What The Middle Ages Started With
Addition Of Christianity
German Conquest And The Fall Of Rome
What The Germans Added
Formation Of The Papacy
The Franks And Charlemagne
The Empire And The Papacy
Read More Articles About: Medieval Civilization
The Empire And The Papacy
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
At a time when the feudal system was at its height, that is, when there was great separation and local independance, and when the universal and the common had very little power, the minds of many men were strongly held by two theories, so general and comprehensive in character, that it seems impossible that they should have existed at such a time. And yet they were consciously held by some, unconsciously by almost all. These were the theories of the Holy Catholic Church, and of the Holy Roman Empire.
These theories had there foundation, as we have seen, in ideas which had grown up in pagan Rome the ideas of the divinely ordained, eternal, and universal empire. These ideas the Christians adopted. We find traces of them in Christian writers from the first half of the third century on. They found an interpretation for prophecies of the Old Testament in them. But they modified them, also, in consequence of the new point of view from which they regarded them. For the Christian the political work of Roma was not its great work not the ultimate end for which it had been founded. This was to be found in the establishment of Christianity. God had allowed the universal and eternal political empire of Rome to be created, that in it might be formed the universal church, the true Civitas Dei of St. Augustine.
There were, then, in the plan of God for history, these two final organizations, distinct in sphere, the universal political organization, and the universal religious organization. The one was realized in facts by the Roman empire ; the other by the Catholic Church ; and as the actual course of history favored the continuance or the revival of the empire, and the more and more definite and perfect organization of the church government, the theories which they expressed grew in definiteness and in their hold upon men. They seemed to constitute the permanent plan of God for history, and these two powers seemed to stand as the representatives of his government of the world. The pope represented God, was his vicar, his vicegerent, in his religious government of mankind, the emperor in his political.
In the case of the ecclesiastical organization the facts correspond somewhat closely to the theory. There was such an empire, extending, not throughout the whole of Christendom, but throughout the whole of orthodox Christendom, which was to the mind of that time much the same thing. The whole Western world was united under a single head in one great religious state. To the other part of the theory the facts did not correspond so well. The political empire had a direct authority only in Germany and in Italy, though it cherished wider pretensions, and though these pretensions were not without some recognition outside those countries, a recognition, however, mainly theoretical. There was, certainly, in both cases a strong enough foundation in fact to lead an ambitious man, at the head of either of these organizations, to desire, and attempt to gain, a more extended realization of the theory.
As to the relation of these two governments to one another, the dividing line between these two empires, there was no definite idea. Each laid claim to the very highest and widest rights. Neither could exercise his power in full, as he understood it, without involving the subjection of the other. Each had historical facts to appeal to, which seemed to imply the exercise of these rights in their widest extent, and the submission of the rival power to them. But neither had a clear case against the other, and neither was willing to acknowledge any inferiority.
In such a situation a conflict was inevitable. As soon as there should come to the head of either church or empire an able and energetic man, determined to push his claims, there was certain to be a great contest, if there was at the head of the opposing system, not necessarily equal ability, but only determined resistance. This gives us the elements of that fierce conflict, which plays so large a part in the middle portion of medieval history the conflict between the papacy and the empire. It begins a short time before the first crusade, and extends through the whole period of the crusades, but with a gradually changing character, so that in its last period it is quite different, in motive and purpose, from its opening stages.
The history of the empire we have followed somewhat fully down to this point, through its revival by Charlemagne as a general empire of the West, and its second revival by Otto I. as a German and Italian empire. The history of the church we have not looked at with the same fulness.
In the chapter on the early papacy we followed its history down to a point where' most of the causes which were to transform it into an imperial church were al-ready plainly at work. That period of its history closes naturally with the reign of Gregory I., the greatest of all the early popes. He defended the supremacy of the Roman church against the pretensions of the Greek empire and the Greek church. He became in consequence of the weakness of the Eastern emperor the virtual temporal sovereign of Rome and the surrounding territory He held in check the advance of the Lombards, increased the actual power of the Roman church in face of the Arianism of Spain and Gaul, reformed abuses with unsparing hand, converted the Saxon kingdoms and brought England into close union with the papacy, and by the vigar of his rule and the success with which he made it respected in every quarter he greatly strengthened the position of the church.
But the future was full of danger. It was of the utmost importance in the development of the monarchical church that a reign of such vigor and success, and one which carried the organization so far forward should have come just at the time when it did on the eve of a long period of extremely unfavorable conditions, and even of acute danger. All the prestige and increased strength which Gregory's reign had imparted were needed to pre-serve the centralization which had been gained, and to prevent the absorption of the church in the state. The vigorous but irregular advance of the Lombard state, which threatened the absorption of the whole Italian peninsula, was a gravo danger to the papacy. Its position as a world power was as seriously threatened by the wide-spread Arianism of the German states of the west, the Lombards, the Burgundians, and the Visigoths in Gaul and Spain. From these dangers it was saved by the alliance with the Franks, which was first formed by Clovis and afterward made still closer and more effective by the early Carolingian princes. The importance of that alliance we have already noticed, but it is hardly possible to overstate its influence on the future. If on the one side it rendered easy the formation of the Frankish empire, the political consolidation for a time of nearly the whole of Christendom, and the incorporation in it of Germany, on the other side it seems as if without it the medieval church would have been impossible and all its vast work for civilization left to be far more slowly performed by some other agency. Had the Franks become Arian in-stead of Catholic, the prestige and power of the pope must have declined, the causes which gradually led to the conversion of the Arian states could hardly have operated, and though the Franks might have widened their political dominions, they could have received no aid from an imperial church, and there could have been no ready channel for the influence of the Roman ideas which they reproduced.
