The Gregorian Reforms were instituted under Pope Gregory VII who ruled from 1073–85. Although he himself gave the honor to Gregory the Great (r 590-604) from whom he also took his papal name. The notion was that the reforms were not reforms but a returning to the old ways, there are, of course, those who disagree with that assessment. At issue was the moral integrity and independence of the clergy. Both the Roman Empire and the Church were falling apart. The East-West Schism had become final in 1054 and the political power of Rome was being challenged from all sides. The City of Rome had fallen in 476, although the Emperors of the East had tried to take it back they eventually could not. Charlemagne became the Holy Roman Empire in 800 in an effort to restart the western Roman Empire, which was never really recognized by the East. Thus it is also known as the The Carolingian Empire as it was largely German and not really Roman.

The heart of the Gregorian reforms is summed up in two documents from the time. The papal Bull Libertas ecclesiae ("freedom of the Church") and the Dictatus papae. The first asserted the freedom of the Church from temporal power. As the imperial government had collapsed war lords began taking over they began appointing themselves bishops and claiming church property as extensions to their own holdings. This conflict between religious and civil authorities is not unique to this time or ours. Dictatus papae stated or restated the powers reserved to the pope.

Church Liberty was the central slogan of the reform of Pope Gregory VII, and a "key concept" of the Investiture Controversy which is often confused with the Gregorian Reforms. Liberty of the Church meant freedom of the Church from oppression by temporal authority and meant especially for Gregory VII:

  • that the Church was free from interference by lay people to elect [invest] their bishops;
  • that the whole Church was de facto and also necessarily under the direct leadership of the Pope;
  • and that the Pope in the whole Christendom ("christianitas") had the highest power.

In fairness to Gregory VII, the Church had its problems in what some call the Pornocracy (the rule of Harlots), between 900 and 1050. Gregory's papacy was also in the middle of the investiture controversy (1087-1122). Indeed he may have started it then he prohibited the traditional investiture of bishops and abbots by lay rulers in 1078 at a council he convened at the Lateran Palace. The nobility did not give up so easily and there were a series of antipopes, people who claimed the title of Pope but who are not recognized by Rome today, for the next 60 years of so. Simony, (in this context the practice of buying a church office) and clerical celeby were also major issues. 

Simony's importance to reformers and others in the 11th century can be illustrated in a number of ways. For reformers, the validity of the ordination of those who baught their office or even someone who had been ordained by a Simoniac  was questioned. This led to questioning the validity of the efficacy of sacraments conferred by unworthy priests. In the Libri tres adversus simoniacos (1057/58; "Three Books Against the Simoniacs"), Humbert of Silva Candida maintained that all sacraments performed by simoniacs or those who were ordained by simoniacs were invalid and that "(re)ordinations" of those same clergy were necessary. The position denying any connection between the priest's character and the sacrament's validity was defended successfully by Peter Damian—the prior of the eremitical foundation Fonte Avellana and the cardinal-bishop of Ostia—and remains the basis of Catholic dogma today. The nature of sacraments generally will become an issue for the later Protestant Reformers.  (We even see echos of it in the Anglican Articles of Faith: XXVI. Of the Unworthiness of the Ministers, which hinders not the effect of the Sacraments.)

Marriage and concubinage among the lower ranks of the clergy were customary in much of the Western church, although already forbidden by the Council of Nicaea in 325. The earlier reforms were meant to eliminate this behaviour at all costs. Following the election of Pope Leo IX early in 1049, the papacy issued decree after decree that required priests to give up their wives, barred the sons of priests from the priesthood except under certain conditions, and declared the women sexually involved with priests "unfree." The decrees had little effect on supporters of clerical marriage, who could argue that the priests of the Old Testament had been married and that the custom was accepted in the Eastern church. At times the pontiffs encountered virulent opposition, particularly in 1075 at Constance when the local bishop was forced to allow married clergy to keep their positions. Pope Gregory VII was outraged that a bishop could disobey a papal decree and annulled all oaths of fealty to the bishop, who was to have been expelled by the clergy and laity of Constance. Obedience to papal legislation became a touchstone for orthodoxy under Gregory VII, and the achievements of the Gregorian Reform thus were stepping stones toward the papal monarchy of the 13th century. 

Gregory's desire for reform predates his rise to the Papal throne. 4/11/15 4/11/15 1/15/18