Saint Brigid Religious Education
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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 church.

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.

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