Gregorian Reform

Last updated
Should not be confused with the Gregorian calendar .

The Gregorian Reforms were a series of reforms initiated by Pope Gregory VII and the circle he formed in the papal curia, c. 1050–80, which dealt with the moral integrity and independence of the clergy. The reforms are considered to be named after Pope Gregory VII (1073–85), though he personally denied it and claimed his reforms, like his regnal name, honoured Pope Gregory I.


During Gregory's pontificate, a conciliar approach to implementing papal reform took on an added momentum. Conciliarism properly refers to a later system of power between the Pope, the Roman curia, and secular authorities. During this early period, the scope of Papal authority in the wake of the Investiture Controversy entered into dialog with developing notions of Papal supremacy. The authority of the emphatically "Roman" council as the universal legislative assembly was theorised according to the principles of papal primacy contained in Dictatus papae .

Gregory also had to avoid the Church slipping back into the abuses that had occurred in Rome, during the Rule of the Harlots, between 904 and 964. [1] Pope Benedict IX had been elected Pope three times and had sold the Papacy. In 1054 the "Great Schism" had divided western European Christians from the Eastern Orthodox Church. Given these events, the Church had to reassert its importance and authority to its followers. Within the Church important new laws were pronounced on simony, on clerical marriage and from 1059, laws extending the prohibited degrees of Affinity. [2] Although at each new turn the reforms were presented to contemporaries as a return to the old ways, they are often seen by modern historians as the first European Revolution.[ citation needed ] The much later Gregorian calendar of Pope Gregory XIII has no connection to these Gregorian reforms.


The reforms are encoded in two major documents: Dictatus papae and the bull Libertas ecclesiae . The Gregorian reform depended in new ways and to a new degree on the collections of canon law that were being assembled, in order to buttress the papal position, during the same period. Part of the legacy of the Gregorian Reform was the new figure of the papal legist, exemplified a century later by Pope Innocent III. There is no explicit mention of Gregory’s reforms against simony (the selling of church offices and sacred things) or nicolaism (which included ritual fornication) at his Lenten Councils of 1075 or 1076. Rather, the gravity of these reforms has to be inferred from his general correspondence. By contrast, Gregory's Register [3] entry for the Roman Council of November 1078 extensively records Gregory’s legislation against 'abuses' such as simony [4] as well as the first ‘full’ prohibition of lay investiture. This record has been interpreted as the essence of the Gregorian 'reform programme'. [5]

The powers that the Gregorian papacy gathered to itself are summed up in a list called Dictatus papae around 1075 or shortly after. The major headings of Gregorian reform[ further explanation needed ] can be seen as embodied in the Papal electoral decree (1059), and the temporary resolution of the Investiture Controversy (1075–1122) was an overwhelming papal victory. The resolution of this controversy acknowledged papal superiority over secular rulers by implication.

Central status of the Church

Before the Gregorian Reforms the Church was a heavily decentralized institution, in which the pope held little power outside of his position as Bishop of Rome. With that in mind, the papacy up until the twelfth century held little to no authority over the bishops, who were invested with land by lay rulers. Gregory VII's ban on lay investiture was a key element of the reform, ultimately contributing to the centralized papacy of the later Middle Ages. [6]

The reform of the Church, both within it, and in relation to the Holy Roman Emperor and the other lay rulers of Europe, was Gregory VII's life work. It was based on his conviction that the Church was founded by God and entrusted with the task of embracing all mankind in a single society in which divine will is the only law; that, in his capacity as a divine institution, he is supreme over all human structures, especially the secular state; and that the pope, in his role as head of the Church under the petrine commission, is the vice-regent of God on earth, so that disobedience to him implies disobedience to God: or, in other words, a defection from Christianity. But any attempt to interpret this in terms of action would have bound the Church to annihilate not merely a single state, but all states. Thus Gregory, as a politician wanting to achieve some result, was driven in practice to adopt a different standpoint. He acknowledged the existence of the state as a dispensation of Providence, described the coexistence of church and state as a divine ordinance, and emphasized the necessity of union between the sacerdotium and the imperium. But, during no period would he have imagined the two powers on an equal footing. The superiority of Church to State was to him a fact which admitted no discussion and which he had never doubted.

He wished to see all important matters of dispute referred to Rome; appeals were to be addressed to himself; the centralization of ecclesiastical government in Rome naturally involved a curtailment of the powers of bishops. Since these refused to submit voluntarily and tried to assert their traditional independence, his papacy was full of struggles against the higher ranks of the clergy.

