Popes vs. Emperors: The Rise and Fall of Papal Power

Legal History, Rey Juan Carlos University, Madrid, Spain


Quod a fidelitate iniquorum subiectos potest absolvere (The Pope may excuse his subjects from their obligations to iniquitous princes)—Gregory VII, Dictatus Papae, XXVII, (1075)

6.1 The Transformation of the Papacy: From Spiritual to Temporal Power

In the year 476 of the Christian era the Western Roman Empire collapsed, succeeded by a series of independent Germanic kingdoms, as Visigoths, Ostrogoths, Franks, Angles and Saxons, Alemanni, Burgundians and Lombards created their own political units and founded the bases of future European nation-states. In reality things were a bit more complex, as the Germanic kings were subject to the Church, which imposed the political model of Roman universalism upon them. Thus, with authority over the “national” kingdoms were the popes, established as the highest ecclesiastical authority and arbiters of civil authority as well, to such an extent that by the ninth century they were responsible for recovering the imperial title in the western sphere (pars occidentalis) of the former Roman Empire.

Since the pontificate of Gregory I (590–604), Rome’s successive bishops had become the undisputed heads of the church, thereby initiating a trend towards unification that contrasted sharply with the political disintegration caused by the rise of the various Germanic kingdoms. To consolidate its spiritual preeminence, however, the popes had to fight a tough battle in the Italian Peninsula in the political arena, as they were at the mercy of the Lombard kings in the north and the Byzantine emperor in the south. The confrontation between the two powers, Germanic and imperial, would favor the papacy’s de facto independence.

6.1.1 The Popes vs. the Byzantines and Lombards

Beginning with Emperor Leo III the Isaurian’s (717–741), rise to the throne, Byzantium sought to strengthen its presence in Italy. From Ravenna, the imperial capital1 it had to face the Lombards, the Pope and other local powers. The most effective resistance was put up by Pope Gregory II (715–731), as after the outbreak of the Iconoclastic Crisis2 he was supported by the vast majority of the Peninsula (Feller 2001, 123) and, thus, able to face the Byzantines with some local militias and troops of the Dukes of Spoleto and Benevento in a war which has been termed the Rivoluzione Italiana (Salvatorelli 1982, 76).

The Lombards’ King Liutprand (712–744) sought to take advantage of the confrontation with the Byzantine Empire to unite the Italian Peninsula under his leadership (Feller 2001, 124). Having conquered the Exarchate and Pentapolis, he managed to lead his army to Rome itself, but failed to conquer it because of the strong resistance offered by Gregory II. Liutprand then chose to ally with the new Byzantine exarch Eutychius, affording him an army of imperial and Lombard soldiers which took Rome (Christie 1998, 102–103). The restoration of imperial authority over Rome, Ravenna and Venice did not prevent Gregory III (731–741), and his successor, Pope Zacharias (741–752), from defending the papacy’s ecclesiastical independence. In fact, the latter signed a 20-year truce with Liutprand to deal more effectively with the Byzantine exarch.3

6.1.2 The Alliance with the Frankish Monarchy and the Rise of the Papal States

The arrival of Constantine V Copronymus (741–775), an emperor who took no interest in Italy, and the death of Liutprand in 744, created a political framework very favorable to the strengthening of papal power over Italy. To achieve this, the popes sought an alliance with the Frankish kings, the most powerful in the West after the disappearance of the Visigothic Kingdom of Toledo in 711. Pepin the Short and Pope Zacharias

Gregory III tried unsuccessfully to form an alliance with Charles Martel, who had seized power4 after his victory over the Muslims in 732.5 In the end, it was Pope Zacharias who managed to reach an agreement with Martel’s two sons: Carloman and Pepin the Short,6 through the mediation of the Archbishop of Mainz, Boniface, a promoter of ecclesiastical reform in the Frankish kingdom. When Pepin became the sole heir it was he who requested papal support to legally legitimize his dynasty.7 Zacharias was willing, and in 751 authorized Archbishop Boniface to anoint Pepin as the King of the Franks,8 following a precedent taken from the Spanish Visigothic kings of Toledo (Riché 1993, 68).9 The “revolution” of 751 was completely successful and no attempts were made to reinstate Childeric III, who died in 753, and whose son was never king (McKitterick 1983, 38). The Popes as the Legitimate Arbiters of Divine Authority