While this alliance was begun upon the political side, and chiefly from political motives, it was drawn still more close and rendered permanent upon the ecclesiastical side by the work of a great churchman, St. Boniface, whose name must be remembered among the constructive statesmen who created the papal monarchy. Time as well as genius favored his work, for it fell in a formative period of the utmost importance when the great future possible for them was just opening before the Carolingians, and when, if ever, the hold of the church upon their empire must be secured. This Boniface did. He was by birth an Anglo-Saxon, and so trained in those ideas of thorough devotion to the pope which had been characteristic of the English church since its founding under Gregory, even though the Anglo-Saxon states had allowed to the popes but little direct control of ecclesiastical affairs, In this respect his labors upon the continent were a renewal and enlargement of Gregory's work for the consolidation of the church. Filled with the missionary zeal of his great predecessor, which had always lived in the Anglo-Saxon church, he liad come from England to convert the still pagan Germans, but the force of his genius had drawn him into ever wider and more important work, until finally the organization of the Frankish church, which was in sad need of reformation, was placed in his hands by the sons of Charles Martel, and by the pope that of the German church in the newly converted lands held under the Franks. This work was most ably done. The Frankish church was given a more compact organization than it had ever before possessed, and the church of Germany was created. But more important still was the wider influence of this work, for in all its details he carried into practice a theory most complete, considering the time, of the supremacy of the pope as the head of the whole church and the source of all authority. As a result, just at the moment when the Frankish kings were about to become the temporal sovereigns of the pope with a political power behind them which could not be gain-said, not merely was the national church of their people given a stronger and more independent organization as a part of the state, but it was also imbued with the idea of the high and exalted position held by the pope, almost if not quite equal to that of the king. The princes under whom he worked, and their successor, Charlemagne, still exercised a strong and direct control over the church, but that these facts had some influence in checking their arbitrary rule in ecclesiastical matters is highly probable. That they were of decided force under their weaker successors is more distinctly evident, and the suddenness with which the church springs into prominence and control as soon as the strong hand of Charlemagne is with-drawn is a most significant fact.
The consolidation of the continent in the hands of Charlemagne was a great advantage to the growing imperial church as giving it for the moment a political foundation, but it carried with it a corresponding danger. The advance of the Lombard had threatened to absorb the papacy in the state and to reduce it to the headship of a merely national church. From this it was rescued by the advance of the Franks, but that now threatened an equally complete absorption. A man of Charlemagne's force must dictate in ecclesiastical matters as in temporal, and had his power and genius been perpetuated in his successors it is hard to see what could have saved the popes from sinking into a position like that of the patriarchs of Constantinople, and the real control of the church from passing into the hands of the emperors.
One precedent, however, of the utmost importance had been established in favor of the papacy by the crowning of Charlemagne as Emperor of Rome. What ever it may have meant to the men of 800, it was very easy to make it appear to the men of later times a bestowal of the empire by the gift of the church and a proof that the pope was the source of imperial right and power. The church never forgot a precedent of this sort, and it did effective service in the age of conflict upon which we are entering.
Whatever might have been the fate of the church had Charlemagne's genius been inherited, the fact is that his successor was as greatly characterized by subserviency to the church as his father had been by vigorous self-will, and the ninth century, when the government of the state was daily growing weaker, and the whole Frankish empire falling to pieces is marked in the history of the church by the rapid growth of the power actually exercised by the popes, and the still more rapid growth of their pre-tensions to power.
Some time during the first half of that century two most remarkable forgeries made their appearance, whose origin and the purpose for which they were originally intended are uncertain, but which became of the greatest service to the papal cause. The first of these is the so-called Donation of Constantine. According to the legend, Constantine, fatally ill of the leprosy, was cured by a miracle through the agency of Pope Sylvester I., and out of gratitude built a new capital in the East and turned over by deed of gift all his imperial rights and prerogatives over the West to the pope. The document in the papal archives had every appearance of genuineness to the uncritical sense of the ninth century. It was not merely general but minute in its specifications, concerning even matters of dress and regulating the rights of the inferior clergy of Rome.' It is easy to see what advantage could be derived from it in the contest with the emperors.
