Are former kings still called kings

Canossa - victory of morals?

The disenchantment of the world began with the legendary walk of Henry IV

by Stefan Weinfurter

Canossa is booming. Not only because of the large exhibitions that are constantly devoted to the topic, but also because it has a permanent place in our collective memory. Without “Canossa” our social order is inconceivable, we are all connected to Canossa. To make this clear and to describe the decisive effective forces was the aim of various scientific projects at the Department of History at Heidelberg University.

“Don't worry, we're not going to Canossa - neither physically nor mentally.” Since the iron Chancellor Bismarck spoke these famous words in front of the Reichstag on May 14, 1872, Canossa has had a permanent place in our collective memory. We don't want to go to Canossa today either, but we're all connected with it. Our social order is inconceivable without “Canossa”.

Even contemporaries felt the profound effects of Canossa. The sentence of Bishop Bonizo von Sutri, written down in 1085, is famous: "When the news of the banishment of the king reached the ears of the people, our whole Roman world trembled!" What is meant is the ban that Pope Gregory VII. On February 22, 1076 had proclaimed against the Roman-German King Henry IV. The spell was clothed in a prayer to the Apostle Prince Peter: "Holy Peter", so the words were, "Prince of the Apostles, we ask, graciously bow your ear and hear me, your servant (...). I firmly believe that in your grace (...) it is pleasing to you that the Christian people, whom you are especially entrusted with, obey me (...). I also firmly believe that for your sake God has given me the power to bind and loosen, in heaven as on earth. In this firm confidence (...) I speak to King Heinrich (...), who rose up against your church with unheard-of arrogance, relinquished rule over Germany and Italy and release all Christians from the oath that they have given him or will still perform, and forbid that he will be served as king in the future. (...) Because he has spurned obeying like a Christian, (...) I bind him with the fetters of the curse (...). "This spell that finally led the king to repentance in Canossa, The famous chronicler Otto von Freising commented about 70 years later: “I read the history of the Roman kings and emperors over and over again. But I do not find a single one of them before Heinrich who would have been excommunicated by the Roman Pope. "

"Canossa" is inextricably linked with the name of Pope Gregory VII (1073-1085). His reform program was revolutionary and laid down in his famous Dictatus Papae from the beginning of March 1075. It comprised 27 guiding principles that had it all. Much of what Gregor noted here he took from the canonical traditions and forgeries, especially the Constitutum Constantini and the 'pseudo-isidorical forgeries'. But some things were unprecedented - and testify to breathtaking audacity. No one had previously asserted that the Pope was "undoubtedly holy" with canonically valid ordination - according to sentence 23. Rather, holiness had been viewed as absurd even during his lifetime. Nobody had formulated so clearly that the Pope was allowed to “remove the absent”, as it was now formulated in sentence 5 of the Dictatus Papae. This claim is repeated again in sentence 25: "That the Pope can remove and reinstall bishops without a synod." This claim actually contradicted the valid Roman and ecclesiastical law and also the 'pseudoisidoric decretals', to which Gregory VII otherwise liked to orient himself . Likewise, no one in the Western Church had previously used the phrase "that only the Roman bishop may rightly be called 'universal'" (sentence 2). Pope Gregory I once dismissed this claim as foolish and presumptuous around 600 when his counterpart in Constantinople adorned himself with it. No less astonishing was the seventh sentence: “That the Pope alone is allowed to pass new laws if necessary (novas leges condere)”. That sounded unheard of. So far, one has always tried to emphasize that one does not want to decide anything new, but rather bring the old law into effect. After all, it had to seem downright monstrous when the Pope claimed in sentence 12 that “he was allowed to depose emperors”. This also included sentence 27: "That he can release subordinates from the oath of allegiance to sinners". Nobody had said anything like that before.

