Gregory VII, “The Second Letter to Bishop Herman of Metz” and Dictatus Papae (1075)

The first reading is a letter written by Pope Gregory VII to a German bishop, Herman of Metz, at the height of the lay investiture struggle.  The pope outlines the theological basis for the authority and powers he claimed.


You ask us to fortify you against the madness of those who babble with accursed tongues about the authority of the Holy Apostolic See [the bishopric of Rome] not being able to excommunicate King Henry as one who despises the law of Christ, a destroyer of churches and of the empire, a promoter and partner of heresies, nor to release anyone from his oath of fidelity to him; but it has not seemed necessary to reply to this request, seeing that so many and such convincing proofs are to be found in Holy Scripture….

To cite but a few out of the multitude of proofs: Who does not remember the words of our Lord Savior Jesus Christ: “Thou art Peter and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Are kings excepted here? Or are they not of the sheep which the Son of God committed to St. Peter? Who, I ask, thinks himself excluded from this universal grant of the power of binding and loosing to St. Peter unless, perchance, that unhappy man who, being unwilling to bear the yoke of the Lord, subjects himself to the burden of the Devil and refuses to be numbered in the flock of Christ? His wretched liberty shall profit him nothing; for if he shakes off from his proud neck the power divinely granted to Peter, so much the heavier shall it be for him in the day of judgment.

This institution of the divine will, this foundation of the rule of the Church, this privilege granted and sealed especially by a heavenly decree to St. Peter, chief of the Apostles, has been accepted and maintained with great reverence by the holy fathers, and they have given to the Holy Roman Church, as well in general councils as in their other acts and writings, the name of “universal mother.” They have not only accepted her expositions of doctrine and her instructions in (our) holy religion, but they have also recognized her judicial decisions. They have agreed as with one spirit and one voice that all major cases, all especially important affairs and the judgments of all churches ought to be referred to her as to their head and mother, that from her there shall be no appeal, that her judgments may not and cannot be reviewed or reversed by anyone.


Thus Pope Gelasius (492—496), writing to the (Byzantine) emperor Anastasius, gave him these instructions as to the right theory of the principate of the Holy and Apostolic See, based upon divine authority:


Although it is fitting that all the faithful should submit themselves to all priests who perform their sacred functions properly, how much the more should they accept the judgment of that prelate who has been appointed by the supreme divine ruler to be superior to all priests and whom the loyalty of the whole later Church has recognized as such. Your Wisdom sees plainly that no human capacity (concilium) whatsoever can equal that of him [Saint Peter] whom the word of Christ raised above all others arid whom the reverend Church has always confessed and still devotedly holds as its Head.


Who does not know that kings and princes derive their origin from men ignorant of God who raised themselves above their fellows by pride, plunder, treachery, murder—in short, by every kind of crime—at the instigation of the Devil, prince of this world, men blind with greed and intolerable in their audacity?  If, then, they strive to bend the priests of God to their will, to whom may they more properly be compared than to him who is chief over all the sons of pride? For he, tempting our High Priest [Jesus], head of all priests, son of the Most High, offering him all the kingdoms of this world, said: “All these will I give thee if thou wilt fall down and worship me.”


Does anyone doubt that the priests of Christ are to be considered as fathers and masters of kings and princes and of all believers? Would it not be regarded as pitiable madness if a son should try to rule his father or a pupil his master and to bind with unjust obligations the one through whom he expects to be bound or loosed, not only on earth but also in heaven? Evidently recognizing this the emperor Constantine the Great, lord over all kings and princes throughout almost the entire earth, as St. Gregory [pope, 590—604] relates in his letter to the emperor Mauritius [Maurice, Byzantine ruler, 582—602], at the holy synod of ‘Nicaea’ took his place below all the bishops and did not venture to pass any judgment upon them but, even addressing them as gods, felt that they ought not to be subject to his judgment but that he ought to be bound by their decisions.


Pope Gelasius,2 urging upon the emperor Anastasius not to feel himself wronged by the truth that was called to his attention said: “There are two powers, O august Emperor, by which the world is governed, the sacred authority of the priesthood and the power of kings. Of these the priestly is by so much the greater as they will have to answer for kings themselves in the day of divine judgment”; and a little further: “Know that you are subject to their judgment, not that they are to be subjected to your will.”


In reliance upon such declarations and such authorities, many prelates [popes or other powerful church officials) have excommunicated kings or emperors.

The Dictatus Papae was included in Pope's register in the year 1075. Some argue that it was written by Pope Gregory VII (r. 1073-1085) himself, others argues that it had a much later different origin. In 1087 Cardinal Deusdedit published a collection of the laws of the Church which he drew from any sources. The Dictatus agrees so clearly and closely with this collection that some have argued the Dictatus must have been based on it; and so must be of a later date of compilation than 1087. There is little doubt that the principals below do express the pope's principals.

The Dictates of the Pope

  1. That the Roman church was founded by God alone.
  2. That the Roman pontiff alone can with right be called universal.
  3. That he alone can depose or reinstate bishops.
  4. That, in a council his legate, even if a lower grade, is above all bishops, and can pass sentence of deposition against them.
  5. That the pope may depose the absent.
  6. That, among other things, we ought not to remain in the same house with those excommunicated by him.
  7. That for him alone is it lawful, according to the needs of the time, to make new laws, to assemble together new congregations, to make an abbey of a canonry; and, on the other hand, to divide a rich bishopric and unite the poor ones.
  8. That he alone may use the imperial insignia.
  9. That of the pope alone all princes shall kiss the feet.
  10. That his name alone shall be spoken in the churches.
  11. That this is the only name in the world.
  12. That it may be permitted to him to depose emperors.
  13. That he may be permitted to transfer bishops if need be.
  14. That he has power to ordain a clerk of any church he may wish.
  15. That he who is ordained by him may preside over another church, but may not hold a subordinate position; and that such a one may not receive a higher grade from any bishop.
  16. That no synod shall be called a general one without his order.
  17. That no chapter and no book shall be considered canonical without his authority.
  18. That a sentence passed by him may be retracted by no one; and that he himself, alone of all, may retract it.
  19. That he himself may be judged by no one.
  20. That no one shall dare to condemn one who appeals to the apostolic chair.
  21. That to the latter should be referred the more important cases of every church.
  22. That the Roman church has never erred; nor will it err to all eternity, the Scripture bearing witness.
  23. That the Roman pontiff, if he have been canonically ordained, is undoubtedly made a saint by the merits of St. Peter; St. Ennodius, bishop of Pavia, bearing witness, and many holy fathers agreeing with him. As is contained in the decrees of St. Symmachus the pope.
  24. That, by his command and consent, it may be lawful for subordinates to bring accusations.
  25. That he may depose and reinstate bishops without assembling a synod.
  26. That he who is not at peace with the Roman church shall not be considered catholic.
  27. That he may absolve subjects from their fealty to wicked men.

translated in Ernest F. Henderson, Select Historical Documents of the Middle Ages, (London: George Bell and Sons, 1910), pp. 366-367