Towards Understanding Revelation


Welcome! We are now in the High Middle Ages. At this time a lot was happening in Germany, so we will be looking at the views of three religious  Germans who were active during the Great Reform. Because this is running long, we will look at them one at a time.

We are still in the book VISIONS OF THE END by Bernard McGinn. He has a good synopsis of the Great Reform:

“The central event of the late eleventh and early twelfth centuries was the prolonged struggle between the popes and emperors over the leadership of Christian society. From about 1050 a group of reform-minded prelates gathered around a succession of popes had attempted to purify the Church from the evils of the time: the corrupt life of the clergy, simony (the buying of ecclesiastical offices), and especially lay investiture (the investing of a churchman with the symbols of office by a secular ruler). In 1073, the monk Hildebrand, one of the most vehement of the reformers, was elected pope as Gregory VII.  By 1075 he was locked in a mighty struggle with Henry IV, a struggle which N. F. Cantor has described as one of the great world revolutions.

“It is not my purpose to detail the history of this encounter nor the battle of the books that accompanied it. The struggle proper was ended by the compromise reached at the Concordat of Worms in 1122 and confirmed by the First Lateran Council the following year; its ramifications were to be felt for centuries. The Great Reform engendered by the investiture controversy brought about the most far-reaching political changes that Latin Christendom had seen since the conversion of the Roman Empire. It called into question not only the theocratic dream of the Christian emperors, both East and West…but also challenged the theory of history and version of the apocalyptic scenario connected with it.  The success of the reformers in elevating the papacy to a position of truly effective universal authority in the Western Church could not help but provoke a serious reconsideration of traditional eschatology and apocalypticism. Schemes of history based upon the succession of empires and the view of the End that stressed the role of the Last Emperor as the predecessor of Christ were called into question in an age when the sacrality of both empire and emperor was challenged by many. The rise to power of the papacy made it possible to begin to wonder what role the popes would play in the last times.”

The Church had obviously gone down a wrong road, and unfortunately, the Great Reform really didn’t set it right. The wrong road was the road of earthly power. It was no wonder that the secular leaders were seeking to stick their noses into the doings of the Church, the Church had been doing the same thing to them. The “rise to power of the papacy” began to put a decidedly sinister spin on the Church. 

The next excerpt refers to Guibert of Revenna without explaining who he was. Henry IV was the Holy Roman Emperor, and in that capacity he was appointing bishops and archbishops without consulting the Church (the Investiture Controversy). Gregory VII and his group struck back at Henry IV by supporting a rival claimant to the imperial throne and excommunicating Henry IV. Those on Henry’s side retaliated by electing the Archbishop of Revenna, Guibert, to be pope (Clement III) in opposition to Gregory VII, as well as against three successive anti-imperial popes after Gregory (Victor III, Urban II, and Paschal II). Apparently, after his death, he was hailed as a saint by his followers, but Paschal II and his party declared a ‘condemnation of memory” against him, had him dug up, and threw his remains into the Tiber river. The Catholic Church still considers him an AntiPope.

“Gregory VII made heavy use of Antichrist rhetoric in the course of his struggles. Guibert, the archbishop of Revenna and imperial Antipope, is called ‘Antichrist and archheretic;’ other opponents are spoken of as precursors, heralds, members, or limbs of the Antichrist. But this kind of language was by no means novel — all of these uses appear in previous authors, though perhaps not in the profusion present in Gregory. The pope is also more inclined than most of his predecessors to provide a concrete political interpretation to the opposition between the followers of Christ and the servants of the Antichrist, but he does not seem to have held that the End itself was at hand. The closest Gregory comes to an imminent sense of the Last Things is found in a remark he made to explain the conflict his views had brought forth: ‘the nearer the day of Antichrist approaches, the harder he fights to crush out the Christian faith.’ This is a familiar eschatological [theme], not necessarily a real apocalyptic one.”

So, Gregory VII not only had designs on world power, but was also willing to use the words of Revelation against his political enemies. Just think, if Henry IV had gone along with him as the Antichrist to Gregory’s False Prophet, that would have been a different tale! But it wasn’t time yet.

Now we get into our first theologian, Otto of Freising.

