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St. Gregory the Great: Saint Gregory the Great, pope from to , considered The church in these times either could act as a check against this new military His conversion to monastic life in was not sudden but grew from a the equity of all bishops and ignored Rome's primacy as the heir of St. Peter, whose.
Table of contents



As a preacher Gregory liked to make his sermon a part of the sacred solemnity of the Mass, choosing as his subject the Gospel for the day. We possess a number of his homilies, ending always with a moral lesson. In administering the great Patrimony of St. Peter,[2] Gregory showed a remarkable grasp of detail and administrative capacity. His instructions to his vicars in Sicily and elsewhere specified liberal treatment of tenants and farmers and ordered loans of money to those in need.

This Pope was in fact the ideal landlord; tenants were content and revenues flowed into the papal coffers. Yet at his death the treasury was empty because of his huge charities, almost on the scale of state relief. He also spent large sums ransoming captives from the Lombards.

Indeed he commended one of the bishops for breaking up and selling church plate for this purpose. In anticipation of a threatened corn shortage, Gregory filled the granaries of Rome with the harvests of Egypt and Sicily; he had regular lists kept of the poor, to whom grants were periodically made. His conscience was so sensitive that once when a beggar died in the street, presumably of starvation, he pronounced an interdiction on himself and refrained for some days from performing his holy functions.

Gregory's sense of justice showed itself in enlightened treatment of the Jews, whom he would not allow to be oppressed or deprived of their synagogues. When the Jews of Cagliari in Sardinia complained that their synagogue had been seized by a converted member of the race, who had turned it into a Christian church and set up in it a cross and an image of Our Lady, he ordered the cross and image to be reverently removed, and the building restored to its former owners.

Accomplishments as pope

From the outset Gregory had to face the aggressions of the Lombards, who, from three fortresses they held, made destructive raids on Rome. He organized the city's defenses and even managed to send aid to other cities that were threatened. When in King Agilulph with his Lombard army actually appeared before the walls, it was the Pope who went out to interview the invader. As much by his personality and prestige as by his promise of annual tribute, Gregory induced Agilulph to withdraw his army. For nine years he strove to bring about a political settlement between the Byzantine emperor and the Lombards, but when an agreement was at last arrived at, it was wrecked by the treachery of the Exarch.

Then on his own account Gregory negotiated a truce for Rome and the surrounding districts. Agilulph's wife, Theodelinda, a Bavarian princess, was a Catholic, and became Gregory's powerful ally. She finally prevailed on the Lombards to give up the Arian creed which they had been taught and to accept the Catholic faith. In the confusion and disorder of the times, Gregory must have turned with relief to his writing. This little work met with tremendous success.

Licinianus, bishop of Carthage, praised it but feared it set so high a standard that candidates for the priesthood might be discouraged. Augustine took a copy to England, where three hundred years later King Alfred himself translated it into Anglo-Saxon. At a council summoned by Charlemagne all bishops were told to study it, and to give a copy to each new bishop as a part of the ceremony of consecration.

For centuries Gregory's ideals were those of the clergy of the West.

Historical context and early career

The stories in it were obtained from persons still living who in many cases had been eye-witnesses of the events described. However, Gregory's methods were not critical, and the modern reader may often feel misgivings as to the reliability of his informants. In that credulous age any unusual happening was likely to be viewed as supernatural.

Gregory kept in touch with Spain chiefly through Bishop Leander of Seville. The Spanish Church governed itself, and, though loyal, had little to do with Rome. Gregory did much to extirpate the heresy of the Donatists[3] in Africa, while in Istria, a province on the Adriatic, he brought back certain schismatic bishops to the Catholic faith.

In Gaul papal influence was not strong outside Provence, but through correspondence with King Childebert and with the Gallic bishops Gregory strove to correct abuses, especially simony and the placing of laymen in ecclesiastical offices. Of all his work, that which lay nearest his heart was the conversion of England. It is probable that the first move towards the sending of a Roman mission to England was made by Englishmen themselves. News reached Gregory that they had appealed to the bishops of Gaul for preachers, and their appeals had been ignored.

In he began to make far-reaching plans. His first act was to order the purchase of some English slaves, boys of seventeen or eighteen, who might be educated in a monastery in Italy for service in their own land. Since he wished the work of conversion to proceed forthwith, from his own monastery of St.

St. Gregory the Great

Andrew he chose a band of forty monks to proceed to England under the leadership of their prior, the saintly Augustine. During nearly the whole of his thirteen years as pope Gregory was in conflict with Constantinople, either with the Emperor or with the patriarch. He protested against the extortionate tax-collectors and against an imperial edict which forbade soldiers from becoming monks. With John Faster, bishop of Constantinople, he had a correspondence over the title of Ecumenical or Universal Patriarch, which John had assumed. The adjective had previously been applied only to a general council of the church.

Gregory charged that the title savored of arrogance. John claimed that he used it in the limited sense of archbishop over many bishops. In Emperor Maurice and his family were killed after a revolt led by the centurion Phocas, who on seizing power sent his portrait and that of his wife to Rome. The people and senate, cowed and abject, received them with acclamations. Gregory himself wrote a tardy and diplomatic letter to the murderous usurper, an act which has exposed him to criticism. In his defense it may be said that the letter consisted largely in hopes for peace; with the people defenseless, Gregory could scarcely risk denunciation.

