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Gelasius II

(c. 1060—1119)


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(24 Jan. 1118–29 Jan. 1119)

The successor of Paschal II, John of Gaeta came of a respected family, as a boy studied and became a monk at Monte Cassino, and there wrote three lives of saints which reflect the stylistic influence of his teacher Alberic, the noted Cassinese author. He was appointed subdeacon on 23 Aug. 1088 by Urban II, cardinal deacon on 23 Sept. 1088, and chancellor by July 1089. He held this key office for three decades, being responsible for reforming the chancery and enlarging its staff. As chancellor he collaborated loyally with Paschal II, shared his imprisonment by Emperor Henry V (1106–25) from Feb. to Apr. 1111, and at the Lateran synod of 1116 stoutly defended him against the critics of his capitulation on the investiture issue.

Already elderly, he had an exceptionally harassed reign. Elected in Sta Maria in Pallara on the Palatine, he was at once brutally attacked and imprisoned by Cencius Frangipani, head of a patrician family which detested Paschal and his associates, and was only set free in response to the demands of the Romans led by the city prefect. On I Mar. fear of Henry V, who hastened from Lombardy to Rome on hearing of his election, forced him to flee with the cardinals to his native Gaeta, where he was ordained priest and consecrated bishop and pope on 9 and 10 Mar. Henry now demanded his return so that they could reach an amicable settlement of the investiture dispute, but he refused, explaining that he planned to hold a council for this purpose at Milan or Cremona in the autumn. In his exasperation Henry had Archbishop Maurice of Braga proclaimed pope as Gregory VIII (8 Mar.). Gelasius retaliated by anathematizing both the emperor and his antipope at Capua on 9 Apr., and by sending letters denouncing him to all major centres he effectively crushed any hope Gregory might have had of obtaining recognition. When Henry left Rome Gelasius was able to return, but the city was controlled by the antipope and other hostile elements and he could not instal himself in the Lateran or St Peter's; on 21 July he was again set upon by the Frangipani during mass in Sta Prassede. Although he managed to escape, he deemed it prudent to withdraw to France, and with several cardinals fled first to Pisa then sailed from Genoa, reaching Marseilles on 23 Oct. At Saint-Gilles, near Nîmes, Norbert of Xanten (c.1080–1134), to be founder of the austere, evangelistic Premonstratensians or White Canons, visited him and was given permission to preach the gospel wherever he thought fit. Gelasius held a synod at Vienne in early Jan. 1119 and then, falling seriously ill, retired to Cluny, near Mâcon, where he died at the end of the month without being able to organize the council which would settle the issues dividing church and empire. He was buried in the abbey there.

Further Reading

LP iii. 11–21, 347PL 163: 473–514JW i. 775–80Watterich ii. 91–114R. Krohn, Der päpstliche Kanzler Johannes von Gaeta (diss., Marburg, 1918)DBI lii. 807–11 (S. Freund)Levillain ii. 625–6 (G. Schwaiger)Mann viii. 120–38NCE vi. 123 (H. Bloch)Seppelt iii. 151–4

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Subjects: Christianity — Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500).


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