“Otto of Freising (c.1110-1158), monk and bishop, reformer and imperial propagandist, Scholastic and symbolist, is one of the more complex figures of the twelfth century. Born into the highest levels of German nobility…he was no simple imperialist. His major work, THE TWO CITIES…is unique in the Middle Ages in combining a profound Neo-Augustinian theology of history with a skillful and critical analysis of recent events. Otto’s universal history does give over its eighth and final book to the consideration of the events of the End, but there is little originality in the treatment. His profound historical pessimism, evident in the reflections he gives on the investiture controversy…are more cogent proofs of his apocalyptic interests.”

The following quote comes from Otto’s THE TWO CITIES, written about 1146. The first paragraph is a summary of his current events, it’s interesting so I’m leaving it in:

“In the one thousand and sixty-sixth year from the incarnation of the Lord, a star of the sort that is called a comet is said to have been seen and failed not to have its effect. In the same year William, count of Normandy, conquered Greater Britain, which is now called England, killing Harold, its king, and, after reducing the entire population to slavery and settling the Normans there, ruled there himself as king. In the following year the emperor took to wife Bertha, the daughter of the Italian margrave Otto, celebrating the wedding at Tribur. The Roman pontiff excommunicated the emperor after frequently summoning him to appear before him to do penance, and upon the pontiff’s advice and authority (so tradition says) Rudolf, duke of Alemannia, was made emperor by certain nobles. Not long afterwards Rudolf was killed in open and public war and Herman, prince of Lorraine, was chosen in his stead, he too was killed not long afterwards by loyal supporters of the emperor. I have read and reread the history of the Roman kings and emperors, but I nowhere find that anyone of them was excommunicated by a Roman pontiff or deprived of his kingdom before this emperor — unless perchance one is to consider as equivalent to excommunication the fact that Philip was for a short time place among the penitents by the bishop of Rome and that Theodosius was barred by the blessed Ambrose from the portals of the church on account of a bloody and murderous deed.”

We see a little pomposity in this last excerpt, and it only gets worse in the next. I have split this concluding paragraph into sections to make it easier to comment on it.

“At this point I think I ought to relate [about what] I postponed, the fact that the Roman empire — compared in Daniel to iron — had feet ‘part of iron and part of clay’ (Dan. 2:33) till that it was struck and broken to pieces by a stone cut of the mountain without hands. For, without the prejudgment of a better interpretation, how can I interpret ‘the stone cut out without hands’ (Dan. 2:34) as anything other than the Church, the body of its Head, a body that was conceived by the Holy Spirit without carnal admixture, was born of a virgin and reborn of the Spirit and of water — a rebirth in which mortal man had no part….”

Today we see the “stone cut without hands” as being Christ, not the Church. And worse, Otto attributes the Immaculate Conception to the Church (the “body”) rather than to Christ! So now we have the “head” of the Church being the pope, who is said to be Christ’s representative on earth, and we have the Church itself being “conceived by the Holy Spirit” and “born of a Virgin”, etc. Apparently, Christ is in heaven, so we must carry on here without Him. The Church at this point seems to have only a tenuous hold on its purpose and reason for being.

“It was clearly the Church that smote the kingdom near its end (that is the meaning of ‘the feet’). The kingdom was of iron on account of its wars and of clay on account of its condition. The Church smote the kingdom in its weak spot when the Church decided not to reverence the king of the Clay as lord of the earth but to strike him with the sword of excommunication as being by his human condition made of clay.”

Here Otto is making Bible prophecy about the Church, rather than about Christ. His statement “The kingdom was of iron on account of its wars and of clay on account of its condition” is rather vague: what condition is he referring to?  Later he refers to the “king” being “human” and thus “made of clay.” So is the “condition” the “human condition”? And if so, was the original Roman Empire (made of iron) not human?

Then there is the “Church [smiting] the kingdom in its weak spot.” Did Gregory VII and Otto both forget what Paul said in Romans?

Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore, whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. (Romans 13:1-2; NKJV)

More than that, Gregory IV went far beyond “decid[ing] not to reverence the king of the Clay as lord of the earth.” He backed his own choice for king! And, why wouldn’t “the king of the Clay” be the perfect person to rule the earth (clay)? Finally, how does excommunication get to be used against a person, not as an individual, but as a secular leader? I understand that Henry IV was doing things that the pope did not agree with, and that it was interfering with the Church. But would Christ have seen that as a sin? I’m not sure that Christ would have even recognized the Church at this point.

