St. Gregory VII’s struggle against Henry IV (Holy Roman Empire)

March 11, 2013

Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira

 (based on a talk by Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira)


The Middle Ages was not—as some naïve people imagine—an epoch when everyone was good. It was an epoch in which the number of the good was more considerable than in any other time, to the point that the good managed to impose themselves on the bad. Therefore, it was an epoch in which good overcame evil but did so in a great battle which was still not the final victory of a great war: evil had still not been totally crushed.

Siege of Lisbon by Roque Gameiro. This battle, during the Second Crusade, brought the city of Lisbon under Catholic Portuguese control and expelled Islamic Moorish overlords.

You can have a good idea of this as you look to the historic pontificate of St. Gregory VII.  St. Gregory was working to build the kingdom of Our Lord on Earth, which still had not been entirely built. And he faced tremendous difficulties to oblige the men of his time to accept the Kingdom of Our Lord, which he wanted to implant. On the one hand, he had fights with Emperor Henry IV of the Holy Roman Empire. That emperor was a true son of darkness.

Pope St. Gregory VII

So St. Gregory VII fought to buttress the principle that the Pope is sovereign in ecclesiastical affairs and that no temporal authority can intervene in Church matters. If the emperor has a right to designate bishops, then can he not also designate the bishop of Rome—the Pope? And if he can nominate the Pope, can he not depose him? And if the emperor can designate the Pope and depose him, isn’t the emperor the real sovereign of the Church, rather than the Pope? In other words, isn’t the spiritual power less than the temporal power? Or, isn’t matter more than spirit?

Henry IV

Henry IV

You see how one gallops swiftly from one question to another to arrive at the most transcendental points of Catholic doctrine involved in this conflict.



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