King Henry IV


Versus Pope Gregory VII


     We do not suppose that such writers have forgotten the claims of so many popes that civil magistrates are not exempt from the rule of Christ, or from the governing power of His Vicar, and that "the church never changes." Nor can any well read man have forgotten that Pope Gregory VII on the twenty second of February, 1076, excommunicated Henry IV, "forbade him to govern Germany and Italy, dispensed all his subjects from the oath of allegiance they had taken to him, and forbade every one to obey him as a king' - "Life and Times of Hildebrand," A. H. Mathews, D. D., p. 109. London: 1910. Pope Gregory VII wrote the following letter on September 3, 1076: 

     "To All the Faithful in Germany, Counselling them to Choose a New King: 

     "Gregory . . . to all the . . . bishops, dukes, counts, and all defenders of the Christian faith dwelling in the kingdom of Germany . . . Henry, king so-called, was excommunicated . . . he was bound in bondage of anathema and deposed from his royal dignity, and that every people formerly subject to him is released from its oath of allegiance. . . . 

     "Let another ruler of the kingdom be found by divine favor, such an one as shall bind himself by unquestionable obligation to carry out the measures we have indicated." - "Records of Civilization Sources and Studies," edited under the auspices of the Department of History, Columbia University," Vol. XIV, pp. 105-107. 

     Any person who had any dealing with the excommunicated king became thereby himself excommunicated. If the king did not secure release from this "band" within a year, he was to lose his kingdom and be put to death, or if he repented after the year passed he would be imprisoned in a monastery, and fed with bread and water till his death, and this finally became his fate. Henry had to set out across the dangerous Alps in midwinter. "The cold was intense, and there had been heavy falls of snow, so that neither men nor horses could advance in the narrow road alongside precipices without running the greatest risks. Nevertheless, they could not delay, for the anniversary of the King's excommunication was drawing near." The men walked, and the queen was placed in "a kind of sledge made of ox hide, and the guides dragged [it] the whole way." At last they arrived at Canossa, where the pope temporarily abode.  

     "Then, in the penitent's garb of wool, and barefoot, the King appeared before the walls of the fortress. He had laid aside every mark of royalty, and, fasting, he awaited the pleasure of the Pope for three days. The severity of the penance was enhanced by the coldness of the season. Bonitho speaks of it as a very bitter winter, and says that the King waited in the courtyard amid snow and ice. Even in the presence of Gregory there were loud murmurs against his pride and inhumanity." - "Life and Times of Hildebrand," pp. 126-128. At last through the intercession of others the pope admitted the king and released him of the excommunication, January 28, 1077.  

     Pope Gregory VII himself acknowledged the whole proceeding with evident satisfaction in a letter to the princes of Germany, dated January 28, 1077, in the following words:  

     "At length he came in person with a few followers to the town of Canossa where we were staying. Not a sign of hostility or boldness did he show. All his royal insignia he laid aside, and, wretchedly clad in woollen garments, he stood persistently for three long days with bare feet before the gate of the Castle. Constantly and with many tears he implored the apostolic mercy for help and consolation until he had moved all who were within hearing to such pity and depth of compassion that they interceded for him with many prayers and tears. They expressed wonder at the unusual hardness of our heart, and some even insisted that we were exercising, not apostolic severity, but the ferocious cruelty of a tyrant." - "Parallel Source Problems in Medieval History," F. Duncalf, Ph. D., and A. C. Krey, M. A., p. 89. New York and London: 1912. {1943 CE, FAFA 264.3}

And yet the pope had the audacity to extract from the humiliated king the promise of a meeting among the princes of Germany, where "the pope as judge" was to decide whether

     Henry was to be "held unworthy of the throne according to ecclesiastical law" or not. (Id., p. 51) And finally the pope excommunicated Henry the second time, March 7, 1080, and a new king, Rudolph of Suabia, was elected, the pope sending him a costly crown. Civil war ensued, which deluged Germany in blood, and Rudolph, the king of the papal party, was slain. This is not an isolated case.  

     "When, in the year 1119, Calixtus excommunicated Henry V, the Pope also solemnly absolved from their allegiance all the subjects of the Emperor." - "Life and Times of Hildebrand," p. 284.

1943 CE, FAFA 265