THE DECLINE OF THE REIGN OF POPES VOL.5 NO. 26

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This decline was brought about by the conflict between the Popes and the Roman Emperors, the Popes and the German kings, the popes and the French leaders, and finally the failure of the church to reform itself in time. In our series, we shall gradually discuss these factors in details.
Beginning with Emperor Constantine’s Edict of Milan in 4th century AD, Christianity was on its way to becoming the official religion of the Roman Empire. It could also be recalled that the Empire and the Church were intimately linked together, as religion and the state have been formally related. The question that was troubling the church, the states and the Masses became; who was in charge, the Pope or the Emperor? In spite of this, the Pope at that time, needed to interfere in the affair of the state and the masses because there is an intimate relationship between the body and the soul. Hence their interest in the temporal wellbeing of the people or flock was manifested. Again, they also needed to establish independence from the state.
In an attempt to ensure this independence, Pope Gelasius I (492 – 496AD) propounded a theory called “the Gelasian theory” in which he spoke of the temporal powers and spiritual powers as “two swords.” According to this theory, the Pope had superiority over the emperor in matters that pertained to their governance in areas that affected the church or morality. The Pope had the power to command the emperor to rule according to the principle of divine justice. In practice, conflicts arose when Popes interfered with the operations of the state in such matters as who would control city of Rome – Pope or Emperor? Church or State? It was a question that troubled minds and cause rivers of blood to flow when the great Pope Gregory VII, known as Hildebrand, in the mid-eleventh century revived the long-dormant claim that final authority rest with the Pope.
But before then, Charlemagne’s exercise of authority over the Church was, indeed, in opposition to the long-standing Gelatian theory about the relation of the temporal to the spiritual authority. It was quite against what the Popes bargained for, when they sealed the alliance with his father, Pepin. Nevertheless, the Papacy began to regain its position when Pope Stephen crowned Charlemagne’s son and successor, Louis the Pions, in 816 at Rheims, and made it clear that the crown itself is derived from the successor of Peter. Further strengthening of the Papal position occurred in 823 when Louis son Lothar I came to Rome to be crowned. Henceforth Rome was considered the only right and proper place for imperial coronations. The apex of this trend was reached with the pontificate of Popes Nicholas I and John VIII, who advanced the cause of Papal supremacy by successfully asserting the right of the Popes not only to crown but also to choose the Emperor. This happened in 875, when Pope John VIII offered the crown to Charles the Bald. But then, the whole question of Papal and imperial authority faded away as both Empire and Papacy began to disintegrate.
Unfortunately, when a new version of the Empire originated from Henry the Duke of Saxony, the previous claims of the Papacy to supremacy over the temporal power were set aside, if not forgotten. Meanwhile, the future relationship of the Saxon Emperor with the Popes was, in fact, foreshadowed in the way Otto treated John VII. Within a year of his coronation by the Pope (John VII) Otto had John deposed on the charge of treason and had a lay man elected in his place. Otto ruled that in the future, no pope was to be consecrated until he had first taken an oath of allegiance to the Emperor. Henry III (1039 – 56), the most powerful of the Emperors, was the pre-eminent example of this approach: During his reign, new bishops ordinarily paid a heavy fee for their promotion. The parish priests too were subject to laymen by the proprietary system of ownership whereby lay men owned the church property and hired the priests they please. This control by laymen was in obvious contradiction with the ancient canon law and tradition of the church, and seemed to many to be a violation of its intrinsic liberty and very nature. Well, in our next edition, we shall find out if the church was able to regain her prestige and integrity. Keep posted

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