Thursday, September 3, 2009

Pope St. Gregory the Great

Saint Gregory the Great (540-604): Pope and Doctor of the Church (Feastday: September 3)

St. Gregory, born at Rome about the year 540, was the son of Gordianus, a wealthy senator, who later renounced the world and became one of the seven deacons of Rome.

After he had acquired the usual thorough education, Emperor Justin the Younger appointed him, in 574, Chief Magistrate of Rome, though he was only thirty-fouAr years of age.

After the death of his father, he built six monasteries in Sicily and founded a seventh in his own house in Rome, which became the Benedictine Monastery of St. Andrew. Here, he himself assumed the monastic habit in 575, at the age of thirty-five.

After the death of Pelagius, St. Gregory was chosen Pope by the unanimous consent of priests and people. Now began those labors which merited for him the title of Great.

His zeal extended over the entire known world, he was in contact with all the Churches of Christendom and, in spite of his bodily sufferings, and innumerable labors, he found time to compose a great number of works.

Gregory is credited with re-energizing the Church's missionary work among the barbarian peoples of northern Europe. He is most famous for sending a mission, often called the Gregorian mission, under Augustine of Canterbury to evangelize the pagan Anglo-Saxons of England. The mission was successful, and it was from England that missionaries later set out for the Netherlands and Germany.

In line with his predecessors such as Dionysius, Damasus, and St. Leo the Great, St. Gregory asserted the primacy of the office of the Bishop of Rome. Although he did not employ the term "Pope", he summed up the responsibilities of the papacy in his official appellation, as "servant of the servants of God".

As Benedict of Nursia had justified the absolute authority of the abbot over the souls in his charge, so Gregory expressed the hieratic principle that he was responsible directly to God for his ministry.

Gregory was direct and firm. He removed unworthy priests from office, forbade taking money for many services, emptied the papal treasury to ransom prisoners of the Lombards and to care for persecuted Jews and the victims of plague and famine. He was very concerned about the conversion of England, sending 40 monks from his own monastery.

He is known for his reform of the liturgy, for strengthening respect for doctrine. Whether he was largely responsible for the revision of "Gregorian" chant is disputed.

Gregory lived in a time of perpetual strife with invading Lombards and difficult relations with the East. When Rome itself was under attack, he interviewed the Lombard king.

An Anglican historian has written: "It is impossible to conceive what would have been the confusion, the lawlessness, the chaotic state of the Middle Ages without the medieval papacy; and of the medieval papacy, the real father is Gregory the Great."

His book, Pastoral Care, on the duties and qualities of a bishop, was read for centuries after his death. He described bishops mainly as physicians whose main duties were preaching and the enforcement of discipline.

In his own down-to-earth preaching, Gregory was skilled at applying the daily gospel to the needs of his listeners. Called "the Great," Gregory has been given a place with Augustine, Ambrose and Jerome as one of the four key doctors of the Western Church.

He died March 12, 604 and is the patron of teachers; he was declared a saint immediately after his death by "popular acclamation".


  1. Greetings from sunny San Diego!

    I thought I'd drop you a line via your blog. I'm just following up on behalf of Emmaus Road Publishing as to where we are with the manuscript for my book "Sex Au Naturel: What It Is and Why It's Good For Your Marriage," which you kindly agreed to review for a blurb. They were supposed to have sent it so you could read while in Rome (you know, as the Romans do. Smile.) If you've had a chance to review it, please let me know.

    With prayers for you and for the faithful in Ottawa,

    Patrick Coffin

  2. When is your book coming out, Patrick? I'm so pumped!

  3. not helpful. What is the ancient title for the Pope first used by Pope St. Gregory(1) the Great? That was the qestion I'm looking for!!!!!!!!!

  4. He refered to himself as the servant of the servants of GOD.