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The partisans of the church reform movement considered that the Papacy should be exclusively an internal matter of the church, and the Pope should not be chosen by the emperor, as it was the custom at the time.

Papacy-Pope Gregory VII
Pope Gregory VII
After Pope Leo IX., chosen pope by the emperor, who was his cousin, insisted on being chosen, according to the church regulations, by the clergy and the people of Rome, the Lateran Council of 1061 decided that the pope should be elected by the cardinals, that is, the priests of Rome and the bishops of the small towns of the Roman Campagna. The confirmation of the election by the emperor was soon omitted. This mode of election, which is still in use, has rendered the Papacy independent of the people of Rome and of foreign sovereigns, and the Pope began to purify the church of the secular spirit by attacking the marriage of the priests, simony, and investiture by the laity.

According to the ancient rules of the church, the bishop was chosen by his canons, the abbot by his monks. When a bishop or an abbot died, in many countries, and especially in Germany, the King had the right of naming the successors, as the domains of bishoprics and abbeys were donated to them by the king. This custom was revolting to the reformers of the church. Receiving an ecclesiastical dignity from a layman was akin trafficking in holy things, and to commit the mortal sin of simony. The pope demanded that the emperor should permit the election of the bishops and abbots to take place according to the canonical rules, which the emperor refused.

Thus, between emperors and popes arose the dispute about investiture. The conflict lasted for half a century ( 1075-1122). When peace was made in 1122, , the emperor finally conceded that the bishops and abbots should be chosen by the canons or the monks, and should receive from them the crosier and the ring, but he reserved the right to invest them with their temporalities by the sceptre, as was done to the lay princes.

Papacy versus The Holy Roman Emperor regarding the absolute power

Under Charlemagne, the pope and the emperor agreed to govern in common, under the common belief that God had given two swords, the temporal to the emperor, the spiritual to the pope, in order to rule the world together. In the Middle Ages it became difficult to accept two equal, independent powers. Pope or emperor, each of them claimed the supreme power. The conflict between the two began in the 11th century on the subject of investiture, and continued with regard to the rights of the emperor over the cities of Lombardy.

The Papacy was supported by the monks and the partisans of the reform, the emperor had on his side, the bishops and abbots of Germany and of Lombardy, his vassals and the married priests. The emperor claimed the supreme power as heir of the Roman Cęsars, and he demanded the right to govern the world (that is the signification of the globe, which figures among the imperial insignia). The pope said: "In giving to Saint Peter the sovereign right to loose and unloose in heaven, and upon the earth, God has excepted no one. God has put under him all princes, all powers in the universe. God has made him prince over the kingdoms of this world." (Epistle of Gregory VII.) The pope is superior to all the princes, he is their judge; if he finds them unworthy of reigning he can excommunicate them, depose them, and release their subjects from the oath of fealty. Gregory VII. applied this maxim in deposing Henry IV.

The conflict lasted until 1250, and the emperor lost, mainly because he did not succeeded to establish his authority over the cities in Italy.

Pope Alexander III Receives an Ambassador
Pope Alexander III Receives an Ambassador-Fresco by Spinello Aretino-Palazzo Pubblico, Siena

The supremacy of the Papacy

Supported by the regenerated clergy, the pope was, in the 13th century, the real chief of the Christian world. He governed the clergy, and all believers through the clergy. He had reserved for himself the right to convoke councils, to depose bishops, to absolve great criminals, to give dispensations. The letters of the Pope had the force of law throughout the church, and they defined his power: "The Creator," said Innocent III., "has established in the firmament of the church, two dignities; the more considerable, the Papacy which presides over the souls of men, as the sun rules over the day; the less important, the royalty which presides over their bodies as the moon over the night. The Papacy takes precedence of royalty just as the sun does of the moon."

During the earlier centuries there were no laws in the church except the canon law, that is, the rules established by the councils. When the Papacy had succeeded in making all the clergy recognize its authority, the Papacy decretals became the laws of the church. Gratian, an Italian priest of the 12th century, gathered together all the decretals attributed to the former popes and made a collection which was called the Decretum. To the Decretum, the popes of the 13th century added successively several new collections composed of the letters of Papacy which appeared after the first compilation. Thus, as Justinian had formed the body of civil law, so the Papacy formed the body of the canon law, which has remained the law of the church.

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