Select Historical Documents of the Middle Ages/Book IV/Gregory VII.'s Letter to the German Princes concerning the Penance of Henry IV. at Canossa
11. Gregory VII.'s Letter to the German Princes concerning the Penance of Henry IV. at Canossa. (1077.)
Bishop Gregory, servant of the servants of God, to all the archbishops, bishops, dukes, counts and other princes of the realm of the Germans who defend the Christian faith, greeting and apostolic benediction.
Inasmuch as for love of justice ye assumed common cause and danger with us in the struggle of Christian warfare, we have taken care to indicate to you, beloved, with sincere affection, how the king, humbled to penance, obtained the pardon of absolution and how the whole affair has progressed since his entry into Italy up to the present time.
As had been agreed with the legates who had been sent to us on your part, we came into Lombardy about twenty days before the date on which one of the commanders was to come over the pass to meet us, awaiting his advent that we might cross over to the other side. But when the term fixed upon had already passed, and we were told that at this time on account of many difficulties—as we can readily believe—an escort could not be sent to meet us, we were involved in no little care as to what would be best for us to do, having no other means of crossing to you.
Meanwhile, however, we learned for certain that the king was approaching. He also, before entering Italy, sent on to us suppliant legates, offering in all things to render satisfaction to God, to St. Peter and to us. And he renewed his promise that, besides amending his life, he would observe all obedience if only he might merit to obtain from us the favour of absolution and the apostolic benediction. When, after long deferring this and holding frequent consultations, we had, through all the envoys who passed, severely taken him to task for his excesses: he came at length of his own accord, with a few followers, showing nothing of hostility or boldness, to the town of Canossa where we were tarrying. And there, having laid aside all the belongings of royalty, wretchedly, with bare feet and clad in wool, he continued for three days to stand before the gate of the castle. Nor did he desist from imploring with many tears the aid and consolation of the apostolic mercy until he had moved all of those who were present there, and whom the report of it reached, to such pity and depth of compassion that, interceding for him with many prayers and tears, all wondered indeed at the unaccustomed hardness of our heart, while some actually cried out that we were exercising, not the gravity of apostolic severity, but the cruelty, as it were, of a tyrannical ferocity.
Finally, conquered by the persistency of his compunction and by the constant supplications of all those who were present we loosed the chain of the anathema and at length received him into the favour of communion and into the lap of the holy mother church, those being accepted as sponsors for him whose names are written below. And of this transaction we also received a confirmation at the hands of the abbot of Cluny, of our daughters Matilda and the countess Adelaide, and of such princes, episcopal and lay, as seemed to us useful for this purpose.
Having thus accomplished these matters, we desire at the first opportunity to cross over to your parts in order that, by God's aid, we may more fully arrange all things for the peace of the church and the concord of the kingdom, as has long been our wish. For we desire, beloved, that ye should know beyond a doubt that the whole question at issue is as yet so little cleared iip—as ye can learn from the sponsors mentioned—that both our coming and the unanimity of your counsels are extremely necessary. Wherefore strive ye all to continue in the faith in which ye have begun and in the love of justice; and know that we are not otherwise bound to the king save that, by word alone as is our custom, we have said that he might have hopes from us in those matters in which, without danger to his soul or to our own, we might be able to help him to his salvation and honour either through justice or through mercy.
Oath of Henry King of the Germans.
I, king Henry, on account of the murmuring and enmity which the archbishops and bishops, dukes, counts and other princes of the realm of the Germans, and others who follow them in the same matter of dissension, bring to bear against me, will, within the term which our master pope Gregory has constituted, either do justice according to his judgment or conclude peace according to his counsels—unless an absolute impediment should stand in his way or in mine. And on the removal of this I shall be ready to continue in the same course. Likewise, if that same lord pope Gregory shall wish to go beyond the mountains or to any other part of the world, he himself, as well as those who shall be in his escort or following or who are sent by him or come to him from any parts of the world whatever, shall be secure, while going, remaining or returning, on my part, and on the part of those whom I can constrain, from every injury to life or limb, or from capture. Nor shall he by my consent have any other hindrance which is contrary to his dignity; and if any such be placed in his way I will aid him according to my ability. So help me God and this holy gospel.
Given at Canossa on the 5th day before the Calends of February (Jan. 28), in the 15th indiction, in the year of our Lord Jesus Christ 1077—there being present the bishops Humbert of Praeneste and Gerald of Ostia; the Roman cardinals Peter of the title of St. Chrisogonus and Cono of the title of St. Anastasius; the Roman deacons Gregory and Bernard, and the sub-deacon Humbert. Likewise, on the part of the king, there were present the archbishop of Bremen, the bishops of Vercelli and Osnabruck, the abbot of Cluny and many noble men.