By turning to the Pope to become the King of the Franks, Pepin accepted that it was the pontiff’s prerogative, as the highest representative of God on Earth, to legitimize him. Henceforth the popes would play a decisive role in international politics, as they could not only support the legitimate enthronement of kings, but were also able to bar them from the community of believers through “excommunication”, a procedure relieving a king’s subjects from the obligation to obey him.10 By wielding this canonical instrument the popes maintained a powerful political role. Stephen II and the Emergence of the Papal States

After his consecration as the legitimate king of the Franks Pepin intervened militarily in Italy to support Pope Stephen II, who was again threatened by a Lombardian offensive conducted by King Aistulf, who captured Ravenna in 751 and wanted to conquer Rome.11 Stephen II reacted by visiting Pepin and negotiating an alliance (Feller 2001, 125–127) with him.

The terms of the Franks’ intervention were defined in 754 in a treatise called the Promissio carisiaca, for having been signed in Quierzy-sur-Oise, then the capital of the new Frankish monarchy. Pepin led two expeditions that allowed him to defeat the Lombards under King Aistulf in 756, and occupy their capital, Pavia. The king of the Lombards was further obliged to restore the Exarchate and Pentapolis to Pope Stephen II (Christie 1998, 105), and the papacy became one of the major Peninsular powers.

The Promissio carisiaca had important political consequences: on the one hand it strengthened the French monarchy as the leading Western power and, on the other, it enabled the pope to become a temporal sovereign. The Frankish king pledged to aid the papacy and the Roman people in exchange for Stephen II’s anointing of Pepin and his two sons as King(s) of the Franks and “patrician(s) of the Romans”, a ritual designed to establish the authority and legitimacy of the new royal family on the throne and to create a dynasty (McKitterick 2011, 72).12 In return, Pepin recognized the pope as the head of the territorial Duchy of Rome, the Exarchate and Pentapolis, a title that led to the emergence of the “Papal States”.13 At this point the popes, in addition to boasting spiritual supremacy over all Christendom as heads of the Church, became sovereigns of their own states as well.

6.2 Charlemagne and the Resurgence of the Imperial Idea in the West

6.2.1 Charlemagne and the End of the Lombardian Kingdom

Charlemagne (768–814), the son of Pepin the Short, defeated the Lombards so resoundingly that, after his victory over Desiderius, he was recognized as King of the Lombards in 774 (Costambeys et al. 2011, 66–67). That same year the Carolingian king reached Rome itself, where he was solemnly received by Pope Adrian I (772–795). In his dual role as King of the Franks and the Lombards, Charlemagne confirmed his father Pepin the Short’s donation of the Papal States to the pope, in return for which Adrian I legitimized his dual royal title. The alliance between the Franks and popes was proving very beneficial for both parties.

6.2.2 The Appearance of the Kingdom of Italy

The enthronement of the Frankish dynasty in Lombardy did not mark the end of the Lombardian kingdom, but only its transformation into the Kingdom of Italy (Barbero 2004, 38), whose first ruler was Charlemagne’s son, Pepin, crowned in Rome in 781. Central Italy also fell under the influence of Charlemagne, including the Exarchate, Pentapolis, and the Duchies of Rome and Spoleto. The exception was the Duchy of Benevento, whose lords took advantage of the conflict between Charlemagne and the Byzantine Empire to maintain a de facto independence. Naples, Sicily and Calabria remained, at least theoretically, under the rule of Byzantium, though in reality their respective dukes were virtually independent.

6.2.3 The Reappearance of the Imperial Idea in the West

Charlemagne’s new position in Italy reinforced his alliance with the papacy to the point that when Leo III (795–816), suffered a revolt by the Roman aristocracy, the pontiff accused of adultery and perjury, he took refuge at the Frankish court (799). Once there, the deposed pope convinced Charlemagne to personally head up a military expedition which enabled him to recover the papal throne. A grateful Leo crowned Charlemagne as Emperor of the West in St. Peter’s Basilica.

