The Age of Gregory VII, 1073-85

The Chronicle of Montecassino, Book III c. 50

trans G.A. Loud (from G.A. Loud, Montecassino and Benevento in the Middle Ages (Variorum Collected Studies, 2000), chap. III.

This chapter in the Montecassino Chronicle (Book III, c. 50) describes the conference, believed to have taken place at at Albano, some 25 km. SE of Rome, between Abbot Desiderius of Montecassino and Henry IV in 1082. The account here is far from straightforward. It embodies an elaborate defence of the conduct of Desiderius, whose negotiations with Henry had rendered him suspicious to the supporters of Gregory VII, and may (if we are to believe the claims of Archbishop Hugh of Lyons) have led to his excommunication by the pope. It was intended to show that, despite his contacts with the excommunicated German king, he remained a loyal Gregorian. For a full discussion, see G.A. Loud, ‘Abbot Desiderius of Montecassino and the Gregorian Papacy’, Journal of Ecclesiastical History 30 (1979), 305-330, especially pp. 316-321. The text has been translated from the most recent edition, the Chronica Monasterii Casinensis, ed. Harmut Hoffmann (M.G.H. Scriptores XXXIV, Hanover 1980), pp. 430-3. Annotation has been kept to an absolute minimum.

'Meanwhile the Emperor Henry had gathered an army once more and came to Rome. He stormed the St. Peter's district and destroyed most of it, and he appointed the Archbishop of Ravenna as the invader of the Apostolic See, without the consent and agreement of the whole Roman Church. On hearing of this nearly all the men of these parts conspired together with one heart and mind against the Normans, that when the emperor came from Rome they would all rise up together as one against them. The latter [i.e. the Normans] knew this, and fearing [that] evil [would befall them] took counsel among themselves, so that if it was in any way possible they would make a treaty with the Emperor Henry, saying: 'after the emperor has possession of Rome, we shall have no other loyalty except to him, otherwise he will join with the Romans and the other people dwelling nearby and expel us from these parts'. After they had discussed this among themselves and decided on this policy, their envoys went to the emperor and returned. Finally they summoned Father Desiderius, and since they could find nobody else in these parts in whom they could trust while they had a high opinion of him, they confided in him everything that they had decided and urged him to go to the emperor. And although they had decided on this course of action in order to protect themselves, they were persuaded by him that they should stay loyal to the Roman Church and busy themselves trying to make peace between the pope and the emperor. But when this was announced to Pope Gregory, he cast out the abovesaid emperor and all his followers from the bounds of the Church. On being informed of this, all the Normans who had up to this point sincerely and faithfully cherished the pope now abandoned him with both body and soul.

The emperor meanwhile sent a letter to Father Desiderius via the Counts of Marsia, [ordering] that he come to him. To this letter he gave no response at all, since he did not know what sort of salutation he should write to him. He sent him another similar letter, threatening him that if he neither came to him nor replied to his letter (and he ordered him not to delay but come to meet him at Farfa) then he would greatly regret it. To this Desiderius wrote back to him in greeting, 'a submission of the fealty owed', since he thought that he owed him no fealty. And he put in this letter many reasons why he could not come to him on account of the Normans, but if he should wish to make peace with the Roman pontiff he would find some opportunity to go to him; and at last, that he might encourage his mind towards peace, he wrote that neither the state nor the Church could persist in this strife and remain unharmed. At this the emperor was very angry and greatly moved with indignation towards Desiderius. He absolutely forbade the envoys whom he had sent to the prince to say anything to Desiderius, and he ordered the prince to injure Desiderius as much as possible, unless he should of his own free will come to the emperor. When Father Desiderius realised this, he told the Roman pontiff all about it by letter, and asked what he should do about it, but he received no response from him about this. The emperor sent Desiderius letters once again, telling him not to refuse, but rather to come to him at Easter and celebrate that feast with him. He sent another letter to the monks about the same issue, but he still delayed and was unwilling to go to him. Afterwards the prince and all the Normans went to the emperor, and the prince urged Desiderius to come with him. The abbot called the brothers together and said to them: 'I am surrounded by troubles; for if I do not go to the emperor, danger and ruin threatens the monastery; but if I do go and carry out his wishes, I shall incur danger to my soul; while if I go and then do not fulfill his wishes, I risk bodily danger. I am also afraid that if the emperor is angry he will as a result give this monastery, which is under his protection and defence, along with the whole principality, to the Normans. However I shall go to him, risking danger and death, nor shall I value my own soul more than [the interests of] the most holy Father Benedict. If there is no other choice left, I shall prefer anathema from Christ to secure the safety both of your souls and bodies and the preservation of this place. If I should be killed a thousand times over, nothing will separate me from love of this place, for I would not refuse to meet some pagan or tyrant if this would serve to protect the property of the monastery from their savagery, let alone refuse the emperor, who is a Christian. Pope Leo indeed went to meet the Arian King Genseric to save the city of Rome from fire and slaughter, Sabinus of Canosa similarly invited the Arian Totila to a banquet, received a goblet from his hand and drank, and Father Benedict remembered in his prayers another wicked Arian, Zalla, to prevent him ravaging the countryside'. 1

