Gregorian Reform

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This term is traditionally used to designate the vast movement of reform of the Church, beginning toward the middle of the 11th century and continuing into the 1st decade of the 12th. gregory vii, who has been made the patron of this movement, was neither its initiator nor its final consummator. Yet the importance of his reign, the measures taken by this pope and implemented by his legates under his impetus and the prestige that he was able to restore to the papacy justify in large measure the application of the adjective Gregorian to the reforming movement. The works to which Augustin fliche devoted the greater part of his academic labors have contributed to popularizing the expression. In recent years new studies have underscored the part played by cluny in this reform movement (especially K. Hallinger, Gorze-Kluny ) and have restored to their proper proportions the contributions of Gregory VII.

The history of the Gregorian reform could be traced from the papal election decree (1059) of nicholas ii to the First lateran council (1123). Such an exposition would cover a period of moderate reform (104973), the harder Gregorian line (107385) and the conciliatory tendency after urban ii (10881123). The narrative, however, would exceed the scope of this article. But three lines along which the reformers were working must be distinguished: (1) reaffirmation of papal primacy; (2) reform of the clergy; and (3) freeing the Church from lay ascendancy. Nor is this the place to discuss the important reform that progressed simultaneously in the monastic establishment or in canonical renewal; for these, although essential aspects of the Gregorian movement, are such vast and complex subjects as to require special studies [J.F. Lemarignier, Histoire des institutions françaises au moyen-âge, 3 (Paris 1962) 115138].

Although for the sake of clarity the three problems have been held distinct, it is evident that in actual fact these questions were intimately connected and that measures considered for any one of them could not but have an effect on the others. All these measures tended in fact to substitute for the Carolingian and Ottonian dream of an ecclesia universalis, grouping sacerdotium and regnum into one politico religious community, the organization of a Church independent of secular powers, having its own institutions and law and profiting from the weakness of princes to assume the leadership of Western Christendom.


The Gregorian age marks a crucial stage in the history of papal primacy. This primacy had indeed been strongly asserted in the fifth century by innocent i and leo i. The canonical collections of the Gelasian era were at once a manifestation and an assertion of it. But the papacy in the tenth and in the first half of the 11th century had experienced a period of crisis, weakness and at times disgrace. A prize contested by the factions of Rome, dependent on the will of the German emperor, given over to men who were often mediocre and at times unworthy, the papacy could not exercise its role of leadership in the Church.

Pre-Gregorian Reforms. Thus the decree of Nicholas II, promulgated at the Lateran Synod (April 13, 1059), a few weeks after his accession, was of crucial importance. It reserved to the cardinal bishops the tractatio culminating in the designation of a new pope. The other cardinals were to be consulted only after the fact and the clergy and the Roman people were merely to acclaim the candidate so designated [Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Constitutiones, 1:529; the imperial version of this text (ibid. 1:543) is a forgery dating probably from 1084]. In practice, the rights of the emperor simply disappeared. Despite the opposition of the Roman nobility and the emperor, the new procedure was confirmed and even stiffened the following year in another Lateran Synod (April of 1060; ibid. 1:550). Thus the papacy recovered an independence that was the preliminary condition to any reform in the Church.

Although the decree of 1059 was crucial, it was not a complete innovation. The election of stephen ix (1057) had already been effected without German intervention and the Adversux simoniacos of humbert of silva candida [Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Libelli de lite (Berlin 1826) 1:95253] had demanded freedom of ecclesiastical elections. Nicholas II's successor, alexander ii, had, as bishop of Lucca, striven against the immorality of the clergy. His advisers, peter damian (Opusc. 4: Disceptio synodalis; Opusc. 5: De privilegiis Romanae ecclesiae ) and Hildebrand, were convinced that the reform could come only from Roman authority, and the pope strongly asserted the Roman primacy in his bulls. The legates, among them Peter Damian, hugh of remiremont and Gerard of Ostia (d. 1077), made it felt in France, Spain, England and even in Scandinavia, Bohemia and Dalmatia. In Germany the pope profited from the minority of henry iv and gained control of the Church in the empire. Finally, Robert Guiscard

had some years previously declared himself a vassal of Nicholas II for the Norman lands in southern Italy and Alexander II, who organized the French crusade in Spain, reserved to the Holy See the overlordship of lands that might be retaken from the infidels.

