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Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul 2016
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What this Quarterly is
Digital Continent is a web based
magazine dedicated to CDU’s Master’s
students and their outstanding efforts at
theological scholarship. The Master’s
theses published in these pages are the
culmination of years of careful study of
the Word of God and the sources of
Sacred Tradition. Please take time to
peruse these pages and share them with
others.
Editor's Note
Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul
In one of the most famous moments in all of medieval and even papal history, the German King Henry IV - the
future Holy Roman Emperor - crossed the Alps in the deep of winter in late January 1077 and presented
himself at the gates of the fortress of Canossa. For three days, Henry stood in the snow, barefoot and
shivering, and waited for admittance by Pope St. Gregory VII who had received protection from the castle's
owner, Countess Matilda of Tuscany. At last, the pope accepted the sincerity of King Henry and lifted a ban of
excommunication he had imposed on the German ruler.
Pope Gregory and Henry IV had arrived at this dramatic point because of one of the great plagues of the
Church at the time: Investiture. Henry, like so many other feudal lords, insisted that he had the right to invest
abbots and bishops with their rings and staffs of office, receiving from them personal homage before the new
prelate could be consecrated. The custom was long-standing and was closely associated with lay patronage,
but it also epitomized the immense dangers of having lay rulers dominate the Church.
Thus, when reform arrived in the Church in the 11th century, Investiture was uppermost in the minds of
reforming popes and their supporters. The Investiture Controversy, however, proved difficult to resolve as
secular rulers enjoyed the idea of control over prelates who had as landholders become key figures in the
social system of the time - feudalism. The popes were also no exceptions, and in the centuries before Gregory
VII and the party of reform in the Church, the papacy had suffered cruelly at the hands of grasping and cruel
temporal rulers who deposed and even murdered popes to advance their own ambitions. Between 896 and
904, for example, ten popes were elected, of whom one was strangled and two died from unknown causes in
prison; Pope Benedict IX served as pope three different times. The era was what a 16th century Church
historian named Cardinal Cesare Baronius called the Iron Age of the Papacy.
All of this had to end if authentic reform could be launched. It had to start with the papacy. As St. Peter Damian
wrote, “If Rome does not come back to a better way, the world will remain plunged in error. The reform must
start from Rome as from the cornerstone of salvation.”
In 1059, Pope Nicholas II attacked the practice of investiture, followed by Pope Gregory VII, who issued a
decree forbidding it. The struggle that ensued with secular rulers was centered mainly around the German
kings and the popes, especially Emperors Henry IV and Henry V. But it was a bitter conflict at times. Even
Henry IV's humiliation at Canossa proved a temporary setback for him, and years would pass until a final
resolution could be achieved through the Concordat of Worms in 1122.
The path of reform through the Investiture Controversy is an important one. Secular interference in Church life
and the need for Catholics to be vigilant in defense of the rights of the Church are not a thing of the past as
today's debates about religious liberty can attest. For that reason, CDU is very pleased to present in this issue
of Digital Continent the M.A. thesis, “Pope St. Gregory VII: Catalyst of Medieval Church Reform on the Eve of
the Investiture Controversy,” by recent graduate Mary M. French.
Mary presents a potent picture of the battle for the rights of the Church at a time when reform was badly
needed. Pope St. Gregory VII was a complex figure who gave his very life to bring reform and end Investiture.
He famously declared on his deathbed, “Dilexi iustitiam et odivi iniquitatem propterea morior in exilio” (“I have
loved justice and hated iniquity, therefore I die in exile”). Her thesis is worth reading, especially as history has a
way of repeating itself.
Matthew E. Bunson, Ph.D.
Faculty Chair
Catholic Distance University
Continue Editor's Note here
Continue Editor's Note here
Continue Editor's Note here
About the Author
Mary French
Mary French is a member of St. Kilian Parish and resides in
Mars, PA. She returned to the Pittsburgh area where she
grew up after 25 years as a military spouse, raising a
family through many moves and various deployment
cycles. She earned a Bachelor's of Science in European
History and a Master's degree in International Studies
from Troy State University, AL. while stationed at Fort
Rucker. She has worked as a college instructor teaching
history for various institutions wherever the military sent
her family and also served as Religious Education
Coordinator and Pastoral Associate for the Catholic
community at Fort Drum, NY. Desiring a better
understanding and appreciation of Catholicism she
pursued and in 2015 earned a Masters in Theology from
Catholic Distance University, graduating Summa Cum
Laude. She is currently a part-time workshop presenter
for Saint Paul of the Cross Monastery Retreat Center in
Pittsburgh and has begun the formation process for the
Associate program at the Monastery. She also serves as a
member of the Ladies of Charity and assists with the R.C.I.
A. program at her parish.