After saying this, he commended himself to Father Benedict and set out on his way. However, with [the help of] God's protection he was careful to ensure that, throughout the journey and all the stops he made during it, though many bishops and distinguished men, and even some of his own friends and the emperor's chancellor, met him, he neither greeted any of them with a kiss nor did he pray with any of them, or eat and drink with them. After he arrived at Albano, he neither went to the emperor in person, nor did he send anyone to him, but for a whole week only threats were sent to him by the emperor. For the latter ordered him to do fealty to him and with his hands become his vassal [homo], and receive his abbey from his hand. Desiderius strongmindedly and plainly rejected all these demands, saying that there was no way he would do this for his abbacy, nor indeed for the honour of the whole world. When the emperor realised that he was firm and inflexible, he was extremely angry and ordered the prince to take his envoys with him, go to the monastery and consign it to them. But after the prince had spoken to him on several occasions of Desiderius's many good qualities, and brought the abbot to meet him, he so persuaded the latter that in the prince's presence Desiderius promised him his friendship and that he would assist him to the best of his abilities to secure the imperial crown, saving however his order. Because these seemed to Desiderius to be frivolous matters compared with those of Heaven, and since he was unable to do anything else, he consented and in the prince's presence promised this to him. And when he still demanded that he receive the abbatial staff from him, Desiderius replied that after he saw him in possession of the Roman imperial crown, then he would receive his abbey from him, albeit unwillingly, and he gave up. After this the emperor received a large bribe from the prince, and then confirmed to him by a charter sealed with a gold bull everything that pertained to the Principality of Capua, retaining however for himself and the empire the monastery of Cassino and all its rights and properties.

Because of these negotiations Desiderius remained there for a long time, and nearly every day he argued about the honour of the Apostolic See with the bishops who were with the emperor, and especially with the Bishop of Ostia, who had up till now seemed to favour Pope Gregory. He showed to Desiderius the privilege of Pope Nicholas, which he had made with Archdeacon Hildebrand and one hundred and twenty five bishops, that a pope could never be made for the Roman Church without the consent of the emperor, and that if he was thus created, it should be known that he ought not to be treated as the pope and should be anathematized2. Desiderius openly reproached him and the others who assisted him about this. For he said that no pope, bishop, archdeacon or cardinal, nor any other man could have done this justly. For the Apostolic See is our lady, not a handmaiden nor subject to anyone, but is set above everyone, and thus there can be no reason why anyone sells it as though it is a handmaiden. That if this had been done by Pope Nicholas then it had undoubtedly been done unjustly and most foolishly, nor could or ought the Church lose its dignity through human folly, nor ought we in any way ever consent to this, nor in future should it happen, God willing, that the King of the Germans should appoint the pope of the Romans. Then the angry bishop replied to this that if those from across the Alps heard this, then they would all be united together as one. Desiderius responded: 'Indeed, if not only they, but even the whole world was joined as one against this, this would never alter our opinion. If God should permit this, the emperor can indeed prevail, for a time and by brute force, over clerical righteousness, but he can never force us to consent to this'.

He argued all and every day with them about these and other matters, and won them over with his arguments. He also had a major dispute about this issue with the Archbishop of Ravenna, and defeated him with his convincing arguments about this privilege, as well as sternly rebuking him for intruding himself into the papacy. When the latter was unable to justify himself or to prevail despite all his arguments, he admitted that he had done this unwillingly, for if he had not done so the emperor would undoubtedly have been deprived of his title. Desiderius then received a charter from the emperor confirming the possessions of this place, sealed with a gold seal, and having sought permission from him to leave, returned to the monastery'.


1 .  Genseric (d. 477) was King of the Vandals, and Totila the Ostrogothic King of Italy 542-552. These stories were derived from Paul the Deacon's Historia Romana [ed. A. Crivellucci (Rome, Fonti per la storia d'Italia, 1914), XIV.16, pp. 200-1] and from the Dialogues of Gregory the Great [ed. U. Moricca (Rome, Fonti per la storia d'Italia, 1924), II.31, III.5, pp. 122-3, 144-5].

2 .  As noted in my 1979 article [p. 317] this passage refers to the imperialist version of Nicholas II's election decree of 1059. Since the original article was published an important study by Detlev Jasper, Das Papstwahldekret von 1059. Uberlieferung und Textgestalt (Sigmaringen 1986), has dated the confection of the false 'imperialist' decree to 1076, during the first excommunication of the Emperor Henry IV by Gregory VII.

Text encoded by The Leeds Electronic Text Centre   January 2001