All of the major Protestant reformers agreed that the Catholic Church had taken a wrong turn somewhere, but they disagreed about where the misstep occurred. Constantine's conversion, the codification of canon law, and the rise of scholastic theology received nominations, but as far as many Anglicans were concerned, the real trouble began in January 1077 at Canossa, a castle in Tuscany. —

Inside the castle, as freezing winds blew, Pope Gregory VII took refuge. Gregory never wanted to be pope, and he certainly never wanted to spend his waning years running around Europe, attempting to stay ahead of hostile princes. Unfortunately, his commitment to reform put him on a collision course with the secular powers of the day.

Outside the castle, Gregory's bitterest opponent, Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV, knelt in the snow. On this occasion Henry did not want Gregory's head, but his blessing. Dressed as a penitent, weeping, for three cold days, Henry got what he was after—but the peace between the two men could not last. The stakes of their epic battle, known as the Investiture Controversy, were simply too high.

In theory, the church has always held the power to appoint its own leaders. In medieval practice, however, secular authorities handed out clerical offices as patronage. Following the pattern known as investiture, abbots and bishops received their positions, and the properties that went with them, from local princes. The emperor picked the pope.

Gregory believed that the corruption and immorality of the 11th-century church stemmed from this practice. Before he could fight it at lower ecclesial levels, though, he had to free the papacy from imperial control. In 1059, when Gregory was still cardinal-subdeacon Hildebrand, he engineered ...

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