Gregory I "The Great" (c.540-604)

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GREGORY is the name of sixteen popes; namely, Gregory I., the Great (Sept. 3, 590-. March 12, 604), descended from a distinguished senatorial family, probably the Anicians, and was b. in Rome between 540 and 550. Educated in conformity with his social state, he was instructed in dialectics and rhetoric, studied law, entered the civil service, gained the confidence of the Emperor Justin, and received (about 574) the dignity of a prcetor urbis. But he also studied the Fathers of the Western Church, - Augustine, Ambrose, and Jerome. His family was markedly religious: his mother, Sylvia, and his two paternal aunts, have been canonized. The deepest instincts of his own nature revolted against the luxury and ambition of his office. lie determined to flee from the world, and become a monk. lie employed the immense wealth left to him by his father’s death to found six Benedictine monasteries in Sicily, and a seventh in his own house in Rome. In the latter he became a monk himself; and so severe were the ascetic exercises he practised, that his health became impaired, and even his life was in danger. At this moment the Pope, Pelagius II., interfered, dragged him out of the monastery by ordaining him a deacon (579), and sent him to Constantinople as apocrisiarius. The mission he fulfilled with great ability; and while in Constantinople he began his celebrated work Expositio in Job or Moralium Libri XXXV. After his return to Rome (585) he continued to take a leading part in all the business of the curia; and after the death of Pelagius II. he was unanimously elected Pope, by the clergy, the senate, and the people, and compelled to accept.

The position of the Bishop of Rome was at that time by no means an easy one. Pressed on one side by the Arian and half-barbarian Lombards, he was not free on the other, but had to yield in many ways to the authority of the Byzantine emperor and his representative in Italy, the exarch of Ravenna. Nevertheless, the position was not without its opportunities; and Gregory knew how to utilize them. The Pope was the greatest landed proprietor in Italy. From his estates, not only in Campania, Apulia, Calabria, Sicily, and Sardinia, but also in Gaul, Dalmatia, and Northern Africa, immense sums flowed into his treasury; and Gregory proved an exiellent administrator, strict, and with an eye fcr the miuutest details. To this wealth was added a certain prestige not ecclesiastical. On account of the weakness and inability of the exarchs, the Pope became the real ruler of Rome; and this role was quite natural to Gregory, who had been prætor urbis before he became Pope. Thus he stood almost as an independent power, mediating between the Lombards and the Byzantines. Through Theodelinde, a Bavarian princess, belonging to the Orthodox Church, and the wife of King Agiluif, he exercised some influence on the Lombards; though at one time (593), just while he was delivering his homilies on Ezekiel, he had to buy off Agiluif from the gates of Rome with an immense sum of gold and silver. In Constantinople, too, he could give his voice some weight; though his relations with the Emperor Mauritius became more and more troubled, especially after the controversy with John Jejunator.

John IV., Patriarch of Constantinople, liked to call himself the "oecumenical patriarch." But he was neither the first to assume this title, nor the only one to whom it had been applied: his predecessor, Menas, had borne it 536; and it had been given to Leo I. by the Council of Chalcedon 451, to Hormisdas by the Syrian monks 517, and to Boniface II. by the metropolitan of Larissa in 531. Gregory, however, who called himself sercus servorum Dei (not as a rebuke to the Constantinopolitan patriarch, but simply in imitation of Augustine), took umbrage at this title, complained of it to Mauritius (595), and attacked John IV. with a somewhat extraordinary vehemence. John died in the same year; but his successor, Cyriacus, continued the title, and Gregory became more and more irritated, especially as Mauritius declined to interfere. In November, 602, Mauritius was overthrown by Phocas; and not only was he himself beheaded, but also his wife, his five sons, and his three daughters. The new emperor, however, the usurper, the murderer, was hailed by the Pope with letters of congratulation, whose fulsomeness and flattery and adulation can be explained only on the supposition that Gregory, when he wrote the letters, was ignorant of the wanton cruelty which had accompanied the usurpation, - a supposition which, in view of the times, by no means is improbable.

In a similar way his relation to Brunehild must be explained. Brunehild was simply a monster. The crimes she committed during the reign of her son, Childebert II. (575-596), and her two grandsons, Theudebert II. and Theudenc II., earned for her the name of the "Frankish Fury," the "new Jezebel." And to this woman Gregory wrote letters full of praise and flattery. But what did he know of her? Probably nothing more than what he learnt from her own letters; and in these she simply asked for some relics for a church, or the palliurn for St. Syagrius of Autun, or a privilege for some monastery, or a papal legate to a Frankish synod; while she promised to support the English mission, to build churches and monasteries, to abolish simony, to introduce celibacy, to refrain from giving ecclesiastical offices and benefices to laymen, etc. To him Brunehild may have looked as he described her, - a very pious woman.