Pope Gregory I

Phocas proved himself incapable of governing and was deposed after a few years. Gregory never rested and wore himself down almost to a skeleton. Even as death drew near, he directed the affairs of the Church and continued his literary labors. He died in , and was buried in St. The list of his achievements is a long one. He is credited with the compilation of the Antiphonary,[4] the introduction of new styles in church music, the composition of several famous hymns, and the foundation of the Schola Cantorum, the famous training school for singers.

Only a small part of so-called Gregorian music dates from his time, but the type of chanting was fixed then for centuries to come. Gregory defined the calendar of festivals and the service of priests and deacons, enforced the celibacy of the clergy, and in general strengthened the papacy.

History of Popes - Popes of the Roman Catholic Church - Catholic Online

He is venerated as the fourth Doctor of the Latin Church. In his homilies he popularized the great St. Augustine of Hippo, and until the medieval scholars went back to study Augustine himself, Gregory's was the last word on theology; he formulated several doctrines which had not previously been satisfactorily defined.

Gregory the Great in Summary

I was well acquainted with him, for he dwelt not far from the abbey in which I lived. He once when I asked him for the story was very well known thereabouts , told me what he had learned from divine revelation of the end of the world, in the time of John the Younger, my predecessor. He said that on a certain day, when he was, after his custom, out visiting his diocese, he came to the church of the blessed martyr Euthicius. And at nightfall he chanced to be to be lodged near the sepulchre of the martyr, and after his travels lay down there to rest.

About midnight he was, as he said, neither fully awake nor yet asleep, but rather heavy with sleep, when he felt his waking soul oppressed with a great sorrow. And in that state he saw the same blessed martyr Euthicius standing before him, who then said to him: Thereat the martyr said: The man of God rose up and fell to his prayers with many tears, but straightway there followed those fearful signs in heaven, namely, lances of fire and hosts appearing in the North.

Straightway too the barbarous and savage nation of the Lombards, drawn like a sword out of its sheath, left their country and invaded ours. Thence the people, who before were like thickly grown cornfields for their great multitude, are now withered and blasted. Cities were laid waste, towns and villages ravaged, churches burned, monasteries of men and women destroyed, farms left desolate, and the land lies solitary, without men to till the soil, and barren of all inhabitants.


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Beasts possess the regions where before many men had their dwellings. How it goes in other parts of the world I do not know, but here where we live it is not a forecast of the end but rather a spectacle of the end of the world already arrived and come. So that much more jealously should we seek after things of eternity as we find all temporal things suddenly fled and gone.

I cannot express in words, most excellent son, how gratified I am with your work and your life. On hearing of the power of the new miracle in our days, namely that the whole nation of the Goths has through your Excellency been won over from the error of Arian heresy to the firmness of a right faith, one is ready to exclaim with the prophet, This is the change wrought by the right hand of the Most High.

The government of your kingdom in relation to your subjects should be tempered with moderation, lest power unawares corrupt your mind. After his parents died, St. Gregory became very wealthy, inheriting his parents estate in Rome and six Sicilian estates. However, in , three Benedictine monk friends influenced him to abandon the world and enter religious life.

He sold his other estates to found monasteries and give relief to the poor. He then returned to his monastery, becoming the abbot of St. In , he was elected and consecrated Pope on September 3. His pontificate was marked by greatness: He restored clerical discipline, removing unworthy bishops and priests from office. He protected the Jews from unjust coercion. He fed those who suffered from famine and ransomed those captured by barbarians. He negotiated peace treaties with the barbarian invaders, and converted many of them. He sponsored many missionaries, including St.

Augustine of Canterbury, whom he sent to England; St. Columban, who evangelized the Franks; and St. Leander who converted the Spanish Visigoths who were still Arian. Gregory was also a great teacher. In his Liber regulae pastoralis , he described the duties of bishops, and this work remains necessary spiritual reading for any bishop. He recorded the lives of many of the saints in his Dialogues. Numerous sermons and letters of his are still extant. Gregory is credited with being the founder of the Medieval Papacy. Despite his many accomplishments and abilities, he was a humble man.

Nicholas, who was born around in Rome. His father was an official in the papal administration. He soon became known for his charity and justice. For instance, he denounced King Lothair II of Lorraine for attempting to cast aside his legitimate wife to marry his mistress; not only did Pope St. Nicholas ordered him reinstated. Twice he excommunicated Archbishop John of Ravenna for abusing his office.

Nicholas also withstood the attempts of both the Patriarch of Constantinople and the Byzantine Emperor to encroach upon the rights of the papacy. He also sponsored missionary work to Scandinavia under the leadership of St. Ansgar, and to Bulgaria. During his pontificate, he preserved the prestige and authority of the papacy at a time when secular rulers were not only gaining power but also wanting to control the Church. He was a champion of the poor, a patron of the arts, a reformer of clergy and laity alike.

In all, he exercised his office with the highest personal integrity. He died on November 13, They were genuine servants of the Lord and His Church. As the chief teacher of the faith and guided by the Holy Spirit, he issued the New Catechism , the revised Code of Canon Law, and the revised Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches ; he wrote 39 major teachings covering the whole spectrum of doctrine, morals, and spirituality; and he gave countless other addresses and speeches. Pope John Paul II emphasized the universal call to holiness and thereby the sacramental life which begins at baptism: