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Investiture Controversy

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Since the legalization of the Christian religion in the Roman Empire by Constantine in the IV century, Christian spiritual life gradually was becoming more and more integrated into the civil life of the Empire. By the XI century, Roman Catholic Church and the state in the Western Christian world became almost inseparable infusion of secular (temporary) and spiritual (eternal) powers that inevitably led them to struggle, later called Investiture Controversy. The conflict between papal office and the secular authorities about the distribution of power and right to appoint clergy on the post was becoming ripe gradually over the centuries until the chain of the“rebellion” started coming to the surface. The main reason for the conflict in the XI century was the fact that in Western Europe clergy took oaths of fealty to the feudal lords – the owner of the lands where those spiritual institutions were located – bringing the clergy under the authority of secular rulers and giving those rulers the right to appoint priests and bishops. Hence, the landlords preferred to appoint for the post someone who would support their views and the bishops and priests, in turn, began to pay to the secular authorities for the appointments like these giving way to the bribery and dismissing spiritual laws. “At stake was the question of the relationship between temporal and spiritual authority in a Christian society.”[1]  

It seems that the desire of the spiritual authorities to free themselves form the influence of the secular rulers took on rebellious character that was very extreme at times. In expressing their reasons and desires, clergy “articulated clearer sacramental understanding of the hierarchy of the church, through which spiritual power flowed into the world.”[2] The church was considered the only place for obtaining forgiveness of sins, the bride of Christ, the bishop was the head of the church on earth, successor from the apostles and the “husband” of the church and the sacraments that were performed by the priests only within Roman Catholic Church brought the grace of Jesus Christ upon people. Nothing else counted as powerful as the church.

 One of the most extreme points of view regarding the issue, is illustrated in the document called Unam Sanctam that was composed in the beginning of the XIV century by or/and about the Pope Boniface VIII (has been on the post from 1294 to 1303) as the result of the conflict between him and the French king Philip IV about the taxation of the clergy by the king and the raise of the papal supremacy by bishop. The document can, unarguably, be considered one of the most extreme statements that has ever been made in regard to spiritual authoritative supremacy.        

First of all, the bishop starts with the statement that “outside of [the holy Catholic and apostolic church that is a bride of Christ] there is neither salvation nor remission of sins”[3] claiming that specifically Roman Catholic and nothing and no one else possesses the power from God to grant forgiveness of sins. Then he indicates on the presence of two different powers within the church that he calls “two swords, to wit, a spiritual and a temporal” referring to the papal office/clergy/priests and the secular authorities. One of those swords, he continues, is to be used by the priests and the other by kings but only with the will of the priests; and then he makes a conclusion, that, undoubtedly, will make any king/ruler furious, when the “one sword should be under the other, and the temporal authority subject to the spiritual power” and that he is behooved “more freely to confess that the spiritual power excels in dignity and nobility any form whatsoever of earthly power, as spiritual interests exceed the temporal in importance” that’s why “it is for the spiritual power to establish the earthly power and judge it, if it be not good.”[4]  In this case, we witness not just an attempt to gain an independence from the secular authorities, not even to gain the equality with it, either, but an attempt to submit worldly authorities under the ecclesiastical power who will not only appoint the secular ruler but also judge them if they are wrong. Understandably, the response of the king on the claims of bishop was outrageous. He sent the armies to the city (Anagni) where bishop, his nephew and also some cardinals resided; their houses were vandalized and bishop was on the verge of death and life. The inhabitants of the city out of fear to be blamed by the Christians in other regions, helped to free the bishop who, in spite of that, had to flee and settle in Rome.

Although, the bishop Boniface VIII made one of the most extreme moves, the attempts to submit secular authorities under the spiritual rule had constantly been made during X –XIV centuries and later. For example, in the XI century there was conflict between bishop Gregory VII and the king Henry IV, when the bishop excommunicated the king and stated that the German nobility wasn’t obligated with the fealty oaths that they had made to him. The German nobility supported the bishop at the time and Henry IV had to beg bishop for forgiveness that was granted to him. Later on, the civil war took place between pope’s office and the king’s where bishop was defeated.  

On the one hand, the position and logic of the church to free itself from the influence of the secular authorities may be understood as the desire to come back to the origins of Christianity when the spiritual and secular laws do not fuse with each other or/and when the spiritual law being more supreme, as it comes form God himself, is supposed to improve society and influence appointed kings for a better rule. And, having witnessed that the ecclesiastical and secular offices unable to work properly when one is integrated into another, the spiritual authorities, understandably, had to take a step, at times rebellious and dangerous, toward the change. On the other hand, it might seem to be completely political conflict when the church authorities were driven not with the desire to distinguish and clarify the law of God from the secular one but with the desire for the absolute power.
























-          Dale T. Irvin, Scott W. Sunquist, History of the World Christian Movement (New York: Orbis Books, 2001)

-          John W. Coakley, Andrea Sterk, Readings in World Christian History, Vl. 1 Earliest Christianity to 1453 (New York: Orbis Books, 2004)

[1] Dale T. Irvin, Scott W. Sunquist, History of the World Christian Movement (New York: Orbis Books, 2001) p. 388

[2] Dale T. Irvin, Scott W. Sunquist, p. 388

[3] John W. Coakley, Andrea Sterk, Readings in World Christian History, Vl. 1 Earliest Christianity to 1453 (New York: Orbis Books, 2004) p. 397

[4] John W. Coakley, Andrea Sterk, p. 398

Created December, 2007