What was the Investiture Controversy and lay investiture, and why exactly was it condemned?

Fr. Hardon, S.J., defines "lay investiture":

The act by which a sovereign, in the Middle Ages, granted titles, possessions, and temporal rights to bishops, abbots, and other spiritual leaders. The ritual of investiture consisted in the delivery of the spiritual emblems, ring and crosier, and sometimes the keys of the church. This privilege of secular princes and lords dates from the time of Charlemagne. So long as these princes had the Church's welfare at heart, lay investiture was tolerated. But when ecclesiastical offices were bought and sold, and free elections of bishops hindered, the Church vigorously opposed it with anti-investiture legislation, which was sporadically enforced. Pope Gregory VII, upon becoming Pope, enacted stringent measures against investiture, even to excommunicating those who continued it. The Concordat of Worms in 1122 finally ended the strife between the emperors and the Holy See. Once the major concessions were made by the emperors, the Pope agreed that all elections would be held in the emperor's presence and his bestowal of the temporalities of the bestowed office would be continued. The conflict over lay investiture reached its peak in Germany.

Was "lay investiture" condemned because it enabled spiritual leaders to dictate in matters that properly belonged only to the temporal order?

  • I’m confused by what you are asking. Are you asking for the problem with lay investiture as seen by the church in the Middle Ages? Are you asking what it is? Or something else?
    – Luke Hill
    Jan 13 at 22:19
  • @LukeHill "Are you asking for the problem with lay investiture as seen by the church in the Middle Ages?" Yes.
    – Geremia
    Jan 13 at 22:36

Why was "lay investiture" condemned?

The Concordat of Worms in 1122 finally ended the strife between the emperors and the Holy See That is to say it more or less granted autonomy of the Church from secular leaders (lack of autonomy within the Church was known as lay investiture).

Prior to the Concordat of Worms in 1122, emperors and princes name bishops and abbots and other ecclesiastical positions without the permission of the Church or the Holy See.

Abbots of monasteries were often not even a religious, but a lay person and often not living in the monastery he was invested with. Funds often went to the “abbot”, often some noble in good favour with the emperor, thus leaving the monks to live in extreme poverty. Another evil within the walls of monasteries was that corruption started to set in because there was little spiritual guidance for the monks. The lay abbot could appoint anyone as prior of monastery that he willed, a recipe for disaster.

Also related to this subject matter is what was known as a commendatory abbot or prior was a cleric (or sometimes a layman) who held a monastery in commendam. In other words, he received personal income from it and, in the case of a cleric, may also have had some jurisdiction there. He did not, however, have any authority over internal discipline of the monks. This system was highly detrimental to authentic monastic spirituality and no longer exists. Often these commendatory abbots were laymen, vassals of the kings, or others who were authorized to draw the revenues and manage the temporal affairs of the monasteries in reward for military services.

Hugh Capet was a lay abbot of 5 monasteries before he became a king

Hugh Capet was a lay abbot of 5 monasteries before he became a king

Concordat of Worms (1122)

The European mainland experienced about 50 years of fighting, with efforts by Lamberto Scannabecchi, the future Pope Honorius II, and the 1121 Diet of Würzburg to end the conflict. On 23 September 1122, near the German city of Worms, Pope Callixtus II and Holy Roman Emperor Henry V entered into an agreement, now known as the Concordat of Worms, that effectively ended the Investiture Controversy. It eliminated lay investiture, while allowing secular leaders some room for unofficial but significant influence in the appointment process.

By the terms of the agreement, the election of bishops and abbots in Germany was to take place in the emperor's presence (or his legate's) as judge ("without violence") between potentially disputing parties, free of bribes, thus retaining to the emperor a crucial role in choosing these great territorial magnates of the Empire. But absent a dispute, the canons of the cathedral were to elect the bishop, monks were to choose the abbot. Beyond the borders of Germany, in Burgundy and Italy, the election would be handled by the church without imperial interference.

Callixtus' reference to the feudal homage due the emperor on appointment is guarded: "shall do unto thee for these what he rightfully should" was the wording of the privilegium granted by Callixtus. The emperor's right to a substantial imbursement (payment) on the election of a bishop or abbot was specifically denied.

The emperor renounced the right to invest ecclesiastics with ring and crosier,the symbols of their spiritual power, and guaranteed election by the canons of cathedral or abbey and free consecration[citation needed]. To make up for this and symbolise the worldly authority of the bishop which the pope had always recognised to derive from the Emperor, another symbol, the scepter, was invented, which would be handed over by the king (or his legate).

The two ended by promising mutual aid when requested and by granting one another peace. The Concordat was confirmed by the First Council of the Lateran in 1123.

