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Papal Library

Pope Gregory V

by Catherine Frakas 02 Jan 2007

Pope Gregory V996-999
Gregory V was originally named Bruno; he was the third son of Otho, Duke of Franconia, Marquis of Verona, and related to Otho III, King of Germany. He was created cardinal by Pope John XV, and at the age of twenty-four was elected pope, on the 8th of May, 996. Fleury says of him: Bruno was gifted, conversant with Roman literature, and spoke three languages, the German, the literary Latin, and the vulgar [i.e., the Italian]. He was the first German who was raised to the Holy See.
Otho having returned into Germany, the Romans revolted against the pope, who had to take refuge at Pavia. There he, in 997, held a great council, in which he excommunicated Crescentius, of the family of the counts of Tusculum, who had caused himself to be named consul, and who wielded at Rome a despotic authority greater than that of the pope. Otho marched upon Rome, where he was crowned emperor by Gregory. Crescentius retired into the Castle of Sant' Angelo, where he obtained terms of capitulation; but Otho, disregarding them, beheaded him. It was soon perceived that the pope, a native of Germany, would favor the opinions of his nation. At first secretly, and then publicly, he confirmed these maxims of jurisprudence:
The prince elected in a diet of Germany acquired by that election the subordinate kingdoms of Italy and Rome. Nevertheless, he cannot entitle himself emperor and Augustus until he receives the crown from the hands of the Roman pontiff.
Gregory, wishing to punish the inhabitants of Rome, who had been opposed to him, and who disapproved of the influence exercised by Otho in public affairs, took away from the Romans the right of electing the emperor, urging as the reason that Germany was the great arm of Christianity. The pope ascribed the right of election, according to Villani, to seven princes of the country: the Archbishop of Mainz, chancellor of Germany; the Archbishop of Treves, chancellor of the Gauls; the Archbishop of Cologne, chancellor of Italy; the Marquis of Brandenburg, grand chamberlain; the Duke of Saxe, sword-bearer; the Count Palatine of the Rhine, who served at the first table of the emperor; and the King of Bohemia, great butler. Critics, says Novaes, are not of one mind upon the question of who instituted the seven electors of the empire. Some writers—as Giordano in his Chronicle—attribute this creation to Charlemagne, and that opinion is supported by the authority of Innocent III. Other annalists deem the princes of Germany authors of the method of election; others attribute it to Gregory X, some to Gregory V (and this is the opinion of Bellarmine); and others, again, attribute it partly to Gregory V, partly to Otho III, and in part to the German princes. This institution interested the popes, the emperors, and the princes: it must have been approved, then, by those three authorities. That is the view taken by Dupin. Natalis Alexander (followed by Pagi) affirms that under the sway of Frederick II the princes of Germany gave to seven electors the right of choosing the emperor. Still, says Novaes, the right to elect the emperor is derived from the sovereign pontiff, as Sandini demonstrates in the Life of Gregory V, where he speaks of the number and office of the electors.
Gregory raised to the see of Ravenna Gerbert, who succeeded him in the pontificate under the name of Sylvester II.
The great erudition of Gregory V, his abundant alms, his virtues, and the qualities of both his heart and his talent, obtained for him the name of Gregorio Minore, Gregory the Less; though doubtless that surname was more frequently bestowed upon him in Germany than in the city of Rome, whose privileges he had attacked. He died on the 18th of February, 999, at the age of twenty-seven, after governing the Church two years and something more than eight months. He was interred at the Vatican.
At the instigation of Otho, a council was held at Rome, at which the customs of the Church, already invoked under similar circumstances, were brought to bear heavily upon Robert, King of France. Twenty-eight bishops, nearly all Italians, were present. Eight canons were passed, by the first of which King Robert was directed to put away Bertha, whom he had married within the prohibited degree of relationship, and to do penance for seven years, according to the degrees prescribed by the Church, all under pain of being anathematized. And the same sentence was passed upon Bertha. Archambault, Archbishop of Tours, who had given them the nuptial benediction, and all the bishops who had assisted in the ceremony, were suspended from communion until they made satisfaction to the Holy See. King Robert subsequently obeyed the order of the council, and espoused Constance, daughter of William I, Count of Provence.
This biographical data is from The Lives and Times of the Popes by The Chevalier Artaud De Montor. Published by The Catholic Publication Society of New York in ten volumes in 1911. The pictures, included in the volumes, were reproduced from Effigies Pontificum Romanorum Dominici Basae.

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