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As Anselm of Lucca, he had been recognized for a number of years as one of the leaders of the reform party, especially in the Milanese territory, where he was born at Baggio, of noble parentage. Together with Hildebrand, he had imbibed in Cluny the zeal for reformation.
The first theatre of his activity was Milan, where he was one of the founders of the Pataria, and lent to that great agitation against simony and clerical incontinency the weight of his eloquence and noble birth.
The device of silencing him, contrived by Archbishop Guido and other episcopal foes of reform in Lombardy, viz. sending him to the court of the Emperor Henry III, had the contrary effect of enabling him to spread the propaganda in Germany. In 1057 the Emperor appointed him to the bishopric of Lucca. With increased prestige, he reappeared twice in Milan as legate of the Holy See, in 1057 in the company of Hildebrand, and in 1059 with St. Peter Damiani. Under the able generalship of this saintly triumvirate the reform forces were held well in hand, in preparation for the inevitable conflict.
The decree of Nicholas II (1059) by which the right of papal elections was virtually vested in the College of Cardinals, formed the issue to be fought and decided at the next vacancy of the Apostolic Throne. The death of Pope Nicholas two years later found both parties in battle array. The candidate of the Hildebrandists, endorsed by the cardinals, was the Bishop of Lucca the other side put forward the name of Cadalus, Bishop of Parma, a protector and example of the prevailing vices of the age. The cardinals met in legal form and elected Anselm, who took the name of Alexander II.
Before proceeding to his enthronization, the Sacred College notified the German Court of their action. The Germans were considered to have forfeited the privilege of confirming the election. reserved to their king with studied vagueness in the decree of Nicholas II, when they contemptuously dismissed the ambassador of the cardinals without a hearing. Foreseeing a civil war, the cardinals on 30 September completed the election by the ceremony of enthronization.
Meanwhile a deputation of the Roman nobles, who were enraged at their elimination as a dominant factor in the papal elections, joined by deputies of the unreformed episcopate of Lombardy, had proceeded to the German Court with a request for the royal sanction to a new election. The Empress Agnes, as regent for her ten-year-old son, Henry IV, convoked an assembly of lay and clerical magnates at Basle; and here, without any legal right, and without the presence of a single cardinal, the Bishop of Parma was declared Pope, and took the name of Honorius II (28 October).
In the contest which ensued, Pope Alexander was supported by the consciousness of the sanctity of his cause, by public opinion clamouring for reform, by the aid of the allied Normans of southern Italy, and by the benevolence of Beatrice and Matilda of Tuscany. Even in Germany things took a favourable turn for him, when Anno of Cologne seized the regency, and the repentant Empress withdrew to a convent.
In a new diet, at Augsburg (Oct., 1062), it was decided that Burchard, Bishop of Halberstadt should proceed to Rome and, after investigating the election of Alexander on the spot, make a report to a later assemblage of the bishops of Germany and Italy. Burchard's report was entirely in favour of Alexander. The latter defended his cause with eloquence and spirit in a council held at Mantua, at Pentecost, 1064 (C. Wile, Benzos Panegyricus, Marburg, 1856), and was formally recognized as legitimate Pope. His rival was excommunicated, but kept up the contest with dwindling prospects till his death in 1072.
During the darkest hours of the schism Alexander and his chancellor, Cardinal Hildebrand, never for a moment relaxed their hold upon the reins of government. In striking contrast to his helplessness amidst the Roman factions is his lofty attitude towards the potentates lay and clerical, of Europe. Under banners blessed by him Roger advanced to the conquest of Sicily, and William to the conquest of England. His Regesta fill eleven pages of Jaffe (Regesta Rom. Pontif., 2d ed., 4, nos. 445, 4770).
He was omnipresent, through his legates, punishing simoniacal bishops and incontinent clerics. He did not spare even his protector, Anno of Cologne whom he twice summoned to Rome, once in 1068 to do penance, barefoot, for holding relations with the antipope, and again in 1070 to purge himself of the charge of simony. A similar discipline was administered to Sigfried of Mainz, Hermann of Bamberg, and Werner of Strasburg. In his name his legate, St. Peter Damiani, at the Diet of Frankfurt in 1089, under threat of excommunication and exclusion from the imperial throne, deterred Henry IV from the project of divorcing his queen, Bertha of Turin, though instigated thereto by several German bishops. His completest triumph was that of compelling Bishop Charles of Constance and Abbot Robert of Reichenau to return to the King the croziers and rings they had obtained through simony.
One serious quarrel with Henry was left to be decided by his successor. In 1069 the Pope had rejected as a simonist the subdeacon Godfrey, whom Henry had appointed Archbishop of Milan Henry failing to acquiesce, the Pope confirmed Atto, the choice of the reform party. Upon the king's ordering his appointee to be consecrated, Alexander fulminated an anathema against the royal advisers.
The death of the Pope, 21 April, 1073, left Hildebrand, his faithful chancellor, heir to his triumphs and difficulties. Alexander deserved well of the English Church by elevating his ancient teacher, Lanfranc of Bec, to the See of Canterbury and appointing him Primate of England.
APA citation. (1907). Pope Alexander II. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01286a.htm
MLA citation. "Pope Alexander II." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01286a.htm>.
Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Gerard Haffner.
Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. March 1, 1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.
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