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Morality and Division from the 8th to 12th Centuries

The ruler of Franks, Charlemagne (r. 800-24) was a devout Christian who had four wives and children by five mistresses. Drawing from his sense of right and wrong, he reformed the clergy. To be ordained a priest one had to take an examination. Anyone, priest or commoner, committing fornication was obliged by law to do penance for ten years, three of these years living on bread and water. A cleric committing adultery and begetting a child had to do penance for seven years. If a cleric lusted after a woman and was not able to commit the act because the woman would not comply, he had to do penance for half a year on bread and water and for a whole year abstain from wine and meat.

Charlemagne tried to discourage slavery, but slavery in his realm survived. A slave might be hanged for committing an act for which a free man would receive a lesser punishment. Christians were allowed to beat their slaves, but if they did so to an extent that killed the slave they would be punished. Only the authorities were allowed to take a life.

The common Frank, meanwhile, had their worldly pleasures that conflicted with morality as perceived by local religious authority. On special holidays people might dance and sing the pagan or ribald songs of their forefathers. Churchmen complained of this singing of "wicked songs" that were the lures of the devil.

Early Papal Reforms

The disorder that came with the raiding in the 800s and 900s left Christianity fragmented. The papacy in Rome was cut off from its bishops and from monasteries, which became dominated by the warlords willing to protect them.

In Rome, the pope was both spiritual leader and secular ruler of the city, and selecting a pope was a matter of competition among the city's wealthy and influential families, with spirituality only an occasional consideration. A powerful woman, Marozia became the mistress of Pope Sergius (pope from 904 to 911). Pope John X (914 to 928) was romantically involved with Marozia's mother. Marozia succeeded in having Pope John X deposed and installed her illegitimate son, fathered by Pope Sergius, as John XI, pope from 931 to 935. And she managed to see one of her grandson's become Pope John XII.

A reform movement began in the Burgundian monastery of Cluny, founded in 910. The monastery attracted those seeking spirituality and religious discipline. Fifteen hundred affiliated monasteries arose. Fearing God, they gained the support of the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry III. He was moved by piety to change the Church. With an army he arrived in Rome in 1046. He suppressed the political factions having influence over the papacy and started appointing a series of popes.

Economic good times were beginning in Western Europe, and a serious effort at reformwas begun by Pope Leo IX (1049-1054). Pope Leo traveled and held councils across Europe. During his pontificate new ecclesiastical law was established. Pope Leo condemned the selling of Church offices and called for an enforcement of celibacy for clerics.

Reforms allowed common men who were intelligent and ambitious to enter the Church as clergymen. Slaves, however, were not allowed to enter the priesthood, and normally neither could serfs.

A new pope from 1059 to 1061, Nicholas II, reformed Papal elections. He brought 113 bishops to Rome to consider a number of reforms and they established a the selection of popes by an assembly of Carninals in Rome, amounting to a declaration of independence from Rome's elite.

The East-West Schism

In Constantinople the patriarch of Greek-speaking Christianity, Michael Cerularius, was hostile to the Latin (or Roman) wing of Christianity. He closed the Latin churches in Constantinople. He complained of various customs of Latin Christianity, especially fasting on Saturday and the use of unleavened bread for the Holy Eucharist, a complaint he distributed in the form of a treatise written by the monk Nicetas Pectoratus. The treatise described Latins as "dogs, bad workmen, schismatics, hypocrites, and liars." Cerularius's chancellor, Nicephorus, entered the Latin churches and trampled upon the Holy Eucharist because it was consecrated with unleavened bread. From Rome, in January 1054, Pope Leo IX sent representatives to Constantinople to negotiate. He died in April, and the negotiations continued until July when the Cardinal representing Rome marched into the great church of Hagia Sophia and, in the name of the late Leo IX, put on the high altar a declaration excommunicating Cerularius and those who followed him. A few days later Cerularius issued an encyclical asserting the independence of the Greek speaking Church, centered in Constantinople, from the Roman Church.

The Church ruled from Constantinople was called the Eastern Orthodox Church. It remained Trinitarian – God existing in "the Father, Son and Holy Spirit." The Roman Catholic Church regarded the Holy Spirit as proceeding from the Father and the Son; the Eastern Orthodox Church claimed that the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father through the Son.

The Investiture Compromise with Monarchy

Pope Gregory VII (r 1073-85) was a fervent reformer. He wanted to end secular authorities deciding who would represent the church in their realm – lay investiture. Gregory struggled with the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry IV. The pope saw Emperor Henry bestowing rank to churchmen as preventing him, the pope, from fully exercising his authority. Gregory decreed that anyone who accepted a church position offered by a layman would be deposed and that any layman who gave a church position to anyone would be excommunicated.

In England, William the Conqueror protested. So too did Philip I of France. Emperor Henry IV called upon his bishops to reject Gregory. Pope Gregory was unwilling to struggle with these three powerful opponents, and he left William the Conqueror and Philip I alone, but he excommunicated Emperor Henry twice. In January 1077, Henry crossed the Alps to the pope's residence at Conossa, and in 1084 he drove Gregory into exile.

Pope Gregory was succeeded in 1086 by Pope Victory III. The investiture dispute was settled decades later, in 1122, by a compromise reached at the Concordat of Worms (near the German city of Worms), the compromise called the Pactum Calixtinum by papal historians. Henry IV's successor, Henry V, agree not to appoint bishops but he was to have veto power over the pope's selection. The Holy Roman Emperor preserved the power to grant bishops fiefs and other benefits, and he might withhold income from any bishop who displeased him.

Copyright © 2007-2015 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.