Select Historical Documents of the Middle Ages/Book IV/Letter of the German Bishops to the Pope

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(d.) Letter of the German Bishops to the Pope.

Although we know and are sure that neither the winds nor the waves of tempests can cast down the church of God which is founded on a firm rock: we, nevertheless, being very weak and timid, are shaken and tremble whenever such attacks occur. Wherefore we are very gravely disturbed and frightened concerning those things which seem about to furnish, unless God avert it, a fruitful source of great evil between your Holiness and your most devoted son our lord emperor. Indeed, by those words which were contained in the letter which you sent through your most prudent and honest envoys, master Bernard and master Roland the chancellor, venerable cardinal presbyters, the whole public of our empire has been set in commotion. The ears of the imperial power were not able to hear them patiently nor the ears of the princes to bear them. All present were so deaf to them, that we, saving thy grace, most holy father, on account of the sinister interpretation which their ambiguity permits, do neither dare, nor are we able, to defend or to approve them by any form of consent,—for the reason that they are unusual and have not been heard of up to the present time. Receiving with due reverence, however, and putting into effect the letter which you did send to us, we did admonish your son, our lord emperor, as you did order; and, thanks be to God, we received from him such reply as became a catholic prince. It was to this effect: "There are two things by which our empire ought to be ruled, the holy laws of the emperors and the good customs of our predecessors and fathers. We will not and can not go beyond those limits placed for the church; whatever is counter to them we do not receive. We willingly exhibit due reverence to our father; we look upon the free crown of our empire as a divine benefice alone; we acknowledge that the first vote in the election belongs to the archbishop of Mainz, the remaining ones to the other princes in order: that the royal anointing pertains to the archbishop of Cologne, but the highest, which is the imperial, to the supreme pontiff. Whatever there is besides these is superfluous, is evil. It was not in contempt of our most beloved and most reverent father and consecrator that we compelled the cardinals to depart from the confines of our land. But with those things and on account of those things which they bore in writing, or about to be filled in to the disgrace and scandal of our empire, we could not permit them to proceed further. The exits and entrances of Italy we neither closed by an edict nor do we wish in any way to close them to pilgrims or to those approaching the Roman see for their reasonable necessities with testimonials from their bishops and prelates. But we do intend to oppose those abuses through which all the churches of our land are oppressed and worn out, and almost all monastic discipline is dead and buried, God, through the emperor, has exalted the church to be at the head of the world; at the head of the world the church, not through God, as we believe, now tries to demolish the empire. It began with a picture;[1] from a picture it went on to a letter; from a letter it tries to go on to authority. We shall not suffer it, we shall not permit it. We will rather lay aside the crown than to consent that the crown, together with ourselves, be so abased. Let the pictures be obliterated, the writings retracted, so that they may not remain eternal sources of discord between the kingdom and the priesthood." These and other things, concerning the peace with Roger and William of Sicily and the other conventions which have been drawn up in Italy, which we do not dare to give in full, we heard from the lips of our lord emperor. The count Palatine, moreover, being absent, having been already sent ahead to prepare for an expedition into Italy,—we heard nothing from the chancellor, who was still present there, that did not savour of humility and peace except that he stood by those men in the danger to their lives that threatened them from the people. And all who were present testify as to this same fact. For the rest we humbly beg and beseech your holiness to spare our weakness, to soothe like a good pastor your high-souled son by writings which shall sweeten your former writings with honeyed suavity; so that both the church of God may rejoice in tranquil devotion, and that the empire may be raised still higher in its lofty position, He himself mediating and helping—Jesus Christ, who, as mediator between God and men, was made man.


  1. The picture referred to is described in the Cologne Annals (Mon. Ger. xvii. 766). Innocent II. sits upon a throne, while King Lothar, Frederick's predecessor, bends before him with folded hands to receive the crown of the empire. Underneath was written, as we learn from Ragewin, iii. 10: "The king comes before the gates, first swearing to preserve the rights oi the city. He is afterwards made the pope's vassal, and takes the crown which he gives."