The other forgery was a great collection of ecclesiastical law documents, pretending to be decretals of the popes of the first three centuries and decisions of the councils in which genuine and false, authentic and unauthentic were mingled together. A collection of such documents, not forged, had been made, earlier, in Spain and had come into considerable use in the church, and this new collection became confused with that, and the name of Isidore of Seville, of great authority in the church, was attached to it. It was, however, greatly enlarged in scope over its predecessors. Whatever may have been the place of its construction, probably somewhere in northern France, its immediate object seems to have been to defend the independence of the bishop against the claims of the archbishop. In the West the only rival of the papal power had been the metropolitan jurisdictions. The temptation had been very strong for the archbishop to consolidate his power over his subordinate bishops and to create a little independent ecclesiastical dominion by resisting, as far as he could, every attempt on the part of the pope to exercise control over him. In a rivalry of this sort the bishops very naturally preferred the distant and more widely occupied authority of the pope to that of the archbishop near at hand, and immediately interested in every local affair. This seems to have been the motive which led the author of this forgery, in a series of documents belonging, in pretence, to the earliest generations of Christian history, to exhibit the papacy in the full possession and exercise of those rights of government over the church, and of interference even in minute local concerns which had been in reality only very slowly developed, and which were still practically claimed rather than exercised. But whatever may have been the motive, the effect was to put in the hands of the popes documentary evidence whose genuineness no one was then able to dispute, to prove that the rights which they were just then vigorously asserting had always been their prerogative, and had been recognized and submitted to by the primitive church.
Hardly were these two documents in existence when a succession of able men followed one another upon the papal throne to put to use both these and the opportunity which the falling Carolingian government afforded them. The first of them, Nicholas I., in his reign of nearly ten years, from 858 to 867, carried through to successful issue an obstinate struggle with Lothaire II., King of Lorraine, and compelled the archbishop of Ravenna, and _finally Hincmar of Rheims, the ablest of all the representatives of the archbishops' cause against the papacy, to yield obedience. The next two popes, Hadrian II. and John VIII., covering fifteen years of time, were not able to show as much in the way of actual results, but they assumed an even loftier tone and advanced the claims of the papacy to the highest point, John VIII. asserting that the emperor owed his crown to the pope, the emperor of the time, Charles the Bald, seeming to acquiesce.
In the final dissolution of the Carolingian power which followed the deposition of Charles the Fat, in 887, the papacy shared to the full the decline of the temporal power. The tenth century, which saw general government throughout nearly the whole of Europe almost at the point of dissolution, saw also the papacy reach its lowest point of degradation and corruption. It came to be the prize for which the factions of the city or the nobles of the vicinity fought with one another, or the gift of corrupt women to their paramours or sons. Its general European influence did not entirely disappear, but it was hardly more than that of the Italian nobles, who through the same period called themselves emperors.
This was the condition of things at the time of the de-scent of Otto I. into Italy, in 961. His plans, and still more clearly those of his immediate successors, looked to the establishment of a real world empire, in the government of which the papacy should act as a strong and efficient ally of the emperors. The popes of their appointment accomplished at least a partial and temporary reformation, though without the support of the Roman people, and though the realization of the ideas which the Ottos appear to have cherished would have meant the practical absorption of the papacy in the empire. But the destinies were against the Saxon family. Otto II. hardly more than began his reign, which promised even greater results than his father had accomplished in the centralization of Germany and the restoration of the empire, and his death, at the age of twenty-eight, was a great misfortune both for the Holy Roman Empire and for Germany.
The minority of his son, Otto III., was a time of loss in all directions. The dukes recovered something of their former position in Germany, and the hold of the empire on Italy was loosened. When Otto reached an age to rule, he revealed a most interesting personality. His mind seems to have been entirely wrapped in dreams of the widest imperial power, encouraged apparently by his favorite, Gerbert, whom he made pope as Sylvester II. But he was very little concerned with the position which he should occupy as German king. He gained, very likely as a consequence of his lack of national feeling, no strong support in any direction, and died at the age of twenty-two, apparently on the eve of failure.
With his death the wide imperial ideas of the Ottos were dropped. In Italy there was a relapse into earlier conditions. In Germany the work of restoring the royal power was seriously taken up, and the most permanent result of the Saxon empire seems to have been a terrible temptation, constantly before the king of Germany, to neglect his proper business in his own dominions, when his task was half done, for the sake of a visionary headship of the world.
The devotion of the Ottos to imperial interests had allowed the little feudal dominions in Germany to strength-en themselves very greatly, and to take a much more independent position toward the crown. The process of destroying the central government, by splitting the country into minute fragments that could not be con-trolled, which entailed so much suffering in future ages upon the Germans, and kept them back so long from any real national life, got so strongly under way, because of the imperial policy of the Saxon family in Italy, that it was no longer possible to stop it certainly not when that policy was inherited as well by the succeeding kings.
It is of the utmost importance to bear this fact in mind, because it not merely involved the destruction of the royal power, but it alone rendered possible the desperate conflict with the church, and finally the virtual triumph of the pope. Had the emperor been supported by a centralized Germany, had not his plans been constantly checked by the selfish interests of the feudal lords, papal resistance would have been impossible, and the growing might of the Italian cities would have been overwhelmed before it could have developed into a serious obstacle to the imperial authority.
