Nov 19, 2020 in History

The Papal Revolution

What was more important to the kings and popes during the episode that historians call the Papal Revolution: spiritual authority or worldly power?

The Papal revolutions significantly changed traditional family relations and spiritual authorities. As a result, the Catholic Church was granted with power to reshape religious hierarchies. The twin Papal revolutions, which changed the cosmological and material beliefs of the West, were historically conjoined. That is why, it is important to analyze major factors that stimulated these revolutionary events.


The Papal revolution had its own history of development. For example, Pope Gregory the Great created in the 6th century a family revolution that broke with the cosmological beliefs of its fellow agrarian civilizations in the domestic domain by essentially promoting individualism and the independence of the young. In addition, the first Papal revolution was concentrated on changing traditional family patterns.

The revolution started after the church was accused of accumulation of money that was donated by the rich widows. Thus, the Emperor Valentine had addressed a ruling to the Pope that male clerics and unmarried ascetics should not hang around the houses of women and widows trying to worm themselves and the churches into their confidence and to share their bequests. This was one of the main reasons for the Pope to start this family revolution. As a result, this revolt was able to enrich the church. In France, for instance, it is estimated that one-third of productive land was in ecclesiastical hands by the end of the seventh century.

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Nevertheless, the second Papal revolution was primarily focused on institutional modernization. In the eleventh century, Gregory VII included the introduction of all the legal and institutional requirements of a market economy, which eventually put the West on a different economic trajectory from the one of its peers. The Pope organized a movement against imperialists. Gregory brought the Church into the world proclaiming that the City of God was to be placed above Caesar, and its will was to be enforced through the powerful sanction of ex-communication. Thus, his main goal was to undermine the old institutions and increase spiritual power.

The Pope was seriously concerned about the preservation of appropriate religious hierarchies. During the papacy of Gregory VII (1073-1085), the Church entered the famous Investiture Struggle (1075-1122), a protracted and largely successful conflict with the secular authorities for control of Church offices. George thought that the Roman Church should not be controlled by secular authorities, such as kings or nobility. This could only be reached through increasing the papal power. That is why, he proclaimed the legal supremacy of the pope over all Christians and the legal supremacy of the clergy under the pope and over all secular authorities. Thus, he wanted to establish hierarchy where the pope would become a supreme authority. Gregory proclaimed that all bishops were to be appointed by the pope and were to be subordinate ultimately to him. In fact, this plan was quite risky. Not everybody would agree to appoint one person to control all secular and church authority.

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Nevertheless, Gregory was a highly respected person and had an enormous personal influence. He also had a lot of supporters, who highly respected him and engaged in a struggle for papal supremacy. For example, Peter Damian (1007-1072) once addressed him as my holy Satan, and said: Thy will have ever been a command to me evil but lawful. Would that I had always served God and Saint Peter as faithfully as I have served three. Thus, Gregory had a special mission, to accomplish which he chose a revolutionary tactics.

For example, in 1075, he ordered all Christians to boycott priests who were living in marriage and not to accept their offices for the sacraments or other purposes. Thus, he encouraged priests to choose between their family life and priesthood. At the same time, it was not easy to conduct revolution without any written proof of papal authority and supremacy. That is why, during the last decades of the eleventh century, the papal party began to search the written record of church history for legal authority to support papal supremacy over the entire clergy. These documents also had to prove that the pope also has a supremacy over secular branches.

The outcome of the Papal revolutions was quite positive. The pope received a lot of power, as well as responsibilities. Under the Concordat of Worms in 1122, the emperor guaranteed that bishops and abbots would be freely elected by the church alone, and he renounced his right to invest them with the spiritual symbols of ring and staff, which implied the power to care for souls.

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Overall, the concordats left the pope with extremely wide authority over the clergy and with considerable authority over the laity as well. He also acquired numerous responsibilities and had to conduct religious life in the country. For example, he was also supreme in the matters of worship and religious belief; he alone could grant absolution from certain grave sins. In addition, the pope became the main judge and was granted with privileges to administrate churches. Gregory declared the papal court to be the court of the whole of Christendom and the pope had general jurisdiction over cases submitted to him by anyone he was judge ordinary of all persons.

All in all, due to these revolutionary events, the papacy grew strong. Moreover, many scholars believe these events had a long-term effect. In the Papal Revolution, as Berman describes it, laid the foundation for the subsequent emergence of the modern secular state by withdrawing from emperors and kings the spiritual competence they had previously exercised. Therefore, this revolution was not focused on gaining power. It was rather an equalizing process that allowed to divide authority between the church and the state.


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