Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/St Gregory VII.
GREGORY VII., St, one of the greatest of the Roman pontiffs, was born about the year 1015 at Soana or Saona, a small town in Tuscany, where his father, Bonic or Bonizon, is said to have followed the trade of a carpenter. His own name, Hildebrand or Hellebrand, is suggestive of a German extraction; but of his remoter ancestry nothing is recorded. His youth was passed at Rome in the monastery of St Mary on the Aventine, where a relative was at that time prior; here the archpriest Johannes Gratianus (afterwards Gregory VI.) was one of his instructors, and the youthful scholar early attracted the attention of such visitors as Laurentius of Amalfi and Odilon of Clugny. There is some reason to believe that, after passing his novitiate in Rome, Hildebrand removed for some years to the great Burgundian cloister, at that time under the charge of the last-named ecclesiastic; but all the earlier years of his life are involved in considerable obscurity. In 1046 he became one of the chaplains of the newly elected pope, Gregory VI., whom he shortly afterwards accompanied into his German exile; and on the death of that pontiff, some two years later, he retired to Clugny, where his learning and sanctity made a deep impression, and where, according to some accounts, he was ultimately promoted to the office of prior. As a monk of Clugny he appears to have oftener than once visited the imperial court for the transaction of ecclesiastical business; and in 1049 he is said in a very special way to have come under the notice of Bruno, bishop of Toul, then on his way to Rome to take possession of the chair of St Peter, which he occupied for some years under the title of Leo IX. It was at Hildebrand's instance that Bruno, who had been nominated by the emperor merely, consented to refrain from assuming the pontifical vestments, and to present himself to the Romans in the garb of a simple pilgrim, until he should have been elected in a more regular manner. The ascendency which Hildebrand had thus acquired over this pope he never afterwards lost; in 1050 he became cardinal subdeacon, and in following years he was entrusted with various missions of great importance, taking also a prominent part in the important synods of Rheims and Mainz, as well as in those of Rome. On the death of Leo IX. in 1054 the Roman people had signified a desire that the subdeacon should succeed him; this honour and responsibility however Hildebrand declined; but he was one of three legates who went to Germany to consult with the emperor about the choice of a successor. The negotiations, which lasted eleven months, ultimately issued in the election of Gebhard of Eichstadt, a relative of the emperor, who up to that time had followed a distinctly antipapal policy, but who, immediately after his reception and consecration at Rome as Victor II. (13th April 1055), became as entirely a tool in the hand of Hildebrand as Leo had been. It was during this pontificate that Hildebrand, as papal legate, attended the French synods held for the purpose of repressing the heresy of Berengarius. On the election of Pope Stephen IX. (X.), Hildebrand was again sent to Germany to defend the choice before the empress Agnes; in this mission, which was ultimately successful, several months were spent. Again, in 1058, he succeeded in defeating the hostile party of Benedict X. and in securing the tiara for Nicholas II.; and once more, in 1061, he successfully laboured for the election of Alexander II. to the papal chair. At length, in 1073, on the death of Alexander, Hildebrand was himself as it were compelled by the tumultuous demands of the mob to accept the vacant tiara (22d April); but he refused to receive consecration until the sanction of the emperor had been obtained. This did not arrive for more than a month, although meanwhile he had been practically exercising many of the papal functions; finally, however, he was ordained to the priesthood, and some days afterwards (30th June) solemnly consecrated pope by the title of Gregory VII., a name which he chose in testimony of his veneration for the memory and character of his earliest patron, Gregory VI. Once firmly established on the papal throne, Gregory lost no time in giving the utmost possible practical effect to the two leading ideas of his life, the establishment of the supremacy of the papacy within the church, and the effective assertion of the supremacy of the church over the state. In March 1074 a synod was held in Rome which condemned the simony that had grown so prevalent throughout the church, and also enacted the old stringent laws of celibacy which had become almost a dead letter, especially in Germany and in the north of Italy; simoniacal or married priests were declared to be deposed and their priestly functions invalid. The resistance of the clergy to these decrees was utterly in vain; papal legates visited every country, and, supported by the popular voice, compelled submission. At a second synod held in Rome in February 1075 the decrees of the first were confirmed, and the first blow was struck which afterwards resulted in the long protracted wars of investitures. At that synod it was determined that any ecclesiastic who in future should accept office from the hands of a layman incurred the penalty of deposition, while the secular lord who bestowed investiture was to be excommunicated. The decree was aimed immediately at certain German bishops, Henry's personal advisors, but hardly less directly at Henry himself. The emperor, finding his hands at the moment fully occupied with the suppression of a revolt among the Saxons, was politic enough to conceal his resentment for the time, and to dismiss his advisers; but as soon as the war had been brought to a close, his defiance found ample expression. Meanwhile Gregory was not unopposed even in Italy, and during the Christmas festivities of 1075 