Clerical celibacy

This battle for the foundation of papal supremacy is connected with his championship of compulsory celibacy among the clergy and his attack on simony. Gregory VII did not introduce the celibacy of the priesthood into the Church [ citation needed ], but he took up the struggle with greater energy than his predecessors. In 1074 he published an encyclical, absolving the people from their obedience to bishops who allowed married priests. The next year he enjoined them to take action against married priests and deprived these clerics of their revenues. Both the campaign against priestly marriage and that against simony provoked widespread resistance.

See also


  1. Brook, Lindsay (2003). "Popes and Pornocrats: Rome in the early Middle Ages" (PDF). Foundations. Foundation For Medieval Genealogy. 1 (1): 5–21. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2008-10-29. Retrieved 2009-01-29.
  2. Gilchrist, John (1993). ‘Pope Gregory VII and the juristic sources of his ideology’, in Canon Law in the Age of Reform, 11th-12th Centuries. UL: Ashgate Publishing. p. 5. ISBN   0860783685.
  3. Cowdrey, H.E.J. (2002). The Register of Pope Gregory VII 1073-1085: An English Translation. USA: Oxford University Press. p. 600. ISBN   0199249806.
  4. Gilchrist, John (1965). ""Simoniaca haeresis" and the problem of orders from Leo IX to Gratian". Proceedings of the Second International Congress of Medieval Canon Law. C. Monumenta Iuris Canonici (1): 209–235.
  5. Gilchrist, John (1970). "Was there a Gregorian reform movement in the eleventh century?". The Canadian Catholic Historical Association: Study Sessions. 37: 1–10.
  6. "Internet History Sourcebooks Project". Retrieved 2017-11-04.

Related Research Articles

Council of Constance

The Council of Constance was a 15th-century ecumenical council recognized by the Catholic Church, held from 1414 to 1418 in the Bishopric of Constance in present-day Germany. The council ended the Western Schism by deposing or accepting the resignation of the remaining papal claimants and by electing Pope Martin V.

First Council of the Lateran

The First Council of the Lateran was the 9th ecumenical council recognized by the Catholic Church. It was convoked by Pope Callixtus II in December 1122, immediately after the Concordat of Worms. The council sought to bring an end to the practice of the conferring of ecclesiastical benefices by people who were laymen, free the election of bishops and abbots from secular influence, clarify the separation of spiritual and temporal affairs, re-establish the principle that spiritual authority resides solely in the Church and abolish the claim of the emperors to influence papal elections.

Pope Alexander II Bishop of rome

Pope Alexander II, born Anselm of Baggio, was the head of the Catholic Church and ruler of the Papal States from 1061 to his death in 1073. Born in Milan, Anselm was deeply involved in the Pataria reform movement. Elected according to the terms of his predecessor's bull, In nomine Domini, Anselm's was the first election by the cardinals without the participation of the people and minor clergy of Rome.

Pope Callixtus II

Pope Callixtus II or Callistus II, born Guy of Burgundy, was head of the Catholic Church and ruler of the Papal States from 1 February 1119 to his death in 1124. His pontificate was shaped by the Investiture Controversy, which he was able to settle through the Concordat of Worms in 1122.

Simony Act of selling church offices and roles

Simony is the act of selling church offices and roles or sacred things. It is named after Simon Magus, who is described in the Acts of the Apostles as having offered two disciples of Jesus payment in exchange for their empowering him to impart the power of the Holy Spirit to anyone on whom he would place his hands. The term extends to other forms of trafficking for money in "spiritual things".

Pope Gregory VII 11th century Pope famous for his reforms

Pope Gregory VII, born Hildebrand of Sovana, was pope from 22 April 1073 to his death in 1085. He is venerated as a saint in the Catholic Church.

Investiture Controversy 11th- and 12th-century dispute between secular rulers and the papacy

The Investiture Controversy, also called Investiture Contest, was a conflict between church and state in medieval Europe over the ability to choose and install bishops (investiture) and abbots of monasteries and the pope himself. A series of popes in the 11th and 12th centuries undercut the power of the Holy Roman Emperor and other European monarchies, and the controversy led to nearly 50 years of civil war in Germany.

