Pope Gregory VII was one of the most famous reformers in the history of the Catholic church. Also named Hildebrand, to his friends it meant "a bright flame" to his enemies it meant "brand of Hell". He took the Eastern Roman Catholic church during a period of medieval history where the world seemed to be going down in flames, and made the Church greater then ever before. Gregory drove corruption and deceit of the shadowy corners of the Church in a time where it was needed.

Born sometime between 1020 and 1025 in Rome. Hildebrand's father, Benizo, was a carpenter and his mother's identity is unknown. One of Gregory's most noticeable physical traits was that he was rather short, but this never stopped him from reaching his goals. At a young age Gregory went to the monastery of Santa Maria to be educated, over which his uncle presided and became a Benedictine monk later on.

Slowly Hildebrand climbed the ranks of the Church. He became a cleric in minor orders and then later on became a student of Gregory VI, whom Hildebrand stayed with, even in his exile across the Alps, until his death in Cologne in 1047.

In 1049, Hildebrand met Bruno, the pontiff-elect who had been elected by the emperor. After Bruno became the Pope Leo IX, Hildebrand became the main administrator of the Church. As such he was able to restore the Church's treasury, which had been depleted and whipped monasteries that had been going to ruins because of careless monksback into shape. Because of Hildebrand, discipline and order that had been lost among abbeys was restored, especially among the monastery of St. Paul, which even unto his death he had a deep attachment to.

At the death of Leo IX many of the Roman Church people and officials were eager to elect Hildebrand as the next Pope, but because of the long nomination process Gebhard, Bishop of Eichstadt was elected, under the name of Victor II. Hildebrand kept his status as administrator during Victor II's papacy and during the short term of Pope Stephen X (1057-1058). After Stephen's death many people were eager to grab the power reigns of the Church, including the Tusculan faction who tried a quick election of a member of their party. Hildebrand stopped this though, and secured the election of Gerard, Bishop of Florence, a.k.a. Pope Nicholas II.

During Nicholas's reign Hildebrand became a supreme power in Rome as an Arch-deacon and close confident to many of the pontiffs. He helped keep much of the peace and established alliances. After the rise and death of Pope Alexander II, the Church finally looked to Hildebrand, a prominent figure in the Church for more then twenty years to be the new Pope. On the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, June 29, 1073, Hildebrand was consecrated. He became Pope Gregory VII to honor the memory of his mentor Gregory VI and to signal a new era in the Church.

Gregory was somewhat reluctant to receive his position at first. He told his friends and colleagues to pray and intercess on his behalf. During this time in Europe the world seemed a horrible place to live. All of the country seemed to be in ruins with sin. Warfare, raping and violence were common and Pope Gregory struggled in his mind of how to make the Church rise from corruption to be a shining refuge in the world.

Gregory had this to say about the sorry state of the Church: "The Eastern Church has fallen away from the Faith and is now assailed on every side by infidels. Wherever I turn my eyes--to the west, to the north, or to the south--I find everywhere bishops who have obtained their office in an irregular way, whose lives and conversation are strangely at variance with their sacred calling; who go through their duties not for the love of Christ but from motives of worldly gain. There are no longer princes who set God's honour before their own selfish ends, or who allow justice to stand in the way of their ambition. . . .And those among whom I live--Romans, Lombards, and Normans--are, as I have often told them, worse than Jews or Pagans" (Greg. VII, Registr., 1.II, ep. xlix).

As much as Gregory probably wanted to wallow in pity, he started his work at wiping out two of the Church's greatest evils -simony and clerical incontinency. Gregory started to enact principles which he felt would reform the Church to its glorious state. One of his principles -which is now considered very controversial- is that people should not be able to read the Bible themselves. He said it would provoke free thought which leads to heresy. Despite such a controversial principle of reform no one can deny that Gregory did more to restore the Church then past pontiffs. Gregory started by writing letters to heads of monasteries and particular heads of Churches in the Eastern Church urging them to stand fast and to "rally the hosts and defend Western Christendom". He punished those who violated his ordinances and the rules of the Church, including leaders in the Church.

On his first Lenten Synod, Gregory issued these decrees:

  • That clerics who had obtained any grade or office of sacred orders by payment should cease to minister in the Church.
  • That no one who had purchased any church should retain it, and that no one for the future should be permitted to buy or sell ecclesiastical rights.
  • That all who were guilty of incontinence should cease to exercise their sacred ministry.
  • That the people should reject the ministrations of clerics who failed to obey these injunctions.

The other popes had passed decrees like these, but none of them had really been enforced before Gregory stepped out. He did encounter much opposition from many of the clergy enraged by his actions to abolish their immoral lifestyle. Also creating more opposition, Henry IV the prince of Germany, who had always been a part of Church decrees and dealings was excluded and bypassed many times by Gregory. This soon led to Gregory's excommunication of Henry IV and his supporters according to the political procedures of the time. Henry IV soon realized his mistake and payed penance for it. To be in such a position with the Pope while your own people show unrest towards you is not wise. As Henry gained more powere he again began to oppose Gregory who excommunicated him again and eventually went into exile.

Gregory spent the last years of his life residing in Monte Cassino, still being harased by various opposers of his reform. In around 1090, Gregory died at the castle of Salerno by the sea. His last words were: "I have loved justice and hated iniquity, therefore I die in exile."

Pope Gregory will always be remembered as a controversial figure in the Church. Many of his colleagues thought he was a rebel, but he is now known as a beloved lover of the Faith.

Much of the information taken from http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06791c.htm and The Mammoth Book of Oddballs and Eccentrics (don't ask me why he's in there).

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