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Response to Review no. 82

I am most grateful to Dr. Murray for his generous and perceptive review. It is apparent that there is a very large measure of agreement between us. The length of time since a full-scale study of Gregory last appeared makes it relatively easy to strip a way the various and contrasting layers of interpretation – -ultramontane and secularist, protestant and humanist – and, while profiting from the insights of each, to attempt so far as is possible to envisage Gregory in his own terms. Such an attempt, whet her made through the evidence of Gregory’s own letters or whether through the writings of those who most closely observed him, is likely to come to our conclusion that, behind all the astonishing flexibility that Gregory could show, there was a consistent and cultivated faith which must be understood if justice is to be done to his pontificate and the high tragedy of its course and consequences. In this respect as in many, the ways in which he based himself upon Pope Gregory the Great must be given full w eight along with, or as part of, his Petrine commission to ‘Feed my sheep’. His was a prophetic voice that echoed the three major prophetic books of the Old Testament – Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel – in fearlessly proclaiming to the world the righteousne ss of God as he saw it. He was also a preacher on the Gregory’s model. None of his sermons has come down to us, but his letters to kings, e.g. those of Spain and Scandinavia, were often effectively sermons addressed to them as the key persons among their peoples in a way reminiscent of the pages of Gregory I or of Bede. Along with his concern to reactivate the church, there are features of his pontificate of Christian antiquity. His understanding of himself as vicar of St. Peter, rather than at all (so fa r as I can see) as vicar of Christ underlines this reference back tot he past. Such reference back in message and in method is something that I should want strongly to affirm, perhaps more strongly than Murray would.


May I respond next to a few specific matters that Murray raises. It is a fair complaint that I have little to say about the principal source for Gregory, his register. However, I doubt whether it tells us very much about the character of Gregory’s gove rnment in particular. We know that Alexander II and his next major successor Urban II, had registers, long since lost, but which there is no reason to think were very different from Gregory’s. I hope, in any case, to publish a translation of Gregory’s Reg ister with an introduction about it.


As regards the much debated Dictatus papae, I should not go so far as to say that its 27 theses ‘are of little or no account’. I certainly think that it was a ballon d’essai tentatively compiled at a particular juncture in the pontificate , and I agree that as a compilation it had very little collective future. But as, e.g., the apparent references to some individual theses (nos. 2, 3, 18, 21, 23) in Gregory’s self-justification of 1081 to Bishop Herman of Metz show, some propositio ns were affirmed to be both true and useful in warranting Gregory’s stand against Henry IV of Germany and other concerns. Some appear again as having been pressed home; others, perhaps even most, do not. They must be individually appraised.


On the question of the young Hildebrand’s birth and family background, I suspect that any difference between Murray and myself is more apparent than real. I accept that ‘the jury is still out on that question.’ I take the friendly ecclesiastic to be Ab bot Walo of St. Arnulf near Metz, who said in 1073 that Hildebrand was vir de plebe. I concede the reference to King David as praised in Psalm 88 (Vg.): 20 (exaltavit electum de plebe mea), with its allusion to the people of Israel rather th an to David’s social origin. But God also raised David from a lowly occupation: sustulit eum de gregibus ovium (Psalm 77: 70). Walo implies that God’s wonderful providence had raised up in Hildebrand one who was not of the potentes of this w orld in church or lay society. Hildebrand’s Tuscan father seems to have been of low though not necessarily impoverished social condition – a goatherd, one hostile writer said. Even if, on his mother’s side, there were rather more posh relatives in Rome, n othing demonstrably ranks them with those viewed as potentes. But a recent examination of Hildebrand’s skeletal remains indicates that he was strong and well nourished. On the one hand, his origins seem to have been prosperous enough; on the other, unlike the other eleventh-century reform popes, he had no known family links with the great in this world. No more can safely be said.


