The investiture quarrel
The dispute of universals was essentially discussed in small circles on the theological
and philosophical level. Its outcome formed the theoretical prerequisites for political
dominance of the church. On the other hand it is in complementary relation to the 'investiture quarrel'. Both fit together like theory and practice. The investiture
quarrel is the pragmatical consequence of the philosophico-theological 'dispute
of universals'. It is the territorio-political outcome of the theoretical developments within the church. Scholasticism is not merely scholarly in this context, it shows
clearly its political goals.
Evidently, the Neoplatonic outcome of the dispute of universals is the basis of the
harsh constitutional and political claims of a whole series of popes. We will discuss
this more in details in the following.
Early tensions, cooperation and dependence of the pope
The investiture quarrel smoulders already at the end of the 8th century, particularly
at the coronation of Charlemagne. It was on Christmas day of the year 800 in the
church of Saint Peter in Rome. In various contexts pope Leo III. had taken some decisions very independently, above all, decisions which contradicted Charlemagne's ideas of
rulership. Particularly disturbing were the pope's ideas about the function of the
church within his own territories.
In the year 813 Charlemagne's son Lewis is crowned to become his co-emperor in Aachen.
Decisions and celebrations happened without the pope, a clear power-demonstration
against Rome. However, cooperation dominates in the 9th century, in the time of the
division of the Franconian empire. Lewis the Pious (814-40) lets himself be crowned in
816, in Reims, by pope Steve IV. (816-17). During the period of the division of
the empire, the crownings of the emperors were performed by the pope.
The church during the Saxonian-Ottonian empire
At the beginning of the High Middle Ages (10th century), after Conrad I. (911-18),
the last Franconian, the Saxon emperors Henry I. (919-936) and Otto I. the Great,
returned decisively to Charlemagne's philosophy, particularly with the military
conquest of new territories (925 recovery of Lorraine, 928 fights against Slavic tribes, 933
victory over Hungarians). These territorial extensions greatly strengthened their
Consequently, Otto I. the Great (936-973) keeps Charlemagne's tradition and celebrates
his coronation not in Rome, but at Aachen. The archbishop of Mainz put the crown
on his head. In 939 Otto is successful in fighting a riot of the dukes of Franconians,
Bavarians and Lorraine. During his first campaign to Italy (951/ 52), he declares
himself king of the Franconians and Langobards without having any elections nor a
crowning ceremony. In 955 Otto conquers the Hungarians on the Lechfeld. They are
converted and settled. Steve the Saint (997-1038), the Hungarian king (the crown was sent by
the pope) is thus directly dependent of Rome. In that same year (955) Otto conquers
the Slavs at the Rechnitz. The intensive proselytization of the Slavs is supported
by the establishment of numerous bishop-headquarters (Schleswig, Oldenburg, Havelberg, Brandenburg,
Meissen, Merseburg and Zeitz), which are all united (968) under the control of the
archbishop of Magedburg. Between 961- 965 Otto undertakes his second campaign to Italy. Pope John XII. had called him for help. In February 962 the emperor is crowned
in Rome. In return, Otto guarantees the 'donation of Pippin' (which corresponds to
the factual state territory of the Roman church). The emperor's rights too are renewed in Rome under the title 'Ottonianum'. Under the successors of Otto the Great, namely,
Otto II. (973-83) and Otto III. (983-1002) and Henry II. (1002-24) the German empire
The Saxonian-Ottonian monarchy made the church an important suprastructural support
of its own ruling, mainly by giving secular authority to bishops and abbots in
contrast to the infrastructure of the autochthonous dukedoms. These distinct bishops
and abbots had princely power and represented the supreme imperial position below the ruler.
In view of Rome, however, the empire maintains its claim of full control over the
church in regard to the "investiture" of the bishops and abbots. The possessions
of the Franconian church had greatly increased but it remained part of the Franconian
imperial asset. The popedom is shown in great dependence of the empire.
