(c.1015 - 1085)

 Henry IV and Gregory VII at Canossa

 POPE GREGORY VII  (d. 1085), Pope from 1073. Born prob. at Sovana in Tuscany, he was given the name of Hildebrand. He is traditionally thought to have come from a poor family, but medical evidence has cast doubt on this view. The date of his birth is unknown; it cannot have been later than 1034 and was prob. c.1015. He went to Rome at an early age, was educated in the monastery of St Mary on the Aventine, and took monastic vows either then or in 1047/ 9. He was chosen by Pope Gregory VI as his chaplain, and went into exile with him to Germany in 1046. After the Pope’s death in 1047, he remained there in reforming circles, and he was confirmed in his austere views of the obligations of clerical life. He returned to Rome in 1049 with the newly elected Pope Leo IX, who appointed him administrator of the patrimony of St Peter. Under him and his successors, in whose elections he exercised great influence, Hildebrand was the virtual guide of the Papacy. Under Nicholas II he had a share in the decree which assigned the election of the Popes to the cardinals; in 1059 he became Archdeacon of the Roman Church.

After his election to the Papacy (1073), Gregory extended his work for the reform and moral revival of the Church by issuing decrees against the simony and incontinence of the clergy in the Lenten synod of 1074. These measures, which were enforced by Papal legates who deposed simoniacal and immoral clerics, were violently opposed, esp. in Germany and France. In England William I refused Gregory’s request for fealty, but agreed to the payment of Peter’s Pence and was acknowledged by Gregory to be in many respects a worthy and reforming ruler. In France, too, Gregory’s reforms made some progress, despite Philip I’s opposition. In Germany Henry IV, threatened with ban and deposition, held two synods at Worms and Piacenza (1076) which declared the Pope deposed. Gregory replied by deposing and banning Henry, and freeing his subjects from their oath of allegiance at the Lenten synod of 1076. Henry, whose situation soon became desperate, submitted to the Pope at Canossa in 1077, did penance, and was absolved from his censures. In spite of this the German princes elected Rudolf of Rheinfelden as German king at Forchheim in the same year. The Pope did not recognize him until 1080, when he once more excommunicated Henry, who had not fulfilled the promises given at Canossa. The latter now planned to set up Wibert, the excommunicated Abp. of Ravenna, as antipope and marched against Rome, which he took in 1084. Gregory was freed by Robert Guiscard, whose Norman troops, however, exasperated the Roman population, so that they turned against Gregory, who had called them in. The Pope had to flee first to Monte Cassino and later to Salerno, where he died. His alleged last words, ‘I have loved righteousness and hated iniquity, therefore I died in exile’, are now interpreted as an expression of confidence and hope, not of disillusion and bitterness.

Though Gregory was once regarded as an ambitious tyrant, most modern historians have revised this judgement and are agreed on his purity of intention and his desire for iustitia (righteousness). In his own lifetime the Church suffered division, and he himself incurred much criticism; but Gregory’s example and the activities of his successors (esp. Urban II) did much to regenerate the Church. He ultimately condemned the eucharistic theology of Berengar of Tours, who had denied the real change of the Bread and Wine into the Body and Blood of Christ in the Mass. His efforts at reconciling the E. Church to the W. failed, and in 1074 he was not able to put into effect his plans for a campaign against the Turks. He was canonized in 1606. Feast day, 25 May.

His Registrum, ed. E. Caspar in MGH, Epistolae Selectae, 2 (pts. 1 and 2; 1920–3); Eng. tr. by H. E. J. Cowdrey (Oxford, 2002); for letters not in Registrum see Epistolae Vagantes ed., with Eng. tr., by id. (ibid., 1972); ‘Privileges’ ed. L. Santifaller (ST 190; 1957). A. Murray, ‘Pope Gregory VII and his Letters’, Traditio, 22 (1966), pp. 149–201. Life by Paul of Bernried, completed 1128, ed. J. M. Watterich, Pontificum Romanorum … vitae, 1 (Leipzig, 1862), pp. 474–546. A. Fliche, La Réforme grégorienne (SSL 6, 9, and 16; 1924–37), with full bibl. H. X. Arquillière, Saint Grégoire VII: Essai sur sa conception du pouvoir pontifical (1934). H. E. J. Cowdrey, Pope Gregory VII (Oxford, 1998). G. B. Borino and others (eds.), Studi gregoriani per la storia di Gregorio VII e della riforma gregoriana (1947 ff.). A. Fliche, Saint Grégoire VII (‘Les Saints’; 1920); A. J. Macdonald, Hildebrand (1932); J. P. Whitney, Hildebrandine Essays (1932), 1 and 2, pp. 1–94. L. F. J. Meulenberg, Der Primat der römischen Kirche im Denken und Handeln Gregors VII (The Hague, 1965). P. E. Hübinger, Die letzten Worte Papst Gregor VII. (Rheinisch-Westfälische Akademie der Wissenschaften, Vorträge G 185; 1973). U.-R. Blumenthal, Gregor VII.: Papst zwischen Canossa und Kirchenreform (Darmstadt [2001]). W. Ullmann, The Growth of Papal Power in the Middle Ages (1955; 2nd end., 1962), esp. pp. 262–309. C. Schneider, Prophetisches Sacerdotium und heilsgeschichtliches Regnum im Dialog 1073–1077: Zur Geschichte Gregors VII. und Heinrich IV. (Münsterische Mittelalter-Schriften, 9; 1972). J. Vogel, Gregor VII. und Heinrich IV. nach Canossa: Zeugnisse ihres Selbstverständnisses (Arbeiten zur Frühmittelalterforschung, 9; 1983). C. Morris, The Papal Monarchy: The Western Church from 1050 to 1250 (Oxford History of the Christian Church, 1989), esp. pp. 109–21. A. Fliche in Fliche and Martin, 8 (1944), pp. 55–198, with bibl. Mann, 7 (1910), pp. 1–217. G. Miccoli in Bibliotheca Sanctorum, 7 (Rome, 1966), cols. 294–379, s.v., with extensive bibl.


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