In the end, the Church has the Divine right to name her own bishops and ministers. Monks have the rights to elect their own abbots. Lay investiture was a serious evil in the Middle Ages. The Concordat of Worms in 1122 was in some ways a compromise between the secular and ecclesiastical powers. After all, Henry yielded up "to God and his Holy Apostles Peter and Paul and to the Holy Catholic Church all investitures with ring and staff, and allows in all Churches of his kingdom and empire ecclesiastical election and free consecration". On the other hand, the pope granted to the Emperor Henry, by the Grace of God Roman Emperor, that the election of bishops and abbots in the German Empire in so far as they belong to the Kingdom of Germany, shall take place in his presence, without simony or the employment of any constraint.

The terminus technicus for the great struggle between the popes and the German kings Henry IV and Henry V, during the period 1075-1122. The prohibition of investiture was in truth only the occasion of this conflict; the real issue, at least at the height of the contest, was whether the imperial or the papal power was to be supreme in Christendom. The powerful and ardent pope, Gregory VII, sought in all earnestness to realize the Kingdom of God on earth under the guidance of the papacy. As successor of the Apostles of Christ, he claimed supreme authority in both spiritual and secular affairs. It seemed to this noble idealism that the successor of Peter could never act otherwise than according to the dictates of justice, goodness, and truth. In this spirit he claimed for the papacy supremacy over emperor, kings, and princes. But during the Middle Ages a rivalry had always existed between the popes and the emperors, twin representatives, so to speak, of authority. Henry III, the father of the young king, had even reduced the papacy to complete submission, a situation which Gregory now strove to reverse by crushing the imperial power and setting in its place the papacy. A long and bitter struggle was therefore unavoidable.

It first arose through the prohibition of investitures, à propos of the ecclesiastical reforms set afoot by Gregory. In 1074 he had renewed under heavier penalties the prohibition of simony and marriage of the clergy, but encountered at once great opposition from the German bishops and priests. To secure the necessary influence in the appointment of bishops, to set aside lay pretensions to the administration of the property of the Church, and thus to break down the opposition of the clergy, Gregory at the Lenten (Roman) Synod of 1075 withdrew "from the king the right of disposing of bishoprics in future, and relieved all lay persons of the investiture of churches". As early as the Synod of Reims (1049) anti-investiture legislation had been enacted, but had never been enforced. Investiture at this period meant that on the death of a bishop or abbot, the king was accustomed to select a successor and to bestow on him the ring and staff with the words: Accipe ecclesiam (accept this church). Henry III was wont to consider the ecclesiastical fitness of the candidate; Henry IV, on the other hand, declared in 1073: "We have sold the churches". Since Otto the Great (936-72) the bishops had been princes of the empire, had secured many privileges, and had become to a great extent feudal lords over great districts of the imperial territory. The control of these great units of economic and military power was for the king a question of primary importance, affecting as it did the foundations and even the existence of the imperial authority; in those days men had not yet learned to distinguish between the grant of the episcopal office and the grant of its temporalities (regalia). Thus minded, Henry IV held that it was impossible for him to acknowledge the papal prohibition of investiture. We must bear carefully in mind that in the given circumstances there was a certain justification for both parties: the pope's object was to save the Church from the dangers that arose from the undue influence of the laity, and especially of the king, in strictly ecclesiastical affairs; the king, on the other hand, considered that he was contending for the indispensable means of civil government, apart from which his supreme authority was at that period inconceivable.

After Paschal's death (1118) even his tolerant successor, Gelasius II (1118-19), could not prevent the situation from becoming daily more entangled. Having demanded recognition of the privilege of 1111 and been referred by Gelasius to a general council, Henry made a hopeless attempt to revive the universally detested schism by appointing as antipope, under the name of Gregory VIII, Burdinus, Archbishop of Braga (Portugal), and was accordingly excommunicated by the pope. In 1119 Gelasius was succeeded by Guido of Vienna as Callistus II (1119-24); he had already excommunicated the emperor in 1112. Reconciliation seemed, therefore, more remote than ever. Callistus, however, regarded the peace of the Church as of prime importance, and as the emperor, already on better terms with the German princes, was likewise eager for peace, negotiations were opened. A basis for compromise lay in the distinction between the ecclesiastical and the secular elements in the appointment of bishops. This mode of settlement had already been discussed in various forms in Italy and in France, e.g. by Ivo of Chartres, as early as 1099. The bestowal of the ecclesiastical office was sharply distinguished from the investiture with imperial domains. As symbols of ecclesiastical installation, the ring and staff were suggested; the sceptre served as the symbol of investiture with the temporalities of the see. The chronological order of the formalities raised a new difficulty; on the imperial side it was demanded that investiture with the temporalities should precede consecration, while the papal representatives naturally claimed that consecration should precede investiture. If the investiture were to precede, the emperor by refusing the temporalities could prevent consecration; in the other case, investiture was merely a confirmation of the appointment. By 1119 the articles of peace were agreed upon at Mouzon and were to be ratified by the Synod of Reims. At the last moment, however, negotiations were broken off, and the pope renewed the excommunication of the emperor. But the German princes succeeded in reopening the proceedings, and peace was finally arranged between the legates of the pope, the emperor and the princes on 23 September, 1122. This peace is usually known as the Concordat of Worms, or the "Pactum Calixtinum".

