The Influence of Pope Gregory VII and the Gregorian Reform on Pope Urban II:

Differences in Motives and Agendas with Respect to the First Crusade

Trent A. Taylor

Pope Gregory VII (1073-1085) initiated what historians now call the Gregorian Reform, which in fact was a multifaceted movement with several complex components. Pope Urban II (1088-1099), his successor, was heavily influenced by Gregory's actions. In their recent research, historians have offered continued insight into the influential relationship between Gregory and Urban. These modern studies both confirm this influence and even go as far as to claim that Urban's reforms were superior to those of his predecessor. John Julius Norwich points out that "Urban II was a staunch upholder of papal supremacy on the Gregorian model, except that he possessed all the polish and diplomatic finesse that Gregory VII had so disastrously lacked." (1) It is clear that Norwich ultimately believes that Urban was actually more successful in the way he carried out these reforms. He is far from the only historian to hold such a view. I. S. Robinson, for example, notes that "Urban II cast his net much more widely than Gregory VII. The papal synods of Urban II's wandering pontificate brought the churchmen of Latin Christendom in direct contact with the supreme judicial authority of the pope on a scale hitherto unknown." (2) Although Urban promised to follow through with Gregory's ecclesiastical reform movement, however, the surviving documents from this period suggest a more complex picture. Indeed, a thorough analysis of Gregory VII's and Urban II's unique and differing motivations for their respective agendas reveals that it is impossible to look at the two as carbon copies of one another, despite the underlying influence that clearly was present.

We begin with an analysis of some primary source statements directly from Urban II. These statements are associated with his promises to continue the Gregorian Reform movement and showcase Gregory VII's substantial influence on Urban's papacy. When Urban finally became pope, he professed a total commitment to follow in Gregory's footsteps saying, "Believe about me just as about the blessed Gregory. I want to follow wholly in his footsteps." (3) This quote from Urban sheds light on the subject, because it recognizes that Urban not only looked at Gregory as "blessed" (language typically used by pontiffs to refer to their deceased predecessors), but that he also wanted to follow "wholly" in his footsteps. Although Urban did continue to promulgate reform legislation, however, it is an over exaggeration to assert that he "wholly" followed in Gregory's footsteps. In a very real sense, as will be shown in greater depth below, Urban II went beyond the efforts of reform that had been started by Gregory VII as he tailored the movement to his own goals and, more specifically, the preaching of the First Crusade.

Urban II made many other strong claims about his commitments to Gregory. However, one of his more detailed quotations is worth mentioning. When speaking about Gregory, Urban said, "Desiring completely to follow in his footsteps, I spit out everything which he spat out; what he reproached, I reproach. But what he deemed valid and Catholic I embrace and approve, and I believe and confirm altogether, in all respects, what he in the end believed about each side." (4) This detailed quotation provides more solid evidence of Urban's dedication to the reform movement. However, it is important to pay close attention to the end of the quote, which mentions Gregory's beliefs about "each side." Raging at the time was the so-called Investiture Controversy (1075-1122), that infamous struggle between popes and emperors over the right to choose and also "invest" bishops with their temporal and spiritual powers which ultimately ended with the compromise known as the Concordat of Worms (1122) whereby secular rulers were given a voice in the selection of bishops and awarded them their temporal powers while bishops' spiritual powers were henceforth invested by the pontiff or his representative. Seen in this context, Urban II's wording, "each side," can only refer to the Church and the Empire and their complicated and intertwined relationship. Although Urban II claims to fully believe and confirm Gregory VII's position towards this relationship, a look at each pope's policies and agendas will show that this was not entirely the truth.

As we have noted, the Gregorian Reform movement as a whole was a complex mixture of Church reform measures. It is noteworthy to mention that the movement ultimately revolved around reforms related to lay investiture, simony, clerical celibacy, and nepotism. Out of these topics, both Gregory and Urban were most concerned with the issue of lay investiture. Overall, this dealt closely with the issue between church and state relations, to which Gregory's policies paid particularly close attention. Regarding the reformers as a whole, Norwich points out that, "The key word in the reformers' vocabulary was restituere, to restore the freedom enjoyed in the early Church." (5) Both Gregory and Urban repeatedly called for a return to the old ways of the Church, referring to stricter moral standards as well as increased freedom from secular authorities. For example, Gregory routinely claimed, "I have been concerned above all that holy Church, the Bride of God . . . should return to her proper dignity and remain free, chaste, and catholic." (6) This quotation exemplifies Gregory's concerns regarding reform for the Church's dignity, but more importantly, for the Church's freedom from secular control. Under Gregory, it was this aspect that dominated his policies. Additionally, the movement under Gregory produced drastic changes in both the Church and the secular world through the papal election decree (1059, when Gregory was still Cardinal Hildebrand), which established the College of Cardinals and called for them to elect popes and the proscription of clerical concubinage, as well as the free elections and investiture of bishops. These changes ultimately led to major schisms with the secular sphere, which tasked Urban with fixing the issue.