The aspect of Germany at the accession of Henry III., in 1039, had changed very much from that of a hundred years earlier. The duchies still existed. in name, but with a relative importance very much reduced by the rise of numerous smaller feudal dominions beside them. Pfalzgrafen, markgrafen, and even grafen, had been founding little " dynasties," and gradually throwing off any dependence upon the dukes, whose territories were being diminished in this way and their power weakened. Konrad II., the first Franconian emperor, seems to have deliberately encouraged the rise into independence of these smaller principalities, as a means of undermining the great ones, and the policy of the Saxon emperors, of conferring independent rights of jurisdiction on ecclesiastical princes, tended to the same result.
The policy was, in the main, a successful one, or we may say that the process of separation and local independence had not yet gone so far but that a generation of vigorous government, when the king interested himself chiefly in German affairs, was able to restore the royal power. Henry III. was speedily able to acquire the strongest real control of Germany that any sovereign had had, or that any was ever to have for that matter.
But he was soon called into Italy. There the condition of things for a few years past had been nearly as bad as at any time in the tenth century. The counts of Tusculum had almost made the papacy hereditary in their family, and by the most corrupt means. At this time there were three rival popes, each maintaining his exclusive right to rule. All of them Henry deposed, and appointed, one after another, a succession of popes almost as solely by virtue of his imperial power as if the Roman bishopric were any minor bishopric of Germany. The series of precedents in favor of the right of the emperor over the pope which had been established by the Ottos and Henry was as clear and indisputable as any precedents on the other side to which the popes could appeal.
But with the popes of Henry's appointment a new and most powerful force rose to the control of the papacy a strong and earnest movement for reformation which had arisen outside the circle of papal influence during the darkest days of its degradation, indeed, and entirely independent of the empire. This had started from the monastery of Cluny, founded in 910, in eastern France, as a reformation of the monastic life, but it involved gradually ideas of a wider reformation throughout the whole church. Two great sins of the time, as it regarded them, were especially attacked, the marriage of priests and simony, or the purchase of ecclesiastical preferment for money, including also appointments to church offices by temporal rulers.
Neither of these principles was new in the requirement of the church, but the vigor and thoroughness of the demand were new, and both principles were carried to further consequences than ever before. It is easy to see, also, that, if they were carried out in any thorough-going and complete way, they would necessarily involve a most perfect centralization of the church, and this was a part of the Cluny programme. The absolute subordination of all local churches to the central head, the pope, and the entire independence of the church, both in head and members, of all control by the state, were inevitable corollaries of its position.
The earnest spirit of Henry III. was not out of sympathy with the demand for a real reformation, and with the third pope of his appointment, Leo IX., in 1048, the ideas of Cluny obtained the direction of affairs. Leo was an able man, and undertook a restoration of the papal power throughout Europe with vigor and determination, though not with uniform success. He did not recognize the right of the emperor to appoint the pope, and refused to assume the place until he had been canonically chosen in Rome, but on his death his successor was again appointed by Henry.
One apparently insignificant act of Leo's had important consequences. He brought back with him to Rome the monk Hildebrand. He had been brought up in a monastery in Rome in the strictest ideas of Cluny, had been a supporter of Gregory VI., one of the three rival popes deposed by Henry, who, notwithstanding his out-right purchase of the papacy, represented the new reform demand, and had gone with him into exile on his deposition. It does not appear that he exercised any decisive influence during the reign of Leo IX., but so great was his ability and such the power of his personality that very soon he became the directing spirit in the papal policy, though his influence over the papacy before his own pontificate was not so great nor so constant as it has sometimes been said to have been.
So long as Henry lived the balance of power was decidedly in favor of the emperor, but in 1056 happened that disastrous event, which occurred so many times at critical points of imperial history, from Arnulf to Henry VI., the premature death of the emperor. His son, Henry IV., was only six years old at his father's death, and a minority followed just in the crisis of time needed to enable the feudal princes of Germany to recover and strengthen their independence against the central government, and to give free hands to the papacy to carry out its plans for throwing off the imperial control. Never again did an emperor occupy, in respect either to Germany or the papacy, the vantage-ground on which Henry III. had stood.
It was thus a turning-point in the history of Germany and of the church. It was also, in one sense, a turning-point in the history of the world, for the real religious reformation, which was demanded and which had been begun by Cluny, need not, of necessity, have involved the extreme centralization which had been connected with it and which raised the papacy to its position of European supremacy in another century. It needed a strong and able emperor of a thoroughly reforming spirit to separate the reform which was necessary from the absolutist tendency which accompanied it. Whether Henry III. could have done this we cannot be sure. His death certainly made it impossible.
The triumph of the reform movement and of its ecclesiastical theory is especially connected with the name of Hildebrand, or Gregory VII., as he called himself when pope, and was very largely, if not entirely, due to his indomitable spirit and iron will, which would yield to no persuasion or threats or actual force. He is one of the most interesting personalities of history. The sentence of his supporter, Peter Damiani, " He ruled me like a holy Satan," has been so often quoted because it describes him in a word. His acts were often those which properly belong in the kingdom of darkness, but his purposes were righteous, as he understood the right a most interesting example of the men so numerous in every age and in every walk of life who are so thoroughly convinced of the holiness of their cause that all the means which they can use to secure its triumph seem to them equally holy.