During his Italian campaign (996), Otto III. sets his cousin Brun on the pope's throne.
As pope Gregory V. (996-999) he will head the coronation ceremony of Otto as emperor.
Otto is affected by the glory of Rome and its centralism. In 997 he develops the idea of the renovation of the Roman empire ('Renovatio Imperii Romanorum'). Rome
was planned to become the imperial residence from which the empire and its parts,
namely Germania, Roma, Gallia and Sklavenia would be governed. In the year 1001 he
offers himself the title 'servant of the apostles' ('Servus Apostolorum'). This was to ease
his influence over Poland and Hungary. Both were under control of the holy chair.
The Franconian-Salian emperors, the reform-popedom and the investiture quarrel proper
Under Conrad 11. (1024-39) the kingdom of Burgundy joined the German empire. On his
first campaign to Italy (1026/ 27) Conrad is crowned, first in Milano with the iron
crown, then, in Rome, with the imperial crown. Ten years later, in the second Italian
campaign (1037/ 38), he suffers a sensitive rebound. Aribert of Milano, who is supported
by the aspiring middle class, entails to him the first defeat of a German emperor
against the Lombardian cities. In 1046, at the synodical meetings of Sutri and Rome,
Henry III. (1039-56) eliminates three popes he dislikes and blocks the influence of
Roman nobility on the election of the pope. With Henry IV. (1056-1106) the Franconian-Salian
empire came into the crossfire of the reformatory popedom, respectively into the swirl of the investiture struggle proper. Partially under the influence of the Cluniacensic
reform movement, which had been active already in the 10th century, pope Leo IX.
(1049-1054) starts to consolidate the papal position within the church. 'Simonism' (purchase of spiritual dignities) provides the pretence for the demand that bishops
are elected by the clerus. Evidently, this was a first clerical attack on the investiture-rights
of the king. The second attack: in the decree regarding the election of the pope edited in 1059 by Nicolas II. (1058-61) the election of the pope becomes
fully independent of any worldly power.
The investiture-quarrel proper, however, breaks out with Gregory VII. (1073-1085).
He vehemently follows the papal hard liners among his predecessors. He writes down
his program in the so-called 'Dictatus papae'. Therein he demands, first, the exclusion
of any intermingling of worldly powers into the internal affairs of the church, second,
the leadership of the church over the world, and ultimately the enforcement of the
pope's sovereign power within the church.
At its synodal meeting in 1075 the church renews its law of 1059 which prohibited
any laic investiture. The provocation was clearly directed towards the German crown.
The next year (1076), in January, Henry IV. declares the deposition of the pope at
the synodal meeting of Worms along with the German bishops. In this same year at the synodal
meeting, the church concludes the deposition and excommunication of the German king
under pope Gregory VII. The verdict is considered as a papal punishment. It also
frees the king's subjects from their oath of allegiance. Evidently Henry is loosing grounds
in his own domain. In October at the 'princely day' of Tribur, in presence of papal
legates, the German princes decide to depose the king under certain conditions.
In the following January (1077, 25.-28.) Henry goes on his famous gait to Canossa planned
as his humiliation. However, through church-penance, he forces the pope to suspend
the spell. Three years later (1080) the king is again excommunicated by pope Gregory.
In the same year archbishop Wibert in Ravenna is elected as anti-pope. In 1083 Henry
conquers Rome as part of his first expedition to Italy. In the following year (1084)
he is taking the imperial crown provided by the anti-pope Clemens III. Gregory remains besieged in the Angels'-Castle. He is later, however, liberated by Normans called
for help. Henry IV. must leave Rome. But due to heavy looting of the Normanic armies
Gregory too must leave the city. He dies the same year in Salerno.