Charlemagne’s coronation is considered pivotal in western constitutional history because with it Byzantium lost its imperial monopoly, and the western part of the former Roman Empire recovered the importance it had lost in 476. Hence, the “emperor of the flowery beard” is widely considered one of the founders of Europe (Ullmann 2009, 105).

Despite its importance, we know little about how the coronation happened. Collins (2005, 52) reminds us that Einhard, in his Vita Karoli (written around ad 830), states that the king of Italy went to Rome in 800 “to restore the very disturbed state of the Church” and spent most of the winter there. However, he does not give any detail about how Charlemagne came to receive the imperial title. The nature of the proceedings and the rituals involved in this process of emperor-making are not described at all, and even the location and exact date of his elevation are implied rather than stated explicitly. Tradition maintains that Charlemagne was crowned as the new Emperor of the West on Christmas Day. However, this date may be merely symbolic, as it was also Christmas Day on which Clovis had converted to Christianity and been baptized.14 The Pope vs. the Emperor: The Eminently Christian Nature of the New Western Empire

What we do know, also as indicated by Einhard, is that Charlemagne was not pleased at all with the coronation, to the point that he protested that he would never have entered St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome on Christmas Day 800, had he known the symbolically damaging protocol the pontiff was going to employ during his crowning (McKitterick 2011, 26), as he realized that receiving the imperial crown from Leo III did imply a formal recognition of the pope’s supremacy.15 When Charlemagne wished his son Louis the Pious crowned emperor 13 years later to assure his succession, he organized the ceremony according to an entirely different protocol: the ceremony was held in the Palatine Chapel at Aachen, Louis was acclaimed not by the Romans but by the Franks, and the new emperor did not kneel before the pope, but was crowned by his father, or, according to another chronicler, placed the crown on his own head (Barbero 2004, 94).

Charlemagne was from the beginning, fully aware that the new Empire was not the same as its Roman namesake which had disappeared in 476. In Rome, the emperor’s power had been based on the support of the people, the Senate, and the army, while in the case of Charlemagne it depended on papal legitimation. As Maglio (2006, 39) points out, the reappearance of the new Empire was not only the result of military action and the political machinations of the Carolingians, but was largely a project of papal inspiration. The dilemma facing the new Western Empire, therefore, was that it possessed two heads, which would prove to be a source of endless conflict. The Question of Succession and the Precarious Nature of the Carolingian Empire

The new Carolingian Empire was quite fragile, not only because of its formal subjection to the papacy, but because Charlemagne sought to gain formal recognition of his Empire from Byzantium (Fichtenau 1991, 71), and the Franks harbored a patrimonial conception of monarchy. Proof of this is that Charlemagne, 6 years after his coronation, organized his succession through a division of his kingdoms (divisio regnorum) among his legitimate children: Charles, Pepin and Louis (McKitterick 2011, 96–102). This distribution did not, however, materialize because when Charlemagne died in 814, he was survived only by Louis, entitled to the entire paternal inheritance.

The new emperor, who for his devoutness was dubbed “Louis the Pious”, sought to amend the rule of succession in the interest of unity. In the year 817, he enacted an ordinatio imperii (Ganshof 1971, 273–276) through which he ceded the Empire to his eldest son, Lothair, who was crowned King of Italy and, as such, entitled to inherit the imperial throne by virtue of this designation.16 However, Lothair’s two brothers, Charles and Louis, did not accept the change in the rules of succession after their father’s death, and fought to overthrow their brother, which they did on June 25, 841, at the Battle of Fontenoy in Puisaye, in the heart of modern-day France.17 The Treaty of Verdun and the Disintegration of the Carolingian Line

The disputes between the brothers ended up being resolved through the Treaty of Verdun (843), which established the division of the Carolingian Empire into three areas: the western zone (approximately the territory of present-day France), was assigned to Charles; the eastern (Germania) to Louis; and the territories between the two, plus the title of Emperor, to Lothair.18 The agreement reached at Verdun has even been called the “birth certificate” of modern Europe (Riché 1993, 168). A Virtual Empire

As a result of this division, the title of Emperor no longer denoted a “universal state” and took on a merely symbolic meaning, ceasing to imply effective control over all the territories of Charlemagne’s empire.19 The imperial idea, however, did not disappear in the West.