Like Gregory, "Urban II hoped to disseminate his version of the program for ecclesiastical reform inherited from his predecessors." (7) For the most part, Urban carried out the same aspects of the reform as did Gregory. However, there were differences in the way Urban carried out these reform policies. Outside of providing slightly different views surrounding the lay investiture controversy, Urban also "almost certainly spoke at length about peace." (8) This is an important point regarding the policy undertaken by Urban, because it differs with regard to Gregory's policy movement. When Gregory began his reform legislation, his focus seems to have been primarily focused on increasing the Church's, and especially the papacy's, power by any means necessary. "Gregory's actions were a logical reflection of his absolute conviction that papal primacy was not only valid within the Church, but even more so in the secular sphere." (9) However, this caused great unease and controversy to occur between the Church and the Holy Roman Empire. This struggle, initially between Gregory VII and Emperor Henry IV, was soon accompanied by other feuds, which actually "made matters worse" for the reform movement. (10) As can be seen, Gregory was not afraid to upset the emperor in his quest for reform. On the other hand, when producing new reform legislation, Urban sought a path that was more peaceful and considerate of all Christians. Although Urban was also interested in increasing the power of the papacy, a closer examination of the goals and agendas of Gregory VII and Urban II will show just how different their reform movements really were from one another.

Many historians have accused Gregory of harboring some unethical motivations for his reform agenda. In Popes and Antipopes: The Politics of Eleventh Century Church Reform, for example, Mary Stroll concedes that, "while Hildebrand/Gregory VII was influential, he also provoked a lot of hostile opposition." (11) This hostile opposition came from many sources, including even some of his own clergy, in part because of Gregory's attempts to expand and centralize the power of the papacy. Andrew Lantham notes that, when Gregory became pope in 1073, "the process of renewal and revitalization took a different tack: it evolved from being an essentially legal and hortatory effort--involving both the promulgation of canons proscribing these practices and a variety of efforts designed to delegitimize them--to one focused on transforming the papacy into a powerful institution capable of more effectively pursuing the socially constructed values and interests of the reform Clergy." (12) Stemming from this motivation to increase the papacy's, and thus his own, power to such a high degree, it hardly seems surprising that many have viewed Gregory in a negative light.

The Dictatus Papae, unsigned but found in Pope Gregory VII's register from A.D. 1075, include twenty-seven unique points that collectively provide insight into Gregory's motivations and agenda. (13) Taken as a whole, these points place a heavy emphasis on diminishing the power of secular rulers and increasing papal authority. Within the Dictatus Papae, there are a few of the dictates that merit specific mention. Point two states: "That the Roman pontiff alone can with right be called universal." Point twelve states: "That it may be permitted to him to depose emperors." Point nineteen states: "That he himself may be judged by no one." (14) Although these claims can be justified by virtue of the pope's position as God's vicar here on earth, these statements also show Gregory's ambitions of promoting universal power within the papacy. The lines between increasing the power of the Church and its papacy, on the one hand, and that of Gregory himself, on the other, thus became increasingly blurred. Not only did Gregory assert that he was at the top of the hierarchy; he also gave himself the right to depose emperors and have complete control over the temporal sphere. In a sense, these points showcase the fact that, "under Gregory, obedience to God thus became obedience to the papacy." (15) With the Dictatus Papae being the prime example of Gregory's motivations to capture universal power, Gregory seems to have been more concerned with ruling as a world monarch than with actual Church reform. This document, coupled with his other extreme attempts at legislation, caused people of the time to see Gregory as overstepping his power and breaking peace within the Christian world. To summarize this point, I. S. Robinson says, "It was this harmony that Pope Gregory VII was alleged to have destroyed by unlawfully seizing the secular sword." (16)

