Friday, 9 November 2007

The Normans in Southern Italy: The Normans and the Papacy -- Nicholas II and Alexander II

Nicholas II (1058-1061)

Gerald of Burgundy was born in Lorraine and died on 27th August 1061 in Florence[1]. He became bishop of Florence in 1046. As soon as the news of the death of Stephen X at Florence reached Rome on 4th April, 1058, the Tusculan party appointed a successor in the person of John Mincius, Bishop of Velletri, under the name of Benedict X. His elevation, due to violence and corruption, was contrary to the specific orders of Stephen X that, at his death, no choice of a successor was to be made until Hildebrand’s return from Germany. Several cardinals protested against the irregular proceedings, but they were compelled to flee from Rome. Hildebrand was returning from his mission when the news of these events reached him. He interrupted his journey at Florence, and after agreeing with Duke Godfrey of Lorraine-Tuscany upon Bishop Gerhard for elevation to the papacy, he won over part of the Roman population to the support of his candidate. An embassy dispatched to the imperial court secured the confirmation of the choice by the Empress Agnes.

At Hildebrand’s invitation, the cardinals met in December, 1058, at Siena and elected Gerhard who assumed the name of Nicholas II. On his way to Rome the new pope held at Sutri a well-attended synod at which, in the presence of Duke Godfrey and the imperial chancellor, Guibert of Parma, he pronounced deposition against Benedict X. The latter was driven from the city in January, 1059, and the solemn coronation of Nicholas took place on the twenty-fourth of the same month. A cultured man, the new pontiff had about him capable advisers, but to meet the danger still threatening from Benedict X and his armed supporters, Nicholas empowered Hildebrand to enter into negotiations with the Normans of southern Italy. The papal envoy recognized Count Richard of Aversa as Prince of Capua and received in return Norman troops which enabled the papacy to carry on hostilities against Benedict in the Campagna. This campaign did not result in the decisive overthrow of the opposition party, but it enabled Nicholas to undertake in the early part of 1059, a pastoral visitation to Spoleto, Farfa, and Osimo. During this journey he raised Abbot Desiderius of Montecassino to the dignity of cardinal-priest and appointed him legate to Campania, Benevento, Apulia, and Calabria. Early in his pontificate he had sent St. Peter Damiani and Bishop Anselm of Lucca as his legates to Milan, where a married and simoniacal clergy had recently given rise to a reform-party known as the ‘Pataria’. A synod for the restoration of ecclesiastical discipline was held and succeeded in obtaining from Archbishop Guido and the Milanese clergy a solemn repudiation of simony and concubinage

One of the most pressing needs of the time was the reform of papal elections. It was right that they should be freed from the disreputable influence of the Roman factions and the secular control of the emperor, probably less disastrous but always objectionable. Nicholas II held in the Lateran in April 1059 a synod attended by one hundred and thirteen bishops and famous for its law concerning papal elections. Efforts to determine the authentic text of this decree caused considerable controversy in the nineteenth century and discussions did not result in a consensus of opinion. However, the sense of the law is substantially as follows:

  • At the death of the pope, the cardinal-bishops are to confer among themselves concerning a candidate, and, after they have agreed upon a name, they and the other cardinals are to proceed to the election. The remainder of the clergy and the laity enjoy the right of acclaiming their choice.
  • A member of the Roman clergy is to be chosen, except that where a qualified candidate cannot be found in the Roman Church, an ecclesiastic from another diocese may be elected.
  • The election is to be held at Rome, except that when a free choice is impossible there, it may take place elsewhere.
  • If war or other circumstances prevent the solemn enthronization of the new pope in St. Peter's Chair, he shall nevertheless enjoy the exercise of full Apostolic authority.
  • Due regard is to be had for the right of confirmation or recognition conceded to King Henry, and the same deference is to be shown to his successors, who have been granted personally a like privilege.

These stipulations constituted indeed a new law, but they were also intended as an implicit approbation of the procedure followed at the election of Nicholas II. As to the imperial right of confirmation, it became a mere personal privilege granted by the Roman See. The same synod prohibited simoniacal ordinations, lay investiture, and assistance at the Mass of a priest living in notorious concubinage. The rules governing the life of canons and nuns which were published at the diet of Aix-la-Chapelle (817) were abolished, because they allowed private property and such abundant food that, as the bishops indignantly exclaimed, they were adapted to sailors and intemperate matrons rather than to clerics and nuns. Berengarius of Tours, whose views opposed to the doctrine of Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist, had repeatedly been condemned, also appeared at the Council and was compelled to sign a formula of abjuration.

