In modern times – especially in the Western world – there is a very clear distinction between Church and State. With regards to the former this institution is responsible for all matters dealing with the spiritual. And with regards to the latter, an institution responsible for all that is earthly and temporal. There is no geo-political nation in the Western hemisphere who does not subscribe to the political formula separating the Church and State. But almost 900 years ago, in the Eleventh and Twelfth century, the Western nations of the medieval world experienced high drama and violence when kings butt heads with priests.
It was a showdown, in a fight for the souls of men. This paper will take a closer look at lay investiture and other related events that shaped how modern men look at religion and politics. The eleventh century was indeed a defining moment in Western civilization as succeeding generations will continually discuss and debate the consequence of the decisions made during this tumultuous period of European history. Background Understanding lay investiture and the relationship of the Roman Catholic Church with the State requires going back to the very beginning where one can find a similar religion-politics dynamics.
The Roman Catholic Church which is and was the dominant religion of Europe can trace its roots as far back as the pre-Christian era. This is because Christianity came from Judaism and from the very start used some of the religious symbols and systems used by the Jews. Furthermore, more than half of the Christian Bible is composed of the Jewish Bible also known as the Old Testament or Torah. In the Old Testament one can find inspiration on how to build a nation and it is through the use of the Priest-King model.
And clearly both served God and both offices are one and the same in the eyes of man and God. The Old Testament is full of stories concerning failure of government simultaneously occurring when there is a failure in the priesthood. When there is corruption in the Temple, the King and his army faced defeat in the battlefield. One may wonder why the Roman Catholic Church was not able to transition itself in order to emulate the same successful formula as found in the highly successful reign of David.
King David was the temporal power, successful in protecting Israel from enemy nations while at the same time respecting the role of the priests especially when it comes to Temple duties. At the same time David displayed his ability to commune with God and the people saw how God worked through him. The answer to the above – mentioned query will never be a simple one. It will require a more in-depth study of the history of early Christianity. But first of all it must be made clear that the Church started as an insignificant movement that had no influence over matters of state.
But then things began to change. Before going any further it must be understood that Christianity is a movement started by Jesus and since the time he left earth, there has been many different groups claiming direct lineal descent from him and his apostles. But one of the most dominant, if not the most important major group within Christendom is the Roman Catholic Church. This is especially true in the Middle Ages when the Reformation is still to come and Protestantism is not yet around to further increase the divisions within the Church.
Thus, in this study when referring to the Roman Catholic Church the proponent will also use the terms Christendom or the Church in describing the most dominant group within Christianity. The Big Picture It quickly became evident that there is no way one can isolate “lay investiture” and study its meaning and impact on medieval Europe. This concept can only be understood in its proper context. Maureen Miller pointed out that, “Changes in various aspects of ecclesiastical life occurred not at one moment, but across entire two-hundred-year arc our period encompasses.
” This means that the medieval period was not a stagnant portion of history but changes are occurring and this includes reorganization in the structure of the Church. The underlying factor is reform in the same way that monks hundreds of years before the medieval period clamored for more holy lives among Christians and especially in the lives of the shepherds who represent Christ. But before going any further one must investigate the reason how a small group of believers grew into a dominant force and became so influential that it now requires reform in order to remain relevant and minimize its negative impact on society.
Furthermore, there are other issues that intertwines with lay investiture and if one has to study investiture then one also has to understand why the Pope has to fight on different fronts focusing only on lay investiture will not expedite the much sought after reforms within the church. Now, there is a need to trace the development of the Jesus movement from a struggling group of a few hundred disciples into a religion that brought the Roman Empire into its knees. Growing Complexity
Many times in the Gospels, Jesus declared that the Kingdom of God is likened into something small but then grew into something of great significance and importance. Jesus mentioned that his kingdom would be like yeast, so small, but when applied to a lump of dough will then result in the leavening of the whole bunch. He also remarked that his kingdom is like a small mustard seed but when planted grew into a big tree where birds find refuge. One wonders if Jesus predicted the coming of the day when the Church that he started would turn the world upside down in terms of power and influence.
But for the fledgling group of Christians in the 1st and 2nd centuries A. D. , the prophecy seems far fetched. According to Ehler and Morrall the Christians of this period were not even thinking far ahead into the future, especially when it comes to organization and government. And the authors expounded on this by saying: When Christians first appeared as a small and sometimes persecuted minority in the Mediterranean world of the Roman Empire, they had no distinctive social or political philosophy.
