|Leo III crowns Charlemagne|
It would seem at least plausible that all of this might have been avoided if the Pope had simply made himself emperor rather than constantly having to crown an emperor only to then excommunicate or attempt to depose him when he did something wrong. Likewise, the emperors went to a great deal of trouble dealing with popes who opposed them like calling councils to depose them, setting up anti-popes and waging war against them. Even Emperor Charles V, one of the great champions of the Catholic cause, made war on the Pope and his troops came very close to killing the Pontiff. This relationship remained somewhat complicated even long after the days when wars were fought over religion in Europe. The Emperor of Austria, for example, (successor of the Holy Roman Emperors) retained the right to veto papal candidates they thought would be a threat to their national interests until 1904 when Pope Pius X forbid any outside interference in papal elections. There was, in any event, only one other papal election before there was no more Austrian emperor and, indeed, no more emperors in Europe at all (unless one counts the Tsar of Bulgaria but he was Orthodox in any event). So, almost up until the very end, there was still this possible cause of contention between the Pope and emperor.
|Gregory VII absolves Henry IV|
The relationship never seems to have been very well defined or thought out before Pope Leo III restored the Western Empire by crowning Charlemagne the Emperor of the Romans. At least one source says that, after he did so, Pope Leo bowed his head to the ground before Charlemagne in the manner that was done to the past Roman Emperors, portraying himself as the Emperor’s subject. After that, Emperor Charlemagne not only essentially ruled over those lands his father Pepin had entrusted to the Pope but even ruled in religious matters. As any Catholic with a catechism can attest, however, it is only supposed to be the Pope who has absolute authority and protection from error when it comes to matters of faith. Later on, the appointment of bishops became a major bone of contention but there almost never ceased to be at least some unfortunate infighting or at least tension over the simple political jurisdiction of the two. The Emperor was, after all, supposed to be the “Emperor of the Romans” and so he was, at least at first, but very early on the Pope, while still recognizing the German monarch as Roman Emperor, fiercely guarded his own political authority over Rome and the surrounding territory. So the Emperor of Rome was titled the Emperor of Rome by the Pope but the Pope would not allow him to actually exercise that office as it was really the Pope who ruled the Romans. It can get more than a little confusing.
It was not until 1177 with the Treaty of Venice (after the Italians had defeated a German invasion led by Emperor Frederick I) that it was ever really spelled out that the Papal States, over which the Pontiff ruled, were to be considered an independent sovereign state apart from the Holy Roman Empire. At that point it could have been truthfully stated that Frederick I was no more “Emperor of the Romans” than he was the “Emperor of the Muscovites” and that he should be satisfied with the title of “King of Germany” while the Pope took the title of Roman Emperor for himself. There was, unfortunately, the minor fact that even then the Romans were not prepared to submit to the Pope (he was driven out of the city a couple of years later) but the fact that many if not most would have been reluctant to submit to the Pope as their temporal monarch does not move me much as a reason for this never having been done. After all, even when all of western Europe was Catholic, not everyone submitted to the Pope even in spiritual matters and despite the outbreak of numerous heresies, the long-term silent treatment with the Orthodox half of Christendom and the rise of Protestantism, the Pope never ceased to maintain his pontifical title and position in spite of all those who denied it.