But Gregory VII went to great lengths to enforce these positions in the entire Western Church. For the first time in the history of the Church, a flood of letters and ordinances poured out from Rome. They reached a wide variety of recipients up to the limits of the orbis Romanus. The “Roman world”: That became the formula for the responsibility of the Pope. This meant the area that went far beyond the empire and Italy and beyond the empire, an area for which the name Hesperia came up, ie "Occident". A cross-national 'regulatory space' was created, which was to be defined and filled by the reform papacy in Rome. By no means was "Europe" created, but we must not underestimate the integrative force that has thus affected large parts of Europe.

The Pope's letters were sent to both secular and clergy. Gregory VII tirelessly imposed the reform principles on them. Papal messengers were constantly on the move in western Christianity to deliver the papal instructions. The demand for obedience always came first. This prompted Archbishop Liemar von Bremen (1072–1101) to say the much-quoted words: “This dangerous person (homo periculosus) wants to order the bishops whatever he wants, as if they were his landlord (villici), and if they did have not fulfilled everything, should they come to Rome or be removed from office without a judicial decision. "

It is not just high emotions that you can perceive here. Rather, two principles of order collided: the episcopalist and the monarchical-papalist. The bishops saw themselves as a corporate college. Only collectively should one of their own be judged. But the Pope decided from a lonely height. And a second was added: the bishops should show unconditional obedience to the Pope and his legates. But that was directed against every established order. During this time, obedience could only be demanded of the unfree villici, the "land managers". On the other hand, giving orders to a bishop, a successor to the apostles, the highest and most distinguished representative of his church, seemed downright absurd. But the hierarchical principle of the religious-moral authority "Pope" was unstoppable and created a completely new "hierarchy of obedience" in the new orbis Romanus.

The king, too, should obey, the Salian Henry IV (1056-1106) - and thus join the collective of the obedient. In him the Pope saw a king like all the others, all on an equal footing in their relationship to the papacy. The "King of the Romans" (rex Romanorum), as the title of the Salian ruler was, was therefore called the "German King" (rex Teutonicus) for the first time by Gregory VII. "German Empire" and "German King" are names that were coined in Rome at the time and exported to the north. From this perspective, the German king stood next to the King of France, the King of England, the King of Denmark, the King of Hungary and other kings in the orbis Romanus. The vision of a community of equal peoples and kings began to emerge, united in the 'Greater Obedience Area'.

Obeying the Pope: For the Roman king, Henry IV, this meant a fundamental attack on his legitimacy. He saw himself as the representative of the heavenly king (vicarius Christi), responsible only to him and legitimized in his authority through him alone. Now, however, God was no longer to speak through him, but through the Pope. This led to the uprising of the 'disobedient' in the community of interests of king and bishops. In January 1076 they gave notice to the Pope on a court day in Worms. A few weeks later, Gregory VII responded: he pronounced excommunication on the king and the bishops and released all princes from the oath of allegiance. A vinculo iuramenti absolvo, that was the formula. The king was excluded from the church, no one should be allowed to associate with him anymore, he was at the mercy of hell and damnation, and everyone who would help him should meet the same fate. This blow was carried out with spiritual weapons alone, and the hierarchical restructuring of the Western Christian world was promoted and its scope of validity defined solely with religious-moral values ​​and notions of order.

Fight between the good and the bad

What were the reasons for these processes and developments? In answering this question, one must look to the fact that the Pope has released the subjects from the oath of allegiance to the king. That was a monstrous act. Up until then, the oath had been considered the irrevocable and binding bracket in the political and social order. According to the opinion of the time, an oath was not unilaterally reversible, otherwise it would have been like perjury, one of the worst sins in the community. But how could the Pope rise above the oath?

It can be observed that the church had, as it were, seized the oath in previous years. In Milan, the papal legate succeeded in pulling the socio-religious revolt of the lower classes (Pataria) that had developed there against the established clergy on the side of the Pope. The oath of the sworn association was linked to a church vow and a profession of faith. The political oath of Pataria was thus transformed into a 'sacrament' administered and controlled by the church. This was an eminently important step, because it opened the door for the church to decide on the validity of the oath. Indeed, shortly afterwards, oaths were declared invalid for the first time by the Pope. The criteria of the church were thus placed in practice above those of the previous social order and the binding force of legal traditions.

