What was the Investiture Controversy a Controversy About?

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What was the Investiture Controversy a Controversy About?

Emma Knight

Masters Thesis, Durham University (2005)

Investiture controversy

Abstract: The Investiture Controversy between Pope Gregory VII and Emperor Henry IV of Germany presents us with a wide variety of issues that are not immediately discernable at first sight. It is not simply about the gift of investitures by lay persons with which it is concerned, nor the issues of simony and clerical marriage which provided the sole troubles for eleventh and twelfth century relations between the papacy and secular leaders. The Investiture Controversy was representative of the division, conflict and blurring of borders between the two realms of sacerdotium and regnum; ‘Church’ and ‘State’.

This thesis will aim to provide a contextualisation and chronology of events that; firstly, will describe the early Church and the relations which were formed with state institutions and imperial leaders. Secondly, it will look at events that led to the degradation of the papacy and wider Church and therefore brought about the reform movement. Thirdly, it will analyse how these factors brought regnum and sacerdotium into direct and somewhat inevitable conflict and competition with one another. This thesis will aim to demonstrate that the Investiture Controversy was primarily a clash originating from fifth century ideas which were put into practice and developed by an eleventh century papacy.

The doctrine that was developed contained a theocratic notion of government and one that consequently, clearly exalted the spiritual order above the secular powers. When the papacy from Gregory VII onward is often discussed, terms such as ‘papal monarchy’ are repeatedly applied; implicit in this is the notion that particular pontiffs were attempting to extend the realm of sacerdotal power to that also of the temporal sphere. If this assertion is made -with any degree of surprise then a misunderstanding of the Christian tradition has been made.





The Investiture Controversy presents us with a wide variety of issues that are not immediately discernable at first sight. It is not simply about the gift of investitures by lay persons with which we are concerned, nor the issues of simony and clerical marriage which provided the sole troubles for eleventh and twelfth century relations between the papacy and secular, imperial leaders. The given name of the disagreements between Pope Gregory VII (pont. 1073-85) and Emperor Henry IV of Germany (imp. 1065-1106: minority 1056-65), the ‘Investiture Controversy” or ‘Investiture Contest’ , is misleading in encouraging one to believe that the argument was specifically about investiture. The investiture of clerical officers by members of the laity was one of the issues over which Gregory and Henry clashed, but it was certainly not the only one; the events surrounding the Investiture Controversy are of a much more complex and all-encompassing nature than this.

Click here to read this thesis from Durham University

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