Gregory VIII was a well-educated Beneventan noble who became a Cistercian monk in Laon at a young age. With the establishment of the Premonstratensians in 1120 he became a member of that order, and is considered the only Premonstratensian Pope.
Pope Adrian IV created him cardinal-deacon of S. Adriano in December 1155 (or in 1156) and later promoted him to the rank of cardinal-priest of S. Lorenzo in Lucina (1158). He subscribed the papal bulls between April 5, 1157 and October 13, 1187. He supported the obedience of Pope Alexander III against the claims of Antipope Victor IV (1159-1164) and his successors. Under this pope he became Chancellor of the Holy Roman Church (February 1178).
He was consecrated as Pope in place of Pope Urban III (1185–1187) on October 25, 1187. His first act as Pope was to issue the papal bull Audita tremendi, which called for the Third Crusade in response to the Battle of Hattin earlier that year. Jerusalem itself had fallen in October, but news of this had not yet reached the Pope. Gregory VIII did not live to see the crusade, as he died of fever that same year. Pope Clement III (1187–1191) was his successor.