The disputes between Ambrose and Theodosius, the Carolingian rebellious episcopacy and Louis the Pious, and Gregory VII and Henry IV led to a same conclusion; the three emperors did penance. We can view these disputes as different episodes at different times of a same thing; the struggle between State and Church. First, it is necessary to replace these disputes in a broad historical context to show what their significance is. Then, we will look closer at these disputes in order to understand how public penance was used as a tool to assert Church's authority over kings. The relationship between Church and State is an important issue in the history of western Christendom. The conflict between Theodosius and Ambrose is generally seen as the first manifestation of the antagonism between the two authorities. Was the relationship between Church and State necessarily conflictive? It is clear that the Church and the State are two powers which both control or tend to control society. However, the idea of a separation between the spiritual power and the temporal power is enounced in the Gospels.
[...] We saw that Church always had in mind to establish a Christian society with as its head the Pope, as he is the representative of God on Earth and the successor of Saint Peter. This Papal theory goes back to Pope Leo I. Gregory VII and the radical reformers of the 11th century were undoubtedly its more fervent supporter. The excommunication and the penance which was mandatory for a ruler to be admitted again in the Christian community were the instruments of the Church to impose its authority over kinks and rulers. [...]
[...] In the three cases, the emperors had to leave their official clothes and to wear the cloth of the penitent. This was a public humiliation. The penance of Henry IV was maybe the most dramatic. He crossed the Alps into Italy to seek the Pope's forgiveness. They met at the castle of Canossa. Henry IV was humble and barefoot in the snow. Theodosius' penance was shortened to a few weeks because of his rank. He laid aside his imperial ornaments as a sign of mourning, and publicly in the Church, in presence of his subjects, entreated pardon for his sin. [...]
[...] The excommunication implied the exclusion from the assembly of the Church and participation in the Sacraments. But there was a practical result: anyone could take his realm, he had no legitimacy. His vassals did not have to fulfil their duties anymore for the reason that serving an excommunicated king or lord was a sin. That is what happened to Henry IV. His lords in Germany revolted and even elected a new king. Thus, the excommunication and the penance were linked and were an arm in the hands of the papacy to force the kings to obey its will. [...]
[...] Finally, the Church used penance as a tool to assert its authority over rulers and society in order to build a Christian society. It was a tool for the Church in its struggle against the State. The investiture controversy was the highest point of this struggle. The Church became politized as never before. And this was finally counterproductive. Indeed, at the end of the 13th century there was increasing anticlericalism. Moreover the fear of being excommunicated gradually vanished, because of its too frequent use. [...]
[...] Gregory VII tried also to quote historical precedent. Thus, he recalled that Louis and Theodosius did penance and that they were champions of justice As a consequence Henry IV has to do so. Gregory VII and Henry IV went further than others in their attempt to justify their position. Both surrounded themselves with jurists and scholars in order to legitimate their act. He quoted historical precedent of kings deposed by Pope. The investiture controversy led to a rise in law studies. [...]
Online readingwith our online reader
Content validatedby our reading committee