Thursday, December 10, 2015

Gregory VII - Changing One Tyrant for Another

The Medieval church was in bad shape in the middle of  the Middle Ages. The spiritual and moral situation had seriously degenerated. This came from the control of the church organization by the political rulers. The church organization had become rich and politically powerful. The political leaders saw it as in their vested interest to control such a powerful, influential part of the society. They considered it their right to choose who should fill those positions. Not uncommonly, they would fill the lucrative positions with relatives and cronies. These individuals were often not theologically educated and lacked any spiritual or moral qualifications. There was a point when women from the local political families controlled the office of pope and put their lovers and illegitimate children in the office. These offices were also used to supply income for the political authorities, requiring payment to obtain the office, or resulting in leaving the office vacant and keeping the income for themselves. The leaders would often farm the actual duties out to poor priests on meager wages who were also spiritually and educationally  bankrupt. Any kind of spiritual instruction of the people tended to go by the wayside.

At this time there began a revival of interest in serious Christianity, starting in the monasteries and spreading to the rest of the church. One chief leaders of this movement was a man named Hildebrand, later known as Pope Gregory VII. The instrument he used was the papacy, first being the power behind the throne and then as pope himself. His goals were on the whole good, a leadership that was spiritually and morally concerned and well educated. He did emphasize the idea of clerical celibacy, which was the moral crusade of the day. But it ended up in a power struggle between the pope and the civil authorities. For Gregory realized that as long as the civil authorities had the power to appoint church leadership, any reforms were ineffectual. To carry out this fight, he and his successors greatly magnified the power of the papacy. Gregory and his successors were forced to run from kings, humbled kings, sought to depose kings, and compromised with kings. And in the end they saddled the church with a spiritual tyranny. And the corruption of this tyranny made the tyranny they started out to overthrow pale by comparison. They came up with ways of extorting money from people that made the modern televangelists look like pikers. And they ended up with a leadership as morally, spiritually, and educationally bankrupt as the one they sought to replace. Also, they came up with new structures like the Inquisition to keep people in line. The moral of this is that you cannot effect a spiritual and moral reform simply by force. And vesting people with too much power to fight the enemy can end up making them worse than the enemy. We need to work by instruction and moral persuasion if we really hope to change people's hearts and minds.

No comments:

Post a Comment