Friday, July 1, 2011

Roots of the Reformation XXIII: The Ottonian Reformation falters (briefly)

Otto II
Sorry--our network was down last evening when I went to post this. 
It is unfortunate that Otto II died so young—at only 28—and that his heir was only three years old  when he came to the throne because Otto and his father (Otto I) had managed to make some remarkable headway into securing good order in both Church and State and a regency provided both the German nobles and the Roman families with the opportunity to undo the political and religious progress that had been accomplished.  Otto’s widow, Theophanu, gets mixed reviews as regent, though the negative opinons of her own day might be biased against her being a woman and her being Greek.  She seems to have preferred Italy to Germany, probably because it was more like her native Greece but also because she was detested in Germany for her sophistication which made her seem affected and pretentious.  Raised in the imperial court of Constantinople where her uncle reigned, she was given to a high degree of luxury and her preference for rich fabrics and elegant jewelry made her appear decadent to the more battle-hardened Germans.  Among her “affectations,” she seems to have been the one who introduced the use of the fork to Europe.  She had a two pronged golden instrument with which she lifted meat and other greasy foods to her mouth. The Germans couldn’t understand this—why, after all, had God given us fingers if not to slobber grease-dripping  globs of fat into our mouths?  On the other hand, lazy, sunny decadence was familiar to Rome and the Romans (where it is still the fashion), and while Italy may not be Greece, at least it wasn’t the frigid, Spartan forests north of the Alps. 
Germany was in turmoil through much of Otto’s childhood due to the rebellion of Henry the Quarrelsome whom Otto II had deposed as Duke of Bavaria.  At one point Henry had actually kidnapped the young Otto III and in his rebellion he tried to seize the imperial crown for himself.  It is never healthy for a kingdom or an empire to have a child on the throne.  Quarrelsome Henry's quarrels were not the only issue causing trouble in Germany.  Hungarians ravaged the eastern fringe of the empire, Vikings the north.  France, under Lothair IV used the chaos created by Henry the Quarrelsome to make itself independent of Imperial oversight.  On the other hand, Theopanu was able to arrange for Bohemia under Duke Boleslaus II to become part of the Empire. 
Otto, or rather his regent and mother, Theophanu, had better luck with their Roman policy.   You may remember that one of Otto II’s last acts was to name John XIV as pope, but with Otto’s death five months into that papacy, John was left vulnerable to the enemies of the Imperial party and the antipope Boniface VII had returned from exile and imprisoned John in the Castle Sant’ Angelo where he was murdered.  Boniface held the Chair of Peter for a year until he died.  (He is the one whose corpse was dragged naked through the streets and flung at the statue of Marcus Aurelius.)  John XV was elected to succeed him.  John was a client of Theophanu and the Imperial party and her presence (at times personal, at times through a strong envoy) kept him safe. 
As pope John was not remarkable in any way other than to say he was noted for his love of luxury and a tendency to enrich family and retainers with Church offices.  Those are not virtues in a pope, though they were common enough faults. There are two important events in his papacy however. 
The first event was that the new King of France, Hugh Capet, who had replaced the old Carolingian dynasty wanted to depose Arnulf, the Archbishop of Reims who was a relative of Hugh’s rival for the French Crown, Charles of Lorraine.  When John XV failed to act promptly at Hugh’s request, the French King convoked a synod and deposed Arnulf choosing the abbot Gerbert of Aurillac to succeed him.  We will hear more—much more—about Gerbert later.  Instead of being angry at the King, Arnulf turned on the pope saying of John XV:
Are any bold enough to maintain that the priests of the Lord all over the world are to take their law from monsters of guilt like these—men branded with ignominy, illiterate men, and ignorant alike of things human and divine? If, holy fathers, we are bound to weigh in the balance the lives, the morals, and the attainments of the humblest candidate for the priestly office, how much more ought we to look to the fitness of him who aspires to be the Lord and Master of all priests! Yet how would it fare with us, if it should happen that the man the most deficient in all these virtues, unworthy of the lowest place in the priesthood, should be chosen to fill the highest place of all? What would you say of such a one, when you see him sitting upon the throne glittering in purple and gold? Must he not be the "Antichrist, sitting in the temple of God and showing himself as God"?
This might be the first time that the Pope has been termed the Antichrist.  That is a theme that would be picked up by Luther at his Reformation, shared by other Protestant Reformers, and still a popular theme today among some of the more exotic millenarians on the right fringe of Christianity.  Hugh's evaluation of John might be more out of anger that John wasn't supporting him in his struggles for the French throne, but it does serve as a warning that people are not necessarily impressed by papal pomp. 
The other event that made John’s papacy noteworthy from a historical point of view is that on January 31 995, just a year before his death, John canonized Bishop Ulrich of Augsburg.  This is the first record of a papal canonization of a saint.  John died in March of 996 as he was preparing to crown the young Otto III as emperor.   Otto III named his 24 year old cousin, Bruno of Carinthia, as Gregory V.  At this point in history we see that the papacy is totally in the control and gift of the Emperor.  By amd large, the imperial popes were good popes, or at least not bad popes--certainly better than the ones the Romans tended to elect.  We will see Bruno's efforts at Reform and then his successor who is one of the better popes, and one of the most idiosyncratic, of the period. 

No comments:

Post a Comment