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Pope Gregory VII

Two Examples of Papal Reform



The collapse of the Roman government in Western Europe meant not only the end of centralized political authority, but centralized ecclesiastical authority was lost as well. Around 1075, Pope Gregory VII began a series of reforms designed to increase discipline within the priesthood and to increase central authority within the Church. The following documents represent significant aspects of the papal reform movement.

I. Decree of 1074 Council at Rome

During the pontificate of Gregory VII (1073-1085) a council held in Rome in 1074 issued these decrees.  

Those who have been advanced to any grade of holy orders, or to any office, through simony, that is, by the payment of money, shall hereafter have no right to officiate in the holy church. Those also who have secured churches by giving money shall certainly be deprived of them. And in the future it shall be illegal for anyone to buy or to sell [any ecclesiastical office, position, etc.].

Nor shall clergymen who are married say mass or serve the altar in any way. We decree also that if they refuse to obey our orders, or rather those of the holy fathers, the people shall refuse to receive their ministrations, in order that those who disregard the love of God and the dignity of their office may be brought to their senses through feeling the shame of the world and the reproof of the people.[1]

II. Decree Against Lay Investiture

In 1075 Pope Gregory issued a decree forbidding prelates to receive their church offices from lay rulers. The original version of this decree has been lost. This is the text from the re-issuing of that decree in 1078.

Inasmuch as we have learned that, contrary to the establishments of the holy fathers, the investiture with churches is, in many places, performed by lay persons; and that from this case many disturbances arise in the church by which the Christian religion is trodden under foot: we decree that no one of the clergy shall receive the investiture with a bishopric or abbey or church from the hand of an emperor or king or of any lay person, male or female. But if he shall presume to do so he shall clearly know that such investiture is bereft of apostolic authority, and that he himself shall lie under excommunication until fitting satisfaction shall have been rendered. [2]

[1] "Decree of 1074 Council at Rome" in O. J. Thatcher and E. H. McNeal, trans., A Source Book for Medieval History (New York; CHarles Scribner's, 1905), pp. 134-135. Reprinted in Brian Tierney, ed., The Middle Ages, Vol. I: Sources of Medieval History, 4th ed., (New York; Alfred A Knopf, 1983) p. 142.

[2] "Pope Gregory VII," in E. F. Henderson, ed., Select Historical Documents of the Middle Ages (London; George Bell, 1892), pp. 366-367. Reprinted in Brian Tierney, ed., The Middle Ages, Vol. I: Sources of Medieval History, 4th ed., (New York; Alfred A Knopf, 1983) p. 143.

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