The three chief points which the reform party attempted to gain were the independence of the church from all outside control in the election of the pope, the celibacy of the clergy, and the abolition of simony or the purchase of ecclesiastical preferment. The foundation for the first of these was laid under Nicholas II. by as-signing the selection of the pope to Hie college of cardinals in Rome, though it was only after some considerable time that this reform was fully secured.
The second point, the celibacy of the clergy, had long been demanded by the church, but the requirement had not been strictly enforced, and in many parts of Europe married clergy were the rule. The attempt which was made to compel obedience on this point met with the most violent opposition within the church itself, but the sympathy of the people was in the main with the re-formers and their cause was finally gained. The importance of this step and its value in the centralization of the church hardly needs to be stated. Not merely was the temptation to alienate the endowments of the church for the benefit of children removed from the clergy, but all their lives were made to centre in the church. They were to have nothing else to live for, nothing else to plan for. The church secured an army of occupation, thoroughly devoted to itself, in every country of Europe. There can be no doubt but that the Cluny party believed that they were accomplishing a needed moral reform in this matter, but there is also no doubt but that they realized and hoped to secure the gain which would result from it to the ecclesiastical world monarchy.
As interpreted by the reformers, the third of their demands, the suppression of simony, was as great a step in advance and as revolutionary as the first. Technically, simony was the sin of securing an ecclesiastical office by bribery, named from the incident recorded in the eighth chapter of the Acts concerning Simon Magus. But at this time the desire for the complete independence of the church had given to it a new and wider meaning which made it include all appointment to positions in the church by laymen, including kings and the emperor.
It is the plainest of historical facts that such appointment had gone on, practically undisputed, from the earliest times. Under both the public and the private law of all the German states the king had such a right. According to the private law the founder was the patron, and as such enjoyed the right of appointment. According to the conception of the public law the bishop was an officer of the state. He had, in the great majority of cases, political duties to perform as important as his ecclesiastical duties. The lands which formed the endowment of his office had always been considered as being, still more directly than any other feudal land, the property of the state, and were treated as such when the occasion demanded, from times before Charles Martel to times after Gregory VII. At this period these lands had clearly defined feudal obligations to perform, which constituted a very considerable proportion of the resources of the state. It was a matter of vital importance whether officers exercising such important functions and controlling so large a part of its area probably everywhere as much as one-third of the territory should be selected by the state or by some foreign power beyond its reach and having its own peculiar interests to seek.
But this question of lay investiture was as vitally important for the church as for the state. Not merely was the bishop a great ecclesiastical as well as political officer, but manifestly also that close centralization of the church, which was to be the result of this movement, could not be secured if temporal princes should have the right of determining what sort of men should occupy places of such influence in the government of the church. It was as necessary to the centralization and independence of the church that it should choose these officers as that it should elect the head of all the pope.
This was not a question for Germany alone. Every northern state had to face the same difficulty. In England during this period the same contest was carried through to the same compromise at the end. In France the contest did not rise to the same importance from accidental reasons, but the result was essentially the same. The struggle was so much more bitter and obstinate with the emperor than with any other sovereign because of the close relation of the two powers one to another, and because the whole question of their relative rights was bound up with it. It was an act of rebellion on the part of the papacy against the sovereign, who had controlled it with almost absolute power for a century, and it was the rising into an equal, or even superior, place beside the emperor of what was practically a new power, a rival for his imperial position.
For this was what the movement taken as a whole really meant. It is not possible to overstate the significance of this age as the time when the possibility which lay before it of assuming the control of the whole Christian world, political as well as ecclesiastical, dawned upon the consciousness of the Roman church. The full power which so many men in the past had been laboring to secure, though only imperfectly understanding it, the position toward which through so many centuries she had been steadily though unconsciously tending, the church now began clearly to see, and to realize that it _was almost attained, and, seeing this, to set about the last steps necessary to reach the goal with definite and vigorous purpose.
This cannot be doubted by anyone who looks over the acts and the claims of the papacy during the time of Hildebrand. The feudal suzerainty which is established under Nicholas II. over the Norman states of southern Italy is based distinctly on the rights conveyed by the Donation of Constantine, which, if carried further, covered the whole West. The kings of the growing Spanish states are reminded that territory conquered from the infidel belongs of right to the pope as vassal territory. The same claim is advanced for Hungary. The fealty of England is demanded. Most imperious letters are written to the king of France. Political affairs are taken notice of in Scandinavia and in Russia. The king of Munster, in Ireland, is informed that all sovereigns are subjects of St. Peter, and that all the world owes obedience to him and to his vicar. The difference between the actual power of the papacy under Gregory VII., and again under Innocent III., when it reaches its highest point, is due to the circumstances of the time which en-able the later pope to carry through his pretensions to a more successful issue, and not at all to any clearer conception of his rights by Innocent.
It was absolutely impossible that a conflict with these new claims should be avoided as soon as Henry IV. arrived at an age to take the government into his own hands and attempted to exercise his imperial rights as he understood them.
