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Sacerdotium (more rarely also Sazerdotium ) originally meant “priesthood” in Latin . In the Middle Ages , however, this term was used to summarize the spiritual power of the Catholic Curia, as opposed to secular power ( regnum or imperium ), especially in the Holy Roman Empire . However, both were always in mutual interaction.

In the early Middle Ages , sacerdotium and regnum were understood as a unit, although both had different areas of responsibility. These were specified and specified in more detail at the Paris Council in 829. Although spiritual power was given priority, it was assumed that the two spheres would work together harmoniously until the middle of the 11th century. On this basis, the Ottonian emperors could exercise their church rule.

In the course of the Gregorian reform movement , a sharp distinction was made later between the spiritual and the secular sphere and attempts were made to subordinate the secular power to the spiritual. The investiture controversy was one of the climaxes of this conflict, in which the supporters of the secular power of the emperor clung to the earlier ideas of the doctrine of two powers. As a result of the dispute, the community of clergy now developed into an earthly institution of the church, which was independently and legally subordinate to the Pope .

In the following period the popes tried to bring the state sphere of regnum under their control. They argued among other things with the feudal law . The representatives of secular rule countered this by referring to the old Roman law , which established the autonomy of the state community. Emperor Friedrich I pointed out that his rule itself was ultimately direct to God. In this context, the term sacrum imperium (lat. "Holy Empire") was used for the first time in 1157 in the imperial chancellery, with which the divine direct sacral nature of the empire, which, however, had already been postulated on various occasions, should be presented. Ultimately, the papacy could not enforce its claims to rule, but did not give them up either, so that in the early 14th century there were sometimes violent disputes.