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Born:c.540RomeItaly...(Show more)Died:March 12, 604RomeItaly...(Show more)Title / Office:pope (590-604)...(Show more)Subjects that Study:Gregorian chantchurch and also state...(Show more)

St. Gregory the Great, likewise called Saint Gregory I, (born c. 540, Rome —died in march 12, 604, Rome; west feast day, September 3 ), pope from 590 come 604, reformer and also excellent administrator, “founder” the the medieval papacy, which worked out both secular and also spiritual power. His epithet “the Great” reflects his condition as a writer and a ruler. Together the fourth and also final that the timeless Latin Fathers of the Church, Gregory was the first exponent of a truly medieval, sacramental spirituality.

Historical context and early career

Gregory to be born in troubled times. Cities and also commerce had actually declined, and cycles the famine and also the plague had depopulated the countryside in the wake up of the emperor Justinian’s reconquest of Italy (535–554). The Lombard intrusion of 568 triggered several much more decades that war. Centralized bureaucratic control over civil matters ongoing to fragment, and also this provided rise to neighborhood strongmen who held power at the cost of the civilian senatorial aristocracy. Usurpations that the property, rights, authority, and even regalia of others marked this liquid society. The church in this times either might act together a check against this new military aristocracy—in Rome the Senate was defunct, and also the papacy assumed civic responsibilities—or could serve the secular ambitions that the strongmen and also their patronage networks; Gregory battled tirelessly versus these latter corruptions.

Gregory to be well inserted in society. His family held the Caelian Hill in Rome, properties external the city, and also estates in Sicily, and also he may have shared remote links to gens Anicia, one eminent patrician family. His ancestors had held illustrious ecclesiastical positions: Pope Felix III (reigned 483–492) to be his great-great grandfather, and also Pope Agapetus ns (535–536) additionally may have actually been a relative. Gregory’s father, Gordianus, hosted an office, maybe defensor, however no record of secular office exists because that the family before 573, as soon as Gregory ended up being urban prefect, one office that ultimately fell right into desuetude. Germanicus, who thrived Gregory, may likewise have been his brother. Gregory’s mother, Silvia, took vows on the death of she husband, and also three of his aunts likewise entered spiritual life.

Well educated because that the times, Gregory may have had actually legal training before entering windy service. His conversion to monastic life in 574 was no sudden however grew native a lifelong conflict in between his personal desire because that contemplative purity and also the publicly duty to offer others in the “pollution” that worldly affairs. Renouncing secular life, Gregory established, on household property top top the Caelian Hill, a monastery devoted to St. Andrew. The “rule” followed there can not be identified as the of St. Benedict, nor does proof exist the Gregory became abbot, although his Dialogues may provide this impression. Gregory founded six much more monasteries on family members estates in Sicily however retained adequate property come make later on endowments come the church.


In 579 Pope Pelagius II made Gregory a deacon, sending out him as apocrisiarius (legate) to Constantinople. There Gregory lobbied because that aid against the Lombards but remained ignorant of Greek. In 585–586 he returned to Rome and also St. Andrew’s, resuming the office that deacon. In 590 Gregory was elected pope, taking office unwillingly. He prospered Pelagius II, who had succumbed come the torment that swept Rome the year. According to tradition, Gregory led a penitential procession come Santa Maria Maggiore during that plague; a vision the the archangel Michael atop Hadrian’s dig (now the Castel Sant’Angelo) persuaded him the Rome would certainly be spared. Now a statue ~ above the Castel Sant’Angelo depicts Michael replacing his knife in its scabbard. The 7 Penitential Psalms linked with this procession day from the 12th century and have been incorrectly ascribed to Gregory.

Accomplishments together pope

As pope, Gregory confronted numerous challenges, including those posed by the Lombards, who sought to manage Italy and practiced Arianism, and those do by the Byzantines, who employed strategies that were designed to safeguard Ravenna, the administrative centre of oriental government in Italy, at the price of Rome. Indeed, both Lombards and Byzantines posed threats: the sedition of royal soldiers was as troubling as the swords that the Lombards. Compelled to orchestrate an live independence policy, Gregory saw himself as the “treasurer” that paid the daily prices of Rome and the “paymaster” of the Lombards, whose swords were held back only by daily ransom native the church. In conducting war, that planned strategies, funded soldiers, and also directed diplomacy, twice avoiding Rome from being sacked by the Lombards. He likewise ransomed hostages, supported refugees, secured the grain supply, and also repaired aqueducts.


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St. Gregory the great depicted in a stained glass home window at St. Michael & all Angels Church in Brinkworth, Wiltshire, England.

Realizing he might neither defeat the Lombards militarily nor proceed a cycle of warfare and also ransom, Gregory consistently sought peace. However, a roman inn alliance through the Lombards (and Gauls) would have actually threatened the independence of Ravenna, and also Byzantine opposition to Gregory’s initiatives undermined the tranquility in Italy. Nevertheless, there was a rapprochement v the Lombards. With Gregory’s relationship with Theodelinda, the Catholic mam of the Lombard king Agilulf, Catholics came to be welcome at court. ~ 600, relations in between Lombard and Roman Italy boosted greatly. Friendship and also patronage had thus accomplished what military strategy and also imperial policies could not.

