Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Gregorian Storm

I had been looking forward to teaching the story of Henry IV and Gregory VII all year.  It’s one of my favourite stories in Church History and I love teaching it.  Telling the story of Henry IV and Gregory VII is like sipping a great glass of wine.  You don’t want to tip the glass back and down it in two great swallows.  It should be savoured and sipped.  So too with a good story – it should never be rushed.

It was the perfect day for a good story too.  The end of the day was nearing, a storm had moved in and the rain was pouring down.  It was wet and cold outside, but the classroom was warm and cozy.  Everyone was settled in as I began retelling the story of Henry IV and Gregory VII.

Henry IV was the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire and Gregory VII was the Pope.  The Empire spanned across Europe but apparently was not big enough for both Henry IV and Gregory VII.  A power struggle followed as to what was supreme – the church or the state.  Bitter letters were fired back and forth, excommunication was threatened and levied against Henry, and an army was raised against Gregory.  

The whole matter came to an exciting climax when Henry IV realized he was defeated and goes to Canossa where Gregory VII is lodged in a castle.  The only way Henry can get his throne back is by repenting before Pope Gregory.  Henry waited three long days barefoot in the snow as he waited for Gregory to lift the excommunication ban.  Gregory did not want to absolve Henry but after three days, he realized that he had no choice.  Gregory lifted the ban and Henry went back to Germany triumphant.  In the end, Gregory had to flee Rome from a rival pope and soon after died.  Henry IV was forced to step down as king after his son raised an army against him.

The story was going along quite well and the drama was building as Henry and Gregory plotted and schemed against each other.  The question of ‘who would come out on top’ hung thick in the air.  The climax of the story takes place at the castle of Canossa and I took my time setting the scene and describing what it must have been like for Henry to stand barefoot in the snow for three days while Gregory paced the inner keep of the castle in a state of indecision.  

Just as I got to the part about how Gregory would respond to the penitent Henry, the rain outside suddenly turned into a deluge.  A few heads started swivelling to see what was happening outside.  I ratcheted up my excitement and summoned all of my storytelling abilities to keep the students’ attention.  After all, you only get to talk about Canossa once a year!

Thunder started to rumble.  While the odd clap of thunder can do wonders for a good story, multiple claps that jar your bones can effectively kill a good story.  The lightening was the death knell.  To cap it all off, the rain started coming down in sheets.  Looking out the window was like standing behind Niagara Falls.  The lesson and story were over as I raised a white flag to the storm.

As there were only a few minutes of class left, I knew the climax of the story would have to wait till the next day.  We gathered by the windows and watched the rain lash down and the lightening streak across the black sky.  Though it wasn’t the ending I was planning on, this impressive spring storm did provide quite a finish to the day.

At the end of the day the students didn’t find out who had the upper hand in the struggle between church and state.  I think the students were left with a real sense of who really was and is in control as we witnessed God’s grandeur unfold right before us.

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.
-          W. Cowper

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