Pope Saint Gregory VII (c. 1015/1028 – 25 May 1085), born Hildebrand of Sovana, was Pope from 22 April 1073 until his death.
One of the great reforming popes, he is perhaps best known for the part he played in the Investiture Controversy, his dispute with Henry IV, Holy Roman Emperor that affirmed the primacy of papal authority and the new canon law governing the election of the pope by the College of Cardinals. He was also at the forefront of developments in the relationship between the emperor and the papacy during the years before he became pope.
He twice excommunicated Henry, who in the end appointed Antipope Clement III to oppose him in the political power struggles between the Catholic Church and his empire. Hailed as one of the greatest of the Roman pontiffs after his reforms proved successful, Gregory was, during his own reign, despised by some for his expansive use of papal powers.
Gregory was beatified by Gregory XIII in 1584 and canonized in 1728 by Pope Benedict XIII.
Having been such a prominent champion of the papacy, the memory of Gregory VII was evoked on many occasions in later generations, both positively and negatively, often reflecting later writers' attitude to the Catholic Church and the papacy.
Benno of Meissen, who opposed Gregory VII in the Investiture Controversy, leveled against him charges such as necromancy, torture of a former friend upon a bed of nails, commissioning an attempted assassination, executions without trials, unjust excommunication, doubting the Real Presence of the Eucharist, and even burning the Eucharist. This was eagerly repeated by later opponents of the Catholic Church, such as the English Protestant John Foxe. Joseph McCabe describes Gregory as a "rough and violent peasant, enlisting his brute strength in the service of the monastic ideal which he embraced."
In contrast, the noted historian of the 11th century H.E.J. Cowdrey writes, "he (Gregory) was surprisingly flexible, feeling his way and therefore perplexing both rigorous collaborators ... and cautious and steady-minded ones ... His zeal, moral force, and religious conviction, however, ensured that he should retain to a remarkable degree the loyalty and service of a wide variety of men and women."