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§ 10. Hildebrand elected Pope. His Views on the Situation.

Alexander II. died April 21, 1073, and was buried in the basilica of St. John in Lateran on the following day. The city, usually so turbulent after the death of a pope, was tranquil. Hildebrand ordered a three days’ fast with litanies and prayers for the dead, after which the cardinals were to proceed to an election. Before the funeral service was closed, the people shouted, "Hildebrand shall be pope!" He attempted to ascend the pulpit and to quiet the crowd, but Cardinal Hugo Candidus anticipated him, and declared:, "Men and brethren, ye know how since the days of Leo IX. Hildebrand has exalted the holy Roman Church, and defended the freedom of our city. And as we cannot find for the papacy a better man, or even one that is his equal, let us elect him, a clergyman of our Church, well known and thoroughly approved amongst us." The cardinals and clergy exclaimed in the usual formula, "St. Peter elects Gregory (Hildebrand) pope."2222    The earliest account is given by Gregory himself in two letters written April 24, 1073, and a third written April 26 to Wibert of Ravenna (Reg., I. 1-3). It is confirmed by Bonizo. Gregory frequently referred to his election as having been against his will. (See Mirbt, Wahl, etc., pp. 2, 42.) The anti-Gregorian party made the slanderous accusation that he secured his office by force and bribery, but not till the struggle between him and Henry IV. had begun. The subject is thoroughly discussed by Mirbt in his Wahl Gregors VII. p. 56. In his later work, Die Publizistik, p. 582, he again pronounces Gregory’s own account as "the most credible."

This tumultuary election was at once legalized by the cardinals. He was carried by the people as in triumph to the church of S. Petrus ad Vincula, clothed with the purple robe and tiara, and declared elected, as "a man eminent in piety and learning, a lover of equity and justice, firm in adversity, temperate in prosperity, according to the apostolic precept (1 Tim. 3:2), ’without reproach ... temperate, soberminded, chaste, given to hospitality, ruling his house well’ ... already well brought up and educated in the bosom of this mother Church, for his merits advanced to the office of archdeacon, whom now and henceforth we will to be called Gregory, Pope, and Apostolic Primate."2323    The clauses, "the husband of one wife," as well as "having his children in subjection," are omitted in the quotation from Paul’s letter to Timothy. They would be fatal to the papal theory of clerical celibacy. See the Latin text in the Acta Sanctorum for May 25, Tom. VI. 117, from the "Acta Romae 10 Kalend. Maji." The cardinals concluded the declaration with the questions: "Placet vobis? Placet. Vultis eum? Volumus. Laudatis eum? Laudamus."

It was eminently proper that the man who for nearly a quarter of a century had been the power behind the throne, should at last be pope in name as well as in fact. He might have attained the dignity long before, if he had desired it. He was then about sixty years old, when busy men begin to long for rest. He chose the name Gregory in memory of his departed friend whom he had accompanied as chaplain into exile, and as a protest against the interference of the empire in the affairs of the Church.2424    From Bonizo’s account it would seem that the cardinals gave him that name; but they probably ascertained his wishes beforehand, or anticipated them. Wattenbach (p. 130) regards the assumption of the name Gregory as an open insult to the empire and the Synod of Sutri, where Henry III. had deposed three popes, including Gregory VI.s election, and delayed his consecration long enough to receive the consent of Henry IV., who in the meantime had become emperor. This was the last case of an imperial confirmation of a papal election.2525    This is Mirbt’s view. The anti-Gregorian writers, reflecting the policy of Henry IV., insisted that Gregory had not received the royal assent. The imperial theory was laid down at Brixen, 1080, that any one assuming to be pope without such assent, was an apostate, si quis sine assensu romani principis papari praesumeret, non papa sed apostata ab omnibus haberetur. See Mirbt, Die Wahl, etc., pp. 29-38.

Hildebrand was ordained priest, May 22, and consecrated pope, June 29, without any opposition. Bishop Gregory of Vercelli, the German chancellor of Italy, attended the consecration. The pope informed his friends, distinguished abbots, bishops, and princes of his election; gave expression to his feelings and views on his responsible position, and begged for their sympathy and prayers.2626    Jaffé, Mon. Greg. (1885), pp. 9 sqq.

He was overwhelmed, as he wrote to Duke Godfrey of Lorraine (May 6, 1073), by the prospect of the task before him; he would rather have died than live in the midst of such perils; nothing but trust in God and the prayers of good men could save him from despair; for the whole world was lying in wickedness; even the high officers of the Church, in their thirst for gain and glory, were the enemies rather than the friends of religion and justice. In the second year of his pontificate, he assured his friend Hugo of Cluny (Jan. 22, 1075) that he often prayed God either to release him from the present life, or to use him for the good of mother Church, and thus describes the lamentable condition of the times: —

"The Eastern Church fallen from the faith, and attacked by the infidels from without. In the West, South, or North, scarcely any bishops who have obtained their office regularly, or whose life and conduct correspond to their calling, and who are actuated by the love of Christ instead of worldly ambition. Nowhere princes who prefer God’s honor to their own, and justice to gain. The Romans, Longobards, and Normans among whom I live, as I often told them, are worse than Jews and heathens. And when I look to myself, I feel oppressed by such a burden of sin that no other hope of salvation is left me but in the mercy of Christ alone."2727    Abridged from Ep., II. 49; Jaffé, p. 163; Migne, 148, 400

This picture is true, and we need not wonder that he often longed to retire to the quiet retreat of a convent. He adds in the same letter that, if it were not for his desire to serve the holy Church, he would not remain in Rome, where he had spent twenty years against his wish. He was thus suspended between sorrow and hope, seized by a thousand storms, living as a dying man. He compared himself to a sailor on the high seas surrounded by darkness. And he wrote to William the Conqueror, that unwillingly he had ascended into the ship which was tossed on a billowy sea, with the violence of the winds and the fury of storms with hidden rocks beneath and other dangers rising high in air in the distance.2828    Reg., I. 70.

The two features which distinguished Gregory’s administration were the advocacy of papal absolutism and the promotion of moral reforms. In both these respects Gregory left an abiding impression upon the thought and practice of Latin Christendom. Even where we do not share his views we cannot help but admire his moral force and invincible courage.

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