The clerical reform movement and the investiture controversy

The ecclesiastical reform movement and the Investiture Controversy

The Investiture Controversy
This term stands for the power struggle between the Pope and the King during the 11th and 12th century.
In the 11th and 12th century the conflict between church and state escalated about the role of the secular sovereign within the installation of bishops and abbots. Most controversial was the presentation of the holy symbols of annulus and wand to the clerical dignitary by the King. The lay investiture arose within the feudal system's environment in which clerical dignitaries were profane sovereigns and therefore vassals of the King at the same time. The emperors and the kings tried to oblige the rich and powerful clerical dignitary by offering protection in return. Moreover, the obligation of the church to the earthly government was enforced by the awarding of land within the realm and secular rights (jurisdiction, mint marking, authorization to tariff). Bishops and abbots were committed to deliver financial and military services to their secular sovereigns. The celibacy of the ecclesiastical dignitaries excluded a dynastic succession. Hence the King could assign his devotees to positions within the church. The bishops' and abbots' loyalty was more important to the secular rulers than their moral integrity. This way, the clerical and the secular authorities were linked tightly under the King's governance.
The separation of this bonding, the liberty of the Church and the secular power's submission under the Pope's reign were the papacy's intentions.

The Reform of the Church
The reform of the monasteries served as a preparation for the reform of the Church. Most of its devotees were members of the Cluny monastery, Italian groups of hermits, and reformed branches of the Benedictine Order. The reformers criticized that the lay investiture did not comply with the original laws of the Church. Along with that, they attributed to the lay investiture the ethical decline of the clergy, particularly its leniency towards the breach of celibacy, the widespread simony (ecclesiastical crime and personal sin of paying for offices or positions in the hierarchy of a church) as well as the trade with relics. The ecclesiastical reform movement considered simony to be the fundamental evil of that time, thereby extending the use of the term to any appointment of a cleric to an ecclesiastical office by a layperson.
During the papacy of Leo IX the reform of the Church gained ground in Rome. In 1059 Pope Nikolaus condemned lay investiture. By outlawing lay investiture in excommunication during the Gregorian Reforms in 1075, Pope Gregory VII enraged King Henry IV.
Passau's Church got involved into the conflict when the struggle between secular and ecclesiastical power about the leadership of the Christendom reached its decisive stage. Bishop Altmann (1065-1091, Passau) uncompromisingly followed the anti-royal opposition and took on the leadership of the Gregorians.

The Assembly of the Realm in Worms 1076
At the assembly of the realm (January 26th, 1076), which was attended by the secular princes as well as the bishops loyal to the King, Henry IV accused the Pope of interfering with the affairs of the church of the realm and thereby snatching away his sovereignty. The Pope took any power from the bishops and assigned the administration of ecclesiastical matters to the low public, he said. Huge parts of the German episcopacy viewed Gregory's attempts of confining simony as unfavorable and therefore supported King Henry IV, who now refused obedience to the Pope. The Synod, that held its meeting at the same time, presiding under archbishop Siegfried of Mainz decided on disobeying Gregory as well. Not much later, the Lombard bishops also broke away from the Pope at a synod in Piacenza.
The monarch derives his powers opposite to the papacy from his exclusive nobility by birth ("Patriziat"). He underlines the sacral character (divine right) of the secular sovereignty: The King being the anointed representative of the Lord, and therefore not to be judged by anyone but God and only in the case of fall from belief. The canonical rule of the Pope being free of jurisdiction also applies to the King.

Pope Gregory's Response
In Febuary of the same year at the abstinence synod in Rome, Gregory enjoined the King from the governance of Germany and Italy, released all his subjects from the oath of allegiance they once took, and excluded him from the community of the Church. By cleverly grading the penalty of those German Bishops who wanted to force him to resign from office in Worms, he was hoping to break open their consistent front and to make at least some of them return.
The support for Henry IV diminished in the following year. Therefore he traveled to Canossa in 1077. When he appeared in his penitent dress before Gregory's residence, the Pope had no choice but to reincorporate the remorseful sinner in the community of the Church.
Only with the differentiation between secular and ecclesiastical rule of a bishop made by Ivo of Chartres the struggle eased up. In 1104 the King of France abstained from the privilege of investiture. So did the King of England in 1107. The conflict was ultimately settled by King Henry V and Pope Calixt II with the Worms concordat in 1122.

edited by: Simon Dirscherl
translated by: Susanne Kipke

(23.5.2005)

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