Nicholas II

(b. 1058)

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(6 Dec. 1058–19 or 26 July. 1061)

Originally Gerard, born c.1010 in Lorraine or French Burgundy, bishop of Florence from 1045, he was a leading figure in the 11th-century reform movement when elected. On Stephen IX's death (28 Mar. 1058) a powerful anti-reformist aristocratic clique on 5 Apr. elected Bishop John of Velletri as Benedict X, but the reform cardinals, loyal to their promise to the dying Stephen to take no action until Hildebrand (later Gregory VII) returned from a mission to Germany, refused to recognize him, abandoned Rome, and eventually through Hildebrand's influence, after securing the agreement of Duke Godfrey of Lorraine and Tuscany (c.1040–96) and then satisfying itself of the goodwill of the German court, elected Gerard at Siena in Dec. The new pope, who called himself after Nicholas I and retained the see of Florence, held a synod at Sutri, near Rome, in early Jan. 1059, in the presence of the imperial chancellor Guibert, and anathematized Benedict. Supported by Godfrey's troops, he then moved to Rome, from which Benedict had fled, and was there enthusiastically installed on 24 Jan. 1059, Hildebrand having swung over popular opinion by lavish largesse.

The friend of Desiderius of Monte Cassino (later Victor III), Nicholas was greatly influenced by reformers like Humbert of Silva Candida (c.1000–61), Hildebrand (whom he created archdeacon), and Peter Damian (1007–72), propagandist for reform. At the Lateran synod of 13 Apr. 1059 he promulgated a momentous electoral decree providing that papal elections should conform to the reformers' principles; it also had the immediate objects of stamping Benedict's election as uncanonical and legitimizing the irregular features in his own. This decree ruled that, to exclude simony, the cardinal bishops should effectively choose the pope, the cardinal clerks should then be brought in, and the remaining clergy and the people should finally give their assent; it also permitted, if circumstances warranted it, the choice of a non-Roman cleric and the holding of the election outside Rome. There was a vague clause about the emperor's right to approve, which was not envisaged as unconditional; it had to be granted to each successive ruler, and could be forfeited by misuse. The decree drastically reduced the hold over elections to the papacy which had long been enjoyed by the nobility of Rome. The synod then legislated against clerical marriage and concubinage, for the first time issued a general prohibition of lay investiture by forbidding clerics to acquire churches from lay persons, and required the clergy of one church to share a common life. Berengar of Tours appeared before it and was forced to sign a crudely realistic statement, drafted by Humbert, of the real presence in the eucharistic bread.

Politically Nicholas now took the far-reaching decision, on the advice of Desiderius and Hildebrand, to reverse previous policies and make an alliance between the papacy and the Normans in southern Italy. He cemented this at the synod of Melfi (23 Aug. 1059), capital of Norman Apulia, at which, in addition to passing measures to enforce clerical celibacy, he invested Richard of Aversa with the principality of Capua and Robert Guiscard (c.1015–85) with the duchies of Apulia and Calabria and the lordship of Sicily in return for fealty and the promise of military assistance. Thus at a stroke the Roman church not only entrenched support for the reformed papacy, it also gained feudal suzerainty over much of south Italy, diminishing thereby the power of Constantinople in the region; an immediate dividend was that Richard stormed the stronghold of Galeria, where Antipope Benedict had sought refuge, and handed him over as a prisoner to Nicholas, who later formally deposed and degraded him.


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

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