Thursday, 8 November 2007

The Normans in Southern Italy: The Normans and the Papacy -- Reforming Popes

The 11th century was a time of revolutionary change in European society. The church underwent profound reform and redefined itself and its relation with the secular order. By 1049, the papacy caught up with the broader reform movement in the church when Pope Leo IX (1049–54) instituted moral and institutional reforms at the council of Reims. One important measure implemented during the papacy of Nicholas II (1058–61) was the election decree of 1059 that created the Sacred College of Cardinals as a papal advisory body vested with the right to name new popes, thus encouraging the independence of papal elections. Further reforms emphasising the primacy of Rome and subordination of all clergy and laity to the pope brought about the Schism of 1054 between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. Another significant development brought on by the papal reform begun in 1049 was the Investiture Controversy. This struggle between Pope Gregory VII and King Henry IV of Germany erupted when Henry claimed the long-standing royal right to invest an ecclesiastical office holder with the symbols of power, thereby effectively maintaining control of the selection and direction of bishops and the local clergy in the hands of civil rulers[1]. Gregory’s Dictatus Papae[2] (1075) claimed unprecedented papal prerogatives and emphasised the pope’s place as the highest authority in the church.

Pope Leo IX (1049-1054)

Bruno of Egisheim was born on June 21st 1002, Egisheim in Alsace and died on April 19th 1054 in Rome[3]. He was born into an aristocratic family and educated at Toul, where he first became canon and then was consecrated bishop in 1027, at the early age of twenty-five. Dynamic, purposeful, and zealous in the cause of reform, he began to raise the moral standards of important monasteries in his diocese, as well as those of the secular diocesan clergy, by holding frequent meetings. In accordance with prevailing practice, he was appointed pope at the age of forty-seven by the emperor Henry III. He insisted, however, upon being elected by the people and clergy of Rome, an action that implicitly indicated his opposition to the firmly entrenched lay intervention, especially by the emperors, in purely ecclesiastical matters. After having obtained approval by the Romans, he was enthroned as pope on February 12th 1049.

Leo IX’s aim was to end what he saw as the chief evils of the time: concubinage (clerical marriage), simony (buying and selling of ecclesiastical offices), and lay investiture (conferment of an ecclesiastical office by a lay ruler). In order to achieve these ends it was necessary for the Roman Church itself to be made the centre of Christian society and life. Leo therefore called to Rome men whom he had known in his capacity as bishop of Toul. They not only were aware of the pressing need for reform but also were first-class scholars and administrators as well as men who realised the difficulties with which they were to be confronted. Among them were Humbert of Moyenmoutier, Frederick of Lorraine (later Pope Stephen IX), and Hugh of Remiremont, who all became cardinals. A notable monk at Cluny, Hildebrand, also obeyed the call to Rome, where as Pope Gregory VII he completed many of the reforms begun by Leo. These men and their assistants infused new blood into the Roman Church.  Leo also kept in regular contact with other leading churchmen, such as Peter Damian and Abbot Hugh of Cluny, whose reputations allowed them to exercise great influence on their immediate surroundings and thus prepared the way for the acceptance of measures to reform Christian society. These men succeeded in transforming the papacy from a local Roman institution into an international power. This group was determined to make papal ideology a social reality. The key feature of this ideology was the prime position of the pope as so-called successor of St. Peter, an ecclesiastical expression for papal monarchy. Papal organisation experienced considerable expansion at this time, notably the chancery, which became its nerve centre in which the universally valid and applicable law and the instructions to distant ecclesiastical officers were drafted. Although the effect of these legal measures was not immediately obvious, they nevertheless laid the foundations for eventual success.

During Leo IX’s pontificate the cardinals became more and more prominent as the most intimate counsellors of the pope, and within a few years they were to form the body known as the Sacred College of Cardinals. The validity of priestly ordinations administered by simoniac bishops proved a serious problem, because most theologians held that simony prostituted the sacrament of ordination. Leo IX ordered a number of simoniacally ordained priests to be ‘reordained’. This order led to much controversial literature and the problem was not solved until several decades later. Leo IX was intent on making the prime position of the pope real by his own physical presence outside Rome. To this end he held more than a dozen councils in Italy, France, Germany, and Sicily, which re-enacted the decrees of earlier councils and popes and introduced practical measures to eliminate the worst excesses from which Christian society suffered. The personal attendance of Leo and his chairmanship of these councils were factors that powerfully contributed to the growing authority of the papacy. They enabled the Pope to establish direct contact with the higher and lower clergy as well as with leading secular figures.

