A somewhat forgotten saint today, St. Bruno of Segni sacrificed his ecclesiastical career for the doctrine of the faith by correcting the pope. Not only is this possible for a saint, as we explain in our new book, Persecuted From Within, it is sometimes even necessary.
St. Bruno of Segni was born in Piedmont in 1045.After receiving a Benedictine education, St. Bruno decided to join the order and left for Monte Cassino.
About halfway there, at Siena, Bruno fell ill and had to remain in the city. He had recently been ordained a priest, and so the local bishop made him a canon of the cathedral. It was there that St. Bruno began to author Biblical commentaries that earned him renown for knowledge of Scripture and personal holiness.
St. Bruno entered the priesthood just as the Church reformers like the future St. Gregory VII were undertaking the most sweeping reform of the clergy in history.
The popes were embroiled in a longstanding conflict with the Holy Roman Emperor, who asserted a right to appoint bishops. In 1076, Gregory summoned the Emperor to Rome, but he refused. Instead, Henry called his own council of supporters, including bishops, who declared the papacy was vacant.
St. Gregory excommunicated Henry and every bishop who supported him. He even declared Henry deposed. The emperor secretly fled into Italy to seek reconciliation with the pope. St. Gregory forced the emperor to wait in the winter cold for three days of fasting and would only speak to him if he were barefoot and dressed as a penitent. Finally, he simply ordered him to go before the nobles, who declared Henry deposed.
St. Gregory then called a synod in Rome to deal with a different crisis: the heresy of Berengarius of Tours, who denied the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. This was the first widespread denial of the Real Presence in the history of the Church. The pope asked St. Bruno to speak, and Berengarius again repented.
The saintly pope was impressed and had St. Bruno elected bishop in the diocese of Segni, just outside Rome. St. Bruno refused, but St. Gregory ordered him to accept under obedience and personally consecrated him.
Soon Henry IV invaded Italy and a local nobleman in Segni kidnapped St. Bruno, but he escaped to Rome in time to flee with the pope to Castel Santangelo. St. Gregory’s Norman allies drove Henry out of the city, but the Roman people rioted and both St. Gregory and St. Bruno fled to Monte Cassino.
St. Bruno became in practice if not in name a Cardinal, participating in the papal election of 1088. Four popes kept Bruno high in the curia, including as Papal Librarian and Chancellor of the Roman Church. Records show Bruno was nearly inseparable from all four popes, traveling with them almost everywhere they went.
After Urban II died, the new pope Pascal II kept Bruno on as a close advisor. But Bruno fell ill in 1103 and, having faced death, asked to finally become a monk as he had always wished. The pope approved, allowing Bruno the unusual privilege of remaining as a bishop of a diocese and a member of the Curia while living as a monk of Monte Cassino. This provoked an uproar of the laity of his diocese, but the fact that the pope approved it is proof of his great confidence in St. Bruno.
Just five years later, St. Bruno found himself elected abbot. But it all came to an end when Henry V became emperor and invaded Italy, kidnapped the pope and the cardinals, and put them in prison.
After 61 days, Pascal II caved to Henry’s demands: the right to appoint the bishops in his lands and an imperial coronation. The pope promised under oath not to punish him for kidnapping them. Two days after signing, Pascal II crowned Henry V at old St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
To Bruno, this agreement was more than a surrender, but a denial of the constant teaching of the Magisterium. He thundered against the agreement, and called the pope’s grant to Henry not a privilegium but a pravilegium, a perversion.
He undertook a letter-writing campaign to the Cardinals and bishops and even the pope. He condemned the treaty but conceded that the pope and cardinals were under duress. He humbly signed his letters, Bruno Peccator-Episcopus, Servus Benedicti, Bruno the sinner-bishop and slave of St. Benedict.
Pascal felt bound by what he had signed, but in time he confirmed the judgment of the Cardinals and excommunicated Henry. Bruno’s position was vindicated. But a month later, the pope revoked Bruno’s privilegium. The pope ordered Bruno back to Segni—and St. Bruno obeyed.
Bruno participated in another Lateran synod in 1116, where Paschal II again condemned the agreement. St. Bruno cried out, “thank God we have heard the pope condemn with his own mouth that privilege that contained perversity and heresy! If that privilege contained heresy, then the exhibitor of it is a heretic.”
The future Pope Gelasius II rose to rebuke Bruno. After several other bishops intervened, the pope himself arose and gave a lengthy defense. Bruno’s position had been vindicated, but the pope was displeased with him. Bruno’s monastic career and his career in the Curia were both over.
In 1122, Pope Callixtus II finally reached a settlement with Henry V, allowing him only to nominate bishops and settle contested elections. The next year Callixtus convened the First Lateran Council, which confirmed the agreement, decreed the removal of simoniacs from office, and forbade any layman to take possession or dispense of a church property.
St. Bruno died less than a year later. The Church had been radically reformed in a relatively short period of time—from the sale of the papacy in 1045 to the Concordat of Worms in 1122. For a time, the conflict between Church and State died down.
In 1183, Pope Lucius III canonized St. Bruno of Segni. His feast day on the traditional calendar is July 18.
Image: Zurbarán : S. Bruno and Pope Urban II
This article was adapted from Alec’s new book, Persecuted from Within, which is available from Sophia Institute Press October 17, 2023.