Pope St. Gregory VII Deposes Henry IV, Emperor of Germany

January 23, 2020

Harsh experience had taught [Pope St. Gregory VII] a lesson: it was not enough to inflict penalties, to excommunicate or suspend recalcitrants; since his reforming policy had proved inadequate, he must go farther and attack the root of evil. Gregory VII therefore changed his method and promulgated a fresh decree: “No ecclesiastic shall in any wise receive a church from the hands of a layman either gratuitously or by onerous title, under pain of excommunication both for the giver and the receiver.” . . .

Dictatus papae is a compilation of 27 statements of powers arrogated to the Pope that was included in Pope Gregory VII’s register under the year 1075.

[U]rged no doubt by his entourage, which included a number of churchmen who had been excommunicated for simony, Henry flouted the papal decisions. He appointed one of his creatures to the vacant see of Milan, and subsequently repeated this gesture at Fermo, Spoleto, Spire, Bamberg, Liége, and Cologne. An angry letter from Gregory VII ordered him to desist. It reached Henry IV at Goslar on 1st January 1076; and before the month was out the indignant monarch replied in his own fashion. . . .

But Gregory VII was not the man to be upset by such insolent defiance. At a synod held in Rome on 14th February, he stood up and spoke as follows: “King Henry has presumed with insensate vanity to defy the Church; wherefore I bar him from governing the kingdom of Germany and of Italy. I absolve all Christians from the oath which they have taken to him, and forbid anyone to recognize him as king.”

Henry IV in the snow; one of the three times that Pope St. Gregory VII excommunicated Henry IV.

This was an unheard of sentence: the Pope was deposing a sovereign prince! Its effect was astonishing. . . .The earth seemed to open at Henry’s feet. . . . An assembly of nobles and bishops met at Tribur, recognized the Pope as having justice on his side, and agreed that Henry IV should no longer reign.

H.Daniel-Rops, Cathedral and Crusade: Studies of the Medieval Church 1050-1350, trans. John Warrington (Garden City, N.Y.: Image Books, A Division of Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1963), 1:222, 225–6.

Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 710


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