The most significant event of Leo IX’s pontificate was the schism with the Eastern Church that resulted, at least partially, from an ill-fated military involvement. After their settlement in southern Italy in the second decade of the 11th century, the Normans[4] presented considerable dangers to the existence of the papal state. In their marauding expeditions they plundered and devastated many churches and monasteries. In conjunction with Emperor Henry III, Leo resolved to undertake a military campaign against the Normans; but Henry withdrew and, with a weak and inexperienced army under his command, Leo had to face the Normans alone. They inflicted a crushing defeat upon the papal army, and on 18th June 1053, they took the Pope prisoner. He was, nevertheless, allowed to maintain contact with the outside world and to receive visitors. After nine months he was released.

The Norman venture, however, brought the papacy into conflict with the Eastern Church[5] centred in Constantinople, which, since the 8th century, had exercised jurisdiction over large areas of southern Italy and Sicily. The forcefully enunciated papal theme of primacy in Leo’s pontificate complicated the relations between Rome and Constantinople still further because the patriarch of Constantinople, Michael I Cerularius, considered this sheer provocation. He closed the Roman Catholic churches in Constantinople and raised serious charges against the Roman Church, notably in connection with the Eucharist. Cardinal Humbert attacked the Patriarch arguing the case for Roman primacy and also quoting extensively from the forged Donation of Constantine[6]. A legation under Humbert’s leadership left for Constantinople in April 1054, but despite several meetings between Patriarch, Emperor, and legates, no concrete results emerged. On July 16th 1054, in the full view of the congregation, Humbert put the papal bull of excommunication, already prepared before the legation left Rome on the altar of the church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. Thereupon the Patriarch excommunicated the legation and its supporters. This marked the final breach between Rome and Constantinople. This schism was to last, with short interruptions, until the twentieth century. Whether the excommunication of Michael I Cerularius was valid, because Leo had been dead for three months, is merely a technical problem. The Roman legates were legates of the papacy, and the reigning pope had produced the bull of excommunication. In any case, the excommunication merely formalised in a dramatic and spectacular manner a state of affairs that had long existed. Although this occurred after the death of Leo IX, the outbreak of the formal schism correctly belongs to his pontificate.

Victor II (1055-1057)

Born c. 1018 in Swabia, died 28th July 1057 in Tuscany, Victor[7] was of noble birth. The papal catalogues make him a native of the Bavarian Nordgau, while most German sources designate Swabia as his birthplace. His parents were Count Hartwig and Countess Baliza; the Emperor Henry III recognised him as a collateral kinsman, and he was a nephew of Bishop Gebhard III of Ratisbon, who at the court Diet of Goslar presented him (Christmas Day, 1042) to Henry III as a candidate for the episcopal see of Eichstatt. The emperor hesitated at first because Gebhard was only twenty-four years old, but, on the advice of the aged Archbishop Bardo of Mainz, he finally consented to invest him with this important see. Gebhard proved to be a good bishop and a prudent statesman. He was in the emperor’s retinue when the latter was crowned at Rome in 1046; he took part in the synod presided over by Leo IX at Mainz in October, 1049, and in the consultations between the pope and the emperor at Ratisbon and Bamberg in 1052. By this time he had become the most influential councillor of Henry III. It was upon his advice that in 1053 a German army, which was on its way to join Leo IX in his war against the Normans, was recalled, an advice which he is said to have regretted when he was pope (Leo Marsicanus in his Chronaicon Casinense, volume II, page 89, in Patrologia Latina, volume CLXXIII, page 692). Early in the same year he became regent of Bavaria for the three year old Henry IV. In this capacity he had occasion to prove his loyalty towards the emperor by defind the rights of the empire against the deposed Duke Conrad, the counts of Scheyern, and his own uncle, Bishop Gebhard of Ratisbon.

