Church reforms of the 11th century

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The church reforms of the 11th century are the result of a process that began at the beginning of the 11th century, in which the position of the clergy and the influence of the laity were increasingly discussed within the church , as well as the position of the papacy within the ecclesiastical and secular hierarchy has been. Basically, the reformers wanted to lead the church back to the ideal condition of the early church , which they assumed , so that it would be able to lead the Christian world in a godly manner. The disputes focused particularly in the context of the so-called investiture dispute on the relationship between secular and ecclesiastical power. Since Pope Gregory VII († 1085) became the outstanding representative of this reform movement, these reform efforts are often referred to as Gregorian reforms . Some historians consider reform of the 11th century to be a better name, as the historical evidence does not support an eponymous role of Pope Gregory VII in their view.

Contents of the church reform

Celibacy vs. Cohabitation and priestly marriage

Marriage and cohabitation for priests were already rejected in the early Middle Ages. Leo the Great demanded that celibacy not only be prescribed for priests but also for sub-deacons . The basis of this requirement was the way of life of Jesus, scriptures in the Bible (e.g. Mt 19.12; Mt 22.30; 1 Cor 7.32–34) and the canonical legal provisions that resulted from them.

However, these ideas could not prevail, especially among the rural clergy. This was not least due to the lack of training of the lower clergy. Since the beginning of the 11th century, increasing attempts have been made to remedy this grievance, for which the term Nicolaitic heresy was then used . At the Council of Pavia in 1022, the commandment of celibacy is emphasized again and it is stipulated that the children of the clergy were unfree as church listeners. In 1031, at the Synod of Bourges, it was forbidden to marry a cleric or his children.

The demand for a celibate way of life in the dispute with the Byzantine Church received a further boost . The orthodox monk Niketas Stethatos defended the non-celibate way of life in a pamphlet. In 1054, the Western Church responded with a treatise that identified celibacy as an essential part of Catholic doctrine. In 1059, the Lateran Synod forbade listening to Holy Mass with a priest who was obviously living in a marriage-like relationship . Pope Leo IX In addition, the faithful forbade fellowship with Nicolaitan priests and declared all concubines of the priests as unfree in the possession of the Lateran . Gregory VII ordered that "the people should in no way accept their official acts [that is, the clergy who did not keep the decrees against clerical marriage]. The Synod of Melfi in 1089 under Urban II removed the office of married sub-deacons and said" in case of incorrigibility [...] her wife to the sovereign as a slave ”.

If the foundations for combating the non-celibate life of priests had been laid by then, it was only Pope Alexander II and his successors, above all Gregory VII, who began to vigorously implement the provisions, albeit without resounding success.


Like celibacy, the prohibition of simony should ensure the quality of the sacraments for believers. Even Gregory I condemned simony as heresy . He also stated that simony already existed when the spiritual office had been transferred through favors or flattery. Around 1012 the Koblenz Bishops' Assembly dealt with the importance of the clergy's way of life for the quality of the Holy Mass that he performed. In 1014 the double synod under Pope Benedict VIII dealt with the regulation of episcopal ordination for the first time . However, the simony was initially only a problem of the lower churches. The granting of a bishopric by the king was not seen as a purchase of an office. This led, for example, to the fact that Konrad II banned simonistic practices at the Synod in Tribur 1036, but on the other hand made the occupation of dioceses and abbeys dependent on consideration and demanded the "Servitium regis" from the high churches.

The increasing preoccupation with the problem of simony finally led to the question of how the ordinations given by a simonist priest should be assessed. The reformers' more radical forces assumed that such sacraments were null and void. The moderate wing did not see the effectiveness of the sacraments affected because it was not the respective priest but the Holy Spirit himself who administered the sacrament in the true sense. Finally, one of Pope Clement II and Henry III. General Synod convened in 1047 stipulates that clerics who had been ordained by a Simonist could continue to serve after a forty-day penance. However, this view could not prevail. Only the “Decretum contra Simoniacos” of 1059 brought a final solution, which, however, largely coincided with the provisions of 1047.

