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High Middle Ages (1000-1200)

Christianity: Expansion, Monastic and Papal Reform, Clash with Secular Rulers (910-1122)

Germany in the Hohenstaufen Era: 1137-1250

Reconquista, 1000-1250

The early medieval theme of Christianity's demographic expansion continued in the years between 900-1100. Christianity spread its fingers into Scandinavia, Poland, Bohemia, Hungary, and Slavic lands in Serbia, Bulgaria, and Russia. Around the 920s, Danes settling in England, as well as Vikings coming to Normandy, accepted the faith, and were integrated into the ecclesiastical structures of their host countries. Scandinavians remaining at home, though, only experienced Christianization during the process of state formation of the tenth century. Harold Bluetooth established a kingdom in Denmark and accepted the new faith in 960, recognizing the benefits of church hierarchies for an orderly state. The Norwegian Olaf Trygvesson had taken on Christianity while living in England, and patronized the religion back home after usurping the throne in 995. He encouraged English missionary work, and forcibly converted pagans. Olaf the Taxgatherer of Sweden converted around the same time, yet the regions population remained resistant to Christianity throughout the 1000s. Only by the early 1100s was the religion generalized in Sweden, with Uppsala receiving its own archbishopric in 1164.

In lands to the Saxon Empire's east, the crown took a direct interest in conversion. Poland, Bohemia, and Hungary were targeted. Bohemian dukes converted before 900, as Czechs were firmly within the fold by the 920s, receiving their first native archbishop in 982. In 968 Otto I established the Magdeburg archbishopric to further Polish conversion. The process did go forward, but local rulers were reluctant to accept German control. The Polish prince Mieszko (d. 992) married a Czech Christian princess, but did not want to be subordinate to the German churches. Otto III was prepared to accept this, and in 990, the prince put his lands directly under the Pope, yet still accepted German missionaries. As regards the Hungarians, after their defeat by the Germans at Lechfeld in 955, they began to form a unitary, stationary state, and accepted German missionaries sent by the Ottos. King St. Stephen (r. 997- 1038) firmly established the religion, making his realms directly subordinate to Rome. Thus, by the 1030s all these areas were Christianized. Further, the Bulgars accepted Christianity of the Eastern Orthodox rite by the 870s, just as Vladimir of Rus embraced the new faith for political reasons in the 990s, making his region's churches directly dependent on the Constantinople patriarch.

Beyond demographic expansion is the health of the religious institution. The ninth-century Papacy had reached a low point of spiritual decline. This malaise continued into the 900s, and the German emperors' nominees were only somewhat better. In general, the papal office became a prize over which Rome's noble clans fought. Popes were drawn mostly from aristocratic leadership. The worst example was John XII (956-963), deposed by Otto I. For the next century, popes either ascended to the position by German appointment when Germans dominated Italy, or through the uneasy consensus of the Roman urban nobility. The latter was more often the case, and their popes were actually poorer than the German candidates.

On the episcopal level, the Church also declined. Discipline and learning receded, as clerics were obliged to become part of feudal relations. Kings, as well as the more powerful feudal lords, began to appoint bishops, and protect churches. This entailed vassal-like responsibilities on the part of bishops and priests. Lay control over the church was often the result. Priests, who back- slid into clerical marriage, were often incorporated into the great feudal clans. These priests focused less on the religion than on using church property to support their family and feudal lord. A similar process affected monasteries. Based on the St. Benedict's rule, monasteries were independent of each other. Thus, monastic discipline depended on individual abbots. When these abbots became agents of powerful lords, political as opposed to spiritual criteria came to dominate their selection. At times, secular feudal lords acted as monasteries' titular abbots. Under such conditions, clerical positions could be viewed as revenue-producing positions. This opened the way to simony, the auctioning of church posts to the highest, and most often least qualified bidder.

By the 900s, some in church service were appalled by practices such as clerical marriage, simony, and general subservience to secular feudal leaders. In Burgundy, earnest monastics were able to convince William the Pious of Aquitane to found the Cluny monastery around 910. It was endowed generously from the start with relatively few strings attached, so that it would not be dependent on secular rulers. Additional gifts of land or provisions would not be in return for feudal services, but would be recompensed by the monks' prayers. Furthermore, the monks received the right to elect their own abbot, putting the position beyond lay interference. Additionally, Cluny's founders tried to eliminate any potentially idle time by instituting heavy schedules of communal liturgical prayer services, in addition to fieldwork and manuscript reproduction. Cluniac monks attained a high level of sustainable piety and discipline throughout the tenth century and into the eleventh. What's more, Cluny-based monasteries proliferated throughout France and Western Europe. To maintain effective supervision and unity of praxis, the order only had one abbot, with other houses ruled by priors subordinate to him. By the time of the great abbot Odilo (994-1048), the original Cluny compound had 300 monks, in addition to more than 150m dependencies. These dependencies were allowed to have lay patrons, who were often kings. Cluniac monasticism entered Germany from the early 1000s, with Conrad II (r. 1024-1039) supporting them, though he did oppress his native clergy. His son Henry III (r. 1039-1056) actually viewed himself as the order's protector and patron, lending momentum to the eleventh century 'reform party' in the Church. Ultimately, alumni of Cluny entered the 'secular' church's hierarchy, as well as the papacy. Reflecting this trend is the eleventh and twelfth century attempt on the part of the Church to curtail violence in feudal society. Councils proclaimed the Truce of God, whereby fighting on religious holidays was proscribed. The Peace of God prohibited attacks on non-combatants, such as women, children, merchants, peasants and priests. It is not clear that these prohibitions were heeded at all, but it established the Church's position on the moral high ground. Also significant were the reforming popes. They would articulate the idea of a papal monarchy entitled to temporal powers for the sake of spiritual betterment of Europe. In the process they would come into direct conflict with the German patrons of the clerical reform movement.

