[2010] Isaiah Butler: Lay Investiture Controversy

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[2010] Isaiah Butler: Lay Investiture Controversy

Lay investiture, the appointment of religious leaders by secular leaders, created much controversy within the Catholic Church. Due to the lack of any clear delineation between the powers of the Church and State, those who hoped to rule the State in more than in nominal sense were almost forced to have a hand in ecclesiastical affairs as well. Also, it was common at that time that bishops and abbots of powerful dioceses and monasteries wield considerable political influence. Although on some occasions lay investiture had been successful, in the wrong hands, it weakened and threatened the Church. Popes decided reform was extremely necessary to save the episcopacy from political corruption, but it still remained difficult to create.

Lay Investiture

Hildebrand, a Cluniac monk and native Roman, became Pope Saint Gregory VII in 1073, after serving the papacy for many years in many ways and finally accepting his popular election. With a fierce determination, he wasted little time in making his intentions of reform known, with the release of the Dictatus Papae, which asserted the specific powers held by the Pope alone, including: the power to convene and ratify a council, define tenets of faith, appoint, transfer, and remove bishops from office, depose of temporal leaders, and hear temporal appeals from the subjects of any monarchy, all of which fought against lay investiture.

Pope Saint Gregory VII also attacked two weeds in the garden of the Church: simony and cleric fornication. Anyone who obtained ordination or spiritual benefice through the practice of simony was excluded from the Church hierarchy and lost his authority of governance. Any priest guilty of fornication was barred from saying Mass. Clergy were expected to enforce these new laws on each other. These laws, along with many others, became the foundation for the canon law, which he is considered the father of.

Henry IV was the Holy Roman Emperor during the reign of Pope Saint Gregory VII. Viewing the papacy as an infringement on his temporal power, he declined the Pope’s request to refrain from lay investiture and appointed the bishop of Milan. Pope Saint Gregory VII was deposed and excommunicated Henry IV, who consequently lost almost 2/3 of his power over night. In turn, on January 25, 1077, he set out for the pope in Canossa, Italy, and with the help of his relative Countess Mathilda, his penitent heart, and Hugh of Cluny’s advice to Pope Saint Gregory VII, his confession was heard, he was given absolution, and his crown was restored. Pope Saint Gregory dominated the temporal rule until Henry IV again rejected his rule later on in his reign but, at the time, achieved a great victory for the Church.

A two part agreement between the Church and the Holy Roman Empire officiated in 1122, the Concordat of of Worms ended the investiture matter. First, it left spiritual investiture to the Church alone, and temporal investiture to the state. Simony was again condemned, but emperors retained a veto power on civil abilities of churchmen, influencing the Church’s choices.

Concordat of Worms

Fredrick I, an able Holy Roman Empire, believed he had the right to select the bishop of Rome, a power bestowed by God. Pope Adrian threatened him excommunication if he overstepped his bounds, but he began appointing Bishops and led five attacks on Italy, failing only due to plague, the resistance of some loyal German princes and city-states, and the steadfastness of popes Adrian IV and Alexander III.



Pope Innocent III, throughout his pontificate, demonstrated his new title of Vicar of Christ, intervening the ecclesiastical matters of the civil leaders and monitoring their moral lives. Using the power of interdict, meaning the denial of liturgy, sacraments, and even Christian burial in a certain area, to curb the behavior of Kings such as King John of England and Phillip. But, his toughest problem lied in controlling Fredrick the Second.

Thomas Becket, a former Chancellor of King Henry the Second, could not stand by as the monarch trespassed against the Church; and, when he became archbishop, although he at first resisted, he became a fierce defender of the Church in England, challenging the Constitutions of Clarendon. Although supported in his refusal to recognize them by Pope Alexander III, he was still forced to flee to France and upon his return to England, was murdered by a group of knights. Canonized just two years after his martyrdom, his death sparked immediate devotion and an undermining of King Henry II.

Henry II of England was one of the most powerful monarchs of the Medieval Period, intending to consolidate the laws, courts, and leaders of his secular administration and, what he believed to be the all too powerful Church. In 1164, he issued the Constitutions of Clarendon, which outlined five new royal powers, including the power to control the revenues of Episcopal sees and abbeys, to elect all abbots and bishops, to try clerics in civil courts, to approve of papal appeals, and to make his court the highest ecclesiastical court. After playing some unknown role in the murder of his friend, Thomas Becket, an opponent to his secular rule, his family, programs, and rule fell into ruins. Nineteen years later, he had himself scourged in penance and gave up his program of control over the Church.

Many of the Popes used their spiritual power to attempt to end temporal power, and, too often, temporal leaders intervened in the affairs of the Church. While their leadership ended such issues as lay investiture for the most part, it increased tensions between the Church and state.

Fredrick II, although promising aide in the Crusades, no attempts to unite Germany and Italy, respect for the Papal State’s sovereignty, violated his agreement, delaying his assistance in the Crusades for ten years, attempting to crush Papal States, and desecrating Churches. After he invaded Italy, Pope Gregory IX and then Innocent IV deposed and excommunicated him, his family, and all who followed him. He eventually repented and died in a Cistercian habit.

Reference Workbook Page 102 - 107, Numbers 32-55

Isaiah Butler Religion 12.2Mrs. Jirak Room 108March 27, 2011

Pages 153-159



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