Saturday, August 13, 2011

The German Popes

Leo IX--one of the
German Reform Popes
When Gregory VI resigned under pressure from the Synod of Sutri in 1046, the Emperor Henry III nominated Suidger of Morsleben and Hornburg, the Archbishop of the newly founded Archdiocese of Bamberg, to be Pope as Clement II.  This will begin a series of German Popes appointed by the Emperor.  Clement had a short reign, less than a year.  The Emperor then appointed Poppo of Brixen as Damasus II but there was a challenge to the succession.  Benedict IX, the dissolute gay-rapist-adulterer who had sold the papacy to his godfather, Gregory VI, tried to make a comeback and actually took control of Rome before the new pope could travel down from Germany and take possession of his See.   Henry had to send troops to Rome to clear out Benedict and when Damasus was able to be installed, he reigned only twenty-three days before dying—most likely of malaria, though some thought he had been poisoned by the anti-Reform party.  Rome was notorious for malaria in the early and central Middle Ages because of the swamps that surrounded the city.  On the other hand, poison was a reasonable suspicion given the politics of the day.  Benedict, you may recall, was a member of the Theophylact clan which had dominated the papacy during the pornacracy of the tenth century and while his uncle Benedict VIII had been a reform pope, Benedict the nephew represented the old fashioned corrupt popes dominated by the Roman mobs who, in turn, were driven by the various noble houses—the Theophylacts (Dukes of Spoleto/Counts of Tusculum) and the Crescentii.  The Emperors had long fought these rival factions for control of the papacy as a means of trying to reform the Church.  Thus the imperial appointees were generally reform popes and the traditionally elected popes were, for the most part, the anti-reform party.  This is important to note, because the equation will change during the course of the Gregorian Reform. 
     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.     

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