THE STORY OF THE CHURCH - PART 3, TOPIC 7
- Hildebrand (Gregory VII 1073-1085)
- Hildebrand was the greatest of the papal reformers of that period. He was that type of "reformer"
that seems so odd to Protestants: a reformer against state power, that is, the power of princes to lord it over
the Church, and this is a good thing, and yet, a reformer who supplanted state power with papal power, of a sort
only dreamed of by previous generations of popes. From our perspective, these are the horns of a dilemma. Schaff
says that the strong popes of the Middle Ages were the best kind of rulership that the Church could have wished
for; far better than the rule of the church by secular kings.
- As illustrations of his power over the secular authority, and not just alongside it in another sphere,
consider that Gregory VII is the pope that approved the invasion of England by William the Conqueror, and also
is the pope that required the Emperor Henry IV to stand in the snow at Canossa for three days while doing penance.
- Heresies and their remedy
- It is near this time that the heresies in Europe begin to seem to be able to take captive whole areas of a
- In some cases the heresies are forms of proto-Protestantism (which we will deal with in a later week), but
in many cases these are true heresies like the Cathars, who believed in a dualistic God.
- By 1252 the "finishing touches" (Dowley) had been put on the institution of the Inquisition, including
the authorization of the use of torture.
- The inquisition employed not only torture, but secret proceedings and special punishments. They were allowed
to judge motives and not just facts. They distinguished between the different kinds of heresies, and assigned penance
when a heretic recanted.
- If a heretic did not recant he was "turned over to the secular authority" and put to death.
- Boniface VIII, pope 1294-1303
- Boniface, 200 years later, represents the apex of papal pretension, and yet in his day the papacy was already
rotten from within and ready to fall from its heights.
- All the abuses that Hildebrand had rescued the Church from, that were committed by kings against the Church,
were now being committed by Popes against the Church.
- Boniface was one of the Popes put in Hell by Dante, who wrote the Inferno only a few years after Boniface's
- Boniface's bull Unam Sanctam
in 1302 has become famous. It is a long explanation of the universal power and authority of the pope.
- Babylonian Captivity of the Papacy (Avignon) 1305-1378
- Clement V 1305-1314 was elected with strong French influence. He was archbishop of Bordeaux when elected, and
he never crossed the Alps. Thus began a seventy-year "captivity" of the papacy.
- The city of Rome deteriorated during this time, as did the reputation of the papacy. The name of Avignon was
a synonym for corruption and bad morals. What had already begun was continued -- the systematic loss of respect
for the popes.
- It was at this time that Marsilius of Padua (1280-1343) produced his famous book Defensor pacis (Defender
of the Peace), c. 1320. It advocated a secular basis for the state, based upon the will of the people being ruled,
and not a churchly authority over the state. It stands as the clearest thinking political statement of the Middle
Ages, and a forerunner of what was to come, including Protestant doctrines of the state.
- The Black Death also swept through Europe at this time. Up to a third of Europeans lost their life; in England
the death rate was probably half. In some localities two-thirds died. The effects of this massive catastrophe on
the Church are not easy to determine, but economically, according to the Britannica article "Black Death,"
wages rose and the stratification of society became more fluid, which may have contributed to a general loosening
of thinking, in this time of the early Renaissance.
- Gregory XI returned to Rome in 1377, after many appeals had been made for years. He did not mean to stay permanently,
but he died there and thus the stage was set for a new Roman pope.
- The Great Schism
- Urban VI was elected in 1378, in Rome. But he alienated his base of support by his haughty actions, and this
was all the excuse that the French needed. They withdrew and called a new election, in which they elected Clement
- From 1378 to 1409 there were two popes at all times. This situation was condemned by Christendom and has always
been a great scandal in Catholic history.
- The council of Pisa convened in 1409 after many efforts to end the schism. This council marks the first council
called under terms which contradicted the medieval theory of the papacy, terms which stipulated that a council
could be called independent of the Pope's authority. The Conciliar movement had begun in earnest.
- Conciliarism as a theory had been building since the 12th century, but only came to full expression
now. Marsilius of Padua, for example (see above) taught that only the Church was infallible, not the Pope.
- The council of Pisa deposed both Popes and elected a new one, Alexander V. But their action did not achieve
general approval, even though great pains had been taken to make the council legitimate and binding. From 1409
to 1417 there were three Popes instead of two.
- Finally the council of Constance, 1414-18, secured the resignation of one of the popes and deposed the others.
The new pope, Martin V, was installed in 1417. (This was the same council that condemned Hus.)
- However, now that the papacy was reestablished by the Conciliarist theory, the theory was discarded by papacy.
We have now definitely entered the time of the Renaissance, and the Renaissance popes are some of the most notorious
in history. If the condemnation of Hus and Wyclif at Constance (see the lesson on this in a couple of weeks) was
enough to show the spiritual reason for the Reformation, the new Renaissance popes may show the moral reason for
- All the abuses of previous papacies continued: the sale of Church office, the (relatively recent) raising of
revenue by the sale of indulgences, nepotism (favoring the Pope's relatives), immorality, etc.
- The Italian families of Borgia and de Medici became influential in the election of popes and in some cases
became the popes.
- This was the age of the great Renaissance art which was abounding, and of which the popes were great admirers
and buyers. St. Peter's, which dated from the time of Constantine, was torn down and a new, more magnificent St.
Peter's was begun.
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Copyright © 1998, 1999 by Mark S. Ritchie. Permission is granted
to use materials herein for the building up of the Christian Church. Bibliographic entries for published works
quoted may be found in Bibliography page.