The two brightest points, however, in Gregory’s relations with foreign countries, are Spain and England. Through the influence of Bishop Leander of Seville, an intimate friend of Gregory since they first met in Constantinople, Reccared, King of the Visigoths, was led to abandon Arianism, and join the Catholics. In a letter dated 599, the king communicated his conversion to the Pope; and at the same time he sent a goblet of gold as a present to St. Peter. Gregory answered most graciously, and sent abbot Cyriacue to Spain with the pallium to Leander. The synod of Barcelona, held in the same year under the presidency of the metropolitan Asiaticus of Tarragona, and treating the questions of simony and laymen’s investiture with ecclesiastical beneflees, was probably connected with the sending of Cyriacus. England had already attracted the attention of Gregory while he was yet a monk. The sight of the Anglo-Saxon boys exhibited in the slave-markets of Rome had moved him to pity, and he determined to go to England as a missionary. He actually started on the way, but was recalled by the Pope. When he became Pope himself, he sent (596) Augustine and forty other monks to King Ethelbert of Kent; and already the next year Augustine could report the baptism of the king and ten thousand of his subjects. How great an interest Gregory took in the English mission appears from his letters to Augustine, which are full of the most detailed instructions.

However successful Gregory was in extending the influence and authority of the Roman see throughout the Western countries, that which he accomplished for the internal organization and consolidation of the Church was, nevertheless, of far greater importance. The delicate question of the dependence of the Western metropolitan sees on the see of Rome, he handled with great adroitness. In North Africa, whose clergy were extremely jealous of their independence, he acted with great caution, and in strict conformity with the canons of the Council of Sardica (347). Gennadius the exarch, and the two most prominent bishops in the province, Dominicus of Carthage, and Columbus of Nuinidia, were firm friends of his; and many appeals were made to the Roman see. But the parties were never summoned to Rome: the cases were treated in loco, and by papal legates. Quite otherwise in the diocese of Ravenna. He forbade the Archbishop John, in a rather sharp manner, to wear the pallium, except when celebrating mass; and when a conflict arose between John’s successor, Marinianus, and a certain abbot, Claudius, he summoned both parties to Rome to plead their cause before him personally. He attempted the same in Illyria, on occasion of a contested episcopal election at Salona (593); but in that case the Emperor Maui-itius interfered, and to his great chagrin and humiliatioii he was compelled to make a compromise.

Gregory’s ideas of a papal supremacy may have been somewhat vague; but his instincts were strong, and pointed all towards the loftiest goal. Very characteristic in this respect were his exertions to separate the monks from the clergy proper. He had been a monk himself, and he knew to what temptations and illusions human nature is exposed by monastic life: consequently he fixed the term of the novitiate at two years, and for soldiers at three. He forbade youths under eighteen years to enter a monastery, and married men, unless with the consent of their wives. He ordered all ecclesiastical officials to seize those monks, who, often in great swarms, roamed about in the country, and really were neither more nor less than tramps of the most indolent and impertinent description, and to deliver them up to the nearest monastery for punishment. Thus he did much for the reform of the monks, but he did still more for their emancipation. One monastery after the other was exempted from the episcopal authority; and at the synod of Rome (601) the power of the bishop over the abbeys was generally confined to the installation of the abbot. It was evidently his idea to form out of the monks a powerful instrumerit which might be wielded by the Pope independently of the clergy. On the other hand, he transferred some of the most marked characteristics of monastic life to the clergy, as, for instance, the celibacy, for whose introduction he was exceedingly anxious. For the clergy he wrote, shortly after his accession to the papal throne, his famous book, Regula Pastoralis, which for centuries was regarded as the moral code of the clergy. The Emperor Mauritius had it translated into Greek (Alfred the Great translated it himself into Anglo-Saxon), and Hinemar of Rheims states in 870 that every Frankish bishop took an oath on it at his consecration. Preaching he considered as the principal duty of the priest, and he gave in this respect a brilliant example himself. Besides the above-mentioned homilies on Ezekiel, forty homilies on the Gospels have come down to us.

As a theologian Gregory was without originality: nevertheless he exercised also in this field a beneficial influence by spreading the interest in Augustine. he is sometimes called the "inventor of purgatory;" but, though his doctrines of an intermediate state between death and doom are very explicit, they are hardly more than modifications of the ideas of Augustine. His dogmatical views he set forth in his Dialogorum de vita et rniraculis patrum Italicorum et de oeternitate animarum. Otherwise, with his influence on the ceremonial side of Christianity, it amounted at some points to a complete revolution. It is doubtful how much of the Sacrementarium Gregorianum really belongs to Gregory, and how much has been borrowed from the Sacramentarium of Gelasius I. The case is somewhat similar with respect to his Liber Antiphonarius. Nevertheless, it is beyond doubt that he founded a singing-school in Rome, the effect of which was that the Gregorian Chant, the cantus planus, with its grave, solemn rhythm, all tones having equal length, superseded the Ambrosian Chant, the cantus figuratus.

