Popes in a Year
#157 - Pope St. Gregory VII
Pope from April 22, 1073 - May 25, 1085
Lived: c. 1015 - May 25, 1085
Birth name: Hildebrand of Soana
Give me the scoop on Gregory VII.
Hildebrand of Soana, the man who became St. Gregory VII, had been on the papal scene for many years before he himself was elected in 1073. He was of Italian birth, like his predecessor, having been born in Tuscany. After first being sent to study at the Roman monastery of St. Mary Aventine, he became a pupil of Fr. John Gratian, later known as Pope Gregory VI. Having been close with his mentor, young Hildebrand followed Gregory VI to Germany after the latter was deposed (remember: the Benedict IX debacle) and took the name “Gregory” because of him. Hildebrand spent the next several years serving Pope St. Leo IX and, after Leo’s death, carrying out his reforms.
Because of his familiarity with how the Church worked, not to mention his own personal holiness, Hildebrand was a no-brainer to follow Alexander II. Ironically, the very papal election process Hildebrand helped cement wasn’t actually the way he was made pope. In a fit of defiance, a Roman mob had unanimously chosen him as Gregory VII, though there’s little doubt he would have been the odds-on pick even if the rules were followed. Gregory VII reigned for just over 12 years before dying in exile in 1085.
What was he known for?
Gregory VII is best known for his epic quarrels with Emperor Henry IV.. Their first tiff happened when Henry tried to declare Gregory deposed using German bishops. Besides missing the fact that bishops can't be pawns, Henry had no idea that Gregory was well-read on the supremacy of the pope, not to mention he was supremely confident in the wrecking ball that was the newly-reformed Church. As a result, Gregory lowered the boom on Henry, declared
deposed, and ordered all Germany’s bishops to disregard him as their king. Stripped of everything, Henry moped to Canossa, where the pope was staying, and made a public confession, kneeling in the snow in sackcloth for
before Gregory lifted his excommunication.
The next time wasn’t so nice for the pope. Henry IV still remained a player in the German game, and Gregory eventually tried to resolve a dispute between Henry and the German princes. What resulted -- long story short -- was Gregory overreaching and ultimately being abandoned and disowned by most of his buddies, the reform party in Europe. An antipope, Clement III, was put forth by Henry and Gregory was soon exiled, his support limited to the Normans and the cardinal-bishops.
One of our most recent popes, Paul VI, pointed to St. Gregory VII as key in affirming the teaching that Jesus is really and substantially present in the Eucharist. Pope Paul VI actually quotes Gregory in his 1965 encyclical
“I believe in my heart and openly profess that the bread and wine that are placed on the altar are, through the mystery of the sacred prayer and the words of the Redeemer, substantially changed into the true and proper and life-giving flesh and blood of Jesus Christ our Lord, and that after the consecration they are the true body of Christ.”
Pope St. Gregory VII, on the Eucharist
What else was going on in the world at the time?
St. Stanislaus, patron of Krakow and all of Poland, was murdered by the Polish king, Boleslaw II, in 1079. He was canonized in 1253 by Pope Innocent IV and was a favorite of Pope St. John Paul the Great, who called St. Stanislaus the "patron of moral order." John Paul visited Poland two months after the 900th anniversary of the saint’s martyrdom in 1979, a trip now known as the
Nine Days that Changed the World
Coming Monday...Blessed Pope Victor III
SOURCES (and further reading)
John, E. (1964). The Popes: A concise biographical history. New York: Hawthorn Books.
Pope St. Gregory VII -
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Sent by Matthew Sewell on Tuesday, August 1 at 2:00AM