The difficulties with the Lombards underscore the tensions between Rome and the eastern at the time and additionally illuminate traditional administrative divisions between the north, Italia annonaria, overcame by the sees of Milan, Aquileia, and also eventually Ravenna, and also the south, Italia sububicaria, led by Rome and also including Sicily and islands under the exarch the Africa. A fierce opponent of any type of practice smacking the simony (the purchase of ecclesiastical office) or other creates of corruption, Gregory rebuked criminal vigorously yet often to little effect, because of the boundaries of his authority in ~ Italy and the empire as a whole.

Gregory felt that he was part of a Christian empire, a “holy commonwealth” top by the byzantine emperor. Ideally, the emperor deferred to the church (though generally he did not), even as the church well-known him as a strength ordained by God (for good or evil). Ambivalence dictated discretion: Gregory would execute obnoxious legislations (such together Emperor Maurice’s prohibition of monastic life because that state employees) while concurrently protesting such laws. He described this exercise in one of his letters: “I have thus done my duty top top both sides. I have actually obeyed the emperor, and also yet have actually not restrained what should be claimed on oh my god behalf.” He frequently protested Maurice’s policies concerning the Lombards and the church, and also his dislike of Maurice describes his warmth welcome to Phocas, the bloody usurper that the imperial throne, in 602.

This tension in between Rome and Constantinople is revealed plainly in policies about the church. In the late 6th century, the Catholic church did not have a cogent hierarchical order top by Rome, and also no proof exists that Gregory held such a vision. Since St. Peter, the founder of the roman church, was the very first among the apostles, Gregory asserted Rome’s ideal to judge on specific moral issues, but he do no cases of roman primacy together the term later on would be understood. Bishops were topic to Rome as soon as they had actually committed a fault, but otherwise “when no error exacts this entry all room equal through the legislation of humility.”

The dispute over the title “ecumenical patriarch” illuminates the widening street at the time between Rome and the east Empire. Traditionally, the patriarch the Constantinople represented imperial orthodoxy encompassing the entire Christian empire, and also he was therefore deserving the the location “ecumenical.” Gregory believed that the location offended the equity of every bishops and ignored Rome’s primacy as the succession of St. Peter, whose moral power was needed to ratify councils and also discipline members that the church. He additionally believed the title to be an expression of pride that anticipated the come of the Antichrist. For Gregory true holiness put in humility; thus, he referred to as himself “servant of the servants the God.” despite Maurice’s regulates to desist, Gregory protested the title (though he ongoing to have actually relations with the patriarch), fearing that a decline in Rome’s prestige might mean additional neglect the Rome and also the West by Constantinople. By skipping Gregory’s protests, a sequence of majesties supported the patriarch, and also the long-standing rivalry between Rome and also Constantinople continued. In one implicitly separated empire, Rome stood can be fried in the West and Constantinople in the East.

In the wider church, respect for Rome’s moral leadership was similarly difficult to secure. Once possible, Gregory tried to enlist secular authorities to further his aims (for both papacy and empire stood for orthodoxy), yet this regularly led come frustration. Gregory was many successful close to Rome. The farther away he attempted to practice his influence, the weaker to be his power and also the less accurate his manage of the situation, despite his usage of informants. Adding to Gregory’s challenges was the schism (dating from later 543 or early 544) over the 3 Chapters (certain writings of Theodore that Mopsuestia, Theodoret the Cyrrhus, and Ibas the Edessa). In this case, Rome in reality supported imperial policy, which declared these chapters to it is in Nestorian (meaning they portrayed the divine and also human natures of Christ together independent), while west churches welcomed them together orthodox.

However, imperial policy noted little support for Rome. In Africa the pope fought a losing battle versus the Donatists, that opposed the papacy’s position on the 3 Chapters and also excommunicated the pope in 550. Because that his part, Gregory appealed come the exarch of Africa to suppress the Donatists. However, the oriental government want to save the peace and again ignored Gregory. When a council at Carthage condemned the Donatists in 594, the imperial edict issued come suppress castle was not enforced. After ~ a last complaint to the emperor in 596, Gregory allow the matter drop.

