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This lesson will explore the Investiture Conflict of the 11th and 12th centuries. In doing so, it will highlight the roles of Pope Gregory VII and Henry IV. It will also explain the Concordat of Worms.

Introduction to Conflict

The Investiture Conflict of the 11th and 12th centuries is one of the most important controversies ever to arise between church and state. Ironically, it’s hardly known among the masses.

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In order to help it stick, and to give you a frame of reference, I’m going to use a ridiculous teenage drama.During my cousin’s senior year of high school, the captain of the cheerleaders fell and broke her ankle. Unable to fulfill her duties, protocol was followed and the cheerleading coach picked her replacement. This all sounds kosher until I tell you this: the coach was also one of the cheerleaders’ moms! Making matters worse, she bestowed the pom-pom of power to her daughter, who wasn’t even a senior!Instantly, 12th grade pig tales and pouts flooded the principal’s office, demanding the removal of the coach and the right to choose their own senior captain! In reaction to this, and to prove her power, the cheerleading coach decided to kick the rebelling seniors off the squad! Although this silly power struggle eventually resulted in nothing more than some hurt feelings and tear-stained saddle shoes, it oddly bears resemblance to the Investiture Conflict.

Conflict Begins

To begin, the Investiture Conflict was a nasty conflict between the Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor over who held power to appoint or invest Church officials. With this definition in mind, let’s take a look at how things got rolling.

Traditionally, the power to appoint Church officials was held by secular authorities whose rulers were not clergy and whose power was not derived from a spiritual basis. In other words, kings and emperors, not the Pope or bishops, handed out places of power within the Church. The problem? Just like the cheerleading coach, the secular rulers usually gave these power seats to family members or political cronies who would follow their rules and play puppet whenever asked.

Call for Reform

Now, this isn’t that big of a deal at the lower levels of Church hierarchy.

However, when we realize the emperor had the right to appoint the Pope, it’s pretty plain to see how much power accompanied the ceremony of investiture. Making things even more convoluted, the Pope then got to turn around and choose the next Holy Roman Emperor. In essence, the process became a giant political game of ‘you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours!’In the 11th Century, a group of Gregorian reformers, who believed the Pope should be under the authority of no human, and who were tired of outside forces telling them who their leaders were to be, decided it was time for the Church to take back its power. When the very young Henry IV, king of Germany, was crowned Holy Roman Emperor, they saw it as their chance.

After all, why should a little boy get to choose the next Pope simply because he wore a secular crown?Like the indignant cheerleaders who flooded the principal’s office, the Church officials gathered in Rome in the year 1059. At this meeting, they issued a statement known as In Nomine Domini, meaning ‘In the name of the Lord.’ In it, they stated secular rulers would no longer have any part in the selection of the Pope. Instead, a college of cardinals would choose who holds the papacy, or office of the Pope. Obviously, this college stuck, as it is still the modern-day vehicle for choosing a Pope.

Gregory VII vs. Henry IV

In the year 1075, Pope Gregory VII took things a step further.

In the Church statement known as the Dictatus Papae, the Church completely eliminated the practice of secular investiture. In other words, when it came to picking Church officials, the emperor was off the squad! This bold move didn’t sit so well with Henry IV, who was a young boy at the time of the earlier In Nomine Domini statement, but who had now grown-up. To put it mildly, he had no intention of giving up his power to choose bishops. Yes, as a boy he’d lost the power to pick the Church’s captain, but as a man he sure wasn’t going to give up the right to choose its co-captains.Wasting no time, Henry IV penned a letter to Gregory VII, telling him in no uncertain terms he was no longer Pope, and he wasn’t messing around! Listen to this translated excerpt from the letter he sent to Gregory VII: ‘I, Henry, king by the grace of God, with all my Bishops say unto you – Come down, come down, and be accursed throughout the ages!’ Sadly for Henry IV, Pope Gregory VII was not in the mood to back down. Rather than tucking his tail and running, the Pope responded by kicking the king out of the Church and deposing him as king of Germany and the Holy Roman Emperor! Of course, since neither party recognized the other’s authority, both their declarations were almost impossible to enforce.

German Rebellion

However, the Pope got lucky on this one.

When the power-hungry nobles of Germany realized the kingship was at stake, they saw it as an opportunity to gain more land and power. Not wasting any time, they rebelled against their king, in a revolt known as the Great Saxon Revolt. The rebels even went as far as to elect a guy named Rudolf to be their new king.With his country in chaos, Henry IV waved the white flag to the Pope in the year 1077. In a dramatic scene known as the Walk to Canossa, tradition tells us the bedraggled king actually stood barefoot in the snow to apologize to Pope Gregory VII.

However, this apology was short-lived. In 1081 King Henry IV came back with a vengeance. He captured and killed the rebel king, Rudolf, and set his sights on removing Gregory VII once and for all.When Henry IV invaded Rome, Pope Gregory VII made a fatal error. In order to protect himself, he called on the Normans, or Vikings from modern-day France, for help. Although these Vikings from the north did manage to ward off Henry IV’s forces, they also decided to rape and pillage Rome and its people, making the Pope, the guy who invited them in, rather unpopular. With this, Pope Gregory VII was forced to flee Rome, in essence, beating himself! After all the fighting for power, Pope Gregory VII died as an exile in Norman lands.

Sadly, neither his death nor the death of King Henry IV ended the Investiture Conflict. Each of their successors picked up where their predecessors had left off. Finally, in 1122, a compromise known as the Concordat of Worms was reached. As a rather flimsy statement, it removed the secular right of investiture, but gave secular leaders the right to have an unofficial say in the appointment of Church officials. Sadly, this didn’t really end the controversy. Disputes still arose, weakening the German lands and disrupting the empire for years and years to come.

Lesson Summary

The Investiture Conflict was a long drawn-out struggle for power which waged across the 11th and 12th centuries. Pitting the Pope against the secular authority of the emperor, it was a conflict over who had the right to appoint Church officials.Although the conflict spanned over the reigns of many Popes and emperors, its two main characters were Pope Gregory VII and Henry IV, king of Germany and Holy Roman Emperor. With each man’s refusal to give up any power, the battle waged well beyond their lifetimes.

Finally, in 1122, the Concordat of Worms was offered as a flimsy compromise. Although it eliminated the right of investiture, it gave secular authorities unofficial say in the appointment of Church officials.

Learning Outcomes

When the lesson is completed, you should be able to:

  • Describe the Investiture Conflict
  • Mention the primary players (Pope and Holy Roman Emperor) involved
  • Understand the compromise of the Concordat of Worms
  • Discuss the German Rebellion

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