The Investiture Controversy dominated European power politics in the late 11th and early 12th centuries. European monarchs challenged the Catholic Church over the power of appointment, or investiture. The monarchies wished to control important church offices such as bishop. At its core, the Investiture Controversy was a clash between church and state. The power struggle ended with the Concordant of Worms in 1122. The civil authorities surrendered the right to invest church offices, but retained unofficial influence and oversight in the matter.
In 1075, Pope Gregory VII issued the Dictatus Papae, which declared Papal authority supreme. Gregory argued that since God founded the church, the pope’s power superseded secular monarchs. Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV responded by withdrawing support for Gregory and continued to invest bishops within the empire. He went as far as appointing the Bishop of Milan, which led to Henry’s excommunication. In response, many German nobles sensed imperial weakness and abandoned Henry IV resulting in a secondary power struggle in Germany.
The German civil wars lasted 50 years, but the struggle between church and state spread beyond the Holy Roman Empire. English King Henry I and Pope Paschal II reached an agreement in 1107 that established the parameters for eventual peace. Henry surrendered the right to appoint bishops and church officials. In exchange, the officials paid homage to the king. Essentially, the church maintained control of appointments, but also recognized Henry’s secular authority.
Henry I strengthened his hand in the Concordant of London while the Holy Roman Emperor watched his power erode. The Investiture Controversy allowed local aristocrats to justify rebellions and insolence. Local nobility increased their power over their territories and the peasants while power devolved away from the monarchy. On the other hand, the papacy increased in strength as peasants rallied to Rome. The monarchical power grab outraged the people. As a result, Emperor Henry V needed to end the controversy to restore his power and bring peace to his realm.
Henry V reached an agreement with Pope Calixtus II to end the Investiture Controversy and end nearly 50 years of conflict. The Concordant of Worms reestablished church control over investiture. In Germany, the emperor could act as arbiter or judge in the event of a dispute. Meanwhile, the pope was ambiguous toward the clergy paying feudal homage to the emperor. As a result, the Concordant of Worms created clear distinctions between secular and spiritual power. It undercut the idea of absolute monarchy as it cut imperial power. At the same time, it established clear parameters regarding the separation of church and state.
The Concordant of Worms ended the Investiture Controversy and began the west on the road to the separation of church and state. Monarchs believed they could appoint their own bishops and important church officers. The papacy vociferously disagreed. This contest of wills ended in 1122. In the end, the absolute monarchy became less absolute and the first inkling of the separation of church and state emerged.