Up until this point in time, the simonist ordinations were the subject of a large number of treatises. This series includes the “Liber Gratissimus” by Petrus Damiani and the “Libri tres adversus Simoniacos” by Humbert by Silva Candida . Petrus Damiani was a representative of the moderate party. In his writings he assumed that the office of a cleric was decisive for the quality of the sacraments, not his way of life. He based his theses, among other things, on the writings of Augustine , who, in the dispute with the Donatist Church, had taken that view of the value of the sacraments.

Humbert von Silva Candida, on the other hand, was of the opinion that the Holy Spirit only devotes his grace to Catholics in full. Since Simonists were regarded as heretics and, in his opinion, heretics were not Catholics, they would not be able to administer valid sacraments. Humbert went one step further; Simonists seem worse to him than heretics and he compared them to the apocalyptic beast.

As with the general introduction of celibacy, the fight against simony on a larger scale only began during the pontificate of Alexander II.

Investiture dispute

The investiture controversy was closely linked to the fight against simony. It was about the question of lay investiture , that is, the appointment of bishops by kings and emperors, which was customary in the Frankish empire, under the Ottonians and also with the English and French kings until the 11th century.

As part of the church reform, concordats were reached with France, England (1107) and the Holy Roman Empire in the Worms Concordat in 1122.

Position of the Pope

Another line of development is the question of the importance of the Pope in the ecclesiastical hierarchy. Here the Episcopalian and the Papalist view were up for discussion. However, the special position of Rome has hardly been flatly rejected by any author, rather the extent of Roman primacy has been contested. Even before this dispute, the Pope was undisputed as the spiritual head of the Church. In his “Decretorum libri XX”, Bishop Burchard von Worms defined the Pope as the bishop of the first seat at which major legal cases were to be decided. But he refused to see the Pope as the highest priest or prince of priests. Since the synods of Sutri and Rome, Rome's special position developed into a claim that demanded the subordination of the bishops to the Pope. This is also the beginning of the development that leads to a papacy whose self-image is shaped by institutionalization and legalization.

During the pontificate of Leo IX. (1049-1054) the development of the Roman primacy got a new boost. With an unusually high number of synods in the short term of office (eleven or twelve in five years), which were also held outside Italy, he pointed the way out of the regional ties of the pontificate. He pursued the same intention with the appointment of the college of cardinals and the circle of its advisors. Among others, Hildebrand von Soana , who became Pope Gregory VII in 1073, and Humbert von Moyenmoutier should be mentioned here. In this way, the influence of the Roman aristocratic parties could also be suppressed.

The royal rule of the HRR was also affected by this development. The legal and administrative orientation towards Rome had to lead to a conflict with the German imperial church system. On the other hand, this development removed the papacy itself from its ties to the German Empire. Leo IX accepted his appointment only subject to confirmation by the election of the Roman clergy and the people of Rome. Although Heinrich III. with the designation of Gebhard von Eichstätt as the successor of Leo to enforce his candidate again, but his successor already carried on the politics of Leo. After Gebhart, the reform supporter Friedrich von Lothringen under the name Stephan IX. elevated to the rank of Pope and only subsequently asked for his consent. Although the reformers tried to avoid a conflict, it was believed that Stephan was the rightful Pope even before the approval of the royal court - a letter to the Bishop of Reims, in which he is called to obedience and loyalty, makes this clear.

In the papal election decree of 1059 it was determined how the appointment of a pope should proceed. It stipulated that the Pope could only be determined through the election of the clergy and the people of Rome. The king was given a say, but the formulation left a wide range of interpretations for the type and extent of the say.

The first Pope, Alexander II, elected according to the provisions of the Papal Election Decree, ensured a further expansion of centralization within the Church. To this end, he introduced the award of the pallium and the oath of allegiance for archbishops. In particular, the oath of allegiance, which obliged the archbishops to make regular ad limina visits to the Holy See , shows how far the Pope's power has already been recognized. Successful legacy visits to France, England and Spain also point in this direction.

