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Church vs. State during the Middle Ages
Political Conflict between the Church and the State during the Middle Ages
Christianity is considered as one of the most dominant religions in the world, and has proliferated throughout the years, for as early as the 2nd century, initially established in Jerusalem. Although derived from the 'older' religion of Judaism, Christianity had greater appeal and popularity to the people because it is a new form of religion that seeks the same teachings and doctrines as Judaism, but utilizes both affirmation and fulfillment of its followers towards God.
Established in Jerusalem, Christianity quickly spread into Western civilization, and has pervaded the European society and culture by 9th century. Over the years, Christianity was inevitably ingrained into European society, and has become the dominant religion and political ideology of the Holy Roman Empire, political territory established by Charlemagne in 9th century over the central and western regions of Europe. With the integration of the power of State and Church, a powerful political empire was established in Europe, giving access to numerous leaders (kings/emperors) to control numerous European nations and proliferate Christian ideologies as a form of political thinking and control.
However, the glory of possessing both Church and State powers was eliminated with the coming of German invaders in 10th century, which brought about the decline of Church control in the Holy Roman Empire. During the Ottonian Empire (936-1024), Otto I became the new Holy Roman Empire leader, and under his empire, he sought to obtain both State and Church control by bringing the Church under the emperor's authority.
Successive leaderships during the Ottonian period illustrate the declining state of Church powers, which is represented by the Pope. During the 10th-11th century, the state of Papacy became worse, where emperors presided over the persecution of the Pope and Church leaders due to anomalies such as corruption of people's donations and involvement in questionable appointments of bishops and other members of the clergy. Because of these accusations, the power of the Pope became more unpopular and was even subjected to charges of simony -- "buying of spiritual things with money" (Robertson, 1904).
The turn of 11th century had brought radical changes and reforms on the relationship of the Church and the State and the strengthening of the Papacy as the leader of the Holy Catholic Church. One of the most significant Pope leaders during this period, Gregory VII, had imposed reforms that seek to "clean up" any anomalies that involve the Church with the State through harsh means. Threatened by the weakening control of the Pope over the affairs of the society (political and social), Gregory VII (whose name is Hildebrand) "became a monk of the strictest kind, and soon showed a wonderful power of swaying the minds of other men." Indeed, Gregory VII's extraordinary leadership and determination to resurrect the power of the Church is illustrated in Robertson's (1904) characterization of Gregory VII's leadership as Pope in the 11th century:
Gregory had higher notions as to the papacy than any one who had gone before him. He thought that all power of every kind belonged to the pope; that kings had their authority from him; that all kingdoms were held under him as the chief lord; that popes were as much greater than kings or emperors as the sun is greater than the moon; that popes could make or unmake kings just as they pleased; and although he had asked the emperor to confirm his election, as had been usual, he was resolved that such a thing should never again be asked of an emperor by any pope in the time to cone.
Gregory VII believed that, contrary to the belief of emperors, the rightful leaders of the Holy Roman Empires are not the descendants of self-imposed Kings and Emperors, but the Pope. This is because Gregory VII realized the significant role the Church plays in imposing on people the 'rightful' emperors that should lead Rome. Thus, recognizing the powerful role of the Pope and the Church in Roman politics and the influence it holds over society, one of the reforms that he proposed during his term as Pope is to appoint himself as the rightful leader of the empire, which was then headed by Henry IV.
One of the most important reforms that Gregory VII imposed and implemented during his leadership is to abolish investitures to the clergy, popularly called the Investiture Controversy. The Investiture Controversy is a common practice that involves Church leaders receiving lands from the King, signified by an Episcopal ring and staff, which are proof of ownership of the land. Gregory VII ruled that these investitures would no longer be practiced because it only leads to charges of simony, tainting the image of the Church. Because of this new regulation, the Church received extreme antagonism from the State, mainly because the abolishment of investitures meant that the State is gradually losing its control over the Church.
These reforms are not met unchallenged by Henry IV. Because of the influence that Gregory VII over the people of the empire, Henry IV sought the Pope's forgiveness and approval. The Pope declined him to give his forgiveness and approval; thus, the troubles in his empire continued: "...after all that Henry had gone through, no peace was made between him and his enemies. The troubles of Germany continued: the other party set up against Henry a king of their own choosing, named Rudolf; and Henry, in return for this, set up another pope in opposition to Gregory" (Robertson, 1904).
Despite these developments, the Pope remained steadfast in his position. His firm belief that he is the rightful leader of the empire is explicitly expressed in his letter to Bishop Hermann of Metz, written on March 15, 1081. In his letter to the bishop, Gregory VII enumerates the distinct differences that make him, the Pope, the rightful leader of 'God's kingdom' than the emperor (Henry IV).
In expressing his opinion on the rightful leadership of the Pope over the Holy Roman Empire, Gregory VII states, "It would have become you, brethren, to choose your words and not to speak ironically against the holy Roman and apostolic church... Is it not lawful, then, for him (Peter) to whom the power of opening and closing Heaven to exercise Judgment upon Earth? God forbid that it should not be!" (Henderson, 1896). Through rhetorical argumentation, Gregory VII argues his point, using references to Biblical accounts, how Peter, God's disciple who established His Church on Earth, has the power to lead over the Church. Thus, as descendants of Peter, Gregory VII deems himself God's 'chosen' leader, who is capable of 'exercising' "Judgment upon Earth."
Further into his letter, Gregory VII goes on to overstress the powers of the Pope, equating disobedience and being an enemy of the Church with that of committing a crime: "But if any king, priest, judge or secular person, disregarding this decree, shall attempt to act counter to it shall lose the dignity of his power and honour and shall know that he, in the sight of God, is guilty of committing a crime." He also (indirectly) criticizes Henry IV, in his effort to bring State control over the Church. His disagreement with the secularization of the Church is once again argued through Biblical passages, which, once again, posits that secularization "makes the sons of the world swell with pride," citing specifically the case of Henry IV as emperor: "Who does not know that kings and leaders are sprung from those who -- ignorant of God -- by pride, plunder, perfidy, murders -- the devil, urging them on as it were -- have striven... To dominate over their equals, namely, over men?"
Gregory's arguments illustrate how, despite his protestations on the 'evils' of secularization of the Church and his right to govern the empire, he is no different from Henry IV, aspiring to acquire political power through the influence and power of Christianity. His excessive use of religious (Biblical) passages by arguing almost every point against Henry IV and almost everyone who opposes his leadership show his determination, however illogical his arguments are, to reign over the empire. Indeed, Gregory had been successful in regaining the power of Papacy during his term, as illustrated in Henry IV's struggle to regain the people's trust in him.
However, over time, Henry IV was able to regain his strength militarily, and fought against Gregory's rise to power. In 1076, he was able to argue his points towards Gregory's accusations on Henry IV's 'crimes; in his letter to the Pope, Henry IV addresses himself as the "King not by usurpation but by holy ordination of God," while Gregory is addressed as a "false monk" (Robinson, 1904). Refuting Gregory's claim that he is the rightful leader of the empire and "apostolic chair," Henry argues that: "Thou, therefore, damned by this curse and by the judgment of all our bishops and ourselves, come down and relinquish the apostolic chair which thou hast…[continue]
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