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Progression of Church and State Relations

In: Historical Events

Submitted By erieandrew
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The status of Church and State relations changed greatly between the time period of 800 A.D. and 1122A.D. Like a game of tug of war, power shifted between the two forces and in times when one side was in control the other side was constantly looking for a way to regain control. Both church and state evolved during this time period, both gaining more influence and power. As both complex structures grew many questions were raised on who had the right to do certain things. The evolution of church and state relations was heavily dependent on many events, but several historical factors were very influential in this time period such as; Charlemagne being crowned Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, church participation in feudalism, lay investiture, simony, and finally the Concordat of Worms. These topics are the major factors that outline the evolution of church and state relations so their effects will be discussed in great detail throughout this paper. Charles Augustus being crowned emperor by Pope Leo III most definitely marks the beginning of church relations in the given time period. Charles Augustus along with many previous Frankish rulers had constantly fought for the Christian church, preserving it throughout its many vulnerable time periods. Charles Martel held back the Muslim invasion while Peppin had succeeded in subduing the Lombards. Charles Augustus only continued the French’s support of the Christian church by conquering many German tribes, and then converting them to Christianity. All the while Augustus also had enforced a tithe, or 10% tax on the income of all Christians to benefit church properties and support them materially. Pope Leo III crowning Augustus also showed the Rome's independence from the Greeks in Constantinople. Since the days of Constantine things had changed extremely, the eastern part of the Roman Empire had greatly increased in authority and power. In Charles, King of the Franks, the pope had found a new leader to head a revived western empire, he had also started a relationship that in it’s beginning was very beneficial to both sides. The actions put forth by Charles throughout his reign eventually lead to his name being combined with the word greatness, and in fact he is still widely referred to as Charlemagne today. Unfortunately Charlemagne could not rule forever and at his death, his kingdom was divided between his three sons who were very individualistic and not capable rulers. This division benefitted the church; it allowed Popes after the death of Charlemagne to be their own masters. Many lands around Rome that had been ruled by the emperor fell into the hands of the pope. The new lands possessed by the Church lead to the next historical factor that would greatly effect the standing relations between church and state.
During his reign Charlemagne had been able to create some order and build a good relationship with the church but his death deteriorated all of which he had worked to create, mainly because the kingdom had been divided. The division of the kingdom created disorder and allowed all power in terms of land to be shared along with a growing force, the church. Out of the disorder of these times arose feudalism.
With the Holy Roman Empire broken up into many small kingdoms, the chief source of wealth became land. Because there weren’t any large cities and most people lived in the country the practice of Feudalism firmly took hold. Feudalism was a system based upon holding land and because of its many levels it could often be very complex. Kings would often divide their kingdoms among leading warriors upon asking that these warriors give military aid to them whenever they were called upon to do so. This practice continued down the hierarchy of warriors from leading warriors with more land to ones with smaller roles and smaller land. Princes would also divide their portions of the kingdom to lesser nobles. These nobles in turn granted sections of land to lesser tenants, and so on. In the feudal system one was either a lord or a vassal. Lords were to give protection to their vassals, and vassals were to give service, like in war, to their lords. In simple terms Feudalism was a system of mutual aid.
The practice of feudalism is applicable to the church because as stated before, lands around Rome that had been ruled by the emperor fell into the hands of the church after Charlemagne’s death and also because people often gave land to churches or monasteries. As a result, bishops who were the heads of churches or monasteries became landowners. This automatically brought the clergy into the feudal system. Kings and lords looked upon the popes, bishops and clergymen as their vassals, which resulted in clash between church and state. The question soon became who was more powerful, the church or state! Because of the Church’s position in relation to state figures the feudal system brought the clergy under the power of the feudal kings and lords. The feudal system along with other factors would soon lead to another large historical factor in Church and State relations.
The position the State and its figures held above the church and its members led to the State appointing the clergy they wanted to their kingdoms. According to the feudal system the lords thought they were supporting the clergy by giving them land, and because of this they felt the clergy in return should serve to the state’s need. This mindset led the kings and lords to the conclusion they had a right to choose the clergy who would hold office in their kingdoms. Lords, of course, would only choose clergymen who would support them. The clergy that were being appointed to office soon were only chosen for political reasons, not religious, and this soon led to corruption. Lay investiture was the specific practice of appointing a nonordained person to a clergy position. Because of the political preferences many men who were not even apart of the clergy were placed in offices of the church, sometimes to very important offices including the pope.
The investiture system soon produced chaos, especially in Italy. The decentralized system of feudalism made power switch hands very quickly and the root of power were soon found in large wealthy families. Whenever a noble family would gain control, it would appoint its own clergy in hopes of directly affecting the selection of the pope. As feudalism gave birth to lay investiture the church became oppressed by irreligious rulers. Popes normally are supposed to rule a lifetime but because the family in power often appointed the pope, many popes only lead the church for small periods of time. Between 891 and 955, there were more than twenty popes! The relations between the church and state during this time were disgraceful as the church itself became politically charged and it lost most of its religious role. Although this time would eventually end, it wouldn’t before another important historical event.
Along with lay investiture another practice to gain office was widely practiced, simony. Simony is the sinful act of giving or obtaining a position in church office in exchange for money. This was a common practice during the middle ages, and like lay investiture, was even used in the obtaining the role of pope.

