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Pope Gregory VII : biography

- 25 May 1085

Pope Gregory VII ( ; c. 1015/1028Recent analysis of Gregory's remains indicates he was around 70 at his death. – 25 May 1085), born Hildebrand of Sovana (), was the head of the Catholic Church from 22 April 1073 to his death in 1085.

One of the great reforming popes, he is perhaps best known for the part he played in the Investiture Controversy, his dispute with Henry IV, Holy Roman Emperor that affirmed the primacy of papal authority and the new canon law governing the election of the pope by the College of Cardinals. He was also at the forefront of developments in the relationship between the emperor and the papacy during the years before he became pope. He was the first pope in several centuries to rigorously enforce the Church's ancient policy of celibacy for the Catholic clergy and attacked the practice of simony.

He twice excommunicated Henry, who in the end appointed Antipope Clement III to oppose him in the political power struggles between the Catholic Church and his empire. Hailed as one of the greatest of the Roman pontiffs after his reforms proved successful, Gregory was, during his own reign, despised by some for his expansive use of papal powers.Beno. Gesta Romanae ecclesiae contra Hildebrandum. ca. 1084. In K. Francke, MGH Libelli de Lite II (Hannover, 1892), pp. 369–373. Much of this is reproduced in English in , p.121ff.

Gregory was beatified by Gregory XIII in 1584 and canonized in 1728 by Pope Benedict XIII.

Having been such a prominent champion of the papacy, the memory of Gregory VII was evoked on many occasions in later generations, both positively and negatively, often reflecting later writers' attitude to the Catholic Church and the papacy.

Benno of Meissen, who opposed Gregory VII in the Investiture Controversy, leveled against him charges such as necromancy, torture of a former friend upon a bed of nails, commissioning an attempted assassination, executions without trials, unjust excommunication, doubting the Real Presence of the Eucharist, and even burning the Eucharist. This was eagerly repeated by later opponents of the Catholic Church, such as the English Protestant John Foxe. Joseph McCabe describes Gregory as a "rough and violent peasant, enlisting his brute strength in the service of the monastic ideal which he embraced."McCabe, Joseph. The Popes and their Church (1918). London: Watts & Co. Section I, Chapter V: The Papacy at its Height.

In contrast, the noted historian of the 11th century H.E.J. Cowdrey writes, "he (Gregory) was surprisingly flexible, feeling his way and therefore perplexing both rigorous collaborators ... and cautious and steady-minded ones ... His zeal, moral force, and religious conviction, however, ensured that he should retain to a remarkable degree the loyalty and service of a wide variety of men and women."Cowdrey, H.E.J., Pope Gregory VII 1073–1085, (Clarendon, Oxford, 1998) 495-6.

Second excommunication of Henry

That the excommunication of Henry IV was simply a pretext for the opposition of the rebellious German nobles is transparent. Not only did they persist in their policy after his absolution, but they took the more decided step of setting up a rival ruler in the person of Duke Rudolf of Swabia at Forchheim in March 1077. At the election, the papal legates present observed the appearance of neutrality, and Gregory himself sought to maintain this attitude during the following years. His task was made easier in that the two parties were of fairly equal strength, each trying to gain the upper hand by getting the pope on their side. But the result of his non-committal policy was that he largely lost the confidence of both parties. Finally he decided for Rudolf of Swabia after his victory at the Battle of Flarchheim on 27 January 1080. Under pressure from the Saxons, and misinformed as to the significance of this battle, Gregory abandoned his waiting policy and again pronounced the excommunication and deposition of King Henry on 7 March 1080.

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