Quarrel of investitures (11th - 12th centuries)

Quarrel of investitures (11th - 12th centuries)

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The Investiture Quarrel is a controversy between Church and State in the 11th and 12th centuries, regarding the role of secular princes in the appointment of bishops and abbots. It dealt specifically with the customs established by the princes, by virtue of which they conferred on the prelates the ring and the crook, symbols of spiritual authority. The Quarrel of the Investitures mainly opposed the papacy and the Holy Roman Empire between the 11th and 12th centuries. The start of this conflict, the roots of which are very deep, can be chosen on different dates, but generally we consider that of theassembly of worms, this January 24, 1076, as decisive.

The origins of the investiture quarrels

We are not going to go into the details of the rGregorian eforms, but it should be noted that their origin dates back to the beginning of the 11th century, and even to the 10th century in the line of the Cluniac reforms. To put it simply, for Rome it was a question of unifying the Church behind the authority of the Pope, and this in total independence from secular powers. First of all, this is why popes like Leo IX supported Cluny in his quest for autonomy from the Great (the lords and the king). The precise goals: primacy of the Holy See, therefore, but also the fight against simony, marriages and the incontinence of priests. The reform became "libertas ”, Or pontifical freedom. But a major problem: since the Ottonians (10th century), it is the emperors who elect (designate) the Pope ...

However, Leo IX died in 1055, and the following year it was the turn of Henry III, who appointed him Pope. It was then that Pope Nicolas II (third successor of Leo IX), under the influence of a certain Hildebrand (future Gregory VII), took advantage of the minority of the young Henry IV to impose on the Lateran Council the election of pope by the cardinals (1059).

But the decisive turning point was in 1073, when Hildebrand succeeded Alexander II, under the name of Gregory VII. He has long been one of the architects of reform (which will therefore take his name). Born in Tuscany around 1020, of humble origins, he learned of Cluniac education in Cologne, then entered the service of Leo IX in 1049; he continued his work of reform under the following popes and therefore until Nicolas II and Alexander II, to whom he succeeded. He is a very intelligent man, endowed with an iron will and who calls himself a living Saint Peter: "Blessed Peter himself, responds with my mouth" ... He does not intend to give in to lay powers, including the young emperor.

Of dictatus papae to the assembly of Worms

Having reached the top of the Church, Hildebrand has free rein to complete his reforms, which began almost thirty years earlier. He convoked synods and councils, and in 1074 and then 1075, he reaffirmed his decisions by forbidding the laity to invest the bishops (including that of Rome). He also absolutely excommunicates the simonic bishops, especially close advisers to the emperor ... These decisions are called the dictatus papae, which include no less than 27 points, and which give the Pope, for example, the right to depose emperors or to decide on canonical texts! The pope becomes the only one legitimate holder of imperial power, and the temporal powers are there only to carry out his commands (which are those of God obviously)!

The emperor could not stand idly by, especially as he was pressed by the Germanic clergy, largely opposed to these reforms. Henri IV obtained his majority in 1066 but various internal problems, including a revolt in Saxony, did not allow him to be able to turn to Rome until 1075. At the beginning of 1076, he therefore decided to convene an assembly in Worms, a council more exactly (with bishops therefore), which deposes Pope Gregory VII! We are January 24, 1076. The decision is endorsed by another assembly, Lombard this time, and Henry IV then sends a very violent letter to the Pope to notify him of his dismissal : « descend, descend, per saecula damnande (Come down, come down, you who are doomed forever). The Investiture Quarrel begins.

The penance of Canossa and the victory of the Pope

But the emperor's power was still fragile: the Saxons took up arms again, and Henry IV was quickly abandoned, deposed by the Great and the prelates of his empire in October 1076! He then decides to go and do penance in front of the Pope, who has retired to Canossa. Gregory VII lets him undergo a long humiliation, and finally absolves him on January 28, 1077: he lifts the excommunication, but does not give him back his power. Henri IV must then face a civil war, in his kingdom where a counter-emperor was elected. He seems to gain the upper hand in the first part of the 1080s, against his imperial rivals but also against Rome, when he designates an anti-pope, Clement III. Henry IV then took advantage of the death of his rival Rudolf to march on Italy, then Rome, and Gregory VII owed his salvation only to the intervention of the Norman Robert Guiscard in May 1084.

The emperor finally believed his problems were over when the great pope died in 1085. For two years the papal throne was empty, but Henry IV then had to rub shoulders with Urban II (the instigator of the Crusade), then his successor Paschal II. His legitimacy constantly questioned, he died miserably in 1106. His son Henry V also tried to force himself to win, but also failed and had to give in to a compromise in the face of Pope Callistus II: it was the Worms Concordat, in 1122, ratified by the Lateran Council I. The Church and the Gregorian reform finally emerge victorious from the Quarrel of the Investitures.

Despite the concordat, in the Middle Ages the Church could never exercise complete control over the appointment of bishops, and the problem resurfaced in different forms. The investiture was a point of dispute between the French state and the Gallican Church in the 17th century, and gave rise to controversies in Spain in the second half of the 20th century.


- Propaganda and controversy in the Middle Ages: La Querelle des investitures (1073-1122) by Jacques Van Wijnendaele. Breal, 2004.

- J. CHELINI, Religious History of the Medieval West, Pluriel, 2006.

- F. RAPP, The Holy Roman Empire (from Otto the Great to Charles V), Points Histoire, 2003.

Video: Investitures


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