a revolt in Rome itself was organized by Cencius, who had placed himself at the head of those nobles who were opposed to reform; the pope, however, had the popular enthusiasm on his side, and ultimately the insurgents were compelled to fly. A papal embassy was next sent, early in 1076, to Henry at Goslar, citing him to appear personally at Rome at a council to be held in the second week of Lent, and there answer for his simony, sacrilege, and oppression. Henry's rage at this knew no bounds; he dismissed the legates with insult, and at a diet held at Worms (24th January 1076) replied by declaring Gregory deposed on charges of tyranny, magic, and adultery, by sending notification of this fact to the Roman clergy, and by taking steps for appointing a successor to the dethroned pontiff. Gregory now lost no time in excommunicating all the bishops who had attended the diet of Worms, in solemnly deposing and excommunicating the emperor, and in absolving his subjects from their oath of allegiance (22d February 1076). This counter action produced a powerful effect upon the German princes and people, many of whom had had good cause to resent Henry's tyrannies; one by one the bishops who had announced their withdrawal from Gregory's obedience now signified their contrition, and at a diet held at Tribur (September 1076) the election of a new emperor began to be discussed. Resistance being in the meantime impossible, Henry resolved upon humbling himself to the utmost; in the dead of winter he set out to make his submission; Gregory was in waiting for him at Canossa, where (25th to 27th January 1077) that famous penance which Europe has not yet forgotten was imposed (see vol. x. p. 488). Absolved only on condition of his not assuming the royal dignity till his case had been investigated and decided, Henry had no sooner left the papal presence than he began to plot his revenge. Throwing himself upon the generosity of his Lombard vassals, he took courage to face the papal excommunication which was renewed in November 1078; and in the wars which ensued his arms were finally successful. Rudolf of Swabia having died soon after the battle of Merseburg in 1080, the emperor proceeded with a powerful army to escort into Italy Guibert of Ravenna, who had been chosen at Brixen (June 1080) as Gregory's successor. In three successive summers the attack on Rome was renewed, but it was not until 1084 (March 21) that the treachery of some of the nobles of the city opened the gate to the invader. Gregory was now at last compelled to take refuge in the castle of St Angelo, while Guibert was established on the pontifical throne as his successor with the title of Clement III. After receiving coronation from Clement, Henry determined to return at once to Germany, especially as Robert Guiscard was known to be approaching. Released accordingly by the arrival of the Norman duke, Gregory excommunicated once more both Henry and Clement; but not deeming himself secure at Rome, where he had reason to know that his power was no longer what it once had been, he in May 1084 placed himself under Robert's protection at Salerno, where he died, May 25, 1085, after a comparatively brief pontificate of not much more than ten years. His last words are reported to have been, “I have loved righteousness and hated iniquity, and therefore I die in exile.” His festival (duplex) is observed throughout the Roman Church on the anniversary of his death. His successor was Victor III.
The lifework of Hildebrand may be thus summed up in the words of Sir James Stephen:—“He found the papacy dependent on the empire; he sustained her by alliances almost commensurate with the Italian peninsula. He found the papacy electoral by the Roman people and clergy; he left it electoral by a college of papal nomination. He found the emperor the virtual patron of the holy see; he wrested that power from his hands. He found the secular clergy the allies and dependants of the secular power; he converted them into the inalienable auxiliaries of his own. He found the higher ecclesiastics in servitude to the temporal sovereigns; he delivered them from that yoke to subjugate them to the Roman tiara. He found the patronage of the church the mere desecrated spoil and merchandize of princes; he reduced it within the dominion of the supreme pontiff. He is celebrated as the reformer of the impure and profane abuses of his age; he is more justly entitled to the praise of having left the impress of his own gigantic character on the history of all the ages which have succeeded him.“
Unlike Gregory the Great, Hildebrand was no author; his literary remains are all comprised in eleven books or “Registers” of letters, which have often been printed. The XXVII dictatus often attributed to him are not now regarded as genuine. Among the numerous earlier biographies may be mentioned those of Paul of Bernriet, Pandulf of Pisa, Nicolas of Aragon, and Cardinal Bruno; among later monographs the most important are those of Voigt (Hildebrand als Gregor VII. u. sein Zeitalter, 1815; 2d ed. 1846; French translation, with introduction and notes, by Jager, 1834; 4th ed. 1854), Bowden (The Life and Pontificate of Gregory VII., 1840), Söltl (Gregor VII., 1847), Helfenstein (Gregor's VII. Bestrebungen nach den Streitschriften seiner Zeit, 1856), Gfrörer (Papst Gregor VII. u. sein Zeitalter, 7 vols., 1859-61), Villemain (Histoire de Gregoire VII., 1873; English translation by Brockley, 1874), Langeron (Gregoire VII. et les origines de la politique ultramontane, 1874), and Meltzer (Gregor VII. u. die Bischofswahlen,1876). The events of the period are also very fully treated by W. Giesebrecht in his Geschichte der deutschen Kaiserzeit, and in other works. For the epistles, see S. Gregorii VII. epistolæ et diplomatica pontificia, acc. vita ejusdem pontificis et appendices amplissimæ veterum et recentiorum monumenta perplurima Gregorii VII. apologetica complectentes (1877).