The details of that conflict it is not possible to follow : the divided condition of Germany, which fatally weakened the emperor's power ; the dramatic incident of Canossa ; the faithful support of the imperial cause by the Rhine cities ; the rebellion of Henry's son, who, when he be-came emperor, followed his father's policy ; the death of Henry. IV., powerless and under the ban of the church ; the fluctuations of success, now on one side and now on the other.
The settlement which was finally reached in the Concordat of Worms, in 1122, was a compromise.' The church was to choose the man for the office. He was then to receive the lay investiture, as a political and feu-dal officer, from the king, and finally the spiritual investiture, with the ring and staff, from the church, as an ecclesiastical officer and a pastor. The state secured in this way something of a control, though not so complete as it had desired, over the interests in which it was most concerned. And the church, yielding also some of its demands, secured the point most important for its protection. It was, in all probability, as fair a settlement of the dispute as could be reached, and the question practically disappeared not absolutely, because, as opportunity offered in the following times, each of the parties tried to usurp the rights which had not been granted to it; but the question never again became of such universal importance as when it was the central issue in the conflict between the empire and the papacy. When that great strife opened again, nearly half a century later, it had shifted to other grounds and presents a wholly changed aspect.
While, however, on the special question the church did not secure all that it had claimed or hoped for though all, perhaps, to which it had a just claim there was far more at stake in the contest, as we have seen, than the particular point of lay investiture, and in regard to these wider interests the victory of the church was complete. The change which had taken place in the century from the papacy as it existed under Henry III. was enormous. The popes had emancipated themselves from all imperial control, never again to pass under it. But they had gained much more than this. Not merely was the papacy independent, but it had come up beside the empire as a fully co-ordinate and equal sovereignty, not merely in theory but in the power actually exercised. It was also no longer satisfied with ecclesiastical rule. It had greatly enlarged its sphere, and was claiming rights throughout Europe which were manifestly political and therefore be-longing to the emperor's domain. But the emperor was powerless to prevent this extension of papal prerogative, and could not possibly interfere with success in cases where the pope made himself obeyed. This papal power continued to grow through the twelfth century, greatly aided by the general spirit of the age and by the con-temporary crusades, and at its close Innocent III. exercised a more truly international sway than any emperor had ever done.
After the interval of a single reign a new dynasty succeeded the Franconian upon the imperial throne the Hohenstaufen one of the most brilliant families of history, producing a most remarkable succession of princes. The first of this family to take up in any wide sense the old imperial plan, and consequently to come into collision with the papacy, was Frederick Barbarossa, whose reign begins in 1152.
This seems to be a new age of conflict between empire and papacy. This is its surface appearance, and this determined largely its external character. But it needs only to look below the surface, and not very far below, to see that this is not a contest between empire and papacy in the old sense. That rivalry is no longer, as it was before, the one leading and central issue between the parties. It has rather fallen to the position of an incident of the main battle. The great struggle of Frederick's life is with powers and principalities which did not exist a hundred years earlier. It is manifestly a conflict of the old empire, a creation of earlier medieval times and fitted to their conditions, with the spirit and conditions of a new age to which it is unfitted, with strong forces which are everywhere transforming Europe and which cannot be held back. It is rather a struggle on the part of the emperor to recover and to retain an imperial position from which he is being slowly but irresistibly pushed, than to prevent any rival power from establishing a similar imperial position beside him. That had now been done beyond any possibility of further dispute.
The papacy, which was itself in the end also to fall a victim, so far as its imperial power is concerned, to the forces of the new age, was for the moment their ally. And this was in truth the necessary and proper alliance for it to make. For, though the new age was to prove itself bitterly hostile to certain of the papal pretensions, its immediate triumph was not so full of danger, even to these pretensions, as that of the emperor would have been, and, in the end, could not be so destructive to the other side of the papal power, its ecclesiastical supremacy.
If we look first at Germany, which would seem to be necessarily the foundation of any strong imperial power, we see at once the magnitude of the change which has taken place there, and the entire revolution in the imperial policy since the days of Henry III.
The subdivision of Germany has now been carried much further than at that time. A host of small principalities have escaped from the authority of any inter-mediate lord, and now depend immediately upon the emperor. Their rights of independence and local government are much more clearly defined and fully recognized than then. They are no longer though they may retain the titles dukes and counts, that is, officers of the empire, but they are " princes," or, in other words, sovereigns. Some of them have already begun, with great vigor and earnestness, the work of centralizing and consolidating their own territories, and of breaking the power of their own vassals, and of the small nobles with-in their reach, in order to prevent that process of disintegration in their own land which they have accomplished themselves in the kingdom at large.
This change in Germany, Frederick I. could not reverse. It is indeed the trait which is characteristic of his policy that he no longer tried to do so. He deliberately increased the number of the smaller principalities, or raised them in titular rank, and sometimes with extraordinary concessions of local independence. He did certainly punish with severity the refusal of Henry the Lion, the head of the great rival power in Germany, that of the Guelfs, to aid him in Italy, and broke to pieces the wide dominion which he had brought together. But while this was a personal triumph for Frederick, the power of the king of Germany gained nothing permanent from it.