As a result, heated discussions broke out over the question of the oath. One saw its indissolubility anchored in the Bible itself. On the other hand, it has been argued that a king who distances himself from justice, faith and peace will dissolve the oath on his own initiative. The people would then be free to make another king, because one should not take an oath to an evil one. If this happens anyway, this oath is like perjury, because it was not allowed to be sworn. In addition, according to Augustine, it is also perjury to “violate what is to be sworn” (iurata iuranda violare periurium est). Even a neutral stance must therefore be sinful. Anyone who did not take the good offensive was bad. Evil and sin endangered the salvation of the soul, so the 'good guys' had to fight against it. All of these debates on values ​​and processes produced a new 'moral elite', which at the same time developed a great influence in the Church and in the world. Her opponents perceived her as arrogant, zealous, radical and intolerant. But she cast a spell over the mighty. Nobles and princes who held themselves to themselves joined this elite and began to align themselves with the new values ​​and to orientate themselves to them in their actions.

A collective kiss orgy

After the Pope's ban against the king, the princes, who counted themselves among the 'good guys', gathered in Trebur in autumn 1076 to ensure peace. Old enemies were reconciled under this new sign of good deed. They let their vassals line up in long rows, who then kissed each other and shed tears - a collective kiss orgy, one might say. The 'good princes' took matters into their own hands and, six months later, elected Rudolf von Rheinfelden, Duke of Swabia, a new king who was seen as a good king.

Three years later, in 1080, the decisive battle between the two kings broke out. The armies met at the White Elster in Thuringia. The army of Rudolf of Swabia, so will
reported, I recited Psalm 83 as I rushed forward: “God do not remain still, do not remain silent! Look, your enemies rage who hate you. They lift up their heads, devise cunning plans against your people, hold advice against those who hide with you (...). Do it with them as with Midian and Sisera, as with Habin at the Kishon brook, which you destroyed at en-Dor: They became fertilizer for the fields (...). My God, let them swirl like dust, like chaff before the wind! Like the fire that burns whole forests, like the flame that scorches the mountains, so chase them away with your storm and frighten them with your thunderstorm! ”The 'good guys' were sure of their cause. They thought they were the Lord's elect.

They were also the victors of the battle. But their king, Rudolf of Swabia, was injured by a stab in the abdomen. His right hand was also cut off. One day later he was dead. For the followers of the king this was a clear judgment from God: Rudolf had been punished with the hand with which he had once sworn allegiance to Heinrich IV. Now he was exposed as a perjurer. For the followers of Rudolf, however, it was a completely different sign of God: He had given their king martyrdom. Therefore they buried him in the choir of the cathedral of Merseburg, where actually only saints were allowed to rest. In their eyes, Rudolf did not fall as a rival to Heinrich in the struggle for kingship, rather he had lost his life in a struggle which he had waged for God and which was closely interwoven with the religious and moral idea of ​​the good and chosen Christian.

At this point we will have to ask ourselves why the religious and moral claim was able to develop so strongly during this time. The reason for this is probably to be found in the fact that society in the 11th century oriented itself functionally. Before, in the early Middle Ages, the prevailing idea was that society should be divided into the three classes of monks, clerics and laypeople. These three groups were formed according to their salvific value. The way of life of the monks was considered to be the one that led to heaven most surely. The lay way of life, on the other hand, had the lowest salvific value.

In the early 11th century, however, a completely different model for the interpretation and organization of society came to the fore. This interpretation scheme, which determined the Salic epoch, is - even if it can be traced back to Plato - to be described as revolutionary compared to the old one. Society was no longer structured according to biblical and salvation-historical points of view, but according to earthly functions. Accordingly, there was a group of those who pray, namely the oratores, i.e. the clergy. Then there was the group of those who fight, the pugnatores, the warriors who were later called knights. Finally there was the group of those who work, the laboratores or agricultores, the workers or peasants.

