Monday, July 18, 2011

Roots of the Reformation XXVI: A Final Word on the Ottonian Reform

The Cathedral of Bamberg
one of the Sees established to
evangelize and push out the boundaries
of the Empire under the Ottonians
Burial Place of Henry II, Saint Henry,
the last of the Ottonian dynasty
The Ottonian Reformation was a successful reform of the Church in as that it removed the papacy from the control of the Roman families that were fighting to control it and it  brought stability to the central administration of the Church.  The papacy was as much in need of reform as any other aspect of Church life but was not able to reform itself.  It took outside power—in this case the Holy Roman Emperors Otto I,II, and III.  But reform came at a price.  The papacy found itself in the gift of the Emperors—they had acquired the ability to name who would be pope.  This was not bad as long as you had good men on the imperial throne, but a disaster should the Emperors want to manipulate the Church for their own ends and that was an irresistible temptation. 
     It was not only the papacy that had fallen under control of the Emperor.  Throughout the Empire, but especially in Germany and in the new lands conquered to the East—modern day Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, and parts of Poland where the Emperors were pushing out the boundaries of their reign, they used the Church for political ends.  This was not all bad. The Emperors helped the Church evangelize the peoples and the newly Christianized peoples and their kings or nobles submitted themselves and their peoples under Imperial control.  They brought advanced levels of civilization to these lands—learning, laws, and the arts as well as faith.  Part of the evangelization effort was to establish monasteries which became centers of learning.  Bishops and their diocesan organization helped the kings and nobles in setting up schools as well as a coherent system of civil law.  It was for the most part a win-win situation.  The various cultures were Christianized but otherwise remained intact.   Even many of their stories and sagas remained but were given Christian interpretations.  Sometimes their ancient kings and heroes found new identities as Christian saints.  To accomplish all this Emperors needed good bishops, men of character, and found them in folk like Adalbert of Prague, Adelbert of Magdeburg, and Eberhard of Bamberg.  The Emperor regularly “nominated” his candidates to the various cathedral chapters to be elected bishops or to monastic chapters to be elected as abbots of the more important monasteries.  As long as the Empire needed the Church to stabilize the newly conquered lands and as long as the Emperors were men of good character this worked.  But what would happen when the new lands had been Christianized, the Church and political order stabilized, and Emperors came along whose need was not evangelization but reward for faithful retainers or enticements for political alliances?  Would the Church no longer be a partner in good rule but a tool for political supremacy?  Otto III was seceded by Henry II, Saint Henry, the last of the Ottonians and—as his title implies—a great friend of the Church.  A change of dynasty would bring the Salians—and a very different ecclesiastical policy.  The Church would no longer be able to afford being under the imperial thumb.
      The question we might ask ourselves is how can the Church be reformed when it is incapable of reforming itself?   We no longer have—nor would wish to have—an Emperor, and even if we did Emperors long ago proved unreliable in matters ecclesiastical as we shall in the Gregorian Reform.  We find ourselves today in a situation however where the institutional Church has shown itself to be ineffectual (at best) in addressing vital issues of Reform from clerical sex abuse  to financial transparency.  The quality of episcopal leadership being appointed from Rome is, at least in the United States, lamentable.   Rome itself, at least if situations such as that surrounding the veto of Lesley-Ann Knight give any indication, seems to be degenerating into a quagmire of pettiness and reprisal.  With Marxism effectively eliminated, the ecclesiastical “leadership” seems to find its chief enemies in seventy year old women such as Joan Chittester, Sandra Schnieders, Elizabeth Johnson and every American nun who has misplaced her veil.   At the same time the Pope keeps citing the Second Vatican Council, his minions both here in the States and in Rome seem to be dismantling liturgical reform, ecumenical and interfaith collaboration, and empowerment of the faithful piece by piece and at an alarming rate.  The result of all this is not only a drastic decline in Church attendance but the loss of credibility of the once strong and prophetic voice of Pope and bishops.  That the Church needs reform today is a given.  It needs reform in every age. Ecclesia semper reformans, semper reformanda.  But if not the Emperor, then who? 

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