.

Gregory was again in possession of the Lateran, but he left the scene of melancholy desolation, accompanied by Guiscard and a few cardinals and Roman nobles. He went first to Monte Cassino and then to Salerno. The descent from Canossa to Salerno was truly a via dolorosa. But the old pope, broken in body, was unbroken in spirit.

He renewed the ban against Henry and the anti-pope at the close of 1084, and sent a letter to the faithful in Germany, stating that the words of the Psalmist, Quare fremuerunt gentes (Ps. 2:1, 2), were fulfilled, that the kings of the earth have rebelled against Christ and his apostle Peter to destroy the Christian religion, but could not seduce those who trusted in God. He called upon them to come to the rescue of the Church if they wished to gain the remission of sins and eternal salvation. This is his last written document.

His mind remained clear and firm to the end. He recommended Cardinal Desiderius of Monte Cassino (Victor III.) as his successor, and next to him Otto, bishop of Ostia (Urban II.). He absolved all his enemies, except Henry and Wibert. "the usurper of the apostolic see."84  He died, May 25, 1085, with the words which best express the meaning of his public life and character: "I have loved righteousness and hated iniquity; therefore I die in exile."85  "Nay," said one of the bishops, "in exile thou canst not die, who, as the vicar of Christ and his Apostles, hast received all the nations for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession" (Ps. 2:8).

Robert Guiscard, his protector, died a few weeks afterwards (July 17, 1085).

The body of Gregory, clad in the pontifical vestments, was buried in the church of St. Matthew at Salerno, which he had consecrated shortly before. A plain stone marked his grave till John of Procida—although a zealous Ghibelline—erected a sumptuous chapel over it.86  His name was inserted in the Calendar on the 25th of May, 1584, by Gregory XIII., without a formal canonization; Paul V. ordered a festival, in 1609, for the new saint; and Benedict XIII., in 1728, ordered its general observance. The emperor of Germany, the king of France, and other sovereigns opposed the celebration; but if ever a pope deserved canonization for devotion to the papal theocracy, it was Hildebrand. The eighth centenary of his death was celebrated in the Roman Church, May 25, 1885.

Gregory was, in his own time, and has been since, the subject both of the highest praise and of the severest censure. Modern historians agree in giving him credit for the honesty and courage of his convictions, and concede the purity and loftiness of his motives and aims. He is the typical representative of papal absolutism in the Middle Ages in conflict with imperial absolutism. He combined personal integrity, consummate statesmanship, and monastic contempt of the world. He lived and moved in the idea of the Old Testament theocracy, and had no conception of the free spirit of the gospel. He was a man of blood and iron, an austere monk, inaccessible to feelings of tenderness, when acting in his official capacity as the head of the Roman hierarchy; yet he showed singular liberality in his treatment of Berengar, and protested against the use of torture. His piety was absorbed in devotion to the hierarchy, to St. Peter, and to the Virgin Mary. He was unscrupulous in the choice of means for his end, and approved of civil war for the triumph of the Roman Church.

The lofty principles he espoused he was willing to stake his life upon. No pope has ever used the term "righteousness" more frequently than he used it. No pope has ever employed the figure of warfare to describe the conflict he was engaged in more frequently than he employed it.87  No man was ever more convinced of the soundness of his cause. He found his authority in the Scriptures and freely used them to convince others, quoting certain passages again and again, such as 1 Sam. 15:23, which is found quoted in his writings nineteen times.88  He found in Matt. 16: 18 the certain warrant for the papal supremacy and excepted no person from the jurisdiction of Peter’s successors.89  As an advocate of papal absolutism and as a moral reformer he has left an abiding impress upon the thought and the practice of Roman Christendom. Even where we are farthest from sharing his views, we may admire the man of fearless courage and moral conviction.

His spirit still moves in the curia, which adheres to the theocratic theory, without the ability of carrying it into practice. The papal Syllabus of 1864 denies that "the Roman pontiffs have exceeded the limits of their power" (§ V. 23), and asserts the superiority of the Church over the State "in litigated questions of jurisdiction" (§ VI. 54). The politico-ecclesiastical encyclicals of Leo XIII. (Immortale Dei, Nov. 1, 1885, and Libertas praestantissimum naturae donum, June 20, 1888) reasserted substantially, though moderately and cautiously, the Gregorian theory of Church and State.

Ranke, in his last years, wrote of Gregory:90 "His hierarchical system rests upon the endeavor to make the clergical order the basis of all human existence. This makes intelligible its two characteristic and fundamental principles, the command of celibacy and the prohibition of lay investiture. By the first it was intended to build up out of the lower clergy a body isolated from all the personal and family relationships of human society. By the second it was intended to insure the higher clergy against all interference from the civil power. The great hierarch thought out well the platform on which he placed himself. He met a demand of the age to see in the priest, as it were, a being belonging to a higher order. All that he says betrays dignity, force, and logical connection .... His activity, which left nothing untouched, was of a very human sort, while at the same time it embraced religious ideals. The hierarchical principle constituted his real life."

Gregorovius, who carries on a sustained comparison between Gregory and Napoleon, praises Gregory’s genius and moral vigor. He says:91 "Gregory was the heir of the ancient aims of the papacy. But his unexampled genius as ruler and statesman is his own, and no one either in ancient Rome or in modern times has ever reached to his revolutionary daring .... His dying words reveal the fundamental basis of his character, which was great and manly. To this grand spirit, a character almost without an equal, belongs a place among the rulers of the earth, men who have moved the world by a violent yet salutary influence. The religious element, however, raises him to a far higher sphere than that to which secular monarchs belong. Beside Gregory, Napoleon sinks to an utter poverty of ideas."

Let us hope that Gregory felt in his heart some of that Christian love and meekness whose commendation closes one of his letters to Hermann, archbishop of Metz,92  the most drastic expression of papal absolutism he ever made. He wrote: "If the virtue of love be neglected, no matter what good anyone may do, he will wholly lack the fruit of salvation. To do these things in humility and to love God and our neighbor as we ought, this presupposes the mercy of him who said, Learn of me, for I am meek and lowly of heart. Whosoever humbly follows him shall pass from the kingdom of submission which passes away, to the kingdom of true liberty which abides forever."


Chapter 3. The Papacy From The Death Of Gregory VII. To The Concordat Of Worms. A.D. 1085–1122.

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