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Comparative Analysis of The Ways Charlemagne and Pope Gregory Vii Legitimized Their Respective Authorities

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In this essay I will explain how religious leader Pope Gregory VII and secular leader Charlemagne legitimized their respective authorities. In overcoming the challenges to their rule, Pope Gregory VII and Charlemagne impacted both empires and religious institutions and had long-lasting effects. In both cases of Pope Gregory VII and Charlemagne, the emperor’s power and the pope’s power were linked together. To legitimize his power, Pope Gregory VII directly threatened his royal opposition because there was a dispute between Pope Gregory VII and Emperor Henry IV. Conversely, Charlemagne used humility and partnered with papal rulers because he got along with Pope Leo III. The primary sources I will use to argue this are the letters between Pope Gregory VII and Emperor Henry IV, the Dictatus Papae, and Einhard’s Life of Charlemagne.

Religious leader Pope Gregory VII had a tenuous relationship with the secular leader at the time, Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV. As a result of this, Pope Gregory VII directly threatened his royal opposition in order to claim power. A major cause of the conflict between the two was that the pope didn’t want emperors to invest in papal power. Emperors or kings had been giving church officials power, a practice known as lay investiture. Pope Gregory VII banned the practice, leading to the investiture controversy between Gregory and Henry, as Henry was angered by the fact that he had his “God-given-right” of lay investiture taken from him, arguing that he needed dependable bishops. The secular leader was trying to get involved in matters that the religious leader thought should be under his control. This created a conflict and led to an exchange of letters between the two regarding the investiture controversy. Another thing mentioned in these letters is how Henry IV regularly communicated with men who were supposed to be excommunicated. When Henry IV refused to change his ways after the threats from Pope Gregory VII, Pope Gregory VII excommunicated him. Pope Gregory VII clearly felt that his religious power should have been superior to Henry’s secular power, rather than in harmony. Gregory stated that Henry “rebelled against thy Church with unheard-of-audacity,” and Gregory “forbade anyone to serve him as king.” Emperor Henry IV was challenging Pope Gregory VII’s rule by ignoring the rules Gregory set out, so Gregory responded to this challenge to his authority by directly threatening and exiling his competition.

There were two major long-term effects of Pope Gregory VII directly threatening his competition to keep his power. First of all, civil war broke out in Germany as a result. Secondly, it led to a tremendous growth of the ideal of papal monarchy. After the 1076 excommunication of Henry IV by Pope Gregory VII, Henry crossed the Alps in order to ask Gregory for forgiveness. While Gregory was suspicious, he lifted the excommunication. However, this did not prevent future conflict. As a result of Pope Gregory VII and Henry IV’s conflict, Germany saw the introduction of both an anti-pope and an anti-emperor. German nobles who sided with Pope Gregory VII elected anti-emperor Rudolf of Swabia, who was Henry IV’s brother-in-law. Clement III was elected anti-pope, on the side of Henry IV. To contextualize the political and religious situation that resulted in this civil war that broke out, the Franco-Papal Alliance occurred in the 8th century, and it was pivotal to the Church’s growing authority. It introduced a Church leader, the pope, and gave him the ability to crown kings or emperors. While this alliance was established, it did not guarantee that the pope, the religious leader, and the king or emperor, the secular leader, always got along. Pope Gregory VII and his direct threats towards Henry IV in response to the challenging of authority is evidence of this. While Pope Gregory VII would go on to lose the civil war, with Henry IV ridding of the anti-emperor and eventually chasing the Pope out of Rome, Pope Gregory VII’s threats against Henry IV to attempt to legitimize his authority left a legacy.

Despite losing in the civil war, the Latin Church “won” in the sense that they and the pope never showed this much strength. The fact alone that Henry IV had to elect an anti-emperor was monumental. All of these events led to a growth of the ideal of papal monarchy. The power that Pope Gregory VII exhibited, or at least sought, was “analogous to that of a consecrated king.” A religious leader going for the amount of power a secular leader had was unprecedented. Beyond his direct threats towards Henry IV, the Dictatus Papae was further evidence of Pope Gregory VII’s ideal of the papal monarchy. While it is not entirely clear whether or not the Dictatus Pape was issued by Gregory, there is speculation that it was, and regardless, it was issued during his pursuit of power, and definitely resembled his beliefs. Also, Pope Gregory VII’s go-to method to legitimize his claim was writing down his desires/threats – this can be seen in his letters to Henry, and with the Dictatus Papae if he did in fact write it. The Dictatus Papae explained how nobody should judge the pope, and basically how the pope is the best and most powerful person. This further developed papal power, or at least the ideal of it, and it was seen as a direct challenge towards anybody challenging the pope’s rule, including the secular king or emperor. This was the first time that the pope attempted to put himself above the secular leader, as opposed to at an equal level or below the secular ruler. This left a legacy of papal power and the papal monarchy.