In effect, two territorial churches emerged in Italy because of many political divisions. Opposition come the teachings of Rome survived in locations occupied by the Lombards. The northern churches the Aquileia in Istria (now component of Croatia and Slovenia) and also of Milan broke off communion, rejecting Rome’s position on the three Chapters, and also tried to continue to be independent of roman jurisdiction. In response, Gregory sent out troops, under the command the a tribune and an royal guardsman, against the patriarch that Aquileia, Severus, to rebuke the Istrians’ apostasy and summon Severus come a synod in ~ St. Peter’s Basilica. The Istrians appealed come the emperor, threaten to ally with Gaul if Rome pressed conformity. This suggest alliance to be a resource of regular anxiety because that the emperor, and he ordered Gregory to protect against pressuring the Istrians. Typically, Gregory complied but continued to complain; ~ above Maurice’s death, he dubbed upon the brand-new emperor, Phocas, to repress schismatics. Indeed, Gregory’s willingness to usage force against schismatics and heathens enabled him to it is in misused as a model for those such together Gregory VII and Alexander II who promoted “holy war” in the high middle Ages.

Circumstances, however, enabled the pope to interference in the locations under imperial control in the phibìc of Italy. In particular, he to be able to get a toehold in Ravenna, the mainstay of royal orthodoxy in Italy, partly due to the fact that of the absence of the bishop the Milan, who had jurisdiction end Ravenna yet had been compelled to live in Genoa come escape the Lombards. Gregory check his best to confirm the choice of the bishop the Milan, and also he drew closer to Ravenna once John, to who Gregory had devoted his Pastoral Rule, became its bishop. However even together Ravenna gradually gotten in Rome’s orbit, Gregory fought to dampen the bishops’ insurance claim to the privileges that regalia (imperial symbols currently appropriated by the papacy), which consisted of wearing the pallium (a stole with hanging strips) and using distinct saddlecloths (mappulae). Gregory was compelled to compromise, however, since Ravenna was the site of the imperial exarch.

Gregory embraced the byzantine view that magnificent providence had actually subjected german kingdoms come the Christian emperor, and also his energetic pastoral care of those kingdoms heightened Rome’s visibility there. Return the pope retained his distance from Toledo’s royal councils the kings and also bishops, the was attached to the Spanish court through Leander the Sevilla, who received the pallium from Gregory. V letters to Brunhild, the Frankish queen that provided an important support for the revolutionary of simony, and also to various other women, Gregory cultivated Catholic Frankish kingdoms. In letter to the bishops of Gaul, Gregory called for revolutionary councils and also the suppression that paganism. He also asked Brunhild and also other Frankish rulers such together Theuderic II and Theudebert II to assistance St. Augustine of Canterbury’s mission come Kent, which the pope had actually organized. After ~ visiting many courts in Gaul, Augustine saw the court of the Frankish queen Bertha, mam of Aethelberht the Kent. As soon as Gregory sent Mellitus and Laurentius as reinforcements, they prolonged papal contacts in Gaul before joining Augustine. Gregory appears to have envisioned cooperation between English and Frankish church that would certainly have fostered reform and also renewal.

While he thought that the Gospel was expected to it is in “preached to all components of the world,” Gregory’s an initial concern was the roman inn see and also southern Italy, where he was powerful enough to result reform. Papal management was “monasticized”; Gregory continued to live as a monk, and also monks and also trusted clerics replaced the entrenched clergy of the church that the Lateran Palace. His one synod, held at St. Peter’s in 595, validated these and other reforms yet highlighted the boundaries of his power since only bishops indigenous the southern attended. Nonetheless, that consolidated as countless as 42 vacated episcopal look at in the south (Lucania, Apulia, and the Picene area), where Lombards had wrought particular devastation.

Papal patrimony thrived in the south, and Gregory’s efficient and also just management of estates carried revenue come support comprehensive alms in Rome, wherein systematic documents of charitable expenditures were preserved in the Lateran. In administer this patrimony, Gregory claimed his goal was “not so lot to encourage the worldly understanding of the church regarding relieve the bad in your distress and especially to protect them indigenous oppression.” Gregory developed colleges that rectores, or defensores, through staffs the tonsured agents that were sent out to manage estates and render righteousness on-site (e.g., to safeguard peasants indigenous exploitation by the nobles). Because that the future, Gregory’s most important reform was making land inheritable. Like his issue for justice, this reform boosted the many peasants and also encouraged lock to stay in one locale to maintain the land. Gregory go tolerate slavery, as a reality of oh my god dispensation bestowed on mankind after the Fall, and he thought that humble obedience was forced by God.

His concern with justice for Jews was limited. While he insisted in his letters that Jewish creditor were not to be defrauded, oppressed, or vexed unreasonably because they were protected by roman law, he nevertheless believed that biblical prophecy foretold your conversion, and he adopted polices that “persuasion” that harmed Jews economically. A synagogue was moved because its services might be heard by Christians; slaves of Jews could case freedom if they convert to Christianity—their masters could not offer them, and also escaped slaves can not be returned to Jewish owners. Rural pagans fared worse: cruel measures forced them come abandon their cults, and also Gregory advised Brunhild to use equipped force against them.

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Although Gregory is remembered as a generous donor and friend that the needy, his biographers document that he left the papal treasury almost bankrupt. Such criticism, however, may reflect the embittered clerical reaction come Gregory’s “monasticization” that developed with the next pope.