When looking at Urban II's motivations and agenda, in contrast, we see a pope who seems more concerned about the unity of Christendom as a whole. Above all, Urban II was a man who wanted to promote peace, especially in Europe. Thus H. E. J. Cowdrey noted, "The theme of peace was prominent in early twelfth-century versions of Urban's preaching." (17) Although Gregory VII was certainly not opposed to the notion of peace, his methods of announcing legislation led to greater hostility from the secular sphere. In Urban's eyes, restoring the original mission of the Church and reuniting the Eastern and Western Churches were the primary goals. Of course, "ever since his accession, he had worked hard to improve relations with Byzantium, Church union being, of course, the ultimate objective." (18) Ecclesiastical unity was important to Urban, in no small measure because dependent upon it was the success of the First Crusade, which Urban II initiated through his famous sermon at the Council of Clermont in 1095. In sum, Urban certainly wished to continue and follow through with the reforms begun under Gregory. However, he took great care to do so in a more harmonious way. This diplomatic skill that Urban possessed yielded greater success in dealing with secular rulers in the long run. "Urban's legacy is multifaceted. Urban is, of course, the pope of the First Crusade, but he is also more, including his work to end the papal schism and to advance the process of ecclesiastical reform. This all marked Urban's pontificate as a turning point in the history of the Gregorian Reform." (19)

Although we can see a great deal of difference among Urban's and Gregory's motivations behind their reform movements, it is impossible to get a complete snapshot of this without discussing the Crusade movement. We have thus far examined the motives of Urban and how they are more relatable to Church unification and peace. However, when looking at the accounts of Urban's sermon at Clermont, his motives appear equally as complex as those of Gregory. We first begin by looking at the Crusade movement under Gregory. Although no Crusade actually occurred under Gregory, there is evidence of his intentions to mobilize a Crusade, for in 1074, Gregory issued a letter calling for a Crusade. It was in this letter that Gregory said, "simply to grieve is not our whole duty. . . . Know, therefore, that we are trusting in the mercy of God and in the power of his might that we are striving in all possible ways and making preparations to render aid to the Christian empire as quickly as possible." (20) Although Gregory's primary goals revolved around increasing papal power, this letter shows that he was also interested in preaching a Crusade. The reason that he never actually called for a Crusade was in large part due to the escalation in tensions between Gregory and Henry IV that produced the Investiture Controversy. Nonetheless, Gregory's goal of preaching a Crusade not only went far towards influencing Urban, but it also helped change the way in which Christians viewed warfare. Although fighting had occurred between Christians and Muslims since the seventh century, Cowdrey noted, "It can be concluded that Gregory was responsible for profound changes in the Christian attribute to the bearing of arms." (21) This concept of the bearing of arms began to change under Gregory and expanded further under Urban as they extended their reform agenda to crusading by merging Christian pilgrimage with a Christian knighthood fighting to recover the Holy Land from Muslim control. Adam Nemeroff has observed,

Through the Gregorian Reform movement put forth by Pope Gregory VII, the Church successfully consolidated moral and political authority over European Christendom. The confluence of moral and political supremacy (over feudal lords and monarchs), located centrally in the office of the Pope, uniquely positioned Pope Urban II to call the First Crusade and for thousands and thousands of Europeans to heed his call. By reclaiming the Church's moral and political supremacy through the specific reforms of Church celibacy, simony, and lay investiture, Pope Gregory successfully paved the way for the Church's calls for Crusade. (22)

Gregory's influence inspired Urban to call for the First Crusade, and this, in turn, sheds further light on his reform legacy. Before closely looking at the accounts of Urban's sermon at Clermont in 1095, however, we should first acknowledge some additional background that points to Gregory's continued influence on Urban's calling of the First Crusade. As John Gilchrist has observed, both "Gregory and Urban were leaders in directing the soldier's profession to ecclesiastical ends: the Christian knighthood, obedient to the papacy, could now earn salvation by means of weapons." (23) In addition to enacting ecclesiastical reform through legislation, Urban was following very closely in the footsteps of Gregory in preaching the First Crusade. "A similar concept of 'righteous warfare' is found in the legislation of Gregory VII," further evidence of this influential relationship, yet Urban also preached Church unity along with the idea of righteous warfare. (24) In the context of the Gregorian Reform and the concept of a crusading, Gregory had set the framework for a successful calling. Urban harnessed parts of Gregory's Crusade motivations, yet tailored them in such a way that promoted Christian unity, hereby ensuring the recruitment of a sufficiently large army. In sum, the type of reform and Crusade that Urban was promoting made "the time ripe for such a combination of ideas." (25)

This not only demonstrates how Urban borrowed the idea of the Crusade for the purpose of armed pilgrimage, but also leads us to a discussion on Urban's sermon at Clermont. It is important to understand that Urban placed heavier emphasis on mobilizing a Crusade because he saw this as an important part of the reunification process of Christendom, his primary goal. Nonetheless, Paul E. Chevedden has pointed out, "many scholars have confused Urban's strategy with a war of aggression." (26) This confusion is misleading and stems from multiple points. Not only had the idea of warfare against Muslims had been around for hundreds of years, but Urban was also borrowing ideas from Gregory and earlier reform popes when he preached his famous sermon at Clermont. (27) Beyond this, the different surviving accounts of his sermon paint a complicated picture of the motivations behind the pope's actions.

