Article

Gregory VII

John Doran

in Medieval Studies

ISBN: 9780195396584
Published online November 2012 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0131
Gregory VII

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  • Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)
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Pope Gregory VII (1073–1085) was one of the most important and controversial popes of the Middle Ages. His elevation to the papacy came after a long and influential career in the papal court, and he may well have become pope earlier had he wished. So convinced have historians been of his importance that the term “Gregorian Reform” served for a century to describe the period in which Gregory lived. More recently, Gregory’s impact has been reassessed and most historians now refer to the “Reform Papacy,” but there is no doubt that he was a major figure both before and after his election to the papacy. As Archdeacon Hildebrand, he directed the affairs of the Roman Church at a crucial period of realignment, as a small group of international reformers removed the papacy from the grip of local aristocratic families, first in collaboration with the Emperor Henry III and later under the protection of the Norman princes who were carving out a territory for themselves in southern Italy. In pursuit of a purified Church, the reformers supported a group of radical protestors, the Patarenes, who sought to impose clerical celibacy on the clergy of Milan. The struggle for influence in Milan led to conflict between the newly elected Gregory and the young emperor Henry IV. The point at issue was investiture, that is, whether the emperor had the right to invest the archbishop of Milan (or any other bishop) with his office, or whether the election of a bishop by the local clergy should be confirmed by the pope. This iconic struggle saw Gregory excommunicate Henry IV and release his subjects from their oaths to him in 1076 only to absolve him at Canossa in 1077 and, after the outbreak of a civil war in Germany, to depose him again in 1080. In the meantime, Henry IV had convened a synod of German bishops that denounced Gregory as “Hildebrand, false monk” and called on him to abdicate and another that deposed him and elected a new pope. By 1084, Gregory had to be rescued from Rome by his Norman allies, leaving the city in the hands of the emperor and his antipope, to whom many of the cardinals defected. Gregory died in exile in 1085, apparently having failed in his mission to promote reform. However, Gregory’s successors managed to achieve much of his program, and his pontificate has been seen as the crucial preparation for the successful establishment of papal primacy over the Western Church. Note: Two resources are particularly useful for students of the papacy in general and Gregory VII in particular. The first is the series of bibliographies, arranged by theme and by pope, published annually in the Archivum Historiae Pontificiae. The second is the International Medieval Bibliography, published by Brepols and available electronically by institutional and individual subscription.

Article.  17069 words. 

Subjects: Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500) ; Literary Studies (Early and Medieval) ; Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy ; Byzantine and Medieval Art (500 CE to 1400) ; Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Archaeology

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