6.3 From the Carolingian Empire to the Holy Roman Empire

6.3.1 The Frankish Monarchy Dissociates Itself from the Empire

The breakup of the Empire led to numerous struggles for the imperial title among Charlemagne’s descendants.20 One of these dynastic conflicts eventually led to the Frankish kingdom’s detachment from the Empire. The first step was the dethronement of the Carolingian ruler Charles the Simple, by Hugo the Great in 923, a situation that would definitively establish the authority of the latter’s son, Hugh Capet (987–996), by imposing the hereditary principle for succession to the throne (Bautier 1992, 27–37), thereby ensuring a surprising continuity which would last until the rise of the French monarchy in the early thirteenth century.21 The Franks were resolved to break off from the Empire largely because of the fact that it had become “Germanized”, as in 962 the imperial title had gone to a Germanic nobleman: Otto, Duke of Saxony.

6.3.2 The Germanic Revival of the Imperial Idea

German historiography establishes 911 as a chronological milestone to mark the passage from the Frankish to the Germanic Empire. According to tradition, it was in this year that Conrad I was elected the first King of Germany.22 The authority exercised by the German king was largely theoretical, however, as the Germanic territories were ruled by powerful nobles (usually dukes) whom the king had to subjugate, whether by arms or by means of alliances. The problem was that the novus rex, although crowned and publicly acknowledged by all, were in perpetually tenuous positions, as they had to face potential opposition from two camps: their defeated rivals and the members of their clans, and those who had voted for him, but with a view to their own self interest, expecting greater wealth in return, ever willing to rescind their support if they concluded that doing so would benefit them (Reuter 1991, 203). Under these conditions only the strongest kings prevailed, such as Henry I (919–936), Duke of Saxony23 and, above all, his son Otto I. Otto I and the Rise of the Holy Roman Empire of the Germanic Nation

In the year 936, Henry I of Saxony’s heir was elected “King of Germany”24 with the name of Otto I (936–973). The new German king managed to expand the boundaries of his kingdom and shore up his authority. In the East, he definitively halted the Hungarians and imposed his protectorate upon the Slavs of Bohemia, while in the West, he annexed modern-day Lorraine and part of today’s Belgium to the German kingdom. In just years Otto I managed to become the most powerful ruler in the West, which prompted him to aspire to the Kingdom of Italy which since the time of Charlemagne had been the key to wielding the imperial scepter. To this end he invaded the Italian peninsula and was crowned Emperor in Rome by Pope John XII on February 2, 962 (Bryce 2012, 94–95), thereby seizing a title which had been unclaimed for more than 40 years, becoming the founder of what would ultimately be known in the historiography as the Holy Roman Empire.25 From this moment forward the man designated as the King of Germany would possess the right to be King of Italy and to be crowned Emperor, though his coronation still lay in the hands of the Pope. Eight and a Half Centuries of History

The imperial coronation of Otto I marked the dawn of a nearly 300-year period known in German historiography as the Kaiserzeit (“Time of the Emperors”), the apogee of the Germanic Empire (van Caenegem 1995, 63), to last until the end of the Hohenstaufen Dynasty upon the death of Frederick II in 1250. From that moment forward, the Holy Roman Empire lost its splendor, though this did not keep it from recovering a key role in the history of Europe, as occurred during the era of Charles V (1519–1558), or during the reign of Maria Theresa’s husband, Francis I (1745–1765).26 It would survive until 1806, when it was dissolved by Francis II after his defeat by Napoleon at Austerlitz (Whaley 2011, II, 645–650). The Imperial Territories in 962

In the eleventh century, “Germany” did not exist as a unitary political entity. The term originally denoted a patchwork of peoples (Franks, Saxons, Bavarians and Swabians) dominated by various lords whose only common ground was that they were all able to communicate in the Theotisca lingua, which featured various dialects.27 From the moment when Otto I was crowned king all the aforementioned territories came to be referred to as Teutonicorum regnum.28 However, because the King of Germany also had to be the King of Italy to claim the imperial title, and he depended on the Pope to be crowned, he also needed to dominate the Italian Peninsula, which was a source of strife. In fact, Otto I ended up opposing and contesting the authority of John XII, who he deposed after convening a council which appointed Leo VIII as the new Pope (Bryce 2012, 132–133). The New Germanic Empire’s Political Weakness

