After 400 AD, there was no central power in the West, but a central ecclesiastical power, which claimed primacy from the earliest times. The barbarian invasions and the ensuing anarchy resulted in a tremendous growth in the power of the papacy. With the appearance of strong political powers in Europe, a struggle between the papacy and the kings started to grow. The principal disagreement was the proper distribution of power; the king was believed to be the ruler by divine right.
Should the King control church as well, contrary to the belief of pope as vicar of God on earth? It was in these circumstances that, Pope Boniface VII appeared on the religious scene in Europe. As Papacy was congested with internal wrangling of war of succession, it is believed that Pope Benedict VI (973-974) was strangled to death. For Boniface VII, papacy was a secular issue, rather than a divine mission, which had to be acquired by all means.
After his accession, with in a month, he was forced to leave the Constantinople, but he did not hesitate to steal a large sum of money from the Vatican treasury. After nine years of exile, he returned with an army to depose his successor Pope John XIV (983-984). All these deeds earned him the name of Antipope. According to historians Boniface VII sitting in Peter’s chair was at the lowest point in the papal history. This decline and corruption in church was visible at the time of Gregory VII accession to the papacy.
He laments the unhappy state of the Church in the following words, “Wherever I turn my eyes–to the west, to the north, or to the south, I find bishops who have obtained their office in irregular ways”. Gregory made efforts to stamp out the Church from major evils, for him the Bishop of Rome was not simply the court of last appeal, but the pope was to govern the universal Church as a vicar of St Peter. The medieval kingdoms were religious states and king as the head of people was the supreme authority in religious, as well as in political matters.
The spiritual governance was now in the hands of the bishops and pope, kingship had to be understood differently and new foundations laid for the political authority of the state. The state deprived of its spiritual authority was forced to conceive itself as a corporate body independent of the Church. Gregory knew that the customs prevailing in the Church and society had no foundation in ancient Christian tradition. According to him faithfulness did not mean slavish obedience to the rituals, but faith required deeper understanding of the religion.
Gregory began his great work of purifying the Church by a reformation of the clergy and enacted a number of decrees, such as banning the office of sacred orders by payment, baring guilty priests from exercising ministries, and rejection of the clerics who failed to obey these injunctions. These decrees were met with vigorous resistance, but were partially successful. Pope Boniface VII and Gregory VII had the same ambitions, but with different point of views. According to Pope Boniface VII, Church cannot not be separated from the state, there had to be balance for this co-existence.
Gregory VII, on the contrary de-sacralized the authority of the king, and separated the spiritual world from politics. As a result, the Church became a sovereign body with its own head, administrative structure, body of law, and courts, which eventually gave rise to the modern state. Source: Ullmann. W (1962), The Growth of Papal Government in the Middle Ages: A Study in the Ideological Relation of Clerical to Lay Power, Methuen London. Catholic Encyclopedia, Pope St. Gregory VII (8 Nov. 2005), http://www. newadvent. org/cathen/06791c. htm
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