R. Zoepffel, "Gregory" Philip Schaff, ed., A Religious Encyclopaedia or Dictionary of Biblical, Historical, Doctrinal, and Practical Theology, 3rd edn, Vol. 2. Toronto, New York & London: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1894. pp. 908-910

Primary Sources

Book or monograph The Earliest Life of Gregory the GreatBertram Colgrave, ed. & translator, The Earliest Life of Gregory the Great by an anonymous Monk of Whitby. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985. Hbk. ISBN: 0521313848. pp.ix + 180.
Book or monograph Theoosia Gray, Homilies of Saint Gregory the Great. Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies. Pbk. ISBN: 0911165177. pp.307.
Book or monograph Gregory the Great:DialoguesGregory the Great, Dialogues, Fathers of the Church, Vol. 39, Odo John Zimmerman, translator. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press. Pbk. ISBN: 0813213223. pp.287.
Book or monograph Gregory the Great, Life and Miracles of St Benedict. The Liturgical Press, 1986. Pbk. ISBN: 0814603211. pp.87.
On-line Resource Gregory the Great,Letter to Abbot Mellitus, Epsitola 76, PL 77: 1215-1216 (Medieval Sourcebook)
Book or monograph Gregory the Great, Forty Gospel Homilies, David Hurst OSB, translator. Continuum International Publishing Group - Geoffrey Chapman, 1990. Pbk. ISBN: 0879077239. pp.400.
Book or monograph St. Gregory the Great: Pastoral CareSt. Gregory the Great, Pastoral Care, T. C. Lawler, ed. Ancient Christian Writers, No 11. New York: Paulist Press, 1950. Hbk. ISBN: 080910251X.
Book or monograph Gregory the Great: Perfection in ImperfectionGregory the Great, Perfection in Imperfection, Carole Straw, translator. University of California Press, 1991. Pbk. ISBN: 0520068726. pp.316.