Just like the Empire of Charlemagne after its division at Verdun in 843, the Holy Roman Empire was in reality limited to a largely symbolic role, in this case, the exaltation of the Germanic monarchy, as only German kings could be named emperors. The Germanic Empire only achieved a universal dimension during the reigns of a few emperors of exceptional magnetism and charisma—essentially during the eras of Frederick Barbarossa (1152–1190), and Frederick II (1212–1250), the grandson of the first, both of the Hohenstaufen House of Swabia, for instance. Not even these great rulers, however, managed to establish lasting imperial supremacy over the other princes of Christian Europe. After 1250, the German electors who designated the emperor preferred to appoint unremarkable figures to avoid having to submit to imperial authority (Bryce 2012, 191–192). Thus, great monarchs such as Alfonso X of Castile (1252–1284), or Philip the Fair of France (1285–1314) were never named, while lesser nobles were, such as Rudolf of Habsburg (1273–1291).

The German Holy Roman Empire was an artificial political construct in so far as it was an attempt to recreate a universal state that had disappeared—something that can only be understood from the perspective of medieval man, for whom the era in which it was his fate to live was considered a pale reflection of a brilliant, bygone time.29 Firstly, this was because the kings of Germany could not claim the imperial title without being crowned by the popes. Between their election as kings of Germany and their papal coronation, the German monarchs held the temporary title of “King of the Romans” which was a fallacy, as neither the Roman citizenry nor the Roman state any longer existed, and the emperor was merely the visible head of a whole series of territories which were, in fact, legally and politically independent.30 The Legal Relevance of the Holy Roman Empire

The fact that the political importance of the medieval emperors was limited, and their title largely symbolic, did not prevent them from playing an undeniably important legal role. Thus, for example, the rediscovery and renewed application of Roman law (Bryce 2012, 159–160), which became the basis of the new European law of the Late Middle Ages, proceeded politically from the idea that the different European kingdoms were ultimately the heirs to the legacy of the Roman emperors. Brian Tierney has defined the century from 1150 to 1250 as the “age of lawyers”, not only because of the study of Roman law, beginning with Irnerius at the University of Bologna around 1100, which utterly transformed the art of jurisprudence, as law started being created by scholars (glossators and postglossators or commentators), but also because the study of Roman law provided “a very exalted theory of legislative sovereignty together with a wholly non-papal account of the origins of imperial authority” (Tierney 2004, 97–98).31 This explains why some of the medieval Germanic emperors’ edicts were integrated into the Justinian Corpus iuris,32 and there appeared the Tribunal of the Imperial Chamber Court (Reichskammergericht), created by the Diet of Worms in 1495, which applied Roman law.33 There was, in addition, a practical reason for this reverence for the Roman legacy: the Empire was composed of a number of states that had their own political and legal systems, so that the only unifying factor was their reference to the Roman legal tradition, effective as general suppletory law in a good number of the German states all the way down until January 1, 1900, when the German Civil Code, the Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch (BGB) went into effect.

This perspective is even more important today, when the concept of the nation-state is in crisis in Europe as a result of the supranational integration trends initiated in 1950. Thus, from this point of view, the attempts of medieval emperors to create a public law common to all the kingdoms of their era seems less utopian, especially since German Unification in 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. This is why the Holy Roman Empire is increasingly presented in positive terms by current historiography, as it is seen as having provided a durable and dynamic political framework that protected the privileges and liberties of its constituents while coordinating collective action (Coy et al. 2010, 1).