Gregory VII. But it was gregory vii (107385) who by his policy toward the princes, especially the German sovereign, as well as by his doctrinal pronouncements, maintained most dramatically the Roman primacy. At the beginning of the reign his letter to the faithful of Lombardy (Reg. 1.15; July 1, 1073) and later the dictatus papae (Reg. 2.55a; 1075) and the letters to Hermann of Metz (Reg. 4.2; 7.21; Aug. 25, 1076, and May 15, 1081) set forth the foundation, the principles, and the practical consequences of the primacy. It is of divine origin: the pope is only the intermediary, charged with making known the will of the Trinity and of the Apostles Peter and Paul. As Leo the Great before him, Gregory identified himself with Peter. The 27 propositions constituting the Dictatus papae articulate in lapidary and unrestrained terms the universal power of the pope; his authority over bishops, clerics and councils; and his right to depose the emperor, to certify every canonical text, to make law and to deliver judgments from which there is no appeal. "Founded by the Lord alone" (Dict. 1), the Roman Church cannot err (Dict. 22). The judge of all, the pope cannot be judged by anyone (Dict. 1821). Thus the pope is overlord of the Church; he controls the hierarchy and can modify its institutions. The authority of Rome is no less with respect to secular princes and Gregory demonstrated papal power in the struggle with Henry IV, as well as in several letters that formulate the theory of the supremacy of the Holy See over temporal rulers (Dec. 8, 1075 and May 8, 1080; Reg. 3.10, 7.25, etc.). Gregory exercised this authority over the Church in councils in which he achieved the adoption of his reforming views and by the action of his legates who were his representatives all over Christendom and, as such, took precedence over all local authority (Dict. 4).

The Gregorian policy was given significant support in a series of occasional, politically inspired writings (especially the Liber ad Gebehardum of manegold of lautenbach, c. 1084; Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Libelli de lite, 1) and still more in the so-called Gregorian collections (P. Fournier and G. Lebras, Histoire des collections canoniques en occident depuis les fausses décrétales jusqu'au Décret de Gratien, 2). To the collections of the preceding period, stressing the powers of the bishop (especially the Decretum of burchard of worms, beginning of the 11th century) were added a series of collections, mostly Italian in origin, which had been inspired by the desire for reform and by the concern that reform be founded on a restoration of papal authority. Some of these collections appeared prior to the pontificate of Gregory VII [the Collection in 74 Titles under leo ix, called by Fournier the "first canonical manual of the reform"; it may actually have been preceded by the Collection in Two Books, which its recent editor, J. Bernhard (Strasbourg 1962), dates for c. 1053]. The most important collections date from Gregory's pontificate and were often composed at his urging: the Capitulare of atto of vercelli; the Collection in 12 Books of anselm of lucca, close collaborator with the pope, c. 1083; the Collection of deusdedit, begun under Gregory, but published only c. 1085; later under Urban II, the Liber de vita christiana of bonizo of sutri, etc. All these collections exalt the Roman primacy. Often they commence with a section titled De primatu romanae ecclesiae. They are in accord with papal policy and serve its purposes. The texts produced by these compilers establish the divine institution of the Roman Church, the dogmatic primacy of the sovereign pontiff, his right to legislate for the whole Church, to judge any case, to direct all the members of the hierarchy and all the faithful, including secular rulers. The stockpile of texts thus collected corresponded to the tenets of the Dictatus papae and was to be of great service to the Roman policy in the difficult years following the death of Gregory VII.

The exaltation of Roman primacy was continued by the successors of Gregory VII. It led the papacy, especially under Urban II, to accede to the requests for exemption of monasteries that were thus removed from Episcopal jurisdiction and put directly under Rome. Accordingly, the renewal of the privileges of Cluny occurred in 1088; so too the exemption of La Cava, 1089 and especially 1093; of Saint-Victor de Marseilles, 1089; Marmoutier, 1090; Fécamp, c. 1093 etc. [see J. F. Lemarignier, Privilèges d'exemption des abbayes normandes (Paris 1937); P. Jaffé, Regesta pontificum romanorum ab condita ecclesia ad annum post Christum natum 1198, 5714, 5715, 5773, 5782, 5783, 5787, 5791, 5792, 5802]. Urban II, moreover, continued the centralizing efforts of Gregory VII and declared: "The important matters of individual churches must be judged by Apostolic authority" (Regesta pontificum romanorum ab condita ecclesia ad annum post Christum natum 1198, L 5519).


