Medieval Europe - Papal Reformation

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  • Topic: Pope, Investiture Controversy, Popes
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Since the Council of Nicaea called in the fourth century by Constantine to the early eleventh century, the Church was never established as a free standing institution. For over eight hundred years the Church had been under the authority of secular powers. Charlemagne and the Carolingians emperors saw themselves as the ones to maintain the Church materially, organizationally, and spiritually, while the pope was only an example of ideal Christian living. Social deterioration led to the corruption of the Church and its offices; simony being the biggest problem. The papacy itself was corrupted by simony and Roman politics. While reform had been taking place in the local levels for some time, the papacy was the last part of the Church to be reformed. The papacy reformation came about through three major popes: Leo IX (1049-1054), Nicholas II (1059-1061), and Gregory VII (1073-1085). The actions by these popes in the eleventh century would root out the corruption within the church and cause conflict between the secular authorities and the papacy resulting in the separation and establishing of the Church as a power on its own.

After numerous corrupt popes, Leo IX is considered to be the pope that started the papacy reformation. Ironically, he was appointed pope by his cousin Emperor Henry III. After being coroneted, Leo spent less than six months in Rome traveling through Italy, Germany, France, and as far as Hungary ( Blum, 485). According to Backman, “Leo recognized two things from the very start: first, the papacy could not be properly reformed so long as it remained mired in Roman factional politics; and second, the papacy needed to be seen by the faithful in order to secure the gains of the reform” (Backman, 268). Leo was literally the first pope to be seen by most Christians (Backman, 268), and he wanted to “project an image of the papacy in action” (Blum, 485). For a long time the title of pope was just a name without any meaning or power; however, Leo would change that with his travels. Leo’s great accomplishments were abolishing simony, help ending the practice of clerical marriage, and improving the clergies training and education.

Pope Leo IX, through his travels had plans of establishing his authority while also rooting out corruption still in local churches. “Leo staged large-scale Masses, pronounced Peace and Truce decrees, and offered all the faithful the opportunity to air grievances about their local church and ecclesiastical leaders” (Backman, 269). Clergy that had obtained their position by way of simony were given the chance to retain their office only if the confessed their faults and swore publicly to dedicate themselves to the reformed Church. According to Backman these acts were performed in public for two reasons: First, the people themselves got to hear the confession of their clergy, and second, the pope got the pleasure of having the faithful see the priest, bishops, and archbishops kneeling before Leo, in other words, used the reform-celebration itself as a means for establishing papal authority over the episcopacy. Henceforth, everyone understood that the bishops served as the legitimate leaders of the Church because the Holy Father himself had publically bestowed their office upon them. The papacy now stood at the head of a new hierarchy and determined its legitimacy. 269

The last major contributing act Leo had towards the reformation was the creation of the College of Cardinals. Leo saw that the Church was not intellectually able to deal with issue it was faced with. He created a body of advisors for the papacy that included theologians, lawyers, philosophers, historians, scientists, and diplomats. These handpicked advisors would lend expert council to the pope on settling and resolving doctrinal issues never really solved by the Church. One of the issues they dealt with was celibacy for the clergy; this would not be settled until Pope Nicholas II. The papacy was now the decision making...
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