Saint Brigid Religious Education
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West Hartford, CT 06110
Pope St. Gregory VII
Feast day: May 25
Gregory was one of the great reformers of the medieval church. He
asserted the primacy of the church over secular powers and led the papal
party in the first phase of its conflict with the Holy Roman Empire.
Born Hildebrand into a family of modest means in Tuscany (Toscana), he
was sent to Rome for his education. After he was ordained a cleric, he
attracted the attention of Pope Gregory VI, who chose him as his
chaplain. Eventually considered the most influential person in Rome, he
enjoyed the confidence of all the popes who reigned after the death of
Gregory VI and before his own elevation to the papacy in 1073.
During these years the popes were engaged in a vigorous campaign to
reform the church. It is indicative of Gregory's importance both before
and after his election that this enterprise is now known as the
Gregorian Reform. With its emphasis on the reform of the higher clergy,
the movement inevitably brought the papacy into conflict with secular
rulers, who claimed the right to appoint the higher church officials in
their countries, because they preferred bishops and abbots who,
regardless of their moral qualities, would strengthen imperial finances
and political power.
Gregory was elected pope by acclamation in Rome on April 22, 1073.
Relations with Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV of Germany were already
strained under Gregory's predecessor, and the new pope's vigorous
measures in the Roman Synod of 1075 to eliminate simony (the sale of
clerical office) and to promote clerical celibacy increased the tension.
In particular, the synod forbade lay investiture, the right claimed by
emperors and kings to confer upon prelates the symbols of their
spiritual authority. Henry responded to these and other actions of
Gregory by declaring him deposed; the pope countered by excommunicating
the emperor. This marked the outbreak of the Investiture Controversy,
the papal-imperial struggle for authority over appointments in the
The quarrel ended when Henry begged for forgiveness in a memorable scene
at Canossa, Italy, in 1077. A renewed quarrel led Gregory to
excommunicate the emperor again in 1080, and Henry's forces took Rome in
1084. Gregory was rescued by Robert Guiscard, but the devastation of
Rome forced the pope to withdraw to Salerno, where he died.