At the end of June, 1059, Nicholas proceeded to Montecassino and then to Melfi, the capital of Norman Apulia, where he held an important synod and concluded the famous alliance with the Normans (July-August, 1059). Duke Robert Guiscard was invested with the sovereignty of Apulia, Calabria, and Sicily in case he should reconquer it from the Saracens; he bound himself, in return, to pay an annual tribute, to hold his lands as the pope's vassal, and to protect the Roman See, its possessions, and the freedom of papal elections. A similar agreement was concluded with Prince Richard of Capua. After holding a synod at Benevento Nicholas returned to Rome with a Norman army which reconquered Præneste, Tusculum, and Numentanum for the Holy See and forced Benedict X to capitulate at Galeria in the autumn of 1059. Hildebrand was now created archdeacon. In order to secure the general acceptance of the laws enacted at the synod of 1059, Cardinal Stephen, in the latter part of that year, was sent to France where he presided over the synods of Vienne (31st January 1060) and Tours (17th February 1060). The decree which introduced a new method of papal election had caused great dissatisfaction in Germany, because it reduced the imperial right of confirmation to the precarious condition of a personal privilege granted at will; but, assured of Norman protection, Nicholas could fearlessly renew the decree at the Lateran synod held in 1060. After this council Cardinal Stephen, who had accomplished his mission to France, appeared as papal legate in Germany. For five days he vainly solicited an audience at court and then returned to Rome. His fruitless mission was followed by a German synod which annulled all the ordinances of Nicholas II and pronounced his deposition. The pope’s answer was a repetition of the decree concerning elections at the synod of 1061, at which the condemnation of simony and concubinage among the clergy was likewise renewed. He was buried in the church of St. Reparata at Florence of which city he had remained bishop even after his elevation to the papal throne. His pontificate, though of short duration, was marked by events fraught with momentous and far-reaching consequences

Alexander II (1061-1073)

As Anselm of Lucca, he had been recognized for a number of years as one of the leaders of the reform party, especially in the Milanese territory, where he was born at Baggio, of noble parentage[2]. Together with Hildebrand, he had imbibed in Cluny the zeal for reformation. The first theatre of his activity was Milan, where he was one of the founders of the Pataria, and lent to that great agitation against simony and clerical incontinency the weight of his eloquence and noble birth. The device of silencing him, contrived by Archbishop Guido and other episcopal foes of reform in Lombardy, sending him to the court of the Emperor Henry III, had the contrary effect of enabling him to spread the propaganda in Germany. In 1057 the Emperor appointed him to the bishopric of Lucca. With increased prestige, he reappeared twice in Milan as legate of the Holy See, in 1057 in the company of Hildebrand, and in 1059 with Peter Damian. Under the able generalship of this saintly triumvirate the reform forces were held well in hand, in preparation for the inevitable conflict. The decree of Nicholas II (1059) by which the right of papal elections was virtually vested in the College of Cardinals, formed the issue to be fought and decided at the next vacancy of the Apostolic Throne. The death of Pope Nicholas two years later found both parties in battle array. The candidate of the Hildebrandists, endorsed by the cardinals, was the Bishop of Lucca; the other side put forward the name of Cadalus, Bishop of Parma, a protector and example of the prevailing vices of the age. The cardinals met in legal form and elected Anselm, who took the name of Alexander II. Before proceeding to his enthronment, the Sacred College notified the German Court of their action. The Germans were considered to have forfeited the privilege of confirming the election reserved to their king with studied vagueness in the decree of Nicholas II, when they contemptuously dismissed the ambassador of the cardinals without a hearing. Foreseeing a civil war, the cardinals on 30th September completed the election by the ceremony of enthronisation.