Gregory VII , the successor of Alexander, who took office in 1073, finally summarized in the Dictatus Papae the most important reasons for the primacy of the Roman Church. Although he mainly referred to traditional church law, he added his own principles to this tradition. In the Dictatus Papae, Gregory derives his authority from Peter (Mt 16: 18f.) And thus draws the conclusion that the Pope holds the absolute auctorita s within the church . This authority makes him the highest church judge and guardian of the doctrinal tradition - a claim that he also represents with regard to secular rulers.

Urban II, who was appointed after Gregory's successor, who had only been in office for a year, relativized the primacy of the pope over the emperor. Urban saw a pastoral responsibility of the priests for the secular rulers, but he no longer assumed Gregor's universal claim. Rather, he represented the doctrine of two powers . He saw the position of the Pope within the Church as absolutely as Gregory did. In order to meet this requirement, Urban expanded the administration of the Roman Curia .

Paschal II went one step further in recognizing secular power. He saw a partnership between the “Potestas regia” and the “Sacerdotalis auctoritas” as an ideal. Within the church, he was able to further expand the pope's primatial rights. For this he formulated a meaning for the award of the pallium. He declared that with the pallium the metropolitan would be given full episcopal power. Without a pallium , no metropolitan could ordain bishops or hold synods.

Result of the reforms

The reforms of the church were aimed at improving and maintaining the quality of the priests and thus that of the sacraments. A major concern of Hildebrand / Gregory VII seems to have been the vita apostolica for the canons . In particular, the poverty demand should be enforced. As a reason, reference is made to the primitivae ecclesiae forma ("form of the early church"). As in the other reform questions (simony, cohabitation), people's hopes that the reform efforts would be successful were also disappointed on this point. This disappointment led to a strengthening of the religious movements that established themselves alongside the church ( Waldensians , Albigensians ).

The dispute over the investiture, which occupied a large area under Gregory and the subsequent popes, was basically part of the simony problem, which increasingly included the question of the pope's position in relation to secular power. The hard confrontation between Henry IV and Gregory VII was therefore only an episode in the development. His successors were already looking for a balance, which was finally found in the Worms Concordat with the separation of temporal and spiritual .

The examination of the function and position of the church and the clergy promoted juridification within the church, while the expansion of the importance of the Pope beyond his spiritual primacy made the establishment of the curia administration necessary. Both processes promoted the development of a church that broke out of the close ties to secular power that existed in the early Middle Ages and became an independent power factor.


  • Uta-Renate Blumenthal : Gregory VII Pope between Canossa and church reform . Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 2001.
  • Werner Goez : Church reform and investiture dispute 910–1122 . Stuttgart Berlin Cologne 2000.
  • Ludger Körntgen: Ottonen and Salier . Darmstadt 2002.
  • Johannes Laudage : Image of priests and reform papacy in the 11th century (supplements to the archive for cultural history , issue 22), Cologne / Vienna 1984.
  • Johannes Laudage: Gregorian Reform and Investiture Controversy . Series of publications: Results of Research , Vol. 282. Wiss. Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 1993, ISBN 3-534-08566-3 .
  • Joseph Lortz : History of the Church in the history of ideas: Volume 1: Antiquity and the Middle Ages. 23rd edition. Aschendorff, Münster (Westphalia) 1965.
  • Gerd Tellenbach : "Gregorian Reform". Critical reflections . In: Karl Schmid (Ed.): Empire and Church before the Investiture Controversy . Lectures at the scientific colloquium on the occasion of Gerd Tellenbach's eightieth birthday. Thorbecke, Sigmaringen 1985, ISBN 3-7995-7030-6 .
  • Gerd Tellenbach: The western church from the 10th to the early 12th century . Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1988, ISBN 3-525-52324-6 .

Individual evidence

  1. ^ F. Donald Logan (* 1930): History of the Church in the Middle Ages. Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 2005, p. 118.
  2. ^ Uta-Renate Blumenthal: Gregory VII Pope between Canossa and church reform . Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 2001. S. 165f
  3. ^ Roland Fröhlich: Basic Course in Church History , Herder, Freiburg 1980, p. 85.
  4. ^ Uta-Renate Blumenthal: Gregory VII Pope between Canossa and church reform . Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 2001. P. 106ff