It is with regard to the major issue of clerical chastity that I suspect Murray and I differ most notably; although, again, I should be inclined to minimise the difference. I jib somewhat at the word ‘celibacy’ as used of Gregory and his age. It seems to have become widely current only in early-modern times; the adjective caelebs and its cognates are not common in classical or medieval Latin, and in post-Tridentine usage celibacy has overtones of discipline and legal state. In the eleventh centu ry, people usually used the word ‘chastity’, demanding it of the clergy partly for cultic reasons (those who handled the body of Christ should not also handle the bodies of women) but partly for reasons of morality; such moral reasons weighed especially h eavily with Gregory VII. Certainly, as Murray says, ‘literally hundreds of German and Italian clergy would have contested’ reasons of both sorts; therefore reformers of all kinds were strong in maintaining them. It was also why, as is being increasingly a ppreciated, there was much ‘grass-roots’ popular feeling against married or concubinous clergy for reformers to work upon. By and large however, defenders of clerical marriage took their stand upon it being widely customary or upon practical counts: if ch astity were imposed, where would the angels be found to live a way of life that was not livable by most men? (For a most useful collection of texts, see now E. Frauenknecht, Die Verteidiging der Priesterehe in der Reformzeit (Hanover, 1997).) Very few whom modern historians would describe as in any sense reformers defended clerical marriage; very few of those who defended it could convincingly be classified as reformers. This, of course, is without prejudice to the question whether clerical celibac y was a church rule of uncontestable age and authority. The state of affairs in the Nicene and pre-Nicene age is notoriously difficult to penetrate and I offer no certain view. Even Gregory VII named later popes as his authority for his requirement of cha stity for those in major orders.


On the subject of ideas about the empire, I am doubtful whether Gregory abandoned it in the radical way that Murray seems to suggest when he writes, for example, that ‘Gregory wanted Germany to constitute just another kingdom like others, in direct ant ithesis to the imperialist doctrines now being formulated on the other (i.e. the Henrician) side.’ In Gregory’s eyes, ‘good’ emperors like Constantine, Charlemagne, and Henry III had, indeed, been few in number, but they were of great benefit. With his se nse of the past, Gregory could scarcely have conceived of a world order in which there was no empire, and little possibility of his foregoing the right to recognise and to crown a suitable candidate for it. Hence his concern (which historians have underra ted) to shape the young Henry IV according to the pattern of his father – and hence his dismay when the young king could not be so shaped. But there had often been gaps in the succession of western emperors, and it would never have occurred to Gregory to discard the sanction over the most powerful western king that imperial coronation at Rome gave. After 1076 the imperial position remained vacant, in Gregory’s eyes, because there was no one suitable for it, not because it was being phased out. In his lett er of 1081 to Herman of Metz, his message for emperors was a positive and continuous one: let those whom holy church by her own will calls to government or empire by deliberate counsel not for transient glory but for the salvation of many learn from Pope Gregory the Great the lesson of obedience. The letter is strong evidence that empire, as well as kingship, was of enduring consequence in Gregory’s eyes. But neither Rudolf of Swabia nor Hermann of Salm proved himself for even the beginnings of candidacy, given the weight of the office. Therefore Gregory never crowned an emperor.


