Select Historical Documents of the Middle Ages/Book IV/Letter of Gregory VII. to Henry IV.

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Gregory VII2118449Select Historical Documents of the Middle Ages — Letter of Gregory VII. to Henry IV.1892Ernest Flagg Henderson

4. Letter of Gregory VII. to Henry IV., Dec. 1075.

Bishop Gregory, servant of the servants of God, to King Henry, greeting and apostolic benediction:—that is, if he be obedient to the apostolic chair as beseems a Christian king. Considering and carefully weighing with what strict judgment we shall have to render account for the ministry entrusted to us by St. Peter, chief of the apostles, it is with hesitation that we have sent unto thee the apostolic benediction. For thou art said knowingly to exercise fellowship with those excommunicated by a judgment of the apostolic chair, and by sentence of a synod. If this be true, thou dost know thyself that thou may'st receive the favour neither of the divine nor of the apostolic benediction unless—those who have been excommunicated being separated from thee, and compelled to do penance—thou do first, with condign repentance and satisfaction, seek absolution and indulgence for thy transgression. Therefore we counsel thy Highness that, if thou dost feel thyself guilty in this matter, thou do seek the advice of some canonical bishop with speedy confession. Who, with our permission enjoining on thee a proper penance for this fault, shall absolve thee and shall endeavour by letter to intimate to us truly, with thy consent, the measure of thy penitence.

For the rest it seems strange enough to us that, although thou dost transmit to us so many and such devoted letters; and although thy Highness dost show such humility through the words of thy legates—calling thyself the son of holy mother church and of ourselves, subject in the faith, one in love, foremost in devotion;—although, finally, thou dost commend thyself with all the devotion of sweetness and reverence: thou dost, however, at heart and in deeds most stubborn, show thyself contrary to the canonical and apostolic decrees in those things which the religion of the church enjoins as the chief ones. For, not to mention other things, in the affair of Milan the actual outcome of the matter shows plainly how thou didst carry out—and with what intent thou didst make them—the promises made to us through thy mother and through our confrères the bishops whom we sent to thee. And now, indeed, indicting wound upon wound, contrary to the establishments of the apostolic chair, thou hast given the churches of Fermo and Spoleto—if indeed a church could be given or granted by a man—to certain persons not even known to us. On whom, unless they are previously well known and proven, it is not lawful even regularly to perform the laying on of hands.

Since thou dost confess thyself a son of the church lit would have beseemed thy royal dignity to look more respectfully upon the master of the church,—that is, St. Peter, the chief of the apostles. To whom, if thou art of the Lord's sheep, thou wast given over by the Lord's voice and authority to be fed; Christ Himself saying: "Peter, feed my sheep." And again: " To thee are given over the keys of the kingdom of Heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth shall be bound also in Heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth shall be loosed also in Heaven." Inasmuch as in his seat and apostolic ministration we, however sinful and unworthy, do act as the representative of his power: surely he himself has received whatever, through writing or in bare words, thou hast sent to us. And at the very time when we are either perusing the letters or listening to the voices of those who speak, he himself is discerning, with subtile inspection, in what spirit the instructions were issued. Wherefore thy Highness should have seen to it that no discrepancy of good will should have been found towards the apostolic chair in thy words and messages. And, in those things through which the Christian faith and the state of the church chiefly progress towards eternal salvation, thou should'st not have denied the reverence due, not to us, but to God Almighty—disregarding the fact that the Lord saw fit to say to the apostles and their successors: "Who hears you, hears me; and who scorns you, scorns me." For we know that he who does not refuse to show faithful obedience to God, does not scorn to observe our commands—even as if he had heard them from the lips of the apostle himself— and the things which, following the decrees of the holy fathers, we may have said. For if, out of reverence for the chair of Moses, the Lord ordered the apostles to observe whatever the scribes and Pharisees sitting above them should say: it is not to be doubted but that the apostolic and evangelic teaching, the seat and foundation of which is Christ, should be received—and observed—by the faithful with all veneration from the lips of those who have been chosen for the service of preaching.