Bishop Adalbero of Laon reported to us about this new order in the early 11th century with the words: “The house of God is divided into three parts: some pray, others fight, others work. There are only these three groups, there is no further division. The duty of one part allows the others to devote themselves to their tasks, and the respective duties serve all. ”Then he goes into more detail about the situation of the workers. He regrets her, but her lot cannot be changed: “This stooped sex of people has nothing but its work”, are his words, and he continues: “Who can describe their duties, their hardships, their efforts, theirs exceedingly heavy work? They have to provide clothing and food for everyone, and no nobleman can live without the workers. ”Adalbero regards the lack of freedom of the workers as a prerequisite for the functioning of society. The old Christian view that the freedom of all people is the original and that lack of freedom is only a consequence of sin, faded into the background.

The functionalization of the social order also explains why the class of the monks in this model merged with the class of the clergy. For the people as a whole, the role of the clergy was much more important than that of the monk. The monks strove for self-sanctification.The clerics, on the other hand, had to take care of the salvation of their fellow human beings so that they could stand up to the Last Judgment. That was precisely the most important task in the thinking of that time. In terms of functional value, the clergy rose far above all others, because they cared for the eternal life of the people. Correspondingly, the priestly self-esteem rose by leaps and bounds in the second half of the 11th century.

Of course, this also placed special demands on the clergy. The priests were now required to lead an impeccable lifestyle so that they could fulfill their functions. Buying offices was condemned, but so was the coexistence of priests with women. Theories of justification were spread. Living with women, it was said, would inevitably lead to damnation. In the case of women, only the upper half can be baptized, but not the lower half. This problem was hotly debated. Gottschalk, a learned monk from the Klingenmünster monastery in the southern Palatinate, wrote an expertise about it around 1100. He came to the conclusion that this widespread opinion was probably not true after all, because otherwise every woman would be divided in half when she died and one half would go up to heaven, the other half down to hell, and that would be on Judgment Day bring significant problems.

From now on the 'good priest' had to do without his wife, because his hands had to be clean for the administration of the holy sacraments. In addition, this was to prevent a pastor's position from being inherited by the pastor's son. So the new priestly church sought to optimize. Everywhere one recognizes the strong moral-religious force for the claim of this priestly church to present itself in the world as the highest authority. In the reform circles, new elites with their new categories of values ​​emerged, and new authorities emerged, at the head of which the obedience-demanding Pope himself sat.

The definition of the worldly

How did the king react to these trials? On the face of it, it was time to go to Canossa. In this way, Henry IV forced the Pope to accept him back into the Church in January 1077. In this way he prevented a tribunal that the 'good princes' wanted to organize against him together with the Pope. It would inevitably have led to its destruction. Heinrich was able to avert this through his penance, and Rudolf's death in the Battle of the White Elster in 1080 gave him the freedom to act once and for all.

But what were the deeper consequences of these upheavals for the social order and the order of the 'world'? First of all, it can be seen that royalty itself tried to create a space for self-determination. The king and his court argued with the 'theory of two powers'. The aim was to assert the equality of powers, ecclesiastical and secular power. The New Testament, Luke 22:38, speaks of the disciples showing Jesus two swords at the hour of decision. He then said: “That is enough!” At an early stage, around 500, secular and spiritual violence were associated with it in the church. At that time the Pope tried to use this interpretation to gain a certain independence from the emperor in Byzantium. Well, in the context of "Canossa", it was the king who wanted to present his office as independent from the church in this way. His point of view was that he had his sword directly from God. The first step towards the separation of 'worldly power' from the ecclesiastical and secular cosmos, and even more so: towards the creation of 'worldly power', came from the royal court.

