Anselm - E. M. Wilmot-Buxton

The Investiture Contest In Europe

While the quiet years at Bec were thus slipping away, let us take a glimpse at the progress meantime of affairs in Europe. In the year that Anselm left his father's house and passed beyond the Alps, Henry IV., a boy of six years of age, succeeded his father, the powerful German Emperor Henry III.

Under the weak and inconsistent rule of his mother, the Regent Agnes, the discontented nobles seized their chance and, while rebelling against her, robbed and despoiled the only other strong party in Europe, the party of the Church.

This soon roused the ecclesiastics in their own defense, and for the next few years the struggle lay, not so much between the nobles and the Church as between two conflicting parties within the latter. Anno, Archbishop of Cologne, an ambitious and vigorous prelate, managed to get possession of the person of the boy King by a trick. He pretended to make a friendly visit to Henry, then in his palace of St Laitbert on an island in the Rhine, just below Dusseldorf, and persuaded the boy to come with him in order to inspect a newly fitted barge. No sooner was Henry on board than the anchor was slipped and the boat rowed off. The frightened child plunged into the water, but was rescued and carried off to Cologne, where he remained practically a prisoner in the archbishop's hands. It is not difficult to trace the germ of Henry's future feud with the Church to this early treatment by the Archbishop of Cologne.

His mother made no attempt to deliver him, and soon afterward retired into a monastery; but Anno was not to have things all his own way. He possessed a powerful rival in Adalbert, Archbishop of Bremen, who, in his jealousy of Anno, spared no pains to get the young King under his own influence.

The pity of it was that Anno, who had become, by his austere treatment, the object of the lad's fear and hatred, was immeasurably the superior of these two rival ecclesiastics. He had the welfare of religion warmly at heart, and was eager to introduce the practical reforms inculcated by the monks of Cluny, the representatives of the stricter religious life of the period; while Adalbert, when he had once got the King out of his rival's hands, used the powers then granted him to seize all the high offices of Church and State and to pillage the monasteries in a way that formed an ill object-lesson to an impressionable prince.

Under his tutelage young Henry grew up head-strong, profligate, and utterly wanting in the self-control and resolution that were necessary to the ruling of a divided kingdom, full of conflicting elements. Rebellions of the greater nobles were always occurring, the Church was full of abuses, the two archbishops most closely concerned with him were deadly rivals, and it was perhaps as well that the death of both these men left the King free in 1072 to make his own mistakes and learn wisdom by the consequences.

The year that followed proved that Henry had, at any rate, the will to use the strong hand where necessary, and the power to subdue the rebel Saxons. Encouraged by this success he now set to work to establish a despotism such as had not been known in Europe for many years.

Meantime certain events had been taking place in Rome which were destined to have a far-reaching effect upon the policy and fortunes of the King.

Pope Alexander II, the fourth successor of Leo IX, had died, and his funeral service was barely over, when, in the church of St John Lateran, where the burial ceremonies were held, a shout arose from the vast multitude that filled the church and the courtyard outside demanding with one voice that the monk Hildebrand should be their new Pope. When at length silence was obtained, Hugh the White, one of the cardinals, thus spoke:

"You all know, my brethren," said he, "that since the time of Leo IX, Hildebrand has exalted the Roman Church and freed our city. We cannot find a better Pope than he, nor can we find his equal. Let us then elect him who is known to us all and thoroughly approved by us."

A great shout replied: "St Peter has chosen Hildebrand to be our Pope!" and forthwith the reluctant monk was dragged to the church of St Peter ad Vincula, and then and there enthroned as Gregory VII.

His election was a triumph for the reforming party within the Church. The son of a rich peasant of Tuscany, Hildebrand had been trained as a monk in the strictest principles of Cluny, and had, as we have seen, accompanied Leo IX to Rome. Working under four successive popes he really wielded the chief power, and within these twenty-three years had not only freed the Church from the domination of feudal lords, but had gone far to establish her right to an absolute rule over them.

His was one of the most powerful personalities of history. Small of stature, corpulent, and short of limb, speaking with a stammer, moreover, and noted neither for learning nor original thought, he possessed a power over men's minds that was nothing less than extraordinary.

