The moral reformation of the papacy began with Hildebrand as leader.9 He resumed the work of the emperor, Henry III., and carried it forward in the interest of the hierarchy. He was appointed cardinal-subdeacon, treasurer of the Roman Church, and abbot of St. Paul’s. He was repeatedly sent as delegate to foreign countries, where he acquired an extensive knowledge of affairs. He replenished the empty treasury and became wealthy himself through the help of a baptized Jew, Benedictus Christianus, and his son Leo, who did a prosperous banking business. But money was to him only a means for exalting the Church. His great object was to reform the clergy by the destruction of two well-nigh universal evils: simony (Acts 8:18), that is. the traffic in ecclesiastical dignities, and Nicolaitism (Rev. 2:6, 15), or the concubinage of the priests. In both respects he had the full sympathy of the new pope, and was backed by the laws of the Church. The reformation was to be effected in the regular way of synodical legislation under the personal direction of the pope.
Leo, accompanied by Hildebrand, held several synods in Italy, France, and Germany. He was almost omnipresent in the Church, and knew how to combine monastic simplicity with papal dignity and splendor. He was believed to work miracles wherever he went, and to possess magic powers over birds and beasts.
In his first synod, held in Rome at Easter, 1049, simony was prohibited on pain of excommunication, including the guilty bishops and the priests ordained by them. But it was found that a strict prosecution would well-nigh deprive the churches, especially those of Rome, of their shepherds. A penance of forty days was, therefore, substituted for the deposition of priests. The same synod renewed the old prohibitions of sexual intercourse of the clergy, and made the concubines of the Roman priests servants of the Lateran palace. The almost forgotten duty of the tithe was enjoined upon all Christians.
The reformatory synods of Pavia, Rheims, and Mainz, held in the same year, legislated against the same vices, as also against usury, marriage in forbidden degrees, the bearing of arms by the clergy. They likewise revealed a frightful amount of simony and clerical immorality. Several bishops were deposed.10 Archbishop Wido of Rheims narrowly escaped the same fate on a charge of simony. On his return, Leo held synods in lower Italy and in Rome. He made a second tour across the Alps in 1052, visiting Burgundy, Lorraine, and Germany, and his friend the emperor. We find him at Regensburg, Bamberg, Mainz, and Worms. Returning to Rome, he held in April, 1053, his fourth Easter Synod. Besides the reform of the Church, the case of Berengar and the relation to the Greek Church were topics of discussion in several of these synods. Berengar was condemned, 1050, for denying the doctrine of transubstantiation. It is remarkable with what leniency Hildebrand treated Berengar and his eucharistic doctrine, in spite of the papal condemnation; but he was not a learned theologian. The negotiation with the Greek Church only ended in greater separation.11
Leo surrounded himself with a council of cardinals who supported him in his reform. Towards the close of his pontificate, he acted inconsistently by taking up arms against the Normans in defense of Church property. He was defeated and taken prisoner at Benevento, but released again by granting them in the name of St. Peter their conquests in Apulia, Calabria, and Sicily. The Normans kissed his toe, and asked his absolution and blessing. He incurred the censure of the strict reform party. Damiani maintained that a clergyman dare not bear arms even in defense of the property of the Church, but must oppose invincible patience to the fury of the world, according to the example of Christ.
Leo spent his remaining days in grief over his defeat. He died at Rome, April 19, 1054, in his fifty-third year, after commending his soul to God in a German prayer of humble resignation, and was buried near the tomb of Gregory I. As he had begun the reformation of the Church, and miracles were reported, he was enrolled in the Calendar of Saints. Desiderius, afterwards Victor III., wrote, "All ecclesiastical interests were reformed by Leo and in him a new light arose in the world."
§ 6. Victor II. and Stephen IX. (X.). 1055–1058.
Hildebrand was absent in France when Leo died, and hurried to Rome. He could find no worthy successor in Italy, and was unwilling to assume the burden of the papacy himself. He cast his eye upon Gebhard, bishop of Eichstädt, the ablest, richest, and most influential prelate of Germany, who was warmly devoted to the emperor. He proceeded at the head of a deputation, appointed by the clergy and people, to the German court, and begged the emperor to raise Gebhard to the papal chair. After long delay, Gebhard was elected at a council in Regensburg, March, 1055, and consecrated in St. Peter’s at Rome, April 13, as Victor II. He continued the synodical war against simony, but died as early as July 28, 1057, at Arezzo, of a fever. He was the last of the German popes.
The cardinal-abbot of Monte Cassino was elected and consecrated as Stephen IX. (X.), Aug. 3, 1057, by the clergy and people of Rome, without their consulting the German court; but he died in the following year, March 29, 1058.
In the meantime a great change had taken place in Germany. Henry III. died in the prime of manhood, Oct. 5, 1056, and left a widow as regent and a son of six years, the ill-fated Henry IV. The long minority reign afforded a favorable opportunity for the reform party to make the papacy independent of the imperial power, which Henry III. had wisely exerted for the benefit of the Church, yet at the expense of her freedom.
The Roman nobility, under the lead of the counts of Tusculum, took advantage of Hildebrand’s absence in Germany to reassert its former control of the papacy by electing Benedict X. (1058–1060). But this was a brief intermezzo. On his return, Hildebrand, with the help of Duke Godfrey, expelled the usurping pope, and secured, with the consent of the empress, the election of Gerhard, bishop of Florence, a strong reformer, of ample learning and irreproachable character, who assumed the name of Nicolas II. at his consecration, Jan. 25, 1059. Benedict was deposed, submitted, and obtained absolution. He was assigned a lodging in the church of St. Agnes, where he lived for about twenty years.