PODCAST: The Papacy and the Empire in Direct Confrontation, Part 1 (The History of Christianity #219 with Daniel Whyte III)

This is Daniel Whyte III, president of Gospel Light Society International, with the History of Christianity Podcast #219, titled, “The Papacy and the Empire in Direct Confrontation, Part 1.”

When I became a believer in Jesus Christ, I somehow had the false idea that Christianity began when I got saved. I had no concept of the hundreds of years of history that Christianity had gone through since the time of Jesus Christ over 2,000 years ago. I have found that many believers, young and old, have the same false idea. The purpose of this broadcast is to dispel this notion by sharing with listeners the history of Christianity from the ministry of Jesus Christ all the way up until the present day in an easy-to-understand format. You don’t have to worry: this is not a lecture. This is a look at the basic facts and figures of Christian history that every believer and every person needs to be aware of.

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Our Scripture for today is Romans 15:4 which reads: “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.”

Our History of Christianity quote today is from Philip Schaff. He said: “The history of the Church is the rise and progress of the kingdom of heaven upon earth, for the glory of God and the salvation of the world.”

Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “The Papacy and the Empire in Direct Confrontation, Part 1” from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).

Gregory’s reforming zeal soon clashed with the interests of Emperor Henry IV. As a young boy, Henry had been under the care of one of the reforming popes, and therefore Gregory believed that he, of all rulers, should support the program of reformation. But Henry felt that the power of bishops and other prelates was such that, for the political survival of the empire, the emperor must be free to appoint those who would support him. The conflict finally broke out when, in response to riots in Milan provoked by Patarine [PAT-AH-REEN] extremists who sought to enforce clerical celibacy, Henry deposed the bishop and appointed another in his place. Gregory responded by ordering Henry to appear at Rome by a certain date, and declaring that if he failed to do so he would be deposed and his soul condemned to hell. On Christmas Eve, 1075, two months before the deadline set by Gregory, a military contingent attacked the pope while he was celebrating mass, beat him, and took him prisoner. In response, the Roman populace rose up, besieged and then took the tower where Gregory was being held. The man who had led the attack against the pope had to flee, and was able to save his life only because Gregory ordered those who were pursuing him to spare him on condition that he go on pilgrimage to Rome. The emperor, who had recently had significant success and was therefore at the height of his power, responded to Gregory’s ultimatum by calling a council that gathered a few days before the deadline set by the pope and declared that Gregory was deposed on grounds of tyranny, adultery, and the practice of magic. Then, in the council’s name, Henry sent notification of these decisions “to Hildebrand [HIL-DUH-BRAND], not a pope, but a false monk.”

Gregory gathered a synod of his supporters, who advised stern measures against the emperor. On the next day, precisely the date for which he had summoned Henry to Rome, Gregory issued his sentence:

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, by the power and authority of Saint Peter, and for the defense and honor of the church, I place king Henry . . . under interdict, forbidding him to rule in any of the kingdoms of Germany or Italy. I also free from their oaths any who have sworn or would swear loyalty to him. And I forbid that he be obeyed as king.

At first, Henry was resolved to continue in the course he had set. But his support began eroding. Many who had other reasons to disobey him now had the pope’s sentence as an excuse. The more superstitious began spreading the word that to be near him was to call a curse on oneself. This was given credence when one of his staunchest supporters died unexpectedly. Finally, Henry felt that his only recourse was to appeal to Gregory’s mercy. This he would do as privately as possible, and thus set out to meet Gregory in Italy. Gregory was not sure whether the emperor was coming in peace, or rather intended to use violence. His suspicions increased when many in northern Italy received Henry as a hero and rallied to him. But Henry did not wish to gamble his throne on the uncertain outcome of battle, and therefore refused to organize his supporters into an army.

The two finally met at Canossa [KUH-NOW-SUH], where the pope had taken residence because the city was well fortified. Henry had hoped for a private interview where he would make his obeisance before Gregory. But the latter insisted on public penance, and Henry had to beg entrance into Canossa [KUH-NOW-SUH], as a penitent, for three days before he was admitted to Gregory’s presence. Finally, since it was impossible for one who claimed to be the leader of Christ’s disciples to do otherwise, Gregory granted the pardon that Henry begged, and withdrew his sentence against the emperor.

Henry then returned hastily to Germany, where his enemies, encouraged by his difficulties with Gregory, had rebelled. Although Gregory had withdrawn his sentence against Henry, he did nothing to discourage the rebels, who elected their own emperor. The pope’s ambiguous posture encouraged civil war, and it soon became clear that Henry would overcome his foes. But Gregory did not trust him, and therefore decided to cast his lot with the usurper. Once again he excommunicated Henry, whose imminent death he also foretold. But this time the emperor’s followers did not heed the pope’s sentence, and a rival pope, who took the name of Clement III, was elected. Finally, the usurping emperor was killed in battle, and Henry was left as sole master of the empire.

Next time, we will continue looking at “The Papacy and the Empire in Direct Confrontation.”

Let’s pray.


Dear friend, simply knowing the facts about Christian history without knowing the One on Whom this faith is based will do you no good. If you do not believe on the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior, may I encourage you to get to know Him today. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Just believe in your heart that Jesus Christ died for your sins, was buried, and rose from the dead by the power of God for you so that you can be a part of the church in this life and in the life to come. Pray and ask Him to come into your heart today, and He will. Romans 10:13 says, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Until next time, remember that history is truly His story.

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