The problem here, of course, is that no verbatim transcript of Urban's sermon exists, only multiple accounts that were written down later from memory, with each showcasing some of Urban's aims and ambitions. In the account written by Fulcher of Chartres, for example, the themes of the truce and the peace of God (pleas for limiting warfare among the feudal nobility and calling for the protection of clergy and peasantry from attacks) dominate. Urban is shown in a favorable light here, using his sermon to encourage Christians to stand up and fight for the faith. Urban proclaims, "Although, O sons of God, you have promised more firmly than ever to keep the peace among yourselves and to preserve the rights of the Church, there remains still an important work for you to do." (28) Here Urban is calling for Christian knights to redirect their fighting skills and use them to defend Christianity. Other surviving accounts, meanwhile, record Urban's other themes and/or motivations in calling for the First Crusade.

In Robert of Monk's account, we are presented with themes of conquering land. There has been much debate regarding the Crusades and their connection to colonialism. Although this does not seem to have been the case, this account shows why some historians have jumped to this conclusion, and it also sheds light on Urban's complicated and potentially contradictory motivations. Within this account, crusaders are urged to "take the land from that wicked people and make it your own. That land which, as the scripture says, is flowing with milk and honey, God gave to the children of Israel." (29) This passage portrays Urban's motivations to conquer land and expand the power and reach of his papacy, with this being portrayed as the "will of God." Although taking back these lands is a main theme of the crusading movement, this puts into place additional incentives for Urban and his actions. We see similar ideas in Baldric of Dol's account, where Urban says, "The possessions of the enemy, too, will be yours, since you will make spoil of their treasures and return victorious to your own." (30) Although he mentions the crusaders returning home here, the promise of treasure/booty raises further questions regarding the incentives of Urban and the crusaders as a whole.

Lastly, we look at Guibert of Nogent's account of Urban's sermon. In this account, emphasis is placed on the type of war that Urban wants to be waged. Here Urban is recorded as saying, "We now hold out to you wars which contain the glorious reward of martyrdom, which will retain that title and praise now and forever." (31) This account shows that Urban has ultimately produced a new kind of warfare. This warfare is one in which Christians are able to take up arms for a just cause and bring peace to the world and also be assured of eternal salvation. As can be seen, the different accounts of Urban's speech show just how complicated Urban's agenda and motivations were. Not only did he have multiple views behind his intended efforts; many of them seem to come into conflict with one another. Outside of these conflicting motivations, it is important to note that some of the common emphases in each of the accounts were the themes of salvation, the forgiveness of sins, fighting a just war, and images of suffering Christians. In sum, Urban was able to successfully preach and encourage the First Crusade, with the idea being heavily influenced by Gregory. However, this only makes it more difficult and nearly impossible to present a completely accurate and clear picture of what Urban's motivations and agenda were for calling a Crusade, as well as for his reform movement in general.

In consideration of alternative arguments, it is imperative to address a few important points. First, it is hard to go against the fact that Urban was heavily influenced by Gregory. We have seen examples of this not only through Urban's own statements, but also when looking at his reform legislation and the calling of the First Crusade. However, Gregory and Urban differed in their motives and points of emphasis within their individual agendas. While Gregory may have been striving to a papal monarch, or at least to defend papal primacy against incursions by secular authorities, Urban placed greater emphasis on promoting peaceful relationships with secular rulers and successfully preaching the First Crusade. Nonetheless, Gregory and Urban's motivations and individual agendas are still being debated to this day. Likewise, the relative success of each pope's impact on ecclesiastical reform remains an open question.

Gregory VII and Urban II clearly were far from carbon copies of one another. Urban followed Gregory's path of Church reform, but carried out his actions in a more careful consideration for secular authorities. This is not to say that Urban was not concerned with expanding his papal power, especially if he could reunite the Western Church with the Orthodox Church of the East under the leadership of the Roman papacy. At the same time, Urban saw as central to his larger concerns the need to promote peace throughout western Europe, which required him to repair the schisms that had occurred under Gregory's rule. In the end, Gregory and Urban each had quite a complex set of motives attached to their respective reform agendas. This influential relationship between Gregory and Urban sheds light on how different popes were operating within the Gregorian Reform, but also poses new questions regarding the complicated aspects and true success of the reform movement under the various reform popes of their day. The complexities of Gregory and Urban's agendas, motivations, and degree of success leave the debate open to further consideration in the future, even though one may never know any definitive answers to these questions.