Thus, harsh rank-fights happen on the supreme political scenery. The hard pace of
the popedom is clearly interlinked theoretically with the 'dispute of universals',
which, at the same time, gains increasingly absolute spirituality, resp. independence
of worldly impacts. Despite the dramatic situations, the German power over the church
is, however, not yet shaken. The attempt of pope Gregory VII. to establish the unity
of the church and the world under papal leadership has failed for the moment.
Nevertheless, it is not astonishing, that in this period the church, for the first
time, advertises also for crusades. Originally, the crusade idea came up with the
advancing Seldschuks in Syria and against Jerusalem. It is however evident that the
concept of a 'holy' war fits very well with the new concept of a supra-worldly church state.
In 1074 already, pope Gregory VII. plans himself at the head of an army of knights.
He considers himself as a 'leader' of the Roman type ('Dux') and as bringing help
to oriental Christians in the role of a 'pontifex' (priest, Roman term!). Its intention
was not only the 'liberation' of the holy grave, the enlargement of the 'spiritual'
empire was also on the program. The union of the Greek and Roman church was the ultimate
goal. At the synodal meeting of Clermont, pope Urban II. presents his famous, very enthusiastic speech in favour of the holy war ("God wants it"). Western knights
and princes line up behind him. Worldly power supports the 'spiritual sword's holy
For more than hundred years these mostly catastrophic events continue, often at the
edge of the absurd (children's crusade). We have difficulties to understand all this
However, in our framework of dominantly constitutional traits of religion, these
excessive events can be understood as an outcome of two imperial constitutions competing
for the same territories. In analogy to worldly powers, the holy state claims the
right for its holy war. In other words, the crusades are a direct expression of the
completed constitutional consciousness of the church of Rome.
The peak of 'spiritual' power: the effects of the dispute of universals
During the 12th (and 13th) century the popedom reaches the peak of its power. It is
successful in breaking the dominance of the German church. Church-law has become
completely independent. The completion of the universal church controlled by the
pope is reached around 1140 with the 'Decretum Gratiani'. With later additions this initial
collection of church laws appears today as the factual body of canonical law (Corpus
iuris canonici) of the Roman church. Nota bene: still today with the claim of absolute
In the second half of the 12th century, the investiture problem comes up again. In
the continued struggle for leadership between imperial and clerical powers, Frederic
I. 'Barbarossa' (1152-1190) is confronted with the claims of pope Alexander III.
(1159-81). In a conflicting papal election pope Alexander wins support in Sicily, in Lombardia,
France and England against his opponent, Victor IV., favoured by the emperor. Alexander
further manages also to strengthen the league of the Lombardian cities against Frederic. Frederic answers with his 4th campaign to Italy (1166-68). However,
a plague in Rome prevents him from realising his plans. In the course of his fifth
campaign to Italy (1177) he is defeated at Legnano. Consequently he was forced to
conclude a peace treaty with the pope.
In the first half of the 13th century pope Innocence III. (1198-1216) continues with
the strategy of Gregory VII. He again strives for absolute superiority over the church
(1215, Lateranic concile) and for absolute superiority over the worldly states (in
1213 England became papal fief). The absolute papal superiority over the church state
and its extensions is restored. In the line of the New Testament pope Innocence III.
consolidates his position as governor in place of St. Peter, Christ and God ('Vicarius Christi'), from whom the worldly sovereigns receive their territories as fiefs. He
widely abolishes episcopal power, replaces it by the highly centralised papal institution
of legates. Sicily, England and Portugal are declared as papal fiefs. At different occasions Innocence III. intrudes into state politics of Germany, France and Norway.
Legates are delegated to Serbia and Bulgaria. In the year 1215, at the 4th ecumenical
Lateranic concile, the first decisions are made in regard to the episcopal inquisition. The church creates its own 'spiritual' court. Early in his career already (1202-04)
pope Innocence III. calls the nobility of Europe to a new crusade, the fourth. Constantinople
is conquered by the crusaders, the 'empire of the Latin emperor' is set up. However, the planned union of the Greek church with the Roman church has failed.
