PODCAST: Canonical and Papal Reform, Part 1 (The History of Christianity #216 with Daniel Whyte III)

This is Daniel Whyte III, president of Gospel Light Society International, with the History of Christianity Podcast #216, titled, “Canonical and Papal Reform, Part 1.”

When I became a believer in Jesus Christ, I somehow had the false idea that Christianity began when I got saved. I had no concept of the hundreds of years of history that Christianity had gone through since the time of Jesus Christ over 2,000 years ago. I have found that many believers, young and old, have the same false idea. The purpose of this broadcast is to dispel this notion by sharing with listeners the history of Christianity from the ministry of Jesus Christ all the way up until the present day in an easy-to-understand format. You don’t have to worry: this is not a lecture. This is a look at the basic facts and figures of Christian history that every believer and every person needs to be aware of.

Our Scripture for today is 1 Timothy 3:15 which reads: “But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.”

Our History of Christianity quote today is from Pope Pius the Eleventh. He said: “When once men recognize, both in private and in public life, that Christ is King, society will at last receive the great blessings of real liberty, well-ordered discipline, peace and harmony.”

Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “Canonical and Papal Reform, Part 1” from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).

There were other efforts at reforming the entire church through legislation and through the centralization of power in the hands of reforming popes. In the field of legislation, the Decretum [DUH-KREE-TM] usually called “of Gratian [GRAY-SHEE-UHN]”–although its author is unknown–was compiled around 1140, and was an effort to compile and coordinate the many laws that supposedly governed the life of the church. Joined to five other main documents, it came to form the Corpus Juris Canonici [KUH-NON-UH-SAHY], which was the basis for the law of the Roman Catholic Church until 1917.

But it was a series of reforming popes that led the way to reformation as they understood it. The small band of pilgrims on their way to Rome in 1048 was headed by Bruno, to whom the emperor had offered the papacy, and who had preferred to enter the city as a pilgrim. If, once there, the people and the clergy elected him, he would accept. But to take the office of pope from the hands of the emperor was dangerously close to simony [SAI-MUH-NEE]–or, as Hildebrand had told Bruno, it would mean going to Rome “not as an apostle, but as an apostate.”

Another member of the small party was Humbert, who in his monastery in Lotharingia [LOTH-UH-RIN-JEE-UH] had devoted himself to study and to a constant campaign against simony [SAI-MUH-NEE]. This had never been attacked as forcefully as in his treatise Against the Simoniacs [SAI-MUH-NEE-AKS], which was a blistering attack on the powerful of his time. Humbert was a man of fiery temperament, and in his attack against simony [SAI-MUH-NEE] he went so far as to declare that sacraments offered by simoniacs [SAI-MUH-NEE-AKS] were not valid–a position that Augustine had rejected centuries earlier in his debates with the Donatists [DAA-NUH-TUHSTS]. It was also he who later, in 1054, would lay the sentence of excommunication against Patriarch Michael Cerularius [SEH-ROO-LAHR-EE-UHS] on the high altar of Hagia Sophia [HAI-UH SOW-FEE-UH], and thus seal the schism between East and West.

The third and most remarkable member of that party was the monk Hildebrand [HIL-DUH-BRAND], a man of humble origins–his father was a carpenter in Tuscany [TUH-SKUH-NEE]–who had entered a monastery in Rome at a very early age. While a monk at Rome he had met the future pope Gregory the Sixth. As was said at the end of the last chapter, Gregory the Sixth hoped to reform the church. To that end he called Hildebrand [HIL-DUH-BRAND] to his side. But then a situation developed in which there were three who claimed to be the rightful pope, and Gregory abdicated for the sake of peace and unity. Hildebrand [HIL-DUH-BRAND] went with him into exile, and it is said that he closed the saintly man’s eyes on his deathbed. Two years later, Bruno, on his way to Rome, asked Hildebrand [HIL-DUH-BRAND] to join him in the task of reformation that lay ahead.

Hildebrand [HIL-DUH-BRAND] has often been depicted as the ambitious man behind several popes. Until he felt ready to take power for himself, however, the sources of the time seem to indicate that in truth he wished nothing more than the reformation of the church. It was apparently on that basis that he supported the work of several popes, until the time came when it seemed that reformation could best be served by accepting the papacy himself, which he took under the name of Gregory the Seventh.

For the time being, however, the man called to be pope was Bruno of Toul [TOOL], who went to Rome as a barefooted pilgrim in an act of personal devotion. As he crossed northern Italy on his way to Rome, multitudes lined the roads and cheered him, and soon people began to talk of miracles that supposedly had taken place during that pilgrimage. After entering Rome barefooted and being acclaimed by the people and the clergy, Bruno accepted the papal tiara, and took the name of Leo the Ninth.

Next time, we will continue looking at “Canonical and Papal Reform.”

Let’s pray.


Dear friend, simply knowing the facts about Christian history without knowing the One on Whom this faith is based will do you no good. If you do not believe on the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior, may I encourage you to get to know Him today. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Just believe in your heart that Jesus Christ died for your sins, was buried, and rose from the dead by the power of God for you so that you can be a part of the church in this life and in the life to come. Pray and ask Him to come into your heart today, and He will. Romans 10:13 says, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Until next time, remember that history is truly His story.