In furthering clerical reform, another major objective of the Gregorian movement, the papacy continued along lines set by the Cluniac reformers. Lay intrusion into the assignment of bishoprics, abbeys and parishes had entailed two evils affecting the clergy: acquisition of ecclesiastical dignities for money or some material advantage (simony) and immorality of the clergy, who were often married or living in concubinage (Nicolaitanism).

Simony. This abuse had been denounced by Cardinal Humbert in his treatise Adversus simoniacos. The author considered simony a heresy and denied any validity to the consecration of a bishop who had bought his see. Consequently, any ordination conferred by a simoniacal prelate was null and void. This was a rigorously logical solution but one that ran the risk of setting aside a great portion of the hierarchy. For many had been branded as simonists either by their own act, or by that of the prelate who had given them orders, or via some preceding prelate (see the possibly excessive but alarming estimates made by Bonizo of Sutri, Liber ad amicum, 6). Peter Damian was more moderate and perhaps more realistic: he contented himself with imposing on simoniacal clerics a severe penance and suspension from the exercise of their office. But the rigorous position was still being defended by Bonizo of Sutri (Liber de vita christiana, 108994) and Deusdedit (Libellus contra invasores et simoniacos, prior to 1095).

The fight against simony was joined by c. 6 of the Lateran Synod of 1059, which forbade anyone "to receive a church from the hands of a layman, either gratis or for money" (see c.9 which speaks of "simoniacal heresy"). The prohibition of simony was renewed in the synods of 1060 (J. D. Mansi, Sacrorum Conciliorum nova et amplissima collectio, 19:899) and November of 1078. The legates were energetic in citing the prohibition and in having it respected in Italy, France (Council of Vienne and Tours, 1060) and Germany, where simony was general during the minority of Henry IV. The fight waged by Gregory VII was continued by Urban II, who in several bulls proclaimed the deposition of simonists (Regesta pontificum romanorum ab condita ecclesia ad annum post Christum natum 1198, L 5381, 5396, 5743). The Council of Melfi (1089) renewed the condemnation (c.1). However, in several cases the pope showed a sometimes excessive tolerance, which was reproved by Bonizo of Sutri. As against the rigorist stand of the Italian canonists, ivo of chartres, though reproducing the canons against simony and Nicolaitanism (Decretum 5.81), authorized in the prologue of the Decretum (where he took up again the theory of dispensation expounded some years previously by bernold of constance) certain relaxations justified by the necessitas temporis or by considerations of mercy. Simony was again condemned by the Councils of Autun (1094), Piacenza (1095; c.27), and Clermont (1095; c.68), which again adopted the rigorist doctrines of the Italian canonists.

"Simoniacal heresy" continued to rage, however, in the final years of the 11th century, especially in France. callistus ii denounced it again at the Councils of Toulouse (1119; c.1, 6, 8, 9) and of Reims (1119; c.1, 4). In Hungary the Council of Gran (1114) likewise forbade simony (c.4243). Simony was solemnly condemned in c.1 of the First Lateran Council (1123). The large number of such measures shows how difficult they were to implement pratically. However, the persevering action of the popes and their legates, the end of the investiture struggle in the Empire and the gradual decrease of lay pressure resulted, toward the first quarter of the 12th century, in a noticeable improvement in the recruitment of the episcopate. Although simony had not ceased entirely, it was no longer the scourge that a half-century previously had discredited the hierarchy.

