Throughout the central Middle Ages, Europe was characterized by the power struggle between the secular and the ecclesiastic. The question of rule by God or by man was one which arose with unwavering frequency among scholars, clergy, and nobility alike. The line which separated church and state was blurry at best, leading to the development of the Investiture Conflict in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, and the attempts to undermine the heir to the throne in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Four men stand out among dozens in this effort to define the powers of the lay versus that of the spiritual: Emperor/kings Henry IV and John of England, and the popes who aggressively challenged their exertions of authority, Pope Gregory VII and Pope Innocent III, respectively. The years and conditions through which the worldly battled the holy for the command of the people differed, but the themes and events which emerged amidst the strife bore striking similarities. Alteration of names and faces had no effect on the emotive, and at times bitter, struggle between the two poles of authority; even time could not change the tenuous relationships between the papacy and the secular powers.
Pope Gregory VII was born Hildebrand circa 1025 in Sovana, a small town in Tuscany. "At an early age, he was sent to Romewhere his uncle served as abbot of the convent of St. Mary on the Aventineto receive an education." He followed Gregory VI into his exile to Germany, continuing his studies in Cologne before ultimately departing for Rome with Pope Leo IX. There, he enthusiastically pursued a clerical life, becoming a subdeacon and steward in the Roman Catholic Church, and later as a legate in France. Over the decades which followed, he garnered the support of the church through his conduction of negotiations regarding the successor of Leo IX. Pope Stephen X was elected under questionable circumstances, but died shortly after, leading to "the hasty elevation of Bishop Johannes of Velletri, [which] reflected a desperate effort of the Roman aristocracy to recover their influence on the papal throne. This course of action was dangerous to the Church, as it implied a renewal of the disastrous patrician régime; that the crisis was overcome was essentially the work of [Gregory VII]." Gregory VII gave his support to Pope Nicholas II in lieu of the aristocratic nominee, choosing to favor a leader who was strongly influential on the policy of the Curia during the next two decades. Under this papal rule, the College of Cardinals was granted responsibility for papal elections, thus undermining the power of the nobility of Rome and reduciing the influence of the German emperial power on the election. Nicholas II died, succeeded by Pope Alexander II, and finally, Gregory VII himself. By now, Gregory VII was viewed "in the eyes of his contemporaries as the soul of Curial policy," using them with notable wisdom. He went on to be remembered as one of the great reforming popes, marked in history by his role in the Investiture Contest against Henry IV before his bitter end in exile.
Pope Innocent III's rise to command in the Roman Catholic Church was not as dramatic as that of Gregory VII, though it was profound in its own right. Born Lothar of Segni circa 1160, he was the son of "an important landowner in the Roman Campagna
his mother from the Scotti family [which] had man connections with the patriciate of the city." Raised and academically groomed in Rome, he went on to study theology in Paris. There, he was heavily infuenced by Peter the Chanter, which shaped Innocent III's outlook: Peter the Chanter "concentrated on practical issues such as preaching and penance, for which moral and sacramental theology was the appropriate intellectual preparation." This contrasted with Peter the Chanter's predaccessors, who pressed the importance of studying dialectic and Trinitarian theology. Innocent III thus "embodied two of the greatest...
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