In Italy a noble family showed its power once again and this time appointed Benedict IX pope in 1033. Benedict was only twelve years old, and he turned out to be a bad choice for the large role pope and even more, maybe one of the worst ever to be pope. The nobles of another dominant family opposed Benedict, and in 1045 were able to drive Benedict from Rome. The new noble family then appointed their own choice, Sylvester III as pope. However, soon Benedict grew up and came back wanting his place as pope. Benedict got his job back but unsurprisingly he tired being pope and sold the seat for one thousand pounds of silver to a man named Gregory VI. After selling his positions as pope Benedict later refused to give up his position of pope. This crazy situation was incredible, the highest position in the church was being thrown around; at this time all three men were claiming to be the pope! Benedict IX, Sylvester III and Gregory VI. Throughout the Middle Ages the church had transformed into a tool for the State, fortunately the time would come when the churches original roles could be better played without interference, the time had almost come. It would be Pope Gregory VII who would be the one to stand up to the State. Pope Gregory VII began his role as pope in 1073 and strongly stated that it was indeed the Popes who are the master of Emperors. Pope Gregory VII based his belief on the action of popes crowning the emperors, not emperors crowning popes. Because the state had the upper hand for so long resistance from Emperor Henry IV instantly met Gregory. Henry IV argued with the pope on the issue of lay investitures. It had been for centuries now that secular leaders held the right to appoint bishops and other religious leaders. Gregory VII wanted change and wanted lay investiture to end, so that only he could appoint real clergymen to positions.
Henry IV would still not agree and was eventually excommunicated by the pope. As a ruler himself, Henry IV being excommunicated was huge; this meant that the church also denied all Henry IV’s subjects and those who were loyal to him. Henry’s subjects soon revolted as the church had discovered its power, its importance to the people. In order to save his own throne, Henry had to beg and plead before the pope, begging his forgiveness.
For three days he humiliated himself and stood with not shoes, with hardly any clothes on in front of Gregory's window. Fortunately, Gregory finally forgave and Henry was able again be apart of the church.
This outcome of the above clash between church and state was extremely significant; it was the first time in this medieval period in which the Church clearly showed it was the one in control. Although Gregory was incredibly successful in reforming the churches ways, the endings of his argument with Henry IV in a way had to be put on paper.
The Concordat of Worms was the “on paper agreement” the time period needed. The agreement, between the Church and the Holy Roman Empire brought an end to the Investiture Controversy and recognized the right of the Church to appoint its own bishops. This agreement instantly ended the belief in the divine rights of kings. Looking at this time period modernly it was also a very important step toward the idea of separation of church and state. Although this agreement was the end of church and state relations during the assigned time period, the battles between church and state continued long after and the state would likely be the winner.

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