Celibacy. Simultaneously with their fight against simony, legislators and reforming prelates attacked the immorality of the clergy. The Synod of 1059 forbade priests living in concubinage to celebrate Mass and ordered the faithful not to assist at the offices of an unworthy minister (c.3). This assembly recalled the regulation, traditional in the Latin Church, imposing celibacy on clerics from the subdiaconate onward. Contrary to these norms, a pamphlet of 1060, probably the work of Bishop Ulric of Imola, maintained that the only means of averting clerical immorality was to permit the clergy to marry [Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Libelli de lite 1:25460; A. Fliche, Revue des sciences religieuses, 2 (1922) 127139]. This pamphlet was revised and expanded in a Norman version [ibid. 5 (1925)] and again in the Tractatus Eboracenses (Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Libelli de lite 3:645). It was against such tendencies that Peter Damian published his De celibatu sacerdotum [Patrologia Latina, ed. J. P. Migne, 217 V., indexes 4 v. (Paris 187890) 145:379388]. Gregory VII fought energetically against the incontinence of the clergy [Council of Rome, Lent 1074 [see Studi gregoriani, ed. G. B. Borino (Rome 1947) 6:277295]; by letters of the pope to bishops, for example, Reg. 2.61, 64, 66, 67, 68; 3.3, 4; by excommunication of unworthy prelates; and by local action by legates]. The reform work was carried on by Urban II [Councils of Melfi (1089), c.2, 37; of Constance and Autun (1094); of Clermont (1095), c.910; of Nîmes (1096), c.12], by Callistus II [Council of Reims (1119), c.5, again adopted by the Council of Rouen (November 1119) and by the First Lateran Council (1123),c.7]. In England anselm of canterbury convoked a council in London (1108), which recalled the precepts of ecclesiastical celibacy and renewed the traditional measures to assure its observance. In Hungary the Council of Gran (1114) also proclaimed the law of celibacy but with certain mitigations.


By mid-11th century the dominant institution of the proprietary church allowed feudal lords to appoint the clergy serving such churches, which were considered a part of their domain. Parochial functions were thus too often exercised by mercenary and ignorant priests who were married or living in concubinage. Emperors, kings and feudal lords disposed of bishoprics to their relatives or liegement, without any great concern for their value to the episcopate. The goods of parishes, dioceses and abbeys were for the most part in the hands of laymen. Deflected from their pious or charitable purposes, church properties thus became the object of traffic, feudal concession, hereditary transmission and partition. The Gregorian reform strove to free the hierarchy and the goods of the Church from this lay control.

Selection of Pastors. The decree of 1059 had restored to the Roman Church the selection of the sovereign pontiff. The struggle against lay investiture restored the independence of the episcopate. That of the lower clergy would come later. Sketched in outline form in mid-12th century by the Decretum of gratian (Corpus iuris canonici ed. E. Friedberg, C.16 q.7), which limited the effects of lay dominium on the churches (U. Stutz, "Gratian u. die Eigenkirche," Zeitschrift der Savigny-Stiftung für Rechtsgeschichte, Kanonistische Abteilung ), it was to be fully actualized only by alexander iii at the end of the 12th century and by the first decretists who would substitute the ius patronatus for the dominium. In the Gregorian era, however, various measures had aimed at restoring the authority of the bishop over the local clergy (for example, the letters of Alexander II, Pascal II and Callistus II for Lucca in L. Nanni, La parrochia nei documenti lucchensi ). The creation of collegiate churches was likewise an effective means of organizing and controlling the local clergy. Renewing the decrees of 1059 (c.67), the reforming councils of the late 11th and early 12th century [Rome (1078); (1080), c.2; Clermont (1095), c.15; Rome (1099)] decreed excommunication for laymen who granted investiture of churches, clerics who accepted such churches and bishops who ordained such clerics. The Councils of London (1106), Troyes (1107), etc., forbade clerics to receive a church from the hands of a layman (gratian, Corpus iuris canonici, C.16 q.7 c.1620). The First Lateran Council (c.3, 4) removed episcopal elections and selection of pastors from lay interference. Toward the middle of the 12th century the principles advocated by the reform movement concerning election of bishops by chapters and the designation of local clergy by the bishop had triumphed in almost every diocese.

Recovery of Temporalities. This was likewise a cardinal concern of the reform. The restitution of churches, church lands and tithes that had been usurped by the laity was ordered by numerous councils from mid-11th century [for example, Toulouse 1056, Tours 1060, Avranches 1072, Rouen 1074, 1096, Rome 1078, 1080, Gerona 1078 and Lillebone 1080; see Schreiber, Zeitschrift der Savigny-Stiftung für Rechtsgeschichte, Kanonistische Abteilung (1947) 31171]. Placid of Nonantola and Deusdedit declared that after the consecration of a church, a layman can have no right to it [thus, the Council of Reims (1131), c.10]. An attempt to draw a distinction between ecclesia (building) and altare (altar and revenues thereto attached) was to have no success. abbo of fleury refused to admit any distinction, and finally the Lateran Councils of 1123, c.15, and of 1179, c.14 (Corpus iuris canonici, C.10 q.1 c. 14; X 3.38.4), anathematized unlawful holders of church goods (Thomas, Le droit de propriété des laïcs sur les églises ).

