The Investiture Conflict: Rulers vs. the Centralized Church

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  • 0:05 Introduction to Conflict
  • 1:38 Conflict Begins
  • 2:26 Call for Reform
  • 4:00 Gregory VII vs. Henry IV
  • 5:39 German Rebellion
  • 7:55 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

This lesson will explore the Investiture Conflict of the 11th and 12th centuries. In doing so, it will highlight the roles of Pope Gregory VII and Henry IV. It will also explain the Concordat of Worms.

Introduction to Conflict

The Investiture Conflict of the 11th and 12th centuries is one of the most important controversies ever to arise between church and state. Ironically, it's hardly known among the masses. In order to help it stick, and to give you a frame of reference, I'm going to use a ridiculous teenage drama.

During my cousin's senior year of high school, the captain of the cheerleaders fell and broke her ankle. Unable to fulfill her duties, protocol was followed and the cheerleading coach picked her replacement. This all sounds kosher until I tell you this: the coach was also one of the cheerleaders' moms! Making matters worse, she bestowed the pom-pom of power to her daughter, who wasn't even a senior!

Instantly, 12th grade pig tales and pouts flooded the principal's office, demanding the removal of the coach and the right to choose their own senior captain! In reaction to this, and to prove her power, the cheerleading coach decided to kick the rebelling seniors off the squad! Although this silly power struggle eventually resulted in nothing more than some hurt feelings and tear-stained saddle shoes, it oddly bears resemblance to the Investiture Conflict.

Conflict Begins

To begin, the Investiture Conflict was a nasty conflict between the Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor over who held power to appoint or invest Church officials. With this definition in mind, let's take a look at how things got rolling. Traditionally, the power to appoint Church officials was held by secular authorities whose rulers were not clergy and whose power was not derived from a spiritual basis. In other words, kings and emperors, not the Pope or bishops, handed out places of power within the Church. The problem? Just like the cheerleading coach, the secular rulers usually gave these power seats to family members or political cronies who would follow their rules and play puppet whenever asked.

Call for Reform

Now, this isn't that big of a deal at the lower levels of Church hierarchy. However, when we realize the emperor had the right to appoint the Pope, it's pretty plain to see how much power accompanied the ceremony of investiture. Making things even more convoluted, the Pope then got to turn around and choose the next Holy Roman Emperor. In essence, the process became a giant political game of 'you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours!'

In the 11th Century, a group of Gregorian reformers, who believed the Pope should be under the authority of no human, and who were tired of outside forces telling them who their leaders were to be, decided it was time for the Church to take back its power. When the very young Henry IV, king of Germany, was crowned Holy Roman Emperor, they saw it as their chance. After all, why should a little boy get to choose the next Pope simply because he wore a secular crown?

Like the indignant cheerleaders who flooded the principal's office, the Church officials gathered in Rome in the year 1059. At this meeting, they issued a statement known as In Nomine Domini, meaning 'In the name of the Lord.' In it, they stated secular rulers would no longer have any part in the selection of the Pope. Instead, a college of cardinals would choose who holds the papacy, or office of the Pope. Obviously, this college stuck, as it is still the modern-day vehicle for choosing a Pope.

Gregory VII vs. Henry IV

In the year 1075, Pope Gregory VII took things a step further. In the Church statement known as the Dictatus Papae, the Church completely eliminated the practice of secular investiture. In other words, when it came to picking Church officials, the emperor was off the squad! This bold move didn't sit so well with Henry IV, who was a young boy at the time of the earlier In Nomine Domini statement, but who had now grown-up. To put it mildly, he had no intention of giving up his power to choose bishops. Yes, as a boy he'd lost the power to pick the Church's captain, but as a man he sure wasn't going to give up the right to choose its co-captains.

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