6.4 The Era of “Papal Theocracy”, or the Peak of Ecclesiasticism

6.4.1 Ecclesiastical Decline During the Feudal Period

The theoretical supremacy of the Church’s authority over civil power was evident after the popes’ crowning of Charlemagne (800), and Otto I (962). The actual exercise of this power, however, was quite limited during the ninth and tenth centuries, not only because the popes had to deal with powerful monarchs—such as Charlemagne’s great-grandson Louis II (850–875), who managed to unify the Italian Peninsula34—but also because of the fact that papal authority was hampered by the general process of feudalization, clearly at odds with the Church’s aspiration to comprehensive authority, directly inherited from Roman universalism (Bryce 2012, 104). “Feudalization” and the Appearance of “Proprietary Churches”

The privatization of political ties and the disintegration of the very notion of public authority caused ecclesiastical apparatuses (ecclesiastical provinces, bishoprics, abbeys) to fall under the dominion of local, secular authorities. This was the era of “proprietary churches” (ecclesia propria or Eigenkirche), so named because they were controlled by secular lords who, as owners of land and buildings, appointed individuals to clerical positions.35 The feudalization of ecclesiastical offices greatly contributed to the atomization of public power in the Holy Roman Empire.36 The German Holy Roman Empire and the “Imperial Church”

The submission of the ecclesiastical authorities to the great secular lords, reached its pinnacle in Germany following the imperial coronation of Otto I during the era of the Reichskirche (Imperial Church), characterized by the spreading practice of princes and great feudal lords who were also part of the clergy (bishops or abbots).37 On the one hand, they were the ecclesiastical heads of their territories (cura animarum) and, on the other, their political heads as well, as they governed and exercised administrative, police, judicial, military and fiscal functions on behalf of the emperor. As Atwood (2001, 8) points out, certain bishoprics became more important as secular offices rather than religious ones. The system had many advantages, not only because the prince-bishops were chosen from among the educated classes of the population, but because, to the extent that these ecclesiastical princes were members of the clergy, they could not marry, which prevented the formation of hereditary dynasties that could tear the empire apart. Thus, the system endured and within the geographical scope of the German Holy Roman Empire there were small states that continued to be ruled by prince-bishops until the French Revolution. Thus, for example, was the case with the bishops of Liege, Strasbourg and Salzburg, to name but a few of the best known, all featuring prince-archbishops who served as heads of state, for life, for over eight centuries.38

6.4.2 The Ecclesiastical Resurgence: The Eastern Schism, Cluny and the Gregorian Reform

In the mid eleventh century the gradual waning of the Roman Church in general,39 and the papacy, in particular, was exploited by the ambitious patriarch of Constantinople, Michael Cerularius,40 to separate the Eastern (Orthodox) Church from the authority of Rome in 1054 (the Eastern Schism), in spite of the efforts of Pope Leo IX (Chadwick 2003, 206–218). The incident was a terrible blow, laying bare the debilitated state of the Western Church and the need for it to be reformed. The first efforts at this ecclesiastical renewal were the Cluniac Reforms, a major monastic movement sprouting in the tenth century at France’s Cluny Abbey from within the Benedictine Order.41

The new Cluniac spirituality spread throughout Christendom thanks to Hildebrand, a Germanic member of the new order42 who would become Pope Gregory VII (1073–1085). As pontiff he concentrated his efforts on making the Catholic Church an independent institution completely separate from any civil powers.

What came to be called the Gregorian Reforms were aimed at eradicating a number of practices which had corrupted ecclesiastical life, including clergy who were marrying, a practice widespread among parish priests, though uncommon among bishops and non-existent among monks. Convinced that married priests became too involved in secular issues, Gregory VII decided to restore the celibacy requirement, which became mandatory during the twelfth century, and by the thirteenth, was being strictly observed. There was also a major backlash against “proprietary churches”, and a campaign to recover a large number of church lands which had been usurped by secular lords. Also prohibited was simony, the commercialization of spiritual elements through which the kings and prelates sold ecclesiastical offices to the highest bidders. Henceforth, ecclesiastical assemblies were to choose the most suitable candidates.