The real basis of Frederick's power, and the main source of the strength which he could derive from Germany, for his Italian campaigns, were the extensive family possessions of the Hohenstaufen, increased by the inheritance of the Franconian family lands, possessions which, when brought together were greater than those of any other German family with the possible exception of the Guelfs. To these resources Frederick added what-ever he could at any moment gain from the German princes, won often by further concessions from the relics of the royal power.
Frederick I. may be said, then, to have begun that policy which, though it was a complete abandonment of the old imperial policy, is the sole method of the emperors of all later times, the policy of depending chiefly upon the strength derived from the personal possessions of the emperor, and using the royal rights as ready money with which to purchase, whatever can be purchased, to add to this private strength. As Frederick's reign was the apparent turning-point from the old policy to the new one, it was naturally not followed with such complete disregard of consequences as it was to be very soon after, but it was clearly enough his policy, and we may date from his time the surrender of the central government in Germany to the sovereignty and independence of the princes.
It is in Italy, however, that the most decisive and revolutionary changes, which mark the new age, are to be seen. There Frederick found opposed to him an entirely new and most determined enemy--the cities.
Favoring causes which were begun or strengthened by the crusades, and which we shall hereafter examine more closely, had led to a rapid development of the cities in power and in the spirit of independence. They had arisen in northern Italy to occupy the place which the princes occupied in Germany, that is, they were the fragments into which the country had divided in the absence of a strong central government. Like the princes, also, they had secured rights of local self-government, but their governments were of course republican in form and not monarchical, and their actual independence was probably greater than the German princes enjoyed at this time. They had adopted also the policy, toward the feudal nobles in their neighborhood, which the princes were beginning to follow in Germany, though in the case of the cities with speedy and complete success. Feudalism, as a political institution, had practically disappeared from Italy by the middle of the twelfth century. Only two or three of the great fiefs still existed. The cities had almost wholly absorbed the smaller nobility, and had created larger or smaller city principalities by extending their sway over as much of the surrounding territory as possible. It was manifestly certain that the cities would offer a most obstinate resistance to any attempt to restore a direct imperial control.
But in one way the development of commerce and of the cities had placed a new weapon in the emperor's hands. It had led to a more general and thorough study of the Roman law, and this law represented the emperor as absolute in all departments of government. Frederick's lawyers said to him your will is the source of law according to the recognized legal maxim of the Institutes : whatever the prince has approved has the force of law.
It was with the sanction which he derived from the authority of the Justinian code that Frederick attempted to establish a royal supervision of the local governments of the cities, and to revive a number of practically obsolete rights which could be made to yield a considerable revenue. What he did has very much the appearance of an attempt to re-establish in Italy that centralized and immediate royal government which had been practically given up in Germany.
For the cities it was a matter of vital concern. Not merely was the local independence which they had secured in danger but also their continued commercial prosperity, which would depend very largely upon freedom from restraint and the power of self - direction. Therefore they made common cause with one another, the most of them at least, and drew together closely in the Lombard League an organization which they formed for mutual defence against the emperor.
The details of the struggle we cannot follow. The battle of Legnano, in 1176, is worthy of note, in which the cities gained a complete victory over the emperor and broke his power for the moment. But it was a victory from which they did not gain so much as might have been expected. With great skill Frederick set about the recovery of his position, and he succeeded in separating the papacy from the cities, and making a separate peace with Alexander III. on the basis of mutual concessions. Then followed in Germany the overthrow of Henry the Lion and the destruction of the power of the Guelfs, and after this Frederick found the cities as ready as himself to make peace.
By the Treaty of Constance, which was concluded between them in 1183, the general sovereignty of the emperor was recognized, the officers elected by the cities were to be confirmed by him, certain cases might be appealed from the city courts to his representatives, and the special rights which he had claimed were commuted for an annual payment from each city large enough to afford him a considerable revenue. In reality, however, the local sovereignty and independence of the cities was recognized by the emperor, and the hope of establishing a consolidated national government in Italy, if he had cherished it, was abandoned, as it had been in Germany. Certainly both these countries had now fallen into fragments, never again to be united into a national whole until our own generation.
The emperor had now made peace with all his enemies, and the last part of his reign was only slightly troubled with opposition. He was master of large re-sources and possessed very great and real power. It might seem to him almost possible to establish as an actual fact the Holy Roman Empire of the theory, and there are indications that he thought it not beyond his power. But although his position was a brilliant one, a really strong and imperial position, it rested upon a very different and far less secure foundation than the power of the Ottos or of Henry III. The only actual empire which was now possible would be a federal sovereignty the overlordship of fully independent and self-governing states. It could no longer rest upon the solid support of a great nation which would look upon it as the expression of its national life.
Shortly after the Peace of Constance, however, an ad-vantage was secured by Frederick which promised to restore, in large measure at least, all that the emperor had lost in this way, and which determined the character of the final contest between the empire and the papacy. He obtained for his son Henry, already acknowledged as his successor, the hand of Constance, heiress of the Nor-man kingdom, which included Sicily and southern Italy. If this could be made, as a solid and centralized state, the basis of an imperial power, possibly, having this ad-vantage to begin with, all Italy could be consolidated, and the same thing could then be done in Germany, and certainly, from its geographical position, the Norman kingdom would be more suitable than the German for the centre of a world empire. This was a possibility full of the greatest danger to the papacy, surrounding its little territory with a strong imperial state, and the popes did not fail to see the danger.
