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Pope Nicholas II

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Nicholas was born at Chevron, in what is now Savoy ; elected at Siena, December, 1058; died at Florence 19 or 27 July, 1061. Like his predecessor, Stephen X, he was canon at Liège. In 1046 he became Bishop of Florence, where he restored the canonical life among the clergy of numerous churches. As soon as the news of the death of Stephen X at Florence reached Rome (4 April, 1058). the Tusculan party appointed a successor in the person of John Mincius, Bishop of Velletri, under the name of Benedict X. His elevation, due to violence and corruption, was contrary to the specific orders of Stephen X that, at his death, no choice of a successor was to be made until Hildebrand's return from Germany. Several cardinals protested against the irregular proceedings, but they were compelled to flee from Rome. Hildebrand was returning from his mission when the news of these events reached him. He interrupted his journey at Florence, and after agreeing with Duke Godfrey of Lorraine-Tuscany upon Bishop Gerhard for elevation to the papacy, he won over part of the Roman population to the support of his candidate. An embassy dispatched to the imperial court secured the confirmation of the choice by the Empress Agnes. At Hildebrand's invitation, the cardinals met in December, 1058, at Siena and elected Gerhard who assumed the name of Nicholas II. On his way to Rome the new pope held at Sutri a well-attended synod at which, in the presence of Duke Godfrey and the imperial chancellor, Guibert of Parma, he pronounced deposition against Benedict X. The latter was driven from the city in January, 1059, and the solemn coronation of Nicholas took place on the twenty-fourth of the same month. A cultured and stainless man, the new pontiff had about him capable advisers, but to meet the danger still threatening from Benedict X and his armed supporters, Nicholas empowered Hildebrand to enter into negotiations with the Normans of southern Italy. The papal envoy recognized Count Richard of Aversa as Prince of Capua and received in return Norman troops which enabled the papacy to carry on hostilities against Benedict in the Campagna. This campaign did not result in the decisive overthrow of the opposition party, but it enabled Nicholas to undertake in the early part of 1059 a pastoral visitation to Spoleto, Farfa, and Osimo. During this journey he raised Abbot Desiderius of Monte Cassino to the dignity of cardinal-priest and appointed him legate to Campania, Benevento, Apulia, and Calabria. Early in his pontificate he had sent St. Peter Damiani and Bishop Anselm of Lucca as his legates to Milan, where a married and simoniacal clergy had recently given rise to a reform-party known as the "Pataria". A synod for the restoration of ecclesiastical discipline was held under the presidency of these envoys who, in spite of a tumultuous uprising which endangered their lives, succeeded in obtaining from Archbishop Guido and the Milanese clergy a solemn repudiation of simony and concubinage.

One of the most pressing needs of the time was the reform of papal elections. It was right that they should be freed from the nefarious influence of the Roman factions and the secular control of the emperor, hitherto less disastrous but always objectionable. To this end Nicholas II held in the Lateran at Easter, 1059 a synod attended by one hundred and thirteen bishops and famous for its law concerning papal elections . Efforts to determine the authentic text of this decree caused considerable controversy in the nineteenth century. That the discussions did not result in a consensus of opinion on the matter need not surprise, if it be remembered that thirty years after the publication of the decree complaints were heard regarding the divergency in the text. We possess today a papal and an imperial recension and the sense of the law may be stated substantially as follows: —

  • (1) At the death of the pope, the cardinal-bishops are to confer among themselves concerning a candidate, and, after they have agreed upon a name, they and the other cardinals are to proceed to the election. The remainder of the clergy and the laity enjoy the right of acclaiming their choice.
  • (2) A member of the Roman clergy is to be chosen, except that where a qualified candidate cannot be found in the Roman Church, an ecclesiastic from another diocese may be elected.
  • (3) The election is to be held at Rome, except that when a free choice is impossible there, it may take place elsewhere.
  • (4) If war or other circumstances prevent the solemn enthronization of the new pope in St. Peter's Chair, he shall nevertheless enjoy the exercise of full Apostolic authority.
  • (5) Due regard is to be had for the right of confirmation or recognition conceded to King Henry, and the same deference is to be shown to his successors, who have been granted personally a like privilege.

These stipulations constituted indeed a new law, but they were also intended as an implicit approbation of the procedure followed at the election of Nicholas II. As to the imperial right of confirmation, it became a mere personal privilege granted by the Roman See. The same synod prohibited simoniacal ordinations, lay investiture, and assistance at the Mass of a priest living in notorious concubinage. The rules governing the life of canons and nuns which were published at the diet of Aix-la-Chapelle (817) were abolished, because they allowed private property and such abundant food that, as the bishops indignantly exclaimed, they were adapted to sailors and intemperate matrons rather than to clerics and nuns. Berengarius of Tours, whose views opposed to the doctrine of Christ's real presence in the Eucharist, had repeatedly been condemned, also appeared at the Council and was compelled to sign a formula of abjuration.

At the end of June, 1059, Nicholas proceeded to Monte Cassino and thence to Melfi, the capital of Norman Apulia, where he held an important synod and concluded the famous alliance with the Normans (July-August, 1059). Duke Robert Guiscard was invested with the sovereignty of Apulia, Calabria, and Sicily in case he should reconquer it from the Saracens ; he bound himself, in return, to pay an annual tribute, to hold his lands as the pope's vassal, and to protect the Roman See, its possessions, and the freedom of papal elections. A similar agreement was concluded with Prince Richard of Capua. After holding a synod at Benevento Nicholas returned to Rome with a Norman army which reconquered Præneste, Tusculum, and Numentanum for the Holy See and forced Benedict X to capitulate at Galeria (autumn of 1059). Hildebrand, the soul of the pontificate, was now created archdeacon. In order to secure the general acceptance of the laws enacted at the synod of 1059, Cardinal Stephen, in the latter part of that year, was sent to France where he presided over the synods of Vienne (31 January, 1060) and Tours (17 February, 1060). The decree which introduced a new method of papal election had caused great dissatisfaction in Germany, because it reduced the imperial right of confirmation to the precarious condition of a personal privilege granted at will; but, assured of Norman protection, Nicholas could fearlessly renew the decree at the Lateran synod held in 1060. After this council Cardinal Stephen, who had accomplished his mission to France, appeared as papal legate in Germany. For five days he vainly solicited an audience at court and then returned to Rome. His fruitless mission was followed by a German synod which annulled all the ordinances of Nicholas II and pronounced his deposition. The pope's answer was a repetition of the decree concerning elections at the synod of 1061, at which the condemnation of simony and concubinage among the clergy was likewise renewed. He lies buried in the church of St. Reparata at Florence of which city he had remained bishop even after his elevation to the papal throne. His pontificate, though of short duration, was marked by events fraught with momentous and far-reaching consequences.

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