Such a philosophy would hardly be necessary at this early period, when many Christians seem to have continuously expected an imminent end to the world itself, followed by the Second Coming of Christ. In the meantime, however, the general attitude was one of respectful submission whenever the State’s commands did not conflict with those of God and of His Church. But it did not stay that way for long. “The Church … continued to increase in numbers and influence and at the beginning of the fourth century the Empire itself in the person of the emperor (Constantine) judged it advisable to come to terms with the new religion.
” And slowly as the faith spread throughout the empire the influence of the bishops grew. The bishop of Rome enjoyed primacy over others because of the significance of the location being the capital of the Roman Empire and the place where Peter the chief Apostles purportedly established his office in the 1st century A. D. When the Roman Empire continued its slide to oblivion, the Church continued to grow and expand even beyond the Mediterranean and Rome and into the lands of the barbarians.
Thus, when the Roman Empire fell, the last superstructure left standing was the Church and its supreme leader the Pope exerted influence and authority even beyond the Tiber. Ehler and Morrall adds, “…and the conquest of Western Europe by the Germanic barbarian invaders wiped out the conception of a centralized State as Rome had known it. The new Teutonic kingdoms were decentralized tribal collections, which were in no position to enforce their will on the Church, now the main repository of law, culture and learning. ”
Now fast forward to the 11th century one can see that the Western Kingdoms had emerged from the earlier turbulent situation, into institutions that can now challenge the Pope. And they expressed their newfound power and influence by meddling with the affairs of the Church. Chief among these rulers is the very powerful emperor from Germany, Henry IV. Gregory VII The battle between Church and State in the 11th and 12th century would not have been possible and would not be half as dramatic and intense without Gregory VII of Salerno who reigned as Pope between 1073 to 1085.
Gregory VII’s original name was Hildebrand and was born in the year 1020 and died on May 25, 1085. It can be said that Gregory was destined to be a pope. First of all he was born in a territory designated as Papal States. Secondly his uncle was an Abbot at the Monastery of St. Mary in Rome where he began his intense and rigid education in the way of the monk. And finally, one of his teachers at the Schola Cantorum – Giovanni Graziano – became Pope Gregory VI and took the young Hildebrand into his wings. In his young adult life, his mentor molded his character to become a reformer within Christendom.
This later set the stage for his clash with empires and kings. Henry IV If the Roman Catholic faithful consider Gregory the VII as their hero – and by the way he was canonized in 1606 – then the arch-villain of the story is none other than Henry IV the German Emperor. Henry IV Lay Investiture and other Issues As mentioned earlier Pope Gregory VII was fighting in multiple fronts – he struggled against extern and internal forces that set to wreak havoc in the Church. From within the Pope had to deal with Nicolaitism which was defined as clerical marriage or concubinage.
From without the Pope has to contend with the twin errors of simony and lay investiture. The former was defined as the “…selling or purchasing of ecclesiastical offices…” While the latter was defined as “…the right of lay rulers to grant ecclesiastical officials the symbols of their authority. ” As a result the Pope placed himself and his office in direct opposition with men of great influence and power in Western Europe and the medieval commentator Hugh Flaviny remarked on the consequences of such bold actions:
For this reason, namely, that the pope wished Holy Church to be free, chaste and catholic and, because he wised to expel simoniacal heresy and the fetid pollution of libidinous contagion from God’s sanctuary, the members of the devil sought to rise against him, presuming to raise their hands against him even to the shedding of blood so that they might trouble him with death and exile … thus began the quarrel between the royal power and the priestly power, an unusually grave tribulation for Holy Church.
Gregory took the road less traveled and his first major move was to issue a decree banning lay investiture, concubinage and marriage in the clergy, and an uncompromising stand against simony. But Henry IV had other ideas and in his mind there is nothing wrong with lay investiture and it is simply done in accordance to Royal right of kings who received their power not from men but from God.
Now, Europe has two powerful leaders claiming direct connection to the Supreme ruler of all things, but the Bible is not clear on how to resolve the issue especially when it comes to lay investiture; in fact it seems to be favoring the political power of the land as St. Paul himself urged the 1st century Christians to obey the laws of the land.
But as mentioned earlier, the Church was in crisis and as they say desperate times requires extraordinary measure. The Pope decided that it is high time for the Church to assert its independence and separate itself from the corrupting influence of the secular realm. Pope Gregory VII spoke harshly against lay intrusion by saying that lay investiture is produces the twin evils of ambition and disobedience.