In spite of this failure, the map of Europe shows something surprising now. Innocence
III. and his precursors had managed to form a 'pseudo territorial' empire, which
is nearly double the size compared with that of the Hohenstaufens at the same time.
It disposes not only of an elaborated 'spiritual' administration system in these territories,
it dominates them by its monopoly over the God-given imperial crown.
Pope Gregory IX. (1227-41), later Innocence IV. (1243-57) continue the fight for the
church's domination. Since Gregory IX. the inquisition against the heretics is directly
under the pope's control. From then on cruel investigations are performed. Those
found guilty were transferred to the worldly court, which executed tortures and death
penalties (often by burning in public). In the year 1231 the death penalty is introduced
for heretics in France and Germany.
It is clear now, that the enormous rigidity of its aims shown by the church in this
time, is clearly focused on a coherent legal system, on a constitution. An independent
church law is created which supports the supreme papal power over the church and
over the worldly states. This consciousness of a 'godly spiritual state' over worldly
states increasingly develops strict centralisation of control e.g. through legates.
It further integrates the 'worldly' fief system and sets up its own court for its
'subjects' in 'spiritual' matters. This was the famous inquisition which raged several hundred
years over Europe. It allowed the abhorring investigations and convictions of 'spiritual'
opponents (in the 16th/17th century men like Giordano Bruno or Galileo Galilei). And, finally, not surprisingly, we find the 'holy war' in this context, as expressed
in the crusades. All this shows clearly, that the church and its theological disputes
were without doubt less devoted to search for truth in God, rather, they were focused on worldly categories of power and control over territories and humans.
The descent of the German empire
The descent of royal power in the empire begins with the emperor Frederic II. (1215-1250).
The crowning ceremony of the emperor takes place in Rome (1220). In the same year
Frederic 'sells' important imperial rights to his worldly and spiritual princely
subjects for their support ('Confoederatio cum principibus ecclesiasticis'; 1232 with
'statutum in favorem principium'), e.g. the powers of court and jurisprudence, coining,
customs and fortification. In the contract of San Germane (1228) Frederic and the
pope reach agreement about a new crusade. Frederic starts the enterprise one year
later. However, he must return from halfway, because of a plague. Pope Gregory IX.
punishes him by covering him with the papal spell. A year later Frederic accomplishes
the crusade in spite of the spell. After his return, he is honoured with the peace of Ceprano
(1230). The spell is taken off. On the other hand the pope now receives special
rights in Sicily. But, in 1239 the emperor is again put under papal spell. Two
years later, Frederic II. moves the centre of his empire to Sicily (1241). At the ecclesiastic
council at Lyon (1245) the church declares Frederic's deposition and condemns him
as a heretic. He dies in the same year. He fought the last fight of the empire for Italy and against the popedom.
With the death of Frederic II. the 'universal' western empire is at its end. It decays.
In Italy too, imperial developments fall to pieces. The irony of history consists
in the fact, that, after its victory, the absolute papal world domination was only
of a very short duration. Actually, it ended quite painfully. The spiritual sword, neoplatonically
sharpened over centuries against the Franconians, and with success against them,
proved worthless against the new powers in France.
The end of the papal 'world domination': the pope ends in prison
With the rising of western national states, the idea of absolute power developed initially
by the church had stimulated worldly thinkers in constructing a worldly absolutism.
It essentially followed the model of classical Rome. The spiritual absolutism of
the church - at least for the moment - had lost its political value.
In the last quarter of the 13th century, Philip IV. the Beautiful (1285-1314), declares
the concept of the absolute sovereign and his absolute power for a gradually strengthened
France. The concept is essentially based on new interpretations of the Roman constitution. Between 1224 -1303 collisions emerge between Philip and pope Bonifacius
VIII.. In continuity with his forerunners the pope had repeatedly expressed excessive
claims in regard to his supreme power over the worldly powers. The papal decree
'Clericis laicos' edited in the year 1296, prohibited the taxation of clericals without
papal consent. At the beginning of the 14th century, after some intrusions of Philip
(1302), the papal decree 'Unam sanctam' harshly emphasised the papal supremacy. Philip the beautiful is very quick and direct in his answer. One year later the pope is
taken prisoner in Agnani by William of Nogaret, a highest ranking officer of Philip.