Meanwhile a deputation of the Roman nobles, who were enraged at their elimination as a dominant factor in the papal elections, joined by deputies of the unreformed episcopate of Lombardy, had proceeded to the German Court with a request for the royal sanction to a new election. The Empress Agnes, as regent for her ten-year-old son, Henry IV, convoked an assembly of lay and clerical magnates at Basle; and here, without any legal right, and without the presence of a single cardinal, the Bishop of Parma was declared Pope, and took the name of Honorius II[3] on 28th October. In the contest which ensued, Pope Alexander was supported by the consciousness of the sanctity of his cause, by public opinion clamouring for reform, by the aid of the allied Normans of southern Italy, and by the benevolence of Beatrice and Matilda of Tuscany. Even in Germany things took a favourable turn for him, when Anno of Cologne seized the regency, and the repentant Empress withdrew to a convent. In a new diet, at Augsburg in October 1062, it was decided that Burchard, Bishop of Halberstadt should proceed to Rome and, after investigating the election of Alexander on the spot, make a report to a later assemblage of the bishops of Germany and Italy. Burchard’s report was entirely in favour of Alexander. The latter defended his cause with eloquence and spirit in a council held at Mantua, at Pentecost, 1064 and was formally recognised as legitimate Pope. His rival was excommunicated, but kept up the contest with dwindling prospects till his death in l072. In striking contrast to his helplessness amidst the Roman factions, is his lofty attitude towards the potentates lay and clerical, of Europe. Under banners blessed by him Roger advanced to the conquest of Sicily, and William to the conquest of England. His Regesta fill eleven pages of Jaffe (Regesta Rom. Pontif, second edition, volume 4, nos. 445, 4770). He was omnipresent, through his legates, punishing simoniacal bishops and incontinent clerics. He did not spare even his protector, Anno of Cologne whom he twice summoned to Rome, once in 1068 to do penance, barefoot, for holding relations with the antipope, and again in 1070 to purge himself of the charge of simony. A similar discipline was administered to Sigfried of Mainz, Hermann of Bamberg, and Werner of Strasburg. In his name his legate, Peter Damian, at the Diet of Frankfurt in 1069, under threat of excommunication and exclusion from the imperial throne, deterred Henry IV from the project of divorcing his queen, Bertha of Turin, though instigated thereto by several German bishops. His completest triumph was that of compelling Bishop Charles of Constance and Abbot Robert of Reichenau to return to the King the croziers and rings they had obtained through simony. One serious quarrel with Henry was left to be decided by his successor. In 1069 the Pope had rejected as a simonist the subdeacon Godfrey, whom Henry had appointed Archbishop of Milan. Henry failed to accept this but the Pope confirmed Atto, the choice of the reform party. Upon the king's ordering his appointee to be consecrated, Alexander issued an anathema against the royal advisers. The death of the Pope on 21st April 1073 left Hildebrand, his faithful chancellor, heir to his triumphs and difficulties.


[1] The most useful material on Nicholas II is to be found in Clavel, Le Pape Nicolas II, Lyons, 1906; O. Delarc, ‘Le Pontificat de Nicoles II’ in Revue des Questions Historiques, volume XL (1886), pages 341-402 and H. R. Mann The Lives of the Popes in the Middle Ages, volume VI, St. Louis, 1910, pages 226-60.

[2] Tilmann Schmidt, Alexander II. (1061-1073) und die römische Reformgruppe seinzer Zeit, Päpste und Papsttum, 11; Stuttgart, 1977 is an invaluable study.

[3] When Pope Nicholas II died on July 27, 1061, Roman nobles and a group of Lombard bishops led by Wibert (or Guibert), royal chancellor for Italy, went to the German court and asked Empress Agnes, mother and regent of young King Henry V, to nominate Bishop Cadalo (or Pietro Cadalus, or Cadalous) of Parma, who was not a Cardinal, as successor of Pope Nicholas. Cadalo’s principal supporters were Bishops Dionisio of Piacenza and Gregorio of Vercelli. To give the appearance of a canonical election, a synod was convened at Basle in which Bishop Cadalo was elected by a miscellaneous assembly on October 28, 1061. There were no cardinals present in the synod and a good number of archbishops and bishops opposed the election. The new antipope took the name Honorius II. He was anathematised by the Synod of Mantua in May 1064 that recognised Alexander II as legitimate Pope. Honorius returned to Parma and remained its bishop until his death towards the end of 1071 or the beginning of 1072. He never abandoned his claim to the papacy

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