Between 1046 and 1049, Henry III of Germany had appointed a string of Popes. His last, Pope Leo IX (1049-54), was tremendously significant. A cousin to the Emperor and a bishop in an important reforming German diocese, Leo's major achievements are two.

1. He made strides to reform the government of the Church and make it independent from Roman nobles as well as secular rulers. He set up a body of high Church prelates at Rome to advise him and play the central role in future nomination of Popes. This 'College of Cardinals' he stacked with close reforming colleagues, such as Hildebrand, who had already served as Papal secretary; and Humbert, a leading ideologue of Church reform.

2. Leo initiated a ruthless campaign against clerical corruption in the form of marriage and simony. After a series of synods in Rome that legislated against such abuses, he, like a feudal monarch, traveled throughout Europe, holding court in the major diocese centers. From the spring to fall of 1049, he went throughout Italy, Germany, and France. At Reims in particular, anti-simony and anti-clerical marriage decrees were published, accusations against prelates were heard, and clerics were challenged to swear before the Pope that they had not purchased their offices. Several were deposed, replaced by more reform-oriented clergy. Thus, by the death of Leo's successor in 1057, the leadership of the Papacy as secular-moral judge of the Church was finally firmly established among most clerics.

By 1057, the last of Henry III's popes was dead, as was he. His son Henry IV was under a regency headed by his mother, and Roman reformers seized the opportunity to elect a Pope themselves, without consulting the regents, who weakly consented to the election. The same was the case for the election of Nicholas II in 1059. His short three-year pontificate exhibited measures of great significance for the rest of the century of Papal-German relations. First was a 1059 council in Rome, the purpose of which was to secure to the Papacy alone the power to appoint upper-level clergy. The first step was the pontificate itself. At the council an important decree regulating the conduct of papal elections held that only the College of Cardinals could elect a pope, thereby sidelining both Roman lay notables and German Emperors. Broad statements indicating that a priest was not to receive a church from a layman were also included here.

Nicholas second action of great significance was taken to protect popes against those who opposed the new electoral procedure. Basically, he needed muscle to protect his claims, and so he turned to the Normans of southern Italy. In the early 1000s, a group of Norman knights returning from pilgrimage to the East found the political vacuum of south-central Italy congenial to their desire for raiding and political aggrandizement, as their minor lord status at home would block further advancement there. Through the 1030s, the sons of Tancred de Hauteville worked mostly as mercenaries for hire, but soon they began taking lands for themselves. When the oldest son William died in 1046, he had control of Apulia. Soon, more of Tancred's sons arrived, most notably Robert Guiscard and his brother, Roger. Between 1057-1071 Robert was able to eliminate Byzantine positions in Italy, eventually occupying Bari. Moving to Muslim Sicily, Robert and Roger combined to take Palermo in 1072, with Roger conquering the entirety of the island by the 1190s. This was all-important for the Papacy because in 1059 Pope Nicholas recognized Robert Guiscard as Duke of Apulia and Calabria, receiving homage in return and a pledge of protection. Thus, the Pope felt he had acquired military support for his spiritual agenda.

Nicholas died in 1061, and in line with the new electoral terms, the College of Cardinals elected Alexander II as pope. A reformer, he was supported by the Normans, and was recognized two years later by German bishops and imperial regents. For the next twelve years until 1073, the Papacy was able to consolidate its authority over European churches, overseeing the implementation of reform decrees. During this same time, the forces of conflict were maturing. Henry IV (1056-1106) was coming into his maturity and needed to turn back the processes of princely usurpation of the crown's powers and authority. One way was to obtain the support of Germany's bishops through appointing them. He did not want the Pope--whom he had not appointed--to tell him who to invest as bishop and who was impermissible. Only royal power's needs should govern this, Henry thought, and for the same reason he did not want to imperil his clerics' support by insisting on reform and clerical celibacy. Already he had conflicted with Rome, when Alexander had excommunicated royal ministers for simony. Also, the Papacy and the Emperor were supporting opposing candidates for the bishopric of Milan. As the bishop here was also civil ruler, Henry needed his man there if ever he was to reestablish authority in Italy.