Contrary to religious leader Pope Gregory VII threatening and going against his secular counterpart, secular monarch Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne teamed up with religious rulers and showed humility with those who challenged his power. In fact, it was Charlemagne who was a big part of the aforementioned Franco-Papal Alliance. It was when Pope Leo III named Charlemagne the Holy Roman Emperor that the pope first gained emperor-naming powers, and Charlemagne’s alliance with the Church was mutually beneficial, as it also gave the Carolingian monarch divine sanction. This helped to strengthen his rule and his claim to power. Those who questioned the legitimacy of his reign would now have to also question the word of the pope and the Church. Instead of just questioning the secular leader, they would also have to question the religious ruler. Charlemagne faced challenges from several groups, including the Lombards, Saxons, and Avars. Having the backing of the Church helped him to establish his power and authority.

Charlemagne showed lots of humility throughout his reign, as detailed by Einhard. Einhard wrote the Life of Charlemagne, recalling the tales of Charlemagne’s lifetime. Einhard served Charlemagne and then his son Louis the Pious. He didn’t like Louis’ rule, so he quit and instead wrote about Charlemagne, or Charles as he called him. Einhard’s goal was to make Louis the Pious’ rule seem inferior by simply praising Charlemagne. The information is pretty much reliable, and while Einhard is biased, he was very close to Charlemagne, having served him, and he knew a lot about Charlemagne’s life and reign. Throughout the Life of Charlemagne, he provides evidence about how Charlemagne used humility and friendliness to keep his power when his authority was being challenged. Charlemagne used humility both to team up with Pope Leo III and when dealing with his enemies. Charlemagne used his personality as his method to legitimize his authority. Charlemagne used great humility, winning over many people and lords just off of his friendly manner. Charlemagne, a man who built his empire partly through warfare, also used modesty and friendship to win over other foreign rulers. This included the king of Galicia and Asturias, the Irish kings, and the king of the Persians. Another example of Charlemagne’s humility is that when he was named Holy Roman Emperor, the Constantinople emperors thought Charlemagne might want to take over Constantinople. Instead, Charlemagne befriended them and struck a peace treaty. Einhard praising Charlemagne’s friendly manner and humility to contrast him from Louis the Pious shows what Einhard valued in a ruler. He valued a great personality and good relations. To contextualize Charlemagne’s rise to power, Charlemagne was one of the Carolingians, preceded by Pippin III. Pippin III was also crowned by a pope, but he was named King of the Franks, as opposed to Charlemagne, who was named Emperor of the Romans. This was more impactful. Charlemagne used his personality as a method to legitimize his authority, and he used humility both to win over foreign rulers and to establish a Franco-Papal Alliance to get along with his religious leader counterpart.

Charlemagne’s establishment of the Franco-Papal Alliance with Pope Leo III left a long-lasting legacy. First of all, the Latin Church from year 30 until about 700 did not have as much centralized power. However, when Pope Leo III named Charlemagne the Holy Roman Emperor, this established not only the aforementioned growth of power of the pope, but also established a much stronger bond between the religious ruler and the secular ruler. This would not have been possible without Charlemagne’s humility, which was used to team up with any potential challengers of his authority.

Some may argue that Charlemagne does not deserve the legacy he is attributed with, and that he gets more credit than he deserves. When looking at primary sources, authors Florin Curta and Jace Stuckey say that Charlemagne was not as involved as some claim he was. They say that when he went to war, Charlemagne had others do most of the load for him, while he was credited for their work. They describe the post-death image of him as a myth, saying his image was a “proto-crusader, ideal king, defender of the Church, and lawgiver: the myth.” However, this is not fair. Regardless of whether Charlemagne is credited too much as a “proto-crusader” and “defender of the Church,” he still played a great part in the Franco-Papal Alliance, which left a tremendous impact on both the religious institution of the Church and also the intertwining powers of religious leaders and secular leaders. While he might not have necessarily been a “defender of the Church,” it is still Charlemagne and his humility in response to challenges to his authority who helped establish the Franco-Papal Alliance. In addition to this alliance, Charlemagne played a big role in the Carolingian Renaissance, where Charlemagne helped to unify and standardize a Christian Empire. Charlemagne left a long-lasting legacy, creating a rapport between religious leaders and secular leaders that lasted for centuries and did not see many notable conflicts until Pope Gregory VII’s tension with Emperor Henry IV. The empire was also standardized under Christian rule because of Charlemagne.

With religious leader Pope Gregory VII’s power intertwined with secular leader Emperor Henry IV, Gregory directly threatened his opposition when his power was challenged. Conversely, secular ruler Charlemagne helped establish the interlacing of secular and papal power. While Gregory used literature to voice his threats, Charlemagne used his friendly personality and his humility to build relations. Gregory’s letters with Henry IV and the Dictatus Papae showed how Gregory tried to put himself over secular leaders, resulting in the growth of the ideal of a papal monarchy. The crowning of Charlemagne as Holy Roman Emperor by Pope Leo III established a Franco-Papal Alliance, and Einhard detailed how Charlemagne also used humility to build relations with contending secular forces. 

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