Church Education Trust



Middle Ages......continued.

HILDEBRAND (1073-108

On being elected Pope, Hiliebrand took the name of Gregory VII. He regarded himself as commissioned to enforce the Gospel ethic upon others and his great ideal was the rule of righteousness. By righteousness he meant not only a right relationship between the individual and God, but also right relations for all humanity, an order of society based on the divine law.

His great demand was complete obedience; he regarded any opposition to himself as an attack upon God. He predicted divine judgment to come against the enemies of the papacy and temporal disaster in this world. He held that, as the vicar of Christ and the Representative of Peter, he could give or take away empires, kingdoms and the possessions of all men.

He forbade the priests of the Roman Church to marry, regarding them as a class apart, cut off from family life. He sternly attacked simony, the sale of sacred offices. In 1075 Hildebrand prohibited lay investiture. Under feudal law a vassal had to do homage to his lord on taking possession of lands. He was then presented with a symbol in recognition of his legal rights. The same applied when certain offices were taken up.

This ceremony was called investiture. As the great churchmen held lands and domains, they had to be invested like others. Hildebrand objected strongly to all interference of the secular power in church affairs and held that ecclesiastics should take up office without any sanction from the civil ruler.

So he forbade lay investiture. In this he was opposed by the German Emperor, Henry IV, The Pope then excommunicated Henry and released his subjects from their oath of allegiance. The Emperor found himself almost completely abandoned, hurried across the Alps in the depth of winter and appeared as a humble penitent before Hildebrand.

Thus an emperor submitted to the Pope. In England however the Pope was not so successful. In 1066 William the Conqueror had invaded England under the Pope's benediction. But having settled himself in England, William determined to subject the Church to the State, made appointments to all vacant ecclesiastical offices, required that all priests should take the oath to him and would not allow the Pope to interfere.

When Hildebrand summoned Lanfranc, his archbishop of Canterbury, to go to Rome, William refused to let him go. Meanwhile, on the Continent, Henry IV was recovering his power, and eventually he too, emerged triumphant. Hildebrand was driven out, and Henry appointed Clement III in his place.

In 1085 Hildebrand died in exile. Nevertheless, his principles were accepted and cherished by his successors, Men could not forget that even the secular head of the Holy Roman Empire had fallen prostrate at the feet of the Pope. The Hildebrandine party appointed Urban II as Pope, and the influence of Clement declined.

INNOCENT III (1198-1216).

In the time of Innocent III the papacy reached the height of its power. Though not actually making any new claims, Innocent was favoured by circumstances and enabled to put his claims into effect more completely than any of his predecessors.

Innocent was born about 1160. He had the best education of the day in theology and law and became a Cardinal Deacon at the age of 29. In 1198 the cardinals unanimously elected him Pope. A man of great ambition, he soon began to assert his authority and to act as one who possessed universal power.

He asserted that only a "divine authority" such as the Pope possessed could depose a bishop or transfer him to another "see". In Germany he settled the dispute over the vacant throne and appointed Otto in 1208; and when Otto proved uncooperative he had him replaced by Frederick II.

In France he humiliated the powerful Philip Augustus. In England he appointed Stephen Langton as Archbishop of Canterbury, and when King John refused to let him land, the Pope placed England under interdict (1208). In 1209 he excommunicated John. In 1212 he declared John deposed and invited Philip Augustus of France to invade England and in the following year John submitted to the Pope.

In the East, in 1204, the Pope's crusaders took the city of Constantinople and plundered it, When the Pope heard of the sack of the city he was delighted and regarded the sack of Constantinople as the divinely-appointed means to ecclesiastical reunion. In northern Europe the Pope sent missions to the Baltic, and in Spain the Moslems were decisively defeated in 1212.

After these successes Innocent ordered preparation to be made for a great Ecumenical Council to be held in 1215, allowing more than two years for preparations. The Council was attended by 412 bishops and over 800 abbots and priors. The Council officially adopted the doctrine of transubstantiation, ordaining that only a properly ordained priest could perform the sacrament of the altar, Thus he set the cornerstone to the edifice of priestly power. This council was known as the Fourth Lateran Council.


In the 12th century a number of sects and movements were in existence which were opposed to the Roman Church, some of them heretical, some orthodox. Among the heretical were the "Catharit" or "Cathars", who claimed to be puritans, free from the worldliness of the official Church and unspotted by the evil taint of matter.

In doctrine they held some beliefs similar to those of the Gnostics. Among the orthodox were the Waldensians. The founder of this movement was Peter Waldo (or Valdes), a wealthy merchant of Lyons, who, at some time between 1160 and 1180, was converted, repaid all money he had exacted unjustly, made provision for his wife and daughters, gave the rest of his property to the poor and then began to preach an evangelical message and to practise a life of complete poverty.

He gathered a following, had portions of Scripture translated into French and sent friends out to preach. When the authorities of the Roman Church inquired into the movement„ they approved of its ideals, but forbade them to preach. The Waldensians however continued to preach and were condemned and excommunicated by the Council of Verona in 1184.

The main points on which the Waldensians differed from the Church were as follows:

1. They refused obedience to the Pope and his prelates.
2. They maintained that all Christians, including laymen, have the right to preach.
3. God must be obeyed rather than men.
4. Even women can preach under the Gospel dispensation.
5. They utterly condemned prayers, alms and masses for the dead.
6. They rejected the idea of any special sanctity attached to places, declaring that prayer     in Church is no more acceptable than prayer offered in bed, in a room or a stable.

The Waldensians appealed to Scripture to prove their points and came to regard the Scriptures as the sole authority. They multiplied their translations and acquired a very extensive knowledge of the Bible. Having been expelled from the Church, Peter Waldo formed his own Church, regarding himself as a bishop commissioned by God.

He appointed priests and deacons and sent his clergy out in twos on preaching tours. The Waldensians denied the doctrine of transubstantiation and although their adherents were allowed to attend Catholic services, they were forbidden to partake in Catholic communion services.

They vowed poverty, chastity and obedience to the law of Christ. Waldo died about 1218. By this time the Waldensians had already begun to suffer persecution and in 1211 about 80 were put to death in Strassburge. Other dissenting movements were also persecuted and the Albigensians were completely destroyed in southern France.


In 1232 Pope Gregory IX established the Papal Inquisition as a court of universal jurisdiction. Its members were drawn chiefly from the Dominican and Franciscan friars, When the inquisitors visited a district, they allowed a period of one month's grace, during which all heretics who confessed voluntarily were dismissed with a comparatively mild penance.

After this there was no more leniency and suspects were subjected to an elaborate technique of brain-washing by solitary confinement, on a miserable diet, for an indefinite period, under examination by expert interrogators. In 1252 the use of physical torture was authorised.

If the suspect at last confessed, the sentence would normally be life imprisonment on bread and water in a monastery. The obstinate and impenitent, and those who relapsed into a former heresy, were handed over to the civil power, which meant burning at the stake.

The Waldensians survived in spite of persecution and have some right to be regarded as the first Protestants. There is still a small Waldensian community today, numbering about 20,000 members.

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