|Leo IX--one of the |
German Reform Popes
Upon hearing of the death of Damasus II, Henry III appointed Bruno of Eguisheim-Dagsburg pope and this was confirmed by a synod at Worms. Notice that the Roman clergy and people had no voice in this election—it was pure appointment by the Emperor. This practice of Imperial appointment was an innovation introduced by Henry. Even the Ottonian emperors had gone through the motions of a traditional election to get their candidates into office. Henry III was a good man and had the good of the Church at heart. Indeed, he saw that involving the Roman clergy and people in the election as had been their right from the earliest days of the Church only ran the risk of very unsuitable men being made pope. He also, as did the Emperors of the East as well as the West, saw that he—the Emperor—was Vicar of Christ and head of the Church—and the pope was his viceroy in matters ecclesiastical. Keep this in mind as it will become a source of tension. In any event, Bruno of Eguisheim-Dagsburg understood the significance of this change of procedure and despite having been appointed by the Emperor, insisted on a proper canonical election before he took office. Thus the Roman clergy met and chose their candidate—not surprisingly (given the Emperor’s army sitting there) the imperial nominee—the Roman faithful gave their acclamation of assent, and the bishops of the Sees surrounding Rome (the so-called suburbican sees) approved and Bruno of Eguisheim-Dagsburg became Leo IX.
Leo was a very busy pope; a model of a reforming pope. Although he reigned only six years, he customarily held an Easter Synod of the clergy at Rome to pass important reform legislation. He was concerned about the celibacy of the clergy, the conservation of Church property, and the elimination of the practice of the buying and selling of church offices. When he was not busy reforming the Roman Church, he kept himself occupied travelling throughout northern Italy and Germany-Austria holding local synods to bring the various Churches of the Empire into conformity with Roman reform practices.
A new political threat appeared on the scene as the Normans conquered much of southern Italy. This was both good and bad for the Roman Church. This area had been held by the Byzantine Empire and the Church in Sicily and Southern Italy followed the Greek practices.
The Normans, originally Scandinavian pirates—that is to say, Vikings—had been converted to Christianity when they began to settle along the northern French coast in what is now Normandy. An inherently restless—and warlike—people, they continued their conquests spreading down into the Mediterranean fighting Greeks and Arabs alike for the rule of Sicily and Southern Italy. (This explains why there are so many Sicilian red-heads, supposedly more than in Ireland.) In conquering these lands they brought the Church in those regions into Western rather than Eastern practices, saving the Christians there for Catholicism rather than the Orthodoxy they would have practiced had they remained under Greek influence. But the news was not all good for the pope found his southern boundaries manned not by a distant Emperor in Constantinople but very near and very aggressive warriors who might recognize his spiritual leadership but not his political domination. The day would soon come when the Normans would save the papacy, but initially they were a threat to the pope’s political power.
Leo led a German army against the Normans and not only lost, but was taken captive. The Normans treated their prisoner with all the respect due to the Pope, but kept him prisoner none the less. Eventually freed, he died shortly after his return to Rome. The Emperor Henry then appointed the fourth German pope in a row, Egbert of Calw, who reigned as Victor II.
In the final months of his reign, Leo IX sent an embassy to Constantinople to protest to the Emperor the interference of Michael Caerularius, the Patriarch, in the Western Church. It was a disaster, but we will deal with that topic at another time.