Shortly after being freed from prison, Bonifaz dies.
Historically, pope Bonifaz VIII. represents the end of mediaeval popedom. Its thoroughly
constructed 'spiritual' absolutism, which had proved successful against the Franks
and their successors (1250), now succumbed to the new worldly absolutism of the strengthened national monarchies.
In the year 1309 Clemens V. (1305-1314) transferred the papal residence to Avignon
in southern France. The pope became strongly dependent of the French monarchy. Not
by case the Avignon-period of the popedom (until 1377) is called the 'Babylonian
captivity of the church'. However, not even in this highly precarious conditions, the pope
abstained from his supra-imperial constitutional claims. Note that this incident
hints to future developments. As long as its theoretical basis remains intact, new
buildups continue, the institution survives. In the first half of the 14th century an aftermath
happens under Lewis the Bavarian (1314-47). Initial was the interference of pope
John XXII. (1316-34) into the throne quarrel . In response, Lewis lets himself be
crowned in Rome by representatives of the Roman population. An anti-pope is set up. But
this creates reactions in his own domain in regard to his election. Though Lewis's
fights for the traditional stately laws (1338) are supported by the princely voters,
they are afraid of his harsh enmity against the pope. Consequently, the decisions go
against him. In 1346 Charles of Mahren is elected. He governs after Lewis's death
as Charles IV.. In the year 1348 the first German university is founded in Prague,
an important sign of enlightened thought. From the year 1356 and on, the 'golden decree' is
considered as imperial law for the regulation of the kingly elections. Essentially,
it remained in validity up to the year 1806. At the beginning of the 15th century
Germany gains its new importance in the framework of modern territorial states.
The scholastic construction of the mediaeval 'theocracy'
The territorial implications of the mediaeval history might have become clear from
this short chronological sketch of some important events. As worldly power, the Franconian-Salian
and Hohenstaufen empire, with its military and political activities was essentially focused on the reconstruction and extension of the former outlines of the
Wide parts of the territories with Germanic and Slav populations not controlled by
the Romans were subjected until far into the east, and subsequently christianised
essentially for the purpose of pacification and control. The church is integrated
cooperatively as executive force related to pacification. But, with increasing expansion of
the territories, the church manoeuvres itself into an increasingly harsh competition
for political dominance. With surprising efficiency Rome develops the constitutional
base of a new supra-imperial constitution based on the ancient form of a theocracy.
There is a clear connection between the early 'identity dispute' (father and son
identical), and the later 'dispute of universals' (God as the supreme term of generalisation existed prior to creation, prior to things) . Both have been codified by the church
using Neoplatonism as a basis. The 'investiture quarrel' then shows very clearly
how theoretical results are concretised towards the outside in the form of territorio-political claims.
The presentation of mediaeval church politics as power politics is not new. It was
recorded and discussed again and again. However, in the historical framework, the
basic values which were at disposition of the church were not questioned. Consequently,
the historic picture blames the historical figures personally. They appear as individual
characters, justified in their behaviour by the turmoils of times. The church itself,
its theoretical structure and its value as an institution, is not questioned in the
historical framework. Thus, it will recover again and again from such commotions,
e. g. by shifting its outer image more towards its more populistic humane base. <23>
However, if we place the history of the church into the wider circles of the anthropology
of religion, this may look different. Now theologically fundamental ideas are involved.
They enter into a new - and very concrete - dialogue with ancient Near Eastern and Egyptian theocratic constitutions. In view of these theocracies the conditions
become evident. What we call religion moves close to the history of law and constitution!