After the death of Leo IX (19th April, 1054), Cardinal-subdeacon Hildebrand came to the emperor at the head of a Roman legation with the urgent request to designate Gebhard as pope. At the Diet of Mainz, in September, 1054, the emperor granted this request, but Gebhard refused to accept the papal dignity. At a court Diet held at Ratisbon in March, 1055, he finally accepted the papacy, but only on condition that the emperor restored to the Apostolic See all the possessions that had been taken from it. The emperor consented to this condition and Gebhard accompanied Hildebrand to Rome, where he was formally elected and solemnly enthroned on Maundy Thrusday, 13th April, 1055, taking the name of Victor II. Even as pope he retained the Diocese of Eichstatt. Victor II was a worthy successor of Leo IX. With untiring zeal he combated, like his predecessor, against simony and clerical concubinage. Being well supported by the emperor, he often succeeded where Leo IX had failed. On Pentecost Sunday, June 4th 1055, he held a large synod at Florence, in presence of the emperor and 120 bishops, where former decrees against siony and incontinence were confirmed and several offending bishops deposed. To King Ferdinand of Spain he sent messengers with threats of excommunication if he should continue in his refusal to acknowledge Henry III as Roman Emperor. Ferdinand submitted to the papal demands. Before the emperor returned to Germany he transferred to the pope the duchies of Spoleto and Camerino. Early in 1056, Victor II sent Hildebrand back to France to resume his labours against simony and concubinage that he had begun under Leo IX. He appointed the archbishops Raimbaud of Arles and Pontius of Aix papal legates to battle against the same vices in Southern France. Late in the summer of the same year he accepted the urgent invitation of the emperor to come to Germany, arriving at Goslar on 8th September. He accompanied Henry III to Botfeld in the Hartz Mountains where on 5th October he witnessed the untimely death of the emperor. Before his death, the emperor entrusted his six-year-old successor, Henry IV, and the regency of the kingdom to the pope. On 28th October, after burying the emperor in the cathedral at Speyer, he secured the imperial succession of Henry IV by having him solemnly enthroned at Aachen. He still further strengthened the position of the boy-king by recommending him to the loyalty of the princes at the imperial Diet which he convened at Cologne early in December, and at the court Diet of Ratisbon on Christmas Day.

Leaving the regency of Germany in the hands of Agnes mother of Henry IV, Victor returned to Rome in February, 1057, where he presided over a council at the Lateran on 18th April. On 14th June he created Frederick, whom he had a month previously helped to the abbacy of Montecassino, Cardinal-priest of San Crisogono thus gaining the friendship of the powerful Duke Godfrey of Lorraine, a brother of the new cardinal. He then went to Tuscany, where he settled (23rd July) a jurisdictional dispute near Arezzo; five days later he died. His attendants wished to bring his remains to the cathedral at Eichstatt for burial. On their way thither, the remains were forcibly taken from them by some citizens of Ravena and buried there in the Church of Santa Maria Rotonda.

Stephen IX or X (1057-1058)

Frederick of Lorraine was born. c. 1000 and died on 29th March 1058 in Florence[8]. The brother of Duke Godfrey of Lorraine, he studied at Liege, where he became archdeacon. Under his cousin Pope Leo IX he became an important papal adviser and a member of the inner circle that led the movement for ecclesiastical reform. In 1054 he was papal legate to Constantinople, subsequently retiring to the important Benedictine abbey of Monte Cassino. He became abbot there in 1057. Pope Victor II made Frederick cardinal priest shortly before his death on July 28th 1057. He succeeded Victor as Pope Stephen IX on the following 2nd August but was already dying when elected. During Stephen’s brief pontificate the general church reform begun by Leo gained impetus. He called a Roman synod to denounce simony and enforced clerical celibacy. Among the celebrated reforming ecclesiastics employed by Stephen were Cardinal Peter Damian, the powerful Roman cardinal Humbert of Silva Candida, and Cardinal Hildebrand. He secured the cooperation of cardinals and Roman burghers to ensure the canonical and independent election of his successor, requesting them to await the return of Hildebrand, whom he had dispatched as legate in Germany. Stephen died in the midst of plans to halt the Norman advance in southern Italy and to negotiate an end to the Great Schism between the Eastern and Western churches.


[1] For a survey and bibliographical guide, Ute-Renate Blumenthal, The Investiture Controversy: Church and Monarchy from the Ninth to the Twelfth Century, Philadelphia, 1988 and Colin Morris, The Papal Monarchy: The Western Church from 1050 to 1250, Oxford, 1989. The two fundamental studies remain: Auguste Fliche, La réforme grégorienne, three volumes, Paris, 1924-37; Gerd Tellenbach, Libertas: Kirche und Weltordnung im Zeitalter des Investiturstreites, Leipzig, 1936; English translation as Church, State and Christian Society at the Time of the Investiture Contest, translated R. F. Bennett, Oxford, 1970.

