We have seen in the previous post some significant characteristics of the Gregorian reforms. Several observations can be made concerning these reforms, both in the three areas separately identified and as a whole.

The first observation is that these reforms displaced a number of long-standing practices. By claiming that the See of Rome was the sole and unaccountable head of the Church, the Gregorians opened the doors to dissent and controversies coming from anti-Gregorians, who maintained that even the person of the Pope could deprive himself of grace by wrongful acts. Papal theory in effects brought about divisions within the western Church.

These divisions and papal supremacy, coupled with the fact that clergy deemed morally unworthy by the Pope could be deposed and subjects could be absolved by the Pope from their oath to their prince, contributed to the rise of anti-clerical sentiments.

Thus, many western heresies that appeared during the 11th and 12th centuries, among them the Cathars, the followers of Arnold of Brescia, who conducted a rebellion against corrupt clergy in Rome, and those of Peter Waldo, have in common a distrust of organized clergy–and therefore of sacraments.

Unintended consequences also arose from the reforms enacted in the third area discussed, that of emotional participation. The search for a purer and more active spiritual life, centered around poverty and the living out of the Gospels, addressed itself to all people and resulted in a wave of popular piety.

It produced figures as varied and different as Francis of Assisi and Anthony of Padua, Waldo and the Cathars already mentioned, and movements such as the Crusades, seen both as pilgrimage and apostolic mission, the spread of monasticism, and even the age of the cathedrals, all of which expressed this piety in every aspect of life.

A second series of remarks is necessary at this point. We have seen, particularly with the third point, that the general aim of the reforms was a positive one: improve popular piety and strengthen the Church. But the problem lies in the logic and methods used to support and implement the reforms.

Papal monarchy and de facto infallibility drew a wave of criticisms which in fact weakened the Church internally precisely while this monarchy was being built up.

Anti-Gregorians correctly perceived this danger. The setting apart of the clergy and the attempts to purify it of all immorality in effect led to the spread of anti-clericalism. Finally, the attempt to center religious life around features that had traditionally belonged to monasticism also resulted in certain groups denying all sacraments institutionalized by the Catholic Church, including the Eucharist.

By looking at the motives for reform together with the consequences of these reforms, it will not be very difficult to see in all these elements the premises of the far larger and more significant Reformation movement of the 16th century. Like the Gregorians, the reformers were indeed partly driven by the same desire to improve religious life and spread it to all of society.

The drive for a better life, combining with an eventual rejection of the organism that gave rise to it, i.e. the Catholic Church, are decisive elements of the Reformation. One may also see in them an anticipation of the later Revolutionary and utopian movements, which precisely sought to heighten the standards and ideals of society along new lines of thought. This attitude is peculiar to Western Christendom, and does not seem to exist in the East.


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