1. John Julius Norwich, Absolute Monarchs: A History of the Papacy (New York: Random House, 2011), 119.

2. I. S. Robinson, The Papacy, 1073-1198: Continuity and Innovation (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 125.

3. Herbert Edward John Cowdrey, The Crusades and Latin Monasticism, 11th-12th Centuries (Farnham, UK: Ashgate Publishing, 1999), 80-81.

4. Robert Somerville and Stephan Kuttner, Pope Urban II, the Collectio Britannica, and the Council of Melfi (1089) (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), 45.

5. Norwich, Absolute Monarchs: A History of the Papacy, 265.

6. I. S. Robinson, "Church and Papacy," in The Cambridge History of Medieval Political Thought C. 350-C. 1450. ed. J.H. Burns (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 252-305 at 258.

7. Robert Somerville, Pope Urban II, A Pseudo-Council of Chartres and Congregato (C. 16, Q.7, C2 "Palea") in Reform and Renewal in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, vol. 96, ed. Christopher M. Bellitto and Thomas M. Izbicki (Netherlands: Brill, 1999), 18-34 at 18.

8. Herbert Edward John Cowdrey, "The Peace and the Truce of God in the Eleventh Century," Past and Present, no. 46 (February 1970): 42-67 at 57.

9. Frank J. Coppa, The Great Popes Through History: An Encyclopedia (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2002), 101.

10. Cowdrey, "The Peace and the Truce of God in the Eleventh Century," 64.

11. Mary Stroll, Popes and Antipopes: The Politics of Eleventh Century Church Reform (Leiden: Brill, 2011), 243.

12. Andrew A. Lantham, "Theorizing the Crusades: Identity, Institutions, and Religious War in Medieval Latin Christendom," International Studies Quarterly, vol. 55, no. 1 (March 2011): 223-243 at 231.

13. Gregory VII, Dictatus Papae 1090, Internet Medieval Sourcebook, (accessed March 18, 2017). The Dictatus Papae is not signed. Thus its authorship remains somewhat in doubt even though it is found in a papal register from A.D. 1075 sandwiched between other signed documents from Gregory VII's papacy. Most historians recognize Gregory VII as its author, although some scholars continue to assert that the Dictatus Papae was inserted into the papal register at a later date. At the very least, however, the Dictatus Papae seem to reflect Gregory's reform priorities.

14. Ibid.

15. Coppa, The Great Popes Through History: An Encyclopedia, 99.

16. Robinson, Chapter Eleven: Church and Papacy, 303.

17. Cowdrey, The Crusades and Latin Monasticism, 11th-12th Centuries, 75.

18. Norwich, Absolute Monarchs: A History of the Papacy, 119.

19. Coppa, The Great Popes Through History: An Encyclopedia, 111.

20. Gregory VII, Call for a "Crusade", 1074, Internet Medieval Sourcebook, (accessed March 18, 2017).

21. Cowdrey, The Crusades and Latin Monasticism, 11th-12th Centuries, 34.

22. Adam Nemeroff, The Gregorian Reform Movement, (accessed March 4, 2017).

23. John Gilchrist, "The Papacy and War against the 'Saracens', 795-1216," The International History Review, vol. 10, no. 2 (May 1988): 174-197 at 176.

24. Robinson, The Papacy, 1073-1198: Continuity and Innovation, 327.

25. Cowdrey, The Crusades and Latin Monasticism, 11th-12th Centuries, 83.

26. Paul E. Chevedden, "The View of the Crusades from Rome and Damascus. The Geo-Strategic and Historical Perspectives of Pope Urban II and 'Ali ibn Tahir al-Sulami'," in Cultural Encounter During the Crusades, ed. Salonen Jenson and Helle Vogt (Denmark: University Press of Southern Denmark, 2013), 27-53 at 45.

27. Cowdrey, The Crusades and Latin Monasticism, 11th-12th Centuries, 83.

28. Sarah Jane Allen and Emilie Amt, eds., The Crusades: A Reader, 2nd ed. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2014), 34.

29. Allen and Amt, The Crusades: A Reader, 36.

30. Ibid., 39.

31. Ibid., 41.