“All can now see to what a mountainous height the Church, at one time small and lowly, has grown. What great calamities, how many wars and perils of wars followed in consequence of the weakness of the kingdom; how often unhappy Rome was besieged, captured, laid waste; and how pope was placed over pope even as king over king, it is weariness to record. In a word, the turbulence of this period carried with it so many disasters, so many schisms, so many dangers of soul and of body that it alone would suffice to prove the unhappy lot of our human wretchedness by reason of the cruelty of the persecution and its long duration.” 

Did Christ prepare a “mountainous height” for Himself to stand upon? Did Christ encourage wars? Then there is the statement “so many dangers of soul and of body that it alone would suffice to prove the unhappy lot of our human wretchedness by reason of the cruelty of the persecution.” There was no persecution against Christians during this time, he is undoubtedly referring to his perceived persecution of the Church. So, not only Christ, but also Christians are not important: only the Church.

“The aforesaid Pope Gregory was driven out of the City by the emperor and Guibert, archbishop of Ravenna, was thrust into his place. Gregory abode at Salerno and, as the time of his summons drew near, he is said to have remarked, ‘I have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore I am dying in exile’ (Ps. 45:7).”

This so misleading. By saying “as the time of his summons drew near,” it is implied that he was being summoned to his death at the hands of Henry IV or perhaps Guibert/Clement III. And then it’s followed by Gregory’s epitaph from Psalms about dying in exile…which isn’t exactly right:

Thou loves righteousness, and hates wickedness: therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above they fellows. (Psalm 45:7; KJV)

This combination makes it sound like Gregory was put to death. Nothing could be further from the truth. Henry marched into Rome, despite Gregory’s military supporters, and Rome surrendered to him. Gregory retired from Rome, and refused to meet with or crown Henry, even when Henry offered to bring him Guibert as a prisoner. Gregory was able to convene a few of the bishops and again excommunicated Henry. Henry marched back into Rome and saw to it that Guibert was installed as Pope Clement III, and was then crowned by him. Gregory formed an alliance with some Normans and they retook Rome. But the Roman people were fed up with Gregory and his Normans, so they had to withdraw. Gregory lived out the rest of his life in exile in the castle of Salerno by the sea. [This was from Wikipedia, which I used because it’s very concise and avoids a whole rabbit trail.]

“Not only, then, was the kingdom severely smitten in the case of its emperor, who had been cut off by the Church, but the Church also suffered no little sorrow in being bereft of so great a shepherd, who had been notable among all the priests and bishops of Rome for his zeal and force of character. With so great a transformation, as the times were passing from perfection to overthrow, let us put an end to the sixth book that, with God’s guidance, we may hasten on to the seventh and to that rest of souls which follows the wretchedness of this present life.”

Otto is trying hard to be conciliatory here, describing the reasons for sorrow on both sides. And then destroys it with “as the times were passing from perfection to overthrow,” implying “perfection” when Gregory was winning, and “overthrow” when Henry won. In the end, of course, Pope Urban II retook Rome (Victor III died only 2 years after being elected), and AntiPope Clement III died in 1100, in exile, during Pope Pascal II’s reign. And the biggest insult was that a new pope took the name Clement III in 1130.

An interesting fact is that Otto of Freising was only 10 years old when AntiPope Clement III died. Yet Otto’s writing makes it sound like he was actually involved in a partisan way on the side of Gregory. A second interesting fact, Otto was Henry IV’s grandson!

Otto was related to most of the German royalty. He was the uncle of Frederick Barbarossa, who became the next big Holy Roman Emperor. After Henry IV, followed by the last of his line, Henry V, the German princes had had enough of powerful emperors and so for the next 25 years they stripped the crown of power and the big, important families took turns providing an emperor figurehead. 

We’ll leave Otto here, and we’ll take up with Gerhoh of Reichersber next time, another man on the side of Pope Gregory. In the meantime, I’ll be praying for everyone to have an opinion, but without the need to make those have a different opinion, an enemy.

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