To ensure the independence of the Church from secular powers, Gregory VII issued a historic decree, the Dictatus papae (1075), featuring 27 statements summarizing the new papal ideology (Cowdrey 2004, 496–501). One of these expressly recognized the Pope’s status as the head of the Western Christian Empire, which meant that he held the power to exempt his subjects from their obligation to obey iniquitous kings. This was obviously not well received by the princes, let alone the emperors, who resolved to oppose the papal claims with all their might. The Investiture Contest: Henry IV Against Gregory VII

The strongest opponent of Gregory VII’s aspirations was the German Emperor Henry IV (1084–1106), with the two squaring off in what was dubbed the “Investiture Contest”. The dispute revolved around who should have the right to appoint or “invest” the holders of public ecclesiastical offices: civil or ecclesiastical authorities.43 The question was problematic because many of the bishops were also feudal lords subject to the Empire. Hence, when receiving their offices they had to be appointed not only by the Pope, but also by the emperors.44

In 1076, Gregory VII excommunicated Henry IV for ignoring the 1075 Dictatus Papae. As Henry was still only King of Germany, the excommunication sparked a revolt among the nobles, which forced Henry to plead for a papal pardon at Cannossa Castle in the winter of 1077. After accepting all of Gregory VII’s demands, he was not only pardoned, but crowned emperor. The restoration of his authority, however, did not stop Henry from going on to lead a military expedition against Rome in which he managed to occupy the city (Blumenthal 1995, 113–126). Gregory VII died in exile in 1085, though Henry IV was ultimately defeated by Urban II (1088–1099). The papacy emerged triumphant not just because Urban II was able to retake Rome from imperial forces in 1093, but because, by backing the First Crusade (1096–1099), he was also able to strengthen papal prestige and authority. Balance Between Empire and Papacy: The Concordat of Worms

The question of investitures was ultimately resolved through negotiations leading to the Concordat of Worms (1122), signed by Emperor Henry V and Pope Calixtus II (Tellenbach 1991, 122–124). Based on the theological principle of the distinction between spiritual and temporal investiture, the Concordat established the German kings’ waiving of their right to bestow upon bishops and abbots the ring and staff denoting their spiritual authority, which only the pope could do. The kings would be limited to granting them the scepter, which symbolized the feudal concession of temporal goods. The removal of investiture rights from royal hands, was offset by the kings’ maintenance of the tribute which new bishops were to render to the king. Yet, as far as the Church was concerned in this crucial period, the popes had fully succeeded in establishing their primacy in relation to councils and bishops (Schatz 1996, 95).45

6.4.3 The Papacy’s Power Swells

The conflict between emperors and popes, however, would resurface, violently, yet again with Frederick I (1152–1190), and Frederick II (1215–1250) of the House of Hohenstaufen, although neither emperor was able to challenge a papacy that had been considerably strengthened, especially following the era of Innocent III (1198–1216). The latter pontiff served with considerable effectiveness as the West’s spiritual leader,46 imposing his authority on kings such as Peter II of Aragon, who died at Muret fighting against what Strayer (1971b, 123) calls a “political crusade”,47 and England’s King John I, who was first excommunicated and later became a vassal of Rome.48 Finally, Innocent IV (143–1254), took a further step to defend the system of absolute papal monarchy (Schatz 1996, 94), identifying the Church with the Pope (papa, qui potest dici ecclesia). For nearly two centuries, the popes stood as the highest authorities in the West (Ullmann 2003, 131–147), and the Church enjoyed a golden age in the intellectual sphere, largely thanks to the colossal figure of Thomas Aquinas (1224–1274), who managed to reconcile Aristotelian philosophy with the Biblical tradition, thereby considerably enriching Catholicism’s theological foundations, allowing for an effective adaptation of traditional dogmas to the reality of his time.49

6.4.4 The Legal Consequences of the Papal Victory: The Secularization of Non-ecclesiastical Public Authorities

The conflict between emperors and popes seemed to have culminated with the latter’s supremacy, but in the long run this ecclesiastical separation from civil power ended up backfiring on the papacy, as it favored the emancipation of secular powers from pontifical authority. This is what Strayer (1971a, 251) calls the process of “laicization” of society, which started in the thirteenth century. It was not the emperors but rather the kings of the Late Middle Ages who proclaimed their independence from the papacy in the political sphere, basing themselves on the arguments of the Italian jurist and philosopher Marsilius of Padua (1275–1343),50 who defended the legitimate autonomy of secular power over that of the papacy.51 This was the very first step in a process which would ultimately culminate in the French Revolution.