In this year, indeed,—a synod being assembled around the apostolic chair, over which the heavenly dispensation willed that we should preside; at which, moreover, some of thy faithful subjects were present: seeing that the good order of the Christian religion has now for some time been falling away, and that the chief and proper methods of gaining souls had long fallen into abeyance and, the devil persuading, been trampled under foot, we, struck by the danger and the clearly approaching ruin of the Lord's Hock, reverted to the decrees and to the teachings of the holy fathers—decreeing nothing new, nothing of our own invention. We did decree, however, that, error being abandoned, the first and only rule of ecclesiastical discipline was again to be followed, and the well-worn way of the aaints to be re-sought. Nor indeed do we know of any other entrance to salvation and eternal life which lies open to the sheep of Christ and their shepherds, save the one which, as we have learned in the gospel and in every page of the divine Scriptures, was shown by Him who said: "I am the door, he who entereth through me shall be saved and shall find pasture," was preached by the apostles and followed by the holy fathers. This decree, moreover, which some, preferring human to divine honours, do call an unbearable weight and immense burden—we, however, by a more suitable name, as a necessary truth and light for regaining salvation—we did judge should be devoutly received and observed, not only by thee and by those of thy kingdom, but by all the princes and peoples of the world who confess and cherish Christ. Although we much desired, and it would have most beseemed thee, that, as thou dost surpass others in glory, honour and valour, so thou should' st be superior in thy devotion to Christ. Nevertheless, lest these things should seem beyond measure burdensome or wrong to thee, we did send word to thee through thy faithful servants that the changing of an evil custom should not alarm thee; that thou should'st send to us wise and religious men from thy land, who, if they could, by any reasoning, demonstrate or prove in what, saving the honour of the Eternal King and without danger to our souls, we might moderate the decree as passed by the holy fathers, we would yield to their counsels. In which matter, indeed, even though thou had'st not been so amicably admonished by us, it would nevertheless have been but right that, before thou did'st violate apostolic decrees, thou should'st, by negotiation, make demands from us in cases where we oppressed thee or stood in the way of thy prerogatives. But of how much worth thou did'st consider either our commands or the observance of justice, is shown by those things which were afterwards done and brought about by thee.

But since, inasmuch as the still long-suffering patience of God invites thee to amend thy ways, we have hopes that, thy perception being increased, thy heart and mind can be bent to the obedience of the mandates of God: we warn thee with paternal love, that, recognizing over thee the dominion of Christ, thou do reflect how dangerous it is to prefer thine own honour to His; and that thou do not impede, by thy present detraction from it, the liberty of the church which He considered worthy to join to Himself as His spouse in celestial union; but that thou do begin, with faithful devotion, to lend it the aid of thy valour, in order that it may best increase to the honour of God Almighty and of St. Peter; by whom also thy glory may deserve to be increased. All of which, in return for the victory recently conferred upon thee over thy enemies, thou should' st recognize to be now most clearly due from thee to them; so that, when they reward thee with noteworthy prosperity, they may see thee the more devout for the benefits granted. And, in order that the fear of God, in whose hand and power is every kingdom and empire, may remain fixed in thy heart more deeply than our admonition, bear in mind what happened to Saul after the victory which, by the prophet's order, he enjoyed; and how be was chidden by God when he boasted of his victory, not carrying out the commands of that same prophet; but what favour followed David for the merit of humility amid the distinctions of valour.

Finally, as to the things which we have seen and noted in thy letter we keep silent; nor will we give thee a sure reply until thy legates, Rapoto, Aldepreth and Udescalc, and those whom we sent with them shall return to us and more fully reveal thy will to us in those matters which we entrusted to them to treat of with thee.

Given at Rome on the 6th day before the Ides of January, in the 14th indiction.