It has been well said of him that "he was one of the greatest practical men of the Middle Ages; and his single-minded wish to do what was right betokened a dignity of moral nature that was rare indeed in the eleventh century."

Yet this hunger and thirst after justice was quite compatible with a boundless ambition, though it was an ambition rather to reform the European world through the Papacy than for any personal end. In his own written words he says: "Human pride has created the power of kings; God's mercy has created the power of bishops. The Pope must be the Master of Emperors."

Such a program might well task the strength of a giant among men. "If I look to the west, the north, or the south," he says, "I find but few bishops whose lives and appointments are in accordance with the laws of the Church, or who govern God's people through love and not through worldly ambition. Among princes I know not one who sets the honour of God before his own, or justice before gain. If I did not hope that I could be of use to the Church, I would not remain at Rome a day."

In this spirit the work was begun, at the very time that the young Henry was, on his part, planning to set up a despotism that should free him from all control, whether of Church or State. It was inevitable from the first that King and Pope must come, sooner or later, into serious collision.

The question upon which the whole struggle was to hinge turned upon the practice of 'investiture.' For many years it had become the custom, when it bishopric or abbey was conferred, for the secular prince or sovereign to grant the recipient the ring and staff which were the spiritual symbols of their new office. The custom had grown up in the days of weak or subservient popes, and had done much to emphasize the temporal, or secular power, at the expense of the spiritual, or ecclesiastical authority.

At this, therefore, a mighty blow must be struck, and at a synod held at Rome two years after Gregory became Pope, the practice of 'lay investiture' was absolutely forbidden. "If any one henceforth receive from the hand of any lay person a bishopric or abbey, let him not be considered as abbot or bishop, and let the favour of St Peter and the gate of the Church be forbidden to him. If an emperor, a king, a duke, a count, or any lay person presume to give investiture of any ecclesiastical dignity, let him be excommunicate." With these words began the great struggle between the Empire and the Papacy that, under various forms, was to rage in Europe for the next two centuries, a struggle that, under this very aspect of investiture, was to be so intimately concerned with the fortunes of Anselm and the Church in England.

When two strong-willed men, one at the head of the ecclesiastical, the other at the head of the temporal power, come into conflict as to their respective spheres of authority, there is plenty of material for a very serious quarrel. Until this time Pope Gregory and Henry had been on fairly good terms, considering that the latter made no pretense to be interested in religious matters.

But Henry's avowed aim to make himself absolute in all parts of his dominions clashed hopelessly with this new decree of Gregory's, since it would render archbishops, bishops, and abbots, all of whom were among his most important land-holders, entirely independent of his appointment and control.

The rage of the King at the unmoved determination of the Pope was unbounded, and the old story about Gregory's irregular election was at once revived. "False monk," he writes to him, "Christ has called us to our kingdom but he has never called thee to the priesthood. Condemned by our bishops and by ourselves, come down from the place that thou hast usurped. Let the see of St Peter be held by another who will not seek to cover violence under the cloak of religion. I, Henry, King by the grace of God, with all my bishops, say unto thee, 'Come down, Come down.'"

This letter was handed to the Pope at the Vatican synod of 1076 in the midst of a tumult that nearly cost the bearer his life. For such a man as Gregory would have friends as passionately loyal as his enemies were virulent, and he knew himself to be certain of support when, after reading the epistle, he declared the King to be excommunicate.

"For the honour and security of the Church, I prohibit Henry the King, son of Henry the Emperor, who has risen with unheard-of pride against the Church, from ruling Germany and Italy. I release all Christians from the oath of fealty they may have taken to him, and I order that no one shall obey him."

Thus open war was declared between them; but when Henry looked for support in his policy of defiance, he found none at all. It was as though the rough justice of the time was prepared to uphold the man who, if he could be accused of ambition, was yet on the side of righteousness, while none would stand as champion of a king, equally ambitious, who was seeking first and foremost his own selfish, irreligious ends.

Other popes had been defied, so that it was not the hurling of the thunderbolts of the Church that was feared by nobles and commons; it seemed as though they were swayed partly by the personality of Gregory and the justice of his cause, partly by dread of the growing despotism of the King.