The conflict came to a head with the election of Hildebrand as Pope Gregory VII in 1073. He was an arch-reformer, feeling that he was God's vicar on earth and that all clerics of Latin Christianity should be responsible to him, and him alone. At best, secular rulers were only the mundane, profane instruments to achieve ecclesiastically defined goals. Immediately upon coming to power, he wrote Henry IV, telling him to mind his own business regarding Milan. Facing a revolt by Saxon, Bavarian, and Swabian dukes, Henry had to defer. Then, in 1075, Gregory threw down the gauntlet. At a Rome synod, he read the Papal decree Dictatus Papae. Its key points were 1) The Roman Church was founded by god and so not subject to any secular government; 2) only the Church, under the Pope, could call a council; 3) only God could judge a Pope; 4) only the Pope could invest or depose bishops; and 5) the Pope could depose kings and Emperors, freeing their subjects from allegiance to them. At the same time he claimed that no one invested by a layman was a real bishop, and that any non-cleric who would presume to do such a thing would be excommunicated. Basically, the Papacy was to be totally in charge of every aspect of the ecclesiastical structure of Europe. This was revolutionary in its clear articulation, as it went to the core of the prevalent theories of kingship, and interfered with feudal governmental practices. It appears that Gregory wanted to create a papal monarchy with the pope at its head. At the least, he wanted to draw a radical line between church and state. This was inimical to German governance going back to the Ottos if not before. This conflict became known as the Investiture Controversy.

Henry took up the challenge. He invested the Bishop of Milan himself, after which Gregory VII threatened to excommunicate him. In 1076, Henry then called the Council of Worms, including nobles and German bishops, who deposed Gregory, thus trampling the Dictatus. Gregory in turn deposed and excommunicated Henry, and began earnest contacts with German rebels. Again, Saxons, Swabians, and Bavarians rose in revolt, declaring for the Pope. Defeated by these, Henry was told at the Tribure Council of 1076 that he had a year to obtain absolution before forced abdication. Thus, he would have to apologize to the Pope, but the German rebels conspired to prevent this by blocking the Alpine passes. The German king was able to outflank his rivals, and crossed the Alps to find Gregory at Canossa, just before Christmas 1076. Seeking absolution as a penitent sinner, he was able to force Gregory's forgiveness. German rebels felt betrayed by Gregory, and ceased support for him. Without consulting the pope, they elected Rudolph of Swabia as an anti-king. After three years of bitter civil war Henry emerged victorious in 1080. During the same period, William the Bastard of Britain and Philip II Augustus of France made it clear they would not refrain from investing bishops with their offices. Still, Gregory again excommunicated Henry in 1081, provoking a German assault on Rome in 1081. After three years of siege, German forces entered the city with their own pope. Gregory holed up in a nearby fortress, and called on his Normans for help. Hearing this and seeing Gregory powerless, German forces withdrew. When the Normans arrived to see no army facing them and Rome defenseless, they sacked and looted the city, then left for the south with Gregory as captive. Henry's pope ruled for the next four years, and Gregory looked like a failure, having overreached himself.

Gregory's conditional victory did emerge, however, during the next generation. Pope Urban II (1088-1099) abandoned claims to depose Emperors, but insisted upon the ban of lay investiture. He was able to return to Rome in 1097, and excommunicated Henry again. A cold war with the German monarch ensued, and the latter was never as strong as his powerful predecessors. He faced continual small revolts that prevented total authority in Germany. Indeed, his son Henry V, who succeeded him in 1106, had been fighting against him. During Pascal II's papal tenure (1099-1118), real strides were made to regularize Papal authority. In 1107, Henry I of England accepted that a bishop would first be canonically elected, after which homage to the king would complete consecration. Louis VI of France accepted a similar arrangement. As regards Germany, in 1111 Henry V occupied Rome to finish the matter. Pascal's solution was that clerics abandon feudal properties and worldly power, to put them beyond the king's levers of influence. Very few cardinals accepted this plan, and Henry carried Pascal away from Rome as a captive. A second suggestion, made under duress, that Henry could invest bishops with ring and staff, was also rejected by the cardinals. Finally, the 1122 Concordat of Worms between Henry V and Pope Calixtus was similar to the agreement in England, except that in Germany the king was allowed to be present at the election of bishops. While in the short term this condition meant that the king would be able to exercise determining influence, it is fair to say that this outcome of the Investiture Controversy marks the moment when the Papacy became an independent European institution. Popes became free of both Roman clans and German emperors, and in the long run the Pope would extend his power over all European bishops. The Church would be a free standing institution, paving the way for the thirteenth-century Papal Monarchy.

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