Road to Canossa 1077 trek of Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV to Canossa Castle, Italy, to see Pope Gregory VII

The Humiliation of Canossa,, sometimes called the Walk to Canossa or the Road to Canossa, was the ritual submission of the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry IV to Pope Gregory VII at Canossa Castle in 1077 during the Investiture controversy. It involved the Emperor journeying to Canossa, where the Pope had been staying as the guest of Margravine Matilda of Tuscany, to seek absolution and the revocation of his excommunication.

Caesaropapism Social order combining secular and religious powers

Caesaropapism is the idea of combining the social and political power of secular government with religious power, or of making secular authority superior to the spiritual authority of the Church; especially concerning the connection of the Church with government. Justus Henning Böhmer (1674–1749) may have originally coined the term caesaropapism (Cäseropapismus). Max Weber (1864–1920) wrote: "a secular, caesaropapist ruler... exercises supreme authority in ecclesiastic matters by virtue of his autonomous legitimacy". According to Weber, caesaropapism entails "the complete subordination of priests to secular power."

Conciliarism was a reform movement in the 14th-, 15th- and 16th-century Catholic Church which held that supreme authority in the Church resided with an Ecumenical council, apart from, or even against, the pope. The movement emerged in response to the Western Schism between rival popes in Rome and Avignon. The schism inspired the summoning of the Council of Pisa (1409), which failed to end the schism, and the Council of Constance (1414–1418), which succeeded and proclaimed its own superiority over the Pope. Conciliarism reached its apex with the Council of Basel (1431–1449), which ultimately fell apart. The eventual victor in the conflict was the institution of the Papacy, confirmed by the condemnation of conciliarism at the Fifth Lateran Council, 1512–17. The final gesture however, the doctrine of Papal Infallibility, was not promulgated until the First Vatican Council of 1870.

Anselm of Lucca

Saint Anselm of Lucca, born Anselm of Baggio, was a medieval bishop of Lucca in Italy and a prominent figure in the Investiture Controversy amid the fighting in central Italy between Matilda, countess of Tuscany, and Emperor Henry IV. His uncle Anselm preceded him as bishop of Lucca before being elected to the papacy as Pope Alexander II; owing to this, he is sometimes distinguished as Anselm the Younger or Anselm II.

<i>Dictatus papae</i> Compilation of 27 statements of powers arrogated to the pope

Dictatus papae is a compilation of 27 statements of powers arrogated to the pope that was included in Pope Gregory VII's register under the year 1075.

Synod of Worms (1076)

The Synod of Worms was an ecclesiastical synod and imperial diet (Hoftag) convened by the German king and emperor-elect Henry IV on 24 January 1076, at Worms. It was intended to agree a condemnation of Pope Gregory VII, and Henry's success in achieving this outcome marked the beginning of the Investiture Controversy.

Libertas ecclesiae is the notion of freedom of religion of ecclesiastical authority of the Catholic Church from secular or the temporal power, which guided the Reform beginning in the 11th century.

Christianity in the 11th century

Christianity in the 11th century is marked primarily by the Great Schism of the Church, which formally divided the State church of the Roman Empire into Eastern (Greek) and Western (Latin) branches.

Christianity in the Middle Ages

Christianity in the Middle Ages covers the history of Christianity from the Fall of the Western Roman Empire until the Fall of Constantinople (1453), which is usually taken to mark the end of the Middle Ages in the History of Europe.

History of the papacy (1048–1257)

The history of the papacy from 1046 to 1216 was marked by conflict between popes and the Holy Roman Emperor, most prominently the Investiture Controversy, a dispute over who— pope or emperor— could appoint bishops within the Empire. Henry IV's Walk to Canossa in 1077 to meet Pope Gregory VII (1073–85), although not dispositive within the context of the larger dispute, has become legendary. Although the emperor renounced any right to lay investiture in the Concordat of Worms (1122), the issue would flare up again.

Tusculan Papacy

The Tusculan Papacy was a period of papal history from 1012 to 1048 where three successive relatives of the counts of Tusculum were installed as pope.

1073 papal election 1073 election of the Catholic pope

The 1073 papal election saw the election of Hildebrand of Sovana as successor to Pope Alexander II.

Gerard II, sometimes Gerard of Lessines, was the thirty-third bishop of Cambrai from 1076 and the last who was also bishop of Arras. He was a prince-bishop of the Holy Roman Empire, and his episcopacy coincided with the beginning of the Investiture Controversy between emperor and pope.