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  • Gregor VII. Papst zwischen Canossa und Kirchenreform
  • John J. Contreni
Gregor VII. Papst zwischen Canossa und Kirchenreform. By Uta-Renate Blumenthal. [Gestalten des Mittelalters und der Renaissance.] (Darmstadt: Primus Verlag. 2001. Pp. xiii, 376; 8 illus. DM 59.)

Modern examinations of Gregory's skeletal remains put him at about 160 cm. or five feet, two and a half inches tall. As any student of church history or of the Middle Ages knows, Gregory stood much taller than that. Uta-Renate Blumenthal, who has written extensively on the papacy, canon law, and the eleventh-century reform movement, offers in this new book a wide-ranging synthesis of contemporary scholarship anchored in more than 500 titles by German, Italian, French, British, and North American scholars. Blumenthal also has something new of her own to contribute to the rich legacy of Gregorian scholarship. Of the book's 338 pages of text, the first 136 focus on Hildebrand and provide a rich account of Gregory's pre-papal years including his birth probably in Sovana, his family background, his youth in Rome, his activities as subdeacon, legate, and archdeacon, and his participation in the Lateran Council of 1059. Blumenthal observes that birthplace and family meant nothing to Hildebrand, who counted himself a son of the ecclesia romana, nurtured in the bosom of St. Peter (p. 43). More specifically Blumenthal argues that Hildebrand began his ecclesiastical career not as a monk, as conventional wisdom has it, but as a regular canon.

Without diminishing the significance of his confrontation with Emperor Henry IV, Blumenthal refreshingly resists the temptation to organize the book around that epochal struggle. What readers might lose in dramatic build-up is more than compensated for by a rounded, comprehensive portrait of the pontificate. The longest chapter in the book reviews Gregory's councils, an important tool employed by all eleventh-century reforming popes. But, in contrast to his predecessors, Gregory sited his councils in Rome and, exceptionally, once in Salerno during his exile in 1084. A following chapter sheds light on Gregory's use of legates, important agents for centralizing the Church and for broadcasting papal reform initiatives. Gregory's policy of centralization also extended to the ecclesiastical hierarchy.In his relations with patriarchs, primates, and bishops, he proceeded from the principles sketched out in the Dictatus papae (of which a color illustration is provided), which quite explicitly staked out the supremacy of the Roman church. Blumenthal's chapter on Gregory's monastic policy is particularly interesting, if only because the topic has not heretofore been treated so thoroughly. Gregory was an avid defender of monastic liberty and of the canonical elections of abbots. After the monastic world, the book explores [End Page 526] Gregory's relations with the emperor, nobles, and other laymen. A final short chapter treats the pope's death and canonization.

Blumenthal succeeds admirably in making the case that Gregory should be remembered for more than Canossa and his confrontations with kings and the emperor.Although billed by Peter Herde as the first book in German on Gregory VII in more than a century, this book has much to teach an English-reading audience. Like the author's The Investiture Controversy (1988), which first appeared in German in 1982, Gregor VII. also deserves translation and a wider audience.

John J. Contreni
Purdue University


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pp. 526-527
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