Murray fairly comments that I show myself no partisan for the socio-economic school and have little to say about an incipient Roman commercial revolution. This is not from lack of interest but because there is little hard evidence, though what there is can be intriguing, such as the hint that there were those in Lateran circles who had dealings, perhaps commercial, with a well disposed Muslim emir (Reg. 3.21). As for Gregory’s complaints of 1074 about King Philip I of France’s depredations upon Italian merchants, it is worth pointing out that they bear, not on economics and Capetian fiscality, but on the problems of public law and order and of the utilitas or otherwise of a king who did not provide them in his kingdom but who seemed to jo in his most anarchic subjects in subverting them. It cannot be too strongly insisted that, right at the front of the issues of Gregory’s pontificate, was that of who ultimately had the duty of providing peace and order in a Christian society that was thre atened everywhere as by civil wars in Germany or by ‘feudal anarchy’ in France. The issue was the more pressing if, especially in Gregory’s struggle with the Salian crown, the dispute was increasingly between two sacralities, both of them well structured and supported, not between sacred and secular or good and evil. And Gregory was no enemy of royal sacrality in itself. Not only was he willing, even anxious, to confer imperial coronation, but the honorific titles – nobilitas, magnitudo, nobilitas, liberalis gloria to name but a few – by which he habitually addressed them are symptomatic of his recognition of the sacrality of kings. For the maintenance of peace and order, Gregory looked to strong, sacrally distinguished kings o f good royal stock who satisfied the tests of being idoneus – examples of the Christian religion and obedient to the pope, and therefore utilis through the patronage of St. Peter effective in repressing civil strife and disorder. It was such a test that, in 1074, Gregory for a time deemed King Philip of France to be failing and that, by 1080, he definitively deemed King Henry IV of Germany to have failed. In such circumstances, responsibility for peace and order in an effectively rulerless s ociety devolved upon the pope. It became the pope’s duty himself to take the lead in promoting peace by all means – by spiritual sanctions against the enemies of peace but also by mobilising lay society in a militia (service/warfare) sancti Petr i. The Capetian king sidestepped by clever diplomacy in which he persuaded Gregory that his kingdom could, after all, be harnessed to his purposes (hence the importance of the election in 1080 to the see of Rheims). Fortified by his energetically deve loped sacrality, the Salian King took steps, notably his landfrieden, to claim that he was the upholder of peace, and in the face of civil wars the real fomenter of which was the Gregorian papacy and above all Gregory himself.


In the short run, the question of who should predominate in effectively providing for peace and order in Christendom and for its peoples could seem to be answered in favour of the Gregorian papacy when Urban II successfully preached the Crusade. Urban demonstrated the power of the pope to direct the energies of the feudal societies of the west, and peace in the west was meant to be a corollary of diverting those energies to the causes of Jerusalem and Constantinople. But, in the long run, only the mona rchies of the west – the Capetians from Philip II to Philip the Fair, the Angevin monarchy of Henry II’s England, the Hohenstaufen as exemplified by Frederick Barbarossa – had the closeness to their peoples, the laws, the officials, and the sanctions to b uild viable structures of peace, law, and order. All had their conflicts with the papacy on issues of sacerdotium and regnum; none, even the France of St. Louis, deferred to Gregorian principles of how society should be guided and directed. It is the tragedy of Gregory VII that the claim, advanced from the noblest of motives, that the pope was directly, through the obedience of kings, the source of peace and order, was answered by monarchies which, rather than the papacy, became increasingly able by themselves to provide these things. The role of the state under Philip the Fair, even under Henry VIII of Tudor England, was prepared in the contests of Gregory’s pontificate. I thus share Murray’s conclusion that a long-term consequence, at leas t in Europe, of Gregory’s pontificate has been a fragmented structure of states politically independent of each other, while expressly sharing the core (my emphasis) of a common religion. But I doubt whether Gregory and his successors, deliberately or otherwise, directed western Christendom towards such a structure. Arguably it came into being in spite of Gregory’s sense of direct papal responsibility for the welfare, spiritual and temporal, of all peoples. Nor am I sure that Henry IV’s imperial vi sion was all-embracing as Murray suggests. But, turning from political actuality to political and legal thinking, I agree, if for rather different reasons to Murray’s, about the enduring value of Gratian’s Decretum as a repository and transmitter o f the constructive discussions that Gregory’s pontificate placed upon the agenda for those who shaped the institutions of the kingdoms of Europe as well as of the Latin church. In the church, it was Gratian and the canon lawyers who followed who explored and clarified those prerogatives of the apostolic see that Archdeacon Hildebrand had long since called upon Peter Damiani to bring together in a book. In so doing, they did much to lay the foundation upon which to this day there rests what is best in the institutions of western political societies. Such is the ambivalence of Gregory’s legacy.