Today, May 25, the Catholics of the Latin Rite celebrate the feast of St. Gregory VII, Pope and Confessor. Both as Bishop of Rome and, before his election, as the monk Hildebrand, he worked to reform the Church by improving the holiness of her priests and faithful, suppressing simony (the sale in church offices), and freeing her from the stranglehold of imperial, royal and noble power. He also pioneered a global vision of Christendom, being the first leader of Western Europe to see Islamic aggression against the East Roman (Byzantine) Empire as a critical danger to the freedom of Christian peoples, and to advocate sending it aid.
Like St. Athanasius, St. Gregory VII found that his faith forced him to defy the power of Caesar for the glory of God. He therefore brought down upon his head the fury of the Holy Roman Empire, against which his only faithful ally was Countess Matilda the Great and the outnumbered army she commanded. She won in the end, but along the long road to victory the Pope had died in exile for hating iniquity. Nonetheless, St. Gregory VII left a vision of the Church that was true to the will of Christ: in the world, but not of this world, unafraid to confront worldly power with the truth of the Gospel.
In worldly terms, St. Gregory VII created a new historical phenomenon: for he made the clergy a self-conscious intelligentsia with an independent organization and class-identity, which refused to be subservient to other powers. Thus he began the separation of the intellectual class from the economic and political powers which still characterizes Western culture. When that ungrateful intelligentsia revolted against the Church that gave it birth, it retained the tradition of independence that St. Gregory VII had begun. Thus he deserves to be called not only a Founder of Christendom, but, in a real sense, a Father of Western Civilization.
Here is a legally free biography of this uncompromisingly holy man:
- The Story of Hildebrand, St. Gregory VII, by Ethel Mary Wilmot-Buxton (London, Manchester, Birmingham, and Glasgow: Burns, Oates & Washbourne, 1920). From the series Heroes of the Church. Available at Internet Archive and Open Library (Digitizing sponsor: MSN, Book contributor: Kelly Library, University of Toronto).
Here are some legally free histories that include his life and times:
- A General History of the Christian Era: For Catholic Colleges and Reading Circles and for Self-Instruction, Volume I. The Papacy and the Empire, by Anthony Guggenberger, S.J. (St. Louis, Mo.: B. Herder, 1900). Available in various formats at Internet Archive and Open Library. The 4th edition (St. Louis, Mo.: B. Herder, 1907) with Nihil Obstat is available at Internet Archive and Open Library.
- A History of the Church to the Eve of the Reformation, by Philip Hughes. Ecclesiastial history. Available on Documenta Catholica Omnia and on the Roman Catholic Resource Index of the Secular Franciscan Order, Five Franciscan Martyrs Province.
- Popes through the Ages, by Joseph Brusher S.J. May be read online at Christ’s Faithful People.
- Studies in Church History, Volume 2: Centuries IX-XIV, 2nd edition, by Rev. Reuben Parsons, D.D. (New York, Cincinnati: Fr. Pustet & Co., 1896). With Imprimatur. Available at Internet Archive and Open Library.
Here are two biographies of the Saint’s military protectress:
- Matilda, Countess of Tuscany, by Mary E. Huddy (1906). Available on Internet Archive, Internet Archive (2nd copy).
- Matilda of Tuscany, la gran donna d’Italia, by Nora Duff (London: Methuen, 1909). Available at Internet Archive and Open Library. Another edition (New York, Dutton, 1910) is available at Internet Archive and Open Library.
- The chair of Peter or the Papacy: considered in its institution, development, and organization, and in the benefits which, for over eighteen centuries, it has conferred on mankind, by Murphy, John Nicholas (London : Burns & Oates, 1888). Available at Internet Archive.