Gregory completed, with increased energy and the weight of official authority, the moral reform of the clergy as a means for securing the freedom and power of the Church. He held synod after synod, which passed summary laws against simony and Nicolaitism, and denounced all carnal connection of priests with women, however legitimate, as sinful and shameful concubinage. Not contented with synodical legislation, he sent letters and legates into all countries with instructions to enforce the decrees. A synod in Rome, March, 1074, opened the war. It deposed the priests who had bought their dignity or benefices, prohibited all future sacerdotal marriage, required married priests to dismiss their wives or cease to read mass, and commanded the laity not to attend their services. The same decrees had been passed under Nicolas II. and Alexander II., but were not enforced. The forbidding of the laity to attend mass said by a married priest, was a most dangerous, despotic measure, which had no precedent in antiquity. In an encyclical of 1079 addressed to the whole realm of Italy and Germany, Gregory used these violent words, "If there are presbyters, deacons, or sub-deacons who are guilty of the crime of fornication (that is, living with women as their wives), we forbid them, in the name of God Almighty and by the authority of St. Peter, entrance into the churches, introitum ecclesiae, until they repent and rectify their conduct."
These decrees caused a storm of opposition. Many clergymen in Germany, as Lambert of Hersfeld reports, denounced Gregory as a madman and heretic: he had forgotten the words of Christ, Matt. 19:11, and of the Apostle, 1 Cor. 7:9; he wanted to compel men to live like angels, and, by doing violence to the law of nature, he opened the door to indiscriminate licentiousness. They would rather give up their calling than their wives, and tauntingly asked him to look out for angels who might take their place. The bishops were placed in a most embarrassing position. Some, like Otto of Constance, sympathized with the married clergy; and he went so far as to bid his clergy marry.56 Others, like St. Altmann of Passau, were enthusiasts for sacerdotal celibacy. Others, like Siegfrid of Mainz, took a double attitude.57 Archbishop Anno of Cologne agreed with the Hildebrandian principle, but deemed it impracticable or inopportune. When the bishops lacked in zeal, Gregory stirred up the laity against the simoniacal and concubinary priests. He exhorted a certain Count Albert (October, 1074) to persist in enforcing the papal orders, and commanded Duke Rudolf of Swabia and Duke Bertolf of Carinthia, January, 1075, to prevent by force, if necessary, the rebellious priests from officiating, no matter what the bishops might say who had taken no steps to punish the guilty. He thus openly encouraged rebellion of the laity against the clergy, contrary to his fundamental principle of the absolute rule of the hierarchy. He acted on the maxim that the end sanctifies the means. Bishop Theodoric of Verdun, who at first sided in the main with Gregory, but was afterwards forced into the ranks of his opponents, openly reproached him for these most extraordinary measures as dangerous to the peace of the Church, to the safety of the clerical order, and even to the Christian faith. Bishop Henry of Spires denounced him as having destroyed the episcopal authority, and subjected the Church to the madness of the people. When the bishops, at the Diet of Worms, deposed him, January, 1076, one of the reasons assigned was his surrender of the Church to the laity.
But the princes who were opposed to Henry IV. and deposed him at Tribur (1076), professed great zeal for the Roman Church and moral reform. They were stigmatized with the Milanese name of Patarini. Even Henry IV., though he tacitly protected the simoniacal and concubinary clergy and received their aid, never ventured openly to defend them; and the anti-pope Clement III., whom he elected 1080, expressed with almost Hildebrandian severity his detestation of clerical concubinage, although he threatened with excommunication the presumptuous laymen who refused to take the sacrament from immoral priests. Bishop Benzo, the most bitter of imperialists, did not wish to be identified with the Nicolaitan heretics.