Notwithstanding his short reign, Henry VI. was in many respects the most interesting of the Hohenstaufen emperors, and he was probably the ablest of them all. His Sicilian kingdom he obtained only after a long resistance, but he obtained it at last, and in such a way that he was really an absolute sovereign there. At-tempted movements in opposition in Germany he succeeded in overcoming. The pope was powerless against him, and he disposed of a part of the papal territory in Italy as if it were his own. Supported by so much real strength, his imperial ideas were of the highest and widest, and the actual international influence which he exercised in the last year or two of his life was greater than that of any other emperor. He had formed a definite plan for the consolidation of Germany and Sicily into a single monarchy, hereditary instead of elective, and his success seemed altogether likely when suddenly he died, in 1197, in his thirty-second year, leaving his son, Frederick, three years old.
In Germany there followed a double election, his brother Philip representing the Hohenstaufen party, and Otto, the son of Henry the Lion, the Guelf and papal party, and in the civil strife which resulted the princes rapidly recovered the ground which they had lost in the last few years.
In Rome, a few weeks after the death of Henry, Innocent III. was elected pope. Under him the papal power, without a real rival and strengthened by the general trend of European affairs during the past century, rose to its highest point. He forced the strongest of European sovereigns to obey him ; he disposed of the imperial title almost as openly as Henry III. had of the papal ; he bestowed on several princes the title of king, and established a circle of vassal kingdoms almost completely around the circumference of Europe. The imperial position as the head of Christendom, which Henry VI. had for a moment appeared to occupy, he held in reality for many years. He died in 1216, just at the be-ginning of the reign of Frederick II.
Relieved thus at the start of a rival with whom he could hardly expect to cope, and whose successor was his inferior, Frederick II. took up with earnestness and ability the plans of his father. With a more absolute control of Sicily than any earlier king, with large military strength drawn from Germany, with the prestige of a successful crusade, he seemed about to accomplish what his grandfather had failed to do, to reduce the cities of north Italy to the condition of his Norman kingdom under an immediate absolutism. For a few years following his great victory of Cortenuova, in 1237, his final success seemed certain, and the papacy seemed utterly powerless to resist him further.
But the strength of his position was more apparent than real. His resources were mainly drawn from Sicily, and though rich, Sicily showed signs of exhaustion under the strain. The support of Germany had been se-cured only by concessions which sanctioned in legal form by royal charter the practical independence which the princes, both ecclesiastical and lay, had secured, and made it still greater by further sacrifice of royal rights. But what he had gained by such means was utterly insecure because Germany was so divided by local and personal interests that civil strife, and almost anarchy, was certain to appear at the first favorable moment. The Italian cities were by no means so completely overcome as they seemed, nor was the papacy. France and England had no wish to see the head of the church entirely overthrown and the papal seat left vacant, as it was for two years on the death of Celestine IV. in 1241.
Finally, the next pope, Innocent IV., who as bishop had been the emperor's friend, but as pope must be his enemy, succeeded in escaping to France, and at Lyons held a council of the church where Frederick was de-posed from the empire. This acted as a signal for all his enemies. Civil war broke out in Germany, and an opposition king was elected there. The cities in north Italy rebelled and gathered new strength. Misfortune after misfortune befell the emperor, and, though he could not be conquered, his power was gone.
After Frederick's death, in 1250, the empire could never be restored. The great states which had composed it fell apart ; within themselves they were broken to fragments and for a time anarchy reigned almost everywhere. After some time the German kingdom and the empire reappeared in name But the old medieval empire was no longer possible. It had been completely overthrown and destroyed, not in truth by its rival, the papacy, but by the conditions of a new age, by the forces which were turning the medieval world into the modern, and they ruade its reconstruction beyond the power of man.
But for the moment the papacy was left without a rival. Its victory seemed complete and. its pretensions rose accordingly. It appeared about to step into the vacant place, and to be on the point of assuming the imperial titles and prerogatives, when it found itself con-fronted with a new enemy, as determined as the old one and far stronger, an enemy whose success over its political pretensions was destined to be complete, the new spirit of national patriotism and independence.
It is as impossible here, as elsewhere, to determine what history would have been if the thing which did not happen had occurred. But if it was an inherent tendency, as it seems to have been, of either of these two great powers to establish a universal empire over Christendom, if this was the object for which, consciously or unconsciously, either was striving, the one thing which prevented such a result was the opposition of the other. At the time when the danger was the greatest there was no other power in Europe which could have offered sufficient resistance to either of them. If there was such a danger it was the greatest from the papacy, for the strength which it derived from the church was far more real and effective for such a purpose than any which the empire could have drawn, as things were, from Germany and Italy or from the theory of the empire. The Holy Roman Empire may have entailed loss and suffering, which seemed as if they would never end, upon Germans and Italians, but if they succeeded in holding off the formation of a theocratic absolutism over Europe until the modern nations were strong enough to protect themselves, their sacrifices secured the future of civilization and the possibility of their own national existence today.