[2] The Dictatus Papae (“Dictates of the Pope”), a list of brief statements inserted in Gregory’s register asserting papal claims. For example, the eighth title states that the pope alone can use the imperial insignia (the symbols of temporal power). The result of an assiduous combing of various sources, the Dictatus (which dates to 1075), seems to anticipate the controversies of the coming years. Certainly, it suggests the direction in which the thought of the Roman Curia was moving.

[3] Charles Munier Le Pape Léo et la Réforme de L’Eglisle 1002-1054, Strasbourg, 2002, especially pages 193-216 looks specifically at relations with th Normans. L. Sittler and P. Stintzi, Saint Léon IX, Le pape alsacien, Colmar, 1950 remains useful.

[4] Josef Deer Papsttum und Normannen. Untersuchungen zu ihren lehnsrechlichen und kirchenpolitischen Beziehungen, 1972 is a detailed but difficult work that looks at relations between successive popes and the Normans. Jean Decarreaux Normands, Papes et Moines, Paris, 1974 is short than Deer’s study and probably the best general work on the subject.

[5] S. Runciman, The Eastern Schism, Cambridge, 1955 remains the best starting-point. J.M. Hussey, The Orthodox Church in the Byzantine Empire, Oxford History of the Christian Church, Oxford University Press, 1986, a superb survey of Byzantine history and theology, touching on a host of valuable issues touching medieval history, including the iconoclastic controversy, the Great Schism, and the Crusades.

[6] The Donatio Constantini or ‘Donation of Constantine’ is a document that discusses the supposed grant by the emperor Constantine the Great to Pope Sylvester I (314–335) and his successors of spiritual supremacy over the other great patriarchates and over all matters of faith and worship, as well as of temporal dominion over Rome and the entire Western Empire. It was claimed that the gift was motivated by Constantine’s supposed gratitude to Sylvester for miraculously healing his leprosy and converting him to Christianity. Now universally admitted to be a forgery, it was regarded as genuine by both friends and enemies of the papal claims to power throughout the European Middle Ages. It was composed from various sources, especially the apocryphal Vita S. Silvestri (“Life of Saint Sylvester”). In the 9th century, it was included in the collection known as the False Decretals, and two centuries later it was incorporated in Gratian’s Decretum by one of his pupils. The earliest certain appeal to it by a pope was made in 1054 by Leo IX in a letter to Michael Cerularius, the patriarch of Constantinople. From that time forward it was increasingly employed by popes and canonists in support of the papal claims, and from the 12th century onward it became a weapon of the spiritual powers against the temporal. Although the validity of the document was sometimes questioned, its genuineness was first critically assailed during the Renaissance. In 1440, Lorenzo Valla proved that it was false. Various interpretations of this forgery have been developed by scholars. It is generally agreed that it was written between 750 and 800. Some believe that it was written in Rome, but others believe it was composed in the Frankish empire. The evidence of its Roman origin is mainly internal. Evidence for a Frankish origin is based on the facts that the earliest manuscript (in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris) containing it appears to have been written there and that the earliest quotations from it are by Ado of Vienne, Hincmar of Reims, and Aeneas of Paris, all Frankish authors.

[7] The chief sources for the life of Victor II are the narrations of an anonymous writer of Herrieden, Anonymous Haserensis, a contemporary of Henry IV; they are printed in Monumenta Germaniae Historia: Scriptorum, volume VII, 263 sq.; H. R. Mann, The Lives of the Popes in the Middle Ages, volume VI, London, 1910, pages 183-206; Joris, ‘Victor II, pape et regent de l’empire’ in Revue du monde catholique, volume IV (1862-3), pages 560-72; V, 46-61; Hofler, Die deutsch. Papste, volume II, Ratisbon, 1839, pages 217-68; Jaffe Regesta Pontif. rom. volume I, pages 549-553; II, pages 710-1, 750, Leipzig, 1885-8 and Liber pontificalis, ed. Duchesne, volume II, page 277.

[8] The chief material on Stephen IX (X) are Liber Pontificalis, volume II, page 278, ed. Duchesne, Paris, 1892; U. Robert has put together all that is known of Stephen X in his Histoire du P. Etienne X, Brussels, 1892 and H.K Mann The Lives of the Popes in the Middle Ages, volume VI, London, 1910, pages 207-225.

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