The Saint Who Excommunicated an Emperor and an Antipope

On 1 April, the Catholic Liturgy celebrated the memorial of St. Hugo of Grenoble, a Bishop who contributed to the foundation of the Carthusian Order.

Newsroom (04/04/2022 09:00,(Gaudium Press) St. Hugo was born in the year 1053, in Château-Neuf, Delfinate, in the French Diocese of Valençe. His father, Odilon, retired as an elderly man to the Charterhouse, where he died at the age of 100 years. His mother, although she too wished to retire to a monastery of nuns in her old age, was forced to be satisfied at practicing the monastic rule in her own home. Both mother and father received the last Sacraments from the hands of their son.

Priestly and episcopal ordination

At the age of 28, S.t Hugo was appointed canon in the city of Valence and was invited by his bishop to accompany him during the Council of Avignon in 1080. On that occasion, the bishops advised that Hugo be ordained a priest and that he take over the Diocese of Grenoble.

Despite the opposition, imposed by the Saint himself – who thought himself unworthy – he eventually accepted the position. Soon afterward, he received episcopal consecration in Rome by the hands of Pope Gregory VII, since Hugo refused to be consecrated bishop by the Archbishop of Vienna, who was at that time accused of simony.

Bishop of Grenoble: a diocese in a disastrous situation

On his arrival in Grenoble, St. Hugo found an indocile and ignorant people; a sympathetic clergy; scandalous priests; usury, and usurpation of the goods of the Church. It was a vast field for his zeal and he worked courageously to put an end to such scandals.

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But the fruits of his labour did not correspond to his efforts. After two years, he left the bishopric and withdrew to the Monastery of La Chaise-Dieu, where he took the habit of a monk. In this monastery, he remained for just one year, at which point Pope St. Gregory VII ordered him to return to his church. Hugo obeyed.

St. Hugo’s dream and his preaching side

It had not been three years since his return to the diocese when he had a mysterious dream. It seemed to him that God was building a dwelling in a desert in his diocese and that seven stars were showing him the way. Within the dream, Hugo saw seven men come to him who were looking for a suitable place to live a solitary life: they were St. Bruno and his companions. St. Hugo recognized the seven stars in these men and led them to the solitude of the Carthusian Order, the same solitude he had seen in his own dream. In the year 1084 the monastery was built there.

Despite the almost continuous ailments of the stomach and head that he suffered for forty years, he did not cease to preach the Word of God to the people. He intentionally endeavored not to say anything that would bring to him applause from his listeners. His only aim was to instruct and move them, which he did with success, for after his sermons a great number of sinners came to him for confession. There were even those who went so far as to confess their sins publicly.

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Excommunication of the Emperor Henry V

The more holiness exhibited by the Bishop of Grenoble, the more he defended the Roman Church. In 1106, Emperor Henry V sought violently to remove from Pope Paschal his privilege. The bishops of the province of Vienne, moved by their holy colleague, St. Hugo, excommunicated the emperor in a public council.

The years did not weaken St. Hugo’s episcopal vigour. After the election of Pope Innocent II, and before his nuncios arrived in France to condemn the schism of the Antipope, the holy Bishop of Grenoble journeyed to Le Puy in Velai with other bishops, despite his illnesses and advanced age – he was seventy-eight at the time.

Excommunication of the Antipope Anacletus

He knew with certainty that Peter of Leon (Anacletus) had not been elected Pope by his own merit, but by the prestige of his family and by violence. Carrying only justice and the good of the Church in mind, he and the other bishops excommunicated Anacletus as a schismatic at that Council. This ex-communication carried great weight, considering the authority of St. Hugo.

The ex-communication of the Antipope Anacletus was the last memorable action of the holy bishop of Grenoble. His illnesses increased day by day and forced him to remain in bed for an extended period of time before he died. Every day, he recited the Psalms by heart with the clerics. St. Hugo was nearly 80 years old when he died, on April 1, 1132. Pope Innocent II declared him a Saint two years after his death. (EPC)

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Compiled by Sandra Chisholm

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