Secondary Sources

Article in Journal or Book H. Ashworth, "Further Parallels to the 'Hadrianum' from St. Gregory the Great's Commentary on the First Book of Kings," Traditio 16 (1960): 364-73.
Book or monograph Matthew Baasten, Pride According to Gregory the Great. Studies in the Bible and Early Christianity. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 1986. Hbk. ISBN: 0889466068. pp.216.
On-line Resource ames Barmby [1822-1897], Gregory the Great. The Fathers of the Church for English ReadersJames Barmby [1822-1897], Gregory the Great. The Fathers of the Church for English Readers. London: SPCK, 1879. Hbk. pp.207. View in PDF format pdf [This material is in the Public Domain]
On-line Resource William Bright [1824-1901], Chapters of Early English Church History, 2nd edn. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1888. Hbk. pp.476. [This material is in the Public Domain]
Article in Journal or Book F.F. Bruce, "Literature and Theology to Gregory the Great," Journal of Ecclesiastical History 18 (1967): 227-31.
Book or monograph John C. Cavadini, ed., Gregory the Great. University of Notre Dame Press, 1996. Hbk. ISBN: 0268010307. pp.248.
Book or monograph Francis Clark, The Pseudo-Gregorian Dialogues. Studies in the History of Christian Thought, 37-8. Leiden: E J Brill, 1987. Hbk. ISBN: 9004077731. Cf. article by Paul Meyvaert (below).
Book or monograph Pearse Cusack, An Interpretation of the Second Dialogue of Gregory the Great. Edwin Mellen Press, 1993. Pbk. ISBN: 0773492720. pp.204.
Article in Journal or Book M. Dando, "The Moralia in Job of Gregory the Great as a Source for Old Saxon Genesis B," Classica et mediaevalia 30 (1969, ed. 1974): 420-39.
Article in Journal or Book P.A. DeLeeuw, "Gregory the Great's 'Homilies on the Gospels' in the Early Middle Ages," Studi medievali 26 (1985): 855-69.
Book or monograph Frederick Homes Dudden, Gregory the Great, 2 Vols. New York: Russell & Russell / London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1905. pp. vi + 473.
Article in Journal or Book G.R. Evans, "Guibert Of Nogent And Gregory The Great On Preaching And Exegesis." Thomist 49.4 (1985): 534-550.
Book or monograph Evans: The Thought of Gregory the GreatG.R. Evans, The Thought of Gregory the Great, new edn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988. Pbk. ISBN: 052136826X. pp.176.
Article in Journal or Book David Hipshon, "Gregory the Great's 'Political Thought.' " Journal of Ecclesiastical History 53.3 (2002): 439-453.
Article in Journal or Book J.E. Lawyer, "Longing that Loss in the Life of St. Benedict According to Gregory the Great," American Benedictine Review 54.1 (2003): 72-95.
Article in Journal or Book Lester K. Little, "Calvin's Appreciation of Gregory the Great," Harvard Theological Review 56 (1963): 146-157.
Book or monograph Logan: A History of the Church in the Middle AgesF. Donald Logan, A History of the Church in the Middle Ages. London & New York: Routledge, 2002. Pbk. ISBN: 0415132894. pp.47-51.
Article in Journal or Book Peter McEniery, "Pope Gregory the Great and Infallibility," Journal of Ecumenical Studies 11.2 (1974): 263-280.
Article in Journal or Book R.A. Markus, "The Chronology of the Gregorian Mission to England: Bede's Narrative and Gregory's Correspondence," Journal of Ecclesiastical History 14 (1963): 16-30.
Article in Journal or Book R.A. Markus, "Gregory the Great and a Papal Missionary Strategy," G.J. Cuming, ed.,The Mission of the Church and the Propagation of th Faith. Papers read at the Seventh summer meeting and eighth winter meeting of the Ecclesiastical History Society. Studies in Church History, Vol. 6. . Cambridge: Cambridge UNiversity Press,1970. Hbk. pp.29-38.
Book or monograph Markus: Gregory the Great and His WorldR.A. Markus, Gregory the Great and His World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997. Hbk. ISBN: 0521584302. pp.265.
Article in Journal or Book Paul Meyvaert, "Diversity within Unity: A Gregorian Theme," Heythrop Journal 4 (1963): 141-62. A rebuttal of Francis Clark's work (above).
Article in Journal or Book Paul Meyvaert, "The Date of Gregory the Great's Commentaries on the Canticle of Canticles and on 1 Kings," Sacris erudiri: Jaarboak voor Godsdienstwetenschappen 23 (1978s): 191-216.
Article in Journal or Book Paul Meyvaert, "Uncovering a Lost Work of Gregory the Great: Fragments of the Early Commentary on Job," Traditio 50 (1995): 55-74.
Book or monograph Dag Norberg, Critical and Exegetical Notes on the Letters of St. Gregory the Great. Stockholm: Museum of Natural Antiquities, 1982. Pbk. ISBN: 9174021486. pp.33.
Article in Journal or Book Joan M. Peterson, "The Identification of the Titulus Fasciolae and Its Connection With Pope Gregory the Great," Vigiliae Christianae 30.2 (1976): 151-158.
Book or monograph Jeffrey Richards, Consul of God: Life and Times of Gregory the Great. London: Routledge, 1980. Hbk. ISBN: 0710003463. pp.320.
Article in Journal or Book Alfred C. Rush, "Spiritual Martyrdom in Gregory the Great," Theological Studies 23 (1962): 569-589.
Article in Journal or Book S.E. Schreiner, "'Where Shall Wisdom Be Found?': Gregory's Interpetation of Job," American Benedictine Review 39 (1988): 321-42.
Book or monograph Straw: Gregory the Great: Perfection in ImperfectionCarole Ellen Straw, Gregory the Great: Perfection in Imperfection. Berkeley, CA & London: University of California Press, 1988. Hbk. ISBN: 0520057678. pp.309.
Article in Journal or Book E.F. Sutcliffe, "A Note on Gregory's Hom. 13 in Evangelia," Irish Theological Quarterly 27 (1960): 69ff.
Article in Journal or Book Roger G. Tweed, "The Psychology of Gregory the Great (A.D. 540-A.D. 604)," International Journal for Psychology of Religion 7.2 (1997): 101-110.
On-line Resource G.S.M. Walker, The Growing Storm. Sketches of Church History from A.D. 600 to A.D. 1350G.S.M. Walker, The Growing Storm. Sketches of Church History from A.D. 600 to A.D. 1350. London: The Paternoster Press, 1961. Hbk. pp.252. View in PDF format pdf [All reasonable efforts have been made to contact the copyright holder of this article without success. If you hold the rights, please contact me]
Article in Journal or Book L. Michael White, "Transcationalism in the Penitential Thought of Gregory the Great," Restoration Quarterly 21.1 (1978): 33-51.
Article in Journal or Book W.J. Wilkins, "'Submitting the Neck of Your Mind'; Gregory the Great and Women of Power," Catholic Historical Review 77 (1991): 583-94.

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