A contemporary writer, probably a priest of Treves, gives a frightful picture of the immediate results of this reform, with which he sympathized in principle. Slaves betrayed masters and masters betrayed slaves, friends informed against friends, faith and truth were violated, the offices of religion were neglected, society was almost dissolved. The peccant priests were exposed to the scorn and contempt of the laity, reduced to extreme poverty, or even mutilated by the populace, tortured and driven into exile. Their wives, who had been legally married with ring and religious rites, were insulted as harlots, and their children branded as bastards. Many of these unfortunate women died from hunger or grief, or committed suicide in despair, and were buried in unconsecrated earth. Peasants burned the tithes on the field lest they should fall into the hands of disobedient priests, trampled the host under foot, and baptized their own children.58
In England, St. Dunstan, archbishop of Canterbury, d. 988, had anticipated the reforms of Hildebrand, but only with temporary success. William the Conqueror made no effort to enforce sacerdotal celibacy, except that the charge of concubinage was freely used as a pretext for removing Anglo-Saxon prelates to make room for Norman rivals. Lanfranc of Canterbury was a Hildebrandian, but could not prevent a reformatory council at Winchester in 1076 from allowing married priests to retain their wives, and it contented itself with the prohibition of future marriages. This prohibition was repeated at a council held in London, 1102, when Anselm occupied the see of Canterbury. Married priests were required to dismiss their wives, and their children were forbidden to inherit their fathers’ churches. A profession of chastity was to be exacted at ordination to the subdiaconate and the higher orders. But no punishment was prescribed for the violation of these canons. Anselm maintained them vigorously before and after his exile. A new council, called by King Henry at London, 1108, a year before Anselm’s death, passed severe laws against sacerdotal marriage under penalties of deposition, expulsion from the Church, loss of property, and infamy. The temporal power was pledged to enforce this legislation. But Eadmer, the biographer of Anselm, sorrowfully intimates that the result was an increase of shocking crimes of priests with their relatives, and that few preserved that purity with which Anselm had labored to adorn his clergy.
In Spain, which was as much isolated from the Continent by the Pyrenees as England by the sea, clerical celibacy was never enforced before this period. The Saracenic invasion and subsequent struggles of the Christians were unfavorable to discipline. A canon of Compostella, afterwards bishop of Mondonego, describes the contemporary ecclesiastics at the close of the eleventh century as reckless and violent men, ready for any crime, prompt to quarrel, and occasionally indulging in mutual slaughter. The lower priests were generally married; but bishops and monks were forbidden by a council of Compostella, in 1056, all intercourse with women, except with mothers, aunts, and sisters wearing the monastic habit. Gregory VII. sent a legate, a certain Bishop Amandus, to Spain to introduce his reforms, 1077. A council at Girona, 1078, forbade the ordination of sons of priests and the hereditary transmission of ecclesiastical benefices. A council at Burgos, 1080, commanded married priests to put away their wives. But this order seems to have been a dead letter until the thirteenth century, when the code of laws drawn up by Alfonso the Wise, known as "Las Siete Partidas," punished sacerdotal marriage with deprivation of function and benefice, and authorized the prelates to command the assistance of the secular power in enforcing this punishment. "After this we hear little of regular marriage, which was replaced by promiscuous concubinage or by permanent irregular unions."59
In France the efforts of reform made by the predecessors of Gregory had little effect. A Paris synod of 1074 declared Gregory’s decrees unbearable and unreasonable.60 At a stormy synod at Poitiers, in 1078, his legate obtained the adoption of a canon which threatened with excommunication all who should listen to mass by a priest whom they knew to be guilty of simony or concubinage. But the bishops were unable to carry out the canon without the aid of the secular arm. The Norman clergy in 1072 drove the archbishop of Rouen from a council with a shower of stones. William the Conqueror came to his aid in 1080 at a synod of Lillebonne, which forbade ordained persons to keep women in their houses. But clerical marriages continued, the nuptials were made public, and male children succeeded to benefices by a recognized right of primogeniture. William the Conqueror, who assisted the hopeless reform in Normandy, prevented it in his subject province of Britanny, where the clergy, as described by Pascal II., in the early part of the twelfth century, were setting the canons at defiance and indulging in enormities hateful to God and man.
At last, the Gregorian enforcement of sacerdotal celibacy triumphed in the whole Roman Church, but at the fearful sacrifice of sacerdotal chastity. The hierarchical aim was attained, but not the angelic purity of the priesthood. The private morals of the priest were sacrificed to hierarchical ambition. Concubinage and licentiousness took the place of holy matrimony. The acts of councils abound in complaints of clerical immorality and the vices of unchastity and drunkenness. "The records of the Middle Ages are full of the evidences that indiscriminate license of the worst kind prevailed throughout every rank of the hierarchy."61 The corruption again reached the papacy, especially in the fifteenth century. John XXIII. and Alexander VI. rivaled in wickedness and lewdness the worst popes of the tenth and eleventh centuries.