Pray with Today's Saint

Pope St. Gregory VII

5/25/2017

St. Gregory VII was one of the great reforming popes of the Church. He turned the political order upside down, going so far as to excommunicate kings, and suffered greatly because of his convictions.

He was born in Italy in the 11th century and baptized with the name Hildebrand. He had an uncle who led a monastery in Rome, and went to live with him to receive an education. He was such a bright student that he was asked to become an aide to one of his teachers, John Gratian, who was elected to the papacy.

Hildebrand continued serving the papacy even after his mentor died and others were elected to the see. He was placed in charge of economic affairs and restored order to the city and brought stability to the Vatican’s treasury. He was great friends with another reformer of the time, St. Peter Damian.

Many saw Hildebrand as being a powerful man behind the curtains, and were not surprised when he was chosen as pope in 1073. He chose the name Gregory VII in honor of his mentor, who had the name Gregory VI.

Many of the kings of Europe at the time were poor rulers, corrupt and cruel, and many of the leaders in the Church were no better. Positions of status in the Church were sold or given as gifts; clerical celibacy was disregarded and many priests lived openly as married men. Gregory spent the rest of his life driving these impurities from the Church.

After his election, he immediately went to work opposing married priests and those who used Church positions to be wielded as a prize. His decrees struck to the heart of a system of power and favoritism that ruled the day, and he was thrown into political machinations from all sides. He had few allies, and was even kidnapped for a short time once while he was presiding over Christmas Mass.

His defining act was to excommunicate Henry IV, emperor of Germany. Eventually, Gregory was forced into exile, where his health began to fail; he died in 1085. On his deathbed, he forgave all of his enemies. “I have loved righteousness and hated sin,” he said with his dying breath. “That is why I die in exile.”

A symbol of the reforming and justice-seeking pope stands on the exterior of the Eck Hall of Law, and his image is used here with permission from Catholic.org.

Pope St. Gregory, you died in exile for seeking justice and righteousness above everything else, pray for us!