The Papacy: The First Crusade, The Concordat of Worms, and Schism (1086-1143)

Despite Gregory VII being driven from Rome, chaos continued to ensue for the papacy. Antipope Clement III could not hope to win over the reformist cardinals and so they persuaded a remote cleric, Abbott Desiderius of Monte Cassino, to retreat from his splendid monastery, which was filled with rich libraries and gardens, into the unpleasant political world of the papacy. It took the cardinals nearly a year to persuade him, and as a result he was perhaps the most reluctant pope in history. And four days after his consecration, Desiderius (now dubbed Pope Victor III) was quickly proven right in his skepticism. Riots broke out in Rome and drove him back to his monastery. He was was forced between Rome and Monte Cassino for the better part of the year amidst Norman incursions and the threat of a returning Clement III. In the middle of this ongoing civil war Victor III died in 1087.

He was followed by an austere aristocrat, Pope Urban II, a reformer in the vein of the Gregorian “papal supremacy” variety. He was consecrated but spent six years in exile thanks to the forces of the antipope Clement III. Through a mix of cheating and bribery, Urban II was able to enter the Lateran and assume his rightful throne. His papacy oversaw strong efforts to re-unify diplomatic relations with the Byzantine Empire.

The First Crusade

It is worth mentioning that the only way to unify the fractious parties of Christendom occurred through a shared common enemy. The battle within was ended only by developing an enemy without. A delegation met in Constantinople at the Council of Piacenza and spoke of the looming threat from the Saracens who were conquering Asia Minor, thus bringing the humble allies of Christianity under the brutal heel of an Islamic tide (or so the narrative went). In truth, Muslim rule in region had quietly existed for centuries. Nevertheless, the propaganda was urgent, the language immediate, the threat contagious. After the council met in Constantinople, Pope Urban II traveled to France where he loudly proclaimed the threat to huge swarming crowds: Jerusalem was being besieged by a cabal of brutal Turkish overlords. It was now the duty –no less the burden– of the Christian West to unite under a common flag in order to liberate the Christian East. There was to be no delay, the great army of the Pope must assemble quickly and march eastward by the Feast of the Assumption on August 15, 1096. Many hundreds of noblemen and peasants alike, priests and monks, bowed the knee and vowed to take up the cross of the pope. Thus began the First Crusade.

Much to everyone’s surprise, the venture was a resounding “success” for the Crusaders. They quickly invaded and defeated the Seljuk Turks at Anatolia in 1097, followed by the fall of Antioch in 1908, and finally in July 1099 the Crusaders stormed their way into Jerusalem and unleashed a merciless bloodbath. They slaughtered nearly every living Muslim in the city and executed all the Jews –most were burned alive in terrible agony. After this horrid scene, many of the Christian warriors simply returned home, believing they had released the Holy Land from crushing oppression.

News of the victory never reached Pope Urban II as he died two weeks prior. He was succeeded by a good-natured Tuscan monk, Paschal II. Upon assuming the papacy, he destroyed the threat from several would be usurping antipopes and claimed the central authority of the papal imperial struggle: the power of investiture of bishops and abbots. He sought to make a deal, essentially handing over papal lands and wealth in Germany over to the new German Emperor, Henry V. It was followed by riots, the arrest of the pope, and preparation for the eventual coronation of Henry V as Holy Roman Emperor, granting him the power of investiture which, in England, Henry I was unable to extort from the Archbishop of Canterbury. However, any power given to Henry V was soon rendered null in Rome and he was excommunicated. Controversy, rioting, and land grabs hailed the end of Pope Paschal II and he died in 1118.

His successor Gelasius II was pope for only a year. He inherited the political battle with Germany over the right of investiture. After assuming power, Gelasius was immediately imprisoned and brutally beaten by the Frangipani family, one of the two chief ruling Roman families, meanwhile German Emperor Henry V appointed his own antipope to counter Gelasius II. After Gelasius was snatched and imprisoned again, he narrowly launched a dramatic escape on horseback, but this time Gelasius had had enough of Rome. He fled the city for the last time and died in January 1119.

The Concordat of Worms

By now it was clear: the issue of investiture needed to be resolved. As luck would have it, the son of a Burgundian Count, Pope Calixtus II, came to power. He sought a peaceful resolution with Germany by convening a Council at Rheims and captured the lingering antipope, Gregory, who was brought to Rome and dragged through the streets on horseback before being imprisoned for life. This was followed by the famous Concordat of Worms which granted the German Emperor temporal authority over the conferring of lands, while spiritual authority was maintained by the bishopric and papacy. In turn, appointments would be made in the king’s presence and he would be granted the right of arbitration. It was a delicate balance between church and state which was all but sure to cause friction.

The Schism of Innocent II and Anacletus II

In the words of John Julius Norwich: “The Concordat of Worms marked the end of an important chapter in the long struggle between Church and empire. The pope had made concessions, which he recognized would be unpopular among the more inflexible of his stock (125). It was followed by further proclamations at the First Lateran Council in 1123 not long before the pope gave up the ghost. In Rome, the two chief feuding families of the day –Frangipani and Pierleoni– jockeyed for power of the papacy. Rome was effectively ruled by two rival gangster families in an ongoing feud. In the wake of the pope’s death, the Frangipani propped up Pope Honorius II, but his six brief six year reign was dogged by losses in Sicily and France. His death in 1130 brought a new succession crisis as two popes were declared: Innocent II and Anacletus II. Both sides had fierce defenders, and both made military gains in the city while bribing their way to the top. Anacletus eventually forced his way into the Lateran and effectively took control of Rome sending Innocent fleeing to France, however outside of Rome, Innocent was significantly more popular. He raised an army from the Saxon King Lothair in Germany which invaded Italy and in a repeat of the events of Gregory VII —“for the second time in half a century one putative pope had performed an imperial coronation while another had sat a mile or two away, impotent and fuming” (John Luis Norwich, 133). However, once pope Innocent II was announced as the true pope, King Lothair’s forces departed and the situation rapidly deteriorated. Innocent did not have the military might to defend himself. The King of Sicily hailed his forces in defense of Anacletus the antipope sending Innocent to flee by cover of nightfall to Pisa. Again, it was civil war. A united force of German kingdoms fought against the expanding empire in Sicily until Lothair was pushed back to the Alps where he quietly died in a peasant’s hut. However, as fortune would have it, he was followed in death a mere seven weeks later by the antipope, himself, Anacletus. Thus brought an end to yet another bloody schism in Christendom. With none left to dispute his papacy, Innocent II slowly made way for Rome, though he was now a tired old man in his seventies.

Innocent II died in 1143 leaving a fractured papacy behind. His frail, aging persona became the very image of the papacy. All throughout the region a movement toward republican forms of self-government took hold among the people. Naturally, the papacy and its allied court of aging aristocrats opposed all such efforts which were gaining momentum in cities and towns throughout Italy.

For this reading I used John Julius Norwich’s 2011 single volume history of the papacy Absolute Monarchs: A History of the Papacy and Diarmaid MacCulloch’s 2009 work of popular history, Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years.

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