In the document of peace, Henry yields up "to God and his Holy Apostles Peter and Paul and to the Holy Catholic Church all investitures with ring and staff, and allows in all Churches of his kingdom and empire ecclesiastical election and free consecration". On the other hand, the pope grants to "his beloved son Henry, by the Grace of God Roman Emperor, that the election of bishops and abbots in the German Empire in so far as they belong to the Kingdom of Germany, shall take place in his presence, without simony or the employment of any constraint. Should any discord arise between the parties, the emperor shall, after hearing the advice and verdict of the metropolitans and other bishops of the province lend his approval and support to the better side. The elected candidate shall receive from him the temporalities (regalia) with the sceptre, and shall discharge all obligations entailed by such reception. In other portions of the empire, the consecrated candidate shall within six months receive the regalia by means of the sceptre, and shall fulfil towards him the obligations implied by this ceremony. From these arrangements is excepted all that belongs to the Roman Church" (i.e. the Papal States). The different parts of the empire were therefore differently treated; in Germany the investiture was to precede the consecration, while in Italy and Burgundy it followed the consecration and within the succeeding six months. The king was deprived of his unrestricted power in the appointment of bishops, but the Church also failed to secure the full exclusion of every alien influence from canonical elections. The Concordat of Worms was a compromise, in which each party made concessions. Important for the king were the toleration of his presence at the election (prœsentia regis), which lent him a possible influence over the electors, and of investiture before consecration, whereby the elevation of an obnoxious candidate was rendered difficult or even impossible. The extreme ecclesiastical party, who condemned investitures and secular influence in elections under any form, were dissatisfied with these concessions from the very outset and would have been highly pleased, if Callistus had refused to confirm the Concordat.

In appraising the significance of this agreement it remains to be seen whether it was intended as a temporary truce or an enduring peace. Doubts might very well be (and indeed have been) entertained on this matter, since formally the document is drawn up only for Henry V. But a close examination of our sources of information and of contemporary documents has shown that it is erroneous to maintain that the Concordat enjoyed but a passing recognition and was of small importance. Not only by the contracting parties, but also by their contemporaries, the compact was regarded as an enduring fundamental law. It was solemnly recognized not only as an imperial statute, but as a law of the Church by the Lateran Œcumenical Council of 1123. We also know from Gerhoh of Reichersberg, who was present at the council, that in addition to the imperial document, which it has been held was alone read, that of the pope was also read and sanctioned. As Gerhoh was one of the chief opponents of the Concordat, his evidence in favour of an unpleasant truth cannot be doubted. That the agreement was to possess perpetual binding power, neither party, of course, intended — and the Concordat was very far from securing such continued recognition, since it reveals at most the anxiety of the Church for peace, under the pressure of certain circumstances. By new legislative act the provisions were modified. Under King Lothair (1125-37) and at the beginning of the reign of Conrad III (1138-52) the Concordat was still unchallenged and was observed in its entirety. In 1139, however, Innocent II, in the twenty-eighth canon of the Council of Rome, confined the privilege of electing the bishop to the cathedral chapter and the representatives of the regular clergy, and made no mention of lay participation in the election. The ecclesiastical party assumed that this provision annulled the king's participation in elections and his right to decide in the case of an equally divided vote of the electors. If their opinion was correct, the Church alone had withdrawn on this point from the compact, and the kings had no need to take cognizance of the fact. In truth the latter retained their right in this respect, though they used it sparingly, and frequently waived it. They had ample opportunity to make their influence felt in other ways. Frederick I (1152-90) was again complete master of the Church in Germany, and was generally able to secure the election of the candidate he favoured. In case of disagreement he took a bold stand and compelled the recognition of his candidate. Innocent III (1198-1216) was the first to succeed in introducing free and canonical election into the German Church. Royal investiture after his time was an empty survival, a ceremony without meaning. - Conflict of Investitures

  • Wow, I didn't know lay abbots existed!
    – Geremia
    Jan 14 at 23:52

The secular powers had too much power over the church, making the church an extension of the state. Individuals lacking proper spiritual training ran the affairs of monasteries and churches.

The state used this arrangement to turn monasteries into revenue sources, diverting funds away from charitable purposes, depriving the poor of the help they needed. The Cluniac reforms from the tenth century onwards remedied this in France. Later developments addressed this in England.

The practice of simony - buying church offices for money - corrupted the church.

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