Monday, January 10, 2022

Reconciling Contradictions


The charge, though, was customarily the same: the unworthy priests were disqualified from practising the rites and rituals of the Church; that they were polluted, tarnished, corrupted; that they were not truly Christians.

Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World, by Tom Holland

The year was 1076.  Gerard, bishop of Cambrai, had concerns about where such charges could lead.  He summoned one Ramihrd, accused of “preaching many things outside the faith.”  But when questioned, his answers were quite orthodox.

Ramihrd then, in return, accused the bishop of being filthy with sin.  This was too much for the bishop’s supporters, who then bundled Ramihrd in a wooden hut and burned him alive.  Only fifty years earlier was the first heretic executed in the Latin West.

The bishop felt no cause to punish Ramihrd’s executioners.  However, early the next year a letter would arrive in Paris to the city’s archbishop.  It was a letter from the pope, reporting in shocked tones regarding the situation.  “We view it as something monstrous.”

Hildebrand, now Pope Gregory VII, had the ambition to cleanse the Church of every spot of filth.  The preceding years had seen pope after pope serving as a model of scandal.

Gregory…felt himself called to a mighty labour of cleaning.  The clergy were leprous.  Only he, the heir of Saint Peter, could bring them to purity.

How to clean up the clergy unless the pope had sole authority to make appointments?  The pope struggled with the king in this regard; thus began the Investiture Controversy.  In fact, when Ramihrd refused to acknowledge Gerard as priest, he had done so in direct obedience to a decree from Rome and this pope – the decree prohibiting the king’s right to confer bishoprics.

To whore after baubles, and estates, and offices, was to betray the King of Heaven. …Bishops were servants of God alone, or they were nothing.

The beginnings of a meaningful separation of Church and emperor.  This led to a showdown.  Henry IV summoned a conference of bishops in Worms.  They determined that the election of Hildebrand was invalid.  When Gregory was brought the news and commanded to abdicate, he refused and also responded by raising the stakes: Henry was ‘bound with the chains of anathema,’ and he was excommunicated from the Church.

His subjects were absolved of all their oaths of loyalty to him.  Henry himself, as a tyrant and enemy of God, was deposed. …Henry’s authority went into meltdown.

Many of his princely vassals set out to dismember his kingdom.  Henry was cornered.  He then set off, in the dead of winter, to cross the Alps and head for Canossa.  When he arrived, he stood shivering at the gates for three days before being allowed by Gregory to enter.  With a kiss, all was forgiven.

But not forgotten.  Henry would soon renege, capturing Rome in 1084 and causing the pope to flee.  The pope’s supporters would level violent propaganda against Henry: he was a pervert, an arsonist, even a violator of nuns!

Meanwhile, new requirements in the Church: priests were not to have wives or concubines; the Pope was to be judged by no one; all Christian people were subject to his rulings.  Armies of lawyers and clerks were the papacy’s shock-troops.

Universities in Bologna and Paris.  These were followed with universities across Europe.  The university in Paris was granted independent status by the pope in 1215.  A similar measure was adopted regarding Oxford. 

Theology was the queen of sciences, but she was not alone. The sun, moon, and stars were studied; the distribution of matter; animals – human and non-human.  There was no thought of a conflict of science and faith:

To identify the laws that governed the universe was to honour the Lord God who had formulated them.

The truest miracle was not the miraculous; it was the ordered running of heaven and earth!


One monk, Gratian, is said to have compiled centuries of councils and canons; no one had thought to collate these before.  Papal rulings, decrees by other bishops, compilations of penances.  Suffice it to say, the contradictions were many.  How would these be reconciled?

Unlike the Muslims, who had a comprehensive body of written law, Christians had the foundation of Jesus Christ and the Apostle Paul: the law is written on man’s heart.  Gratian would open his Decretum by citing the command of Jesus: Love your neighbor as yourself.  Further:

“Enactments, whether ecclesiastical or secular, if they are proved to be contrary to natural law, must be totally excluded.”

And on this basis, one would reconcile the contradictions.  Gratian provided both a criterion and a sanction to remove objectionable customs. 

This more than a century before Thomas Aquinas, and the only means by which we can reconcile the countless contradictions of today.


In the meantime, Pope Urban II would call the first Crusade.  By the summer of 1099, the crusaders would reach the walls of Jerusalem.  On July 15, they stormed its walls.  After centuries of Saracen rule, Jerusalem was, once again, in the hands of Christians.


  1. What do you mean about the contradictions. It wasn't clear to me.

    1. In the conclusion. Centuries of various documents. How to reconcile the many contradictions?

      Gratian was said to use natural law to work through the contradictions.

  2. To invoke natural law by itself as a solution seems a little bit too mechanistic. There is also a component of moral/spiritual purity involved in order for us to be able to acquire the Mind of Christ, by which we may ‘test the spirits’ correctly (I John 4:1). If we rely on most anything ‘natural’, we usually end up with something that conforms to our own fallen passions:

    ‘According to St. Gregory, “to think that God is an object of knowledge is to turn away from true Being to a phantom of one’s own making.”[xxix] This is why, at least in part, the West’s scholastic project of natural theology as an attempt to seek God as an object of knowledge and prove His existence using philosophy leads the West to worship their idea (the phantom of their own making) of God rather than God Himself.’


    In order to rightly weigh and interpret Holy Scripture, canons, and so on, we must not rely on mental processes alone; we must increase our union with God through the ascetical and liturgical practices of the Church, through which we may be filled and united with the uncreated Grace of God:

    ‘The solution to our epistemic predicament, which man’s autonomous reason cannot obtain within its own sphere of reasoning, is a truth that is both personal and obtained through living a life of faith in humility, by abiding in the only one who is in a position to know the Truth. By uniting one’s self to Christ in this way man can achieve true knowledge. For since in “the person of the God-man, God and man are indissolubly united,” [xix] the gulf between man and truth becomes bridged. Through the theoanthropos our intellects are “renewed, purified and sanctified… deepened and divinized and made capable of grasping the truths of life in the light of God-made-man. In the God-man, absolute Truth has in its entirety been given in a real and personal way.”[xx] And this is found in the life of faith.’

    ‘Nesteruk comments further, explaining that here “Evagrius develops the ideas of his teacher St. Gregory the Theologian (Nazianzus) that the necessary condition to be a theologian is to live an ascetic life, to be virtuous and go through moral purification.” (Nesteruk, Light from the East, 41)’

    Via the same article.

    Relying on an autonomous natural law that judges both Church and world doesn’t seem like the safest option – union with Christ through prayer, fasting, receiving the Holy Mysteries, etc., would seem to be the better means by which we can know the truth about canons or anything else.

    1. Walt, as has been mentioned here often, to truly live and understand a natural law ethic requires revelation as offered in Christ.

      While living a life of faith in humility is the objective of Christians, exploring this is not the purpose of this blog. You are, of course, free to comment along these lines, but understand that at this blog it is not my purpose.

    2. BM,

      I do recall you making that point before. I didn’t see it mentioned this time, so I chimed in. I will try to be a bit more reserved going forward. Forgive me.

  3. "he was excommunicated from the Church"

    Wish we could turn back time... to the good old days...

    "Many of his princely vassals set out to dismember his kingdom."

    I wonder what happened to these vassals once Henry was forgiven by the Pope. Did they become vassals again of Henry like nothing happened? Or were they killed or chased off their properties? Or did they give the land they had acquired during the excommunication back to Henry?

    "if they are proved to be contrary to natural law, must be totally excluded.”

    Well, why didn't we just listen to this guy! Lol