So in the October of 1076 the barons refused to obey Henry until he had made his submission and obtained absolution at the hands of Gregory; and Henry was given until February to make his peace after this manner.

After some two months of gloomy brooding over his position, Henry resolved to cross from Speyer in Germany into Italy, and then to obtain an interview with the Pope. With his wife Bertha, and his little son, accompanied by a tiny retinue, he travelled miserably across the Alps in the depths of a bitter winter, only to find, when he reached Pavia at the risk of his life, that Gregory was then staying at Canossa, a lonely castle of the Apennines. With him were the owner of the castle, the powerful Countess Matilda, and Hugh, Abbot of Cluny, the King's godfather, together with a large band of archbishops who had hastened to profess their loyalty and who were prepared to defend Canossa against what might prove to be an attack on the part of Henry.

The latter, however, was far too disheartened for such a course. Leaving his wife and boy at Reggio, he climbed the steep and snow-bound mountain roads, and on reaching the castle demanded an interview. Perhaps the tone of his message showed that the old haughty spirit was not curbed, for Gregory's reply was an absolute refusal. Only at the intercession of Hugh and Matilda, after they had seen and talked with the unhappy Henry in the chapel below the ramparts, did he agree to receive him on condition of absolute submission.

"If he be truly penitent, let him surrender his crown and insignia of royalty into our hands, and confess himself unworthy of the name and honour of king."

This Henry utterly refused to do; and at the urgent representation of Abbot Hugh, Gregory agreed to accept his complete submission without the resignation of his royalty. But for three bitter days the King was made to wait outside the gate of the castle, clad only in his tunic, barefoot, fasting, until on the fourth he was admitted into the Pope's presence. At his cry of "Holy Father, spare me!" the offended judge became at once the forgiving father and Gregory raised him, absolved him, and ministered to his needs. But though he was dismissed with a blessing and in peace, he was made to feel that the very holding of his crown depended in future upon the Pope's will.

This famous story of the 'going to Canossa' by no means marks, as might be expected, the final triumph of the Church over the King. Henry never forgave the humiliation to which he had been subjected, and his German nobles scorned him for his submission and proceeded to elect another king, who, when Gregory found that lay investiture was being given as freely as ever by his whilom penitent, was supported by the Pope. This, however, pricked Henry to an energy and determination that had been strangely lacking hitherto, and earned for him a support which would not otherwise have been his. In his turn he was soon able to declare Gregory deposed and excommunicate; an Anti-Pope was elected, and all Europe looked on in dismay at the spectacle of two Popes and two Kings in deadly conflict.

Three times slid Henry appear with his host before the walls of Rome, and each time did the proud heart of Gregory refuse to meet him on any terms but the former ones of absolute submission. "Let the King lay down his crown and make atonement to the Church," was his only answer to the representations of terrified ecclesiastics and conciliatory nobles.

But the fourth time Rome opened her gates, and Gregory, shut up and besieged within the castle of St Angelo, heard forthwith of the enthronement of his rival, Pope Clement III, and of Henry's coronation as Emperor at his hands.

It was the Normans, that strange and interesting northern race, who had seized Naples and Sicily, who now came to Gregory's rescue and drove Henry from Rome. But they left the Holy City ravished and desolate, and Gregory was fain to follow them to Salerno. There in poverty and exile the old man who had swayed the affairs of Europe and stood for the rights of the Church against an aggressive king fell ill and died. In his last moments his companions strove to comfort him by reminding him of the great work he had done.

"I set no store by that," said he. "One thing alone fills me with hope. I have always loved righteousness and hated iniquity, and therefore I die in exile."

Three years later (1088) his place was filled in the Chair of Peter by another monk of Cluny, Urban by name, who combined Gregory's thirst for righteousness with a tact and moderation that the latter never knew. It became his boast that he was able to make the investiture question sink into insignificance beside the great crusade of which he became the preacher. But since it was with him that Anselm and England were to be concerned in this contest of Church and State, we must now retrace our steps after this bird's-eye view of the condition of Europe, and discover what had been the fortunes meantime of the monk Anselm since the year 1060.