In addition to these and other biblically based arguments, completely new fields of legitimation were opened up. This included above all the Roman law of inheritance. The Italian legal scholar Petrus Crassus led this direction. He wrote a "Defense for Heinrich IV." (Defensio Heinrici IV.). In it he refers to the institutions of Justinian. The imperial power must therefore not only be based on armed violence, but also on a legal system secured by law. According to Roman property and family law, Henry IV was the legal owner of the kingship in the legal sense. What every private citizen is entitled to, it says in Chapter 6, should not be withheld from a king. Whoever does this is acting against international law, against civil law, against good morals, against all fairness of human life. The Pope must also recognize this.

The functional optimization also led in the church to define itself independently of the king. The aim here was to prevent any influence of the king on the occupation of bishoprics. The investiture, the appointment of the bishops, should be organized solely according to church rules. But a bishop was not only a spiritual but also a secular lord. His rights were public rights that belonged to the king's sphere of influence. But under these circumstances how could the king be persuaded to withdraw from the episcopal investiture? One solution model was: The bishops would have to renounce all worldly rights and possessions. But this attempt failed miserably in 1111. When the Pope wanted to order the complete disempowerment of the bishops, the wave of indignation from the bishops surged so high that this attempt was never repeated in the Middle Ages. The other model, especially promoted by Bishop Ivo von Chartres, aimed at a clear distinction between the secular and spiritual spheres of the episcopate. This was an epoch-making process because it also made the separation of church and world legally accepted and accepted on the part of the church.

Another consequence of the upheaval associated with “Canossa” concerns the new definition of truth. The functional mandate to the church was 'divine imparting of truth'. But the ecclesiastical laws, the fathers' writings, the council resolutions, the papal ordinances and the commandments of God were by no means always in harmony, which until then was not a major problem in Christianity. But now that changed. Now you had to know what truth to represent and how to know the truth. Only in this way was an optimal mediation of salvation possible. The ecclesiastical authorities alone were no longer sufficient, not even the papal authority. Now the canon law has been made coherent: "The agreement of the divergent" (Concordantia discordantium). Above all, however, the scholastic and dialectical method was used to recognize the truth with 'pure reason'. Sola ratione, knowledge of truth through reason alone, was the formula as it was first formulated by Anselm of Canterbury towards the end of the 11th century.

We see the dimensions in which “Canossa” stands as a historical cipher. At its core, “Canossa” is about the beginning and the path of a disenchantment of the world. This is how Max Weber described the process of rationalization, in which the unity of religious and state order dissolves. This process inevitably harbors new regulatory ideas that profoundly influence, even overturn, a society's code of values. Truth and justice stand out. And there are also the first signs of providing the state sector with its own foundations, for example through recourse to Roman law. In order to increase its assertiveness, the new code of values ​​was strongly oriented towards moral judgment. Behavior and actions that did not fit in were defamed as evil.

It is by no means the case that the Church really withdrew from the world in the Middle Ages. On the contrary, the papacy was even able to establish the role of arbiter over the European peoples and empires for a long time. Ultimately, with “Canossa” a development had been opened that carried the germ that the secular order could follow its own laws and develop its own values. The process of rationalization was on its way, even if it would take many centuries to fully develop. Its actual roots go back to the days of “Canossa” - brought about by the functionalization of society and implemented through the power of a moral-religious claim. It was from here that the first impulses came to conceive worldly orders of life, to define the church as a separate institution and to develop scientific methods of searching for truth. The “light of reason” made it surprisingly fast to such an extent that the University of Paris dared to deny God's existence as early as the 13th century. The stone was set in motion and pulled its path over some bumps up to the clearing point.

Prof. Dr. Stefan Weinfurter has been Full Professor of Medieval History at the Center for European History and Cultural Studies in Heidelberg since 1999 and, together with Prof. Dr. Bernd Schneidmüller the Institute for Franconian-Palatinate History and Regional Studies. Before that, he held professorships or full professorships at the Universities of Eichstätt, Mainz and Munich. His research on political, social and culturalist configurations of order concentrate primarily on the period from the 10th to the 13th century (most recently: Canossa. Die Entzauberung der Welt, Munich 2006). Since 2003 he has been a full member of the Heidelberg Academy of Sciences.

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