Gregory VII (Hildebrand Bonizi), Pope
Feast Day: May 25
In the year 1020, a boy named Hildebrand Bonizi was born in Tuscany, Italy. He was educated for the priesthood in Rome and was chosen by Pope Gregory VI to be his personal chaplain. After the pope died, Hildebrand entered a monastery to pray and study. But within three years, he was called back to Rome to be an advisor to the newly elected Pope Leo IX. In all, he counseled seven popes. Then he himself was elected Holy Father in 1073 at the demand of priests and the people. He chose the name Gregory VII.
The Church was badly in need of reform at this time. Pope Gregory saw three major problems: simony, which is the buying and selling of sacred offices and things; the unlawful marriage of the clergy; and lay investiture. Lay investiture was the practice of kings or emperors appointing bishops and other important Church positions.
Pope Gregory wrote official letters explaining that the pope was the bishop of Rome and the vicar of Christ. In other words, he said, only the pope had the power and the right to appoint bishops.
Emperor Henry IV of Germany disagreed. He continued to appoint bishops. Pope Gregory excommunicated him, which meant that the emperor could no longer be part of the Church community. Henry eventually repented and was welcomed back to the Church, but he soon began to make church appointments again. Once more Gregory excommunicated him, but this time Henry was prepared. He had organized a group of bishops who supported him and these bishops forced Pope Gregory into exile. Henry then appointed a new pope! Unfortunately, Pope Gregory died in 1085 during his exile.
The problem of lay investiture was not fully settled for nearly 50 years, but it may never have been solved without Pope Gregory VII’s courage in dealing with it. Gregory is often called the “Great Reformer” because he tried to solve problems that were hurting the Church.
The Church has honored Pope Gregory VII as a saint since 1606. He was a successor to St. Peter and our Holy Father. We can show our love and respect for our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, who is Christ’s representative on earth, by praying that the Holy Spirit will continue to guide him and all those who lead the Catholic Church.