The recovery of churches and tithes was the work of the reforming bishops. Feudal lords and kings sometimes helped (see, for example, numerous charters of Philip I, in the Acts of Philip I, published by Prou). Often the goods were restored not to the parishes themselves but to monasteries, chapters and bishops in whom persons making restitution had more confidence.

Thus the long fight waged for more than a century by the reformers had by 1130 led to tangible results regarding Roman centralization, ecclesiastical buildings and patrimonial rights.

Bibliography: General. a. fliche, La Réforme grégorienne, 3 v. (Louvain 192437). Histoire de l'église depuis les origines jusqu'à nos jours, eds., a. fliche and v. martin (Paris 1935) 89. e. voosen, Papauté et pouvoir civil à l'époque de Grégoire VII (Gembloux 1927). e. de moreau, Histoire de l'Église en Belgique (2d ed. Brussels 1945) v.13. a. hauck, Kirchengeschichte Deutschlands, 5 v. (9th ed. Berlin-Leipzig 1958) 34. g. tellenbach, Church, State, and Christian Society at the Time of the Investiture Contest, tr. r. f. bennett (Oxford 1959). f. x. seppelt, Geschichte der Päpste von den Anfängen bis zur Mitte des 20. Jh, v.1, 2, 4, 5 (Leipzig 193141) 3. j. f. lemarignier, "L'Influence de la réforme grégorienne" in Histoire des institutions françaises au moyen âge, ed. f. lot and r. fawtier, v.3 (Paris 1962) 78139. Studi gregoriani, ed. g. b. borino, v.17 (194760), esp. studies by g. bardy, o. j. blum, g. b. borino, l. de la calzada, g. drioux, h. e. feine, g. and k. hofmann, n. n. huyghebaert, s. kuttner, l. de lacger, a. michel, g. miccoli, and w. ullmann. Gregory VII. Das Register Gregors VIII, ed. e. caspar, Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Epistolae selectae (Berlin 1826) 2. w. wÜhr, Studien zu Gregor VII. Kirchenreform und Weltpolitik (Munich 1930). r. morghen, Gregorio VII (Turin 1942). h. x. arquilliÈre, Saint Grégoire VII (Paris 1934); "La Deuxième lettre de Grégoire VII á Hermann de Metz (1081)," Recherches de science religieuse, 40 (195152) 231242. Special studies. g. mollat, "La Restitution des églises privées au patrimoine ecclésiastique en France du IXe au XIe siècle," Revue historique de droit français et étranger, 27 (1949) 399423. a. michel, Die Sentenzen des Kardinals Humbert: Dos erste Rechtsbuch der päpstlichen Reform (Stuttgart 1943; repr. 1952). j. choux, Recherches sur le diocèse de Toul au temps de la réforme grégorienne: L'Épiscopat de Pibon (10691107) (Nancy 1952). j. j. ryan, Saint Peter Damiani and His Canonical Sources (Toronto 1956). e. magnou, "L'Introduction de la réforme grégorienne à Toulouse," Cahiers de l'Association Marc Bloch (Toulouse 1958). h. g. krause, Das Papstwahldekret von 1059 und seine Rolle im Investiturstreit, Studi gregoriani, ed. g. b. borino, 7 (1960). r. morghen, "Richerche sulla formazione del Registro di Gregorio VII," Annali di storia del diritto 34 (195960) 3565. m. maccarrone, "I papi del secolo XII e la vita comune e regolare del clero," La vita comune del clero, 1 (1962) 349411. g. miccoli, "Pier Damiani e la vita comune del clero," ibid. 186219. j. t. gilchrist, "Canon Law Aspects of the Eleventh Century," Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 13 (1962) 2138. k. hallinger, Gorze-Kluny (2 v. Rome 195051). Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Constitutiones (Berlin 1826). p. jaffÉ, Regesta pontificum romanorum ab condita ecclesia ad annum post Christum natum 1198, ed. s. lÖwenfeld, 8821198, 2 v. (2d ed. Leipzig 188188; repr. Graz 1956). j. d. mansi, Sacrorum Conciliorum nova et amplissima collectio, 31 v. (Florence-Venice 175798).

[j. gaudemet]

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Gregorian Reform

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