PODCAST: Canonical and Papal Reform, Part 2 (The History of Christianity #217 with Daniel Whyte III)

This is Daniel Whyte III, president of Gospel Light Society International, with the History of Christianity Podcast #217, titled, “Canonical and Papal Reform, Part 2.”

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 Peter 2:9-10 which reads: “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light; Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.”

Our History of Christianity quote today is from Paul House. He said: “The early church was most useful when it preached the meaning of Christ through the lens of the whole of Scripture. It was most powerful when it maintained integrity with God and other human beings. It was most evangelistic when it understood that adherents of other religions, whether Jewish or Greek or Roman, faced eternal judgment without Christ.”

Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “Canonical and Papal Reform, Part 2” from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).

As soon as he saw himself on Saint Peter’s throne, Leo began his work of reformation by calling to his side several people who were known for holding similar ideas. One of these was Peter Damian, who had long rued the state of the church, and had convinced many of the need for reformation–although without the fiery zeal of Humbert and Hildebrand [HIL-DUH-BRAND], for he insisted that reformation must be a work of love and charity. The program of reformation of the entire group was based on the promotion of clerical celibacy and the abolition of simony [SAI-MUH-NEE]. There was a connection between these two, for in that feudal society the church was one of the few institutions in which there still existed a measure of social mobility. Hildebrand [HIL-DUH-BRAND], for instance, was of humble origin, and would eventually become pope. But this social mobility was threatened by the practice of simony [SAI-MUH-NEE], which would guarantee that only the rich would occupy high offices in the church. If to this was added clerical marriage, those who held high office would seek to pass it on to their children, and thus the church would come to reflect exclusively the interests of the rich and the powerful. Thus, the movement for reformation by abolishing simony [SAI-MUH-NEE] and promoting clerical celibacy had the support of the masses, who seem to have understood that here was an opportunity for wresting from the powerful the control of the church.

After taking a number of reforming measures in Italy, Leo decided that the time had come to carry the movement across the Alps. He went to Germany, where Emperor Henry III (third) had already taken some steps against simony [SAI-MUH-NEE], and reaffirmed the emperor’s decisions while making it clear that this did not mean that the emperor could rule the life of the church in his domains. While in Germany, he excommunicated Godfrey of Lorraine, who had rebelled against the emperor, and forced him to submit. Then he saved the rebel’s life by interceding for him before the emperor.

In France simony [SAI-MUH-NEE] was widespread, and Leo sought to put an end to it. With this in mind, he decided to visit that country. Although the king and several prelates let him know that he would not be welcome, Leo went to France and called a council that deposed several prelates who had been guilty of simony [SAI-MUH-NEE]. The same council also ordered that married bishops should set their wives aside, but this order was not generally obeyed.

Leo made two grave errors during his pontificate. The first was to take up arms against the Norsemen who had settled in Sicily and southern Italy. Peter Damian urged him to desist, but he marched at the head of the troops, which were defeated by the Norsemen. Captured by those whom he had hoped to conquer, Leo remained a prisoner until shortly before his death. His other error was to send Humbert as his legate to Constantinople. Humbert’s rigidity and lack of interest in the concerns of the Byzantines [BI-ZUHN-TEENS] led to the schism of 1054, shortly after Leo’s death.

The election of the new pope was a difficult matter. To ask the emperor to select him would be tantamount to the control of the church by the state, which the reformers deplored. To let the Roman clergy and people proceed to the election risked having the papacy fall again in the hands of one of the Italian families who wished to have it as a means to their own political ends. Eventually it was decided that the Romans would elect the new pope, but that this had to be a German–thus making it impossible for any of the various parties in Rome to capture the papacy. The new pope, Victor II (second), continued Leo’s policies. When emperor Henry III (third) found himself in difficulties–Godfrey of Lorraine had rebelled again–the pope went to this aid, and on the emperor’s death was entrusted with the care of his young son, Henry IV (fourth). Thus for a time Victor held the reins of both church and empire, and the reformation that he advocated progressed rapidly.

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.