|Otto I with Knights and Nobles|
Well, we have strayed a bit from our theme of Reformation and the “Ottonian” Reformation of the Emperors Otto I, II, and III in particular. The power of Otto I’s daughter, the Abbess Matilida, led us into a digression on women and ecclesiastical authority and then we looked a bit at the issue of Same Sex Marriage due to the passage of a bill legitimating gay marriage in New York State. So let’s return to the Emperor Otto I and his attempts to reform the Church.
Otto had to carve out the position of Holy Roman Emperor after the title had fallen into disuse in the late ninth and early tenth centuries, but as King of Germany he had great power north of the Alps. He tried to clean up the papacy which was going through one of its most discreditable periods in history, if not the single most discreditable period, but he did not have great luck. He had allied himself with the reprobate John XII with the Diploma Ottonium in which he agreed to serve as protector of the Church, but the last thing John—one of the most immoral of popes—wanted was the Emperor interfering in the Church and any curtailment of John’s own power. When John turned against Otto and his authority, Otto deposed him and saw that Leo VIII was elected in his place. Church historians today see such a deposition as “invalid,” but at the time it was seen as a legitimate prerogative of the Emperor and the election of Leo was seen as valid. The Romans never accepted Leo—they saw him as a creature of the Emperor and resented the “foreign” interference in the election of their bishop. John fled to the mountains outside Rome where he gathered an army from among family, friends, and retainers. Otto was no sooner on his way back to Germany when John’s army attacked Rome and caused Leo to flee. Otto turned around determined to beat John once and for all, but God called John to judgment before Leo had his chance to do the same. With John dead, the Roman’s chose Benedict V but Otto was determined for Leo and had Benedict deposed and Leo re-installed as Pope. Modern Church historians recognize Leo as the legitimate pope from this time (965) on. Poor Benedict had a somewhat remarkable decline from the papacy. Leo personally ripped the palium (the sign of his office as pope) frm his shoulders and his papal staff (crozier) was snapped in two over his head and he was reduced to the rank of deacon and sent into exile in Hamburg, Germany—about as far from Rome as you can get. When Leo died, John XIII became pope—a compromise candidate acceptable to both the Emperor and the Roman Populace, though the first choice of neither. John and Otto had some success in reforming the Church though no significant reform in Rome itself where the vested political interests of the different Roman noble families would resist change. John and Otto established a number of new Archbishoprics in Germany—pushing missionary efforts eastward towards what is today the Czech Republic and southern Poland and northward into the Baltic. John also established several Latin Archbishoprics in southern Italy which still had ties to Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire and where Christianity tended to follow the Greek rather than Roman pattern. John’s expanding of his authority into the southern reaches of Italy shifted that alliance so that when the break between Rome and Constantinople occurred in 1054, the southern parts of Italy and Sicily remained in the Roman orbit rather than moving with Orthodoxy.
If Otto’s success in Church reform south of the Alps was not as prolific as he might have wished, he had far greater influence in Germany where his power was stronger. He was very proactive in the selection of bishops and abbots, choosing men who would be loyal to him (and thus balancing the nobles who resented the diminution of their power) and who saw eye to eye with him on Church matters. He was particularly successful in pushing missionary activity along the eastern borders of his realm which not only won souls to Christ but subjects to his crown. Otto had his son Otto II crowned in 961 while he, Otto I, was still alive in order to guarantee the succession. The nobles having the right to elect the German King, Otto needed to be alive to make sure the election came out the way he wanted. Otto lived for twelve more years, father and son nominally reigning jointly but the father holding on to power to the very end. He died in 973 and was buried in the cathedral of Magdeburg, one of the Archiepiscopal Sees he created.