May 24, 2017

Pope St. Gregory VII, Reformer Who Courageously Defended Church Authority

Pope St. Gregory VII

May 25th, is the optional memorial of Pope Saint Gregory VII. In the late 10th and early 11th centuries, kings influenced the selection of Church leaders, often appropriating that responsibility completely. Monarchs installed the bishops, and occasionally, even the popes, they wanted in office. The practice, known as “lay investiture”, severely limited the Church's ability to assert Her spiritual authority.

The pope who abolished this practice was Pope St. Gregory VII. Born in 1020 in Tuscany, by 1049, he was making his influence felt as a chief advisor to Pope Nicholas II (who had brought the young monk, then known as Hildebrand, to Rome). The future Pope Gregory VII helped write the "Decree of 1059", placing the election of the pontiff in the hands of the cardinals, not temporal leaders.

The decree was not enforced in earnest until 1073, when Hildebrand was elected pope. Within a year, he initiated the “Gregorian Reform,” stopping simony (the buying and selling of sacred offices and graces) and the unlawful marriage of the clergy. He is best remembered for his vigorous attack on lay investiture, a move that would bring him into direct conflict with the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV.

In 1075, Pope Gregory VII proclaimed the universal authority of the supreme pontiff in Dictatus Papae. Noting that such authority came from Christ Himself through Saint Peter, he asserted the pope’s right to "depose emperors or to change laws that conflicted with either God’s law or Church authority." Henry IV, immediately called Gregory a “false monk” and deposed him as pope. Gregory excommunicated Henry, freeing the later’s subjects from any allegiance to him.

Henry was forced, in 1077, to express his penitence before Pope Gregory prior to receiving the conditions of his reconciliation. This reconciliation was short lived, and soon, Henry would support a rival pope (antipope Clement III) and invade Rome. Gregory never gave up his pontificate, but fled the Eternal City in 1084. "I have loved justice and hated iniquity, therefore I die in exile," he stated, before dying in Salerno on May 25, 1085. A staunch champion of the Church's freedom against state intrusion, St. Gregory VII was canonized by Benedict XIII in 1728.

No comments :