Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Hail, Saintly Monk and Pope

                                 Pope St. Gregory VII proscribing lay investiture,
                             from the cathedral of St. Helena, St. Helena, Montana

Today is also the feast of Pope St. Gregory VII, who died in 1085 AD.   When Pope St. Gregory, (known as Hildebrand before he became Pope), was elevated to the papacy  the Christian world was in a deplorable condition. As Pope St. Gregory himself wrote to his friend, Abbot Hugh of Cluny, "The Eastern Church has fallen away from the Faith and is now assailed on every side by infidels. Wherever I turn my eyes--to the west, to the north, or to the south--I find everywhere bishops who have obtained their office in an irregular way, whose lives and conversation are strangely at variance with their sacred calling; who go through their duties not for the love of Christ but from motives of worldly gain. There are no longer princes who set God's honor before their own selfish ends, or who allow justice to stand in the way of their ambition. . . .And those among whom I live--Romans, Lombards, and Normans--are, as I have often told them, worse than Jews or pagans."

Pope St. Gregory strove to purify the Church by purifying the clergy.  He enjoined celibacy upon the clergy, many of whom had taken wives, and attempted to put a stop to the purchase of ecclesiastical rights.  Gregory also decreed that investing or deposing bishops, as well as moving them from see to see, was beyond the scope of any lay authority, and belonged solely to the Pope.  These measures met with violent resistance, which Pope St. Gregory energetically overcame through the use of legates empowered to depose immoral or simoniac priests.

These reforming efforts also brought Pope St. Gregory  into conflict with Henry, the Holy Roman Emperor, who supported the rebel clergy.  Pope St. Gregory responded by excommunicating Henry and absolving his subjects from the oaths of loyalty they had sworn to him .  Facing revolt in his provinces, Henry crossed the Alps in winter to meet with the Pope at a castle in Canossa.  There a barefoot and fasting Henry waited three days in the snow before being received by the Pope, who absolved him.   This did not end their quarrel, however, as Pope St. Gregory would eventually excommunicate Henry a second time.

On account of warfare between Norman troops and Henry's armies, Pope St. Gregory was forced to abandon Rome and live in exile at Salerno.  Pope St. Gregory's last words were: "I have loved justice and hated iniquity, therefore I die in exile."

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