Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Back to the Future: Saint Peter Damian

Pope Gregory VII--sponsor of the Gregorian
Reformation in the 11th century
Today is the Feast of Peter Damian—one of the most important reformers n the history of the Church and one of my favorite saints.  Peter lived a thousand years ago (1007-1072) at a time when there was an even greater need for Church reform than there is today.  The Church had become hopelessly entangled in the political scene as the Ottonian emperors (Otto I, II, and III as well as Henry II) used their imperial power to reform the Church but in the process had subjugated it to imperial politics.  What had begun as reform threatened to make the Church little more than a slave of the State and it became necessary for Church to both undertake internal reform and seek independence from the Crown.  The struggle would culminate under Gregory VII, the pope for whom the Gregorian Reform is named and who would challenge Henry IV and begin a long struggle between the papacy and the Salian (and later Hohenstaufen) Emperors.  It was not a good time for anyone—kings, popes, or faithful, but it ended with the Church asserting its independence and having benefitted from the Gregorian and then the Innocentian reformations.  Although Gregory VII (the monk Hildebrand) is credited with the Gregorian Reform there were a number of others equally important and one of these is Peter Damian.  Damian is most noted for insisting on the Reform of the clergy, especially as regards enforcing celibacy and his demands that the clergy be purged of all those whose lives did not conform to traditional moral norms.  I want to reprint some material (edited) from an earlier blog posting. 
      There was reason for Peter Damien to insist on reform with a passion. The secular clergy were not taking celibacy seriously. This was a time in which the Church was drawing more seriously on canons (church laws) derived from various early regional church synods (Elvira 306, Carthage 387, Turin 401, Orange 441) that prohibited bishops, priests, deacons, and subdeacons from being married. As we discussed in some earlier postings (July 21, 23, 24 2011) the concern in the eleventh and subsequent centuries was primarily the protection of church property from being alienated to clergy families and many bishops turned a blind eye to the fact that most of their clergy were living in what we might call common-law marriages. To Peter Damian, however, this was not marriage of any sort but concubinage. The clergy wives were, to his mind and in his vocabulary “whores”; the clergy themselves men who had given themselves over to base passions.
     Speaking of base passions, if Peter Damian thought little of the secular clergy for their loose morals, he thought less of his fellow monks. Monasteries, whether in fact or in Peter Damian’s perception (and probably to some extent in both) were filled with homosexuals, and monks, when not busy with Divine Worship, gave themselves over to the most gross of sexual practices. Peter Damian wrote a book, the Liber Gomorrhianus, (The Gomorrhean Book—named after the famous Gomorrah, twin cities with Sodom) outlining the same-sex practices of the contemporary clergy with the most explicitly vivid detail.) By the way, he did not limit his accusations of clerical homosexuality to the monks but extended it to the papal court (the Curia) whom he thought were nothing more than a coven of mincing catamites. (Now that is a word you don’t hear often.) 
      Peter Damian was even more intolerant of gay clergy than married clergy. He wanted men inclined to same-sex relations barred from ordination and those who were ordained stripped of their Orders and reduced to the lay state. When Leo IX (pope from 1049-1054 and himself an ardent reformer of the Church) refused, Peter Damian turned his anger on the pope and wrote an angry letter accusing the pope of neglect in his duties. 
      Peter Damian was by no means a stupid man, but he was quite anti-intellectual. Steeped in monastic tradition—and the tradition of the ancient desert monks more than the urbane Benedictinism, Damian rejected the importance of secular studies, even (and perhaps especially) Philosophy. For him, as for Cassian and the early monks of the Egyptian and Syrian deserts, the monk was a “man of one book”—the Bible. This no doubt contributed to his zeal (some would say fanaticism) in “purifying” the Church. He was one who, like the Gnostics in early Christianity and the Puritans in the English Reformation could simply not bear compromise with what he believed to be the Christian ideal. 
       Surprisingly, while such a “puritan” and anxious to rid the church of what was its biggest problem, simony (the buying and selling of Church offices or positions), he was not nearly as rigid with simonical clergy as with sexually active clergy. He wrote a second book defending not simony, but the validity of the ordination of bishops and priests who had purchased their offices. Some in the Church were saying that simoniacs (those clergy who had obtained their position by purchase) were not validly ordained. (The subject of valid orders is an interesting one and one that we should take a look at sometime as it has impact on contemporary ecumenical affairs.)
To his credit, Peter Damian was a monk and not a man of ambition; nevertheless, he was forced by Pope Stephen IX in 1057 to accept nomination as a Cardinal. Stephen and subsequent popes frequently used Peter Damian as a legate to conduct business in the pope’s name in various places where the Church was having difficulties. His most important legation was to Milan in 1059, representing Pope Nicholas II to decide the dispute between the clergy of Milan—who openly violated the canons on celibacy and who, for the greater part, had obtained their various benefices through purchase. One of the cathedral canons, Arialdo of Cucciago had allied himself with Bishop Anselm of Baggio, the Bishop of Lucca, to form the pataria, an organization that motivated the faithful to reject the ministry of married clergy. Arialdo and Anselm mobilized the middle and working classes against the Bishop, Guido da Velate, and the nobility who supported the married (and simonical) clergy. It was a very complex issue, as married clergy were still the norm through much of the Church and as for simony—well that too, if wrong, was a well-established practice. Beneath the surface there were other issues. One was the attempt of the papacy to establish control over the independent dioceses such as Milan who often were allied with the Emperor and his policies.             

     Another issue was the social conflict between the working classes that supported Arialdo and the propertied classes that supported the bishop. In any event, Peter Damian effected a compromise. The archbishop agreed that no church position would be given in return for money or gifts. He then imposed penances on all who had purchased Church office, but agreed that they should keep their positions if they accepted the obligations of celibacy. The rigorists were furious, because they wanted the offending clergy—both simoniacs and married clergy—permanently deprived of office, but Damian’s compromise held—temporarily. It was to break out again under Alexander II. 
        When Nicholas II died in 1061, the Cardinals met per his instruction (Nicholas was the pope who in 1059 had designated the Cardinals to be the sole electors of the pope; see blog entry January 12, 2011) and elected the aforementioned Bishop of Lucca, Anselm da Baggio, as pope. Anselm, as we saw, was a proponent of reform. Several weeks later, an anti-reform group of bishops met at the summoning of the Empress Regent, Agnes of Poitou, and elected Pietro Cadalus as Honorius II. This created a schism in the Church as the Reform Party and Imperial Party struggled for control. This shows what the real issue for the Gregorian Reform was to be—not Church reform per se, but imperial control of the papacy. Was the pope to be free to exercise his authority unimpeded by the Emperor or was he to administer the Church at the Emperor’s bidding? Peter Damian was on the side of a free papacy and did his best to resolve the schism in the Church in favor of Alexander. He was unsuccessful in the short run, but at a synod convoked in Augsburg by the Archbishop of Cologne, Anno II, in 1062 Peter Damian made a spirited defense of Alexander and the autonomy of the papacy. Through the influence of Peter Damian, Alexander was determined to be the authentic successor of Saint Peter.

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